What are the important symbols associated with Deacons?

The Deacon Stole. The deacon stole is the single most distinguishing and recognizable symbol of the office of deacon. It is an item of vesture or liturgical attire worn over the alb and under the dalmatic, if it is used. It is placed over the left shoulder, and it extends diagonally across the front and back of the upper body, and attaches near the right hip. Two strips hang from the right hip, one to the front, the other to the back, and both fall equally to below the knee. It is used when the deacon exercises a liturgical or sacramental role in church such as when he assists at Mass, presides for a Baptism, or conducts a funeral service. The stole itself is a piece of fabric, usually about 4 ½ inches wide and 55 to 60 inches long on each side.  Some stoles are beautifully decorated with the spiritual symbols, while others are simple, plain, and elegant; some have tassels at the ends, others do not. Deacon stoles come in all of the liturgical colors, and the one worn on a particular day is to match the liturgical occasion.

A Basin and a Towel. The diaconate is an Order of Service, and the basin and towel, used by Jesus for the footwashing (Jn 13:4-5), is a profound symbol of the humble service that Jesus gave to his disciples, and of the humble service the deacon intends to give to the People of God. After Jesus completed his task, he told his disciples, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you shall also do” (Jn 13:15), and the deacon’s response is to be a diakonos (Greek), a servant, who freely and gladly gives diakonia, service, in imitation of his Savior.

The Cross. Another major symbol of the diaconate is the Cross itself, sometimes a rough or gnarly one to represent the great challenges associated with service. The footwashing prefigured Jesus’ definitive act of service, his total gift of self, his death on the Cross, which makes the Cross the ultimate symbol of service. Jesus made a conscious and deliberate decision to serve in this manner:  “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own” (Jn 10:18). For Jesus, the Cross represented his supreme act of loving service, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). The deacon, thus inspired by Jesus, makes a conscious decision to pick up his Cross and follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to lay down his life in service, by assisting at the altar, but also and more importantly, to love God by serving his neighbor, particularly with acts of charity.

The Dalmatic, the outer vestment sometimes worn by a deacon over the alb and stole, comparable to the priest’s chasuble, is sometimes also considered a symbol of the diaconate.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minn. As a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he has always been a teacher. He now teaches the faith as a homilist, Bible study leader, retreat director, pilgrimage guide and author of numerous articles.

© 2007, Rev. Michael A. Van Sloun
Used with permission.