QUAERITUR: Permanent deacons and the Roman collar.

I have had a number of questions from permanent deacons about the use of clerical dress, either in a liturgical setting or as street clothing.

After consulting a trustworthy canonist, I will respond to them all here.

In 2009, the USCCB (the deacons were from the USA) promulgated the Directory for the Formation, Life and Ministry of Permanent Deacons, which is largely drawn from the 1998 Directory issued by the Congregation for the Clergy. It has several unfortunate statements that defy (in my opinion) logic and tradition.  For example, the Directory states that the proper form of address for permanent deacons in all situations is “Deacon X”.  How does that make sense?  The proper form of address for a priest is not “Priest Z”.  Calling a bishop “Bishop Q” is pedestrian, and common, but there are other forms of address for him.  Proper in “all situations”?  No.  The Directory makes distinctions between permanent deacons and transitional deacons that I don’t think are there in canon law.

Is a permanent deacon not ordained to the diaconate?  Is a permanent deacon not a cleric?

In any case, the Directory, which is law in the US, states,

“For the Sacred Liturgy they should vest worthily and with dignity, in accordance with the prescribed liturgical norms. The dalmatic, in its appropriate liturgical colors, together with the alb, cincture and stole, ‘constitutes the liturgical dress proper to deacons.” (83)

No mention is made of just wearing an alb and stole, nor of wearing a cassock and cotta with or without stole.

Here logic must intervene and supply what is lacking. If there is not a dalmatic available (or if another deacon is assisting at the Mass and wearing the only dalmatic available) the deacon wear an alb, or a cassock and surplice, no?

But currently, there is no universal law on that, or particular law for the US, so the diocesan bishop is allowed to make specific regulations in his diocese.

If the diocesan bishop says the deacon should not wear a Roman collar under his cassock, the bishop is being silly, but it is his prerogative. He is being strange and goofy and making no sense at all, but it is his right.  He is suggesting that somehow the man isn’t a real deacon after all, but it is his decision.

The deacon could push the issue and wear a Roman collar.  Were the bishop to impose a sanction, the deacon could address the matter to the Congregation for the Clergy and he would probably be successful.   However… is that the appropriate Thermopylae to die for?

A passive aggressive deacon might decide to wear a blaze orange turtleneck under his cassock.

Might that draw attention away from the Sacrament?

Perhaps no more than the under dressed altar girls.  You decide.

Outside of the liturgy, the USCCB directory mandates,

The Code of Canon Law does not oblige permanent deacons to wear an ecclesiastical garb.96 Further, because they are prominent and active in secular professions and society, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops specifies that permanent deacons should resemble the lay faithful in dress and matters of lifestyle. Each diocesan bishop should, however, determine and promulgate any exceptions to this law, as well as specify the appropriate clerical attire if it is to be worn. (89)

Yet the selfsame USCCB has also issued, in 1998, complementary legislation on canon 284, stating,

Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.

Presumably, a deacon is still a cleric.  Therefore, he has the right to exercise his own discretion in using a cassock.

I can think of few better uses for a cassock than to put it on and wear it.

Sadly, I think, bishops still have little idea what to do with deacons.

The idea of denying the Roman collar to men duly ordained as clerics, while permitting it for those merely studying for the priesthood, as is the case in many seminaries, doesn’t make sense to me.

A deacon is a deacon is a deacon.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dr. Eric says:

    As far as I know, the Deacon from my mom’s church (they have no priest- just a rotating list of visiting priests from the OMI) always wears his Roman collar- except when he’s mowing.

    On the other hand, the priest who writes for our diocesan newspaper NEVER wears any clerical garb.

  2. Ralph says:

    Shouldn’t there be a clear distinction between the dress of a priest and a deacon? The two orders are not the same. [They are both clerics and we are talking about clerical dress.] In addition a permanent deacon is not progressing toward the priesthood. When we lose sight of how distinctive the priest is, I think we start to devalue him. Without a distinction of purpose, I think the priesthood becomes less attractive to young men.

    I am a convert to the Faith. As such, I am protective of our priesthood as I understand how essential it is. ( I think many of us ex protestants are terrified of ever losing our Mass and Holy Eucharist. We have been there done that ) [Clerical state begins with ordination to the diaconate. The Roman, or military collar is clerical dress.]

  3. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    I remember d’Artagnan in the Three Musketeers being shocked to find Aramis disputing theology in a cassock and zuchetto, and he wasn’t even a sub-deacon yet. Also, an early post today quoted a post-concillar directive naming instituted acolytes as the ordinary type of extraordinary ministers or communion, suggesting that they both still exist and are ministers. Of course permanent deacons should be able to wear the collar and cassock – no less than any seminarian. I think the regulations are to make them not feel compelled to do so in civil life for obvious reasons, just as Knights of Malta are no longer compelled to wear their habits when they are not in choro. The Deacon in my native parish (for years the only orthodox fellow there) wears his collar when ministering in the local hospital or elsewhere, but not when engaged in secular pursuits. It seems perfectly natural to me. Give them amices, too, to cover up those turtle necks.

    “Deacon X?” No consecration can empower men to demand heresy nor bad grammar from any Christian. Let them say what they want, they haven’t authority to make anyone use ugly English.
    cf. “Bishop X.” It makes me shudder.

  4. unsilenced says:

    In Puerto Rico, where I am from, I remember ALWAYS seeing the Deacons wear the roman collar. I even remember a document by the Bishops of the Island (which back then were a bit more liturgical conservatives) requiring them to wear the clerical collar even when in their secular jobs, with some exceptions where wearing it would be of detriment.

    Keep in mind, that this was in a Diocese where the Bishop prohibited seminarians from wearing jeans.

  5. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    “I can think of few better uses for a cassock than wearing it.”

    Father, what do you mean by this comment? Do you not approve of everyday wearing of the cassock?

  6. Geoffrey says:

    How are deacons addressed (either permanent or transitional) in other countries/languages? I would look to Rome/Italy, first. Perhaps we could get some guidance there.

    How did transitional deacons dress and how were they addressed prior to the restoration of the permanent diaconate? Since “a deacon is a deacon is a deacon”… :-)

  7. mitch_wa says:

    In the east I know they don’t bother with a distinction between transitional and permanent deacons. And it is common to refer to all Deacons when addressing them at Father or Father Deacon. From what I have read this is because they share in the Servant Fatherhood of their Bishop. And Priests share in the Sacrificial Fatherhood of their Bishops. In the west this is very magnificently symbolized by the bishop wearing both the chasuble and the dalmatic. (IMO a bishop who cares for and identifies with his deacons will wear the dalmatic). Both Priests and Deacons then are “Fathers” insofar as they are sharing in the “Fatherhood” of their bishop. (Btw I am not an Eastern Christian and I may be getting this all wrong so please correct me if I am). I have heard (but I don’t know if it is true) that when the married diaconate was returned in the United States that our bishops considered having them called Father but decided against it.

    Personally I feel that deacons both married and celibate should wear clerics when it is appropriate, understanding that those in secular careers will be more limited in wearing them. Similarly I think we should call deacons “Father” and refer to both perm. and transitional deacons in the same way. A deacon is a deacon is a deacon.

  8. Tim Ferguson says:

    I would imagine there should be the same sort of distinction between the daily dress of a deacon and that of a priest as there is between the daily uniform of a priest and that of a bishop. All are clerics. All should be in clerical dress, it seems to me.

    The odd distinction between permanent deacons and transitional deacons, instead of accentuating the priesthood, muddies the water. Permanent deacons are treated as glorified acolytes and transitional deacons are treated like mini priests. The argument that transitional deacons are “destined” for the priesthood and therefore are accorded clerical privileges that are withheld from their canonical co-equals is facile and unsatisfactory. Should then a priest who is “destined” for the episcopate be accorded certain quasi-episcopal privileges? The clerical state is the clerical state – certainly there are distinctions within the clerical state, and it might be good to make those distinctions clear (I’ve often thought it would be wise to employ grey clerics for deacons – all deacons – and black for priests and bishops, but so many priests now wear multicolored clerics that the distinction might not make a difference).

    If I were a deacon and letters came addressed to “Deacon Tim” or “Deacon Ferguson,” I would be tempted to reply to them with “Bartender Gary,” “Fireman Johnson,” “Administrative Assistant Julie” et c. [Sounds like a Chinese bureaucracy.]

  9. AlexE says:

    The proper title for a deacon is “Rev Mr”. I think with permanent deacons it is a little less clear because they are still new to contemporary Catholic culture. I disagree with them wearing clerics because it is confusing. I think seminarians should wear clerics in public in certain circumstances because they are headed toward the priesthood and to many of the faithful it makes sense. When I entered the seminary many people commented I “joined the priesthood” perhaps once the perm. diaconate is more estbalished it could be reviewed by the bishops. Most seminarians I know, by the way, can’t wear clerics outside of the seminary except for approved reasons such as parish work, seminary functions.

  10. Tim Ferguson says:

    Christo et Ecclesiae,

    I think Fr. Z means that it would be better to wear a cassock than make use of it in other ways, such as wiping up messes in the vestibule, washing the car, drying dishes in the rectory, employing it as wall art…

  11. edm says:

    Deacons are ordained to the diaconate. They are not ordained as “permanent” or “transitional”. Therefore, it makes little sense to use different forms of address, clothing, or sacred vesture depending on those categories. It is the bishops’ prerogative to determine such rules in their dioceses. Do they really want to set up a sort of caste system for deacons?

  12. cothrige says:

    I am troubled that ordained clerics are somehow seen as unworthy of clerical attire while others only training to be ordained are somehow already fit for it. Rather than worrying about decreasing the esteem for our priests shouldn’t we be concerned about the absence of respect being given to those who have undoubtedly received the sacrament of holy orders? A cleric is worthy of clerical dress, and I think it is unfortunate that our good deacons are being denied this chance to represent our Church in the public sector in a visible and distinctive way appropriate to their station.

  13. AlexE says:

    Transitional Deacons, function as such for a short time 8 months to a year, in most cases. Even that great amount of time is spent in seminary. The title for all Deacons is “Rev Mr”, a transitional deacon must be ordained to the priesthood at some point, I believe there is a maximum before things get sticky. That is the reason why they are refered to as such, moreover a man who is ordained a transitional diaconate very clearly intends priestly ordination, so in a sense they are. While a priest is a always a deacon he ceases to function publicly as a deacon once a priest. Have we ever hears a priest say ” I am Rev Mr X a deacon of the Diocese of Y’? I don’t think it is a caste system so much as a clumsy way of dealing with a clumsy situation,

  14. Agnes says:

    The very dear Reverend Mister that I know wears a cassock and Roman collar when about “church business”. Outside of that, because he is also in the world, he wears street clothes. Sometimes the worlds collide! I was surprised to see him in a tuxedo and top hat at church, dressed very dapper indeed for his daughter’s wedding and allowing himself to be ministered to, rather than preside over the Sacrament. Happy dad.

    Our priests are always in clerical garb when I see them and very often cassocked. Once or twice I’ve caught them in street clothes (almost like catching someone in his bathrobe. “Hang on! I’m not decent!”). Yes, they do seem to be a bit more from Mars.

  15. AlexE says:

    I would like to offer one more reason, why Perm deacons shouldn’t wear clerical attire as a general rule. Many, many, young men when responding to a vocation, often look at the Diaconate as a happy compromise. Granted this isn’t a strong reason but something to think about. We need more priests, we need more holy priests to be accurate, we are creatures of our senses. We need certain things which appeal to our senses and communicate there is a difference between the priest and the Deacon. I think this is the same reason seminarins look foward to being able to wear a Roman Collar, they start to look like who they wish to become-a priest, by looking they start acting more like a priest. So if a young fellow sees a seminarian in clerics and a priest in clerics he makes a connection between the two, add in a man who is most likely married who has special every day dress and special dress for assisting at Mass and soon the differences are sublte. Believe me, I have talked to many young men about vocations and the power to Consecrate and absolve aren’t always deal cinchers. I’m not saying this closes the deal so to speak, just another thing to think about.

  16. robertotankerly says:

    It seems to me there is no justifiable reason to deny Deacons (permanent or otherwise) “cleric”al attire. As an Anglican, all Deacons wore the collar. I suppose it might confuse some who don’t know the deacon and associate the collar with priests alone. Though, upon introduction this is rather simply clarified. Ideally this wouldn’t happen at all, since clericals don’t rightly denote priesthood, but simply being a “cleric” of any of the three orders. After all, bishops wear the same black Roman-collared shirt. Of course, they are distinguished by the pectoral cross. Nevertheless.

    At Mass, the “primary” deacon should rightly wear cassock, alb, cincture, stole (of the diaconate variety), and dalmatic. Any other deacons (for example, a guest preacher) should wear cassock, surplice, and stole, as an “assisting priest” would. I abhor any but the celebrant wearing a chasuble, even concelebrants.

    Like priests, rather than a clerical shirt, deacons should wear a cassock when in their jurisdiction (on their parish grounds).

  17. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    Tim Ferguson:

    Thank you for the clarification… I must have missed the syntax the first few times I read it… Although it is interesting to note my quoted text has been altered:

    Original: “I can think of few better uses for a cassock than wearing it.”

    Revision: “I can think of few better uses for a cassock than to put it on and wear it.”


  18. Fr. Basil says:

    \\When we lose sight of how distinctive the priest is, I think we start to devalue him. \\

    By the same token, when you lose sight of how distinctive the DEACON is, he, likewise, is devalued, as you can see from many of the posts here.

    In the Eastern tradition, including Eastern Catholic Churches, a deacon is addressed as Fr. Deacon. Every Eastern deacon I know wears cassock–the traditional clerical dress–to church. Some Eastern priests and deacons wear clerical collars, but that is a borrowing.

    Furthermore, tonsured monks are addressed as Father, or in the case of a nun, Mother.

    I recall 30 years ago a letter in the Fishwrap. A lady complained about “lay deacons, who were nothing but laymen” presuming to dress in vestments and exercise the duties of a priest by reading the Gospel, or duties of the laity by leading the Prayer of the Faithful and giving out Communion.

    Obviously, she simply mentioned the three classic liturgical functions of deacons.

