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Difference Between Deacon and Priest

Deacon vs Priest

The Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Assyrian, Old and Independent Catholic, and Lutheran churches have three Holy Orders which refer to the ordination of certain individuals for a ministry.
These churches consider ordination as a sacrament and can be bestowed only by a bishop which is considered the teacher of the faith and the carrier of tradition from which the Holy Spirit flows through to the rest of the congregation.
The bishop is the highest of the Holy Orders, and he is considered as a modern day apostle. The Pope, cardinals, and archbishops are types of bishop who can celebrate all of the sacraments. A bishop leads a diocese which is composed of parishes headed by a priest.
The priest is the second highest of the Holy Orders. He assists the bishop and can perform the sacraments excluding the Holy Orders. The priest can celebrate Mass and the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Penance, Anointing the Sick, Baptism, and Matrimony.
Priests have been around since ancient times, and while today becoming a priest is a personal choice, before it was inherited and passed down in families. They perform all sacred rites of religion and serve as mediator between humans and God.
There are many requirements before one can become a priest. One is that he must be celibate, and although some Eastern and Orthodox churches accept married men to the priesthood, after ordination they cannot marry even if they are widowed.
A deacon, on the other hand, is the third of the Holy Orders. Deacons can serve as clerks or laymen in the church. It is a final step towards ordination to become a priest. Before the Second Vatican Council only seminarians were ordained as deacons.
Today, even those who are not studying to become priests can be ordained as deacons of the church. They assist the priest and are under their supervision, but they report directly to the bishop. Their duties include proclaiming the Gospel during Mass, ministering the Holy Communion, and being of service to the parishioners.
Unlike priests, they cannot perform the Holy Sacraments, but they assist the priest in their duties. In church services that do not involve the celebration of the Mass, deacons can preside.


1.A priest is the second highest of the Holy Orders of the Roman Catholic, Eastern and Orthodox Christian churches while a deacon is the third of the Holy Orders.
2.A priest can celebrate the Mass and all Sacraments except the Holy Order while a deacon cannot perform any of the sacraments, but they can preside over services that do not involve the celebration of the Mass.
3.A priest must never marry while a married man can become a deacon but is expected to become celibate when he is widowed.
4.Before the Second Vatican Council, only candidates to the priesthood can become deacons, but today, even those who are not seminarians can be deacons.
5.Priests are assistants to the bishop and the Pope while deacons are servants of the church and the bishops.

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  1. One immediate problem with this jumps out at me. In the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church the permanent Deacon can administer certain Sacraments, namely Baptism and Holy Matrimony. Deacons can also preside at Vigils and Funerals outside of mass. Permanent Deacons are not lay members of the Church, but are ordained members of the clergy. We don’t serve as laymen or clerks, but we are assigned to parishes to assist the priests. We are often assigned duties outside of the parish, as well as serving in various social justice ministries in hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters, schools, etc.

    • Thank you Deacon Steve. That was glaring at me too! Sadly, I still hear some (including priests) refer to us as “lay deacons.”

      • They just never get it right!!

        Deacons are *not* laymen! A symbolic portion of the rite of Ordination is that you are seated in the pews and you are called into the sanctuary for ordination. An ordination of deacons to the priesthood, however, has the ordinandi sitting in the sanctuary from the beginning. The diaconal ordination demonstrates that the ordinandi are leaving the lay state and entering the clerical one, while the priestly ordination shows that the ordinandi are already clergy.

        I’ve done plenty of baptisms. I was pretty sure that was a sacrament!

        Also, a priest is also excluded from celebrating the rite of Confirmation, unless specifically permitted to by his bishop. This normally occurs at the Easter Vigil when RCIA candidates and catechumens are welcomed into the Church.

        Finally, another thing not mentioned here – preaching. Deacons preach. A lot. We preach homilies during the Mass, as well as at other ceremonies and services. I’ve preached Masses, funerals, committals, retreats, Eucharistic services, etc.

        • Deacon Bil – well said. However, to be more precise I believe in terms of preaching deacons are permitted to preach (if granted “faculties” to do so). At least in our diocese (Metuchen, NJ).

          dennis (deacon)

  2. There was little education about the ‘changes’, post Vatican II. Men who were ordained ‘Permanent’ Deacons were familiar faces at their resident parish and the pastor asked the congregation’s approval for his advancement, prior to ‘ordination’.

    BUT … little education! Some asked if Good Tom was A.A. [Advanced Acolyte] or was Good Tom leaving his wife and family to become an M.M. [Minor Minister, a.k.a. “mini Priest”]. AND, if Good Tom attempted an explanation that suggested he was a validly ordained clergyman as outlined in Canon Law … like Holy Orders, he received glazed looks of confusion and a quiet response of, “Thank you Father.”

    One lady kindly said to our pastor, “I don’t want any damn’d Deacon baptizing my grandson!” No one [in authority] explained that Deacons [not all] but those who aspired, received “Faculties” .. to Preach, to Baptize, to Witness Marriages. [Marriages that didn’t always include the Mass]. And, conduct Vigil & Funeral & Graveside services.

    Lastly, over 41 years of service, I seethe Deacon put in a place that boarders on being ‘clergy’, however, very myopically pointed in the direction of ‘mostly resembling laity’. Deacon’s as a ‘College’ sit with wives behind what we kiddingly call ‘The Real Clergy’ … and certainly not in the sanctuary!

