(Editor's note: This month, instead of the usual "Seminarian's Diary" column, a candidate for the diaconate takes a turn describing his formation. Mr. Cortese, a parishioner of All Saints Church in Albany, is volunteering at Catholic Charities' DePaul Residence in Albany as part of his diaconate preparation. He'll also be assigned a parish to serve in the fall.)

I am a deacon candidate for the Albany Diocese. This means I am discerning, studying, and learning how to become a permanent deacon. The formation process takes six years; I just completed year five. My wife and I have experienced the formation process together and we have found it to be educational and spiritually uplifting.

One question most people ask is, "What does a deacon do?" The questions about deacons we often hear beg for a simple answer, but the answers are quite complex. Most of a deacon's work goes on behind the scenes, outside of parishioners' view.

Here are just a few questions deacons are asked:

Q: Are deacons grown-up altar servers?

A: Ninety-nine percent of a deacon's job revolves around service. The word "deacon" is derived from a Greek word that means "servant." However, most of the service a deacon provides is outside of Mass and other sacramental celebrations, outside of most people's view. Service, for a deacon, is equivalent to the bottom of an iceberg: You don't see it, but you know it's there -- and it's 10 times bigger than what you can see.

Q: Are deacons assistants to the priest?

A: Much of a deacon's job is to assist, and deacons certainly assist the priest during Mass. But during Mass the deacon assists all ministers, as well as the whole congregation. The deacon's role is to ease the way for the celebration to flow and thus be prayerful.

Deacons are like stage managers: They plan, worry, oversee and assure all details are in place. Deacons are uniquely positioned during Mass to make this happen, because they have an overview.

Q: Are deacons "special" lectors?

A: All lectors are special. They have the privilege of sharing God's Word with the community. But deacons actually receive a blessing from their bishop as part of their formation that gives them the status of lector.

Deacons have the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel. But proclamation of the Gospel is another responsibility that, for the most part, occurs outside of Mass and outside of the community's view. This involves embracing the Word, making it a part of the deacon's life and reflecting it in all he does.

Q: If a priest can do everything a deacon does during Mass, why do we need deacons?

A: St. Paul said the body of Christ has many parts, each distinct and important. The Mass is a coming together of the entire community of believers. The more diverse and inclusive the community, the more beautiful the celebration and the more powerful God's presence.

Deacons are one of many ministers a priest brings into the celebration. The same can be said of lectors, altar servers, music ministers, eucharistic ministers, ushers and greeters. All ministries are unique, yet all become one in the celebration of the Mass.

A deacon's job is not a list of duties it is a way of life. A deacon's life is his job -- summed up best in his ability to live as Jesus did.