May 27, 2024

By Deacon John Devlin

I was ordained a permanent deacon in 2007. In the years since, one of the questions people have asked me most is: “What’s the difference between a priest and a deacon?” I thought it might be helpful for everyone to hear the answer to this question, especially in light of the changes coming with the Set Ablaze initiative we are now entering into as a diocese.

Why can’t we just move deacons to pastorates that need help?
Deacons are not generally employed by the Church and are never employed as priests are. Some deacons do work for their parish, but they fulfill duties specific to the needs of that parish. Most deacons are employed in secular jobs because the Church does not provide for their wellbeing. So deacons own their own houses, earn their own income and provide for their families. Moving a deacon across town would be one thing, but moving them across the diocese simply would not work.

Why don’t we just hire more deacons where we need them?
Deacons are not hired, they are ordained. Deacons go through several years of formation and scrutiny prior to being ordained by their bishop. Much like the priesthood, the diaconate is a calling, not a job.

Can’t deacons do everything a priest does?
The short answer is no. Deacons are ordained for service to their bishop. Deacons can baptize and can witness marriage vows, but they cannot administer the other sacraments that priests can. Priests are able to celebrate Mass, to hear confessions, to anoint the sick and lead the people in prayer and in liturgy. Meanwhile, deacons are ordained to serve priests and assist them in their mission.

Why don’t permanent deacons just do Communion services to take the place of Mass?
In short, nothing takes the place of the Mass. If a person is able to get to Mass, that is what they should do. Communion services are done very occasionally in specific circumstances. For instance, our parish does a Communion service at a nearby nursing home each Sunday morning because the Catholic residents are unable to get to Mass. I sympathize with those who have to drive to a different town to attend Mass, but it is worth it!

I hope this helps. Remember, deacons and priests are different, although both are ordained.

The word “deacon” comes from a Greek word meaning “servant.” I speak for all of the deacons in our diocese when I say that we stand ready to serve our bishop and our pastors in any way they need. We were called to this vocation of service, and we hope to fulfill our duties with humble and joy-filled hearts.