  19. As a man in formation for the permanent diaconate (August 2012, the Lord willing), this is something I can tell you comes up ALL the time in the deacon community here. Fr. Z is correct that all deacons are ordained to the clerical state, though I have often wondered what happens to the transitionals that leave before priestly ordination. Do they get laiczed? Anyway, the deacon does NOT and is not SUPPOSED to wear the clerics that a priest does as I understand it. The black shirt in the Latin Rite is reserved to the priest and bishop. Deacons have the option of white, blue and grey, though other colors may be an option too. So a deacon will not look like a priest.

    Something else that comes up is the role of the deacon. In much of the US, a deacon has traditionally been seen as primarily a social worker. Indeed in my diocese many of the longer ordained men (and the newer ones too) will tell you that the ministry of the Word is not essential to being a deacon. My response is why bother with ordination then? Ministry of the Word is always listed first in the responsibilities of the deacon. That is where the people see him. It is therefore vital that he be SEEN as a cleric and not a glorified altar boy as someone else said. That should include clerics when appropriate to the Church setting and according to the desires of the bishop of course as well as proper vesting for Mass.

    There is also a discussion going on in the Church about whether deacons are part of the sacerdotal ministry of the Church. Many will say that there is no ontological change in the deacon (even if there is an indelible mark placed upon his soul at ordination) and therefore he is not ordained in the same way as a priest is. Often they point to the fact that the only sacrements a deacon may do are ones that any layman can do in an emergency or other situation. This is seen in my circle as the attempt to open the diaconate to women. “If it’s not sacerdotal, then why not?” they will say. Once that happens, of course they will revert and say that if you can ordain women to the diaconate, OF COURSE you can ordain them to the priesthood.

    Anyway, I agree with Fr. Z. Too many don’t know what a deacon is, what a deacon can do or what to do with them at all.

  20. Geoffrey says:

    “Father Deacon” sounds very nice. In my diocese we usually hear “Deacon (first name)”.

  21. Gaz says:

    As I remember it, there are rights and obligations regarding clerical dress. Permanent Deacons are not obliged to don clerical dress but they have the right to do so. Transitional Deacons and Priests (whoops, Bishops too) have both the right and the obligation (more often than not observed in the breach in my country).

    There is good reason for Deacons not always having to be in clerical attire. If he is a builder, for example, it would quite pretty silly if he were wearing a cassock, collar and biretta on the job. It may be quite dangerous too if his zona or sash were to be caught in a cement mixer.

    Particularly when they attend to the Sacred Liturgy, clerics, even those who have the option of not donning clerical dress ought to be encouraged to be properly attired.

  22. Trisagion says:

    As Fr Z says, a deacon is a deacon is a deacon: to which I might add, when you prick us, do we not bleed?

    There a number of very odd perceptions doing the rounds in these comments. CatholicManiac (may your formation continue to bless you and the Church) has some very strange ideas. He says that the deacon ‘does NOT and is not SUPPOSED to wear’ clerical dress – although he qualifies his remarks with ‘as I understand it.’ Well brother, you understand it wrongly. The rules for the Latin Rite of the Church are set out in the Code of Canon Law of 1983, canon 284, where it clearly says ‘Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs.’ The Code later (in canon 288) explicitly says that clerics are not bound (the Latin word is tenetur by the obligation. Being not bound means that they cannot be compelled under threat of canonical censure, it does not mean ‘does NOT and is not SUPPOSED’, nor does it mean ‘may not’.

    The decision regarding appropriate clerical dress is left to conferences of bishops and so it is perfectly reasonable for them to make such norms. In my own country the only regulations made by what might be called conferences of bishops (the Synods of Westminster) were made variously before even the 1917 Code of Canon Law. They prescribe the Roman Collar for all clerics (at the time clerical state came with First Tonsure but now comes with Ordination to the diaconate).

    CatholicManiac also says, ‘The black shirt in the Latin Rite is reserved to the priest or bishop. Deacons have the option of white, blue and grey.’ With the deepest respect, this is simply not true. I am prepared to concede that this might be what the 1983 Code calls ‘legitimate local custom’ but other than that nothing. Apart from anything else, across the Latin Rite, white is a colour used extensively by priests and bishops (as well as deacons) as a legitimate local custom in tropical countries, and in many of the dioceses of Northern Europe (and wider), grey is a more frequently encountered colour for clerical shirts than black. The rules for the Latin Rite are set out clearly in the 1983 Code and anything else is either a local norm or a local custom, legitimate or otherwise, sartorially regretable of otherwise.

    The notion of the deacon as some kind of ecclesiastical social worker is one of the more pernicious half-truths about the diaconate and is based on the experience of the Lutheran communities since the nineteenth centuries. These communities interpreted the calling of the seven in the Acts of the Apostles in a particular way and made that normative for the expression within those communities of a desire, in response to widespread social need, to engage in this kind of work – work which had been undertaken in the Catholic Church by the apostolic communities founded in such number from the seventeenth century onwards. Whilst expressive of at least part of the diaconal vocation, we might better reflect on the continuing diaconal ministry within the Catholic Church in the period since the disappearance of the diaconate from the Latin Rite as an abiding order (without subsequent ordination to presbyterate). This involves looking not only at diaconal ministry in the Eastern Churches but also at the perpetual witness in the liturgy of the Latin Rite of the deacon. Doing so makes it clear that not one of the triple munera of diaconal service (altar, word and charity) should be privileged over any other, although in the ministry of a particular deacon at a particular time one or other might have greater prominence.

    The question of ontological change is raised by CatholicManiac. It seems to me that since ontology is concerned to answer the question ‘what is it?’ then if one receives a permanent imprint on the soul, there is an ontological change because the answer to the question, ‘what is it?’ changes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms (at para.1570) makes it clear that deacons receive such an imprint, through which they are configured to Christ the Servant. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate to talk in terms of diaconal ordination effecting an ontological change – although one distinct from that received at presbyteral ordination. CatholicManiac should be careful how he uses such terms, unfamiliar as they may be: I suspect that he (or someone engaged in his formation) is confusing ontological change with the conferring of the sacra potestas of priestly ordination.

    AlexE wonders whether deacons carrying on in such obviously clerical ways might not discourage vocations to the priesthood. I have to say that my experience differs considerably from his: I have never heard a single (as opposed to AlexE’s ‘many, many’) young man who has a sense of a priestly vocation talk about the permanent diaconate as ‘a happy compromise’. I suspect that AlexE is referring to the matter of celibacy. He would perhaps do well to reflect upon the tradition of the Latin Rite that the vocation to celibacy is a supernatural calling, not some faustian deal by which one gives up something in order to something else. Furthermore, whilst permanent deacons are specifically allowed to be ordained even if married (canon 1042.1) , the Code of Canon Law does not give them any such let out to the obligation to perpetual and perfect continence (canon 277).

  23. @Trisagion – yeah, what you said.

    But I would add that the Bishops could possibly introduce a “clerical dress” for deacons which is distinctive from what priests where (the same way, for example, bishops wear a chain when wearing a Roman collar). This dress would have to also be truly distinctive from lay attire, and could not simply be lay clothes with a cross or pin, for example. But it could be the standard clerical suit with a diaconal pin, or Roman collar with a prescribed color for the shirt (e.g. grey or blue). I think the idea of wearing a cassock without a Roman collar for deacons would be illegitimate, since the imagery is a de-clerializing one.

    As I have said before, if Bishops are so concerned with Permanent Deacons looking and acting like clergy, they should stop ordaining them to the clerical state.

    Also @Trisagion, I would quibble with your discussion of the role of the deacon. I would prefer them as “ecclesiastical social workers” than as the “mini-priest” function they seem to serve in the American church. The idea of “vocation” has been lost in many diaconal programs, and if a distinctive vocation to diaconal service was emphasized, maybe we would even get younger, and even celibate, men considering this vocation. Currently, deacons often perform all their parish’s baptisms, marriage prep and non-mass weddings, Sunday homilies, and sick visits so the priests of the parish can do the important work of staff meetings, planning commissions, and employee reviews.

    Which is why the clerical dress issue is so frustrating. An effort is being made to keep deacons from looking “like priests”, while they do most of the work the priests in the parish should be doing.

    Not to go down a rabbit hole, but another consideration in the bishops’ minds might be their realization that many permanent deacons are very, very badly formed (for example, the one-time afternoon session on “the Epistles of St. Paul” – now go preach that homily), and what the people who encounter them in the course of pastoral work not to think the priests are as poorly educated in theological matters.

    Perhaps deacons should be focused on social work and administrative issues (as they were historically, and not just with the Lutherans), to free up the priests for more pastoral issues – as, well, the Acts of the Apostles says is their purpose.

    This might mean having to take Deacons on full-time, and giving them proper training (not just in theology, but also possibly an MBA, or Accounting degree, or even a dreaded MSW), which would cost money, and right now deacons are considered a very, very cheap priest substitute.

  24. Trisagion says:

    Charley, I don’t disagree that there should be something distinctive about diaconal service and ecclesiastical administration could certainly be part of the picture (it is in my own ministry – I run the legal, financial and property function for a mid-sized British diocese) but it must always be at the service of the Church. The problem with the social work dimension is that it often has the effect of supplanting the lay apostolate in this area. Secular affairs are the particular province of the laity (see Lumen Gentium 31).

    As for the sacramental ministry of deacons: your post seems to assume that deacons are extraordinary ministers of the various sacraments and sacramentals you describe. You should recall that deacons are the ordinary ministers of Baptism and of Holy
    Communion, for the solemnisation of Marriage and for the conducting of the Rites of Christian Funerals. It isn’t something I do when Father can’t or won’t do it, but rather something that I do when in fulfilment of the ministry assigned to me by my bishop.

    As for the standard of formation and education of deacons: my own experience is that it is incredibly varied. In my own diocese, we’ve used a number of different programmes and are increasingly using a programme offered by the Maryvale Institute, which seems to me to be the equal (having regard to the constraints of time) of British Seminary programmes. For the record, we have a higher proportion of deacons holding postgraduate qualifications in the sacred sciences than amongst our priests and a much greater hunger to continue both intellectual and spiritual formation. It may be a function of the younger age profile, but it is also notable that there appears to be a greater inclination to think with the Church amongst my fellow deacons than amongst the priests of the diocese.

  25. Fr. Basil says:

    \\But I would add that the Bishops could possibly introduce a “clerical dress” for deacons which is distinctive from what priests where (the same way, for example, bishops wear a chain when wearing a Roman collar).\\

    Bishops are not wearing a chain with the clerical collar. They are wearing a CROSS on a chain, which cross, for convenience’s sake, is tucked into the inside coat or shirt pocket.

    But, again, in the East, almost all priests can wear a pectoral cross. Bishops wear a panaghia, aka encolpion (pectoral icon), which was originally a pyx.

    I’ve seen a diaconal cross–that is a simple cross with a deacon’s stole over it. That sounds like an appropriate distinctive emblem to me, which can be worn with cassock, collar, or secular dress.

  26. I think that the particular law Fr. Z cites is very badly worded. Consider the implications of this phrase: “permanent deacons should resemble the lay faithful in…matters of lifestyle.”

    “Lifestyle” is a very vague term. Should deacons resemble the lay faithful in the way they handle some of the thornier moral questions about which we often hear that there is little difference between the Catholic population in the US and the rest of the population? Should only 30% of deacons go to Mass every Sunday, like the the lay faithful? Well, of course not, we’d say. Well, then, saying deacons should resemble the lay faithful in their lifestyle is a very badly phrased law, isn’t it. If more is meant, more should be said.

    As to the specific question of dress, the following long excerpt by a post on deacon.net, while dated as regards particular law, does point out that the jacket and clerical shirt that we think of as “clerical dress” was specifically intended to mimic, in a dignified and proper way, secular dress. It is, if you will, distinctive, but not particularly clerical, except for the collar.

    This, then, raises the question of what is clerical dress in the United States. If there are no norms emanating from the episcopal conference on clerical dress, might there still be other particular law on the matter?

    The question of clerical dress and address falls into two parts, liturgical and non-liturgical. First, there is the question of clerical dress during sacred functions. As canon 2 might suggest, liturgical law in general governs this area. Thus, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal indicates that whilst celebrating Mass a priest should wear an alb and chasuble and a deacon should, instead of the chasuble, wear the dalmatic.7 The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, by contrast, indicates that a priest should wear a cope over an alb or cassock and surplice and that a deacon should wear, instead of a cope, a dalmatic during such celebrations.8 For other sacraments and sacramentals a priest or deacon will wear a surplice and cassock along with a stole in the manner appropriate for his order as the rubrics direct.9

    Outside sacred celebrations for norms on clerical dress we should take our cue from canon 284 and look to particular (in this case national) canon law. For the United States there are decrees on the subject made in 1866 by the second plenary council of Baltimore. That council, legislating for the entire United States, decreed that “when at home or in church clerics wear a cassock, which is the dress proper to clerics.” Outdoors or whilst recreating or traveling clerics were to wear a black suit (decree 148). Priests were to take care to wear the surplice along with the cassock during all sacred functions (decree 149). The biretta, which individual bishops will have seen introduced into their dioceses, was to conform to the Roman model (decree 150), and so have four corners but only three horns.

    Decree 77 of the third plenary council of Baltimore, celebrated in 1884, re-enacted this legislation with respect to the wearing of the cassock and the black suit and then explained that the purpose of the legislation was “so that clerics might be distinguished from lay people.” The decree added the requirement that priests, whether at home or outdoors, whether within or outwith their diocese, wear the Roman collar. The fathers in Baltimore added that this dress was also to be worn by religious priests as well as secular priests when the former were not in their religious habit.

    This legislation remains today unrepealed. Canon 6 of the Code and its predecessor in the 1917 Code abrogated only universal and particular law contrary to its provisions. Thus, particular law which was praeter legem or secundam legem, outside or in accordance with universal law like these decrees of Baltimore, remains in effect. Since clerical dress and address are subjects remitted by universal law to particular law, it follows that these (unrepealed) norms of Baltimore on clerical dress remain in effect.

