Permanent Diaconate

The Second Vatican Council reinvigorated the ancient order of deacons, reinstituting the permanent diaconate. By calling and ordaining deacons the Church is saying something fundamental: that service is at the heart of the human and divine mystery. Deacons are a permanent feature of the Church and the Church is not fully herself wherever deacons, priests or bishops are lacking. The gift and calling of the deacon is not for his own sake but for building up the Church in particular ways:
  • To bring God’s Word to believer and unbeliever alike;
  • To preside over public prayer, to baptise, to assist at marriages and bless them;
  • To give viaticum to the dying, and to lead the rites of burial;
  • Once he is consecrated by the laying on of hands, he will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop; and
  • To celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours for the Church and for the whole world.

The deacon is the Church’s service sacramentalised and a sign of the Lord who came not to be served but to serve. 


Discipleship begins at baptism. It is the mission of all the baptised to spread the Good News of Jesus. The gift and calling of the deacon is not for his own sake but for building up the Church in particular ways:

Whilst the bishop is the first evangeliser in his diocese, deacons serve the bishop in his duty to bring the Good News to all. The deacon is called to:
  • To bring forth God’s word to believers and non-believers alike
  • To assist at the Eucharistic table, proclaim the Gospel and as required preach at Mass
  • To preside over public prayer, marriages and to baptise
  • To give viaticum to the dying and to lead the rites of the funeral service and burial
  • To perform acts of charity in the name of the Bishop and
  • To celebrate faithfully the liturgy of hours for the Church and the whole world.
(Rite of Ordination of a Deacon)
The deacon is an active apostle of the new evangelization who leads everyone to Christ. Deacons are well-placed to bring to the Church’s leaders an awareness of the needs of the poor and of people distant from the Church. The deacon can be seen as a bridge or envoy, whose special ministry is to take the message into the heart of the world, and, by the same token, dedicating himself to pastoral care, to bring the needs and cares of the world into the heart of the Church’s worship and fellowship.

Because of their diverse ethnic backgrounds, talents, skills and life experiences the deacon is ideally suited to contributing to the life of the diocese and parishes.

Criteria for the Permanent Diaconate

The Apostle Paul wrote,

"Deacons …must be serious, not double tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then if they prove themselves, let them serve as deacons."  
1Tim 3:8-10

 The Archdiocese of Melbourne already has a number of men ordained as permanent deacons who serve in various parish and other ministries. There is an ongoing formation program. Permanent deacons are ordained ministers of the Catholic Church.

A suitable candidate for the diaconate

  • Will have Jesus Christ central to his life
  • Will be committed to and live out gospel values
  • Is recognised within his parish community as a person of service
  • Will already be involved in some kind of ministry in his parish
  • Will be capable of tertiary studies
  • Will be a good communicator
  • Will, if married, be in a stable happy marriage whose wife and family support him in pursuing the diaconate, and be ready to accommodate to the needs of the diocese
  • Will, if married, have the formal consent of his wife
  • Is in good health and between 30 and 60 years of age
  • Have a stable work history
Most men ordained as permanent deacons are married men.

The years of study and preparation are a time of discernment on their vocation to the diaconate-a calling to service to the Church. When the candidate is deemed worthy by the Bishop and with the consent of the faithful, he is ordained.


Who can apply?

Mature men of good health, active in parish life and informed in their Catholic faith: open to personal, spiritual, theological and ministerial formation over at least four years

What roles will an ordained deacon take on?

An ordained deacon will be appointed to one parish and may be asked to prepare parents and candidates for Baptism, couples for marriage and conduct funerals. As servants of the Word of God they will proclaim the Gospel in the liturgy, preach the homily, pray the prayer of the faithful and participate in sacramental programs. As servants of charity ordained deacons can be chaplains in hospitals, prisons, universities, armed services and visit the sick.

What is the study commitment?

Suitable applicants will be required to complete a tertiary degree in theology as well as participate in regular formation sessions offered through the Archdiocese of Melbourne over the four or more years of study. Deacons must also be willing to take part in formation and mentoring opportunities after ordination.

What are the age restrictions?

If unmarried, men must be at least 25 years of age when they are accepted and no more than age 60 at time of ordination.

If married, at least 35 years of age, married for at least seven years and be no more than age 60 at time of ordination. Applicants must also have the full support of their spouse and family, and their parish priest.

Can women be ordained as deacons?

No, at this time according to the universal church women are not ordained to the diaconate. 

Theologians' research is clear that deaconesses were present, particularly in the Eastern rites, for several centuries. The International Theological Commission, in its research document on the diaconate (2003), noted that "The deaconesses ... were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons; ... The Unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, ... is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, ... it pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question."



After all these centuries, what led the Second Vatican Council to restore the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry?

The idea to renew the diaconate came from many parts of the world during the preparation periods. The bishops at the Council did not see it as a solution to a shortage of priests, but as a way to show clearly the fullness of the ordained ministry of deacon, priest and bishop which exists to represent Christ and to serve the life of the Church. A major impetus was the realization that the horrors of the Second World War called for a renewal of the Church’s mission, a renewal that must include the ordained ministry of the diaconate.

Can deacons help with the shortage of priests?

While there are many things that deacons may do that can assist in the pastoral care of the church, they are not substitutes for priests. The policy in our Archdiocese is that a priest will be the canonically appointed leader of every parish.

How does someone know if he has a vocation to be a deacon?

There is a maxim that says, “Grace builds on nature”. In many cases, a person’s diaconal qualities have been observed and experienced by friends, family and members of his parish community; in these cases, it is often some of these people, or the local priest, who suggest to a man that he ought to consider the possibility of the diaconate. Perhaps a man has become interested in the diaconate because of his own experience with deacons or through something he has read. In every case, this vocation is a share in the evangelization for which the bishop is responsible. He calls the deacon, confers the Spirit upon him in diaconal ordination, and appoints him to the canonical office where he will serve.

What is expected of a deacon’s family?

No married man may be ordained without the freely given consent of his wife and, naturally, the parents would take into account the welfare of their children.

How does a deacon balance family, job and ordained ministry?

Very carefully! Most married people already understand the importance of balance in their own family and work relationships. Becoming a deacon adds another set of relationships into the equation. It is never a question of one set of relationships being more important than another is. All of them are critical, and sometimes one relationship takes precedence over another. 

The time commitment is flexible but usually 6-8 hours a week



Older deacons in early retirement would provide for themselves and their families from their own sources. The majority of permanent deacons would be part-time ministers funded from their own sources. 

Certain study costs will be covered during the initial formation program. It is expected that parishes will reimburse the deacon for costs incurred in the performance of their ministry.

If there is no priest present, may a deacon preside at the Eucharist?

No, a deacon is not ordained to the priesthood. In the absence of a priest the deacon may preside over the community’s prayer; in fact the deacon is the logical person to do so.

Can a parish have more than one deacon?

Yes, a parish can have more than one.