Q&A: Minimum Age For the Permanent Diaconate

David Oatney Blog: Life at 25, Vocations

deacon-group-ord.011For today’s Catholic Q&A, I happened to find this question buried in our feedback file that I didn’t know was there, and it is one that many men may be asking who might be in the early stages of discerning a call to the permanent diaconate.

What is the normal age or Range for the Diaconate? I have called and left my name etc. person on other end took my name and address and never said that they would send me an application.

The Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons can answer the direct part of this question. Under “General requirements” the present norms read (35):

Regarding the minimum age, the Code of Canon Law (Canon 1031, Sec. 2) prescribes that: “the candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married may be admitted to the diaconate only when he has completed at least his twenty-fifth year; if he is married, not until he has completed at least his thirty-fifth year.”

deaconsandpopeIf you are married you must be at least 35 years old on the day you would be ordained in order to be ordained to the diaconate. I have heard of at least one exception to this, but that exception had to be asked for from the Vatican and come in the form of a papal decree. I am sure other exceptions have been made to this rule, but it doesn’t happen every day, so for all intents and purposes 35 years old is the minimum age for ordination if you are a married man. It is required that a married man be in a stable marital situation. Further, your wife must consent, first to your entering aspirancy, then to your becoming a candidate for ordination, to your being formally made a Lector, and then an Acolyte, and then ultimately receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders as a deacon.

If a man is unmarried and you may feel a call to the diaconate, 25 years old is the “floor,” but it is important to remember that if you are single or widowed and you seek to be ordained to either the diaconate or the priesthood, you will be making a promise of celibacy for the rest of your life (Basic Norms 37). Even those of us who are in formation who are already married will, if ordained, be bound to “conditional celibacy.” (Basic Norms 38) That is to say that if we are ever widowed we will not be free to marry again. We will be, as St. Paul says, “the husband of one wife.” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:12) Needless to say this is a big promise to make, and it is one that all of us in formation have had to very carefully discern.

Deacons Ordination-158In the Diocese of Knoxville, once a deacon reaches the age of 75 years old, he is required to submit a mandatory letter of resignation/retirement to the bishop, but when and whether the bishop accepts the mandatory retirement is entirely up to him, he can choose to accept it immediately, delay his acceptance, or even never officially accept the retirement at all. When a deacon’s retirement is accepted, this doesn’t mean that he isn’t a deacon anymore, he continues to be bound to his promises to live according to his state in life, as well as the obligation of all clergy to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day. Someone might submit a letter requesting an earlier retirement if the circumstances warrant that. However, it is very often the case that once a deacon’s resignation/retirement has been accepted that he is allowed to retain his faculties as a deacon, just as most priests and bishops who retire usually retain theirs. Whether a deacon is allowed to retain his faculties in retirement is entirely up to his bishop.

The most important part of canon law, however, where the formation of a deacon is concerned, is that a period of formation must be completed for any man who aspires to the permanent diaconate, as Canon 1032 tells us:

Sec. 3 An aspirant to the permanent diaconate is not to be promoted to this order until he has completed the period of formation. Periods of formation and even the way that classes are conducted can vary from diocese to diocese.

deaconemblemIn our diocese, the men meet once monthly in a central location, and are required to attend periodic deanery workshops to discuss the material we are learning together. We meet for a full weekend (Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday) when meeting as a class, and the material is often pretty intense because we have a lot of material to go through in a very short time. I can’t speak as to why no one responded to our questioner in a more direct way about his interest, except to say that if he is in the Diocese of Knoxville, a new class of aspirants for study to the diaconate has not yet formed, but it is my understanding that one may be forming soon. When that happens, an announcement will be printed in the East Tennessee Catholic, as well as posted on the diocesan website that some informational sessions will be held to discuss the program with any interested men. There will be a formal application process that interested men will have to go through, and even a psychological evaluation. Discerning a call to the diaconate is a process that involves the aspirant, their wife and family, the formation team, the bishop and/or his staff, and a person’s pastor and the Church as a whole. No one is entitled to ordination, we are called to it by God and by the Church in Christ’s name. It is a gift from God and a service to God’s people.

deacon_starterIf I may be permitted a brief personal reflection…When I applied for the formation program, I knew in my heart that I was answering the call of the Holy Spirit to do so. I questioned whether I would be accepted, especially considering my disability, and I had the same question many others do, I have since learned: “Am I ‘good enough.'”  The truth is that none of us are good enough, and none of us are worthy, we have merely been blessed. I can also state that formation has truly been a life-changing experience, because not only has it made my relationship with Jesus Christ a far deeper one, but it has made me even more aware of the needs of my fellow parishioners and members of the community, and the ways that I might serve them. It has also given me the gift to come to know some of the finest men I have ever had the pleasure to meet in my life, my fellow confreres, and I have often been encouraged, strengthened, helped, and when necessary (and with me, it often is, I assure readers) humbled by them. Despite this life-altering experience, the most important thing I have learned in this entire process is that “it is not about me.” It is about Christ, and learning how to better see, serve, and minister to Christ in others. We are told this early on, but you really learn it by experience.

I’m not sure if our questioner comes from the Diocese of Knoxville or from another diocese, but if he truly feels called to formation for the diaconate, I would prayerfully invite him to persevere in his discernment. Say “Jesus I trust in you” and be willing to listen to and discern an answer from the Holy Spirit. Also remember that “All is Gift.” This One and all who are discerning vocations will be in my prayers. God Love You.