For the nurturing and constant growth of the people of God, Christ the Lord instituted in the Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body. From the apostolic age the Diaconate has had a clearly outstanding position among these ministries, and it has always been held in great honour by the Church.' Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Ad Pascendum , 1972)
Not surprisingly, there is a tendency to treat the permanent Diaconate as a new idea. This is not so. Far from being an invention of the Second Vatican Council, the permanent Diaconate has been a ministry in the Church from New Testament times. Whilst there is a certain ambiguity surrounding the classic Scriptural reference in Acts.(1) which is seen as the foundational text for the diaconal ministry, deacons have been with the Church from the beginning and are essential contributors to a full realisation of the Church's ordained ministry.
Conveniently, the Office of Readings provides us with those important texts from the Fathers especially St. Ignatius of Antioch which, tell us that within seventy years or so of Christ's resurrection the structure of the church had so developed that it could be said that ' no church was worthy of the name without the threefold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon'.(2) In the re-establishment of the permanent Diaconate the Church is saying to us that we must redevelop that structure and its ways of working.
Whilst by the seventh century the order of deacon was, with notable exceptions(3), rarely entered into as a permanent state but had become reduced to an order passed through en route for priesthood, it was still part of the hierarchical order of the Church and never ceased to exist. The Council of Trent attempted to restore a permanent Diaconate, but it was the Second Vatican Council, and the Pope elected during the course of that Council, Paul VI, that managed to achieve this.
The Permanent Diaconate should be restored, as a driving force for the Church's service (diakonia) towards the local Christian communities, and as a sign or sacrament of the Lord Jesus himself, who "came not to be served but to serve ". These words recall the ancient tradition of the Church as expressed by the early Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch, who says that deacons are 'ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ . ministers of the Church of God ' (Trallians, 2.3) ." (Pope Paul VI - Apostolic Letter Ad Pascendum , 1972)
The restoration of the permanent Diaconate has presented the Church today with a new challenge. In the context of our own limited experience we have to develop a clear and shared understanding of the deacon's role. In this diocese the restored Diaconate has now been operating for 17 years or so. This is an opportune moment to reflect on it as an integral part of the ordained ministry and put forward a vision and give guidance for the future.

(1) Acts 6:1-6
(2) Prayer of the Church, vol.III p.616. Ignatius of Antioch , Letter to the Trallians
(3) St. Francis of Assisi was a permanent deacon in 13th Century
Part 1, page 3. The Permanent Diaconate in the Archdiocese of Birmingham Hanbook.