One of the major changes following the Second Vatican Council was the revival of the order of Deacons. The Diaconate is a clerical order, and includes men preparing for priesthood, and those whose call is to the Diaconate itself. At liturgy they can be identified by a stole worn over one shoulder and across the chest, unlike a priest’s stole that is worn around the neck. Sometimes a deacon wears a tunic-like vestment called a dalmatic.
Deacons read the Gospel at mass. They can preach, baptize, and preside at weddings, as well as conduct some funeral services. Deacons also assist the priest or bishop by preparing the altar before Eucharist is celebrated, and cleaning up afterwards.
Today, deacons generally have full-time jobs outside their church commitments. Unlike priests and bishops, deacons can be married. Our current practice is that deacons must be married before they are ordained. If they are ordained first, they can’t marry later. In most places with an active diaconate, the deacons’ formation program includes their wives.
The United States leads the world in the number of permanent deacons, with over 15,000 in active ministry.