A social faux pas is a blatant, though unintentional mistake, that can lead to an awkward situation. Everybody has at one time committed such an offense. When religion is a factor, the embarrassment receives heightened attention. For example, nobody wants to address a member of the clergy incorrectly. The Catholic Church presents a challenge in this respect because it has various levels of clergy. Many people mistake deacons for priests because both work within a parish and have some duties that seemingly overlap. The diaconate is, nevertheless, a separate, officially ordained role in the Catholic clergy that the church expects parishioners to address in a respectful and unique manner.

Types of Deacons

There are two types of deacons. Permanent deacons, a position re-established in 1972 by Pope Paul VI, are men who serve as special assistants to the local bishop. This position is a ministry of service. Besides their service to a parish, permanent deacons usually maintain outside employment, as they receive no income from the church. In contrast to other clergymen, deacons do not always have to make a vow of celibacy and can have wives. Meanwhile, transitional deacons are men on the path to ordainment as priests. These deacons fulfill the role for a period prior to assuming their priestly duties. All priests are at one time deacons.

Greeting a Deacon

There are two styles of address used when greeting a permanent deacon. On most occasions, when speaking to the deacon, the proper form to use is “Deacon,” followed by his last name. Catholics use this form before and after church services, in private meetings and in everyday conversations. If the event is a formal function, then Catholics should use the form “The Reverend Deacon,” followed by the last name. In general, a transitional deacon receives the title “Reverend Mr.,” followed by his last name.

Informal Settings

It is also acceptable, and common, for church members to refer to their permanent deacon by his first name rather than last name. Usually, Catholics reserve this practice for informal occasions and only for deacons with whom they have a personal connection. In formal situations, it is always preferable to use the last name.

In Writing

At times, parishioners have to write a letter or send an email to a permanent deacon. Because a letter is a semi-formal form of communication, the tradition is to use a slightly truncated version of the vocal formal greeting. Letters and emails should begin by addressing the deacon as “Reverend Deacon.” This title also appears in church bulletins and on websites.The first name of the deacon can appear in church bulletins and other places where the expected audience is regular parishioners with whom the deacon has an established relationship. Otherwise, Catholic writers use the full name or last name.