QUAERITUR: a priest functioning as a deacon

From a reader:

In the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite, a priest may vest and serve as a deacon at the celebration of the Mass.

Is there general or particular legislation to prevent a priest from vesting and serving as deacon at Mass in the Novus Ordo?

If there is no legislation to impede a priest from functioning as a deacon in the Novus Ordo, why isn’t it done? If you please, I’m hoping for as detailed a response as may be practical. Perhaps your readers can help.

It is true that priests always did fill the functions of deacon and subdeacon at Solemn Masses in the older, traditional Roman Mass.

That fell into desuetude with the Novus Ordo for a couple reasons.  First, the idea of the "solemn Mass" became fuzzy and then dropped off in to a amorphous "liturgy". 

Also, there was a desire to underscore the proper ministries of the different orders of Holy Orders, of priest and of deacon.  The result was that priests were not to do anything deacons would do, were deacons present.

I agree with that, actually.  If deacons are present, let them do the job which deacons do!   Since there are no more subdeacons, except in name, let deacons take those roles also.

The other factor in this was the great pressure… weird near obsession… that priests had to concelebrate all the time.  Since a concelebrating priest had to behave as a priest at Mass, he couldn’t do anything a deacon might do, including vest in a dalmatic, etc.

If memory serves, I think there is in some document somewhere a recommendation, but not a prohibition, that priests not take deacon’s roles.  I can’t remember where that might be.  Perhaps a reader could find it.

In the context of a Novus Ordo Vigil of Easter, I have put on a dalmatic to sing the Exsultet.  It just made sense.  It is the great "diaconal" moment and I am still a deacon, though also a priest.  I didn’t concelebrate in a dalmatic, which would be jarring and wrong. 

This is one of those areas in which, I think, we could find a strong gravitational pull from the older, Extraordinary Form on the newer, Ordinary Form.  

The paradigm for Holy Mass is not the "low Mass".  This is a common mistake.  The template is the most solemn form: the bishop’s solemn celebration.  Other Masses of decreasing solemnity imitate the "higher" more solemn forms to the extent they can within the bonds of common sense and resources.

It seems to me that if in a "Novus Ordo" parish there are more than one Masses on a great feast, and there are clergy available, priests and deacons, then they ought to be vested to play different roles.

Let us abandon the obsession of concelebration and underscore the solemnity of a Mass with differentiated roles.  A priest is still also a deacon, after all.

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  1. Athanasius says:

    The paradigm for Holy Mass is not the “low Mass”. This is a common mistake. The template is the most solemn form: the bishop’s solemn celebration.

    This is a common mistake amongst trads, to assume that the low Mass was the original form and the solemn Mass was added on to it. Moreover many Trads actually prefer low Mass to Solemn Mass, something I simply can’t understand.

    In reality the Solemn Mass was the original Mass in Rome, and it was always done, but as things got more spread out and it wasn’t possible to have the ceremonies of the Church, then it was necessary to extract the main ceremonies from the solemn Mass which could be said without a court, a Bishop, a choir, or other orders apart from Acolyte.

    The major always contains the minor in Holy Orders, so a priest has everything a deacon does, as you pointed out. But, in the Novus Ordo there is virtually no role for a priest in choir, or a deacon except that he says certain parts of the Mass and can preach. In the traditional Solemn Mass, I have known a lot of priests to consider the deacon’s role harder than the priest. The difference means there is really no cause rubrics wise for a priest vest in dalmatic in the New Mass, to do it would be something not really seen by the IGRM. On the other hand, it would be positive to see!

  2. Fr. Guy says:

    The GIRM (no. 208) does say that in a concelebrated mass if there is no deacon present his functions are carried out by the concelebrants. However, I also recall seeing somewhere that it is considered inappropriate for a priest to vest as a deacon. It was said along the lines of a cleric wearing the vestments proper to the office he holds. I can’t find it however. I have always thought there should be no problem with a priest functioning as and vesting as a deacon in a N.O. mass as long as there wasn’t a deacon present. After all, priests don’t erase the order of deacon when they receive the order of presbyter. A priest possesses the office of deacon and presbyter.

    Nevertheless, I recall being taught more than once in seminary that as priests we should not ever wear a dalmatic if assisting at mass as was done “in the old days”. There were sources cited for this besides just the professor’s opinion but I can’t seem to find one.

  3. TEG says:

    “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.”


  4. Jim says:

    Ceremonial of Bishops 22: “Presbyters 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.”

    Perhaps Fr. Z or someone else could check the Latin Caeremoniale Episcoporum to make sure that this translation is accurate. I know that “presbyter” should be “priest”. But what about the word “never”? Is that rendered correctly, I wonder.

  5. Nick says:

    “A priest is still also a deacon, after all.”

    This is an interesting take that the Orthodox would strongly disagree with. At ordination a deacon becomes a priest and he is vested differently to clearly manifest that change. Consequently a priest masquerading as a deacon or even a subdeacon represents a certain dishonesty at the very altar. Back in the days the rector of a parish would serve the solemn high mass with his assistant priests literally assisting as deacon and subdeacon. The practice of bishops (Cardinals) vested as deacons but wearing miters assisting the Pope is also equally confusing, albeit certainly a historical practice from the days when Cardinal Deacons were actual deacons. Logically extra bishops at a service could serve as deacons or subdeacons at parochial services waiting on priests. The very fact that a bishop pontificating wears a chasuble over a dalmatic over a tunicle demonstrates that at the altar he manifests what he actually is. With all the “permanent deacons” out there (are there “permanent priests”?)it would seem to me that they should simply be taught liturgics to fill their historic liturgical positions. I am amazed at how complicated the Tridentine Rite seems to so many clergy. It certainly doesn’t take rocket scientists to master the rubrics. As for the Novus Ordo, why can’t an extra (concelebrating) priest perform duties of a deacon while still vested as a priest? He does it when he serves mass alone. I vote for bringing back the subdiaconate and assistant priests.

