Apostolic Letter Containing Norms
for the Order of Diaconate
August 15, 1972
For the nurturing and constant growth of the people of God, Christ the Lord instituted
in the Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body.1
From the apostolic age the Diaconate has had a clearly outstanding position among these
ministries, and it has always been held in great honor by the Church. Explicit testimony
of this is given by the Apostle Paul both in his letter to the Philippians, in which he
sends his greetings not only to the bishops but also to the deacons,2 and in a
letter to Timothy, in which he illustrates the qualities and virtues that deacons must
have in order to be worthy of their ministry.3
Later, when the early writers of the Church acclaim the dignity of deacons, they do not
fall to extol also the spiritual qualities and virtues that are required for the
performance of that ministry, namely. fidelity to Christ moral integrity, and obedience to
St. Ignatius of Antioch declares that the office of the deacon is nothing other than
"the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before all ages and bas been
manifested in the final time."4 He also made the following observation:
"The deacons too, who are ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ should please
all in every way; for they are not servants of food and drink, but ministers of the Church
St. Polycarp of Smyna exhorts deacons to "be moderate in all things, merciful,
diligent, living according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all."6
The author of the Didascalia Apostolorum, recalling the words of Christ,
"Anyone who wants to be great among you must he your servant,"7
addresses the following fraternal exhortation to deacons: "Accordingly you deacons
also should behave in such a way that, if your ministry obliges you to lay down your lives
for a brother, you should do so. . . If the Lord of heaven and earth served us and
suffered and sustained everything on our behalf, should not this be done for our brothers
all the more by us, since we are imitators of him and have been given the place of
Furthermore, when the writers of the first centuries insist on the importance of the
ministry of deacons, they give many examples of the manifold important tasks entrusted to
them, and clearly show how much authority they held in the Christian communities and how
great was their contribution to the apostate. The deacon is described as "the
bishop's ear, mouth, heart and soul."9 The deacon is at the disposal of
the bishop in order that he may serve the whole people of God and take care of the sick
and the poor;10 he is correctly and rightly called "one who shows love for
orphans, for the devout and for the widowed, one who is fervent in spirit, one who shows
love for what is good."11 Furthermore, he is entrusted with the mission of
taking the holy Eucharist to the sick confined to their homes,12 of conferring
baptism,13 and or attending to preaching the Word of God in accordance with the
express will of the bishop.
Accordingly, the diaconate flourished in a wonderful way in the Church, and at the same
time gave an outstanding witness of love for Christ and the brethren through the
performance of works of charity,14 the celebration of sacred rites,15
and the fulfillment of pastoral duties.16
The exercise of the office of deacon enabled those who were to become priests to give
proof of themselves, to display the merit of their work, and to acquire preparation -- all
of which were requirements for receiving the dignity of the priesthood and the office of
As time went on, the discipline concerning this sacred order was changed. The
prohibition against conferring ordination without observing the established sequence of
orders was strengthened, and there was a gradual decrease in the number of those who
preferred to remain deacons all their lives instead of advancing to a higher order. As a
consequence the permanent diaconate almost entirely disappeared in the Latin Church. It is
scarcely the place to mention the decrees of the Council of Trent proposing to restore the
sacred orders in accordance with their own nature as ancient functions within the Church;17
it was much later that the idea matured of restoring this important sacred order also as a
truly permanent rank. Our predecessor Pius XII briefly alluded to this matter.18
Finally. the Second Vatican Council supported the wishes and requests that, where such
would lead to the good of souls, the permanent diaconate should be restored as an
intermediate order between the higher ranks of the Church's hierarchy and the rest of the
people of God, as an expression of the needs desires of the Christian communities, as a
driving force for the Church's service or diaconia towards the local Christian
communities, and as a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who "came not to
be served but to serve."19
CONSTITUTION "LUMEN GENTIUM"
For this reason, at the third session of the Council, in October 1964, the Fathers
ratified the principle of the renewal of the diaconate, and the following November the
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, was promulgated. In the 19th
article of this document a description is given of the principal characteristics proper to
that state. "At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, who receive the
imposition of hands 'not unto the priesthood. but unto the ministry.' For strengthened by
sacramental race they are dedicated to the people of God, in conjunction with the bishop
and his body of priests, in the service of the liturgy, of the Gospel, and of works of
The same constitution made the following declaration about permanency in the rank of
deacon "These duties (of deacons), so very necessary for the life of the Church, can
In many areas be fulfilled only with difficulty according to the prevailing discipline of
the Latin Church. For this reason, the diaconate car in the future be restored as a proper
and permanent rank of the hierarchy."21
RESTORING THE DIACONATE
However, this restoration of the permanent diaconate required that the instructions of
the Council be more profoundly examined and that there be mature deliberation concerning
juridical status both of the celibate and married deacon Similarly it was necessary that
matters connected with the diaconate of those who are to become priests should be adapted
to contemporary conditions, so that the hire of diaconate would furnish that proof of
life, of ministry and of aptitude for the priestly ministry, which ancient disciples
demanded from candidates for the priesthood.