    This statement must be modified in one detail. In the legislation of both Baltimore councils the black clerical suit was to extend to the knee. In other words the council fathers were prescribing the frock coat or Prince Albert which was then in vogue in secular dress. This detail of the Baltimore decrees was long observed and as late as the 1950’s clerics could be found still adhering to this obligation. But today it is commonly held that custom has modified the Baltimore decrees to the extent that clerics may wear the sack coat and are not required to wear the Prince Albert coat legislated in the 1866 decree.10

    7 Articles 298-303.

    8 Article 255.

    9 Sacred congregation for divine worship, instruction, “Liturgicae instaurationes,” 62 AAS (1970) 62 article 8C.

    10 John Daniel Mary Barrett, A Comparative Study of the Council of Baltimore and the Code of Canon Law (Washington, 1932), pp. 47-49.

    by Mr. Duane L.C.M. Galles, appearing in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (August-September 1997)

  27. TNCath says:

    Indeed, a deacon is a deacon is a deacon, however, the permanent diaconate has created a lot of confusion over the years.

    That said, in our diocese permanent deacons wear these bland, short sleeved, gray clerical shirts with the tab collar whenever they are “on” as deacons in a non-liturgical setting. The shirts are a bit on the tacky side, but they do make a distinction between deacons and priests. Actually, they look a lot like protestant ministers. They also reminds me of the nuns who will not wear a religious habit or veil but will put on a gray suit and a pin and call that “distinctive.” In the 30+ years we have had them, I have seen only one permanent deacon perform a baptism in a cassock and surplice and stole.

    As for calling deacons “Deacon Smith,” (a la “Fireman Jones,” “Teacher Johnson), while I agree it’s weird and awkward, what else would we call them? While their proper title is “Reverend Mister,” we certainly wouldn’t call them “Reverend,” and calling them “Mister” seems to de-clericalize their status.

    I think the whole issue of clerical dress for permanent deacons represents the “fish nor fowl” (some would say “second class citizen”) status a permanent deacon has in the Church. While a deacon is a deacon is a deacon, with all this in mind as well as the apparent upsurge in vocations to the priesthood the last few years, I’m wondering how long the permanent diaconate will survive over time.

  28. Supertradmum says:

    I have never seen one of our many permanent deacons in clericals. I see very few priests in this diocese in their clericals.

  29. Trisagion… Couple of responses to your thoughtful posts.

    First, I should have specified outright that I was speaking of what I know about the USA, not anywhere else, though some things may be the same from national conference to national conference.

    Second, I wrote that deacons are not supposed to wear the clerics that a priest does (and as it turns out I cannot find anything on that except for the particular diocese I live in – but I did give the caveat did I not?), not that they are not to wear clerics at all. So, Brother, read again. :) Canon 284 of the CCL does say that clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb unless otherwise noted by their conferences. Canon 288 specifically exempts deacons from the requirements of 284 unless particular law says otherwise. So, for the Church as a whole, the norm is for deacons to not be bound by the law to dress in ecclesiastical garb.

    It would seem that transitional deacons are not bound to wear clerics either, as a deacon is a deacon is a deacon as a wise man recently said. However, if the local ordinary says he should, but the permanent deacons should not, well… It’s inconsistent and sends the wrong message about permanent deacons in my opinion, but it is the local ordinary’s and/or the national conferences’ option.

    Personally, I would prefer to wear the collar at any and all Church functions after ordination. At all other times, I will probably wear something that shows I am a deacon (such as the shirts with the deacon’s cross/stole for instance) because I believe it is good to show who you are. Sometimes, job or other circumstance make wearing a collar inappropriate due to the situation.

    In the USA the National Deacon Directory contains the particular law regarding deacons and states:

    89. The Code of Canon Law does not oblige permanent deacons
    to wear an ecclesiastical garb.96 Further, because they are prominent
    and active in secular professions and society, the United States
    Conference of Catholic Bishops specifies that permanent deacons
    should resemble the lay faithful in dress and matters of lifestyle.
    Each diocesan bishop should, however, determine and promulgate
    any exceptions to this law, as well as specify the appropriate clerical
    attire if it is to be worn.

    So again, the particular law in the USA prefers that deacons, who are not required to wear clerics anyway, dress as the people do unless the local ordinary says otherwise. In my diocese, deacons can wear the Roman collar with any clerical shirt except black. So, my statement above stands for my diocese alone. My first comment about the black shirt was wrong in that it only applies to my local diocese and I stand corrected there.

    My point here is not to argue, but I did want to correct your assumption that I said deacons are not allowed to dress in clerics at all. I didn’t say that at all.

    According tot he National Deacon Directory in the USA, the proper address for a deacon is Deacon X. Nothing in there about Deacon John vs. Deacon Jones. I forget where I have read it, but I also have seen Rev. referenced as proper. As this post is too long already, I await correction by others.

    As to the ontological issue, I don’t say that I subscribe to that idea. I am researching it as time allows so that I can refute the non-sacerdotal argument I have encountered of late. I agree that Holy Orders marks a man with, as the CCC states, an imprint (“character”) which cannot be removed. The question of the nature of that imprint is what is some dispute. This argument, raised by others as I clearly stated, is precisely about the sacerdotal aspects of priestly and episcopal ordinations and the fact that the deacon does not offer a sacrifice in the manner of a priest. CCC 1563 clearly states that character of the ordination of a priest enables him to act in the person of Christ. 1570 says something different about the diaconal ordination. It’s things like this that others are trying to use to minimize the deacon as a truly ordained person like a priest. Personally, I think it’s a load of bovine excrement. The reason I brought this point up is precisely because I believe it is the entry point some hope to use to open ordination to women as I described above. Also, I do not appreciate the backhanded way you imply that I don’t know what I am talking about or am not smart enough to know what terms like ontological mean and should therefore keep my mouth shut for my betters to speak instead. At least, that’s how it came off the screen at me.

    Overall, all of this goes hand in hand with the general confusion about deacons. I agree that deacons are not just socials workers who happen to read the Gospel and preach on some Sundays. That line of reasoning is poisonous to what it means to be ordained a deacon. Holy Orders absolutely changes a man and a deacon is no longer the same as he was. He has a role that straddles divide between the laity and the bishops. He isn’t a layman acting as a mini-priest, nor is he a just to serve the physical needs of the poor. All Christians are called to that really by our baptism, and no one needs Holy Orders to do it.

    We still have a long way to go to get the diaconate fully integrated into all aspects of the life of the Chuch properly I think. Partly because even many bishops don’t know what to do with deacons. The restored permanent diaconate is barely 40 years old, a mere blink of an eye in Church time. One day, hopefully in my lifetime, we will get it right.

  30. Steve Cavanaugh, I believe that the National Deacon Directory was published after what you cite and therefore would supercede all other rules regarding dress and address in the USA. Not sure what caveats there may be on that though.

  31. Deacons are clerics, so they can wear clerical dress.

    The Church said it, the Pope believes it, that settles it. :)

    Now, seminarians and deacons, they wear a different biretta than priests do — black with no pompom on top. So that’s a legitimate distinctive from priests. I could even see, for civvies, a modern-styled hat adaptation of this, like deacons wearing black caps the same way priests in the old days wore black hats with snappy brims. If permanent deacons were wearing long cassocks, the US bishops could easily grant them a distinctive colored sash (that didn’t step on any of the other established sash color combos), and that would end that problem.

  32. dcs says:

    I don’t think it is too terribly important that the clerical attire of deacons be distinguished from that of priests. After all, in the U.S. at least, many Protestant ministers wear clerics and Roman collars. On the other hand, the clerical attire of bishops is different from that of priests, so perhaps it does make sense that deacons’ attire be subtly different.

    Now, seminarians and deacons, they wear a different biretta than priests do — black with no pompom on top.

    Actually, they wear the same biretta and the biretta with a tab instead of a pom is a legitimate option for priests as well.

  33. dmwallace says:

    The problem for the bishops, it seems to me, is that deacons, when wearing clerics/cassock, they might appear to be priests. Why is that a problem? Bishops, when only wearing a clerical suit, look like ordinary priests, especially when they keep their pectoral cross in their inner breast pocket. People in-the-know might look for an episcopal ring, but otherwise priest and bishops look identical.

    A distinguishing mark for deacons, especially “permanent” deacons, is the wedding ring!

    If someone were to ask a seminarian in clerics or a permanent deacon, “Father, can you hear my confession?” or, “Father, can you bless this?”, this is a perfect time for evangelization and/or catechesis on the nature of the three-fold grades of Holy Orders.

    Forget not the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

    “In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of the apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a Church” (Letter to the Trallians).

  34. Supertradmum says:

    Deacons do not receive the Sacrament of Priestly Ordination. Therefore, they do not receive the indelible mark of the priesthood,which seems in Tradition to reflect the capability of Instituting the Eucharist and being an alter Christus, which the deacon is not.

    The Ordination of a Deacon does not change the essence of the man as does the Ordination of the Priest. The long tradition of the Church has been that the essence of a man changes in Holy Orders. It is the Catholic liberals who want to do away with what they call the “cultic priesthood”, which is why the Anglicans are committing sacred suicide. They have reject that “cult” of the male as the only one in persona Christ. the idea of “once a priest, always a priest” helps us in the daily acceptance of sinners who are priests, like the alcholic priest.

    There is no such distinction for deacons, nor should there be. As to the clerical dress, I think that the office of deacon, being an ordained one, should be seen by the world as a separate sign, as the deacon is no longer “lay”. If one wants to make a loose analogy, one can look at monasteries, where there are “brothers” and “priests”. Both wear the habit and seem to be doing some of the same things, but the brother has not been ordained a priest. The brother has a role in the community and wears the habit as part of his vocation. I think Vatican II did away with the role of the “lay brother”, who was neither a monk nor a priest. The distinction between choir monk and lay brother was blurred anyway, but all wore the habit and still do.

    The same principle of dress, obviously, can apply to deacons, who are hierarchically less than priests.

  35. Supertradmum says:

    sorry for the typos, I am living in the dark here in order not to open my thermal curtains, as it is so cold….

  36. Fr Martin Fox says:

    The term used in church law is “clerical” attire–not episcopal v. priestly v. diaconal v. acolytal v. lectoral attire, etc.

    A deacon is a cleric. He has received the sacrament of holy orders imparting indelible, ontological change in him.

    All clerics are bound, spiritually and hence canonically, to the bishop, who possesses the fullness of holy orders and the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Deacons and priests exercise their sacramental role in the Church only in union with the bishop. Hence, in the sacred liturgy, there is a completeness when the bishop is physically present; he is morally and in a sense, spiritually, present in all liturgies in his jurisdiction because the priest and deacon must act in obedience to, and concert with, him, and the bishop is always remembered in the Mass.

    So the clerical state is a reality belonging to all clerics, and the Church assigns it specific attire, with practical considerations. My point being, a deacon is not “encroaching” or intruding or doing anything wrong when he wears clerical attire.

    As far as confusion: I think this is a little silly. Seminarians–even without wearing clerical attire–are frequently “confused” with priests–i.e., they get called “father,” especially when they are performing a particular (legitimate) role in the Mass or in various sorts of apostolate. But in reality, people know there’s a difference, but they don’t always know how to express it–or they don’t care. They know seminarians are on the way to the priesthood, and they honor it by calling them “father” or “junior priest” or whatever, but they rarely will ask a seminarian to do what they know priests do. In the event someone asks a seminarian–or a deacon–to do what only a priest can do, it’s a simple matter to explain. Most people are not so delicate that they can’t handle such an explanation.

    In a sense, the “confusion” between a deacon and a priest is simply an expression of the closeness between the two dimensions of holy orders. It’s like having two brothers, who look alike, being confused for each other. It’s something you deal with, but it’s hardly a crisis. When a deacon starts attempting to hear confessions, do anointings or offering Mass, then it’s a crisis and we already know how to deal with that.

    I think the failure to recognize deacons as possessing holy orders is a far more significant problem than the supposed problem of seeing several men dressed alike, and not–immediately, without asking any questions–knowing which is a bishop, which is a priest, which is a deacon, and which is a seminarian (and, for good measure, which might be a Protestant minister wearing clerical attire). Again, I don’t see a crisis; walk up to the group of men and ask, “good afternoon Fathers, I don’t know any of you”…and upon introductions, all is resolved. How is this a crisis?

  37. Chas777 says:

    I would like to see permanent deacons able to wear ecclesial garb while in secular society, as they are in fact, as ordained clergy, set apart from the rest of the world. There are cases where it is not appropriate, such as participating in sports events, grilling at the picnic, etc., that might not be appropriate. That being said, I do know a group of sisters that regularly play basketball in their habits…… :)

    However, in my own profession, I would probably wear my cassock to wear almost every day, once I were ordained to the permanent diaconate (should the Bishop of course find me worthy).

    It would also be a duty and responsibility to ensure that someone did not mistake a deacon for a priest by simply informing an inquirer that the deacon is not a priest. Were I to be ordained a deacon, and someone were to come to me, and say “Father, would you hear my confession?”, I would of course tell them that I was not a priest, but offer to direct them to where they could find one. While likely walking down the street a priest does not get many opportunities to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I am certain that the wearing of clerical garb would offer the clergy an opportunity to minister to someone.

    I will continue to pray that as my own discernment continues, movement is made toward permanent deacons being able to witness their clerical state in this fashion, however, I will be obedient to my Bishop and humbly follow his directives.

  38. AndyMo says:

    The Ordination of a Deacon does not change the essence of the man as does the Ordination of the Priest.

    Perhaps not in the same manner that priestly ordination changes a man, but do not all sacraments provide some change?

    The long tradition of the Church has been that the essence of a man changes in Holy Orders.

    What sacrament do the deacons receive, then?

  39. Trisagion says:

    Supertradmum, there is no such a thing as the Sacrament of Priestly Ordination, there is onltmy one Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is this that imparts an indelible mark (or so St Thomas, the Council of Trent, the Servant of God Pope Pius XII & the Catechism teach. The indelible mark received by those who are
    ordained deacon is different from that
    received by those ordained priest and that
    received by those ordained bishop is arguably
    different again. Each effects an ontological change: each changes forever in respect of each recipient the answer to the question ‘what is this man?’. If that ain’t an ontological change, I don’t know what one is.

  40. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Supertradmum said:

    “Deacons do not receive the Sacrament of Priestly Ordination. Therefore, they do not receive the indelible mark of the priesthood,which seems in Tradition to reflect the capability of Instituting the Eucharist and being an alter Christus, which the deacon is not. ”

    There is no such sacrament “of Priestly Ordination” in the Catholic Church. There is a sacrament of holy orders–which deacons certainly receive. And it does indeed impart an “indelible mark” upon the deacon.