  6. Jim says:

    I see that TEG has posted the Latin and the translation appears to be accurate.

  7. TJM says:

    Father Z, your observations on the role of the deacon/subdeacon are very interesting. I, like you, would like to see them again in the Novus Ordo.

    Anathasius, I’m not sure what you mean by trad. I love the TLM and much prefer a Missa Cantata to a TLM Low Mass. Unfortunately with the Novus Ordo, unless more traditional music is employed, I would much prefer a Low Mass than a Mass with music if it’s just another “that 70s show.”

    The vestments in this post are absolutely splendid. Thank God for Pope Benedict and Msgr. Marini.


  8. Johnny Domer says:

    It seems to me that many priests have a huge reticence towards being at any Mass that they are not celebrating or concelebrating…At Notre Dame, where there must be somewhere around 60 or so priests in residence, I have only once seen a priest just attend a Mass in choir (at a Tridentine Mass), and I’ve never once seen a priest come out of the sacristy to help distribute Communion.

    On the other hand, when I visited an FSSP parish, I saw one of the priests privately offering a Low Mass, and one of the other priests was acting as his SERVER. Additionally, their priests always help out distributing Communion, and they always assist as deacons and subdeacons at Solemn Masses.

    I feel like there’s something drastically different between those two attitudes, but I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is. Any priests out there think they can shed some light on it?

  9. Jim says:

    Nick: You might find this enlightening. I was very much intrigued by it when I first read it.

    Pope Benedict XVI: “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.”

    You can find this quote in context at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2008/february/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080207_clergy-rome_en.html.

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    I don’t understand blanket statements of preference for one single type of traditional Mass or another. It’s so obvious to me that sung and recited Masses have different and complementary things, both glorious wonderful, to offer that I wonder what’s missing in the spiritual experience of a person who says he dislikes one or the other. I attend a high Mass on Sunday, a low Mass midweek, would never want to miss either one, and would think it bizarre for someone to want to switch them.

    Surely a solemn high Mass is best for big occasions, but every Sunday might be a bit much. The Day of the Lord deserves nothing than a Missa Cantata, but surely in an ordinary parish a daily low Mass early in the morning on the way to work is more sensible. Aren’t different degrees of solemnity obviously appropriate for solemnities, Sundays, and ferias, as well as preferable for most people.

    With the Novus Ordo, on the other hand, it’s quite different (for me). This morning I attended a very quiet parish Mass, as solemnly and reverently celebrated as anyone could imagine. No opening song, introit recited as celebrant in Roman chasuble entered carrying the veiled chalice topped with burse. Confiteor recited after a long pause for people to consider their sins. No opening remarks, no word or gesture any time except straight from the book. A 1 min 45 sec sermon — which was actually read, so extemporary word was spoken in the entire Mass– that said some very tangible things about the readings. No intercessions, no offertory procession, silent preparation of the gifts, at the sign of peace the celebrant and server exchanged peace in the classical hands-to-shoulders fashion, then the priest immediately intoned “Agnus Dei …” leaving no time for the usual big round of hand shakes. At the end of Mass the priest silent recessed with eyes lowered. No closing song, complete silence among the people. For me, a very much more spiritual liturgy than any big Sunday celebration I’ve ever attended in the same parish.

  11. Simon-Peter says:

    And I assume that bishops can wear a dalmatic under their chasubles reinforces that quotation from the Holy Father. Perhaps this is a potential problem with ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Church if the eastern understanding of separation of roles is so rigid.

    This is a really good subject to bring up. I agree that if there are enough clergy to fulfil all their liturgical roles, then they should (including priests next door being ‘Ordinary’ Ministers of Holy Communion). But not all parishes can manage this, so should make do with what we have. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but I do think that concelebration is now a norm – an expectation even – something set in concrete, which will be very hard indeed to change. Though it pains me to say it, I do see any realistic movement in this subject any time soon.

    The example of Cardinal Deacons is interesting, but I suppose that is a role different from normal deacons…but a good one to think about all the same.

    Out of interest: before the reform, would the priests who performed duties of a deacon/subdeacon at one Mass still be required to celebrate their daily Mass as a priest?

  12. Nick says:


    Paul VI’s masters of ceremonies were correct. Confusing “service in the world” with diaconal liturgics is another matter. Paul VI had an unusual need to demonstrate his humility (remember all that kissing of the ground he did?). In any event, Paul VI wouldn’t be my first choice to base matters liturgical on.

  13. Luigi says:

    Slightly off topic but related. I read recently in the Code of Canon Law (I believe) that a priest should never particpate in a Mass in which he is not concelebrating as though he were a layman, he is instead called to assist in choir in appropriate choir dress.

    I couldn’t find a similar admonishment for deacons against assisting in the Mass as though they were a layperson, but it seems to me to be dead wrong – especially as it relates to Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion serving while the ordinary minister who is the deacon is not. I know this is more a matter of a deacon serving as a deacon, but I wonder… any thoughts?

  14. Athanasius says:

    Out of interest: before the reform, would the priests who performed duties of a deacon/subdeacon at one Mass still be required to celebrate their daily Mass as a priest?

    Yes they were. In a monastery for example, all the priests would say a low Mass at the side altars, except for the priest who would celebrate the conventual Solemn High Mass. Then if ministers were not available one of those priests would fill the role of the deacon, and another the subdeacon. The same is true in a large parish with several priests.

