FORMATION OF DEACONS
63. The continuing formation of deacons is a human necessity
which must be seen in continuity with the divine call to serve the Church
in the ministry and with the initial formation given to deacons, to the
extent that these are considered two initial moments in a single, living,
process of Christian and diaconal life. (227) Indeed, "those who are ordained
to the diaconate are obliged to ongoing doctrinal formation which perfects
and completes what they received prior to ordination", (228) so that, by
a periodic renewal of the "I am" pronounced by deacons at their ordination,
the vocation "to" the diaconate continues and finds expression as vocation
"in" the diaconate. On the part of both the Church which provides ongoing
formation and of deacons who are its recipients, such formation should
be regarded as a mutual obligation and duty arising from the nature of
the vocational commitment which has been assumed.
The continuing need to provide
and receive adequate, integral formation is an indispensable obligation
for both bishops and deacons.
Ecclesiastical norms regarding
ongoing formation (229) have constantly emphasized the obligatory nature
of such formation for the apostolic life and stressed the need for it to
be global, interdisciplinary, profound, scientific and propedeutic. Application
of these norms is all the more necessary in those instances where initial
formation did not adhere to the ordinary model.
Continuing formation should be
informed with the characteristics of fidelity to Christ, to the Church
and to "continuing conversion" which is a fruit of sacramental grace articulated
in the pastoral charity proper to every moment of ordained ministry. This
formation is similar to the fundamental choice, which must be reaffirmed
and renewed throughout the permanent diaconate by a long series of coherent
responses which are based on and animated by the initial acceptance of
the ministry. (230)
64. Inspired by the prayer of ordination, ongoing formation
is based on the need of every deacon to love Christ in such manner as to
imitate him ("may they be images of your Son"). It seeks to confirm him
in uncompromising fidelity to a personal vocation to ministry ("may they
fulfil faithfully the works of the ministry") and proposes a radical, sincere
following of Christ the Servant ("may the example of their lives be a constant
reminder of the Gospel... may they be sincere...solicitous...and vigilant").
The basis and motivation of this
formation, therefore, "is the dynamism of the order itself", (231) while
its nourishment is the Holy Eucharist, compendium of the entire Christian
ministry and endless source of every spiritual energy. St Paul's exhortation
to Timothy can also be applied, in a certain sense, to deacons: "I remind
you to fan into a flame the gift of God that you have" (2 Tim 1:6; cf.
1 Tim 4:14-16). The theological demands of their call to a singular ministry
of ecclesial service requires of them a growing love for the Church, shown
forth by their faithful carrying out of their proper functions and responsibilities.
Chosen by God to be holy, serving the Church and all mankind, the deacon
should continually grow in awareness of his own ministerial character in
a manner that is balanced, responsible, solicitous and always joyful.
65. From the perspective of the deacon, primary protagonist
and primary subject of the obligation, ongoing formation is first and foremost
a process of continual conversion. It embraces every aspect of his person
as deacon, that is to say, consecrated by the Sacrament of Order and placed
at the service of the Church, and seeks to develop all of his potential.
This enables him to live to the full the ministerial gifts that he has
received in diverse circumstances of time and place and in the tasks assigned
to him by the bishop. (232) The solicitude of the Church for the permanent
formation of deacons would, however, be ineffective without their co-operation
and commitment. Thus formation cannot be reduced merely to participating
at courses or study days or other such activities: it calls for every deacon
to be aware of the need for ongoing formation and to cultivate it with
interest and in a spirit of healthy initiative. Books approved by ecclesiastical
authority should be chosen as material for reading; periodicals known for
their fidelity to the Magisterium should be followed; time should be set
aside for daily meditation. Constant self-formation which helps him to
serve the Church ever better is an important part of the service asked
of every deacon.
66. From the perspective of the bishops (233) (and their
fellow workers in the presbyterate), who bear responsibility for formation,
ongoing formation consists in helping the deacon to overcome any dualism
that might exist between spirituality and ministry and, more fundamentally,
any dichotomy between their civil profession and diaconal spirituality
and "respond generously to the commitment demanded by the dignity and the
responsibility which God conferred upon them through the sacrament of Orders;
in guarding, defending, and developing their specific identity and vocation;
and in sanctifying themselves and others through the exercise of their
Both dimensions are complementary
and reciprocal since they are founded, with the help of supernatural gifts,
in the interior unity of the person.
