Congregation for Catholic Education, Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Diaconorum Permanentium, 22 February 1998.
Introduction1. The paths of formation
1. The first indications about the formation of permanent deacons were given by the Apostolic Letter Sacrum diaconatus ordinem.
These indications were then taken up and further refined in the Circular Letter of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education of 16 July
. Cf. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem (18 June 1967): AAS 59 (1967), pp. 697-704. The Apostolic Letter, at Ch. II, which is dedicated to younger candidates, prescribes: “6. Young men who are to be trained for the office of deacon should go to a special institution where they can be tested, trained to live a truly evangelical life, and instructed on how to perform usefully the duties of their future state. 9. The period of preparation for the diaconate as such should run for a period of 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 lead them in it, 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.” The same Apostolic Letter, at Chapter III, which is dedicated to older candidates, prescribes: “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 fulfil their functions properly. They should therefore be admitted to a special institution 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 outstanding virtue who will take a special interest in him and teach him, and who will be able to testify to his maturity and prudence.”
1969, Come è a conoscenza, in which were foreseen “different types of formation” according to the “different types of diaconate” (for celibates, married people, “those destined for mission territories or for countries which were still developing,” those called “to carry out their function in countries with a certain level of civilisation and a fairly developed culture”). Regarding doctrinal formation, it was specified that it must be above that required for a simple catechist and, in some way, analogous to that of the priest. The material which had to be taken into consideration when drawing up the programme of studies was then listed.
The subsequent Apostolic Letter Ad pascendum specified that “in regard to the course of theological studies that are to precede the ordination of permanent deacons, the Episcopal Conferences, according to the local situation, are competent to issue the appropriate norms and submit them to the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education for approval.”
The new Code of Canon Law brought together the essential elements of this norm into canon 236.
2. After about thirty years from the first directives, and with the contribution of subsequent experiences, it has been thought opportune now to draw up the present Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium. Its purpose is that of providing an instrument for guiding and harmonising, while respecting legitimate diversity, the educational projects drawn up by the Episcopal Conferences and dioceses, which at times vary greatly from one to another.
2. Reference to a sure theology of the diaconate
3. The effectiveness of the formation of permanent deacons depends to a great extent on the theological understanding of the diaconate that
. The Circular Letter of the Congregation indicated that courses must take into consideration the study of sacred scripture, dogma, moral, canon law, liturgy, “technical training, in order to prepare the candidates for certain activities of the ministry, such as psychology, catechetical pedagogy, public speaking, sacred song, organisation of Catholic groups, ecclesiastical administration, keeping up to date the registers of baptism, confirmation, marriage, deaths, etc.”
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum (15 August 1972), VII b): AAS 64 (1972), p. 540.
underlies it. In fact it offers the coordinates for establishing and guiding the formation process and, at the same time, lays down the end to be attained.
The almost total disappearance of the permanent diaconate from the Church of the West for more than a millennium has certainly made it more difficult to understand the profound reality of this ministry. However, it cannot be said for that reason that the theology of the diaconate has no authoritative points of reference, completely at the mercy of different theological opinions. There are points of reference, and they are very clear, even if they need to be developed and deepened. Some of the most important of these will now follow, without, however, any claim to completeness.
4. First of all we must consider the diaconate, like every other Christian identity, from within the Church which is understood as a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension. This is a necessary, even if not the first, reference in the definition of the identity of every ordained minister insofar as its full truth consists in being a specific participation in and representation of the ministry of Christ. This is why the deacon receives the laying on of hands and is sustained by a specific sacramental grace which inserts him into the sacrament of Orders.
5. 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. Quoting a text of the Constitutiones Ecclesiae Aegypticae, Lumen gentium (n. 29) defines the laying on of hands on the deacon as being not “ad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium,” that is, not for the celebration of the eucharist, but for
. Cf. John Paul II, Postsynodal Ap. Exhort. Pastores dabo vobis (25 March 1992), 12: AAS 84 (1992), pp. 675-676.
. Cf. Ecum. Council Vat. II, Dogm. Const. Lumen gentium, 28; 29.
. The Pontificale Romanum – De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, Editio typica altera, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis 1990, p. 101, cites at n. 179 of the “Praenotanda,” relative to the ordination of deacons, the expression “in ministerio Episcopi ordinantur” taken from the Traditio apostolica, 8 (SCh, 11bis, pp. 58-59), as taken from the Constitutiones Ecclesiae Aegypticae III, 2: F. X. Funk (ed.), Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum, II, Paderbornae 1905, p. 103.
service. This indication, together with the admonition of Saint Polycarp, also taken up again by Lumen gentium, n. 29, outlines the specific theological identity of the deacon: as a participation 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 diakonia,” which is an essential part of the mission of the Church.
6. The matter of diaconal ordination is the laying on of the hands of the Bishop; the form is constituted by the words of the prayer of ordination, which is expressed in the three moments of anamnesis, epiclesis and intercession. The anamnesis (which recounts the history of salvation centred in Christ) goes back to the “levites,” recalling worship, and to the “seven” of the Acts of the Apostles, recalling charity. The epiclesis invokes the power of the seven gifts of the Spirit so that the ordinand may imitate Christ as “deacon.” The intercession is an exhortation to a generous and chaste life.
The essential form of the sacrament is the epiclesis, which consists of the words: “Lord, send forth upon them the Holy Spirit, that they may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.” The seven gifts originate in a passage of Isaiah 11:2, from the fuller version given by the Septuagint. These are the gifts of the Spirit given to the Messiah, which are granted to the newly ordained.
7. Insofar as it is a grade of holy orders, the diaconate imprints a character and communicates a specific sacramental grace. The diaconal character is the configurative and distinguishing sign indelibly impressed in the soul, which configures the one ordained to Christ, who made himself the deacon or servant of all. It brings with it a specific sacramental grace, which is strength, vigor specialis, a gift for living the new reality wrought
. “(They should be) compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all” (St Polycarp, Epist. ad Philippenses, 5, 2: F. X. Funk [ed.], Patres Apostolici, I, Tubingae 1901, pp. 300-302).
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, Introduction: l.c., pp. 534-538.
. Cf. Pontificale Romanum – De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, n. 207: ed. cit., pp. 115-122.
. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1570.
by the sacrament. “With regard to deacons, ‘strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service (diakonia) of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity’.” Just as in all sacraments which imprint character, grace has a permanent virtuality. It flowers again and again in the same measure in which it is received and accepted again and again in faith.
8. In the exercise of their power, deacons, since they share in a lower grade of ecclesiastical ministry, necessarily depend on the Bishops, who have the fullness of the sacrament of orders. In addition, they are placed in a special relationship with the priests, in communion with whom they are called to serve the People of God.
From the point of view of discipline, with diaconal ordination, the deacon is incardinated into a particular Church or personal prelature to whose service he has been admitted, or else, as a cleric, into a religious institute of consecrated life or a clerical society of apostolic life. Incardination does not represent something which is more or less accidental, but is characteristically a constant bond of service to a concrete portion of the People of God. This entails ecclesial membership at the juridical, affective and spiritual level and the obligation of ministerial service.
