History and Tradition
History of the Permanent Diaconate
St. Stephen: first deacon & martyr
The Diaconate, restored as a permanent order of ministry by the Second Vatican Council as part of its renewed vision of the church, brings back to the church the full complement of active apostolic ministries. In communion with the bishop and priests, the deacon is ordained to function in all three areas of the church's life: in the transmission of the Word; in the celebration of the sacraments and commitment to prayer, and in the community's love in action through service.
The deacon is called to be the presence of Jesus, touching the oppressed and the alienated, as well as being a source of encouragement to all the baptized in answering their call to service. By his life, the deacon makes visible to the church and to the world the redemptive service fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
The Diaconate and Tradition
The service of deacons in the Church is documented from apostolic times. A strong tradition attested already by St. Irenaeus and influencing the liturgy of ordination, sees the origin of the diaconate in the institution of the "seven" mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-6).
Up to the fifth century the diaconate flourished in the western church, but after this period, for various reasons, it experienced a slow decline which ended in its surviving only as an intermediate stage for candidates preparing for priestly ordination. The Council of Trent disposed that the Permanent Diaconate as it existed in ancient times, should be restored, in accord with its proper nature, to its original function in the Church. This prescription, however, was not carried into effect.
It would not be until June 18, 1967 when Pope Paul VI implemented the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council and restored the Holy Order of the Permanent Diaconate. On August 30, 1968, approval to restore the diaconate was granted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Each Bishop was permitted to implement the diaconate in his own diocese, and in September 1975, the first class of 24 men began formation in the Buffalo Diocese.
Pope Paul VI