The assistance which formators
are called to offer deacons will be successful in as much as it responds
to the personal needs of each deacon, since every deacon lives his ministry
in the Church as a unique person placed in particular circumstances.
Personalized assistance to deacons
also assures them of that love with which mother Church is close to them
as they strive to live faithfully the sacramental grace of their calling.
It is thus of supreme importance that each deacon be able to choose a spiritual
director, approved by the bishop, with whom he can have regular and frequent
The entire diocesan community is
also, in some sense, involved in the formation of deacons. (235) This is
particularly true of the parish priest or other priests charged with formation
who should personally support them with fraternal solicitude.
67. Personal concern and commitment in ongoing formation
are unequivocal signs of a coherent response to divine vocation, of sincere
love for the Church and of authentic pastoral zeal for the Christian faithful
and all men. What has been said of priests can also be applied to deacons:
"ongoing formation is a necessary means of reaching the object of one's
vocation which is service of God and one's people". (236)
It must be seen in continuity with
initial formation since it pursues the same ends as initial formation and
seeks to integrate, conserve and deepen what was begun in initial formation.
The essential availability of the
deacon to others is a practical expression of sacramental configuration
to Christ the Servant, received through ordination and indelibly impressed
upon the soul. It is a permanent reminder to the deacon in his life and
ministry. Hence permanent formation cannot be reduced merely to complementary
education or to a form of training in better techniques. Ongoing formation
cannot be confined simply to updating, but should seek to facilitate a
practical configuration of the deacon's entire life to Christ who loves
all and serves all.
Organization and means
68. Ongoing formation must include and harmonize all dimensions
of the life and ministry of the deacon. Thus, as with the permanent formation
of priests, it should be complete, systematic and personalized in its diverse
aspects whether human, spiritual, intellectual or pastoral. (237)
69. As in the past, attention to the various aspects of
the human formation of deacons is an important task for Pastors. The deacon,
aware that he is chosen as a man among men to be at the service of the
salvation of all, should be open to being helped in developing his human
qualities as valuable instruments for ministry. He should strive to perfect
all those aspects of his personality which might render his ministry more
To fulfil successfully his vocation
to holiness and his particular ecclesial mission, he should, above all,
fix his gaze on Him who is true God and true man and practice the natural
and supernatural virtues which conform him more closely to the image of
Christ and make him worthy of the respect of the faithful. (238) In their
ministry and daily life particularly, deacons should foster in themselves
kind-heartedness, patience, affability, strength of character, zeal for
justice, fidelity to promises given, a spirit of sacrifice and consistency
with tasks freely undertaken. The practice of these virtues will assist
in arriving at a balanced personality, maturity and discernment.
Conscious of the example of integrity
in his social activity, the deacon should reflect on his ability to dialogue,
on correctness in human relationships and on cultural discernment. He should
also give careful consideration to the value of friendship and to his treatment
of others. (239)
70. Ongoing spiritual formation is closely connected with
diaconal spirituality, which it must nourish and develop, and with the
ministry, which is sustained by "a truly personal encounter with Jesus,
a relationship with the Father and a profound experience of the Spirit".
(240) Hence, deacons should be encouraged by the Pastors of the Church
to cultivate their spiritual lives in a responsible manner, for it is from
this life that springs up that love which sustains their ministry and makes
it fruitful, and prevents its reduction to mere "functionalism" or bureaucracy.
In particular, the spiritual formation
of deacons should inculcate those attitudes related to the triple diaconia
of word, liturgy and charity.
Assiduous meditation on Sacred
Scripture will achieve familiarity and worshipful dialogue with the living
God and thus an assimilation of the revealed word.
A profound knowledge of Tradition
and of the liturgical books will help the deacon to discover continually
the riches of the divine mysteries and thus become their worthy minister.