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ’s office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.74

    Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way.55 The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (“character”) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the “deacon” or servant of all.56 Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.57

    Now, I am not denying there is not a difference between the effects of each degree of the sacrament of holy orders; nor am I unaware that it’s confusing to explain. But there are not different sacraments of holy orders–there is but one sacrament, and a deacon receives it.

    Once again, I aver that the failure to recognize the dignity and nature of the sacrament of holy orders–present in a deacon–is a far more serious problem than being briefly confused over whether that fellow dressed in clerics might not be a priest.

  41. dominic1955 says:

    It seems to me that permanent deacons do not wear clerical attire because a) many priests don’t, b) they are not treated/seen as clerics even by their bishops c) they do not often have much of a clerical identity, i.e. they don’t see themselves as clerics.

    The issue of confusion is just silly. Are people really that stupid (well…) that they won’t be able to figure out that a deacon isn’t a priest? Also, since it has been the tradition that all clerics (minor and major up to priests) wore the same basic thing (aside from religious habits et al.) there doesn’t need to be a distinction made. If you have doubts, go ask the guy.

    Once upon a time when I was a seminarian, I always thought it odd that we laymen could dress to the 9s in clerical attire while real clerics (permanent deacons) couldn’t or had to wear something oddly distinctive (different colored shirt, different kind of collar). Of course, the same could be said of the priests but that was their choice.

  42. edm says:

    The pompom on birettas was a French practice that has become universal. There are birettas with and without in all ranks, according to the taste of the wearer, unless he is bound to follow the vesture directives of an order or institute, etc. However, as far as I know, the birettas of cardinals are always sans pompoms (would a single one of those fluffy things be known as a pom? )

  43. James Joseph says:

    I’ve seen variety of cuts to the collar. How many different licit collars are there?

  44. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    In the Byzantine Church all clerics from reader to bishop are to wear the cassock which is the garment which sets them aside from the laity. Deacons, Priests, Bishops, and non-clerical fully professed monks, as well as fully professed monks in holy orders all where the rason over the cassock which designates them as a Father. All men besides bishops, even fully professed monks not in holy orders are addressed as Father. Father is a term used for monk (clerical or non-clerical), deacon, and priest. Minor clerics are referred to as Reader Joseph, or Subdeacon Mark, but only in formal situations. Most parishes refer to those in minor orders by their first name only in general conversation. This makes since because who is going to go around and say Priest Mark, Subdeacon John, etc. can I speak with you? The west could maybe learn something from the east in this regard.

  45. edm says:

    The title of “Father” was not universal in the West. Often it was only for priests who were also members of a religious order.
    For example, in Spain diocesan priests are still often called “don —(first name)”, the same as any adult male. In Latin America the use of “Padre” has become more universal and has been carried back from the former colonies and put into use in some places in modern Spain.
    In pre-Reformation England priests who were not members of religious communities were addressed as “Mister”, “Father” being reserved for religious only.

  46. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you all for the somewhat clarification above. I do know that there is only one Sacrament, but I did not think that a deacon was “a deacon forever” as a priest is. I am still confused about the indelible mark, which I had been taught, only belonged to the soul of the priest. If, indeed, the essence of the man who is the deacon is changed as well, this should be clarified theologically and, indeed, the deacon should wear clericals as a sign of contradiction in the world for this sign. I had not read CCC 1570 in that light before and I am grateful for the correction . However, I cannot understand the difference in the priestly change and that of the deacon. I think I was trying to make the great distinction between the power to Consecrate the Eucharist and the Sacramental graces of the deacon. There has to be a difference. If the Sacrament is the same, where is the difference? Anyone, please explain. I have been to ordinations of priests and temporary deacons, but have not witnessed the ordination (correct word?) of a permanent deacon, so I have not heard the difference. Obviously, the deacon is not “alter Christus”, as he does not preside over the Sacrifice of the Mass.

  47. Supertradmum says:

    No offense to our many local deacons, but perhaps this distinction would be more obvious if they lived a life more in keeping with the life received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is hard to respect the office when those I have known and with whom I have worked act like ordinary laymen, going gambling, dancing, believing in heretical positions-including women priests, acceptance of homosexuality as not a sin or disorder, contraception, etc. which I have had to correct at RCIA meetings, and generally lacking in dignity of their calling. If there is an indelible mark, should not this grace be obvious to those of us who rely on good leadership in the Church? In the teaching of the Church, the” Ex opere operato” helps us with priests who live less than spiritual lives. Does this apply to deacons as well by extension? Perhaps the clerical dress would help.

  48. Andy Milam says:


    This line of reasoning by the “libby dibby’s” that permanent deacons should somehow be separated from their brother transitional deacons is utterly stupid. As Fr. Z. says, a deacon is a deacon is a deacon. If the deacon is a cleric, then STANDARD clerical clothes should be available to him. It is a great witness to vocations. This idea of gray shirts, distinctive embroidery, lay clothes is absurd. The deacon is a cleric and should simply dress as one.

    If a transitional deacon is able to wear “blacks” and a cassock, then so should a permanent deacon. Really what this boils down to is clericalism (in the negative sense). The “libby dibby’s” are so afraid that there will be a sense of religion promoted and not secular humanism, that they are attacking those men who have to actually bridge both worlds.

    My prayer as one of the faithful…be strong, don’t give in to peer pressure. Wear what is appropriate to your state in life. You are ordained a deacon. When you are functioning as a deacon, you should dress as a deacon. When you think that it would be a good witness, you should dress as a deacon. You are a cleric. You should act like one. “Libby dibby’s” be damned.

  49. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    In seminary I was taught that an indelible mark is placed upon the deacon, priest, and bishop at ordination in order to perform the sacramental functions specific to their rank. The important factor is SPECIFIC TO HIS RANK. This theology goes back centuries and is something all Catholics must accept. Thus, the Diaconate in Christ is the first step in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. While some deacons may gamble and teach aspects of moral theology contrary to the Magisterium, so do some priests. The personal life of the priest or deacon does not invalidate the sacraments they perform, however, they will answer to God one day for all their deeds, words, and actions (See the Donatist heresy for more information on the moral standing of the cleric in relation to his sacramental function).

  50. FrFenton says:

    I think it must be recalled as well that the “clerical collar” was associated not with clerical state (tonsure) but with Subdiaconate and its promise of perfect and perpetual continence. It was decided by the US Bishops at the time of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate that, those not exercising perfect and perpetual continence would not wear the collar associated with that practice. A Deacon is a Deacon is a Deacon, but some are held to different standards. Is it wrong that a Bishop decide that the standard of dress should coincide with promises made?

  51. Tim Ferguson says:

    Fr. Fenton, I think the further question is – are they held to different standards? Canon 277 of the Latin Code states that “clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” There is no indication in the law that non-celibate clerics (whether the be permanent deacons or married former Anglican or Protestant divines) are exempted from this norm. Fr. John Boyle explains this well on his blog: http://caritasveritas.blogspot.com/2010/11/permanent-deacons-are-obliged-obliged.html

  52. Trisagion says:

    Fr Fenton, the obligation to perpetual perfect continence is binding on clerics (canon 277) and there doesn’t appear to be any exemption for married permanent deacons.

  53. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Canon 5 of the Apostles states: “No bishop, priest, or deacon, shall divorce his own wife under pretext of reverence. If he divorces her, let him be excommunicated; and if he persists in so doing, let him be deposed.” See also Canons XIII, XLVIII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod, Canon IV of Gangra, Canons IV and XXXIII of Carthage.

    Trisagion, are you saying married deacons cannot have lawful intercourse with their wives anf function as clerics?

  54. Geoffrey says:

    “However, I cannot understand the difference in the priestly change and that of the deacon.”

    I think it would be just like when comparing the difference between a priest and a bishop.

    “…are you saying married deacons cannot have lawful intercourse with their wives and function as clerics?”

    I’ve heard this debated before. It would appear that the Church has not said anything about this in recent times. I had always assumed that it worked just as in the Eastern Rites with priests: a married man can become a deacon, but an unmarried deacon cannot marry. I am no expert, but I would assume that married priests in the East continue to have relations with their spouse after ordination.

    Fascinating discussion!

  55. Dear Subdeacon Joseph,

    Mr. Ferguson’s link is very good. Essentially, yes the contention is that Latin rite clerics must remain continent, even if married. Of course, this does not apply to clerics of Eastern Churches as they are governed by a different code of canon law.

  56. KAS says:

    I think our parish priests know exactly what to do with deacons–they put them to work for as many hours as they can manage! At least one was on the RCIA team when I last participated. He was good.

  57. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Would not the Latin Rite Church abide by Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council since it accepts it? The canon mandates that married priests (rare in the Latin Rite), married deacons, and married subdeacons (suppressed in the Latin Rite) are permitted to have lawful intercourse with their wives and function as clerics.

  58. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Supertradmum says:

    No offense to our many local deacons, but perhaps this distinction would be more obvious if they lived a life more in keeping with the life received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is hard to respect the office when those I have known and with whom I have worked act like ordinary laymen, going gambling, dancing, believing in heretical positions-including women priests, acceptance of homosexuality as not a sin or disorder, contraception, etc. which I have had to correct at RCIA meetings, and generally lacking in dignity of their calling. If there is an indelible mark, should not this grace be obvious to those of us who rely on good leadership in the Church? In the teaching of the Church, the” Ex opere operato” helps us with priests who live less than spiritual lives. Does this apply to deacons as well by extension? Perhaps the clerical dress would help.


    The first part of your response is unworthy of you. The flaws you’ve seen in some deacons–not reflecting Church teaching–can happen with anyone, including bishops and priests, and is no more relevant as to the sacramental character of the deacons in question, than in any other situation. Does the bad of a layperson call into question his or her baptism?

    Second, gambling is not something intrinsically wrong, and I don’t see why a cleric should be expected not to gamble. Obviously there are wrong times and places, and problems of excess; but if it’s so terrible, then laity shouldn’t partake any more than clergy. I think a celibate clergy or religious dancing is a bit odd–so I no longer dance although I would enjoy doing so–but I see no scandal in a married man dancing with his wife; and deacons can be married and as married persons, have the rights and responsibilities normal to the married state.

    I’m not sure that grace is always obvious. Hence the value of exterior signs such as clerical attire, as you observe. And, yes, ex opero opere applies in the sacrament of holy orders for any who receive it. It is the same sacrament. It is similar to, but not the same as, the relationship between baptism and confirmation. We often say we receive the Holy Spirit in confirmation, but of course we’ve already received the Holy Spirit in baptism. Yet in confirmation we receive…”more” of the Spirit? How is that possible? Hard to explain.

    The sacrament of holy orders isn’t the same–because while baptism and confirmation are two distinct sacraments (although they have been termed a “double sacrament”–because they are so closely related), there is but one–only one–sacrament of holy orders.

    Yet, as a deacon and a priest (I remain a deacon after being ordained a priest), I was ordained twice. I received the sacrament when ordained a deacon. I received a “fuller” dimension of the sacrament in being ordained a priest. Unless I am ordained a bishop (let it not be so), I will never receive the sacrament to its fullest. Hard to explain; yet true: as a priest, I lack any power to ordain, as a bishop has; and my administration of the sacraments of confirmation and reconciliation, except in extreme circumstances, is only valid with faculties from my bishop. My priesthood is complete in union with the bishop, who has the fullness of holy orders.

  59. I’m no canon lawyer, but I would guess that the particular discipline that you reference has been altered by subsequent law, namely the 1983 code of canon law.

  60. Subdeacon Joseph says:


    As a married Byzantine Rite priest I am not familiar with modern Roman Canon Law. That being said, the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils has universally upheld the honor and dignity of the married clerical state, moreover, the Church would excommunicate and depose a married cleric who “put his wife away” out of reverence because the Apostles affirmed the sanctity of married clergy from the beginning of the Church. In no way am I against celibacy because the Byzantine Rite has a profound monastic tradition which exists to this day. That being said, I do not understand why lawful intercourse between a cleric and his wife in the Latin Rite makes him somehow unworthy of exercising his sacramental functions. All the rites of the Catholic Church allow for married clerics to function in dignity except for the Latin Rite apparently.

  61. Father Joseph,

    The piece linked above does a very good job detailing why some make the case that clerics of the roman church are bound to continence. Now, as to why the law is written that way, I don’t really know, but the fact is the law does seem to say that.

  62. Supertradmum says:

    Subdeacon Joseph,

    Thank you for your clarification. What has me puzzled is that each Sacrament of the Church is so specific regarding ontology and grace. There are, for example, no “degrees” of marriage. As to the differences, I have tried to put this in some framework, especially after the change in the Rite of Ordination. When I attended in Rome the ordination of six bishops, there language was obviously not the same as that when these men were ordained priests. In fact, am I not correct in stating that the bishops used to be “consecrated” rather than ordained? I am familiar with the Donatist problem, but thanks for bringing it up, as it does tie into this discussion. I shall study this distinction in rank, which did not come up in my sacrament class, more carefully. Thanks to all for the points on this. Perhaps we should go back to the old words in the old rite of Ordination.

  63. cothrige says:

    Mr. Ferguson link’s is very interesting, but Canon 277 which is quoted there confuses me, given what is made of it later in the post. It says “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy…” What about that last part? It sounds to me like it applies to “Clerics” in this sentence just as “perfect and perpetual continence” does. If permanent deacons are not in some way exempted from this canon, as the author at that blog argues, wouldn’t they in turn have to be celibate?

  64. Supertradmum says:

    It is strange, but I was looking at the blog recommended by Mr. Ferguson for something else early this morning. It is a good blog. Again, I wonder if this continence issue will be addressed. I find this comment very interesting.

    “If, however, a change in the traditional Western discipline of clerical continence for those in major orders was not intended and therefore, at best, the current situation of non-continence among married permanent deacons is markedly anomalous, then that fact should be admitted and forthrightly addressed. In this last case, one wherein a practice must be brought into conformity with law, the example of King Josiah upon rediscovering the forgotten Law (2 Kings 22-23) might be instructive.”

    This entire discussion today has been excellent and informative.

