At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service." For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. (Lumen Gentium, 29).
The diaconate has its origins in apostolic times and flourished during the first four centuries of the Church’s history. Later, for very complex reasons, the diaconate went into decline until it became little more than a step on the way to the priesthood in the Western Church.
When the Second Vatican Council restored the diaconate as a permanent ministry in the Church, it did so for three primary reasons:
• first, a desire to restore to the Church the full complement of active apostolic ministries,
• second, the desire to integrate and strengthen those who were, in fact, already exercising diaconal functions
• third, to more fully serve the needs of the people.
WHAT THE DEACON DOES
A permanent deacon exercising diaconal ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and in good standing:
Minister of the Word
• Proclaim the Gospel
• May preach everywhere in virtue of Canon 764, unless it has been restricted or taken away by the competent ordinary. This faculty is to be exercised with at least the presumed consent of the pastor of the parish. [Preaching to religious in their churches or oratories requires the permission of the competent superior (Canon 765)]
• Teach the Catholic faith
• Evangelize believers and non-believers
Minister of the Altar
• Assists bishops and priests at the Liturgy
• Ordinary minister of the Eucharist
• Bring Holy Communion to the sick.
• Be the minister of exposition and benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament
• Administer the sacrament of baptism
• Officiate at marriages outside of Mass with delegation from the pastor of the parish where the marriage is to be celebrated
• Preside at wake services and the rites of burial
• Impart those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law (Cf. Book of Blessings)
• Preside over devotional services
Minister of Charity
• Perform charitable, administrative and social welfare duties
• Visit the sick and feed the hungry and minister to the dying and the bereaved