The Diaconate

History of the Diaconate

Diaconal Service: What does a Deacon Do?

Am I Called to be a deacon?

Formation Program

Course of Studies for Deacons

Source: Diocese of Sacramento, Office of the Permanent Diaconate

History of the Diaconate

The first deacons are described in the Acts of the Apostles and referred to in the writings of St. Paul. In Acts 6:1-6 seven men of good reputation among the Christian community are chosen to assist the apostles in the care of the community’s needs.

Deacons were relied upon as leaders and enablers of local apostolic communities, as related in several places both in the New Testament and writings of the Fathers of the Church. Deacons assisted the episcopal ministry of the early Church, acting as the bridge between the bishop and the local community’s needs.

Deacons were examples of loyal faith and dedicated service to the Church, especially St. Stephen, St. Lawrence, and St. Francis of Assisi.

The restoration of the order of Permanent Deacons, seen as vital to the life of the Church by the bishops of Vatican Council II, has been implemented and enhanced by Pope Paul VI, the National Catholic Conference of Bishops, and Pope John Paul II.

In the Sacramento Diocese, the restored Order of Permanent Diaconate began in 1977 with the first class of permanent deacons ordained in1981. The Permanent Diaconate has received the encouragement and support of the past and present bishops of our Sacramento Diocese: Bishop Alden Bell, Bishop Francis Quinn, Auxiliary Bishop Alphonse Gallegos, Auxiliary Bishop Richard Garcia and Bishop William Weigand.



Diaconal Service: What does a Deacon Do?

The terms “Deacon” and “Diaconate” derive from the Greek word diakonia which means “service” or “ministry.” A deacon, then, is ordained by the Church for service. But what kind of service?

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church speaks of three areas of diaconal service: Ministry of Charity, Ministry of the Word, and Ministry of Liturgy.

Ministry of Charity
The deacon is ordained to be a witness to the Gospel through a life of service. A deacon serves through his person-to-person encounters: he ministers to the poor, the aged, the sick, prisoners. He participates in programs dealing with community problems like substance or child abuse. The deacon works with youth and young adults in various parish and/or community programs. The deacon is obliged to be a positive influence for change in the that society may be renewed by Christ and transformed into the family of God.

Ministry of the Word
The deacon proclaims the Gospel. He is an agent of evangelization, that is, of announcing the Good News of Christ in society. He also preaches at liturgical gatherings: he teaches in religious education programs, sacramental preparation programs, i.e. baptism, marriage, RCIA.

Ministry of Liturgy
The deacon assists at the Eucharistic Celebration, administers baptism, witnesses marriages, officiates at wakes and funerals, administers some sacramentals, presides at prayer services, i.e. communion services and benediction.
The deacon of today has the flexibility to dedicate his special talents under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and through the Church, to contribute to the mission of the Church within his own world of community activity. The diaconate broadens the concept of ministry and makes it possible for others to share their talents in varying ways.
The summons of his bishop, the needs of the community, the deacon’s own specific competence and the guidance of the Church’s pastor will help him decide how to use his resources wisely and effectively.

Deacons: A Special Role to Play in the World
“Taking an active part in society belongs to the baptismal mission of every Christian in accordance with his or her state in life, but the permanent deacon has a special witness to give. The sacramental grace of his ordination is meant to strengthen him and to make his efforts fruitful, even as his secular occupation gives him entry into the temporal sphere in a way that is normally not appropriate for other members of the clergy.”
—Pope John Paul II in his address to the Deacons of the United States



Am I Called to be a deacon?

There is no simple answer to the question “Am I called to be a deacon?”  However, we believe that the person of faith through personal prayer, competent spiritual direction and recognition that the Church has the obligation to discern if such a vocation is truly present can discover God’s will.
Certain personal, social and spiritual qualities are required for ordained ministry. These are generally of two kinds: those that pattern the candidate in the likeness of Christ and those required to meet the special needs of the local Church at a particular time and place.
Anyone contemplating a vocation to the diaconate should be actively involved in ministry in his local community and/or parish. A candidate’s desire to be a deacon is never sufficient in itself. He must, in addition, wait on the prayerful, enlightened decision of the Church.

Criteria for entry
Men seeking application into Diaconate Formation Program come with the understanding that the diaconate is a call to a dedicated life of service, to a specific vocation.  The deacon emerges out of the universal diakonia to stand in the midst of the community as one who makes present in his person and deeds the servant character of Christ and Church. Through the sacramental ordination the deacon becomes a public sign to the world that the Church is authentically servant. The deacon is the animator and promoter of the common service of the Church.

Personal Qualifications
Applicants should:
    • Be at least 33 years old or not older than 62 at beginning of the 4th year of the program.
    • Be a practicing Roman Catholic for five consecutive years or more.
    • Have been active in a Sacramento Diocese parish for five consecutive years or more.
    • Have demonstrated leadership abilities either within the parish or community organizations.
    • Be in good physical and mental health.
    • Have sufficient financial and employment stability.
    • For married men: have been in a marriage sanctified by the Sacramento of Matrimony at least five years
    • Have the positive consent of his wife and acceptance of his children, and a well adjusted family life.
    • Be sensitive to the time and needs of his family.
    • Have sufficient time for diaconal formation and ministry.
    • Possess the desire and capacity for growth and continued education to develop skills for ministry.
    • Possess an eagerness for prayer and acceptance of spiritual formation.
    • Have attended the Lay Formation Institute for at least one year
    • Be faithful to the traditions/teachings of the Church; be open to the awareness of contemporary expressions in theology.
    • Be willing to make a commitment of talent and time.
    • Possess reading and writing skills in order to participate fully in the academic program.
Formation Program

The Formation Program, which starts with a propaedeutic or aspirancy period of a year, includes both, the aspirant and his wife. During this time emphasis is given to the discernment of the call to the diaconate. To aid this process of discernment, the study and reflection of basic Catholic teachings, Catholic Spirituality, pastoral ministry and specifically, diaconal service, are emphasized.

The aspirancy period is followed by a four-year course of studies and pastoral experience (see below). This program is designed to equip the aspirant to the diaconate with the spiritual, theological, liturgical and pastoral skills for ministry as a deacon in the Church.



Course of Studies for Deacons

Preliminary Formation and Year of Aspirancy

Basic religious formation through Diocesan Lay Formation Institute or other equivalent college programs prior to admission. After admission the aspirant follows a one-year program of discernment and study, prior to the four-year formation program.

Year One
The Study of Theology
Ministry Skills
Old Testament
Liturgy Preparations
Spiritual Direction
Knowledge and Participation inthe Pastoral Ministry of the Parish

Year Two
History of Spirituality I
Homiletics I
Ministry Skills I
Church History I
Liturgy of the Hours
Ministry to the Poor

Year Three
New Testament
Synoptic Gospels
Gospel of John
Homiletics II
Christian Social Ethics
Ministry Skills II
Sacraments of Initiation
Code of Canon Law
Rite of Baptism
History of Spirituality II
Ministry to the Sick and Aged


Year Four
History of the Catholic Church in America
Rites of Christian Burial
Religion and Culture
Sacrament of Marriage
Critical Life Issues
Sacrament of Holy Orders
Marriage Annulments
The Role of the Deacon in Catechesis and Evangelization
Ecumenical and Interreligious dialogue
Mary and the Church

A three-year post-ordination program follows after deacon ordination.

For more information, please contact our Diaconate Coordinator. Contact Diaconate Coordinator

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