It’s all about service — and just who, or whom, deacons serve.
Fr. Z. picks up an interesting nugget from an Anglican priest, who suggests that the basic idea of diakonia has been wrongly interpreted (emphases are Fr. Z’s):
The Deacon’s basic purpose is not to be washing the feet of the lowest of the low (just as the nature of the Church is not, as we have so frequently been told, to be the Servant Church). Such things may be worthy in themselves … may, indeed, be the charism of particular holy people. But they are not what diakonia is fundamentally all about. What is it about? In its essence it is about serving, being commissioned to serve, the Bishop, the Eucharistic celebrant; about serving him in the administration of the Lord’s Body and Blood; serving him in the proclamation of the Holy Gospel. Not a philanthropic service but a cultic, liturgical service. In as far as their duties may extend in the direction of philanthropy, it is instructive to observe the role they have in ‘Hippolytus’: the deacons are to attend the Bishop and report to him who are sick so that he, if it seem good to him, may visit them. [!] Their ministry is to the Bishop, not to the needy.
That may raise a few eyebrows. But if you go back to the 1967 motu proprio which restored the diaconate, you’ll find that it lists 11 primary functions of deacons. The first eight are liturgical; of the remaining three, only one refers explicitly to being engaged in acts of charity, and that is to be done “in the name of the hierarchy.”