The deacon’s ministry is always a ministry of service (Gk. diakonia). The first deacons (cf. Acts 6:1-6) were specifically called to minister to the Greek-speaking widows in the Christian community, who were being left out of the common distribution. The scope of diaconal service is hardly limited to “serving at table,” however. In fact one of the first deacons, St. Stephen, was a bold teacher and preacher who became thereby the first martyr. However, the heart of the diaconate remains in the solicitude of service by which the deacon is the “eyes and ears of the bishop” in identifying those who are in need or being marginalized. For example, St. Lawrence, deacon, was martyred because when secular authority demanded that he turn over the treasure of the Church, he brought to the authorities all the poor, sick and suffering in the city. Civil authority was thus brought face-to-face with their shortcomings in serving the people; the Church had been serving these people all along and indeed counted them as her “treasure.”
The deacon’s ministry is often described as three legs of a stool: if any one leg is missing the stool cannot stand. The deacon should always be seen in one of these three-fold ministries:
Sometimes the deacon is perceived as a helper for his pastor, simply picking up ministerial roles which there aren’t enough priests these days to perform. This view does not reflect the fullest nature of the deacon, who is called to be the Sacramental sign of the servant as Christ is the servant to all. As the Sacramental sign, the deacon’s ministry is always present — in his home, at his parish and where he works in the secular world.
The story of the diaconate is recorded in Scripture, when the Apostles were informed of the need in the community to correct an injustice within the community: some Greek-speaking widows were being left out of the common distribution. (cf. Acts 6:1-6). The Apostles suggested that the community select qualified men from among them; they selected seven. The Apostles laid hands on them (sacrament of holy orders) and commissioned them to serve all those in need.This they did, but also much more: teaching, proclaiming the word, and doing works of mercy were all hallmarks of the deacon consecrated to service. St. Stephen, among those first seven, became the first martyr because of the efficacy of his bold preaching.