Serving at the altar and in communities

Serving at the altar and in communities

By Peter G. Sánchez


Since the first class of the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Camden was ordained in 1976, deacons have conducted their ministerial duties at liturgies; marriage prep; hospital, nursing home and prison apostolates; home visitations; in presiding at wake services and funeral rites; and addressing secular groups, representing their parish or the diocese. At the present time, there are 147 permanent deacons of the Diocese of Camden, and 18 men in formation.

This past summer, a change in the diocese’s practice concerning clerical attire for permanent deacons took effect, as Bishop Dennis Sullivan decreed that a gray clergy shirt with a white Roman collar should be worn by the deacons in their ministerial work.

With this change, the deacon has become a “more visible witness to the Catholic Church,” not only to Catholics, but those in the secular square, said Deacon Carter.

In many environments, the collar “facilitates their work, and people are opening up to them more, and engaging with them,” remarked Deacon Leo McBlain, co-director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate.

“The collar is an invitation to engage,” he continued, adding that “the deacon is in the marketplace,” bringing the Good News to a present culture where, in the past, neighborhoods and families constantly fostered the Catholic faith.

“Now, that has eroded,” Deacon McBlain said, and the role a permanent deacon plays has become more important and influential.

As a large majority of deacons have obligations to their wives and families, in addition to their diaconate responsibilities, they are “a sign to, and a sign of, the people,” he said.

In their ministries, deacons have “taken on such a unique role, doing more outreach and evangelization, beyond the service of the altar,” said Deacon Carter. “We need to pray for more.”

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