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Extent: Paperback

Publisher: Veritas

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The Permanent Diaconate

by National directory and norms for Ireland

€6.50

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The Acts of the Apostles describes how, in the first century, the Church was faced with the challenge of responding to the needs of those who were at risk of being marginalised, either through culture or through material poverty. Keeping in mind the example of Jesus, the Apostles selected and ordained a number of men specifically for this service. For a number of centuries, deacons ministered in close co-operation with the bishops of the Church, assisting at the Eucharist, preaching the Gospel, and exercising a ministry of charity.

Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Orders, is probably one of the best known deacons, though many tend to assume that he was a priest. Gradually, in the Western Church, the functions of deacons were absorbed into the ministry of the priest, and the diaconate became a transitional order, for those on the way to priesthood. The diaconate continued to exist as a permanent ministry in the Eastern Churches, including those in full communion with Rome.

› Renewal
The Second Vatican Council envisaged a renewal of ministry, both lay and ordained, in the Church. The Council’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, explains that the lay faithful, by virtue of their Baptism, are commissioned to an active apostolate and insists that “every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church.” The Second Vatican Council also proposed the restoration of the diaconate as a “distinct ministry of service” to be exercised “in communion with the bishop and his group of priests”.

Many of the functions that deacons perform can also be carried out by members of the lay faithful. The restoration of the diaconate is not intended in any sense to change that situation. The idea is that some of those who already exercise these functions would be “strengthened with the grace of diaconal ordination” and in that way would be designated to be a visible public sign of the Christ the Servant in the community of the Church.

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