What is the Difference Between a Deacon and a Priest?
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What's the difference between a deacon and a priest? Why can't a deacon hear my confession and forgive sins? We asked Catholic Online's Deacon Keith Fournier to share his knowledge and to guide us to the correct passages in the Catechism to explain.
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What's the difference? Why can't a deacon forgive sins as a priest may do?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this order of Clergy, the diaconate in Christ, in this way:
"At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands 'not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry."' At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon's special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his "diakonia."
"Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint ("character") which cannot be removed, and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the "deacon" or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.
"Since the Second Vatican Council the Latin Church has restored the diaconate "as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy," while the Churches of the East had always maintained it. This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, constitutes an important enrichment for the Church's mission. Indeed, it is appropriate and useful that men who carry out a truly diaconal ministry in the Church, whether in its liturgical and pastoral life or whether in its social and charitable works, should "be strengthened by the imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles. They would be more closely bound to the altar and their ministry would be made more fruitful through the sacramental grace of the diaconate." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraphs 1569-1571)
Catholic Deacons are ordained members of the Catholic Clergy, ordained not to the priesthood but to the ministry. We are not laymen any longer after ordination. Even though we may have had effective and vital ministries as lay leaders before, something substantial changed by the imposition of the hands of one of the successors of the Apostles, our Bishop. We are now ordained ministers of the Catholic Church, called into the world as clerical missionaries.
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