    I don’t understand blanket statements of preference for one single type of traditional Mass or another. It’s so obvious to me that sung and recited Masses have different and complementary things, both glorious wonderful, to offer that I wonder what’s missing in the spiritual experience of a person who says he dislikes one or the other. I attend a high Mass on Sunday, a low Mass midweek, would never want to miss either one, and would think it bizarre for someone to want to switch them.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that I only like Sung/Solemn Masses. I like Low Mass too, in context. I don’t like perpetual low Mass where I am unable to experience the ceremonies of the Church. I was decrying the attitude of a lot of American Traditionalists to never go to a Solemn Mass.

    Anathasius, I’m not sure what you mean by trad. I love the TLM and much prefer a Missa Cantata to a TLM Low Mass. Unfortunately with the Novus Ordo, unless more traditional music is employed, I would much prefer a Low Mass than a Mass with music if it’s just another “that 70s show.”

    I meant Traditionalists, as in those who attend the Traditional Mass exclusively or most of the time. There is a current among American Traditionalists to never have even a Missa Cantata even when the means are present. I knew of an SSPX Church in California, where they had an incredible choir, but the priest didn’t want to be bothered with a Sung Mass, so it was always low. In another place, the priest was bending over backwards to have a Missa Cantata and from time to time Solemn Masses, but hardly anyone was interested. The Low Mass was standing room only and the High Mass only half full.

    On the other hand, I would not only take a low Mass over a Novus Ordo with the nutty music which is par for the course, I would take the TLM in English over the Novus Ordo in Latin every day of the week. I haven’t gone to the NO in 3 years and I can’t foresee myself going for any reason. I’d go byzantine again before I went to the NO.

  15. This may be a “rabbit hole” but here goes: since altar boys are “filling in” in performing the roles of semanarians and the various orders associated with the steps on the way to the priesthood, an altar boy may serve as sub-deacon “in a pinch”. [We will leave that to another entry.]

  16. Simon-Peter: would the priests who performed duties of a deacon/subdeacon at one Mass still be required to celebrate their daily Mass as a priest

    Priests are not required to celebrate Mass. They ought to celebrate Mass, of course. They are obliged, as every Catholic, to fulfill the Sunday and Holy Day obligations. Priests who are pastors of parishes have the obligation to see to it that Mass is celebrate for the intention of his subjects. He may either say that Mass himself or give the intention to another priest celebrating on that day.

  17. TJM says:

    Henry Edwards, it sounds like you’re a very fortunate man because you must be in a parish where the rubrics matter. I am not so fortunate. Unless you’ve walked in our shoes, experienced a pastor who makes it up as he goes along, 70s style music galore, and all sort of extraneous, non-essential activity going on, you should consider refraining from being critical of those of us who are not as fortunate as you. My only escape is to go to St. John Cantius in downtown Chicago which has glorious Masses, both EF and OF in Latin. But for that place, I think I may have given up long ago. But my pastor would not care, at all. He would just keep doing what he’s doing because it’s all about him. Tom

  18. Victor says:

    I think I read somewhere that after being ordained, St Ignatius of Loyola had so much respect (and perhaps fear) that he waited one and a half year before celebrating his first Mass.

  19. ssoldie says:

    Good grief, as an old protestant/ Catholic, I was at Low Mass during the wk, on Sunday was High Mass, it was wonderful. Did not usually have alter boys during the wk at Low Mass (that is how I learned to say the responses, as Fr Dolsina said it would be a good thing, so the ones who did come to daily Mass could say the response when no alter boy was there), but always did on Sunday at High Mass. So whats the big deal, no wonder I have such a great love for the Gregorian Rite, say the black do the red, and remember latin is a dead language.Cant change the meaning.

  20. A Random Friar says:

    Oddly enough, there’s immense pressure (again, near obsession) among the very liberal in NOT having concelebrations. Why? Because all the priests are “up there” with the laity “down here” (their words), and it’s too “hierarchical” (their words again). I went through seminary at a consortium of schools, and the liturgy committees were rabidly anti-concelebration back in the day (I think they still are, actually).

  21. Jim says:


    I think that you are on a dangerous track if you totally dismiss the point based on the fact that it was made by Pope Paul VI. It would be reasonable to assume that Pope Benedict XVI agrees with Pope Paul’s statement. He does not contradict it. The fact remains that Pope Benedict goes on to assert in the quote that the priest remains a deacon too. He used the story of Paul VI to illustrate the point.

    I respectfully take issue with your claim that the Eastern Orthodox do not believe that priests/bishops are still deacons. If you can cite a source for it, I would appreciate it. The bishops of all eastern churches wear the dalmatic with pallium. Historically, the eastern bishop would have also worn the phelonion over the dalmatic, too. Thus evidence of eastern bishops showing their possession of the fullness of orders in their vesture.

  22. Nick says:


    You are wrong. Eastern Orthodox bishops do not wear the “dalmatic with pallium.” They wear the sakkos with omophorion. When byzantine catholic archbishops receive the pallium it is put over the omophorion. The pallium is a western vestment. YOU show me where any Eastern Orthodox priest vested as a deacon and then served in that capacity. It simply has never been an issue among the Orthodox.

    BTW, the dalmatic is a western vestment too. Easter Orthodox deacons wear the sticharion with the orarion. At their ordination to the priesthood the orarion is removed and the priestly vestments are placed over the sticharion. Subsequently the form of sticharion the new priest will wear is cut to closely resemble the western alb.

  23. The following texts should be read in regards to the liturgical role of the deacon in the OF and the in Eastern Catholic Churches. How they apply to the EF will remains to be answered in a definitive manner. It should be noted that these texts are not rubrical directions but rather liturgical principles and norms. These principles and norms certainly are to be found in practice in the liturgical services of the first thousand years when the Church was united both in East and West. These norms still govern liturgical roles in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches to the present day.