  65. robtbrown says:

    If I might clarify a few things:

    First, according to the Council of Trent (Session 23), there is one Sacrament of Order (or Holy Orders), with 7 Orders (or grades) within it. Further, Trent says that a character (indelible spiritual mark) is imprinted with sacred ordination. It makes no distinction between the 7 grades–there is no notion that a character is not imprinted with the subdiaconate and minor orders.

    Second, it is not really correct to say that the difference between deacon and priest is the same as between priest and bishop. By virtue of the indelible mark, the priest has the power to grant absolution and consecrate the Eucharist, the bishop has the power to ordain priests. These are distinctly supernatural powers.

    By virtue of his ordination, the deacon has no such power. He has office.

  66. Andy Milam says:


    Great call. I think that one must really understand that ANYONE in orders is bound to continence. Perhaps a better explanation can be given, by you (or perhaps someone who can type in red) as to how this is envisioned with regard permanent deacons, as opposed to traditional celebate clergy.

  67. Supertradmum says:


    This is closer to what I was hoping to hear. How does the Church theologically explain the difference now that the minor orders have been dropped? Is it a question of the indelible mark being given at the deaconate level and then again, in a different way, at the level of priesthood? You are pointing out the very distinctions I want to see clarified. At the giving of the office of deacon, as explained by those above, and the CCC, there must be some giving of the indelible mark at that level of deacon. But, obviously, it is not the same as that of priest, the alter Christus, the one who grants absolution and consecrates the Eucharist. Are you stating that the mark is separate from those powers? Thanks for being patient on this important point.

  68. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Married clergy do practice continence/abstinence on the eve before celebrating the sacrifice, on fast days, and during the four Lenten seasons of the Byzantine Church.

    Having just read the article it is in direct conflict with Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Council. To say that clerical continence was the norm from Apostolic times is also in direct conflict with Canon 5 of the Apostles. The New Code of Roman Canon Law may state that all married deacons are bound to continence, but, the early Church in its Canon Law said the opposite. It seems the author needs to look to what the ancient laws actually say, and accept them at face value. His argument that married clergy were suspended if they had children in the early Church is in direct conflict with the ancient canons cited above which defend the dignity of married clergy. In my opinion he needs to do his homework better.

  69. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Cothrige asked about Canon 277 and its reference to clerical celibacy and asks:

    “If permanent deacons are not in some way exempted from this canon, as the author at that blog argues, wouldn’t they in turn have to be celibate?”

    I understood that deacons – permanent or transistional – may not marry, and suppose that married permanent deacons are expected (at least in principle) to practice continence (I know that this is not universally respected).

    Is that not the case?

  70. catholicmidwest says:

    The problem is that many people, myself included, have no idea what a deacon is for. Seriously. I have no idea what they do. I don’t know why we have them and can’t figure out what we need them for.

    Moreover, they can’t say mass, which is where 90% of the church’s dealings with most people occur. I mean think about it, many people don’t go to daily mass. They come once on the weekend for about an hour and they don’t see anyone from the church the whole rest of the week, including the deacon, and for that one hour, the deacon can’t help them–he can’t say mass.

  71. cothrige says:

    (X)MCCLXIII says:

    I understood that deacons – permanent or transistional – may not marry, and suppose that married permanent deacons are expected (at least in principle) to practice continence (I know that this is not universally respected).

    Is that not the case?

    Well, I don’t know, as the canon requires celibacy for clerics just as it does continence. There are no qualifications offered. Clerics are to be continent and therefore also celibate. If “clerics” in the first sentence of that canon includes permanent deacons then they would not be able to be married at all, and if they can then it would appear the canon must somehow not apply to them. That is how it seems to read to me anyway.

  72. catholicmidwest says:

    It’s generally not a problem around home determining who’s a priest, who’s a deacon and who’s a seminarian, and that’s a good thing because the dress doesn’t help a bit. Half the time, the clothes alone wouldn’t even be able to help you tell the difference between a priest and a Methodist minister, if you didn’t already know who was who.

    When away from home, I always ask before assuming, if I need to talk to a cleric. It’s all very confusing.

  73. Subdeacon Joseph says:


    Deacons originally were the assistant of the bishop in the early days of the Church at the Mass and other liturgical functions. The presbyters really had nothing to do because the bishop and deacon performed most of the liturgical functions at a pontifical mass. As the Church grew and not every parish could have a bishop they assigned a presbyter who functioned in place of the bishop, and who was assisted by the deacon.

    The deacon would also take the Eucharist to the sick, assisted by the subdeacons because in the early local Roman Church because the deacons in its diocese were limited to seven. Thus the subdiaconate was created to assist the deacons in this regard. Seven deacons could not handle the work needed in that diocese.

    Look to the function of the deacon and subdeacon in the TLM. They serve the traditional Mass in a profound way that allows the mystery of divine worship to manifests itself in time and space. Deacons, in a way, came before the priesthood as we understand it today.

  74. catholicmidwest says:

    I still don’t know why we have them NOW.

  75. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    To bring the Church back into line with apostolic tradition. To assist the often overworked priest. To have deacons do liturgically what is designated to their office in the Mass. While a priest does not need a deacon to serve mass, having a deacon to serve his proper role in the Mass is of great benefit to the priest. I know because I am a priest and I do not have a deacon. When I am blessed to have one on occasions it frees me up to concentrate more on the prayers while deacon does his petitions, etc.

  76. catholicmidwest says:

    Subdeacon Joseph,

    OK, now I’m really confused. I look at your name “Subdeacon Joseph” but yet you say you are a priest and you don’t have a deacon.

  77. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Yes I am a priest. When I began following this site I was a subdeacon. The parish I serve does not, nor have they ever had, a deacon.

  78. catholicmidwest says:

    Ah, so you are a priest NOW and you simply didn’t change your user name. Okay, that’s better, I understand now.

  79. catholicmidwest says:

    Subdeacon Joseph,

    We don’t have very many deacons here either, but the ones we have don’t get used in the liturgy much anyway, except on holidays.

  80. Diakonia says:

    Supertradmum – Thou painteth with a very broad brush my friend! You stated: “No offense to our many local deacons, but perhaps this distinction would be more obvious if they lived a life more in keeping with the life received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is hard to respect the office when those I have known and with whom I have worked act like ordinary laymen, going gambling, dancing, believing in heretical positions-including women priests, acceptance of homosexuality as not a sin or disorder, contraception, etc. which I have had to correct at RCIA meetings, and generally lacking in dignity of their calling.” WOW! How many Deacons have been accused of pedophilia? You never heard of priests who gamble or drink excessively? Not sure what your hang-up is about dancing, but if your Deacons are out there engaging in liturgical dance, then I agree with you my brother! Ha! I wish I had a nickel for every time I wish I could get up after the priest’s homily to give the TRUE teaching of Holy Mother Church! Just today I preached about abortion, contraception and passive euthanasia, not just to teach the faithful daily communicants (preaching to the choir?), but to make these issues very clear in the presence of our extremely liberal, progressive elderly priest. Ever heard of (Fr.) Richard P. McBrien of Notre Dame? He claims (among a host of other liberal mantras) that there is no benefit to Eucharistic Adoration? Fr. Pfleger’s in favor of women’s ordination and homosexuality- heard of him? In fact, here’s a whole slew of them for you to peruse: http://americanpapist.com/labels/renegade%20priests.html. A bit of reading of the National Directory for the Formation of Permanent Deacons will help you with your considerable misunderstandings about “permanent” Deacons. Try here: http://www.nccbuscc.org/deacon/DeaconDirectory.pdf. A good dose of Sacramental Theology, especially with regard to the one Sacrament of Holy Orders, will serve you well also. I highly recommend: The Sacramental Mystery by Paul Haffner. (You can’t go wrong with any of Fr. Haffner’s books!) Thanks for letting me chime in my friend!

  81. Tim Ferguson says:

    One has to read a number of canons together to come to an understanding of things – there are few questions that are answered by one canon alone, which is why I suggested that people follow the link to Fr. Boyle’s blog, who explains the matter better than I could.

    But, in short. c. 277 obliges Latin clerics (since this is the Latin code) to continence (abstinence from sexual activity), and states that they are therefore bound to celibacy (the state of being unmarried). Canon 1042 allows “a man who has a wife” to be admitted to the permanent diaconate – thus, for him, the celibacy requirement of c. 277 is dispensed. Similarly, when married former Anglican priests are ordained, they are dispensed from the obligation of celibacy. In neither case is any mention made of dispensing them from the obligation to observe perfect and perpetual continence – the dispensation simply references marriage and celibacy, not continence.

    For this reason, c. 1031 requires that a diaconal candidate, who is married, be at least 35 (implying that the childbearing years for the couple have passed, and therefore maintaining continence is not an undue burden) AND that his wife consent to his ordination (since his entry into a life demanding continence will obviously affect her and her exercise of her marital rights). C. 1051 requires a signed testimonial from the wife of the candidate before going ahead with the ordination, repeating and clarifying this issue.

  82. catholicmidwest says:

    I’m not sure that’s the general impression out there, even among deacons & their wives. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think so.

  83. Tim Ferguson says:

    As to Andy Milam’s question, I think that marital continence is not as rare of a thing as people make it out to be. Many couples, especially as they age, see less need for genital activity. Not all, mind you, and there is nothing wrong for a married couple to express their love in the matrimonial embrace. For some it can be too great of a sacrifice – and the men in those marriages should not consider the diaconal state. But if it is acceptable to both parties, they can agree to surrender their matrimonial rights in order for the man to enter the diaconate and serve as a cleric.

    The Church has long held up the examples of married couples who, either from the beginning, or after a period of time, surrender their matrimonial rights as a sacrifice to God. All married couples are encouraged to do so from time to time. This is not about thinking of sex as dirty, nor is it some withdrawal from the recent papal teachings on the theology of the body, or the unitive aspect of matrimonial sex. It is an understanding that the clerical state, of its very nature, requires an element of sacrifice, and the clearest and most obvious form of sacrifice is the sacrifice of that intimate embrace of husband and wife.

  84. Tim Ferguson says:

    catholicmidwest – again, I’d invite people to read Fr. Boyle’s blog post on the topic. I realize it’s not a widespread understanding, but it’s clearly there in the law. The fact that a generation or so of deacons, bishops and deacon formators have ignorantly or willfully failed to observe it doesn’t invalidate the law.

  85. catholicmidwest says:

    Not arguing with you, Tim. I understand.

    This helps me to understand deacons a little bit more too. It’s not just a “cheap” way to get ordained. Rather the couple has given something up in order to serve. To be a deacon is not just to occupy one more step in the intricate menagerie of “lay ministries.” Grrrrr.

  86. frankinnola says:

    What does a Deacon do? In summary: Word, altar and charity, which are intertwined. there are several links posted that explain in detail what we do.

    I will vest in alb, cincture, stole and the dalmatic at any mass I serve. If I am functioning as an M.C. at Easter Vigil, Holy Thursday or Midnight mass then I will wear cassock, surplice and Roman collar. I will proclaim the Gospel and if allowed by the Priest/Bishop to then preach a homily. I will assist as the GIRM directs and make every effort that the mass proceeds without distraction and not take away from why we are there.

    After my last mass on Sunday, I will bring the Blessed Sacrament to a few of the home bound and then spend about 2 hours at a local small hospital ministering to the patients and their family (Catholic and non-Catholic). Before I go into the hospital I will say the prayer of St Francis – puts things in proper prospective. While there what does a Deacon do while at a hospital? Listen, pray, bless and encourage. My worn Pastoral Care of the Sick has sticky notes on the appropriate sections for the possible situations, and special short prayers for when needed.

    Then during the week, it will be baptism and wedding prep as needed.

    My brother deacons in the city will be visiting ships in port, at the other hospitals in the city, ministering at the prisons, homeless shelters and half way houses. Are we social workers? Nope, we are Deacons because we bring the Word with us!

    My attire is usually a suit jacket that has a Deacon pin on it and my shirt has the same embroidered by my wife but no Roman collar since we are not allowed. When out ministering, I think it would help if all clergy are dressed in collar, IMHO.

    A Deacon has to balance family, work and ministry. How? By the grace of God and spending time in prayer. If a Deacon, Priest or Bishop omits prayer then I think they risk much. The Liturgy of the Hours is good for all. (Hint get the 4 volume set)

    The Lord Peace and Grace to all.

  87. cothrige says:

    Mr. Ferguson,

    I did read the blog post you linked and found it quite fascinating, but it didn’t answer all the relevant questions. Consider that much is made in that post that permanent deacons are explicitly exempted from several canons, i.e. 284, 285 (§§3), 286, and so on, and so the conspicuous absence of 277 is taken to be very telling. And yet we know that permanent deacons must in fact be exempted from at least part of 277, that being celibacy, as you have conceded. And so I wonder how telling that absence really is. How do we in fact know that they are not exempted from all of Canon 277 §1, especially given the relationship between continence and celibacy given there. Continence, in that canon, is the reason for the celibacy, and so one can wonder if exemption from celibacy doesn’t in fact mean that there is no reason for it, i.e. no obligation for perfect continence. Please notice that I am not saying this is so, but only wonder because I see reason for some confusion or doubt regarding the position stated on the blog.

  88. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Well if deacons live in perfect continence with their wives they can be elevated to the priesthood in the Latin Rite, because, they have put their lawful and sacramental kentoic mystery of matrimony behind them. Thus all deacon in the Latin Rite could really function as priests. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, look to how the early Church defended the married clergy. Most importantly read how the MONK St. Paphanutius defended the dignity of married clergy at the council of Nicea and turned the tide.

  89. catholicmidwest says:

    No, because they are married. They are not celibate, which means specifically unmarried. It doesn’t mean they might as well not be married or something like that which would only be a modern interpretation and a very bankrupt one at that.

  90. catholicmidwest says:

    priests, bishops & cardinals = celibate AND continent
    deacons = continent but not celibate if married before ordained

  91. Trisagion says:

    Cothrige, the exemption from the obligation to celibacy at ordination to the diaconate of those ‘legitimately destined for the permanent diaconate’ is given in canon 1042.1. Note that a single or widowed deacon cannot marry – although dispensations are sometimes given for serious pastoral reasons (what Subdeacon Joseph would call oeconomia). Accordingly, it is a sound canonical assumption that permanent deacons are bound by canon 277 except where explicitly released from them by the code. This issue is controversial, not because their has been much canonical discussion about it until recently, but because the practice in most countries where there are significant numbers of permanent deacons does not reflect the norms if the law. I am not, for example, of any programme for the formation of permanent deacons that reflects upon this issue.