3. The ministry of the deacon in different pastoral contexts
9. The ministry of the deacon is characterised by the exercise of the three munera proper to the ordained ministry, according to the specific perspective of diakonia.
In reference to the munus docendi the deacon is called to proclaim the Scriptures and instruct and exhort the people. This finds expression in the presentation of the Book of the Gospels, foreseen in the rite of ordination itself.
. ibidem, n. 1588.
. Cf. Ecum. Council Vat. II, Decr.Christus Dominus, 15.
. Cf. C.I.C., can. 266.
. Cf. Ecum. Council Vat. II, Dogm.Const. Lumen gentium, 29.
. Cf. Pontificale Romanum – De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, n. 210: ed. cit., p. 125.
The munus sanctificandi of the deacon is expressed in prayer, in the solemn administration of baptism, in the custody and distribution of the Eucharist, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in presiding at the rites of funeral and burial and in the administration of sacramentals. This brings out how the diaconal ministry has its point of departure and arrival in the Eucharist, and cannot be reduced to simple social service.
Finally, the munus regendi is exercised in dedication to works of charity and assistance and in the direction of communities or sectors of church life, especially as regards charitable activities. This is the ministry most characteristic of the deacon.
10. As can be seen from original diaconal practice and from conciliar indications, the outlines of the ministerial service inherent in the diaconate are very well defined. However, even if this inherent ministerial service is one and the same in every case, nevertheless the concrete ways of carrying it out are diverse; these must be suggested, in each case, by the different pastoral situations of the single Churches. In preparing the formation to be imparted, these should obviously be taken into account.
4. Diaconal spirituality
11. The outlines of the specific spirituality of the deacon flow clearly from his theological identity; this spirituality is one of service.
The model “par excellence” is Christ the servant, who lived totally at the service of God, for the good of men. He recognised himself as the one announced in the servant of the first song of the Book of Isaiah (Cf. Lk 4:18-19), he explicitly qualified his action as diakonia (Cf. Mt 20:28; Lk 22:27; Jn 13:1-17; Phil 2:7-8; 1 Pet 2:21-25) and he entrusted his disciples to do the same (Cf. Jn 13:34-35; Lk 12:37).
The spirituality of service is a spirituality of the whole Church, insofar as the whole Church, in the same way as Mary, is the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:28), at the service of the salvation of the world. And so that the whole Church may better live out this sprituality of service, the Lord gives
. Cf. Ecum. Council Vat. II, Dogm.Const. Lumen gentium, 29.
. Cf. ibidem.
her a living and personal sign of his very being as servant. In a specific way, this is the spirituality of the deacon. In fact, with sacred ordination, he is constituted a living icon of Christ the servant within the Church. The Leitmotiv of his spiritual life will therefore be service; his sanctification will consist in making himself a generous and faithful servant of God and men, especially the poorest and most suffering; his ascetic commitment will be directed towards acquiring those virtues necessary for the exercise of his ministry.
12. Obviously such a spirituality must integrate itself harmoniously, in each case, with the spirituality related to the state of life. Accordingly, the same diaconal spirituality acquires diverse connotations according to whether it be lived by a married man, a widower, a single man, a religious, a consecrated person in the world. Formation must take account of these variations and offer differentiated spiritual paths according to the types of candidates.
5. The role of Episcopal Conferences
13. “It is the competence of legitimate assemblies of Bishops or Episcopal Conferences to decide, with the consent of the Supreme Pontiff, whether and where the diaconate is to be established as a permanent rank in the hierarchy for the good of souls.”
The Code of Canon Law likewise attributes to the Episcopal Conferences the competence to specify, by means of complementary dispositions, the discipline regarding the recitation of the liturgy of the hours, the required age for admission20 and the formation given; can. 236 is dedicated to this. The canon lays down that it is the Episcopal Conferences, on the basis of local circumstances, which issue the appropriate norms to ensure that candidates for the permanent diaconate, whether young or of a more mature age, whether single or married are “... formed in the spiritual life and appropriately instructed in the fulfilment of the duties proper to that order. ...”
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, I, 1: l.c., p. 699.
. Cf. C.I.C., can. 276, §2, 3o.
. Cf. ibidem, can. 1031, §3.
14. To assist the Episcopal Conferences in preparing a formation which, as well as being attentive to diverse particular situations, will still be in harmony with the universal direction of the Church, the Congregation for Catholic Education has prepared the present Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium, which is intended as a point of reference for defining the criteria of vocational discernment and the various aspects of formation. This document — by its very nature — establishes only some basic guidelines of a general character, which constitute the norm to which the Episcopal Conferences must make reference for the preparation or eventual perfecting of their respective national rationes. In this way the principles and criteria on the basis of which the formation of permanent deacons can be programmed with surety and in harmony with the other Churches shall be illustrated, without stifling the creativity or originality of the particular Churches.
15. In the same way that the Second Vatican Council established for the rationes institutionis sacerdotalis, with this document, the Episcopal Conferences which have restored the permanent diaconate are requested to submit their respective rationes institutionis diaconorum permanentium for examination and approval by the Holy See. The same will approve them, firstly, ad experimentum, and, then for a specified number of years, so as to guarantee periodic revisions.
6. Responsibility of Bishops
16. The restoration of the permanent diaconate in a nation does not imply the obligation of restoring it in all its dioceses. The diocesan Bishop will proceed or not in this regard, after having prudently heard the recommendation of the Council of Priests and, if it exists, the Pastoral Council, and taking account of concrete needs and the specific situation of his particular Church.
If he opts for the restoration of the permanent diaconate, he will take care to promote a suitable catechesis on the subject, both among laity and priests and religious, in such a way that the diaconal ministry may be fully understood. In addition, he will provide for the setting up of the structures necessary for the work of formation and for nominating suitable associates
. Ecum. Council Vat. II, Decr.Optatam totius, 1.
to assist him by being directly responsible for formation, or, according to circumstances, he will commit himself to employing the formation structures of other dioceses, or those of the region or nation.
The Bishop will then take care that, on the basis of the national ratio and actual experience, an appropriate rule be drafted and periodically revised.
7. The permanent diaconate in institutes of consecrated life and in societies of apostolic life
17. The institution of the permanent diaconate among the members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life is regulated by the norms of the Apostolic Letter Sacrum diaconatus ordinem. It establishes that “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.” The document continues: “Whatever is said ... is to be understood as applying to the members of other institutes professing the evangelical counsels.”
Each institute or society which has obtained the right to reestablish the permanent diaconate assumes the responsibility of guaranteeing the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of its candidates. Such an institute or society must commit itself therefore to preparing its own formation programme which incorporates the specific charism and spirituality of the institute or society and, at the same time, is in harmony with the present Ratio fundamentalis, especially as regards intellectual and pastoral formation.
The programme of each institute or society should be submitted for examination and approval to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life or the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches for territories where they are competent. The competent Congregation, having obtained the opinion of the Congregation for Catholic Education as regards intellectual formation, will approve it, firstly ad experimentum, and then for a specific number of years, so as to guarantee periodic revisions.