Thus on 18 June 1967 we issued in motu proprio form, the Apostolic Letter Sacrum
Diaconatus Ordinem, by which suitable canonical norms for the permanent diaconate
were established.22 On June 17 of the following year, through the Apostolic
Constitution Pontificalis Romani Recognitio,23we authorized the new
rite for the conferring of the sacred orders of diaconate, priesthood and episcopacy, and
at the same time defined the matter and the form of the ordination itself.
Now that we are proceeding further and are today promulgating the Apostolic Letter Ministeria
Quaedam, we consider it fining to issue certain norms concerning the diaconate. We
also desire that candidates for the diaconate should know what ministries they are to
exercise before sacred ordination and when and how they are to take upon themselves the
responsibilities of celibacy and liturgical prayer.
Since entrance into the clerical state is deferred until diaconate, there no longer
exists the rite of first tonsure, by which a layman used to become a cleric. But a new
rite is introduced, by which one who aspires to the diaconate or priesthood publicly
manifests his will to offer himself to God and the Church, so that he may exercise a
sacred order. The Church, accepting this offering, selects and calls him to prepare
himself to receive a sacred order, and in this way he is properly numbered among
candidates for the diaconate or priesthood.
It is especially fitting that the ministries of lector and acolyte should be entrusted
to those who, as candidates for the order of diaconate or priesthood, desire to devote
themselves to God and to the Church in a special way. For the Church, which "does not
cease to take the bread of life from the table of the word of God and the body of Christ
and offer it to the faithful,"24 considers it to be very opportune that
both by study and by gradual exercise of the ministry of the word and of the altar,
candidates for sacred orders should through intimate contact understand and reflect upon
the double aspect of the priestly office. Thus it comes about that the authenticity of the
ministry shines out with the greatest effectiveness. In this way the candidates accede to
sacred orders fully aware of their vocation. fervent in spirit serving the Lord, constant
in prayer and aware of the needs of the faithful.25
Having weighed every aspect of the question well, having sought the opinion of experts,
having consulted with the episcopal conferences and taken their views into account and
having taken council with our Venerable Brothers who are members of the Sacred
Congregations competent in this matter. by our apostolic authority we enact the following
norms, derogating--if and insofar as necessary--from provisions of the Code of Canon Law
until now in force, and we promulgate them with this letter.
1. (a) A rite of admission for candidates to the diaconate and to the priesthood is
introduced. In order that this admission be properly made, the free petition of the
aspirant made out and signed in his own hand, is required. as well as the written
acceptance of the competent ecclesiastical superior, by which the selection by the church
is brought about.
Professed members of clerical congregations who seek the priesthood are not bound to
(b) The competent superior for this acceptance is the ordinary (the bishop and, in
clerical institutes of perfection, the major superior). Those can be accepted who give
signs of an authentic vocation and, endowed with good moral qualifies and free from mental
and physical defects, wish to dedicate their lives to the service of the Church for the
glory of God and the good of souls. It is necessary that those who aspire to the
transitional diaconate will have completed at least their twentieth year and have begun
their course of theological studies.
(c) In virtue of the acceptance the candidate must care for his vocation in a special
way and foster it. He also acquires the right to the necessary spiritual assistance by
which he can develop his vocation and submit unconditionally to the will of God.
2. Candidates for the permanent or transitional diaconate and for the priesthood are to
receive the ministries of lector and acolyte, unless they have already done so, and are
exercise them for a fitting time, in order to be better disposed for the future service of
the word and of the altar.
Dispensation from the reception of these ministries on the part of such candidates is
reserved to the Holy See.
3. The liturgical rites by which admission of candidates for the diaconate and the
priesthood takes place and the above-mentioned ministries are conferred should be
performed by the ordinary of the aspirant (the bishop and, in clerical institutes of
perfection. the major superior).
