Research finds broad interest in permanent diaconate ministry

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - Updated: 2:43 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Nearly a quarter of age-eligible men are open to becoming a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, according to a new study.

The donor-funded research, part of an initiative to strengthen and grow the permanent diaconate, also found that most parishioners surveyed, while initially unclear about all that deacons do, were supportive of their role and ministry once they learned the facts.

Deacons are ordained ministers of the Catholic Church, with a special calling to perform works of charity and service, proclaim the word of God, and assist in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church. Married men can be ordained as permanent deacons.

Currently, the diocese has 93 permanent deacons — 87 who are actively engaged in ministry — and 38 men who are in formation to become deacons. Bishop David Zubik is expected to call another deacon class this year.

Among the study’s key findings:

• 24% of deacon-age men in the diocese are interested in exploring becoming a deacon.

• 71% of married women would encourage their husbands to look into the diaconate.

• 36% of men who responded to the survey were within the eligibility age range of 30-59 to enter deacon formation.

• 82% of deacon-age men have a positive view of the diaconate.

• 70% of survey respondents, after reading a full description of the role of deacons, supported their work.

Researchers found that many men who felt called to the diaconate never spoke about it with anyone. Some expressed concern that becoming a deacon would take time away from their families. However, interviews with current deacons indicated that the formation process can be spiritually transforming for wives and children, as well as for the deacon candidates.

“You get to develop a deeper relationship with the church,” said the wife of one deacon. “You will find new ways to serve.”

“Serving the people of God is at the core of a deacon’s mission and allows him to grow closer to Jesus and deepen his faith,” said Deacon Stephen Byers, director of the Deacon Formation Program. “The formation process provides a strong foundation for personal growth, spiritual devotion, intellectual enhancement and pastoral practice.”

As ministers of the word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach and teach. As ministers of the sacraments, they baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of charity, deacons identify the needs of others, then gather the church’s resources to help meet those needs.

In addition to assisting the priest at Mass, preaching on occasion and serving as ordinary ministers of holy Communion, deacons have many other ministries to bring people closer to God, including outreach to the poor, imprisoned or disadvantaged. They teach CCD; lead preparation for baptism and marriage; participate in Bible studies and prayer groups; minister to the sick, bereaved and elderly; engage in youth and young adult ministry; lead retreats; and reach out to non-practicing Catholics.

“Service is at the core of what deacons do,” said Deacon Joseph Cerenzia, who is helping promote the permanent diaconate. “We preach the Gospel in word and action, reach out to those on the fringes of society, and show God’s compassionate love and mercy.”

The origins of the diaconate are found in the Acts of the Apostles. Overwhelmed with the growing needs of the people, the apostles designated seven men to perform works of charity and service.

While both priests and deacons are ordained ministers and share some liturgical functions, their primary roles in the church are distinct.

Above all else, priests stand in persona Christi — in the person of Christ — to consecrate the Eucharist during the celebration of the Mass and to share the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick. Deacons do not perform these sacred functions in their ministry of service.

Deacons and their wives were interviewed for the study, along with men in the Deacon Formation Program, diocesan priests, and men who are juniors and seniors at Catholic colleges and active in campus ministry and service. Parishioners throughout the diocese also were surveyed.

To learn more, visit https://diopitt.org/permanent-diaconate.

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