Central to the teaching of Vatican II on the nature and function of the Church was a renewed sense of service to God, to Christ and to all humankind. The Church was to be Christ present “to the whole human family through a faithful discipleship modeled upon Christ’s example of the washing of feet”. It is from this vision of church that the Second Vatican council restored the Order of Deacon as a driving force for the Church’s service toward Christian communities and to the larger local community. By this unique expression of holy orders, the Church ordains deacons to be consecrated expressions of service. Pope John Paul II when commenting on the diaconate stated; “A deeply felt need in the decision to re-establish the permanent diaconate was and is that of a greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in various spheres of the family, work, school, etc. in addition to existing pastoral structures.” The Pope also noted that “…the deacon’s tasks include that of promoting and sustaining the apostolic activities of the laity.”
The deacon is ordained to a threefold ministry of word, liturgy, and charity, and every deacon should be prepared to undertake each of these ministries in some way. The ministry of charity or service is most characteristic of the deacon. Service, however, depends on and flows out of the ministries of word and liturgy. Through word and liturgy, the deacon should lead others to the practice of charity and a commitment to pursue justice as well as experience these as a source from which he draws his own life and grace to carry out his service in charity and justice. The deacon’s ministerial effectiveness is compromised when one or another focus is emphasized to the displacement of the others. The deacon should strive to live and transmit the Living Word in the workplace and in the wider community either explicitly, or by his active presence where public opinion is formed and ethical norms are applied.
The deacon’s ministry of service would normally include an activity or area that reaches beyond the parish. Examples might be ministry at a prison or ministry to persons who are homeless or disadvantaged in some way. This ministry along with the deacon’s witness in his parish and in his occupational and social setting would constitute his ministry of service. In many cases the deacon carries out the ministry of service by who he is and what he stands for rather than just by what he does. Being present as a disciple calls forth in the deacon a spirituality of service that gives witness to Christ present in the marketplace of everyday life. The deacon will seek out the disadvantaged and those treated unjustly, and work so that the gospel will be alive and active in today’s world.
A deacon will normally be assigned to a parish as the central focus of the deacon’s ministry of word and liturgy. It is from this parish family that the deacon draws the grace and blessings to sustain his ministry of service and justice. It is to this parish family that he is to provide leadership to enhance the Church’s presence in the community’s social, occupational, and governmental structures and encourage lay involvement in the ministry of service and justice. When deacons are called to be pastoral associates or pastoral directors, they assume responsibilities that are defined by those positions. The ministry of the deacon coexists with and informs the duties of these positions.
The bishop appoints the deacon to a specific assignment. This assignment will be based on the pastoral needs of the community, the personal qualifications and abilities