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History of the Permanent Diaconate

The origins of the permanent diaconate as a ministry in the Church can be traced back to the New Testament in the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6. Here we see the emphasis on the vocation to service, where the apostolic community selects seven disciples "filled with the Spirit and wisdom" (later to be called deacons), to serve the community's needs. They were empowered to give this sacramental witness within the Church through the Apostles who "prayed and laid hands" on them. In the writings of St. Paul, deacons are specifically addressed in his letter to the Philippians and Timothy, and in the First Epistle to Timothy he lists their qualities and virtues: "Deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience...Thus those who serve well as deacons gain good standing and much confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus (1Timothy 3:8-13)."

Up until the fifth century the order of deacons flourished and evolved to serve the needs of the Church. Developing from its original apostolic form the diaconate had come to embrace the service of the Word (or liturgy), but also the responsibility and care for those in need (diakonia, service) as a sign of the community's love (charity). In the subsequent centuries the diaconate experienced a slow decline in Latin Church for complex reasons. By the Middle Ages, the office of deacon had all but disappeared despite the fact that the Council of Trent suggested that it should be reinstated to its original function in the Church.

After 1500 years, the office has now been fully restored by the Second Vatican Council as a proper and permanent rank of ministry within the hierarchy of the Church.

Pope Paul VI implemented the recommendations of the Council by determining the general norms governing the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church. He approved the new rite of ordination of deacons and established the conditions for admission and ordination. In the last thirty years it has flourished in many countries in the world, Canada being one of them.