The terms “Deacon” and “Diaconate” derive from the Greek word diakonia which means “service” or “ministry.” A deacon, then, is ordained by the Church for service. But what kind of service?
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church speaks of three areas of diaconal service: Ministry of Charity, Ministry of the Word, and Ministry of Liturgy.
Ministry of Charity
The deacon is ordained to be a witness to the Gospel through a life of service. A deacon serves through his person-to-person encounters: he ministers to the poor, the aged, the sick, and prisoners. He participates in programs dealing with community problems like substance or child abuse. The deacon works with youth and young adults in various parish and community programs. The deacon is obliged to be a positive influence for change in the world...so that society may be renewed by Christ and transformed into the family of God.
Ministry of the Word
The deacon proclaims the Gospel. He is an agent of evangelization, that is, of announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ in society. He also preaches at liturgical gatherings and teaches in religious education programs, sacramental preparation programs, like baptism, marriage, and RCIA.
Ministry of Liturgy
The deacon assists at the Eucharistic liturgy, administers baptism, witnesses marriages, leads vigils for the deceased and funerals, administers some sacramentals, and presides at some other liturgical services.
The deacon of today has the flexibility to dedicate his special talents under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and through the Church, to contribute to the mission of the Church within his own world of community activity. The diaconate broadens the concept of ministry and makes it possible for others to share their talents in varying ways.
The summons of his bishop, the needs of the community, the deacon’s own specific competence and the guidance of his priest supervisor will help him decide how to use his resources wisely and effectively.
Deacons: A Special Role to Play in the World
Taking an active part in society belongs to the baptismal mission of every Christian in accordance with his or her state in life, but the permanent deacon has a special witness to give. The sacramental grace of his ordination is meant to strengthen him and to make his efforts fruitful, even as his secular occupation gives him entry into the temporal sphere in a way that is normally not appropriate for other members of the clergy.”
—Pope John Paul II in his address to the Deacons of the United States