Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Restoring the Permanent Diaconate (Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem)

by Pope Saint Paul VI

Descriptive Title

Restoring the Permanent Diaconate


Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio by Pope Paul VI on June 18, 1967.

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Publisher & Date

Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Vol., No. 3, Summer 1967

(I) Decision by episcopal conferences
(II) Preparation of young candidates
(III) Older candidates
(IV) Proper support
(V) Functions of the deacon
(VI) Spiritual life
(VII) Deacons in religious orders

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH has held the sacred order of the diaconate in highest honor since the time of the Apostles; the Doctor of the Gentiles himself gives evidence of this when he addresses his greeting to the deacons as well as to the bishops1 and when he instructs Timothy on the virtues and qualities of soul that should be expected of them if they are to carry out their ministry worthily.2

The will of the Council

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council has carried on this ancient custom by praising the diaconate in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. After considering bishops and priests in that document, it also paid tribute to the third rank of sacred orders by explaining its dignity and listing its functions. But since the Council understood very well that "these duties which are very necessary for the life of the Church can be fulfilled only with difficulty in many regions, because of the discipline of the Latin Church prevailing today," and since it wanted to make better provision for something as desirable as this, it wisely decreed that "in time to come, the diaconate could be reinstated as a distinct and permanent rank of the hierarchy."3

For even though some of the functions of deacons are usually committed to laymen, especially in missionary lands, still "it is helpful to strengthen, by the imposition of hands—which goes back to apostolic tradition—and to link more closely with the altar, men who are to perform truly diaconal functions . . . so that through the sacramental grace of the diaconate they will be enabled to fulfill their ministry more effectively."4 This will be ideal to highlight the special nature of this order, which should not be regarded as just a step toward the priesthood, but rather as enriched with an indelible character and a special grace of its own so that those who are called to it can "serve the mysteries of Christ and of the Church'5 in a stable fashion.

Establishing new rules for the diaconal ministry

But since the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church is not something that has to be put into effect, but rather "it is up to competent territorial conferences of bishops . . . to decide, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, whether and where it would be opportune to appoint deacons of this type for the care of souls,"6 We have decided that it is not only desirable but necessary that some well-defined rules be published adapting existing discipline to the new precepts of the Ecumenical Council, and to prescribe the right conditions for the proper exercise of the diaconal ministry and for a training of candidates which will be properly suited to their varying states of life, their common offices and their sacred dignity.

Canon law confirmed

To begin with, We want to confirm all that is said in the Code of Canon Law about the rights and duties of deacons, either those rights and duties which they have in common with all clerics or those proper to themselves, except where We here state otherwise, and We decree that these rules are to apply to those who are to be permanent deacons as well. In addition We make the following provisions concerning them.

(I) Decision by episcopal conferences

1. It is the function of legitimate episcopal conferences to decide, with the consent of the Roman Pontiff, whether and where the diaconate is to be established as a permanent rank in the hierarchy for the good of souls.

2. In submitting requests for the approval of the Apostolic See, the reasons should be given which make this new discipline advisable in a given area, and those special aspects stated which afford genuine hope for success. Likewise, indications should be given of the kind of discipline involved, namely, whether it will be a case of conferring the diaconate "on suitable young men . . . for whom the law of celibacy must remain in force" or "on older men, including those living in the married state," or on candidates of both categories.

3. Once the approval of the Apostolic See has been obtained, it will be up to each ordinary to approve and ordain candidates in his own territory, unless exceptions have been made in granting the faculty.

In making his report on the state of his diocese, the ordinary should also recount the establishment of this discipline.

(II) Preparation of young candidates

4. On the basis of Church law, with the approval of the Ecumenical Council, young men called to the diaconate are bound by the law of celibacy.

5. The permanent diaconate is not to be conferred before the age of 25; the episcopal conferences can require a greater age if they so choose.

6. Young men who are to be trained for the office of deacon should go to a special college where they can be tested, trained to live a truly evangelical life, and instructed on how to perform their duties usefully.

7. The bishops of a region—or where it would be useful, those of several regions in the same country —should join in establishing a college of this kind, depending on local circumstances. They should choose particularly well-fitted men to be in charge of it and should make clear rules regarding discipline and studies, in accordance with the norms that follow.

