Deacons are called to serve. They serve at the discretion of the Bishop and in service to the priest they work with. The title comes from the Greek word diakonos which means servant. The first 7 deacons were selected and ordained by the apostles to help with the distribution of food to the poor widows. It quickly becomes clear that they did more than just wait on tables. The stories of Saint Stephen and Saint Phillip show the deacons preaching, teaching, evangelizing and baptizing. The stories of Saint Lawrence and Saint Ephrem show the deacons having prominent roles in the administration and leadership of the early church. Other prominent deacons were Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Thomas Becket.
While there have always been deacons in one form or another, around the 5th Century; the role of deacons began to decline, probably because most men chose to be ordained priests. By the 19th century, the only deacons were men in their last year of preparation for the priesthood. These are known as “Transitional” deacons, or “Formational” deacons as Bishop Muench likes to call them.
The Second Vatican Council restored the order of “Permanent” deacons. These are men ordained specifically for the Diaconate. Only in special circumstances would they ever be ordained as priest. The Council called deacons “to service of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity" (<Lumen gentium>, n. 29). Deacons serve on the Altar at all liturgical functions, they teach and proclaim the Gospel, and they minister to the poor, both materially and spiritually. Exactly how they do this depends on the needs of the church to which they are ordained and their own charisms and abilities. Most deacons can perform baptisms, marriages and funeral services. They cannot hear confessions or consecrate the Eucharist. If they are married when ordained they can remain married but cannot remarry. --Deacon Rudy Stahl