  92. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Fr. Z.,

    Since from 2002-2007 I served as Executive Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for the Diaconate (in the restructuring of the Conference in January 2008, this secretariat was absorbed into the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocatons), perhaps I can shed a little background light on this issue.

    The US Bishops worked on the 2004 National Directory since 1996. The text of the Directory was debated by the full body of US bishops twice, and it was sent to the Holy See for recognitio. It was the desire of the US bishops to have consistency in the matter of address of deacons. The draft directed “Rev. Mr.” for formal address, and “Deacon” for informal address, exactly the same usage found for so-called “transitional” deacons. However, the Holy See responded with 222 “observationes” on that draft, including a statement (which is included in a footnote in the National Directory) that “Reverened Mister” is not appropriate for someone not destined for eventual ordination as a presbyter! (Their concern linked “reverend” with presbyterate.) Furthermore, it was this “observation” that concluded that “Deacon” was “always appropriate.” So, over the objections of the US bishops, this issue was determined by Rome. That’s why the Directory says what it says. (Somewhat ironically, when I have received correspondence from the Holy See, it has always been address to “Reverend Mr. (or, Reverend Doctor)” and my name.)

    The bottom line on clerical dress and deacons is that the US bishops wish this to be determined by each diocesan bishop. During the drafting process of the Directory, it was suggested that this issue might be resolved on a regional basis, but this was rejected by the full body of bishops. They prefer that each diocesan bishop make his own pastoral decision. My own diocese has a wonderful written policy which states, “If, in the professional judgment of the deacon, the wearing of clerical attire will enhance his ministry, he may do so.”

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  93. catholicmidwest says:

    I certainly think they should stop ordaining them until the norms are worked out, settled, made specific to the candidates and their wives, and made public. Otherwise, they are asking for trouble.

  94. Deacon Bill says:

    PS to my last post:

    During the discussions by the US bishops on the question of how to address (permanent) deacons, considerable attention was given to the Eastern practice of “Reverend Deacon” or “Father Deacon”. Ultimately it was rejected on the grounds that such terminology was part of the Latin experience. Given the Holy See’s later concerns (represented by the “observationes” mentioned above), it is doubtful that such expressions would have been accepted by the Congregation.

    I also wish to state that while it is quite clear theologically that there is only one order of Deacons in the Catholic Church, the unfortunate reality is that many bishops continue to want to make theological distinctions between those deacons who exercise diaconate in a permanent state, and those who are discerning a further vocation to the presbyterate. In my opinion, this will only begin to dissipate when the Church does away with the last vestige of the cursus honorum, and eliminates the need to ordain seminarians for the presbyterate to the diaconate first. Seminarians are not discerning a permanent vocation to the diaconate, but to the presbyterate.

  95. mitch_wa says:

    Deacon Bill,

    Since you worked in the USCCB Deacon Office perhaps you could shed some light on how the US bishops interpret the requirements for continence. I’m guessing they don’t have that expectation of married Deacons and Priests(convert clergy).


  96. cothrige says:


    Thanks for the information about canon 1042.1. What you say makes sense, though it still seems to me that 277 doesn’t just mention both celibacy and continence but ties them tightly together. I can see the points made at Fr. Boyle’s blog and they do make sense to me as far as they go, but given the structure of the wording in 277.1, which wasn’t addressed there, I think there are causes for doubt. Obviously I am not a canon lawyer or an expert and so am not really arguing for anything, but merely expressing a personal doubt given what I read at that blog and what was and wasn’t addressed there. Again, thanks for the further information. A fascinating subject indeed.

  97. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Mitch,

    I have found no bishop in the world (I have served not only at the USCCB, but also on several international bodies related to the diaconate) who has an expectation that (permanent and married) deacons would remain continent following ordination. Although Dr. Edward Peters, JCD, has made this claim — that post-ordination continence is to be expected even in the case of married permanent deacons — this has certainly not been the understanding of anyone involved in the process since 1967 (when Pope Paul VI restored a permanent diaconate).

    I am a theologian, not a canonist, so I am not competent to respond to Dr. Peters’ legal argument. In my opinion, however, the linkage of continence with celibacy found in the law is complete. If celibacy itself is “waived” in the case of those destined for the diaconate permanent exercised, then so too is the continence that is tied to celibacy. Again, in my opinion, the notion of continence is subordinate to the discipline of celibacy; if the greater (celibacy) has been “waived”, then the lesser (continence) is included in that.

    Certainly, no bishop, and no curial office, has ever held that married permanent deacons and their wives, or that any former minister brought into the Catholic clergy (first as a deacon, then as a presbyter) under 1980’s Pastoral Provision, is supposed to be continent following ordination.

    From a strictly personal, anecdotal viewpoint, I can only observe that this question has simply never been a major issue in any of the dioceses or offices in which I’ve served in more than 20 years as a deacon.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  98. catholicmidwest says:

    Deacon Bill,

    The Rev Doctor business may well be because the writer is not a native speaker of English. In Italy, the term “doctor” is used differently because the educational and professional systems are different. In American English, it means the person being spoken of has phD, not so in Italy.

    In American English, because of our national background which is largely protestant, Reverend does indeed mean the main minister of a Church, the preacher, the one responsible for whatever goes on there. Therefore it’s definitely not appropriate for a deacon in this country. I think they’re right. Deacon has a better-understood general meaning in this country and one would think that deacons would prefer that since that is how they are generally referred to in scripture in the 3rd person regardless of which scripture translation one consults, is it not so?

    As for calling them “Father,” what planet would the people who suggested that be on? As if we don’t already have enough confusion, or is that the goal? BTW, whatever happened to all that stuff about inculturation. Why abuse the local usage of the words deacon, father, and reverend to get what? Leverage?

    As for “enhancing his ministry,” what the heck does that mean? It could mean just about anything depending on who’s saying it. Perhaps it would be far better to use some precision in speaking about these things if one is going to speak about them at all. [Language, contrary to common expectation, is not merely a tool for bludgeoning people into much-ballyhoo’d consensus. It actually consists of words that have specific meanings, and can be used to convey precision!! Equivocation is an unfortunate result of the lack of precision, not an occasion for opportunity.]

    It only makes sense that bishops treat their different kinds of deacons differently, since they are preparing some for further training as priests, and some for permanent placement as deacons. Different ones will be assigned to different posts and have different expectations made of them. To do any different would be seriously negligent from a personal development standpoint and laypeople would ultimately suffer the consequences. [As we always do.]

  99. catholicmidwest says:

    That means you can assume that they’re not being told that continence is part of the package (if indeed the documents say that), so therefore it isn’t part of the package. I didn’t think so.

  100. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Catholic Midwest,

    Wow! Where to start?

    1) I have the Ph.D. in Theology, so the “Rev. Dr.” related to that fact, I’m sure.

    2) Your comments about the use of “reverend” in a clerical title for someone who is not the principal minister of a parish are interesting, but they miss the larger problem of inconsistency of practice between permanent and transitional deacons. What the US bishops were attempting was a singular “title” for ALL deacons, to stress that there is but ONE order of Deacons in the Church. Using your logic, transitional deacons shouldn’t use that title either. I’m fine with that. One bishop, by the way refused to use “Rev. Mr.” for any deacon — permanent or transitional — because he felt that it perpetuates the myth of a “lay” deacon by combined a clerical title with a secular title. But I digress.

    3) The “Father Deacon” suggestion is not so strange as it may seem, as it is a long-standing practice in the Eastern Catholic churches. Ordination, to any order, conveys a participation in the pastoral leadership of the church (see Lumen gentium #18, e.g.). Therefore, in this understanding, the deacon shares in the “fatherhood” of the parish; the attitude is more one of being a part of a clergy TEAM. Every Eastern Catholic deacon of my acquaintace is referred to as “Father Deacon”. This is not part of some nefarious plot.

    4) As for “enhancing the ministry” I was going to include the fact that each succeeding Archbishop has specified for us which ministries he is REQUIRING the use of collar by deacons. For one Archbishop, he required that we wear collars whenever serving in hosptial and prison ministry. After that, we could use our own judgment. What I like about this phraseology is that the focus of concern is on the PEOPLE being served: if I can serve them better by being in a collar, then I do so.

    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  101. catholicmidwest says:

    Mitch and others,

    As a layperson, and a pretty decently read layperson, I have to tell you that many of us don’t really understand any of this deacon business. Yes, we all congratulate someone we know who gets to be a deacon, but okay, that’s personal congeniality and care for our friends & family. Meanwhile, we don’t get it.

    A transitional deacon is a student on his way to the priesthood. I don’t understand the details but that definition is clear enough. Okay. BUT……..

    A permanent deacon is like a junior priest only with marital privileges. No that can’t be right. Let me try again.
    A permanent deacon is like a super-duper-lay-minister who somehow got ordained but somehow didn’t become a priest. No that can’t be right. Let me try again.

    OH, I know! A permanent deacon is like a ecclesiastical Platypus. A reverend doctor father mr daddy ecclesiastical platypus. Yeah, that’s it. I’m so confused about this topic which for all the world looks like something re-instituted in its current form by someone who just COULD NOT MAKE UP THEIR MIND. And somehow this is a fitting consequence from the time period and the pope who re-instituted it.

  102. Supertradmum says:

    This entire conversation has shown how little teaching there has been, even at the university level, regarding the theology of the permanent deaconate. The problems are real and cannot be leveled out by references to the early Church, on which the permanent deaconate is based, as we do not have a clear view of the roles even then. The deacons in our diocese do not take care of the poor and the widows. We do not even have a Catholic Charities in our diocese. The deacons help out with the Liturgy, especially on the High Holy Days, and help out, sadly, with RCIA, which I hope changes. The problem here has been that the deacon training program has taken place in a theology department of St. Ambrose University which has not been “Catholic” for 40 years. This is not hearsay, but personal experience and a well-know fact among orthodox Catholics in the tri-state area. The vocations director does not send his seminarians to this university, although it is in the same city as the diocesan chancellery. All the deacons I have met have been infected with gross heresies. All. Some are pro-choice. I apologize to the good deacons out there, but as Fr. Chad Ripperger has stated, one cannot pursue the first step of holiness when in heresy.

    And, I do not think that deacons should act like lay people, going to the boats to gamble and dancing at public places. They should not dress in the latest styles, nor should there wives be heretics. One deacon has teenage girls who dress very immodestly. People have commented on this, but nothing changes. I do think that there should be a distinction between those ordained and those not ordained. If not, what is the point of the office?

    I actually will not teach RCIA again in this diocese, or volunteer, as I cannot publicly disagree with those who are ordained.

  103. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Catholicmidwest,

    I would suggest that you seek out some books on the diaconate if you’d like to find a way out of your quandary. Let me summarize a couple of points.

    The idea to renew a permanently-exercised diaconate began at the Council of Trent, although nothing was implemented following the Council. It came up again in the early 1800’s in Germany, and really took on emphasis among the priest-prisoners at Dachau. It was out of the midst of this concentration camp experience that these priests began to call for a renewed and permanent diaconate in the post-War world, so that deacons could serve again as “icons” of Christ the Servant, in partnership with presbyters and bishops who served as icons of Christ the Priest. It was this renewed sense of the Church’s own servant-identity that these priests felt would help create a world in which the horrors of a Dachau could never again exist. There was little sense that deacons would be “assistant” priests or any other kind of variant. Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI all got involved in one way or another with the proposal.

    So, your dismissal of the diaconate as simply the result of a particular time frame or pope is simply incorrect. Perhaps you might want to do some research to put yourself out of your misery? I guarantee that you’ll find the journey interesting and fulfilling.

    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  104. Supertradmum says:

    I have a theology degree, but some of these points were not discussed and I have to piece together some things on the permanent deaconate. This blog has helped steer me in the right direction and I appreciate all the help. However, I honestly believe the deacons in this area have done more harm than good. I apologize to all the holy and good deacons concerning these comments of mine. As I have worked in the Midwest Churches and English Churches on and off for over 40 years, since a very young person, I have considerable experience and have worked with many people. In all these years, there has been no deacon whom I have met or with whom I have worked, who has been completely obedient to the Church and/0r who has had his own house in order.

    The wide brush is being painted over very specific areas, and I am glad others have had more positive experiences. There has to be more comprehensive teaching both on and for the deaconate.

  105. catholicmidwest says:

    Deacon Bill,

    Okay, ordain one and print his picture so he can be the icon of Dachau. Better yet, get someone to paint an icon of one. And then enjoin the priests and laypeople that we have to behave themselves and act as servant leaders like they’re all supposed to do ANYWAY.

    Truth be told, Deacon Bill, I’m not in much misery over this. I just avoid deacons unless they were already my friends (and are still my friends). Pretty easy, considering they can’t say mass anyway and usually don’t serve masses around here anyway. And honestly, what with supercilious “lay ministers” running all over, deacons are the least of my problems, and figuring out what to call deacons is even lower on my to-do list. Deacon so-and-so works.

    Sorry to hear about your troubles with RCIA, Supertradmom. The converts in your area are going to come out poorer for the situation. That’s really sad since it may affect the Church’s retention rates in the long run. This sort of thing is what really matters.

  106. Subdeacon Joseph says:


    There are all ready beautiful icons painted of the Saints Fr. Deacon Lawrence of Rome and Fr. Deacon Stephen the Protomartyr. It seems you have an axe to grind with one of the ancient holy orders of the Church, why?

  107. catholicmidwest says:

    That’s an interesting question. I’m not talking about the ancient orders of the church, particularly ones that passed from existence more than 1500 years ago.

    I’m talking about the permanent diaconate as re-instituted in its current form by Pope Paul VI earlier in the 20th century, and apparently whose dress code appears to have some degree of imprecision in some geographical locations. You know, it’s the one nobody can figure out the real purpose for (sorry but icon of Dachau is jumping the shark), and the one that has a strangely high percentage of dissenters in it. Yeah, that one.

  108. Alice says:

    For what it’s worth, St. Francis of Assisi was a “permanent” deacon. By his own choice, he never became a priest, but ordination to the diaconate allowed him to carry out his vocation to preach.

