I’ve received quite a bit of mail about my response. The preponderance says that I was right in my argument, but also that the Caerimoniale‘s directions do NOT prohibit priests from vesting as deacons. Here is an example:
When the GIRM speaks of priests acting as deacons, it only speaks of concelebrants. Yet, the document doesn’t prescribe, “A priest acting as a deacon must concelebrate”. Rather, the prescription is that if it is a case that a CONCELEBRANT fill this role, he should still wear chasuble. The understanding being that priests at the time of the council might have legitimately been confused on this point and wondered if they continued with an already accepted and common practice but desired to concelebrate would they need to wear a different vestment. [That makes sense.] The implication I take from this is that priests who fill this role, but do not concelebrate, need not worry. Such a practice was far too common to receive mention in the instruction. [True.] I am confident the document would be more clear if the reformers wanted to do away with the practice. [Maybe.]
What, then, can be made of the prescription in the Ceremonial? Well the ceremonial is aware of practices such as the vicar general serving as deacon for diocesan Masses. [!] It is suggesting that since deacons are present at these functions, they themselves should fill the role while the priests concelebrate with their bishop. [Right.]
Okay, I’m sold. YES. Priests who are not concelebrants can vest in the dalmatic and function as deacons in the Novus Ordo.
Of course, it goes without saying that if there are deacons present, they should take the diaconal roles. Let deacons be deacons when deacons are there.
___ Originally Published on: Feb 9, 2017 ___
From a reader…
Can priests (or bishops) serve as deacons in the Ordinary Form, analogous to how (as I understand it) this is sometimes done in the Extraordinary Form?
Yes. Priests and bishops can serve as deacons in the Ordinary Form.
First, here are a couple shots of bishops vested as deacons, serving as deacons at a pontifical, papal Mass with Pope Francis, one on Peter and Paul, and another on Palm Sunday. These are Cardinals, by the way.
So, that’s the Ordinary Form. Those are bishops vested and acting as deacons. Hence, yes, bishops can act as deacons in the Ordinary Form. Now… just try to make that happen outside a Mass with the Pope of Rome.
Next, priests. Yes, priests can act as deacons in the Ordinary Form. GIRM 208 states:
GIRM 208. If a Deacon is not present, the functions proper to him are to be carried out by some of the concelebrants.
So, priests can act as deacons in the sense that they take diaconal functions. But those are priest concelebrants and that is not what you mean. You are talking about priests dressing in the dalmatic and acting as deacons without being concelebrants.
In the Extraordinary Form, clearly, yes, they can and they do. It is common. It has been the Church’s tradition for a looooong time that they do this. A priest is still, after all, a deacon. That’s one of the reasons why bishops put on the dalmatic under the priestly chasuble when they vest properly. That’s also why in the Ordinary Form a bishop will divest himself of his chasuble and wear the dalmatic when consecrating altars and when washing feet for the Mandatum: he wears the vestment most symbolic of his ministry of service.
Pope Benedict XVI once spoke about the ministry of deacons during one of his meetings with the clergy of the Diocese of Rome. HERE Benedict said:
“On this occasion a small experience noted by Paul VI springs to mind – although it may not be quite relevant to our subject. Every day of the Council the Gospel was enthroned. The Pontiff once told the masters of ceremonies that he himself would like to be the one who enthroned the Gospel. They said: No, this is a task for deacons and not for the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff, or the Bishops. He noted in his diary: But I am also a deacon, I am still a deacon, and I too would like to exercise my diaconal ministry by enthroning the Word of God. Thus, this concerns us all. Priests remain deacons and deacons clarify this diaconal dimension of our ministry in the Church and in the world.”
This is a good reason for priests to serve as deacons once in a while. It is good for priests to serve Mass once in a while, too. I once had a cardinal serve Mass for me, by the way. It was a humbling experience which taught me a lot. But I digress.
Moving on, I note that the 2003 CDW document Redemptionis Sacramentum says:
[125.] The proper vestment of the Deacon is the dalmatic, to be worn over an alb and stole. In order that the beautiful tradition of the Church may be preserved, it is praiseworthy to refrain from exercising the option of omitting the dalmatic.
- sacred ministers at Mass should wear the prescribed vestments for their ministry,
- the vestment proper to the deacon is the dalmatic
- the priest and bishop both remain, in a sense, deacons
- bishops wear dalmatics and act as deacons in the Ordinary Form,
- the use of the dalmatic is encouraged,
- the functions of the deacon can be fulfilled by priests who aren’t the main celebrant,
- there is a centuries long tradition of priests acting as deacon before the Ordinary Form,
…I would say YES, a priest could put on the dalmatic and take the diaconal role at Mass in the Ordinary Form.
In the 1995 Caerimoniale Episcoporum for the Novus Ordo we find:
22. Presbyteri, qui celebrationes episcopales participant, id solum quod ad presbyteros spectat agant; (SC n. 28) absentibus vero diaconis, aliqua diaconorum ministeria suppeant, numquam tamen vestibus diaconalibus induti.
Presbyters [I dislike that “presbyters” thing. Let’s say “priests”.] taking part in a liturgy with the bishop should do only what belongs to the order of presbyter; in the absence of deacons they may perform some of the ministries proper to the deacon, but should never wear diaconal vestments.”
Some argue that the Caerimoniale is prescriptive for the Missale Romanum as used also by priests.
It seems to me that there are strongly competing values here.
First, there is the value of more solemn liturgical worship, with defined roles. There is also our Roman liturgical tradition. Moreover, there is the value of distinguishing the Holy Order of Deacon from the Holy Order of Priest.
This is one of those ways in which there should be a correction of the Novus Ordo by way of contact with and recovery of values from the traditional Roman Rite. Call it “mutual enrichment”. If it is going to “mutual”, then the Novus Ordo must be enriched by the traditional Rite, and not just the traditional by the newer Rite. Right? As a matter of fact it is far more urgent to enrich the Novus Ordo with tradition than it is to enrich the traditional form with innovation. Sacrosanctum Concilium 23 forbade innovations in the liturgy, “unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing”.
It seems to me that the Ordinary Form should recover vesting priests as deacons. That would mean that some would have to stop forcing incessant concelebration by priests. But if a priest has already said Mass, or he is going to say Mass later in the day, why couldn’t he take the role of a deacon when there is no deacon present?
Why the stingy restriction?
In any event, even if common sense and tradition and a generous reading of most of the rubrics, etc., suggest that a priest can put on the dalmatic and serve as a deacon in the Novus Ordo, the Caerimoniale says no. If the Caerimoniale applies to Mass when there is no bishop in sight, then, no, a priest can’t do that.
Would it be an abuse to do it? Not much of one, I think. And, hey!, isn’t this the age of mercy? We don’t want to be restrictive doctors of the law, do we? Dalmatics for priests! Heck, make it blue dalmatics for priests! ¡Hagan lío!