Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Deacon as Minister of Sacrament -- Part II

Sacraments, it has been said, "effect what they signify."  For Catholics, Orthodox and certain other churches and denominations, a sacramental life is central to Christian discipleship, and even Catholic canon law speaks of the "right" that Christians have to the celebration of the sacraments.  We usually speak of the seven sacraments in terms of their overall function in the life of the church: sacraments of initiation are baptism, confirmation and eucharist; sacraments of reconciliation are reconciliation ("confession") and anointing of the sick; and the sacraments of vocation are matrimony and order.

Although we don't like to reduce things to pure functionality, we have to do that a little bit.  It's important to remember, however, that there are usually three dimensions to ALL sacraments: they are OUTWARD signs, connected with Christ, that effectively communicate God's grace.  The sacraments are always PUBLIC events; there is no such thing as a "private" sacrament.

Down to function:

Bishops may preside at all sacraments, including ordination of other ministers.

Presbyters preside over all sacraments, except ordination.  While bishops are the original ministers of confirmation, presbyters may do so with proper delegation through canon law and the bishop.

Deacons preside over baptism and matrimony.  Deacons do not confirm, do not preside over the Eucharist, do not hear confessions, do not anoint and do not ordain.  Deacon do have, however, their own specific assisting roles in other sacraments, such as at the Eucharist or in anointing or at ordinations.

As ordained ministers, deacons also have other liturgical functions as well.  Deacons are ordinary ministers of holy communion; deacons preside over communal celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours, deacons preside at Benediction and may give the Eucharistic Benediction (lay persons may not), and deacons conduct wake services and funerals.

The role of the deacon, even while presiding, is to act in the person of Christ the Servant and in the name of the Church. 


  1. I recall reading a discussion of why it is desirable to have a deacon assisting at mass whenever possible. The point was that since the Eucharist is a continuation of the Last Supper, the priest should be seen as the representative of Christ who transforms the bread and wine into his own body and blood, while the deacon represents Christ the servant who washes the feet of his disciples. I found that image compelling, but I cannot remember now where I read it. Did it perhaps come from Deacon Bill Ditewig?

  2. Ron:

    The critical issue is "whenever possible." I would guess that in my diocese 50% of the parishes have no deacon assigned at all. Most of those who do have deacons only have one in the parish.

    In my parish, typically, two of the four masses on a week-end have diaconal coverage. Another will have one in four masses covered by a deacon; the other one in three.

    Considering that an average priest working in a parish setting has three masses a week-end, it is reasonable to assume that each parish needs three deacons -- since I doubt if any deacon who is married would be able to cover more than one without some stress on family time.

    On the other hand, I do not know of any diocese in the United States that has more ordained active deacons than ordained active priests much less a consistent 3 deacons per parish pattern.

    Only the very best of blessings!

    Deacon Norb in Ohio