  109. mitch_wa says:


    You should pick up the book The Deacon Reader. I am currently reading it, it can be technical at times, but it is a good book on the history of the diaconate since the early 1900s, its mission, and how laity and priests should relate to and be helped by deacons. You might want to read it.

    The Church has deemed deacons to be an important part of the Church. Poorly formed and well formed deacons need our prayers and support so that they may conform themselves to Christ the Servant and thereby help us all on our way to salvation.

  110. catholicmidwest says:

    Um, Alice, the same legend says that he was preaching before he ever became a “deacon.” To his father and to the birds to be exact. For Franciscans, particularly SFOs, this is sometimes a topic of discussion and part of that is because of the categories that Catholics, in general, attribute to the daily actions of various members of the various vocations.

    Lay people sometimes don’t like to take up their cross very well and expect the clergy etc to do it for them. In their defense, sometimes laypeople are told that’s okay. It’s a bit strange, all full of categories and all. And it’s sometimes really unproductive if what we’re supposed to do is get out there and influence the world in some fashion, rather than find the fanciest category we can wedge ourselves into and lodge ourselves there til hell freezes over. (This takes its latest permutation in the “lay ministry” thing where a person becomes a role, satisfies the stated “obligation” of the role, and then nearly runs over you in the parking lot later because that’s…um…different…..different because they’re wearing a different hat in the parking lot, I suppose).

  111. catholicmidwest says:

    So Alice, what I’m trying to say is that the most important thing about St. Francis certainly wasn’t whether he was a deacon or not. That’s somewhat apocryphal, anyway. A lot about St. Francis is, actually. Not very much is actually known about him personally in some ways, in part because, when asked a question he replied with scripture at least half of the time. He tried to emulate Christ as closely as possible and that was his life. He wasn’t a big user of small-talk. Or at least very little of it that sort of thing has survived the eight centuries between him and us.

    He was a powerful preacher and his life annoyed people, shocked people and changed people, in turns. His life was always oriented toward Christ and the reason his memory even comes down to us at all is that he shocked the reigning pope in Rome with his pure and uncompromising fidelity on only one occasion (!) and it was so powerful and authentic that it made what followed all physically possible. And this was in a time of great turmoil and disobedience, such as what we have today. This is what made him important; this and his very deep & powerful prayer life is what made him a saint.

    PS he wore rags.

  112. The problem of not understanding the role of deacon in the Church is probably contained in this quote from above:

    The problem is that many people, myself included, have no idea what a deacon is for. Seriously. I have no idea what they do. I don’t know why we have them and can’t figure out what we need them for.
    Moreover, they can’t say mass, which is where 90% of the church’s dealings with most people occur. I mean think about it, many people don’t go to daily mass. They come once on the weekend for about an hour and they don’t see anyone from the church the whole rest of the week, including the deacon, and for that one hour, the deacon can’t help them–he can’t say mass.

    The fact that 90% of people’s dealing with the church is Sunday Mass (and that the only part that counts is confecting the Eucharist and communion; apparently the homily is of no help, although the deacon can preach) is the real problem; most Catholics don’t live as Catholics. I interact with the Church daily and frequently throughtout the day, by reading the Scriptures, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, etc. As often as possible, I do this with the church or at least with some small group of Catholics.

    Every parish should, at a minimum, have Lauds, Mass and Vespers daily; with frequent opportunities for adoration/benediction, novenas, litanies, etc. The fact that most don’t shows we aren’t living the Christian life as we ought to be. Deacons, as ordained ministers of the Church can and should be leading such times of prayer and devotion when the priest is unable. They should be conducting catechism and other classes.

    As written above, a deacon is ordained as a minister of the Word, Altar and Charity. He is to sing the Gospel at Mass, teach the Holy Word, administer the worldly goods of the church and dispense charity. In the absence of deacons, these activities are assumed by priest and laity, but they should revert to the deacons.

  113. catholicmidwest says:

    For most of us, none of that is available in church settings, and in a very broad and pervasive way, Catholics have been scared off of anything informal for 2 reasons:
    a) they think everything has to have tacit parish approval. Everything. Or they worry about “being protestant-like.” [And there’s the approved program thing that you run into in every facet of Catholic life, which generally means it doesn’t really get done at all.]
    b) they think the clergy etc is supposed to do it for us.

  114. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    I do not want to sound triumphalistic in this reply, and so I will try not to. In the various Eastern Rites of the Church a “permanent” diaconate and subdiaconate has almost always existed throughout her history. The full cycle of liturgy demands a deacon, and often a subdeacon, to assist the priest in this regard. I do not care for the word “permanent” deacon because a deacon is a deacon until he is ordained a priest by his bishop.
    In the Latin High Mass today there are often no deacons or subdeacons and so priests will vest down and fulfill these roles. This would be unthinkable in the East. A priest cannot serve as a deacon and a deacon cannot serve as a priest. Now as a Byzantine Rite Priest my knowledge of Latin Rite liturgical function is limited. That being said it seems in the pre VII Church the subdiaconate and diaconate were simply stepping stones to the priesthood. In my opinion this reality was no doubt a factor in the current problem of understanding deacons and subdeacons today because no parish was used to having subdeacons and deacons as a permanent fixture in the parish like we do in the East. Also, when the NO mass changed the need for a deacon and subdeacon became not nearly as necessary as it was in the traditional Latin Rite of liturgical worship.

  115. catholicmidwest says:

    Ah yes, Subdeacon Joseph,

    If you are from the East, then yes, you have a different tradition in many respects than we in the Latin Rite do. And in the Latin Rite, we really didn’t have permanent deacons for all practical purposes and this lasted for centuries. Correct. Deacon–to be precise, transitional deacon–has been understood mainly as a step to the priesthood for a long time in the Latin Rite. It’s one of the differences between the rites, of which there are several that are major differences.

  116. Catholicmidwest is asking: what do deacons do?

    Well, let’s see.

    Speaking for myself: I preach every Sunday, sometimes at multiple masses. I preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals. I serve mass every Sunday, assist with communion (as an ordinary minister of communion), take communion to the sick, bless houses and rosaries and cars, preside at communion services (most notably on Ash Wednesday, when we have a couple of them), and fill in for the pastor or parish priest at various community functions (as a parish representative) when they are unable to attend. I proclaim the gospel at mass and sing the Exultet at the Easter Vigil.

    Evenings and weekends, I meet with divorced men and women to begin the process for annulments, celebrate Benediction, and lead the Stations of the Cross during Lent.

    I’m employed full time as the News Director for my diocese’s TV station, and I manage a busy blog.

    Other deacons I know supervise food pantries, teach RCIA or serve as DREs in their parish. Some serve as MCs for the bishop at mass, lead retreats, offer spiritual direction or fill various diocesan positions that at one time were held by priests.

    In many parishes, deacons are busy people, and highly visible. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, with vocations to the diaconate growing, and vocations to the priesthood struggling, it’s highly possible that in a few years the most visible member of the Catholic clergy in many parishes will be a married man with children — the deacon.

    Deacon Greg Kandra
    “The Deacon’s Bench”

  117. catholicmidwest: it is very sad to see you act with such willful ignorance and disrespect to those men who are ordained to the Catholic office of Deacon. Your attitude is unbecoming, and if you are unable to understand the very clear and extensive explanations given thus far by those who are qualified to teach you, and unable to express your lack of understanding without such disrespectful sarcasm, then perhaps silence would be your best course.

    The Office of deacon, like that of presbyter and bishop, is one established clearly in Sacred Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that this Office is one designed to prepare one for the priesthood. Furthermore, some of our greatest early saints and martyrs were those ordained to the permanent diaconate, and so in your disrespect you disrespect the likes of St. Stephen, St. Lawrence, St. Ephrem (a permanent deacon and Doctor of the Church!), as well as later saints such as St. Francis. Shame on you.

  118. MrD says:

    Augustinianheart: After reading through all of these posts, I was glad to see your response. Keep it up.

  119. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    It keeps coming up here and elsewhere. Should we be called “permanent” deacons or just DEACONS–period.
    Well, let’s look East. We, in the Latin Church,
    are called “permanent deacons” because in most cases we are married and cannot go on to the priesthood. But if a deacon’s wife should die, a deacon may proceed on to the priesthood–and many have.
    However Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox married priests may not proceed to become bishops. However, if an Eastern priest’s wife dies, he may proceed on to become a bishop, and many have.
    Yet I have NEVER heard a married Eastern priest called a “permanent priest”–just a priest. PERIOD.
    So I think we should drop this business of calling those ordained to the diaconate in the Latin Church “permanent” deacons because only God knows what He has in store for those He has chosen to be ordained to the diaconate.

  120. Deacon John, any chance you’re related to the Augustinian friar, Fr. John Bresnahan? He’s retired at the St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery in Villanova, PA – and turning 100 this January 30! Anyway, just caught the coincidence of name and wondered if you were related…

  121. Diakonia says:

    Deacon Bill (and any others) – Given your past positions, do you have a resource that shows the Dioceses in the U.S. where their Bishops permit Deacons in the permanent status to wear the Roman collar at their discretion? If not, do you know from personal knowledge which ones do? Thanks for your insights here, and for any additional help you may be able to provide.

  122. Diakonia says:

    Supertradmum – Check this out! The Deacon’s Bench just LOVES one of your comments here. http://www.patheos.com/community/deaconsbench/2010/12/30/deacons-and-the-collar-fr-z-goes-there/
    I must ask. Is the Waltz OK? Polkas? Can we slow dance at weddings with our wives? You probably draw the line at the Tango I bet! Just askin’! ;-)

  123. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Diakonos,

    There is no list of dioceses with their policies vis-a-vis the use of clerical collars by deacons. Sometimes a bishop changes his mind; other times a new bishop reverses the policy of his predecessor, and on and on.

    I know that the Archdioceses of Washington, St. Louis and Atlanta all have deacons wearing collars. There are many others that I’ve experienced in my travels, but I wouldn’t want to presume to provide a complete list. These three are just offered as examples.

    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  124. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear augustinianheart,

    Thanks for your posts here, and all the best on your own journey of vocational discernment!

    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  125. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    Augustinianheart—I hope I am related. I’m 68, and if genes rule, 100 looks good to me. However, I know of no relationship EXCEPT (an odd coincidence???) my first cousin Thad Behm, son of my aunt Muriel (Bresnahan) Behm graduated from Villanova University and my aunt was a big supporter of that school. Sadly, Thad was murdered by a gang of what the police say were illegal immigrants in L.A. in order to get his car. They were never caught. He left behind a wife and 3 young children.

  126. Deacon John,

    That is so sad. I hope to see the other John Bresnahan sometime in August, so I will have to ask him if he is related in any way to Muriel. Would be interesting! And not only is he going to be 100, but he’s a vibrant 100 years old. Still reads the newspaper from cover to cover every morning, still walking, often without his walker, still sharp as a tack. Blessings to you for 40+ more years of good health!


  127. Deacon Bill says:

    To Whomever May Be Interested:

    I realize that this site is concerned about many other things than the diaconate, but for those who might want to find out more about the diaconate, may I suggest Deacon Greg Kandra’s “The Deacon’s Bench” at http://www.patheos.com/community/deaconsbench/ and my own blog “Deacons Today: Dalmatics and Beyond, found at http://pilgrimsfootsteps.blogspot.com/ .

    These might be helpful.

    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  128. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    The notion of a transitional diaconate as anything distinct from the permanent diaconate (other than in training) should simply be eliminated. Separate ordinations, separate clerical garb, separate faculties – all of this should end. It is one Ordo and should function that way in the Church. As you say, Fr. Z, a deacon is a deacon is a deacon…

    In fact, I think that those seminarians ordained as deacons should be assigned to function in a parish for a few years before ordination to the priesthood. This would give them the opportunity to develop their leadership capabilities even further in a distinct form of parish leadership (diaconal) which would also hopefully make them even more effective in their priestly leadership (sacerdotal) later on. You would then have added advantage of priests who intimately understand the role and ministry of the deacon in a parish since they functioned in that role for longer than 6 months to a year. I have seen this first hand, since my own priest was a deacon for three years. He understands the diaconate, since it was more than simply a transitional reality.

    And while we are at it, when will the Latin Church finally relegate Ministeria Quaedam to the dust heap of history where it belongs and restore Minor Orders to the Latin rite? Let’s face it, deacons need subdeacons to assist them in their ministry, which is their proper role.

  129. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Every parish should, at a minimum, have Lauds, Mass and Vespers daily; with frequent opportunities for adoration/benediction, novenas, litanies, etc. The fact that most don’t shows we aren’t living the Christian life as we ought to be. Deacons, as ordained ministers of the Church can and should be leading such times of prayer and devotion when the priest is unable. They should be conducting catechism and other classes.

    As written above, a deacon is ordained as a minister of the Word, Altar and Charity. He is to sing the Gospel at Mass, teach the Holy Word, administer the worldly goods of the church and dispense charity. In the absence of deacons, these activities are assumed by priest and laity, but they should revert to the deacons.

    And a hearty “AMEN!” to all of Steve Cavanaugh’s comments above!

    I would only add that it is far better if priests, deacons and laity pray Lauds and Vespers together as a community, with the deacon(s) leading if the priest is not present.

    BTW, are there any clergy rubrics spelled out for the Liturgy of the Hours of the Western Church prayed in common?

    (Still can’t figure out how to use the HTML tags and attributes…)

  130. catholicmidwest says:

    I’ve seen the Deacon’s Bench already. It used to be on Beliefnet, right? What I saw was Catholic-Lite and I surfed around in your archives a bit.

  131. cursormundi says:

    Here’s a link to the PD bit of the Westminster archdiocese (UK) website:


    If you scroll through it you’ll come to the PD handbook, which details on p.14 the standards for liturgical dress and clerical garb.

    I would just say that Deacon Greg’s blog was a very useful tool in my initial discernment before I came forward for initial formation. I am now in year 2 of 3. Deacon Greg’s blog has a strong pastoral focus and is contemporary and modern. And orthodox! Deacon Bill’s blog is an engaging and invaluable resource for me.

    To those who prefer to throw stones at this new work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, remember:

    Acts 5: 38-39
    “And now, therefore, I say to you: Refrain from these men and let them alone. For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought.But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God.”

    Happy and Holy New Year!


