What is a deacon? More than fifty years since the restoration of the permanent diaconate by the Second Vatican Council, the office of deacon is still in need of greater specificity about its purpose and place within the mission and organizational structure of the Church. While the Church is more than a social reality, the Church nonetheless has a social reality. Our understanding of the diaconate therefore benefits from a theological discussion of the divine element of the Church and a sociological examination of the human element. Understanding the Diaconate adds the resources of sociology and anthropology to the theological sources of scripture, liturgy, patristic era texts, theologians, and magisterial teachings to conclude that the deacon can be understood as "social intermediary and symbol of communitas" who serves the participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church. This research proposes the deacon as a servant of the bond of communion within the Church (facilitating the relationship between the bishop/priest and his people), and between the People of God and the individual in need. Thus authentic diaconal ministry includes a vast array of many concrete contexts of pastoral importance where one does more than simply serve at Mass. Understanding the Diaconate will undoubtedly be useful in the formation of permanent deacon candidates. But by shedding light on the unique ministry of deacons, the book also reveals how every member of the Church can be better supported and understood. Transitional deacons will come to understand the service-identity that lays the foundation for their future presbyteral character; the laity will appreciate their own vocational call in the world when they find a cleric accompanying them into the temporal sphere; the bishop will have the means to extend and enhance his care for his flock; and a world that is sick unto death will find the Church’s healing arm reaching out to it in word, liturgy, and charity. In these ways, W. Shawn McKnight makes clear the uniqueness of the deacon.
""It's a richly researched look at an often-misunderstood vocation. Jefferson City is blessed to have a bishop who has spent much of his career "understanding the diaconate.""~The Catholic Missourian
"A comprehensive biblical, historical, theological, sociological, and pastoral journey that brings to light new and important insights into the role of deacons. Extrabiblical and patristic texts further elucidate how the Church has viewed the diaconate through the centuries, and the experience of deacons since the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent ministry adds further insight. The clarity Bishop McKnight offers regarding what is specific to the deacon provides a critical understanding of diaconal ministry and the forms it can take now and well into the future. An excellent study that will enhance both the formation of deacons and the Church’s understanding of this vital ministry."~J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle
"Bishop Shawn McKnight in Understanding the Diaconate has with penetrating insight, theological precision, and pastoral awareness opened for all of us a great window onto the permanent diaconate. This is an essential read for anyone who would want to better understand why the Council’s restoration of the permanent diaconate has such significance for the Church now and well into the future. –"~His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
" Understanding the Diaconate is the perfect complement to the fiftieth anniversary of the renewal of the diaconate in the Latin Church. McKnight offers a clear perspective on the historical and theological development of the order but more importantly identifies paths that can enhance the unique ministry of the deacon as intermediary, symbol, and animator of Christian service for his bishop and the Church as a whole. The insights offered in Understanding the Diaconate will help the Order of Deacon to attain its potential as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council."~Deacon Thomas R. Dubois, MPS, Executive Director, National Association of Diaconate Directors
"What a gift! Understanding the Diaconate is a welcome addition to the library of any deacon or deacon candidate. Rich in research and historical scholarship, this book should lead not only to more people understanding the diaconate but should also help change the discussion about deacons from What can they do? to What can they be? Coming on the fiftieth anniversary of the restoration of the diaconate, this invaluable book makes that discussion even more timely and important."~Deacon Greg Kandra, journalist and writer, The Deacon's Bench, Patheos.com
"Should by all rights become the comprehensive treatment of the diaconate with which all future discussions must wrestle. Combining scriptural exegesis, historical inquiry, dogmatic exposition, sociological theory, and theological reflection, McKnight has provided a kind of summa of the diaconate that draws together most of the relevant theological engagements with the diaconate since its renewal in the wake of the Second Vatican Council."~Thomist
"A thoughtful and rich study of the theology of the diaconate, one that will be of special value to deacons, deacon candidates, and their formators. It should also be read in seminaries. The book and the topic deserve further reflection."~Horizons: Journal of College Theology Society