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, VII, 32: l.c., p. 703.
. Ibidem, VII, 35: l.c., p. 704.
I. THOSE INVOLVED IN THE FORMATION OF PERMANENT DEACONS1. The Church and the Bishop
18. The formation of deacons, like that of other ministers and all the baptised, is a duty which involves the whole Church. Hailed by the Apostle Paul as “the heavenly Jerusalem” and like Mary “our mother” (Gal 4:26), “by preaching and baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life.” And not only this: imitating the motherhood of Mary, she accompanies her children with maternal love and cares for them so that they all may come to the fullness of their vocation.
The Church’s care for her children is expressed in the offering of the Word and sacraments, in love and solidarity, in prayer and in the solicitude of the various ministries. However, in this care, which is, so to speak, visible, the care of the Holy Spirit is made present. In fact “the social structure of the Church serves the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body,” both in its universality and in the singularity of its members.
In the Church’s care for her children, the first figure, therefore, is the Spirit of Christ. It is He who calls them, accompanies them and moulds their hearts so that they can recognise his grace and respond generously to it. The Church must be well aware of this sacramental relevance of its educational work.
19. In the formation of permanent deacons, the first sign and instrument of the Spirit of Christ is the proper Bishop (or the competent Major Superior). He is the one ultimately responsible for their discernment and
. Ecum.Council Vat. II, Dogm.Const. Lumen gentium, 64.
. Ibidem, 8.
. Equivalent to the Diocesan Bishop in this regard are those to whom the following have been entrusted: territorial prelature, territorial abbey, apostolic vicariate, apostolic prefecture and a stably erected apostolic administration (Cf. C.I.C., cans. 368; 381, §2) as well as the personal prelature (Cf. C.I.C., cans. 266, §1; 295) and the military ordinariate (Cf. John Paul II, Apost. Const. Spirituali militum curae [21 April 1986], art. I, §1; art. II, §1: AAS 78 , pp. 482; 483).
formation. While ordinarily exercising this duty through the assistants who have been chosen, nevertheless he will he commit himself, as far as is possible, to knowing personally those who are preparing for diaconate.
2. Those responsible for formation
20. Those persons who, in dependence upon the Bishop (or competent Major Superior) and in strict collaboration with the diaconal community, have a special responsibility in the formation of candidates for the permanent diaconate are: the director of formation, the tutor (where the number requires it), the spiritual director and the pastor (or the minister to whom the candidate is entrusted for the diaconal placement).
21. The director of formation, nominated by the Bishop (or the competent Major Superior) has the task of coordinating the different people involved in the formation, of supervising and inspiring the whole work of education in its various dimensions, and of maintaining contacts with the families of married aspirants and candidates and with their communities of origin. In addition, he has the responsibility of presenting to the Bishop (or to the competent Major Superior) the judgement of suitability on aspirants for their admission among the candidates, and on candidates for their promotion to the order of diaconate after having heard the opinion of the other formators, excepting the spiritual director.
Because of his decisive and delicate duties, the director of formation must be chosen with great care. He must be a man of lively faith and a strong ecclesial sense, have had a wide pastoral experience and have given proof of wisdom, balance and capacity for communion; in addition he must have acquired a solid theological and pedagogical competence.
He could be a priest or a deacon and, preferably, not be at the same time also responsible for ordained deacons. In fact, it would be better for
. Cf. C.I.C., cans. 1025; 1029.
. This also includes the director of the specific house of formation, wherever it exists (Cf. C.I.C., can. 236, 1o).
this responsibility to remain distinct from that of forming aspirants and candidates.
22. The tutor, designated by the director of formation from among the deacons or priests of proven experience and nominated by the Bishop (or the competent Major Superior), is the direct companion of each aspirant and of each candidate. He is charged with closely following the formation of each one, offering his support and advice for the resolution of any problems which may arise and for helping to make personal the various moments of formation. He is also called to collaborate with the director of formation in the programming of the different formational activities and in the preparation of the judgement of suitability to be presented to the Bishop (or the competent Major Superior). According to circumstances, the tutor will be responsible for only one person or for a small group.
23. The spiritual director is chosen by each aspirant or candidate and must be approved by the Bishop or Major Superior. His task is that of discerning the workings of the Spirit in the soul of those called and, at the same time, of accompanying and supporting their ongoing conversion; he must also give concrete suggestions to help bring about an authentic diaconal spirituality and offer effective incentives for acquiring the associated virtues. Because of all this, aspirants and candidates are invited to entrust themselves for spiritual direction only to priests of proven virtue, equipped with a good theological culture, of profound spiritual experience, of marked pedagogical sense, of strong and refined ministerial sensibility.
24. The pastor (or other minister) is chosen by the director of formation in agreement with the other members of the formation team and taking account of the different situations of the candidates. He is called to offer to the one who has been entrusted to him a lively ministerial communion and to introduce him to and accompany him in those pastoral activities which he considers most suitable; he will also be careful to make a periodic check on the work done with the candidate himself and to communicate the progress of the placement to the director of formation.
25. The professors contribute in a relevant way to the formation of the future deacons. In fact by teaching the sacrum depositum held by
the Church, they nourish the faith of the candidates and qualify them to be teachers of the People of God. For that reason they must occupy themselves not only with acquiring the necessary scientific competence and an adequate pedagogical ability, but also with witnessing with their lives to the Truth which they teach.
In order to harmonise their specific contribution with the other dimensions of formation, it is important that they be willing, depending on circumstances, to collaborate and be open to discussion with the others involved in formation. In this way they will contribute to providing the candidates with a unified formation and help them in the necessary work of synthesis.
4. The formation community of permanent deacons
26. Aspirants and candidates for the permanent diaconate, naturally constitute a unique context, a distinct ecclesial community which strongly influences the formation process.
Those entrusted with the formation must take care that this community be characterised by a profound spirituality, a sense of belonging, a spirit of service and missionary thrust, and have a definite rhythm of meetings and prayer.
The formation community of permanent deacons can thus be for aspirants and candidates for the diaconate a precious support in the discernment of their vocation, in human growth, in the initiation to the spiritual life, in theological study and pastoral experience.
5. Communities of origin
27. The communities of origin of aspirants and candidates for the diaconate can exercise some influence on their formation.
For younger aspirants and candidates, the family can be an extraordinary help. It must be invited to “... accompany the formative journey with prayer, respect, the good example of the domestic virtues and spiritual and material help, especially in difficult moments... Even in the case of parents or relatives who are indifferent or opposed to the choice of a vocation,
a clear and calm facing of the situation and the encouragement which derives from it can be a great help to the deeper and more determined maturing of a...vocation.” As far as married aspirants and candidates are concerned, their commitment must be such that their married communion might contribute in a real way to inspiring their formation journey towards the goal of the diaconate.
The parish community is called to accompany the path of its member towards the diaconate with the support of prayer and an appropriate catechesis which, while it makes the faithful aware of this ministry, gives to the candidate a strong aid to his vocational discernment.
Those other ecclesial groupings from which aspirants and candidates for the diaconate come can also continue to be for them a source of help and support, of light and warmth. However, they must show, at the same time, respect for the ministerial call of their members, not obstructing them, but rather promoting in them the maturing of an authentic diaconal spirituality and readiness.