    How priests can to serve as deacons and in the minor orders is a rather complex piece of liturgical history starting about the end of the 9th century in the West. It is deeply imbeded in the practice of the “cursus honorum” and the practice of the deacons and subdeacons of cathedral chapters assisting the bishop at the pontifical services. As the “cursus honorum” became the normal practice in the West, the liturgical functions of the diaconate and the minor orders when needed out of necessity were taken by priests. At first there were canons of cathedral who were deacons and subdeacons, besides those who were priests. Eventually, these canonries were filled by priests although the titles still remained as is found in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (1752) Chapter VIII #1, Chapter IX #1, Chapter X #1. The same vestige of nomenclature is to be found in the College of Cardinals.

    [Byzantine bishops wear the sakkos. While it looks like a dalmatic at first sight, it is not. It is the imperial tunic of the Byzantine Roman emperor and was only worn by bishops [first by the Patriarch of Constaninople] following the fall of Constaninople after AD 1453. Its history and use as a vestment is not related to the dalmatic of the bishops and deacons in the West.]

    “… A reader or acolyte, even one not formally instituted, will perform the subdeacon’s functions. In the celebration of Mass all ministers should do all and only those parts that belong to them on the basis of the order they have received. The ordained ministers at mass are therefore to take part either by concelebrating if they are priests or by exercising their proper ministries if they are deacons…It is altogether out of place for a priest vested as a deacon to exercise the deacon’s function…”
    SC Divine Worship, Presentation Cum, die 1 Ianuarii of the changes introduced into the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 23 Dec. 1972; Notitiae 9 (1973) 34-38
    [Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979 Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, The Liturgical Press, 206]

    “Therefore liturgical services involve the whole Body of the Church; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they also concern the individual members of the Church in different ways according to their different orders, offices, and actual participation.” Sacrosanctum Concilium 26.

    “In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.” SC 28

    “The liturgy makes distinctions between person according to their liturgical function and sacred orders…” SC 32

    “All in the assembly gathered for Mass have an individual right and duty to contribute their participation in ways differing according to the diversity of their order and liturgical function. Thus in carrying out this function, all, whether ministers or lay persons, should do all and only those parts that belong to them, so that the very arrangement of the celebration itself makes the Church stand out as being formed in a structure of different orders and ministries.” GIRM 58 (1975)

    “The Eucharistic celebration is an action of Christ and the Church, which is the “Sacrament of unity,” that is, a holy people gathered together and ordered under the Bishop. For this reason, the Eucharistic celebration belongs to the whole Body of the Church. Such a celebration manifests this same Body and affects it. As to the individual members of the Body, the Eucharistic celebration touches them in different ways, according to the rank, office, and degree of participation in the Eucharist. (SC 26) In this way, the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own,” demonstrates its cohesion and its hierarchical ordering. (SC 14) Therefore, all, whether ordained ministers or Christian faithful, by virtue of their function or their office, should do all and only those parts that belong to them. (SC 28) GIRM 91 (2000)

    “Presbyters taking part in a liturgy with the bishop should do only what belongs to the order of presbyter; (SC 28) in the absence of deacons they may perform some of the ministries proper to the deacon, but should never wear diaconal vestments.” Caeremoniale Episcoporum 22 (1984)

    “A real and coherent practice of the Orders is sought

    …Thus, the ministers necessary for a dignified and fitting celebration of the liturgy are obtained, avoiding the practice, different also in this case from the Latin Church in which it is no longer in use, of having ministers of a higher range perform the liturgical functions that should be reserved to those of lower range (the most frequent case is that of presbyters functioning as deacons), or of permanently appointing to the laity liturgical tasks expected of a minister: practices to be eliminated.” Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches 75 (1996)

  24. Henry Edwards says:

    Tom: you should consider refraining from being critical of those of us who are not as fortunate as you. My only escape is to go to St. John Cantius in downtown Chicago which has glorious Masses, both EF and OF in Latin.

    I’ve long followed and appreciated your posts, and never thought of criticizing them. Certainly I realize how fortunate I am to live in a parish whose priests respect the rubrics and know what they mean. But I might have clarified that I must drive 35 miles (one way) for the Sunday high Mass I mentioned, and have long envied your own opportunity to attend those glorious St. John Cantius Masses.

  25. Jim says:

    Thank you Fr. Kennedy for your information on the origin of the sakkos. I stand corrected.


    The omophorion is a pallium.

    The sticharion of the deacon is referred to in some jurisdictions as the dalmatikon.

  26. Nick says:


    Perhaps Fr.Kennedy could correct you about the pallium as well.

    Which Orthodox jurisdictions refer to the sticharion as the “dalmatikon?”

  27. Fr. Protodeacon David,

    Thank you for your tremendous insight and research! I hope some day to meet you in person. I have been a fan of your work on the diaconate for years.

    Is there any tradition in the East of priests serving on the altar “in choir”? (Obviously not “in choir,” but on the altar while not concelebrating.)

    I have seen priests worship in the congregation while in their riassas (cassocks), and then entering behind the iconostasis and vesting at the time of the communion of the clergy.

    Fr. Z, wonderful topic.

    I think a bishop or a priest can certainly perform the duties of a deacon, but must still be vested as a priest since the lesser is subsumed by the greater.

    God bless!

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  28. Fr. Z says: “Priests are not required to celebrate Mass.”

    This is the first I’ve ever heard this. Since Fr. Z is a priest (and a darn good one at that) I must to yield to his expertise, but has this always been the case (i.e. pre-VII) ?
    Are we talking all priests here ?

    I thought all those pictures of the private altars in religious houses gave testimony to what I had always thought –that priests had to say a Mass every day unless the were sick or had their faculties removed.

    Was anyone else led to believe as I have for all these years ?