    We are also hit-and-miss ‘collared clergy’ who are not allowed to wear clerics [the collar] because it may ‘confuse the laity’. Some bishops welcome it because we are visible in hospitals, with law enforcement and in a variety of ‘clerical’ functions. Some wear a collar with a gray shirt or a blue shirt or a white shirt and sports jacket just to signify they are not priests. GREAT! The folks receiving kind services love it! Bishops like the numbers of ‘clergy’ now represented and on the job. Pastor’s love it because people don’t question the frequently seen Deacon administering … ahhh, baptism to their grandchild!

    Some Bishops, however, feel they must elevate the priesthood by that outward sign of the Roman Collar, ‘Clergy’ collar, Clerics to signify ‘the Real Clergy’. But … what of the many orders of Professed [lay] Brothers who wear the collar when in public? Explained by one priest, “Well, it’s a part of their habit!” “But, Father, they are not clergy and wearing a clerical collar may CONFUSE THE LAITY!”

    Don’t get me started about Deacons earning a ‘Fee for Service’, or anything related to ‘equal pay for equal service’. It seems that subject isn’t in scripture either. Another time.

    I think Roman Catholic Clergy would take a grand leap forward if the Deacon and his duties were explained by the Bishop, the Pastor and educational materials from the diocese. And … prayers included a need for more deacons as they are often not mentioned in the prayers for more vocations to the priesthood. We’re very much like P.A.’s [Physician Assistants] when it comes to being the pastor’s right hand and not at all in competition for the advanced faculties he enjoys. And … the proper way to address a Permanent Deacon is [formally] REV. Deacon Tom …. or [casually] Deacon Tom. Don’t ask me what wives are allowed!

    • I am a deacon of the Anglican Church. A transitional one (asked my bishop about this and he said that is nonsense). I am a cleric easily accepted. Some call me Father at times without any recriminations. I am titled Rev. The thing is we go on to receive ordination to the priesthood or may refuse it. Our wives are called Mothers and join the Clergy Spouses Association. If a Deacon wants to continue service solely as a Deacon he simply consults with his bishop who will then not confer a second ordination on him. Often however everyone will inquire as to why you did not take Ordination to the Presbyterate or Priesthood. However if you can withstand the pressure why not. From consulting with my bishop I know that whether you refuse the Priesthood Ordination or you are Ordained a Priest you are a Permanent Deacon. You are a Deacon Forever just as you are a Priest forever.
      If the Priests of the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Churches can be brought to accept their own Diaconate as permanent they will accept you too as fellow deacons and clergy.
      Often the celibates want the distinction between their vocation cleared up. However to me its high time the celibate clergy accept married clergy and their spouses as friends and equals. That could be helped by allowing them to train together as the Eastern Orthodox do. Everybody goes off to the Seminary which is located at the Bishop’s Monastery – seminarian (married/celibate), clergy spouses, and children. It slows down the problem of the seminary educated clergy feeling the deacons are not as well-trained as they!

  3. OMG. There is a lot here that is somebody’s misconception.
    Catholic Deacons are so much more then described here.
    I think others have pointed out those discrepancies well so I’m not going to repeat them. I have one question and that concerns visiting the sick and informed. In my youth this was called Extreme Unction. Anointing the dying. Later it was broadened to others not terminally ill. It involved an anointing with oil ( usually a balm ) similar to the one used at Confirmation .
    I used to think of it as an upgrade to a blessing. So if the person were terminally ill they would wat to make a confession….a last confession.
    Are the confession and the anointing two separate sacrament. I would think so. If the recipient for whatever reason not desire to confess would a deacon be able to administer the other sacrament?

  4. Good Question, Can a permanent deacon on point the oil with out confession. I ask because so many parishes ask for it from Deacons if so, would it be considered a sacrament of inviting of the sick?

  5. I’m still confused about the duties of a Priest and a deacon. I would like to have information clearly explaining what each can do.

  6. Hi my name is Deacon Miguel Rodriguez, I am a permanent Deacon in the Latin Church(Roman Catholic). I find such joy in being called in our Lords altar. It matters not what people believe or think about the modern day diaconate. What matters is that we( brother deacons) know what our vocations are. We are called into proclaiming the gospel, and serve our community in any way we can. Charity is our main concern. When someone needs a Deacon, they will know why and how he may help. Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior was never worried about His status,or what people thought His position was. He only came to give and serve. There is no greater service than to give your heart in service to all! That our Lord himself called us to His service.
    Always Spirit always Truth.

  7. it is very good and informative.

  8. Catholic deacons don’t administer the Sacrament of the Sick, nor the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka, confession). Although these are two different sacraments of healing, both involve forgiveness of sin, a ministry that is beyond the scope of the diaconate.

    The Catholic church has three holy oils: Sacred Chrism, which is used during the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders; the Oil of the Sick, used during the Sacrament of the Sick; and the Oil of Catechumens, used to pray for the spiritual strengthening of a person preparing for baptism, as well as during an infant’s baptism.

    The ministry of the deacon is much more than the liturgical functions he performs. He is a clergyman whose ministry of service may take a multitude of forms.

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