QUAERITUR: Can a priest act as a deacon in the Novus Ordo? Wherein Fr. Z confesses (and rants).

From a reader:

Does the [Novus Ordo] preclude the possibility of a priest serving as a deacon and not concelebrating?

From the Caeremoniale Episcoporum:

“22. Presbyteri, qui celebrationes episcopales participant, id solum quod ad presbyteros spectat agant; (SC n. 28) absentibus vero diaconis, aliqua diaconorum ministeria suppeant, numquam tamen vestibus diaconalibus induti.”  … “Let priests taking part in a celebrations by bishops, do only that which pertains to priests; but if deacons are absent, they may fill in some of the ministries of deacons, but never dressed in diaconal vestments.”

The Ceremonial of Bishops does not allow a priest ever to vest as a deacon when the bishop is celebrant.  It doesn’t say that they can’t do that when a priest is celebrating, though it seems to be implied.  It does, however, allow a bishop to dress as a deacon, for a bishop may wear the dalmatic beneath his chasuble.   Furthermore, in the papal ceremonies, bishops, indeed cardinals who are consecrated bishops of the order in the College of Cardinal Deacon, dress in the dalmatic and accompany the Roman Pontiff quite often.

In any event, I confess that, many years ago, I stepped in for a solemn Mass in the Ordinary Form – it would have been before 1995, I am sure, and, dressed as a deacon but not concelebrating, filled in a deacons role.

I have also put on the dalmatic to sing the Exsultet in the Ordinary Form.  Yes, I have done that.  And I will probably do it again!  Yes, that’s right!  I am still also a deacon, after all.

And don’t forget the maniples!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “I have also put on the dalmatic to sing the Exsultet in the Ordinary Form.”

    Is there a podcazt of *that*?!! People would pay the bug bucks, im sure …

    [There is a recording of me singing the Exsultet. Try this. Wow… was I stuffed up when I made that PODCAzT.]

  2. ChrisWhittle says:

    In the Early Middle Ages, the what we call “The Daily Mass” was a Pontifical High Mass, said at the cathedral or abbey church by the bishop or the abbot. As you may know, the bishop wears the dalmatic and tunicle over the stole and under the chasuble when he says a Pontifical High Mass and all ordination Masses (high or low). The bishop was assisted by a deacon, who as actually a priest, a subdeacon, who was actually a priest, an assistant (or throne) deacon, who was actually a priest, and an assistant (or throne) subdeacon, whom most likely was a priest. This is still presently the law in the Extraordinary Form: if there are other priests who assist a Mass said by a bishop, they should vest as deacons and subdeacons, otherwise it’s a Pontifical Low Mass by defintion (there is no “Missa Cantata Pontificalis”).
    On the other hand, when a priest celebrates Mass and has 12 altar boys and 2 priests or deacons in the sanctuary, those two priests (or deacons) should vest and act as deacon and subdeacon. The Solemn High Mass is the way the Mass is supposed to be said all the time (provided you have the right people); the Rubrics assume that the priest is to say a Solemn High Mass. So technically, even a Missa Cantata on Sunday with the Asperges before Mass is an abridgement of the Roman Rite.

  3. disco says:

    That sort of runs counter to the old safe legal and rare standard for concelebration we here know and love. Doesn’t a priest acting as a deacon for a solemn feast seem preferable to him sitting in choir? [In the Extraordinary Form? For sure. Reason #5245 for Summorum Pontificum]

  4. ChrisWhittle says:

    @scaron During the Tridentine Easter Vigil, even if said by one priest, the priest takes off the violet cope and puts on the white with purple trim dalmatic to sing the Exsultet.

  5. leonugent2005 says:

    It seems to me for a priest not to vest as a deacon if the church asks it of him is about as difficult as it is for a priest to vest in rose vestments if the church asks it of him. But then again I’m a layman and have never had to do either.

  6. Precentrix says:

    If I sing the Exsultet, do I get to wear a cope?

    (yes, I’m a girl….)

  7. Precentrix: No.

    Absolutely and unequivocally not. No cope.

  8. Ed the Roman says:

    So, Father, you’re saying that women can’t cope with the Exsultet?

