God calls every man to service as a deacon in his own way. The path never seems to be the same. Some men just feel it is something they are supposed do, others are cornered into it by well meaning friends and clergy. For me, it was both.
At this point I must warn you about these well meaning clergy. They can be rather sneaky.
I was a Confirmation teacher, and we were fortunate enough to have the bishop on Pentecost, the perfect day for a Confirmation. I was doing my duty of rounding up kids, making sure they were prepared, getting pictures taken, all the things a good teacher should do. The Sacrament went off without a hitch, it was a great day, and I was exhausted.
Then they came upon me like vultures. Three deacons all working together.
“Don’t think of it as deciding to be a deacon,” they said. “Just see what it is about, just see if it’s a vocation you feel called to.” A year and a half later, and every other weekend is packed with classes, I’m leading communion services, teaching RCIA and bringing communion to rest homes. Watch out, vocations have a way of sneaking up on you.
All levity aside, if members of your parish are asking you to look into being a deacon, that may very well be God calling you to examine your calling to see if you have a vocation. Take it seriously, and find out.
The road to ordination is a long one, and it has three main parts, aspirancy, candidacy and final preparation. Well, officially, the final preparation is still part of candidacy, but it doesn’t feel that way. This process may be very different from diocese to diocese, but the basic steps are still there. I will be describing my diocese, call the your chancery if you want specifics in your own.
Before we can be admitted into the program, our priest generally recommends us to the diaconal board. Then we have pages and pages of application to fill out. Yes, they want to know absolutely everything about us. References, biographies, proof of Sacraments, DNA samples and mother’s aunt’s daughter in law’s maiden name. Dang thing took me three weeks to get all the documentation for. This is the modern world though, so a little CYA is in order, I”m sure.
For our diocese, we spend the first year as an aspirant. At first, this is just getting to know the other men and their wives in the class. (Yes, wives are often expected to attend) To be honest, this is really fun. Having the opportunity to spend time with other men who feel just as strongly about the faith as you do is an incredible experience. In this first year I found friends that I have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with than nearly any friends I have ever had. The couples we travel this road with make all the difference in the world. Heck, just having someone help us learn to pray the divine office makes all the difference! For this period and beyond, a spiritual director is also required.
After a psychiatric exam, and with approval from the diaconal board, we are officially brought into the program at the end of our year as an aspirant. Yes, some men are often removed form the program at this point, but more often than not, this is a mutual feeling for the board and the aspirant. Sometimes it is not a question of no vocation, as much as a decision that there is not a vocation now. The entry into the official program is celebrated in the Rite of Candidacy, after which we begin our formal studies.
Candidacy lasts about four years. We spend this time studying moral development, theology, biblical studies, psychology, you name it. These are often very challenging, and take a whole lot of reading. It’s flat out a whole lot of work. Thank goodness we are all so interested in the subject matter or we would go crazy I’m sure.
There is another part of candidacy that is not often mentioned, and I think it is equally important. At some point the word gets out in our parish that we are a candidate, and we are suddenly “volunteered” for everything going on in the parish. Yes, of course we still have a family, and a job, and have added all this time studying, but surely we have time to teach RCIA right? How about CCD? Would we like to talk at then youth group this week? While it is very time consuming, this really is extremely educational. Getting to know our parish from the inside out is a powerful experience. I am often amazed at how many people are involved in parish ministry. It is truly part of the education.
In our last year as a candidate, things get rather serious. Ordination is eminent, and we begin learning the really practical stuff, how to give a homily, how to serve at Mass, the stuff that says really loudly, “This is happening soon.” The rites speed up too, on month your are made a lector, a few months later, an acolyte, and soon, ordination follows.
Finally comes ordination, where the bishop confers Holy Orders through the laying of hands. This Rite is not unlike a marriage, and carries the same weight. We are sworn to obedience, sworn to faithfulness, sworn to certain prayers, and given charge of the Gospel. It is such a moving event that for me to cover it faithfully would demand this entire site, not a mere article. It is a most wondrous day, and I highly recommend you go to one if you have never been.
I have received many questions on exactly HOW you become a deacon. This is answered quite simply: Call your diocesan office, the chancery, and they will tell you. Every diocese is different, so only they know.