The Important Role of Deacons in the Life of the Church

Deacons play an important role in the life of the Church. But even if you have a deacon at your parish you may be confused as to what he actually does. Is he there just to give the priest a break from preparing a homily? Fr. James Kubicki, a regular Relevant Radio® contributor, recently stopped by Morning Air® to discuss deacons, and the unique role they have in proclaiming the Gospel to the world.

Fr. Kubicki explained, “The sacrament of Holy Orders has three levels, is one way of speaking about it. You have the permanent deacons, you have priests, and then you have bishops. And so, before a person is ordained a bishop they have to be ordained a deacon and a priest.”

Deacons have been around since the Early Church. In fact, St. Stephen, the first martyr, was also one of the first deacons of the Church. And even in the Early Church, deacons had an important role. Fr. Kubicki said, “In the Early Church, St. Ignatius [of Antioch] said that you really can’t talk about the existence of a local church if one of those three orders of the priesthood are missing. The diaconate was very important to St. Ignatius. He saw them as really the right hand of the bishops.”

One of the reasons that many people don’t have a firm grasp of what a deacons does is that for a long time the only deacons in the Church were transitional deacons. The diaconate was a step for men who were in the process of being ordained a priest, and so about a year before their priestly ordination they would be ordained a deacon. It is only in the last 50 years or so that permanent deacons have become more common.

“We’ve always had the diaconate as part of the Church, but it was only after the Second Vatican Council that we started having permanent deacons,” Fr. Kubicki pointed out. “These are people who are ordained, but are also considered a bridge, as it were, to the lay state. So they are married and can have families, and they perform a particular role of service.”

By virtue of their ordination, deacons have certain privileges and responsibilities in the life of the Church. But they are not simply a back-up or a substitute for a priest. They have their own specific role.

“They’re not meant to just be replacements for priests, because they cannot celebrate Mass, hear Confessions, or celebrate the Anointing of the Sick,” Fr. Kubicki said. “They can baptize and witness marriages. But they’re not meant to be substitutes for priests, even with a clergy shortage. They’re meant to be a symbol, a sign at the altar of the Church’s role of social service.”

“Many of their roles in dioceses and in parishes include reaching out to the members of the community who are sick, visiting those who are in prison. Basically doing works of mercy, that remind the Church that this too is an important part of preaching the Gospel. It’s preaching by works.”

Deacon Martin in Gary, IN is a regular Morning Air caller, and he shared how important the role of deacons is in the life of a parish community. He also encouraged his fellow listeners to reach out to the deacons in their own parishes during times of need.

“Deacons have become the hidden treasure of the Church,” Deacon Martin said. “Because people don’t really understand what we’re supposed to be doing, because we’ve only been around for the last 50 years. Most people didn’t grow up with a deacon. So they don’t always know the value of a deacon and how the deacon can come to support them.”

“Bringing a loved one viaticum, caring for the sick and the homebound, traditionally we have a very strong charge of care for the widows and orphans, the sick and the homebound, and those who are in prison. That’s what we were ordained to do. My work as a deacon is outside the four walls of the church.”

Listen to the full conversation with Father Kubicki and deacons from around the country below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/3:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.