  132. Dr. Eric says:

    I noticed that on this blog post:


    that the son of a man who is to be ordained a Deacon will be ordained a priest. So much for the sad argument that the Diaconate discourages men from becoming priests.
    The above Deacon bashing is reprehensible. It is one of the Three Major Orders of the Church. Many of our great Saints were Deacons: Stephen and Lawrence (mentioned in the Roman Canon), Ephraim the Syrian (Doctor of the Church), St. Francis of Assisi (most popular Saint of all time), Phillip (Acts 6 & 21), Vincent of Saragossa, Romanos (the great hymnographer), and many others.

    I would hope that this stems from ignorance of the role of the Deacon in the Church and not some rad trad Novus Ordo bashing.

  133. totustuusmaria says:

    It seems to me that one of the good desires that arose around Vatican II — a desire never really realized — was to restore the various orders that had been reduced to “stepping stones” to full ministries in the Church. Ministeria Quaedam was an attempt, largely unsuccessful, to accomplish just this.

    In attempting to do this, the universal orders were reduced in number to two — Subdiaconate being subsumed into those two, and Porter and Exorcist being made optional to particular localities –, the name was changed from “order” to “ministry”, and the rite for making a cleric (Tonsure) was eliminated in such a way that entrance into the clerical state was now attached to the Diaconate.

    All of this was very practical, from a certain point of view. By reducing the orders to those deemed most universally useful and by severally them from the clerical state, the doors were supposedly opened for a groundswell of lay instituted ministers.

    The groundswell never came. The offices were instead filled by non-instituted lay ministers.

    Yet another change occurred around the same time: the restoration of the Diaconate as a permanent order. In this case, however, no attempt was made to “de-clericalize” the Diaconate.

    Unlike with the unsuccessful “Ministries” the restored Diaconate has been a success, at least to the degree that I rarely visit a parish without deacons, and several men from my own parish are ordained to it every year. But by establishing a permanent Diaconate comprised of those living a lay-like-life, one, in essence, established a “lay-Diaconate”.

    It’s somewhat hard to see the difference the “clerical” state actually makes when a “permanent” deacon is compared with, say, a “permanent” acolyte. In fact, a seminarian who has received “Candidacy” but no “Liturgical Ministries”, much less the Diaconate seems (to the outside eye), save for any obligation to recite the office, significantly more clerical.

    The whole system is a mess. Ministeria Quaedam ended up compounding the confusion by opening up the possibility of, in essence, lay permanent orders. In my opinion, the entire system of priestly offices held by men in the world needs be reexamined on an official level to bring back a sense of continuity. Perhaps there needs to be established a canonically distinct “quasi-clerical state” that includes everyone ordained to an office while living in the world.

    As part of this re-evaluation, the clerical vesture of these offices should be examined and clarified.

    As it stands right now, since there is no canonical difference, I think all deacons should wear clerics whenever possible. On the other hand, Deacons living a life in the world are not really “dead to the world” and “dedicated completely to God” in the same way. It seems to reduce the clerical state a bit. But it can’t be helped. The need to emphasize the importance of Holy Orders is much greater than the need to maintain a strong idea of what it means to be in the “clerical state”.

  134. Fr Deacon Daniel says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed response to my point. It is also probably safe to say that one of the reasons why it was unsuccessful was because it did not allow for women to serve in these Ordos. (Such a thing was done for a long time with the diaconate in some dioceses. Certain bishops refused to restore this Ordo in protest since women were not permitted to serve.)

    In my travels I have only met one man who was not a candidate for major orders and was “instituted” into the Ordo of Acolyte for the Latin Church.

    I understand the desire to open up these offices to laymen who may or may not be candidates for Holy Orders. A far simpler way of doing this would have been…to open up these offices to laymen who may or may not have been candidates for Holy Orders.

    Subdiaconate is a rich tradition in both East and West and needs to be reclaimed in the West. I and my other two brother deacons are grateful for our two parish subdeacons and how they serve both within and outside the liturgy.

  135. Supertradmum says:

    Instead of going on about the office of the deacon and the ordination of the deacons, perhaps we need to be writing about the spiritual formation of the deacon and his family. There must be leaders who exhibit personal holiness to the flock, otherwise the office is, indeed, lowered, as someone mentioned above. A deacon should not act like an ordinary layperson, nor should there be more lay orders. We need holy priest, holy deacons, holy families of deacons, and stricter guidelines on the choice of men into the deaconate. A wife of a deacon cannot be teaching in contradiction to the Magisterium, for example, or even sharing such ideas with others in the community. The Holy Spirit is working, of course, but we cannot ignore the lack of spiritual training.

    When Rome held the visitations of the seminaries, and I have personally read some of the local reports, after the first criticism of an absence of Marian Devotion, the second criticism was a lack of spiritual formation, and thirdly, a lack of formation concerning celibacy.

    After all of this, I have come to see that the clerical dress, the original topic, is important, not just for those in the pew, but for the deacons themselves. They are clerics and should deport themselves accordingly.

    The liberalization of theology and liturgical practices have been made worse by poorly trained deacons, who are openly for women priests, contraception, homosexuality civil rights, etc. How do these men, whatever their good intentions, help the Church to grow in holiness? We lay people have prayed for holy priests. Now, we need to pray for holy deacons. But, I blame the system for allowing and even choosing liberal deacons to carry on the liberalization of the Church.

    I am very grateful that this has not happened in all dioceses.

  136. Dr. Eric says:

    I have not had the horrid experiences with deacons that everyone else has had, I guess. The deacons that I know are, from what I can gather, mostly orthodox and devoted to Holy Mother Church. I know many many more heterodox priests than deacons.

    These deacons have impressed me so much that, God willing, I plan on entering the Diaconate program the next time it opens up (it only runs every 4 years.)

  137. Supertradmum says:

    Dr. Eric,

    Read The Catholic Messenger, which still runs a column by Father McBrien of ND, and other extremely liberal authors,whose editor is a very liberal “feminist” Catholic woman, and whose husband has been recently been accepted into the deaconate program. I merely point out public facts. I am seriously thinking of becoming a hermit.

  138. pop says:

    just a few but lengthy comments:
    Why should a seminarian or anyone else for that matter wear clerics unless he has been ordained!
    * clerics are the uniform of one who is a cleric. thus the name.
    A cleric is one who is ordained, and ordination to the clerical state takes place at the order of deacon.
    There are three orders: bishop/episcopate; deacon/diaconate; priest/presbyter. The deacon and the priest are ordained for a bishop. These are two distinct spirituality’s, but both assist the bishop in “serving” the People of God”. The church is a “servant” church herself, and she consists of the people.
    Those in Holy Orders are “ordered” to serve! The deacon is ordained to ministry. The priest is ordained to sacrifice. Each is essential and each should be viewed through a lens particular to its charism. The diaconate should not been seen or referred to as “the first step to the priesthood”!
    There is only ONE order of deacon…… not a subset of two!

    The church of the west no longer utilizes what was known as “minor orders”, although the church of the east continues to do so. One who is in “formation” will at some point be “instituted” as reader, and at a different point in time he will be instituted as acolyte. These institutions will have taken place prior to ordination to the diaconate. Although we regularly observe “readers” and extraordinary ministers of communion functioning at mass, those who have received institution carry unique responsibilities that other readers and or extraordinary ministers carry. It is a “state of being” rather than a function that sets them apart.

    Also when the order of deacon as a permanent state was re-instituted there were certain observations made. Allowances were made for these realities that were in fact observed.
    It was understood and anticipated that deacons would be men living and working in the world…… Christ as it were living and working in the world. To paraphrase if I may: in order to make life a little easier for the deacon he was relieved of some obligations. He may be married, but must be celibate
    should his wife pass. He NEED NOT wear clerics. He is obligated to only morning and evening prayer of The Liturgy of the Hours. These were considerations afforded to the deacon. And although he may be assigned to a full time ministry, he normally is assigned ministry in accordance with his family and work responsibilities. He stands at the altar and serves the priest. He is Christ Who came to serve and he sacramentally represents the service of “The People of God”….. Christ as it were washing the feet. Christ Who came to serve. He makes known the needs of the people….. he is as it were the eyes and the ears of the Bishop who is shepherd of the flock.
    In closing I think it is important to focus on “being” and not on doing when it comes to Holy Orders.
    Each of us must discern “Who we are called to…BE and we should strive to that end.

  139. Diakonia says:

    The brother of a priest who resides at our parish sometimes stays at the rectory over holidays. He is a Ph.D at a small college not too far away. He recently told me a story that I find ironic in light of the discussion here. (Not their real names.)

    On one occassion a newly ordained young priest was in the rectory when he arrived. When they met, the man greeted the the young priest with, “Oh, hi there. I’m Jim Baxter.” The young priest replied with, “Hello. I am Father Robert Johnson.” To which the older man stated, “Well in that case, I am Doctor James Baxter!”

    The older man was taken aback by the priest’s formality in the private confines of the rectory. When he later asked him, “Why such a formal greeting?”, the young priest explained that he found himself referring to himself as “Father” all of the time because due to his very young appearance, everyone mistook him for being a seminarian (dressed in his clerics!)

    And they’re worried about ordained Deacons being confused for ordained Priests if Deacons wear the clerical clothes of a cleric! Ha! They never complain about non-ordained and merely discerning seminarians being confused for priests while wearing the clothes of an ordained cleric. This truly makes zero logical sense.

  140. pop says:

    Fr.Fenton speaks of continence :

    First of all not all that have been or will have been ordained to the diaconate as a permanent state are married. And as to those who are married, should their wives precede them in death are obligated to celibacy. Also there are many priests who are converts to catholicism and are in fact married. Should these single deacons wear clerics? Conversely, should a married priest NOT wear clerics?
    Celibacy is not mandatory for many eastern churches. Celibacy in the Latin church is relatively a new reality when examined in the entire life of the church.
    Many religious orders mostly nuns,,,, I think,,,, wear a wedding ring to signify their total giving of self, their marriage as it were to Christ. That is an entirely different signal/sign is it not?

    Unfortunately, as far as I am concerned the wearing of clerics is/ has become akin to clericalism which Vatican II attempted to put to bed.
    Yes, I am a deacon. I long for a sense of unity and community of we who have been called to SERVE in unity with our bishop. The distinctions that are made between those deacons who are to remain deacons in a permanent state, and those deacons who (might) be called as priests is not helpful in building that unity of community that we should be striving for. There are some very practical reasons why we deacons who will remain in this permanent state are EXEMPT from wearing clerics, and why we are “obligated” to only morning and evening prayer. Obligations of work, family and so forth have been taken into account, BUT that does not mean that WE SHOULD NOT make every effort to pray the entire liturgy of the hours! And I would suggest we should wear clerics when ministering to The People Of God during our specific ministerial duties , at wake services and so forth, and especially when we gather with our brother priests , and our bishop. I specify when we are performing our specific duties because as you know we are “full time” all of the time ministers of The People Of God!

    The notion of continence kind of hints as the error of the “superiority” of the celibate state. We all know marriage is a vocation and involves the same completeness in giving self to the other as God will have it.

  141. pop says:

    otustuusmaria says:
    1 January 2011 at 3:13 am
    “It seems to me that one of the good desires that arose around Vatican II — a desire never really realized — was to restore the various orders that had been reduced to “stepping stones” to full ministries in the Church. Ministeria Quaedam was an attempt, largely unsuccessful, to accomplish just this.”

    I do agree with some of your comments, but I’m not sure if I am reading you correctly.

    As far as I am concerned we should read and try to understand Lumen Gentium. I wonder if we as humans take the new and try to remodel the old so to speak. So we look at LG in light of where and what we are. Or in some cases we go back several millennia and attempt modernize the past.
    LG I think was a “corrective measure” but I’m not sure if we really examined it as perhaps we should have……. a corrective measure that looks at where we are in view of where we want to/ or where we should be.
    Upon reading LG the first thing we find is that it does not speak of the “church” in terms of the clergy. No, the first and in my opinion the tone setting paragraph speaks of “The People of God”. That should not be taken lightly because everything from thereon flows from that concept. Needless to say we had become a very “clerical” body. We as non-clergy had been relegated to a role involving pretty much attendance only.

    LG speaks of the church as “A SERVANT CHURCH”. Another important concept that should not be taken lightly. As a people of God, we are ALL called to service and to an ACTIVE PARTICIPATION in the life and the liturgy of the church. Particular aspects of that participation was examined and clarified. It was recognized that even though ALL are called to an active participation in service, there are some who are called to a “Servant Leadership” role. Those who are called to that leadership are Ordered to leadership and are so ordered to SERVE the People of God.

    Upon baptism, we all become members and a part of “The Body of Christ”. After being fully initiated, we have gained rights and we have taken upon responsibilities as members of the church.
    As lay we have particular rights, responsibilities, and obligations in the life of the church and in its work. At liturgy there are some things that BELONG to the lay including proclaiming the Word (not the Gospel). Properly trained and formed lay have an obligation when called upon, to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion when there is an insufficient number of “ordinary” ministers available. Indeed there are times and situations where lay may perform duties that clergy sometimes do. That does not mean they can replace clergy of any order.

    Holy Orders is a Sacrament and of course it is instituted by Christ as so much more than a sign and or simply a symbol. Certainly all the baptized are anointed prophet, priest, and king. All are called to service, but some are called to a “Servant Leadership” role. The name of the role to which one is called will tell us what that person “is” and what he does will flow from who and what he “is”.
    Deacon (slave/servant) is called to a three fold service, He is ordained to “ministry” and not sacrifice. He serves as Christ Who came to serve,,,,,,, in Word……. at the altar……. and in charity. Those three dimensions manifest themselves in an endless variety. He can not offer himself as can a priest can in “sacrifice”. He can reconcile (absolution) because like sacrifice, he can not do what he is not! The bishop is both priest and deacon. He ordains helpers so that he can shepherd his sheep.
    So in recapping, we are all called to service according to the gifts we have been given. Some of us are CALLED to SERVANT LEADERSHIP roles. Ordination orders SERVANT LEADERS to specific aspects within the UNITY of Holy ORDERS and to SPECIFIC ASPECTS of the role of SERVANT LEADERSHIP>>>> Holy Orders. The deacon is ordered to ministry; the priest to sacrifice; the bishop to ministry and sacrifice……. Peter: Feed My Sheep.

  142. pop says:

    correction to my last comment He (deacon) can NOT reconcile!

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