6. Aspirant and candidate
28. Finally, the man preparing for diaconate “... is a necessary and irreplaceable agent in his own formation: all formation...is ultimately a selfformation.”
Self-formation does not imply isolation, closure to or independence from formators, but responsibility and dynamism in responding with generosity to God’s call, valuing to the highest the people and tools which Providence puts at one’s disposition.
Self-formation has its root in a firm determination to grow in life according to the Spirit and in conformity with the vocation received, and it is nourished in being humbly open to recognising one’s own limitations and one’s own gifts.
. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Ap. Exhort. Pastores dabo vobis, 68: l.c., pp. 775-776.
. Ibidem, 69: l.c., p. 778.
II. CHARACTERISTICS OF CANDIDATES FOR THE PERMANENT DIACONATE29. “The history of every priestly vocation, as indeed of every Christian vocation, is the history of an inexpressible dialogue between God and human beings, between the love of God who calls and the freedom of individuals who respond lovingly to him.” However, alongside God’s call and the response of individuals, there is another element constitutive to a vocation, particularly a ministerial vocation: the public call of the Church. “Vocari a Deo dicuntur qui a legitimis Ecclesiae ministris vocantur.” The expression should not be understood in a predominantly juridical sense, as if it were the authority that calls which determines the vocation, but in a sacramental sense, that considers the authority that calls as the sign and instrument for the personal intervention of God, which is realised with the laying on of hands. In this perspective, every proper election expresses an inspiration and represents a choice of God. The Church’s discernment is therefore decisive for the choice of a vocation; how much more so, due to its ecclesial significance, is this true for the choice of a vocation to the ordained ministry.
This discernment must be conducted on the basis of objective criteria, which treasure the ancient tradition of the Church and take account of present day pastoral needs. For the discernment of vocations to the permanent diaconate, some requirements of a general nature and others responding to the particular state of life of those called should be taken into account.
1. General requirements
30. The first diaconal profile was outlined in the First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy: “Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons ... Let deacons
. ibidem, 36: l.c., pp. 715716.
. Catechismus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini ad Parochos, pars II, c. 7, n. 3, Turin 1914, p. 288.
be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 3:8-10;12-13).
The qualities listed by Paul are prevalently human, almost as if to say that deacons could carry out their ministry only if they were acceptable models of humanity. We find echoes of Paul’s exhortation in texts of the Apostolic Fathers, especially in the Didachè and Saint Polycarp. The Didachè urges: “Elect for yourselves therefore bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, meek men, not lovers of money, honest and proven,” and Saint Polycarp counsels: “In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of his righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all.”
31. The Church’s tradition subsequently finalised and refined the requirements which support the authenticity of a call to the diaconate. These are firstly those which are valid for orders in general: “Only those are to be promoted to orders who...have sound faith, are motivated by the right intention, are endowed with the requisite knowledge, enjoy a good reputation, and have moral probity, proven virtue and the other physical and psychological qualities appropriate to the order to be received.”
32. The profile of candidates is then completed with certain specific human qualities and evangelical virtues necessary for diakonia. Among the human qualities which should be highlighted are: psychological maturity, capacity for dialogue and communication, sense of responsibility, industriousness, equilibrium and prudence. Particularly important among the evangelical virtues: prayer, Eucharistic and Marian devotion, a humble and strong sense of the Church, love for the Church and her mission, spirit
. Didachè, 15, 1: F. X. Funk (ed.), Patres Apostolici, I, o.c., pp. 32-35.
. St Polycarp, Epist. ad Philippenses, 5, 12: F. X. Funk (ed.), Patres Apostolici, I, o.c., pp. 300-302.
. C.I.C., can. 1029. Cf. can. 1051, 1o.
of poverty, capacity for obedience and fraternal communion, apostolic zeal, openness to service, charity towards the brothers and sisters.
33. In addition, candidates for the diaconate must be active members of a Christian community and already have exercised praiseworthy commitment to the apostolate.
34. They may come from every social grouping and carry out any work or professional activity, providing that it is not, according to the norms of the Church and the prudent judgement of the Bishop, inconsistent with the diaconal state. Furthermore, such activity must be compatible in practice with commitments of formation and the effective exercise of the ministry.
35. Regarding the minimum age, the Code of Canon Law prescribes that: “the candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married may be admitted to the diaconate only when he has completed at least his twenty-fifth year; if he is married, not until he has completed at least his thirty-fifth year.”
Lastly, candidates must be free of irregularities and impediments.
2. Requirements related to the candidate’s state of life
. Cf. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, II, 8:l.c., p. 700.
. Cf. C.I.C., cans. 285, §§1-2; 289; Paul VI, Ap. Lett._Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, _III, 17: l.c., p. 701.
. C.I.C., can. 1031, §2. Cf. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, II, 5; III, 12: l.c., pp. 699; 700. Can. 1031, §3 prescribes that “Bishops’ Conferences may issue a regulation which requires a later age.”
. Cf. C.I.C., cans. 1040-1042. The irregularities (perpetual impediments) listed by can. 1041 are: 1) any form of insanity or other psychological infirmity, because of which he is, after experts have been consulted, judged incapable of properly fulfilling the ministry; 2) the offences of apostasy, heresy or schism; 3) attempted marriage, even a civil marriage; 4) wilful homicide or actually procured abortion; 5) grave mutilation of self or others, and attempted suicide; 6) illicit completion of acts of order. The simple impediments, listed by can. 1042, are: 1) the exercise of an office or administration forbidden to, or inappropriate to, the clerical state; 2) the state of being a neophyte (except when the Ordinary decides otherwise).
36. “On the basis of Church law, confirmed by the same Ecumenical Council, young men called to the diaconate are obliged to observe the law of celibacy.” This is a particularly appropriate law for the sacred ministry, to which those who have received the charism freely submit.
The permanent diaconate, lived in celibacy, gives to the ministry a certain unique emphasis. In fact, the sacramental identification with Christ is placed in the context of the undivided heart, that is within the context of a nuptial, exclusive, permanent and total choice of the unique and greatest Love; service of the Church can count on a total availability; the proclamation of the Kingdom is supported by the courageous witness of those who have left even those things most dear to them for the sake of the Kingdom.
37. “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 capable of running their own homes, and whose wives and children lead a truly Christian life and have good reputations.”
Moreover. In addition to stability of family life, married candidates cannot be admitted unless “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.”
38. “Those who have received the order of deacon, even those who are older, may not, in accordance with traditional Church discipline, enter into marriage.” The same principle applies to deacons who
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, II, 4: l.c., p. 699. Cf. Ecum. Council Vat. II, Dogm.Const. Lumen gentium, 29.
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, III, 13: l.c., p. 700.
. ibidem, III, 11: l.c., p. 700. Cf. C.I.C., cans. 1031, §2; 1050, 3o.
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, III, 16: l.c., p. 701; Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, VI: l.c., p. 539; C.I.C., can. 1087.
have been widowed. They are called to give proof of human and spiritual soundness in their state of life.