A solicitude for fraternal charity will impel him to practice the spiritual
and corporal works of mercy, and provide living signs of the Church's love.
All of this requires careful planning
and organization of time and resources. Improvisation should be avoided.
In addition to spiritual direction, deacons should try to pursue study
courses on the great themes of the theological tradition of Christian spirituality,
intensive sessions in spirituality and pilgrimages to places of spiritual
While on retreat, which should
be at least every other year, (241) deacons should work out a spiritual
programme which they should periodically share with their spiritual directors.
This programme should include a period of daily eucharistic adoration and
provide for exercises of Marian devotion, liturgical prayer, personal meditation
and the habitual ascetical practices.
The centre of this spiritual itinerary
must be the Holy Eucharist since it is the touchstone of the deacon's life
and activity, the indispensable means of perseverance, the criterion of
authentic renewal and of a balanced synthesis of life. In this way, the
spiritual formation of the deacon will reveal the Holy Eucharist as Passover,
in its annual articulation in Holy Week, in its weekly articulation on
Sunday and in its constant articulation at daily Mass.
71. The insertion of deacons into the mystery of the Church,
in virtue of Baptism and their reception of the first grade of the Sacrament
of Orders, requires that ongoing formation strengthen in them the consciousness
and willingness to live in intelligent, active and mature communion with
their bishops and the priests of their dioceses, and with the Supreme Pontiff
who is the visible foundation of the entire Church's unity.
When formed in this way, they can
become in their ministry effective promoters of communion. In situations
of conflict they, in particular, should make every effort to restore peace
for the good of the Church.
72. The doctrine of the faith should be deepened by suitable
initiatives such as study days, renewal courses and the frequentation of
academic institutions. For the same reason, it would be particularly useful
to promote careful, in-depth and systematic study of the Catechism of the
It is necessary that deacons have
an accurate knowledge of the Sacraments of Holy Orders, the Holy Eucharist,
Baptism and Matrimony. They must develop a knowledge of those aspects of
philosophy, ecclesiology, dogmatic Theology, Sacred Scripture, and Canon
Law which most assist them in their ministry.
Such courses, while aimed at theological
renewal, should also lead to prayer, ecclesial communion and greater pastoral
efforts in response to the urgent need for new evangelization.
Under sure guidance, the documents
of the Magisterium should be studied in common, and in relation to the
needs of the pastoral ministry, especially those documents in which the
Church responds to the more pressing moral and doctrinal questions. Thus,
with a sense of communion, deacons will be enabled to achieve and express
due obedience to the Pastor of the universal Church and to diocesan bishops,
as well as to promote fidelity to the doctrine and discipline of the Church.
In addition, it is of the greatest
use and relevance to study, appropriate and diffuse the social doctrine
of the Church. A good knowledge of that teaching will permit many deacons
to mediate it in their different professions, at work and in their families.
The diocesan bishop may also invite those who are capable to specialize
in a theological discipline and obtain the necessary academic qualifications
at those pontifical academies or institutes recognized by the Apostolic
See which guarantee doctrinally correct formation.
Deacons should pursue systematic
study not only to perfect their theological knowledge but also to revitalize
constantly their ministry in view of the changing needs of the ecclesial
73. Together with study of the sacred sciences, appropriate
measures should be taken to ensure that deacons acquire a pastoral methodology
(242) for an effective ministry. Permanent pastoral formation consists,
in the first place, in constantly encouraging the deacon to perfect the
effectiveness of his ministry of making the love and service of Christ
present in the Church and in society without distinction, especially to
the poor and to those most in need. Indeed it is from the pastoral love
of Christ that the ministry of deacons draws its model and inspiration.
This same love urges the deacon, in collaboration with his bishop and the
priests of his diocese, to promote the mission of the laity in the world.
He will thus be a stimulus "to become ever better acquainted with the real
situation of the men and women to whom he is sent, to discern the call
of the Spirit in the historical circumstances in which he finds himself,
and to seek the most suitable methods and the most useful forms for carrying
out his ministry today", (243) in loyal and convinced communion with the
Supreme Pontiff and with his own bishop.