  29. Berthold says:

    I think that the Dalmatic is historically an episcopal vestment, and that it was only later that Deacons (many of whom worked in the bishop’s administration) gained the right to wear it instead of a chasuble on feast days – hence the ancient tradition of Deacon and Subdeacon wearing folded chasubles during Lent, which most deplorably was abolished ca 1960 and awaits its restitution.

  30. inillotempore said: I thought all those pictures of the private altars in religious houses gave testimony to what I had always thought—that priests had to say a Mass every day unless the were sick or had their faculties removed.

    Was anyone else led to believe as I have for all these years ?

    I was taught the same, that priest had to say a daily Mass unless ill or whatever. When did that change?

  31. Fr. Guy says:

    Your question shouldn’t be “when did it change?” Rather, it should be, “Why did I think that?” and “Where did I get that from?”

  32. Fr. Guy says:

    Why has a thread that started out about what Latin Rite Roman Catholic priests do in the current liturgy turned into a lengthy discussion about what happens in the Eastern Churches?

  33. Eastern vestments are interesting. And not really the topic.

  34. Fr. Guy said: “Your question shouldn’t be “when did it change?” Rather, it should be, “Why did I think that?” and “Where did I get that from?”

    Fr. Guy,

    With all due respect to the Order of the Holy Priesthood, I have heard some weird (and worse)things from priests over the years, not all have offered a disclaimer, as you do on your website saying “My opinions do not necessarily reflect that of the R.C. Church”.

    Yes, there are many urban legends out there, and this is why we follow WDTPRS.

    Seems odd that they priests have to say the office but not Holy Mass…don’t you think (maybe I am in error here too –I do know that the office can be “anticipated”) ? [A good question for another entry!]

  35. Jayna says:

    I thought so as well, but Canon Law only says that priests are “earnestly invited” to celebrate daily. For some reason, I thought there was something about it in Sacrosanctum Concilium or Redemptionis Sacramentum, but I appear to be mistaken.

  36. Jayna, perhaps you are thinking of this…


    14. […] In the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their greatest task, the work of our redemption is being constantly carried on;(Cf. Roman Missal, Prayer over the Offerings of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost) and hence the daily celebration of Mass is strongly urged, since even if there cannot be present a number of the faithful, it is still an act of Christ and of the Church (Paul VI, encyclical letter Mysterium Fidei, Sept. 3, 1965: AAS 57 (1965), pp 761-762. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963, nn 26 and 27; AAS 56 (1964), p 107).

  37. Fr Paul McDonald says:

    When a former communist country was liberated there were some married men clandestinely ordained as priests. They were not allowed to continue in that sacred ministry, but the Holy See ordered that they were to function as *deacons*, and so vest, etc.
    So clealry there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a priest acting as a deacon, and being vested as one.
    The pratice in the E.F. confirms this.

  38. David M. Wallace thanks for the documentation from VII.

    My question was “has this always been the case (i.e. pre-VII) ?” and not “when did it change?”

    If it was different prior to VII (I do not know if it was), do priests who are attached to the traditional rite (FSSP, ICK,etc.) have to do it the “old” way (My premise is not that it used to be mandatory to celebrate daily Mass…I’m only asking)?

  39. Athanasius says:

    Priests once were obliged to say Mass every day by canon law. [This is misleading to the point of being incorrect. I will add a explanation, below.] This is why I wrote in the past tense when I gave the example of monasteries and big parishes. It once was you had to get dispensations in order not to say Mass. St. John of the Cross for example got dispensations to not say Mass for days at at time because the effect was so powerful he would have broken ribs. The New Canon Law does not require priests to say Mass every day however. Since the 83 code is binding on the whole Church, FSSP and ICKP preists are not required to say Mass every day unless there is a specific rule within their clerical fraternities requiring them to do so. That being said I’ve never met a priest from either fraternity which did not say Mass every day.

  40. Michael R. says:

    “Priests once were obliged to say Mass every day by canon law.”

    I don’t think that’s true. Can you cite a canon?

  41. dark_coven says:

    Well just to comment on the picture,

    I hate to say this but while looking at the picture above, it suddenly dawned to me that Benedict XVI is the greatest Pope since John XXIII. Well, of course it’s just my opinion and I can be proven wrong. But given the culture and liturgical wars, this Pope can sure take a beating.

    Instavrare Omnia In Christo

  42. I do not understand the theology of concelebration versus not allowing it. I would like to learn.

    But let me tell you what happened to me, along this line, while I still served as an Extraordinary minister of holy communion ( is that the right term?)

    The son of friends of mine who I knew was a priest, although on vacation and not in his priestly garb came up to me for communion. I felt all flustered and that this was just wrong somehow.

    I called him later to express my I-don’t-know-what-weird-feeling.

    This incident made me think he should have concelebrated rather than have to come to a layperson for communion.
    What IS supposed to happen when a priest is visiting say, his parents but does not serve at the altar?

  43. Henry Edwards: In pre-Vatican II days the presumption was that the Solemn High Mass was the norm and my own St. Andrew Daily Missal always presumed a deacon and subdeacon.

    Below that were, in ascending order, Low Mass, Sung Mass (Missa Cantata) and Sung Mass with Incense in dioceses with the idult to use Incense at Sung Mass e.g. the diocesess in Canada. The reasons for having Low Mass and Sung Mass instead of Solemn High Mass were historically strictly for practical reasons e.g. Cathedrals and monastaries with large numbers of priests would say Mass at numerous altars in the Cathedral with sometimes several masses going on at one time on Side (or Low) Altars. Obviouly they couldn’t all be Solemn High. Thus came Low Mass. When a parish had about 4 0r 5 Masses on a Sunday only one would be Solemn High, again for practical reasons.