Moreover, a precondition for accepting widowed candidates is that they have already provided, or have shown that they are capable of providing adequately for, the human and Christian upbringing of their children.
d) Members of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life
39. Permanent deacons belonging to institutes of consecrated life or to societies of apostolic life45 are called to enrich their ministry with the particular charism which they have received. In fact, their pastoral activity, while being under the jurisdiction of the local Ordinary, is nevertheless characterised by particular traits of their religious or consecrated state of life. They will therefore commit themselves to integrating their religious or consecrated vocation with the ministerial vocation and to offering their special contribution to the mission of the Church.
III. THE PATH OF FORMATION TOWARDS THE PERMANENT DIACONATE1. The presentation of aspirants
40. The decision to undertake the path of diaconal formation can come about either upon the initiative of the aspirant himself or by means of an
. The Circular Letter, Prot. n. 26397 of 6 June 1997, of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments envisages that one only of the following conditions be sufficient for obtaining dispensation from the impediment found in can. 1087: the great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon to the diocese to which he belongs; that he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care; that he has parents or parents in law who are elderly and in need of care.
. Cf. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, VII, 32-35: l.c., pp. 703-704.
. Cf. Idem, Ap. Lett. Ecclesiae sanctae (6 August 1966), I, 25, §1: AAS 58 (1966), p. 770.
explicit proposal of the community to which the aspirant belongs. In each case, the decision must be accepted and shared by the community.
On behalf of the community, it is the pastor (or the superior in religious houses) who must present to the Bishop (or competent Major Superior) the aspirant to the diaconate. He will do so accompanying the candidacy with an illustration of the motivations which support it and with a curriculum vitae and pastoral history of the aspirant.
The Bishop (or competent Major Superior), after having consulted the director of formation and the formation team, will decide whether or not to admit the aspirant to the propaedeutic period.
2. The propaedeutic period
41. With admission among the aspirants to diaconate there begins a propaedeutic period, which must be of an appropriate length. During this period the aspirants will be introduced to a deeper knowledge of theology, of spirituality and of the ministry of deacon and they will be led to a more attentive discernment of their call.
42. The director of formation is responsible for the propaedeutic period; depending on the cases, he may entrust the aspirants to one or more tutors. It is to be hoped that, where circumstances permit, the aspirants may form their own community, with its own cycle of meetings and prayer which also foresees times in common with the community of candidates.
The director of formation will ensure that each aspirant is accompanied by an approved spiritual director and will make contact with the pastor of each one (or another priest) in order to programme the pastoral placement. In addition, he will make contact with the families of married aspirants to make sure of their openness to accepting, sharing and accompanying the vocation of their relative.
43. The programme of the propaedeutic period, usually, should not provide school lessons, but rather meetings for prayer, instructions, moments of reflection and comparison directed towards ensuring the objective nature of the vocational discernment, according to a well-structured plan.
Even during this period, care should be taken, wherever possible, to involve the wives of the aspirants.
44. The aspirants are invited to carry out a free and self-conscious discernment, basing it on the requirements necessary for the diaconal ministry, without allowing themselves to be conditioned by personal interests or external pressures of any sort.
At the end of the propaedeutic period, the director of formation, after having consulted the formation team and taking account of all the elements in his possession, will present to the proper Bishop (or competent Major Superior) a declaration which outlines the profile of the aspirants’ personalities and also, on request, a judgement of suitability.
For his part, the Bishop (or the competent Major Superior) will enlist among the candidates for the diaconate only those about whom he will have reached a moral certainty of suitability, whether because of personal knowledge or because of information received from the formators.
3. The liturgical rite of admission to candidacy for ordination as deacon
45. Admission to candidacy for ordination as deacon comes about by means of a special liturgical rite, “by which one who aspires to the diaconate or priesthood publicly manifests his will to offer himself to God and the Church, so that he may exercise sacred orders. The Church, accepting this offering, chooses and calls him to prepare himself to receive a sacred order, and in this way he is rightly numbered among candidates for the diaconate.”
46. The competent superior for this acceptance is the Bishop himself or, for members of a clerical religious institute of pontifical rite or of a clerical society of apostolic life of pontifical right, the Major Superior.
. Cf. C.I.C., can. 1026.
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, Introduction; Cf. I a): l.c., pp. 537538. Cf. C.I.C., can. 1034, §1. The rite for admission among the candidates for Holy Order is found in the Pontificale Romanum – De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, Appendix, II: ed. cit., pp. 232ff.
. Cf. C.I.C., cans. 1016; 1019.
47. By reason of its public character and its ecclesial significance, the rite is to be held in proper esteem and celebrated preferably on a feast day. The aspirant is to prepare himself for it by a spiritual retreat.
48. The liturgical rite of admission must be preceded by a request for enrolment among the candidates, which must be prepared and personally signed by the aspirant himself and accepted in writing by the proper Bishop or Major Superior to whom it is addressed.
Enrolment among the candidates for the diaconate does not constitute any right necessarily to receive diaconal ordination. It is a first official recognition of the positive signs of the vocation to the diaconate, which must be confirmed in the subsequent years of formation.
4. Time of formation
49. The formation programme must last at least three years, in addition to the propaedeutic period, for all candidates.
50. The Code of Canon Law prescribes that young candidates receive their formation residing “for at least three years in a special house, unless the diocesan Bishop for grave reasons decides otherwise.” “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.” Care should be taken that these candidates have good relationships with the deacons of the diocese to which they belong.
51. For those more mature candidates, whether single or married, the Code of Canon Law prescribes that they “prepare for three years in a manner determined by the Episcopal Conference.” Where circumstances permit,
. Cf. ibidem, can. 1034, §1; Paul VI, Ap. Lett.Ad pascendum, I a): l.c., p. 538.
. Cf. C.I.C., can. 236 and numbers 41-44 of the present Ratio.
. C.I.C., can. 236, 1o. Cf. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, II, 6: l.c., p. 699.
. Ibidem, II, 7: l.c., p. 699.
. C.I.C., can. 236, 2o.
this preparation must be undertaken in the context of a full participation in the community of candidates, which will have its own calendar of meetings for prayer and formation and will also foresee meetings in common with the community of aspirants.
Different ways of organising the formation are possible for these candidates. Due to work and family commitments, the most common models foresee formational and scholastic meetings in the evenings, during weekends, at holiday time or with a combination of the various possibilities. Where geographical factors might present particular difficulties it will be necessary to consider other models, extending over a longer time period or making use of modern means of communication.
52. For candidates belonging to institutes of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life, formation will be carried out according to the directives of the eventual ratio of the person’s institute or society, or by using the structures of the diocese in which the candidates are to be found.
53. In the cases in which the abovementioned ways of formation might not be set up or be impracticable, “then the candidate should be entrusted to some priest of outstanding judgement 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.”
54. In all cases the director of formation (or the priest responsible) will check that during the whole time of formation every candidate will maintain his commitment to spiritual direction with his own approved spiritual director. In addition, he will ensure the accompaniment, evaluation and eventual modification of each one’s pastoral internship.
