Permanent Deacons

The word Deacon means servant.

In the early church and up to the 5th century, deacons were a permanent order in the church. They were selected and ordained to be of service to bishops and priests. (Acts 6:1-6, 1Timothy 3:8 -13)
Gradually in the western church, many of the roles of the deacon were assumed by members of the religious orders, with the deacon only surviving as an intermediate stage for candidates preparing for the priesthood.
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) recommended that the order of the deacon be restored but it wasn’t until 1957 when Pope Pius XII opened the way for the restoration of the permanent diaconate that things truly started to happen.
The development was approved in 1964 by Vatican II’s document Lumen Gentium; the Constitution on the Church. Finally when the Permanent Diaconate was re-instated by Pope Paul VI in 1967 (Sacrum Diaconatus ordinem) it was left to the local bishop to decide whether to restore the Permanent Diaconate, hence it has been implemented in some dioceses and not others.

 The reason to restore the Order of Permanent Deacon appears to be threefold:
· Firstly it was considered that the move would benefit the ecumenical process as it would restore a level of the hierarchy that had been retained by the Eastern Churches. It would also restore the hierarchy that had existed in the early church and build upon the apostolic tradition.
· Secondly, Lumen Gentium suggested that Permanent Deacons could provide pastoral care to communities that would not otherwise be met due to a shortage of priests. It was envisaged that this would be the case in mission countries and where the church was being persecuted.
· Thirdly, Ad Gentes acknowledged that in some communities’ members of the laity were already fulfilling the roles and functions of deacons. Restoration would be a way of improving these existing ministries through the gaining of sacramental grace through ordination.

The role of the Deacon

The deacon is ordained to assist the bishop, and work with his priests. The ministry of the deacon has a triple focus.
Ministry of the Word – This entails proclaiming the Gospel at mass and preaching the word of God. It also involves being involved in catechesis both in the parish and society at large.
Ministry of the Altar – The deacon assists at the altar by serving the chalice and missal. He proposes the intentions of the bidding prayers and invites the exchange of the sign of peace. Lastly he announces the dismissal at the end of mass. He is an ordinary minister of communion and administers viaticum to the sick. He is also an ordinary minister of the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. He may preside at Baptisms, marriage and funerals outside of mass.
Ministry of Charity – The deacon assists with the care of the poor and needy and lives out the social teaching of the church modelled on Christ the servant.


Candidates can be celibate or married. If celibate they have to be at least 26 years old, if married they have to be between the ages of 35 and 60. The process of selection involves completing application forms, interviews with a selection committee, psychological assessments and a final interview with the bishop.
If selected, formation the candidate starts a four year programme of study and development. The course focuses on the candidate’s human; spiritual; doctrinal and pastoral development. The taught element of the course lasts three years and takes place at St John’s Seminary Wonersh through lectures and tutorials usually on the second Sunday of every month. Candidates complete an essay each month and receive further development in their home diocese through an academic tutor and a spiritual tutor. The course also involves attendance at three study weekends and retreats each year.
If successful in Year 1 of the course the candidate is instituted as a Lector. Successful completion of Year 2 sees the institution of the ministry of Acolyte, with Year 3 ending with ordination as a Permanent Deacon.
Topics studied include: Scripture, Moral Theology, Christology, Sacraments, Social Teaching of the Church, the Papacy, the Catechism, position of Mary, nature of revelation, Prayer.
 At present there are 50 candidates drawn from the diocese of Cardiff , Westminster, Southwark, Arundel & Brighton, Portsmouth , Northampton , Plymouth , East Anglia and Brentwood
This year there have been four candidates from the Cardiff Archdiocese.

Anthony Mulcahy
July 2009.

Tony Mulcahy

Tony Mulcahy is Llanarth's deacon, ordained in 2010