Irish parishes will see married men baptising babies and performing weddings within three years as a new training programme for deacons gets underway.
Just short of twenty men, many of them married, from the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Diocese of Elphin will commence their 3-year studies for the permanent diaconate starting early next month.
Once ordained the deacons can serve a number of functions in a parish including performing baptisms and officiating at weddings and funerals.
The ministry of permanent deacons, while popular in the early Church had fallen into disuse by the Middle Ages, and was only reintroduced by Vatican II (1962-65).
Irish Church leaders received permission from the Vatican in 2001 to proceed with the restoration of the permanent diaconate and in 2005 the Holy See approved a specific National Directory and Norms for Ireland which provides for the training of deacons.
Initially eleven of the 26 dioceses in Ireland ARE introducing permanent deacons into their parishes; Dublin and Elphin are at the most advanced stage having had potential candidates preparing to commence formal studies for the past twelve months.
Deacons combine their ministry with their career and normally serve the Church in a part-time capacity. To facilitate the fact that candidates have to combine their studies with holding down a job the three-year programme is delivered through a variety of evening and weekend courses.
In a similar fashion to priestly training, formation consists of the four areas of pastoral formation, spiritual formation, human formation and academic formation.
A married man must have reached the age of 35 before he can be ordained to the permanent diaconate. He must also have the formal consent of his wife.
Unmarried candidates must have reached the age of 25 before they can be ordained as permanent deacons.
In keeping with the tradition of the Church, those who are ordained as single men make a solemn promise of celibacy.