    A Sung Mass is actually a sung Low Mass and may be served by one server like a Low Mass. Nevertheless different degrees of solemnity were allowed and the Missal of 1962 extended the use of Incense to all dioceses. Sung Masses developed for the opposite circumstances to those that brought about Low Mass. Small churches with only one priest couldn’t have Solemn Mass often if at all so for occasions such as Sunday Low Mass was given some of the rights of Solemn Mass to try to make up for the lack but Solemn Mass was always the ideal, especially for the Principle Mass on Sunday.

    It may come as a surprise that most parishes tended to have at least one Sung Mass every day in pre-Vatican II times. In the NO when the Sung Liturgy had pretty much disappeared these became the so-called “Announced Masses” (a bit unfair since the stipends remained the same as for the Sung Masses despite the lack of an organist).

    On Sundays the expectation was that there would be Solemn High Mass but in practice a shortage of priests (nothing as bad as these days)limited Solemn High Masses to Cathedrals and other Churches with a plentiful supply of priests. Hence the increased allowance of such things as Incense for a Missa Cantata to makeup for the lack of Solemnn High Masses.

    It was normally rquired that funerals have at least a Sung Mass but sometimes they were Solemn High (e.g. usually for the parent of a priest).

    On great occassions such as Chritmas Midnight Mass the Mass would if at all possible be Solemn High Mass which might mean borrowing priests from seminaries etc. but there never was a rule that Solemn Masses were just for great feast days. At least on Sundays, the principle Mass was to be Solemn HIgh.

  44. Greg Smisek says:

    “Priests once were obliged to say Mass every day by canon law.”

    If so, it was before the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which has the following canon:

    Canon 805 Priests are bound by the obligation of offering Mass several times per year; the Bishop or religious Superior shall take care that they perform divine [actions] at least on Sundays and other feasts of precept.

    Canon 805 Sacerdotes omnes obligatione tenentur Sacrum litandi pluries per annum; curet autem Episcopus vel Superior religiosus ut iidem saltem singulis diebus dominicis aliisque festis de praecepto divinis operentur.

  45. David O’Rourke: In pre-Vatican II days the presumption was that the Solemn High Mass was the norm and my own St. Andrew Daily Missal always presumed a deacon and subdeacon.

    Hmm … You old missal must be an unusual treasure. The Order of Mass in my 1945 Father Lasance Daily Missal is illustrated with drawings showing a single priest and single altar boy. My 1952 St. Andrew Daily Missal starts the Ordinary of the Mass with the instruction “At Low Mass we may join with the Server in answering the priest …” and at the appropriate places says “At a High Mass the priest blesses the incense ….”

    It may come as a surprise that most parishes tended to have at least one Sung Mass every day in pre-Vatican II times.

    This certainly comes as a surprise to those of who were there before Vatican II. This was not true of any of the parishes I attended — in 4 states in 4 different dioceses in 3 regions of the U.S. — in those days.

    In actual parish practice the situation was pretty much that described in Fortescue & O’Connell — in discussion of The More Solemn Form (of sung Mass without a deacon and subdeacon):

    “As a substitute for solemn Mass it has long been the custom to celebrate this kind of Missa Cantata, as the principal Mass on Sundays and feasts.”

    Of course the solemn high Mass was always the ideal, even if seldom attainable, from which the various forms of Masses with a single minister “descended”. It would be difficult to describe briefly the time, talent, and (especially) treasure my TLM community devoted the single solemn high Mass we have — with great pride — been able to celebrate in our brief 3+ year history:


    The last link is to a musical slide show that presents well what we accomplished with some pretty major effort.

  46. Flabellum says:

    Pam, the official answer is that he (i) asks to say a private mass, or (ii) attends in choir, or (iii) concelebrates. In practice many priests simply pretend to be laity, though I am sure Fr Z has never done so.

  47. Athanasius and ALL: Above, you made the statement that priests were once obliged by the Church’s law to say Mass every day. That is misleading to the point of being incorrect.

    You skipped from the 16th c. to the 1983 Code in your comment, without any consideration that a Code of canon law was issued early in the 20th century.

    The 1917 Code said in c. 805 that priests were to say Mass several times (pluries) during the year.  Not daily.

    Under the 1917 Code, priests were and are obliged to say their office every day, but not to celebrate Mass.

    There is no such obligation to say Mass in the 1983 Code.

    Since this isn’t the topic of the main entry, we will close this rabbit hole here.

  48. TJM says:

    Henry Edwards, thanks for your clarification. I do envy your situation. By the way, in the pre-Vatican II days I was the lucky one apparently. My parish and its 8:00 am weekday Mass was always a Missa Cantata. Alas, those days are long gone. Tom

  49. RedShirt says:

    When I was a parishoner at the Birmingham Oratory, (and I believe this still is the case) one of the fathers would vest and funtion as a deacon for the Ordinary Form Latin High Mass (they have no deacons at present… I believe they will within a year).

    They also employ the role of subdeacon (i.e. Acolyte in tunicle) at the High Mass, and for the past few years this was a novice brother, although I noticed in photos of the transfer of Cardinal Newman’s relics to the church that it was two priests that functioned and vested as deacon and subdeacon to assist the Archbishop, whilst other priests present concelebrated. I was a little surprised at this second situation that a priest should function in a lay role at an ordinary-form Mass.

  50. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    If the esteemed Fr. Z will permit, just one last jump down the rabbit hole: In both parishes and religious houses, both before and after Vatican II and under both the 1917 and 1983 Codes of Canon Law there was and is an obligation to celebrate Masses for which a stipend has been received. Many religious communities took on and still do take on the excess stipends from parishes, with houses in richer countries passing them on to those in poorer regions. When the endowments of parishes and monasteries were wiped out by the wars and revolutions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries Mass stipends became an important source of income for both individual priests and for religious communities. Right through the 19th century there were still men “permanently” in all the minor and major orders. Cardinal Consalvi never advanced beyond minor orders. The great composer Franz Liszt was also cleric in minor orders and was know as the Abbé List. Thus, for example, while it was once the practice in Cistercian monasteries to have an equal number of priests, deacons and sub-deacons, (in the largest houses like Clairvaux there were fifty-two of each) it was now expedient to advance all solemnly professed monks to the priesthood soon after their solemn profession.
    In the popular mind this obligation to fulfill the obligations attached to Mass stipends became and still is wrongly interpreted as a personal obligation on the part of priests to say Mass each day.