  9. Ed: I hear that women are better listeners than men.

  10. leonugent2005 says:

    The permanent deaconate is more ancient then the 16th century and I suppose this is what is being resented here. One of those ancient innovations of Vatican 2

  11. Blaise says:

    #337 and # 338 of the GIRM (at least in the version published in England & Wales) read as follows:

    337. The vestment proper to the priest celebrant at Mass and other sacred actions
    directly connected with Mass is, unless otherwise indicated, the chasuble, worn
    over the alb and stole.
    338. The vestment proper to the deacon is the dalmatic, worn over the alb and
    stole. The dalmatic may, however, be omitted out of necessity or on account of
    a lesser degree of solemnity.

    Now 337 only refers to “the priest celebrant” so presumably the priest who is not a celebrant (or concelebrant) is not covered by #338. Thus if he is acting as a deacon (presuming the Caeremoniale is not relevant and no bishops are about) since he still is presumably a deacon #338 would be relevant. I do not think #119 says anything that would preclude this.
    It would otherwise be rather confusing if a priest who is not concelebrating but acting as deacon were to wear a chasuble.

    I cannot find any reference to maniples in the GIRM. Which would imply given 337 and 338 above that it is not part of the vestment proper to the priest or deacon. So I must be missing something.

  12. mark1970 says:

    Interesting post. I sometimes attend the Church of the Holy Name, in Manchester, UK, run by the Oratorians. When they have Solemn Mass on Sundays and Solemnities, it appears normal for only one of the priests to celebrate the Mass “as a priest”, the rest take part in the ceremonies as deacons.

    When I asked about the reasoning behing this, the arguement was that: “The other priests may have already celebrated one Mass that day and there isn’t the pastoral necessity to allow them to celebrate/concelebrate again. But as all priests are deacons as well as priests, they can assist at a second Mass as deacons”.

  13. djbeyers75 says:

    It was my understanding that the reason a bishop wears a dalmatic in addition to the chasuble was to signify the reality that the fullness of priesthood of Christ is in the episcopal ministry. Moreover, once a man is ordained a deacon, he is always a deacon, even if he is ordained a priest. It seems to me then, that this directive of the ceremonial doesn’t entirely correspond well to the theology of priesthood. If we do believe that a priest is still a deacon, why not then allow him to function as a deacon at a solemn liturgy not celebrated by a bishop?

    The reason I say not a celebration of a bishop is because the pontifical mass expresses the Church’s ecclesiology. That when the bishop celebrates the Eucharist, the local church is made fully manifest. Therefore, all members of the Church function according to the ministry to which they have been called. Thus a priest would not, in that situation, function as a deacon, as deacons would be present (particularly given the prominence of the permanent diaconate today).

  14. TNCath says:

    I understand the use of the deacon at Mass, especially in the Extraordinary Form where, when a bishop was celebrant and concelebration was unheard of, priests would usually function as deacon and sub-deacon. In the Ordinary Form, I understand the use of the deacon as well, although I would find it odd to see a priest functioning as a deacon in a dalmatic and not fulfilling this role as a concelebrant. At the same time, it seems that in concelebrated Ordinary Form Masses, I find it odd that a deacon will take precedence over a concelebrant when a bishop is the principal celebrant. From what I understand, senior priests who are concelebrants should take precedence and sit nearest to the bishop; however, I usually see deacons filling this role.

  15. Andy Milam says:

    I mean this tongue-in-cheek (kinda)….if a woman can celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, while the priest merely presides…then I think that the more traditional priest could fulfill the role of a deacon. For as Fr. Z rightly points out, he is a deacon.

    This is not meant tongue-in-cheek, this is yet another example of the both/and…either/or mentality of the rubrics of the liturgical action after Vatican Council II. If Holy Orders is threefold, deacon, priest and fulfilled in the bishop (cf. Canon 835) then it would stand to reason that a priest can function as a deacon when necessary. However, Fr. Z’s posting above is correct too…so what is it?

    It’s a fair question, based upon the traditional model of logic which has been applied to the Church from time immemorial until roughly 1972….

  16. Precentrix says:


    You know I was only teasing, right?

    Seriously, we need more deacons, and they need to be taught to SING. The Orthodox have a saying:

    When you find a man with a good voice and a good mind, make him a deacon.
    When he loses his voice, make him a priest.
    When he loses his mind, make him a bishop.

