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Joint Declaration and

Joint Declaration and
Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons

Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons

This copy is for convenience only. Please refer to the original on the Vatican's web site.








The permanent Diaconate, restored by the Second Vatican Council, in complete continuity with ancient Tradition and the specific decision of the Council of Trent, has flourished in these last decades in many parts of the Church — with promising results, especially for the urgent missionary work of new evangelisation. The Holy See and many Episcopates, in promoting this ecclesial experience, have continually afforded norms and guidelines for the life and formation of deacons. The growth of the permanent Diaconate, however, now gives rise to a need for a certain unity of direction and clarification of concepts, as well as for practical encouragement and more clearly defined pastoral objectives. The total reality of the Diaconate — embracing its fundamental doctrinal vision, discernment of vocation, as well as the life, ministry, spirituality and formation of deacons — calls for a review of the journey thus far made, so as to arrive at a global vision of this grade of Sacred Orders corresponding to the desire and intention of the Second Vatican Council.

Following the publication of the Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis on priestly formation and the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Congregation for the Clergy, completing the treatment of what pertains to the Diaconate and the Priesthood, the objects of their competence, now wish to devote particular consideration to the subject of the permanent Diaconate. Both Congregations, having consulted the Episcopate throughout the world and numerous experts, discussed the permanent Diaconate at their Plenary Assemblies in November 1995. The Cardinal Members together with the Archbishop and Bishop Members carefully considered the various consultations and numerous submissions made in the matter. As a result, the final texts of the Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium and the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons were drafted by the two Congregations and faithfully reflect points and proposals from every geographical area represented at the Plenary Assemblies. The work of both Plenaries illustrated convergence on many points and agreement concerning the clear need for greater uniformity in training so as to ensure the pastoral effectiveness of the Sacred Ministry in confronting the challenges which face it on the eve of the Third Millenium. Therefore, both Dicasteries were requested to undertake the drafting of these documents which are published simultaneously and prefaced by a single, comprehensive introduction. The Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium, prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education, is intended not only as a guideline for the formation of permanent Deacons but also as a directive of which due account is to be taken by the Episcopal Conferences when preparing their respective “Rationes”. As with the Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis, the Congregation offers this aid to the various Episcopates to facilitate them in discharging adequately the prescriptions of canon 236 of the Code of Canon Law and to ensure for the Church, unity, earnestness and completeness in the formation of permanent Deacons.

The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, as in the case of the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, has, together with its hortative character, juridically binding force where its norms “recall disciplinary norms of the Code of Canon Law” or “determine with regard to the manner of applying universal laws of the Church, explicitate their doctrinal basis and inculcate or solicit their faithful observance”.(1) In these specific cases, it is to be regarded as a formal, general, executory Decree (cf. canon 32).

While retaining their proper identity and their own specific juridical quality, both of these documents, published with the authority of the respective Dicasteries, mutually reflect and complete each other by virtue of their logical continuity. It is to be hoped that they will be presented, received and applied everywhere in their entirety. The introduction, here conjointly published with these documents, is intended as a reference point and a normative source for both, while remaining an inextricable part of each document.

The introduction restricts itself to the historical and pastoral aspects of the permanent Diaconate, with specific reference to the practical dimension of formation and ministry. The doctrinal reasons for the arguments advanced are drawn from those expressed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent Magisterium.

The documents produced here are intended as a response to a widely felt need to clarify and regulate the diversity of approaches adopted in experiments conducted up to now, whether at the level of discernment and training or at that of active ministry and ongoing formation. In this way it will be possible to ensure a certain stability of approach which takes account of legitimate plurality and in turn guarantees that indispensable unity, necessary for the success of the ministry of the permanent Diaconate which has been fruitful and which, at the threshold of the Third Millenium, promises to make an important contribution to New Evangelisation.

The directives contained in the following documents pertain to permanent deacons of the secular clergy, although many, with due adaptation, may also to be applied to permanent deacons who are members of institutes of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life.


I. The Ordained Ministry

1. “In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in the Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body. The holders of office, who are invested with a sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren, so that all who belong to the People of God, and are consequently endowed with true Christian dignity, may, through their free and well-ordered efforts towards a common goal, attain to salvation”.(3)

The Sacrament of Orders “configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination he is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet and king”.(4)

Through the Sacrament of Orders, the mission entrusted by Christ to his Apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time. It is thus the sacrament of apostolic ministry.(5) The sacramental act of ordination surpasses mere election, designation or delegation by the community, because it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit enabling the exercise of sacred power which can only come from Christ himself through his Church.(6) “The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act of his own authority, but by virtue of Christ's authority; not as a member of the community but speaking to it in the name of Christ. No one can bestow grace on himself; it must be given and offered. This fact presupposes ministers of grace, authorised and empowered by Christ”.(7)

The sacrament of apostolic ministry comprises three degrees. Indeed “the divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called bishops, priests and deacons”.(8)

