Formation of Deacons

The Diocese of Rochester intends to recruit and form appropriate men as Permanent Deacons according to the Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons (Vatican 1998) and the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States (USCCB 2005).

The Permanent Diaconate is, with the Episcopacy and Priesthood, conferred through a special outpouring of the Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which is, with Matrimony, one of the Sacraments at the Service of Communion within the Catholic Church. All of the aspects of the formation program must be understood as parts of a multileveled sacramental preparation program.

The goals of this sacramental preparation program are to assist the Candidate to discern in depth what God’s particular call to him might be, to enable the Candidate and his spouse to enter upon the particular tasks and responsibilities of this Sacrament with informed consent, to receive worthily the particular grace of this Sacrament, to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to the performance of these tasks and responsibilities and to take up his role in the order of Deacons within the general diocesan ministerium. Most commonly five years are devoted to preparation for this sacrament.

A longer program may be required for some Aspirants or Candidates when family life demands, work responsibilities, the demands of studies or the particularly unfolding of the process of discernment call for more time. Any changes in the five-year curriculum require careful consideration with the Director of Deacon Formation, the Faculty Advisor and the Mentor. The permission of the Bishop is required for such modifications of the program.

While remembering that it is the husband who is in formation, the wife of the Aspirant or Candidate should be involved in the formation program in appropriate ways in order to insure her informed consent to the husband’s reception of the Sacrament of Orders, to strengthen her awareness of the husband’s vocation as a Deacon and to help her to accept the challenges and changes that will take place should her husband be ordained. (National Directory, #138-139) The goals of this program, therefore, extend in their own way to the spouse.

We want to summarize here this multileveled program.

Formation for the Permanent Diaconate takes place on three integral paths of formation. They are called the Aspirant Path, the Candidate Path and the Post-Ordination Path.

The Aspirant Path is followed during the first year of engagement in this program. This is a period of intense inquiry for the applicant and his family. At the end of this year of discernment and education, the Aspirant decides whether he should proceed in the program, if invited by the Bishop after consultation with those responsible for the guidance of the Aspirant.

Through the Rite of Candidacy, the Aspirant enters upon the Candidate Path that lasts three years. At the end of the first year of Candidacy he is instituted as a Lector, and at the end of the second year of Candidacy he is instituted as an Acolyte. At the end of the third year of this path he may be called forth by the Bishop to this ministry through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Throughout these years the Candidate and those responsible for formation discern together the appropriateness of this sacramental ministry for him and his family and make recommendations to the Bishop, who is responsible for calling him to ordained ministry.

Through Ordination he enters upon the Post-Ordination path of formation, where he seeks to persevere faithfully in this sacramental grace through ongoing activities to guide his lifelong deepening of this sacramental experience of conformation to Christ the Servant in the Church and world.

Four dimensions of formation give content and direction to each of these three integrated paths. These dimensions entail continual growth, development and conversion in the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral aspects of one’s life.

These four dimensions of the formation paths are focused through several perspectives that have been determined by the Bishops of the United States to be particularly relevant to the ministry of Deacons in our local Church.

These four perspectives are a family perspective, multicultural sensitivity, social-justice advocacy and an ecumenical and inter-religious spirit

Paragraph 5 of the Basic Norms prescribed by the Vatican in 1998 summarizes the inner meaning of this holy undertaking:

The diaconate is conferred through a special outpouring of the Spirit (ordination), which brings about in the one who receives it a specific conformation to Christ, Lord and servant of all…This indication…outlines the specific theological identity of the Deacon: as a participant in the one ecclesiastical ministry, he is a specific sacramental sign, in the Church, of Christ the servant. His role is to ‘express the needs and desires of the Christian communities’ and to be ‘a driving force for service, or diaconal, which is an essential part of the mission of the Church.’