8. Only those young men should be enrolled to train for the diaconate who have shown a natural inclination for service to the hierarchy and the Christian community, and who have received what is, by local standards, a good deal of doctrinal instruction.

9. The period of preparation for the diaconate should run at least three years. The course of studies should be arranged in such a way that the candidates make orderly and gradual progress toward gaining an understanding of the various duties of the diaconate and toward being able to carry them out effectively. The whole course of studies might well be so planned that in the last year special training will be given in the principal functions to be carried out by the deacon.

10. In addition, there should be practice in teaching the fundamentals of the Christian religion to children and others of the faithful, in teaching people to sing sacred music and in leading them, in reading the books of Scripture at gatherings of the faithful, in giving talks to the people, in administering those sacraments which deacons may administer, in visiting the sick and, in general, in carrying out the ministries which may be required of them.

(III) Older candidates

11. Men of more mature age, whether celibate or married, can be called to the diaconate; but married men should not be accepted unless there is clear evidence that their wives not only consent but also have the Christian moral character and attributes which will neither hinder their husbands' ministry nor be out of keeping with it.

12. "More mature age" means 35 years; but this is to be understood as meaning that no one can be called to the diaconate unless he has won the respect of the clergy and the faithful by having lived a truly Christian life for a long time, by his upright character, and by showing that his nature and disposition are inclined toward the ministry.

Married deacons

13. In the case of married men, care should be taken that only those are promoted to the diaconate who have lived as married men for a number of years and have shown themselves to be good heads of their own homes, and whose wives and children lead a truly Christian life and have good reputations.7

14. It is desirable for these deacons, too, to acquire a good deal of doctrine, as was said in nos. 8, 9 and 10 above, or at least for them to have the knowledge which the episcopal conference may judge they will need to fulfill their functions properly. They should therefore be admitted to a special college for a certain length of time in order to learn all they will have to know to carry out worthily the office of deacon.

15. But if for some reason this cannot be done, then the candidate should be entrusted to some priest of excellent judgment who will take a special interest in him and teach him, and who will be able to testify to his maturity and prudence. Great care must always be taken that only those who have enough learning and are suitable are enrolled in the sacred order.

16. Those who have received the order of deacon, even those who are older, may not, in accordance with traditional Church discipline, enter into marriage.

17. Care should be taken that deacons do not carry on a profession or trade which the local ordinary considers unsuitable or which will interfere with the fruitful exercise of their sacred office.

(IV) Proper support

18. Any deacon who is not a professed member of a religious community should be duly enrolled in some diocese.

19. Any rules now in force on the proper support of priests and on providing social security for them are to be applied also to permanent deacons, with due consideration being given to the families of married deacons and keeping in mind no. 21 of this document.

20. It will be up to the episcopal conference to make specific rules on the decent support of a deacon and of his family if he is married, in accordance with local circumstances.

21. Deacons who are practicing a secular profession should take care of their own needs and those of their family from this income insofar as possible.

(V) Functions of the deacon

22. In accordance with the conciliar Constitution mentioned above, it is the function of the deacon—to the extent that he has been authorized by the local ordinary—to do the following:

1) To carry out, with bishop and priest, all the roles in liturgical rites which the ritual books attribute to him;

2) To administer Baptism solemnly and to supply the ceremonies that have been omitted at Baptism in the case of an infant or adult;

3) To have custody of the Eucharist, to distribute it to himself and to others, and to impart Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament to the people with the pyx;

4) To assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church when there is no priest present, with delegation from the bishop or the pastor, so long as everything else commanded in the Code of Canon Law is observed,8 and with no infringement on Canon 1098, in which case what is said of a priest is to be understood of a deacon as well;

5) To administer sacramentals, and to preside at funeral and burial rites;

6) To read the Scriptures to the faithful and to teach and preach to the people;

7) To preside over the offices of religious worship and prayer services when there is no priest present;

8) To direct Bible services when there is no priest present;

9) To do charitable, administrative and welfare work in the name of the hierarchy;

10) To legitimately guide outlying communities of Christians in the name of the pastor and the bishop;

11) To foster and aid the lay apostolate.

23. All these offices are to be carried out in complete communion with the bishop and his presbyterium, which means under the authority of the bishop and the priests who preside over the care of souls in that place.

