Welcome to the Diocese of Nashville Diaconate website. The diaconate has been a vital ministry in the life of the church of Nashville since 1975. Please take a few minutes to look through our site and feel free to contact the diocese if you have any questions about the ministry and life of deacons in the diocese of Nashville.
Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Nashville
The local diaconate community consists of 99 deacons (78 active, 8 extern, 1 unassigned), 86 wives and 5 widows. Most of the active deacons have parish assignments. Some have additional administrative assignments at the Chancery or in hospital and prison ministries, etc. The duties of any deacon are assigned taking into consideration his family and secular work commitments and with his and his wife’s (if married) acceptance.
With the Diocese’s relocation to the Catholic Pastoral Center in the Opryland area, we anticipate a move from the two-evening-a-week “night school” model of instruction to a once-a-month “formation weekend” model, most likely Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. An applicant should take this time requirement into account before applying and discern whether his and his family’s life is conducive to making that commitment. Food and lodging costs for formation weekends are the responsibility of the applicant.
Over the course of four years candidates can expect to receive instruction in a number of subjects including Old and New Testament Scripture, Christology, Theology, Homiletics, Psychology, Sociology, Church History, Sacraments, Canon Law and Pastoral Counseling. Most courses would require the submission of a formal paper. For those candidates who are married, their wives are encouraged and welcomed (although not required) to participate in all classes and activities, including the annual candidate retreats, usually held at a state park in Middle Tennessee.
Bishop Mark Spalding is currently in the process of discerning the future direction of the Permanent Deacon formation program. More details are expected in the near future and will be announced once all the logistics have been completed.
Order of Deacon
In the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-6) we can read how the Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, realized that they needed assistance in their task of leading the early Church, particularly in what we would call Pastoral Care and Administration. They therefore chose and ordained seven Deacons. These seven men of the Jerusalem Christian community were ordained to help the Apostles distribute provisions to the widows of the Greek-speaking Jews. Since the institution of the Order of Deacon, it has been the teaching of the Church that the Sacrament of Holy Orders consisted of three degrees: Bishop, Priest (Presbyter), and Deacon.
One of the first martyrs in the early Christian church was a deacon, St. Stephen.
Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, the Diaconate went through many transformations. Eventually it became only a step towards the priesthood ordination. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1966), wanting to return to the fundamental teaching of the Church, and recognizing the place of the Diaconate within that heritage, ordered the restoration of the Diaconate as a permanent Ministry in the Church. It also opened the doors of this vocation to married men with secular careers.
The Deacon’s Ministry
The Deacon has a three fold ministry of Altar, Word, and Charity.
As Minister of the Altar, the Deacon assists the celebrant, gives religious instruction and is minister of the Chalice. The Deacon can baptize, bless marriages and officiate at funerals. The Deacon can expose the Blessed Sacrament and give benediction. He is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion who can give viaticum (the administration of Holy Communion to those about to die as food for the passage through death to eternal life).
As Minister of the Word, the Deacon proclaims the Gospel, preaches, and can be involved in coordinating and supporting all preparation programs for sacraments. Many deacons are catechists and Directors of Religious Education. As a member of the clergy, the Deacon is obliged to recite the Morning and Evening Prayers of the Church daily. He leads and preaches at these celebrations in the absence of a priest.
As Minister of Charity, the Deacon has to be firmly rooted in the community in which he is serving. He should be committed to Justice, Peace and Charity issues, and be informed about all matters relevant to those topics. The deacon is expected to pay particular attention in providing assistance to the needy. He has to be a leadership resource in involving his parish in building God’s Kingdom.
Some of the duties of a permanent deacon can be exercised in exceptional circumstances by lay ministers, but the sacrament of Holy Orders makes the deacon not only an ordinary minister of the altar and of the word, but also provides sacramental assistance in the fulfillment of those ministries.
In the exercise of his ministry, the Permanent Deacon is abided in obedience to his bishop, and typically works under the leadership of a local pastor.
Both single and married men in good standing in the Catholic Church can be ordained deacons. However, it should be noted that single or widowed deacons cannot receive the sacrament of matrimony and remain celibate. The minimum age for ordination is 35 years and the maximum age for ordination in the diocese of Nashville is 65. To apply, the postulant would have to pass a psychological exam, police background check, a personal interview, and if married his wife should endorse his application as well as later his ordination.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Secretariat for the Diaconate
Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons; Directory for the Ministry and Life or Permanent Deacons