  17. irishgirl says:

    I went over to hear your PodCazt of the Exsultet, Father Z-wow! Very, very wonderful! A feast for the ears!
    During your time over in Italy, did you ever sing it for the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica? [I wasn’t the deacon for the Exsultet but I did serve at the Vigil for JPII.]

  18. leonugent2005 says:

    TNCath there is nothing strange about this, it has to do with the nature of the diaconate. The deacons serve the bishop and in the GIRM are to walk side by side with the priest during the entrance. This is ignored by many priests of a traditionalist inclination. When St Teresa of Jesus said she was a daughter of the Church, I wonder if she meant “the church who does things the way they should be done as I see them”?

  19. basilorat says:

    This is why the Liturgical Reform lacks principles and has been a complete flop and ENTIRELY inconsistent. There is no reason priests cannot act as deacons and liturgical law goes against theological principle.

    May I ask, aside from monastic communities, according to the Novus Ordo books, is there ever, EVER a time a deacon may wear a cope? It seems the answer is no. The deacon always seems to be clad in either a stole, or a stole and dalmatic for everything including benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament!

  20. Reginald Pole says:

    I’m not even going to bring up the straw sub-deacon.

  21. leonugent2005 says:

    basilorat when you say “there is no reason priests cannot act as deacons” may I suggest that the permanent diaconate disappeared in the western church because priests were vesting as deacons and perhaps this is why when Vatican 2 restored the permanent diaconate they set up a few rules to protect it. Now, if you believe that the permanent diaconate should disappear again then the rules can be a little annoying and not very baroque.

  22. djbeyers75 says:

    Basilorat: As I understand, a cope may be worn by a deacon, and even by an acolyte, for certain liturgical functions. For example, a deacon may wear the cope when officiating weddings, baptisms, and celebrating the liturgical hours in community. As for acolytes (at least when I was in seminary formation), the cope may be worn when leading the office. It was my seminary’s custom as well to have acolytes wear a cope when exposing the sacrament when a deacon was not available. Although that practice seemed questionable to me.

    As a side point- I find it utterly strange when priests wear chasubles for liturgical celebrations that are not celebrated in the context of the Eucharist. For example, I’ve seen priests wear chasubles when simply baptising a child. No Mass was celebrated before or after. The same is true with weddings that are celebrated in the context of the Liturgy of the Word. Then it seems appropriate for the celebrant to wear alb (or cassock and surplice), stole, and cope. Perhaps I am wrong about this though?

  23. irishgirl says:

    ‘I wasn’t the deacon for the Exsultet but I did serve at the Vigil for JPII’ -Fr. Z
    Oh my goodness-how ‘blessed’ you were! Very cool! One of the ‘perks’ of living and studying in Rome, I suppose….. ; ) [tongue in cheek, of course!]
    If I had been born a man instead of a woman, I would have been very nervous, indeed!

  24. jesusthroughmary says:

    When St Teresa of Jesus said she was a daughter of the Church, I wonder if she meant “the church who does things the way they should be done as I see them”?

    Am I missing something, or is this a completely gratuitous and unfair swipe at a Doctor of the Church?

  25. frhumphries says:

    @ leonugent2005 I certainly invite the scholars to correct me, but the “permanent” diaconate was not the ubiquitous and large scale phenomenon that many liturgists make it out to be. My understanding is that there was a very specific and limited function performed by these men which was, itself, limited to the very early Church in a few places only and that they were replaced quite a long time ago by those men transitioning to priesthood and by priests exercising their ministry as deacons at Mass. What’s more, as Andy Milam states above, the “either/or” nature of the reformers narrow liturgical understanding totally missed things like the minor orders (porter, exorcist, etc) which each uniquely combined to provide the priestly identity. A priest is a porter – and so must defend the Church’s property – while he is a deacon for liturgical purposes and a exorcist for “the Great Battle” and tonsured for the spiritual disposition of poverty. The idea of a “permanent” diaconate (especially with the unthinkable way in which is presently erected with the possibility of admitting married men to the clerical state with only a pauper’s formation and without a consecrated lifestyle) did not disappear – it never was.

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