EWTN Catholic Q&A
Permanent Deacons
Question from Phil on 05-30-2004:

Do some or all of the Eastern Catholic Churches have permanent deacons like the Latin Church? If so, are their duties similar to those in the Latin Church? Did they fall out of use until Vatican II like the Latin Church or were they always a part of Eastern Liturgies and hierarchy?

Thank you for educating us Westerners on an all-too unfamiliar aspect of our Holy Church!


Answer by Anthony Dragani on 06-02-2004:


Many of the Eastern Catholic Churches do have "permanent" deacons, as in the Latin Church. However, we do not have a defined canonical distinction between "permanent" and "transitional" deacons, as does the Latin Church, since in most Eastern Catholic Churches a married deacon can possibly become a priest someday.

Most Eastern liturgies are designed to be celebrated by a priest along with a deacon. The deacon's role is so pivotal that when he is not present, the priest performs much of his liturgical role. Thus, in an ideal world, every Eastern liturgy would be celebrated by a deacon. Unfortunately, in many Eastern Catholic Churches deacons all but vanished. Since Vatican II many (if not most) Eastern Catholic Churches have taken steps to correct this.

The duties of a deacon in Eastern Christianity are very different from what you experience in the Latin Church. Eastern deacons cannot give blessings, which impacts the celebration of other sacraments. In Eastern theology a priest's blessing is necessary for a valid marriage. Therefore, Eastern deacons cannot celebrate weddings. Likewise, we join together the sacraments of baptism and confirmation (chrismation). Because deacons cannot confirm, they (generally) do not celebrate baptisms.

However, Eastern deacons do have a much, much larger liturgical role. When all is said in done, they probably celebrate 50% or more of the Divine Liturgy along with the celebrating priest. They also preach homilies and distribute the Eucharist.

God Bless, Anthony