55. The formation programme, which will be outlined in general in the next chapter, must integrate in a harmonious manner the different areas of formation (human, spiritual, theological and pastoral), it must be theologically well founded, have a specific pastoral finality and be adapted to local needs and pastoral programmes.
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, III, 15: l.c., p. 701.
56. The wives and children of married candidates and the communities to which they belong should also be involved in appropriate ways. In particular, there should be also a specific programme of formation for the wives of candidates, to prepare them for their future mission of accompanying and supporting their husband’s ministry.
5. Conferral of the ministries of lectorate and acolytate
57. “Before anyone may be promoted to the diaconate, whether permanent or transitory, he must have received the ministries of lector and acolyte, and have exercised them for an appropriate time,” so that he may “be better disposed for the future service of the word and the altar.” In fact the Church “considers it to be very opportune that both by study and by gradual exercise of the ministry of the word and of the altar, candidates for sacred orders should through intimate contact understand and reflect upon the double aspect of the priestly office. Thus it comes about that the authenticity of the ministry shines out with the greatest effectiveness. In this way the candidates come to sacred orders fully aware of their vocation, ‘fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, constant in prayer and aware of the needs of the faithful’ (Rm 12:1113)”58.
The identity of these ministries and their pastoral relevance are illustrated in the Apostolic Letter Ministeria quaedam, to which reference should be made.
58. Aspirants to lectorate and acolytate, on the invitation of the director of formation, will make a request for admission, which has been compiled and signed freely, and present it to the Ordinary (the Bishop or Major Superior) who has the authority to accept it. Having accepted the request, the Bishop or Major Superior will proceed to the conferral of the ministries, according to the rite of the Roman Pontifical.
. C.I.C., can. 1035, §1.
. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, II: l.c., p. 539; Ap. Lett. Ministeria quaedam (15 August 1972), XI: AAS 64 (1972), p. 533.
. Idem, Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, Introduction: l.c., p. 538.
. Cf. Idem, Ap. Lett. Ministeria quaedam, VIII a): l.c., p. 533.
. Cf. Pontificale Romanum – De Institutione Lectorum et Acolythorum, Editio typical, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis 1972.
59. It is appropriate that a certain period of time elapse between the conferring of lectorate and acolytate in such a way that the candidate may exercise the ministry he has received. “Between the conferring of the ministry of acolyte and the diaconate there is to be an interval of at least six months.”
6. Diaconate ordination
60. At the conclusion of the formation journey, the candidate who, in agreement with the director of formation, considers himself to have the necessary prerequisites for ordination, may address to the proper Bishop or competent Major Superior “a declaration written in his own hand and signed by him, in which he attests that he is about to receive the sacred order freely and of his own accord and will devote himself permanently to the ecclesiastical ministry, asking at the same time that he be admitted to receive the order.”
61. With this request the candidate must enclose the certificate of baptism, of confirmation and of the ministries mentioned in can. 1035, and the certificate of studies duly completed in accordance with can. 1032. If the ordinand to be promoted is married, he must present his marriage certificate and the written consent of his wife.
62. Having received the request of the ordinand, the Bishop (or competent Major Superior) will evaluate his suitability by means of a diligent scrutiny. First of all he will examine the certificate which the director of formation is obliged to present to him “concerning the qualities required in the candidate for the reception of the order, namely sound doctrine, genuine piety, good moral behaviour, fitness for the exercise of the ministry; likewise, after proper investigation, a certificate of the candidate’s state of physical and psychological
. Cf. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Ministeria quaedam, X: l.c., p. 533; Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, IV: l.c., p. 539.
. C.I.C., can. 1035, §2.
. Ibidem, can. 1036. Cf. Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, V: l.c., p. 539.
. Cf. C.I.C., can. 1050.
. Cf. ibidem, cans. 1050, 3o; 1031, §2.
health.” “The diocesan Bishop or Major Superior may, in order properly to complete the investigation, use other means which, taking into account the circumstances of time and place, may seem useful, such as testimonial letters, public notices or other sources of information.”
After having verified the suitability of a candidate and having been assured that he is aware of the new obligations which he is assuming, the Bishop or competent Major Superior will promote him to the order of the diaconate.
63. Before ordination, unmarried candidates must assume publicly, in the prescribed rite, the obligation of celibacy; candidates belonging to an institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic life who have taken perpetual vows or other form of definitive commitment in the institute or society are also obliged to this. All candidates are bound personally, before ordination, to make a profession of faith and an oath of fidelity, according to the formulae approved by the Apostolic See, in the presence of the Ordinary of the place or his delegate.
64. “Each candidate is to be ordained...to the diaconate by his proper Bishop, or with lawful dimissorial letters granted by that Bishop.” If the candidate belongs to a clerical religious institute of pontifical right or to a clerical society of apostolic life of pontifical right it belongs to the Major Superior to grant him dimissorial letters.
. Ibidem, can. 1051, 1o.
. Ibidem, can. 1051, 2o.
. Cf. ibidem, can. 1028. For the obligations which ordinands assume with the diaconate, see canons 273-289. In addition, for married deacons, there is the impediment to contracting new marriages (Cf. can. 1087).
. Cf. ibidem, can. 1037; Paul VI, Ap. Lett. Ad pascendum, VI: l.c., p. 539.
. Cf. Pontificale Romanum – De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, n. 177: ed. cit., p. 101.
. Cf. C.I.C., can. 833, 6o; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Professio fidei et Iusiurandum fidelitatis in suscipiendo officio nomine Ecclesiae exercendo: AAS 81 (1989), pp. 104-106; 1169.
. C.I.C., can. 1015, §1.
. Cf. ibidem, can. 1019.
65. The ordination, carried out according to the rite of the Roman Pontifical, is to be celebrated during solemn Mass, preferably on a Sunday or holyday of obligation, and generally in the Cathedral Church. The ordinands prepare themselves for it by making “a retreat for at least five days, in a place and in the manner prescribed by the Ordinary.” During the rite special attention should be given to the participation of the wives and children of the married ordinands.
IV. THE DIMENSIONS OF THE FORMATION OF PERMANENT DEACONS1. Human formation
66. The scope of human formation is that of moulding the personality of the sacred ministers in such a way that they become “a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man.” Accordingly they must be educated to acquire and perfect a series of human qualities which will permit them to enjoy the trust of the community, to commit themselves with serenity to the pastoral ministry, to facilitate encounter and dialogue.
Similar to the indications of Pastores dabo vobis for the formation of priests, candidates for the diaconate, too, must be educated “to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, to be balanced in judgement and behaviour.”
67. Of particular importance for deacons, called to be men of communion and service, is the capacity to relate to others. This requires that they be affable, hospitable, sincere in their words and heart, prudent and discreet,
. Pontificale Romanum – De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, cap. III, De Ordinatione diaconorum: ed. cit., pp. 100-142.
. Cf. C.I.C., cans. 1010-1011.
. Ibidem, can. 1039.
. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Ap. Exhort. Pastores dabo vobis, 43: l.c., p. 732.
