The deacon: The living icon of Jesus, the servant. A catechesis on service ministry

Anthony P Cassaneto, Fordham University


The Diaconate has flourished and potentially has enriched the Church through its threefold Ministries of Word, Altar and Charity for the past thirty-seven years. However, the most consistent cause of frustration is a lack of understanding of the permanent diaconate on the part of the laity together with non-acceptance, especially on the part of the priests. In Chapter 1, the writer analyzes the 1981 and the 1994 National Studies on the Diaconate conducted by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to understand the reasons for such frustration. Through such an analysis, the writer sheds light on issues and concerns raised because of the lack of proper catechesis of clergy and laity alike. In Chapter 2, the writer unfolds the meaning and historical development of ministry in the institutional church, explains the components of Congar's theology of ministry, specifically pointing out his ecclesiology of communio, and distinguishes the common priesthood of the faithful from the ministerial priesthood, detailing the specific ministerial responsibility of the bishop, the priest and the deacon. As part of an ongoing catechesis of the clergy and the laity, the writer explains why the deacon has the distinctive privilege to serve as a bridge between the ordained ministry and the laity. His mission is to work with and challenge all Christians to fulfill their baptismal call by participating in the mission of the Church. In Chapter 3, the writer traces the historical development of the diaconate from its inception as a ministerial office in Paul's Pastoral Letters to its gradual decline in the fifth century. This information provides a foundational understanding of the authentic role and ministry of the deacon in the early church. Terms, such as diakonia, diakonos, diakonein, used extensively in the Acts of the Apostles to mean 'service' or 'ministry' are linked to Jesus and His disciples throughout the centuries. In Chapter 4, the writer presents the Pre-Vatican II struggles faced by prelates who supported the restoration of the diaconate, but who had strong opposition from Cardinal Spellman, a prelate of distinction and power. Through the efforts of priests, dedicated laity, and prelates from Germany, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council discussed and approved the restoration of the diaconate. Since its restoration, the restored permanent diaconate struggles to establish a clerical identity in the Church. Serious internal problems among the clergy, the critical vocation crisis, and the need to evangelize the evangelized who now find more comfort and solace in the evangelical churches than in the church of their baptism are factors that have made a clerical identity problematic. In Chapter 5, the writer discusses several critical issues within the context of the ministerial church, i.e., the role of women in the church, the vocation crisis, the call of all the faithful to participate in the life and mission of the church, the role of a lay ecclesial minister, and the dress and address designated for deacons. The writer believes that the Church is now at the beginning of a spirit-directed movement in which an ecclesiology of communio will dominate.

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Recommended Citation

Cassaneto, Anthony P, "The deacon: The living icon of Jesus, the servant. A catechesis on service ministry" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3214708.