On 10th August 2018, the feast of St Laurence, Deacon and Martyr, Deacons across the world are celebrating 50 years since the ordination of the first deacons as a permanent order in the Western Church for more than 1,000 years.
Following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s the diaconate was restored as a permanent order which could include married men. After final permission was granted in 1967 by Blessed Pope Paul VI the ordination of men to the diaconate began in 1968. The first of these deacons were ordained in Germany and Cameroon. In England and Wales the first men were ordained six years later in 1974 in Portsmouth and Arundel & Brighton Dioceses.
Since that time thousands of men have been ordained as deacons across the globe and there are now more than 45,000 deacons in more than 50% of the Roman Catholic Dioceses across the world and the number continues to grow. They are to be found in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, North America and Europe. One of the latest dioceses to begin a programme of diaconal formation is in Russia.
The National Conference of Diaconate Directors and Deacon Representatives (NCDDDR) which as part of the Bishops' Conference's Department of Catholic Education and Formation supports the work of the diaconate in England and Wales welcomes this milestone in the life of the Church. Deacon Mark Woods, the Chair of the NCDDDR said "The Diaconate is clearly one of the great fruits of the Second Vatican Council. In England and Wales we have over 800 Deacons working in all sorts of ministries from care of seafarers to prisoners and the homeless as well as at a local parish level. We rejoice with Deacons and indeed the whole Church in Germany and Cameroon who this year celebrate this Golden Jubilee of the first deacon ordinations."
Several bishops in England and Wales have recently taken steps to highlight the vocation and role of the Deacon. The Bishop of Leeds and the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle have both this year issued Pastoral Letters on the Diaconate[ii], the Bishop of Salford has begun a formation programme for Deacons bringing the last Diocese in England and Wales on board with the Diaconate[iii], and the Bishop of Arundel & Brighton has recently set up a Council of Deacons alongside the Council of Priests and a planned Council of Laity to advise him. The NCDDDR is also supported by Bishop David McGough of Birmingham Archdiocese who is the liaison with the Bishop's Conference.
Deacon Mark continued: "The diaconate has been a success of the Second Vatican Council and the understanding of the diaconate and its role continues to grow. Our essential ministry is one of altar, word and charity. The deacon is not a substitute priest but has his own distinct ministry which we are, after 50 years, beginning to understand more clearly. The Diaconate is an ancient order that has its roots in the early Church and is now restored to its proper place in the life of the Church. We look forward to what the next 50 years will bring to the Diaconate and how this ministry might grow."