. Ibidem: l.c., pp. 732-733.
generous and ready to serve, capable of opening themselves to clear and brotherly relationships, and quick to understand, forgive and console. A candidate who was excessively closed in on himself, cantankerous and incapable of establishing meaningful and serene relationships with others must undergo a profound conversion before setting off with conviction on the path of ministerial service.
68. At the root of the capacity to relate to others is affective maturity, which must be attained with a wide margin of certainty in both celibate and married candidates. Such a maturity presupposes in both types of candidate the discovery of the centrality of love in their own lives and the victorious struggle against their own selfishness. In reality, as Pope John Paul II wrote in the Encyclical Redemptor hominis, “man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” As the Pope explains in Pastores dabo vobis, this is a love which involves all the aspects of the person, physical, psychological and spiritual and which therefore demands full dominion over his sexuality, which must become truly and fully personal.
For celibate candidates, to live love means offering the totality of one’s being, of one’s energies and readiness, to Christ and the Church. It is a demanding vocation, which must take into account the inclinations of affectivity and the pressures of instinct and which therefore requires renunciation, vigilance, prayer and fidelity to a precise rule of life. A decisive assistance can come from the presence of true friends, who represent a precious help and a providential support in living out one’s own vocation.
For married candidates, to live love means offering themselves to their spouses in a reciprocal belonging, in a total, faithful and indissoluble
. Cf. ibidem: l.c., p. 733.
. Idem, Encycl. Lett. Redemptor hominis (4 March 1979), 10: AAS 71 (1979), p. 274.
. Cf. Idem, Post-Synodal Ap. Exhort. Pastores dabo vobis, 44: l.c., p. 734.
. Cf. ibidem: l.c., pp. 734-735.
union, in the likeness of Christ’s love for his Church; at the same time it means welcoming children, loving them, educating them and showing forth to the whole Church and society the communion of the family. Today, this vocation is being hard tested by the worrying degradation of certain fundamental values and the exaltation of hedonism and a false conception of liberty. To be lived out in all its fullness, the vocation to family must be nourished by prayer, the liturgy and a daily offering of self.
69. A precondition for an authentic human maturity is training in freedom, which is expressed in obedience to the truth of one’s own being. “Thus understood, freedom requires the person to be truly master of himself, determined to fight and overcome the different forms of selfishness and individualism which threaten the life of each one, ready to open out to others, generous in dedication and service to one’s neighbour.” Training in freedom also includes the education of the moral conscience, which prepares one to listen to the voice of God in the depths of one’s heart and to adhere closely to it.
70. These many aspects of human maturity — human qualities, ability to relate, affective maturity, training in freedom and education of the moral conscience — must be considered, taking into account the age and previous formation of the candidates, when planning programmes tailored to the individual. The director of formation and the tutor will contribute in the area of their competence; the spiritual director will take these aspects into consideration and check them during spiritual direction. Encounters and conferences which encourage development and give some incentive to maturity are also of use. Community life — in the various forms in which it can be programmed — will constitute a privileged forum for fraternal checks and correction. In those cases where it may be necessary, in the judgement of the formators, and with the consent of the individual concerned, recourse may be made to a psychological consultation.
2. Spiritual formation
71. Human formation leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation, which constitutes the heart and unifying centre of every
. Cf. Idem, Ap. Exhort. Familiaris consortio (22 November 1981): AAS 74 (1982), pp. 81191.
. Idem, Post-Synodal Ap. Exhort. Pastores dabo vobis, 44: l.c., p. 735.
Christian formation. Its aim is to tend to the development of the new life received in Baptism.
When a candidate begins the path of formation for the diaconate, generally he has already had a certain experience of the spiritual life, such as, recognition of the action of the Spirit, listening to and meditating upon the Word of God, the thirst for prayer, commitment to service of the brothers and sisters, willingness to make sacrifices, the sense of the Church, apostolic zeal. Also, according to his state of life, he will already have matured a certain defined spirituality: of the family, of consecration in the world or of consecration in the religious life. The spiritual formation of the future deacon, therefore, cannot ignore this experience which he has already had, but must seek to affirm and strengthen it, so as to impress upon it the specific traits of diaconal spirituality.
72. The element which most characterises diaconal spirituality is the discovery of and sharing in the love of Christ the servant, who came not to be served but to serve. The candidate must therefore be helped progressively to acquire those attitudes which are specifically diaconal, though not exclusively so, such as simplicity of heart, total giving of self and disinterest for self, humble and helpful love for the brothers and sisters, especially the poorest, the suffering and the most needy, the choice of a lifestyle of sharing and poverty. Let Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, be present on this journey and be invoked as mother and auxiliatrix in the daily recitation of the Rosary.
73. The source of this new capacity to love is the Eucharist, which, not by chance, characterises the ministry of the deacon. In fact, service of the poor is the logical consequence of service of the altar. Therefore the candidate will be invited to participate every day, or at least frequently, within the limits of his family and professional commitments, in the celebration of the Eucharist and will be helped to penetrate ever deeper into its mystery. Within the context of this Eucharistic spirituality, care will be taken to give adequate appreciation to the sacrament of Penance.
74. Another characteristic element of diaconal spirituality is the Word of God, of which the deacon is called to be an authoritative preacher, believing
what he proclaims, teaching what he believes, living what he teaches. The candidate must therefore learn to know the Word of God ever more deeply and to seek in it constant nourishment for his spiritual life by means of its loving and thorough study and the daily exercise of lectio divina.
75. There should also be an introduction to the meaning of the Prayer of the Church. Indeed praying in the name of the Church and for the Church is part of the ministry of the deacon. This requires a reflection on the uniqueness of Christian prayer and the meaning of the Liturgy of the Hours, but especially a practical initiation into it. To this end, it is important that time be dedicated to this prayer during all meetings of the future deacons.
76. Finally, the deacon incarnates the charism of service as a participation in the ministry of the Church. This has important repercussions on his spiritual life, which must be characterised by obedience and fraternal communion. A genuine education in obedience, instead of stifling the gifts received with the grace of ordination, will ensure ecclesial authenticity in the apostolate. Communion with his ordained confreres is also a balm for supporting and encouraging generosity in the ministry. The candidate must therefore be educated to a sense of belonging to the body of ordained ministers, to fraternal collaboration with them and to spiritual sharing.
77. The means for this formation are monthly retreats and annual spiritual exercises; instructions, to be programmed according to an organic and progressive plan, which takes account of the various stages of the formation; and spiritual accompaniment, which must be constant. It is a particular task of the spiritual director to assist the candidate to discern the signs of his vocation, to place himself in an attitude of ongoing conversion, to bring to maturity the traits proper to the spirituality of the deacon, drawing on the writings of classical spirituality and the example of the saints, and to bring about a balanced synthesis of his state of life, his profession and the ministry.
78. Moreover, provision should be made that wives of married candidates may grow in awareness of their husbands’ vocation and their
. Cf. the presentation of the Book of the Gospels, in Pontificale Romanum – De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, n. 210: ed. cit., p. 125.
own mission at his side. They are to be invited, therefore, to participate regularly in the spiritual formation meetings.
Appropriate efforts should also be directed towards educating children about the ministry of the deacon.
