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Marriage for deacons

Q: Why can’t a permanent deacon remarry if his wife dies, espe­cially if the deacon is required to retire at a certain age? (Parrish, Fla.)

A: This question requires some biblical and historical back­ground. First, we look to the Bible. In his pastoral letters, Saint Paul teaches: “Deacons must not have been married more than once” (1 Tim 3:13).

This principle from the Bible, among others, is the basis for historical church law which says that those in Holy Orders cannot be married after ordination. If a per­manent deacon is married before he is ordained, then he can still be ordained. But if his wife dies, how­ever, then he cannot remarry since he has already been ordained.

The difference here is the signifi­cance of his ordination and the specific spiri­tual consecration that comes with it. Once a man is ordained, then he cannot marry since he has been dedicated to sacred service. In light of this dedication, the age of the deacon or even his possible retirement from active ministry is secondary since the graces of his diaconal vocation and his prayers as a deacon spiritually build up and strengthen the Church.

Therefore, if an ordained deacon wants to marry, he must be laicized. This basically means that he “re­turns to the lay state,” and cannot identify himself as a deacon nor perform any diaconal functions.

In 1998, the Vatican allowed for a dispensation from church law so that widowed deacons could remarry, especially if the deacon had young children to be raised or was caring for elderly parents or parents-in-law. In 2005, the Vatican tightened up these reasons and made the process more difficult since the dispensations did not prove pastoral­ly helpful to deacons, their families, and their respective dioceses.

In this reevaluation, the Church is stressing the biblical and historical precedence that those in ordained service cannot marry. It emphasizes the preference that widowed per­manent deacons remain unmarried.


Q: Could you comment on some nove­nas that require a person to leave the novena prayers in a church for nine days? It seems like a magical formula rather than trust­ing in God. (Little River, SC)

A: I’m very glad you asked this question. Novenas are a noble custom in our faith. The com­mitment to nine days of prayer to our Lord, Mary, or one of the saints, for a specific intention is praiseworthy. I’m personally grate­ful when someone indicates to me that they’ve offered a novena for my priesthood or my intentions. It’s a unique commit­ment and one that is grounded in the nine days of prayer of the apostles as they waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit. During the nine days between the Lord Jesus’ Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles waited and prayed. Every novena is a spiri­tual extension of those sacred nine days.

And so to your specific question, anything that would border on superstition or be outside of our Christian spiritual tradition, should be approached with great caution. The “magical novenas” that assure results based solely on human ac­tions (i.e., leave a bunch of copies in a church) are questionable at best.

Now, granted, some spiritual traditions can ask a lot of those de­voted to them but the focus should always be God’s action and not on purely (and perhaps peculiar) hu­man actions and their own merit. Incidentally, I can say jokingly that the “leave the copies in the church” novenas are not from God since such customs dirty up church entrance ways and frustrate priests and sacristans the world over!

Father Jeffrey Kirby is administrator of Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster. Email him your questions at

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