  51. Reverend Father Aidan Logan,

    Thanks so much for the astute explanation of how people over the centuries wrongly interpreted the duty to offer a stipend Mass as a personal obligation on the part of allpriests to say Mass each day.

    My next “leap”, if you will(and the esteemed Fr. Z will permit)is that since the Liturgy of the Hours, [and ALL of the sacraments and Liturgical actions] lead us to Holy Sacrifice of the Mass it makes sense that the Divine office would be mandatory and Mass which is the most important of the liturgical actions would be less frequent due to its primacy of place in our holy religion.

    Fr. Logan : Which O.C.S.O. house are you from [I have visited the Abbey in Spencer, MA.] ?

  52. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    Assistance at Holy Mass is obligatory for all Priests on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. For those priests who are religious, assistance at daily Mass is an obligation. For those bound to the choral celebration of the Divibne Office (monks, nuns, secular and regular canons and some friars) the daily sung conventual or capitular Mass is part of that obligation. Some religious congregation may enjoin the daily celebration of Mass as part of their constitutions but even this is not absolute. It would create a potential violation of conscience to absolutely require a priest to celebrate Mass when he honestly believed he could not do so worthily. It is for the same reason that religious can not be obliged to go to Holy Communion every day. This is not because of a lack of appreciation for the Holy Sacrifice but, on the contrary, out of reverence for it and for the sanctity of conscience. I sometimes wonder if our ancestor’s “holy fear” with regard to the celebration of Mass and the reception of Communion should be re-examined in a more positive light.

    Oh, yes, I am a monk of St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA

  53. Antiquarian says:

    Thanks to both Father Z and Father Logan for clearing up something I’d wondered about.

    By the way Father Logan (or is it more correct to say Father Aidan in the case of a monk?), how did you enjoy the boxing on Friday? ; )

  54. Sean says:

    At Westminster Cathedral, which is where I regularly worship, it is common at more solemn masses, particularly when the Cardinal or one of his auxiliary bishops is celebrant, for one of the chaplains of the Cathedral to act as deacon. (Unless, as is common for certain parts of the year, we actually have a “proper” deacon, in the form of a seminarian who has got that far and has been seconded to the cathedral prior to ordination as a priest.) Usually there are concelebrants as well.

  55. Fr. Aidan Logan, OCso says:

    “Father + first-name” is the correct form of address for priests who are monks or friars. (Other types of religious have different customs: Jesuits, for example, use the last-name.) In formal address a secular priest is “(The) Reverend John Smith / Dear Father Smith”; a monk or friar is “(The) Reverend Father John Smith, O.S.B. /Dear Father John.” The “the” is more British/Commonwealth usage and generally omitted among Catholics in the USA. In conversation, context is everything. “Father + first-name” can be used with any priest with whom one has a close personal relationship, but otherwise a secular priest referred to in the third person is always “father + last-name”. On the other hand one always refers to and addresses a monk or friar by “father + first-name”. I gave up long ago trying to explain this to people but am delighted when they do get it. Oddly enough, “trads” are often the most resistant, thinking that “father + first-name” is somehow a post-Vatican II thing.

    Fr. “Z”, save us from this rabbit hole!!!!!

  56. Fr. Adrian (and all):

    Rabbit Hole prehaps, but a very educational one ;we’re still within the realm of priests (religious and) liturgy.

    As a layman I find it much more rewarding to find out about Holy Mother Church, religious customs and tradition than some trival (or worse) secular curiosity or amusement.

    Granted, this blog has been an occasion of sin for me in the past (pride and anger –actually considered giving WDTPRS up for lent). Many of us find this discussion edifying and we’re all grateful to the esteemed Reverend Father Zuhlsdorf (and all priests for being true to their vocation and to the Holy Father).

  57. ALL: This entry has a topic. I can create a separate entry for issues of titles and names. Subsequent digressions will be deleted.

  58. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    Fr. Z wrote

    “First, the idea of the ‘solemn Mass’ became fuzzy and then dropped off in to a amorphous ‘liturgy’.”

    Well, yes and no. Surely, in seminaries the distinction between a “Solemn Mass” and a “Read Mass” was apparently no longer taught. But, consider this from the Vatican’s 1967 instruction, Musicam Sacram:

    28. The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force

    As far as I know, the terms of that document, especially regarding singing the Mass (which does not mean having some hymns!), are still valid. The Instruction is cited several times by the 2002 GIRM. However, many priests — even liturgically sensitive ones — seem unaware of it and, hence, are failing to implement the full liturgical vision of Vatican II vis-a-vis the Holy Mass.

    As to a priest vesting as a deacon:

    Interestingly, while the Ceremonial of Bishops does not allow a priest ever to vest as a deacon, it does allow a bishop: He may choose to wear the dalmatic beneath his chasuble. Really cool tradition, but a tad inconsistent.

  59. Matthew WI D: 1967 instruction, Musicam Sacram

    Well… sure. On paper something of a distinction remained. But I think in practice most parishes lapsed in Masses and then a Mass with some songs. Maybe some incense appeared once in a while and additional extraneous lay people in the sanctuary.

    it does allow a bishop

    Indeed, it does! And the photo at the top has an example… though clearly in a special context.