24. Deacons should have a part in pastoral councils insofar as this is possible.

(VI) Spiritual life

25. Deacons are serving the mysteries of Christ and the Church, and must abstain from any vice, strive to please God, and be "ready for any good work"9 for the salvation of men. Therefore, because of their reception of this order, they should far excel others in their liturgical lives, in devotion to prayer, in the divine ministry, in obedience, charity and chastity.

26. It will be up to the episcopal conference to establish more effective rules for fostering the spiritual lives of deacons, both celibates and those who are married. But the local ordinaries should see to it that all deacons:

1) Apply themselves to carefully reading and attentively meditating on the word of God;

2) Attend Mass frequently— even daily if possible—receive the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist and visit it out of devotion;

3) Purify their souls frequently through the Sacrament of Penance, having prepared for it worthily through a daily examination of conscience;

4) Show a deep love and veneration for the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

27. It is very fitting for permanent deacons to recite daily at least some part of the Divine Office —to be specified by the episcopal conference.

28. Diocesan deacons must make a retreat at least once every three years in some pious or religious house designated by the ordinary.

Importance of study

29. Deacons should not slacken in their studies, particularly of sacred doctrine; they should carefully read the Scriptures; they should devote themselves to ecclesiastical studies in such a way that they can Correctly explain Catholic doctrine to others and day by day become better fitted to train and strengthen the souls of the faithful. With this in mind, deacons should be called to regular meetings at which matters concerning their life and sacred ministry will be treated.

30. Deacons are obliged to profess reverence and obedience for the bishop in a special way because of the ministry committed to them; but bishops should have a high regard for these ministers of the People of God and show them paternal charity. If a deacon is going to remain outside his own diocese for a good reason for a length of time, he should willingly submit to the authority and supervision of the local ordinary in matters concerning the offices and duties of the diaconal state.10

31. As far as clothing is concerned, local custom is to be observed in accordance with the rules laid down by the episcopal conference.

(VII) Deacons in religious orders

32. Institution of the permanent diaconate among religious is a right reserved to the Holy See, which alone is competent to examine and approve the votes of general chapters in the matter.

33. Deacons who belong to religious communities are to exercise their ministry under the authority of the bishop and of their own superiors, in accordance with the norms applicable to priests who are religious. They are also bound by the same laws as other members of their religious order.

34. When a deacon who is a religious is staying either permanently or for a while in an area that does not have a permanent diaconate, he is not to exercise his functions as a deacon without the consent of the ordinary.

35. Whatever is said about religious in nos. 32-34 is to be understood as well about the members of other institutes professing the life of the evangelical counsels.


36. As for the rite to be used in conferring the sacred order of diaconate and the orders that come before it, the present discipline is to continue in force until revised by the Holy See.

The example of deacon saints

Lastly, after laying down these rules, We find a wish springing up in Our heart that deacons, in carrying out their difficult office in the circumstances of this age of ours, may follow the shining examples which We propose to them of the protomartyr St. Stephen who was, as St. Irenaeus says, the "first to be chosen by the Apostles for the diaconate,"11 and of St. Lawrence of Rome, "who was outstanding not only in administering the sacraments, but in managing the goods of the Church as well."12

We command that everything decreed in this letter that We have issued on Our own initiative be regarded as established and ratified. anything to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, on June 18th, the feast of the deacon St. Ephraem of Syria, in the year 1967, the fourth of Our pontificate.



1 See Phil 1, 1.

2 See 1 Tm 3, 8-13.

3 See no. 29: AAS 57 (1965), 36 [TPS X, 380].

4 Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church no 16-AAS 58 (1966), 967 [tps xI, 424].

5 See Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 41: AAS 57 (1965) 46 [TPS X 386].

6 Ibid., no. 29: AAS 57 (1965), 36 [TPS X, 380].

7 See 1 Tm 3, 10-13.

8 See Canons 1096, §2; and 1096.

9 See 2 Tm 2, 21.

10 Code of Oriental Law, De Personis, Canon 87: AAS 49 (1957), 462.

11 Adversus Haereses, IV, 15, 1: PG 7, 1013.

12 St. Leo the Great, Sermon 85: PL 54, 436.

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