4. The intervals established by the Holy See or by the episcopal conferences between
the conferring--during the course of theological studies--of the ministry of lector and
that of acolyte, and between the ministry of acolyte and the order of deacon must be
5. Before ordination candidates for the diaconate shall give to the ordinary (the
bishop and, in clerical institutes of perfection, the major superior) a declaration made
out and signed in their own hand, by which they testify that they are about to receive the
sacred order freely and of their own accord.
6. The special consecration of celibacy observed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven
and its obligation for cand~ dates to the priesthood and for unmarried candidates to the
diaconate are indeed 'inked with the diaconate. The public commitment to holy celibacy
before God and the Church is to be celebrated in a particular rite, even by religious, and
it is to precede ordination to the diaconate. Celibacy taken on in this way is a diriment
impediment to entering marriage In accordance with the traditional discipline of the
church, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage.26
7. (a) Deacons called to the priesthood are not to be ordained until they have
completed the course of studies prescribed by the norms of the Apostolic See.
(b) In regard to the course of theological studies to precede the ordination of
permanent deacons, the episcopal conferences, with attention to the local situation, will
issue the proper norms and submit them for the approval of the Sacred Congregation for
LITURGY OF THE HOURS
8. In accordance with norms 29-30 of the General Instruction for the Liturgy of the
(a) deacons called to the priesthood are bound by their sacred ordination by the
obligation of celebrating the liturgy of the hours;
(b) It is most fitting that permanent deacons should recite daily at least a part of
the liturgy of the hours, to be determined by the episcopal conference.
9. Entrance into the clerical state and incardnation into a diocese are brought about
by ordination to the diaconate.
10. The rite of admission for candidates to the diaconate and priesthood and of the
special consecration of holy celibacy is to be published soon by the competent department
of the Roman Curia.
Transitional Norms. Candidates for the sacrament of Orders who have already
received first tonsure before the promulgation of this letter, retain all the duties,
rights and privileges of clerics. Those who have been promoted to the order of
subdiaconate are held to the obligations taken on in regard to both celibacy and the
liturgy of the hours. But they must celebrate once again their public commitment to
celibacy before God and the Church by the new special rite preceding ordination to the
All that has been decreed by us in this letter, in moto proprio form, we order
to be confirmed and ratified, anything to the contrary notwithstanding. We also determine
that it shall come into force on 1 January 1973.
- Cf. Vatican II, dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n. 18: AAS 57 (1965), pp
- Cf. Phil. 1:1.
- Cf. 1 Tim 3:8-13.
- Ad Magnesios, VI, 1: Funk, Patres Apostolici 1, p. 235.
- Ad Trallianos, II, 3: ibid., p 245.
- Ad Philippenses, V. 2: ibid., pp. 301-303.
- Mt. 20:26-27.
- Didiscalia Apostolorum III, 13, 2-4: Funk, Didiscalia et Constitutiones
Apostolorum I, p. 214.
- Didiscalia Apostolorum II, 44, 4; ibid., p. 138.
- Cf. Traditio Apostolica, 39 and 34; La Tradition Apostolique de St.
Hippolyte. Essai de reconstitution by B. Botte (Münster, 1963), pp. 87, 91.
- Testamentum D.N. Iesu Christi I, 38, ed. and translated into Latin by I. E.
Rahmani (Mainz, 1899), p. 93.
- Cf. St. Justin, Apologia I, 65, 5, and 67, 5; St. Justin, Apologiae duae, ed.
G. Rauschen (Bonn, 1911), pp. 107, 111.
- Cf. Tertullian, De Baptismo XVII, 1: Corpus Christianorum I, Tertulliani
Opera, Turnholt (1954), p. 291.
- Cf. Didiscalia Apostolorum II, 31, 2: Funk I, p. 112; Testamentum D.N. Iesu
Christi I, 31: Rahmani, p. 75.
- Cf. Didiscalia Apostolorum II, 57, 6, and 58, 1: Funk I, pp. 162, 166.
- Cf. St. Cyprian, Epist. 15, 16 ed. G. Hartel (Vienna, 1871), pp. 513-520; cf.
St. Augustine, De catechezandis rudibus I, cap. I, 1: PL 40, 309-310
- Session 23: Mansi, Collectio 33, 138-140.
- Address to the Participants in the Second International Congress of teh Lay Apostolate,
5 Oct. 1957: AAS 49 (1957), p. 925.
- Mt. 20:28
- AAS 57 (1965), p. 36.
- AAS 59 (1967), pp. 697-704.
- AAS 60 (1968), pp. 367-373.
- Cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, n. 21: AAS 58
(1966), p. 827.
- Cf. Rom. 12:11-13.
- Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, n. 16: AAS 59
(1967), p. 701.