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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On the Permanency of the Permanent Deacon

Permanent Deacons (I believe) assist the Holy Father at Solemn Vespers for the Feast of Mary Mother of God.

I've had this dicsussion a few times and thought this was worth posting. The Permanent Diaconate is a call unto itself. If one is single and discerns a call to the permanent diaconate, he could be ordained at age 25 and takes a vow of celibacy. A married man can be ordained at age 35. However, should a married deacon become a widower he too would embrace a life of celibacy and is not to remarry (a permanent deacon's widow is able to remarry with the Church's blessing).
From Deacon Dan Wright's Blog...

On the Permanency of the Permanent Deacon
A reader commented in the previous post, asking:

"We have a friend who was ordained in the permanent diaconate. Does that mean he can't ever change his mind, and go on to become a priest? My husband was thinking that due to such a clerical shortage, this deacon ought (and would be the type) to pursue that, but it's called permanent diaconate for a reason--yet it seems likely there is some dispensation or form to release him from the diaconate into pursuing that? "

Fortunately, to address the question we are now able to consult the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, which was approved in 2003 and released for publication in 2005. For those of us in the diaconate, the National Directory was a long-awaited document that answered many questions, for which the responses tended to vary regionally.

It does, in fact, seem reasonable that there should be some permission or other means available by which a widowed or celibate deacon might enter the priesthood. After all, people do change directions in life, and it's true that many deacons possess the qualities that go into making good pastors.

I have, in fact, known of several deacons who became priests after being widowed. Though this certainly has never been the norm, even before the release of the Directory. There are also occasions that I am aware of in which the transition from deacon to priest didn't work out.

In one case, with which I am familiar, a deacon became a priest and then subsequently left the priesthood to remarry. Naturally, such mishaps might give rise to practical arguments against ordaining men to the priesthood who have been accustomed to married life. However, in my opinion, this in itself is not a strong argument against allowing deacons to become priests. The stronger argument simply has to do with the permanence of the order.

What does the Directory have to say about all this? Here's an excerpt that gets right to it:

Since the history of the order over the last millennium, however, has been centered on the diaconate as a transitory stage leading to the priesthood, actions that may obfuscate the stability and permanence of the order should be minimized. This would include the ordination of celibate or widowed deacons to the priesthood. "Hence ordination [of a permanent deacon] to the priesthood...must always be a very rare exception, and only for special and grave reasons..."

However, the document goes on to leave open the possibility of ordaining a permanent deacon to the priesthood given that the diocese adheres to the correct protocol and insures the suitability and proper education of the candidate. Still, it is clear that the role of the permanent deacon is, typically and most suitably, to remain a deacon throughout life.

Nevertheless, in the case of the deacon in the question, I would advise him to consult with his bishop and be in prayer and discernment. Some the Lord called as teachers, and some to be prophets. Others he called to be evangelizers, and still others to be apostles. By the same reasoning some are called to be priests, and others the Lord calls as deacons.

Whatever the calling, our role--our responsibility--is to accept God's will in our lives and to rejoice in that which we do. Our responsibility also is to discern the call of God and to be ready to go forth when he calls.

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