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The clearest answer comes from the USCCB website: “A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or ‘orders,’ of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops, presbyters and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came ‘to serve and not to be served.’” He receives the sacrament of Holy Orders at ordination, and the grace of that sacrament flows through all he does.

You may see the deacon involved in a number of liturgical functions. He assists the priest at the altar during Mass; he proclaims the Gospel; he sometimes preaches. He may also preside at weddings, baptisms, funerals and Benedictions; you’ll often see a deacon lead wake services or communion liturgies if a priest is unavailable.


His vocation is, above all, one of service. Deacons are often involved in social outreach—running soup kitchens, food pantries or other charities. As the USCCB puts it: “As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church’s resources to meet those needs. No matter what functions a deacon performs, they flow from his sacramental identity. It is not only WHAT a deacon does, but WHO a deacon is that is important.”



While there is only one diaconate, there are two ways of being a deacon. One is to be what the church calls a “transitional deacon,” for men who will one day be ordained priests; the other is a “permanent deacon,” for those who will not be pursuing a vocation to the priesthood but will remain as deacons for the rest of their lives. The duties and faculties of both kinds of deacons are exactly the same.



Not at all! While most permanent deacons are married, some are widowed, divorced or just single. If a man is married at the time of his ordination, he makes a promise not to remarry if his wife dies before him. If a deacon is single, at the time of his ordination he makes the same promise of celibacy that a priest makes.



It might seem that way to some of us in the pews, but the two vocations are very different. (Among other things, the deacon is limited in the sacraments he can celebrate. Unlike a priest, the deacon cannot hear confessions, consecrate the Eucharist or anoint the sick.) The deacon is called to live in the world—often with a job and a family—and bear witness to the Gospel through a life of service to the people of God. A parishioner once described her deacon as “the priest’s helper”—and that’s not an inaccurate description. He is there to serve the people of God and, by extension, to serve and assist the priest during liturgies. The diaconate is sometimes described as “service sacramentalized,” and that, too, helps clarify the deacon’s role in the Church.

Additional questions

It is a constant balancing act. It can be a challenge to maintain priorities, but married deacons are continually reminded in formation to keep the first vocation—marriage—the first priority. (“Remember which vow you made first!,” is a constant refrain.) That said, the deacon and his wife need to continually be open to the promptings of the Spirit, and maintain a healthy and constructive dialogue so that they can resolve scheduling conflicts as they come up. Very often, the deacon and his wife will collaborate in some ministries—visiting the sick, or preparing couples for marriage, for example—and this can help enrich both vocations: marriage and the diaconate.

The most important resource for discernment is prayer. Go to God! Ask him what direction he wants you to go, how he wants your life to unfold, what purpose he has planned for you. Find a Spiritual Director to help guide you. Talk with your wife and family. Seek out deacons you know and trust, and ask them for feedback. A couple times a year, the diocese sponsors “Nights of Information” for men who are discerning the diaconate. Find one in your neighborhood and go. The deacon’s life includesmany parish activities and projects; it’s good to get involved with some at your parish and see how it feels. How many demands does parish life make on your time? Is this something you want to do more and more? How does it impact your family life? It’s also good to remember: Embracing a vocation is more than just giving an hour or two every week at the church. It is a commitment for the rest of your life. Do you feel you’re being called to give your life to God this way?  

A good start is to ask your pastor, or a deacon in your parish. He can point you in the right direction and offer suggestions.

A very good introduction to the diaconate is the book “101 Questions and Answers on Deacons” by Deacon William Ditewig, published by Paulist Press and available on Amazon. It’s clear, accessible, and full of good information. Another resource: “The Deacon Reader,” edited by Deacon James Keating. This offers several essays from a variety of writers on different topics affecting deacons—from theology to marriage to ministry to work.  


“The Deacon’s Bench,” at, also offers news and information about the diaconate on a regular basis, and helps keep deacons (and people interested in deacons) aware of what is happening in the diaconal world.


If you’re looking for models of the diaconal life, three great deacon saints point the way: St. Stephen (the first martyr), St. Lawrence, and St. Francis of Assisi. Their lives are inspiring examples of the sacrifice, service and holiness to which all deacons aspire.

A great starting point is either a deacon in your parish or your pastor. For further information, you can contact the Diocesan Vocation Office But most importantly, if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask!  Every deacon will tell you how he is continually amazed and humbled at the way God has shaped his life, and the graces showered on him through this vocation. Is this part of God’s plan for you? Every man who feels he may have a vocation to the diaconate owes it to himself to find out.