3. Doctrinal formation
79. Intellectual formation is a necessary dimension of diaconal formation insofar as it offers the deacon a substantial nourishment for his spiritual life and a precious instrument for his ministry. It is particularly urgent today, in the face of the challenge of the new evangelization to which the Church is called at this difficult juncture of the millennium. Religious indifference, obscuring of values, loss of ethical convergence, and cultural pluralism demand that those involved in the ordained ministry have an intellectual formation which is complete and serious.
In the Circular Letter of 1969, Come è a conoscenza, the Congregation for Catholic Education invited Episcopal Conferences to prepare a doctrinal formation for candidates to the diaconate which would take account of the different situations, personal and ecclesial, yet at the same time would absolutely exclude “a hurried or superficial preparation, because the duties of the Deacon, as laid down in the Constitution Lumen gentium (n. 29) and in the motu Proprio (n. 22), are of such importance as to demand a formation which is solid and effective.”
80. The criteria which must be followed in preparing this formation are:
a) necessity for the deacon to be able to explain his faith and bring to maturity a lively ecclesial conscience;
b) attention to his formation for the specific duties of his ministry;
c) importance of acquiring the capacity to read a situation and an adequate inculturation of the Gospel;
d) usefulness of knowing communication techniques and group dynamics, the ability to speak in public, and to be able to give guidance and counsel.
. This refers to the Apostolic Letter of Paul VI, Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, n. 22: l.c., pp. 701-702.
81. Taking account of these criteria, the following contents must be taken into consideration:
a) introduction to Sacred Scripture and its right interpretation; the theology of the Old and New Testament; the interrelation between Scripture and Tradition; the use of Scripture in preaching, catechesis and pastoral activity in general;
b) introduction to the study of the Fathers of the Church and an elementary knowledge of the history of the Church;
c) fundamental theology, with illustration of the sources, topics and methods of theology, presentation of the questions relating to Revelation and the formulation of the relationship between faith and reason, which will enable the future deacons to explain the reasonableness of the faith;
d) dogmatic theology, with its various treatises: Trinity, creation, Christology, ecclesiology and ecumenism, mariology, Christian anthropology, sacraments (especially theology of the ordained ministry), eschatology;
e) Christian morality, in its personal and social dimensions and, in particular, the social doctrine of the Church;
f) spiritual theology;
h) canon law.
According to particular situations and needs, the programme of studies will be integrated with other disciplines such as the study of other religions, philosophical questions, a deepening of certain economic and political problems.
82. For theological formation, use may be made, where possible, of institutes of religious sciences which already exist or of other institutes of theological formation. Where special schools for the theological formation of deacons must be instituted, this should be done in such a way that the number of hours of lectures and seminars be not less than a thousand in the space of the three years. The fundamental courses at least are to conclude with an examination and, at the end of the three years there is to be a final comprehensive examination.
. Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Circ. Lett.Come è a conoscenza (16 July 1969), p. 2.
. Cf. ibidem, p. 3.
83. For admission to this programme of formation, a previous basic formation is required; this is to be determined according to the cultural situation of the country.
84. Candidates should be predisposed to continuing their formation after ordination. To this end, they are encouraged to establish a small personal library with a theological-pastoral emphasis and to be open to programmes of ongoing formation.
4. Pastoral formation
85. In the wide sense, pastoral formation coincides with spiritual formation: it is formation for an ever greater identification with the diakonia of Christ. This attitude must guide the articulation of the various aspects of formation, integrating them within the unitary perspective of the diaconal vocation, which consists in being a sacrament of Christ, servant of the Father.
In the strict sense, pastoral formation develops by means of a specific theological discipline and a practical internship.
86. This theological discipline is called pastoral theology. It is “a scientific reflection on the Church as she is built up daily, by the power of the Spirit, in history; on the Church as the ‘universal sacrament of salvation’, as a living sign and instrument of the salvation wrought by Christ through the word, the sacraments and the service of charity.” The scope of this discipline, therefore, is the presentation of the principles, the criteria and the methods which guide the apostolic-missionary work of the Church in history.
The pastoral theology programmed for the deacons will pay particular attention to those fields which are eminently diaconal, such as:
a) liturgical praxis: administration of the sacraments and sacramentals, service at the altar;
. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Ap. Exhort. Pastores dabo vobis, 57: l.c., p. 758.
b) proclamation of the Word in the varied contexts of ministerial service: kerygma, catechesis, preparation for the sacraments, homily;
c) the Church’s commitment to social justice and charity;
d) the life of the community, in particular the guidance of family teams, small communities, groups and movements, etc.
Certain technical subjects, which prepare the candidates for specific ministerial activities, can also be useful, such as psychology, catechetical pedagogy, homiletics, sacred music, ecclesiastical administration, information technology, etc.
87. At the same time as (and possibly in relationship with) the teaching of pastoral theology a practical internship should be provided for each candidate, to permit him to meet in the field what he has learned in his study. It must be gradual, tailored to the individual and under continual supervision. For the choice of activities, account should be taken of the instituted ministries received, and their exercise should be evaluated.
Care is to be taken that the candidates be actively introduced into the pastoral activity of the diocese and that they have periodic sharing of experiences with deacons already involved in the ministry.
88. In addition, care should be taken that the future deacons develop a strong missionary sensitivity. In fact, they too, in an analogous way to priests, receive with sacred ordination a spiritual gift which prepares them for a universal mission, to the ends of the earth (Cf. Acts 1:8). They are to be helped, therefore, to be strongly aware of their missionary identity and prepared to undertake the proclamation of the truth also to non-Christians, particularly those belonging to their own people. However, neither should the prospect of the mission ad gentes be lacking, wherever circumstances require and permit it.
. Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Circ. Lett. Come è a conoscenza, p. 3.
. Cf. Ecum. Council Vat. II, Decr. Presbyterorum ordinis, 10; Decr. Ad gentes, 20.
CONCLUSION89. The Didascalia Apostolorum recommends to the deacons of the first century: “As our Saviour and Master said in the Gospel: let he who wishes to be great among you, make himself your servant, in the same way as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, you deacons must do the same, even if that means giving your life for your brothers and sisters, because of the service which you are bound to fulfil.” This invitation is most appropriate also for those who are called today to the diaconate, and urges them to prepare themselves with great dedication for their future ministry.
90. May the Episcopal Conferences and Ordinaries of the whole world, to whom the present document is given, ensure that it becomes an object of attentive reflection in communion with their priests and communities. It will be an important point of reference for those Churches in which the permanent diaconate is a living and active reality; for the others, it will be an effective invitation to appreciate the value of that precious gift of the Spirit which is diaconal service.
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II has approved this “Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium,” and ordered it to be published.
Rome, given at the Offices of the Congregations, 22 February 1998, Feast of the Chair of Peter.
Pio Card. Laghi
José Saraiva Martins
Titular Archbishop of Tuburnica
AAS 90 (1998): 843-879; Origins 28 (1998-1999), 181-191.
. Didascalia Apostolorum, III, 13 (19), 3: F. X. Funk (ed.), Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum, I, o.c., pp. 214-215.