Together with priests and deacons as their helpers, the bishops have received pastoral charge of the community, and preside in God's stead over the flock of which they are shepherds in as much as they are teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship and ministers of pastoral government.(9)

The sacramental nature of ecclesial ministry is such that it has “intrinsically linked...its character of service. Entirely dependant on Christ who gives mission and authority, ministers are truly “slaves of Christ” (cf. Rom. 1:11), in the image of him who freely took “the form of a slave” for us (cf. Phil. 2:7)”.(10)

The sacred ministry also has a collegial form(11) and a personal character(12) by which “sacramental ministry in the at once a collegial and a personal service, exercised in the name of Christ”.(13)

II. The Diaconate

2. The service of deacons in the Church is documented from apostolic times. A strong tradition, attested already by St. Ireneus and influencing the liturgy of ordination, sees the origin of the diaconate in the institution of the “seven” mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-6). Thus, at the initial grade of sacred hierarchy are deacons, whose ministry has always been greatly esteemed in the Church.(14) St. Paul refers to them and to the bishops in the exordium of his Epistle to the Philippians (cf. Phil 1:1), while in his first Epistle to Timothy he lists the qualities and virtues which they should possess so as to exercise their ministry worthily (cf. 1 Tim 3:8-13).(15)

From its outset, patristic literature witnesses to this hierarchical and ministerial structure in the Church, which includes the diaconate. St Ignatius of Antioch(16) considers a Church without bishop, priest or deacon, unthinkable. He underlines that the ministry of deacons is nothing other than “the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before time began and who appeared at the end of time”. They are not deacons of food and drink but ministers of the Church of God. The Didascalia Apostolorum,(17) the Fathers of subsequent centuries, the various Councils(18) as well as ecclesiastical praxis(19) all confirm the continuity and development of this revealed datum.

Up to the fifth century the Diaconate flourished in the western Church, but after this period, it experienced, for various reasons, a slow decline which ended in its surviving only as an intermediate stage for candidates preparing for priestly ordination.

The Council of Trent disposed that the permanent Diaconate, as it existed in ancient times, should be restored, in accord with its proper nature, to its original function in the Church.(20) This prescription, however, was not carried into effect.

The second Vatican Council established that “it will be possible for the future to restore the diaconate as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy....(and confer it) even upon married men, provided they be of more mature age, and also on suitable young men for whom, however, the law of celibacy must remain in force”,(21) in accordance with constant tradition. Three reasons lay behind this choice: (i) a desire to enrich the Church with the functions of the diaconate, which otherwise, in many regions, could only be exercised with great difficulty; (ii) the intention of strengthening with the grace of diaconal ordination those who already exercised many of the functions of the Diaconate; (iii) a concern to provide regions, where there was a shortage of clergy, with sacred ministers. Such reasons make clear that the restoration of the permanent Diaconate was in no manner intended to prejudice the meaning, role or flourishing of the ministerial priesthood, which must always be fostered because of its indispensability.

With the Apostolic Letter Sacrum diaconatus ordinem(22) of 18 June 1967, Pope Paul VI implemented the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council by determining general norms governing the restoration of the permanent Diaconate in the Latin Church. The Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani Recognitio(23) of 18 June 1968 approved the new rite of conferring the Sacred Orders of the Episcopate, the Presbyterate and the Diaconate and determined the matter and form of these sacramental ordinations. Finally, the Apostolic Letter Ad pascendum(24) of 15 August 1972 clarified the conditions for the admission and ordination of candidates to the diaconate. The essential elements of these norms subsequently passed into the Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 25 January 1983.(25)

In the wake of this universal legislation, several Episcopal Conferences, with the prior approbation of the Holy See, have restored the permanent Diaconate in their territories and have drawn up complementary norms for its regulation.

III. The Permanent Diaconate

3. The experience of the Church over several centuries has generated the norm of conferring the priesthood only on those who have already received the Diaconate and exercised it appropriately.(26) The Order of deacons, however, “should not be considered merely a step towards the Priesthood”.(27)

“One of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council was the desire to restore the diaconate as a proper and stable rank of the hierarchy”.(28) On the basis of the “historical circumstances and pastoral purposes noted by the Council Fathers, the Holy Spirit, protagonist of the Church's life, worked mysteriously to bring about a new and more complete actualization of the hierarchy which traditionally consists of bishops, priests and deacons. In this manner the Christian community was revitalized, configured more closely to that of the Apostles which, under the influence of the Paraclete, flourished as the Acts of the Apostles(29) testifies.

The permanent Diaconate is an important enrichment for the mission of the Church.(30) Since the munera proper to deacons are necessary to the Church's life,(31) it is both convenient and useful, especially in mission territories,(32) that men who are called to a truly diaconal ministry in the Church, whether liturgical or pastoral, charitable or social, “be strengthened by the imposition of hands, which has come down from the Apostles, and more closely united to the altar so as to exercise their ministry more fruitfully through the sacramental grace of the diaconate”.(33)

Vatican City, 22 February 1998, Feast of the Chair of Peter.