    This whole thing is cloudy. We can perhaps assume some flexibility.

  60. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    Back on topic, here’s something interesting from the Council of Trent.
    Session XXIII, 15 July 1563, Decree on the Reformation of the Sacrament of Orders: CHAPTER XVII, In what manner the exercise of the minor orders is to be restored.
    That the functions of holy orders, from the deacon to the porter,-which functions have been laudably received in the Church from the times of the apostles, and which have been for some time interrupted in very many places,-may be again brought into use in accordance with the sacred canons; and that they may not be traduced by heretics as useless; the holy Synod, burning with the desire of restoring the pristine usage, ordains that, for the future, such functions shall not be exercised but by those who are actually in the said orders; and It exhorts in the Lord all and each of the prelates of the churches, and commands them, that it be their care to restore the said functions, as far as it can be conveniently done, in the cathedral, collegiate, and parochial churches of their dioceses, where the number of the people and the revenues of the church can support it; and, to those who exercise those functions, they shall assign salaries out of some part of the revenues of any simple benefices, or those of the fabric of the church,-if the funds allow of it,-or out of the revenues of both together, of which stipends they may, if negligent, be mulcted in a part, or be wholly deprived thereof, according to the judgment of the Ordinary. And if there should not be unmarried clerics at hand to exercise the functions of the four minor orders, their place may be supplied by married clerics of approved life; provided they have not been twice married, be competent to discharge the said duties, and wear the tonsure and the clerical dress in church.

  61. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    mulcted = to punish by a fine
    I did change one word before posting. This delightful old translation rendered “ostiarius” as “janitor”! Thinking of some parish janitors I have known ….

  62. Reverend and Dear Fr Aidan,

    Thanks so much for the post re: Trent. Edward P. Echlin in “The Deacon in the Church”, Alba House, 1971, p105 makes the same point. Can you be so kind to provide the title of the text from which you took this quote? I know you have provided the Session, etc. With thanks…

  63. John P says:

    Father Aidan,

    Cardinal Consalvi was a Deacon. At the time of his death, his diaconate was Santa Maria ad Martyres (Pantheon). His monument, erected by the dowager Duchess of Devonshire, is there to this day.

    Regards from an old Worcesterite,

    John P

  64. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    John P:
    You are confusing the “title” of Cardinal Deacon with being a deacon. It’s not the same thing. Today’s Cardinal Deacons are, I believe, all bishops. All the biographies of Cardinal Consalvi that I have read state that he never advanced beyond minor orders. This was a deliberate decision on his part so that he might be free from the obligations of major orders and thus give himself totally to the administration of the affairs of the Pontifical State and the Holy See.

  65. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    Fr. Z wrote:

    “Well… sure. On paper something of a distinction remained. But I think in practice most parishes lapsed in Masses and then a Mass with some songs. Maybe some incense appeared once in a while and additional extraneous lay people in the sanctuary.”

    Perhaps, it’s simply been: “Monkey see, monkey do.” In other words, that’s how my parish priest did it; that how the priests at the sem did it . . . so, that’s how I’ll do it. Or, the fact that some priests have never read or been taught the principles of Musicam Sacram.

    It’s amusing (from a cognitive dissonance point-of-view) how newly-ordained priests will go to great lengths planning a lavish production for their “First Mass”: choosing hymns; selecting a homilist; asking a deacon-friend to serve; using incense; etc. and so forth.

    But, by the next Sunday — and, every one thereafter — Fr. Newbie thinks that he has to celebrate Mass like he’s reading from the Telephone Directory. The care for the Sacred Liturgy is gone . . . all of a sudden . . . like a switch has been turned off.

    I don’t get it.

  66. John P says:

    Father Aidan,

    Cardinal Consalvi was ordained subdeacon on 21 Dec 1801, and deacon on 22 DEc 1802 by Pius VII. As reference I give you Roberto Regoli, Ercole Consalvi, Gregorian Press, 2006, citing Hierarchia Medei et recentioris aevi. And I assure you that I am not confusing the ordo with the titulus.

  67. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    John P.:
    I stand corrected. Thank you very much. This is very interesting and I shall certainly find and read Rigoli’s biography. However, if he was made a Cardinal Deacon on 11 August 1800, then for two years and four months he was Cardinal Deacon without being a deacon – a very interesting phenomenon at such a late date.

  68. John P says:

    Father Aidan,

    Sorry, 1802 is a typo for 1801. He was ordained subdeacon and deacon on consecutive days. And, yes, he went for over a year without being ordained.
    During that period he was mostly absent from Rome, or involved in purely diplomatic functions. I suppose that when he began to take his place
    as a cardinal deacon, he had to be ordained. In any event, he was required by canon law to be ordained deacon. Pius VII asked him over and over again to be ordained priest, but he said that he had no vocation for the cure of souls. I am a great admirer of Consalvi, have read his memoirs, and try to keep up on the literature. Rigoli is a typical second-rate thesis, but contains some interesting references.

    Kindest regards,

  69. Hermann says:

    To return to the beginning of this entry: The rule of priests not fulfilling the role of deacon is now in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, of which quotes have been posted. The Caeremoniale was promulgated in 1984. The rule was actually made in 1968 (yes, that year; it pops up all over the place) and can, if my memory serves correctly, be found in an instruction passed by the (now defunct) Sacred Congregation of Rites, Pontificales Ritus.

  70. Dear Hermann,

    Would you be so kind to provide any and all references to the liturgical norm that requires priests not to vest as deacons, excluding the ones I have already mentioned above? With thanks.

  71. What specific rubrics or other official liturgical norms actually instruct priests to function in the liturgical roles of the deacon or subdeacon and vest as such? Where specifically are these rubrics to be found in the liturgical texts or other official liturgical documents of the EF?

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