By JOEL DAVIDSON
The deacons of the Anchorage Archdiocese took center stage last month when St. Patrick Church named its parish hall “Deacons’ Hall” in honor of past, present and future deacons of the archdiocese.
The Sept. 7 ceremonies, which included Mass with Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, honored the many deacons who have served the archdiocese.
Since 1981 the archdiocese has ordained 25 deacons. These men have served along with eight other deacons who were originally ordained in other dioceses.
Currently 14 full-time deacons serve the Anchorage Archdiocese, along with two others who have formally retired.
Over the past 50 years the diaconate has undergone considerable changes.
In the early church deacons were the formal assistants to bishops. By the fourth century, however, permanent deacons were replaced by transitional deacons on the way to ordained priesthood.
The Second Vatican Council restored the permanent diaconate and allowed married men to be ordained into this rank of the church’s hierarchy.
The first U.S. deacons were ordained in 1972 and since then, the number has grown to more than 17,000.
As of 2012 there were 131 diaconate programs with more than 2,300 men in formation across the country. Another 74 programs include nearly 1,000 aspirants — men discerning whether to enter a diaconate program.
Between the years of 1985 and 2012 the U.S. church has lost 18,000 priests but gained 10,000 permanent deacons.
The Anchorage Archdiocese now has nine men in formation to become deacons. On Sept. 15 they participated in the diaconal Rite of Candidacy, the first of four steps toward their final ordination, slated for 2015.
As ordained clergy, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach homilies and assist the priest during celebrations of the Mass.
Outside the liturgy they minister to the sick, the vulnerable and those in prison. Other roles include teaching, baptizing, officiating weddings and assisting in funeral services.
Deacons cannot consecrate the Eucharist at Mass, hear confessions or administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. These ministries are reserved to priests and bishops.