The effectiveness of the apostolate
sometimes calls also for group work requiring a knowledge and respect of
the diversity and complementarity of the gifts and respective functions
of priests, deacons and the lay faithful, within the organic nature of
The Sovereign Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, has approved
this present Directory and ordered its publication.
74. The diversity of circumstances in the particular Churches
makes it difficult to give an exhaustive account of how best to organize
the suitable ongoing formation of permanent deacons. Yet it is necessary
that all such formation be accomplished by means which accord with theological
and pastoral clarity.
A few general criteria, easily
applicable to diverse concrete circumstances, may be mentioned in this
75. The primary locus of ongoing formation for deacons
is the ministry itself. The deacon matures in its exercise and by focusing
his own call to holiness on the fulfillment of his social and ecclesial
duties, in particular, of his ministerial functions and responsibilities.
The formation of deacons should, therefore, concentrate in a special way
on awareness of their ministerial character.
76. Permanent formation must follow a well planned programme
drawn up and approved by competent authority. It must be unitary, divided
into progressive stages, and at the same time, in perfect harmony with
the Magisterium of the Church. It is better that the programme should insist
on a basic minimum to be followed by all deacons and which should be distinct
from later specialization courses.
Programmes such as this should
take into consideration two distinct but closely related levels of formation:
the diocesan level, in reference to the bishop or his delegate, and the
community level in which the deacon exercises his own ministry, in reference
to the parish priest or some other priest.
77. The first appointment of a deacon to a parish or a
pastoral area is a very sensitive moment. Introducing the deacon to those
in charge of the community (the parish priest, priests), and the community
to the deacon, helps them not only to come to know each other but contributes
to a collaboration based on mutual respect and dialogue, in a spirit of
faith and fraternal charity. The community into which a deacon comes can
have a highly important formative effect, especially when he realizes the
importance of respect for well proven traditions and knows how to listen,
discern, serve and love as Jesus Christ did.
Deacons in their initial pastoral
assignments should be carefully supervised by an exemplary priest especially
appointed to this task by the bishop.
78. Periodic meetings should be arranged for deacons which
treat of liturgical and spiritual matters, of continuous theological renewal
and study, either at diocesan or supra-diocesan level.
Under the bishop's authority and
without multiplying existent structures, periodic meeting should be arranged
between priests, deacons, religious and laity involved in pastoral work
both to avoid compartmentalization or the development of isolated groups
and to guarantee co-ordinated unity for different pastoral activities.
The bishop should show particular
solicitude for deacons since they are his collaborators. When possible
he should attend their meetings and always ensure the presence of his representative.
79. With the approval of the diocesan bishop, a realistic
programme of ongoing formation should be drawn up in accordance with the
present dispositions, taking due account of factors such as the age and
circumstances of deacons, together with the demands made on them by their
To accomplish this task, the bishop
might constitute a group of suitable formators or seek the assistance of
80. It is desirable that the bishop set up a diocesan
organization for the co-ordination of deacons, to plan, co-ordinate and
supervise the diaconal ministry from the discernment of vocation, (244)
to the exercise of ministry and formation — including ongoing formation.
This organization should be composed of the Bishop as its president, or
a priest delegated by him for this task, and a proportionate number of
deacons. This organization should not be remiss in maintaining the necessary
links with the other diocesan organizations.
The Bishops should regulate the
life and activity of this organization by the issuance of appropriate norms.
81. In addition to the usual permanent formation offered
to deacons, special courses and initiatives should be arranged for those
deacons who are married. These courses should involve, where opportune,
their wives and families. However, they must always be careful to maintain
the essential distinction of roles and the clear independence of the ministry.
82. Deacons should always be appreciative of all those
initiatives for the ongoing formation of the clergy promoted by Conferences
of bishops or various dioceses — spiritual retreats, conferences, study
days, conventions, theological and pastoral courses. They should avail
themselves of such initiatives especially when they concern their own ministry
of evangelization, worship and loving service.
Rome, at the Office of the Congregations, 22 February
1998, Feast of the Chair of Peter.
Darío Card. Castrillón
+ Csaba Ternyák
Titular Archbishop of Eminenziana