A look back into history as to how deacons waned while the presbyterate achieved ascendancy:
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 pastor.
One would think that the apostolate of the laity would be enough to determine “proof” and “merit” and “preparation.” Even today, lots of Catholic clergy and laity still don’t get it.
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.
It used to be a different order, not a “higher” one. The seduction and sin of privilege rears its head …
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; (Session 23: Mansi, Collectio 33, 138-140.) 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. (Address to the Participants in the Second International Congress of the Lay Apostolate, 5 Oct. 1957: AAS 49 (1957), p. 925.) 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.” (Mt. 20:28)
Today’s post alludes to the continuing conflict on priesthoods, namely that the ordained priesthood and priesthood of the faithful can be at each other’s throats in vying for position. Many deacons I know have, through their witness of faith and ministry, short-circuited that competitiveness. Once we can resolve that conflict, I wonder if we will be blessed with a renewal of vocations–authentic, better-discerned, rooted in service.