Congregation for Catholic Education
Pio Card. Laghi
+ José Saraiva Martins
Titular Archbishop of Tuburnica

Congregation for the Clergy
Darío Card. Castrillón Hoyos
+ Csaba Ternyák
Titular Archbishop of Eminenziana


Joint declaration


I. The Ordained Ministry

II. The Diaconate

III. The Permanent Diaconate


(1) Cf. Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Chiarimenti circa il valore vincolante dell'art. 66 del Direttorio per il Ministero e la Vita dei Presbiteri (22 October 1994), in “Sacrum Ministerium” 2 (1995), p. 263.

(2) This introduction is common both to the “Ratio” and to the “Directory”. It should always be included in both documents in the event of their being printed separately. (3) Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 18.

(4) Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1581.

(5) Cf. ibidem, n. 1536.

(6) Cf. ibidem, n. 1538.

(7) Ibidem, n. 875.

(8) Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 28.

(9) Cf. ibidem, n. 20; CIC, canon 375, § 1.

(10) Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 876.

(11) Cf. ibidem, n. 877.

(12) Cf. ibidem, n. 878.

(13) Ibidem, n. 879.

(14) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 29; Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Ad pascendum (15 August 1972), AAS 64 (1972), p. 534.

(15) Moreover, he also describes several of the sixty who collaborated with him as deacons: Timothy (1 Thes 3:2), Epophros (Col 1:7), Tychicus (Col 3:7; Eph 6:2).

(16) Cf. Epistula ad Philadelphenses, 4; Epistula ad Smyrnaeos, 12, 2: Epistula ad Magnesios, 6, 1; F. X. Funk (ed.) Patres Apostolici, Tubingae 1901; pp. 266-267; 286-287; 234-235; 244-245.

(17) Cf. Didascalia Apostolorum (Syriac), capp. III, XI: A. Vööbus (ed.) The Didascalia Apostolorum (Syriac with English translation), CSCO, vol. I, n. 402 (t. 176), pp. 29-30; vol. II, n. 408 (t. 180), pp. 120-129; Didascalia Apostolorum, III, 13 (19), 1-7: F. X. Funk (ed.), Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum, Paderborn 1906, I, pp. 212-216.

(18) Cf. canons 32 and 33 of the Council of Elvira (300303): PL 84, 305; canons 16 (15), 18, 21 of the first Council of Arles. CCL, 148, pp. 12-13; canons 15, 16, and 18 of the Council of Nicea: Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, bilingual edition of G. Alberigo, G.L. Dossetti, Cl. Leonardi, P. Prodi, cons. of H. Jedin, ed. Dehoniane, Bologna 1991, pp. 13-15.

(19) In the first period of Christianity, every local Church needed a number of deacons proportionate to her numbers so that they might be known and helped (cf. Didascalia Apostolorum, III, 12 (16): F. X. Funk, ed. cit., I, p. 208). In Rome Pope St Fabian (236-250) divided the City into seven zones (or “regiones”, later called “diaconiae”) in charge of each of which was placed a deacon (“regionarius”) for the promotion of charity and assistance to the poor. Analogous diaconal structures were to be found in many cities of the east and west during the third and fourth centuries.

(20) Cf. Council of Trent, Session XXIII, Decreta de Reformatione, canon 17: Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, ed. cit., p. 750.

(21) Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, 29.

(22) AAS 59 (1967), pp. 697-704.

(23) AAS 60 (1968), pp. 369-373.

(24) AAS 64 (1972), pp. 534-540.

(25) Ten canons speak explicitly of permanent deacons: 236; 276, § 2, 3o; 288; 1031, §§ 2-3; 1032, § 3; 1035, § 1; 1037; 1042, 1o; 1050, 3o.

(26) Cf. CIC, canon 1031, § 1.

(27) Paul VI, Apostolic Letter, Sacrum diaconatus ordinem (18 June 1968): AAS 59 (1967), p. 698.

(28) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 29; Decree Ad gentes, 16; Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 17; Allocution of John Paul II of 16 March 1985, n. 1: Insegnamenti, VIII, 2 (1985), p. 648.

(29) Catechesis of John Paul II at the General Audience of 6 October 1993, n. 5, Insegnamenti, XVI, 2 (1993), p. 954.

(30) “A particularly felt need behind the decision to restore the permanent diaconate was that of a greater and more direct presence of sacred ministers in areas such as the family, work, schools etc. as well as in the various ecclesial structures”. Catechesis of John Paul II at the General Audience of 6 October 1993 n. 6, Insegnamenti, XVI, 2 (1993), p. 954.

(31) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 29b.

(32) Cf. ibidem, Decree Ad gentes, 16.

(33) Ibidem, Decree Ad gentes, 16. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1571.

Joint Declaration and
Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons

Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons

This copy is for convenience only. Please refer to the original on the Vatican's web site.


Copyright Archdiocese of Boston Permanent Diaconate Office. All Rights Reserved.