QUAERITUR: Word and Communion services with a deacon permissible?

From a reader:

We have a shortage of priests in our diocese in England, not so short that we can’t have Sunday Mass. but occasionally weekday Mass might not be available in a Parish. When are these services of Word and Communion permissable? Is a deacon allowed to “preside” at them? Is there any way we can stop them?

A group of young people have already been to the parish priest to voice our concern particualarly due to the confusion between the role of priest/laity and the effect we fear it will have on vocations. Thin end of the wedge but who needs a priests mon-sat if the priest can visit on a Sunday and consecrate enough Communion for the week??

Whilst he says it meets a pastoral need, we fear it obscures the immense worth of this Sacrament and also negates the role of the priest doing nothing to promote and encourage vocations. We are deeply concerned and distressed at the damage these services are doing to our beloved church. But we are viewed as just young opinionated so and sos who have no understanding of pastoral care. HELP.

PS the priest in question in every other respect is a wonderful pastor but this is a sticking point.

First, yes, these “services of Word and Communion” are permissible. Second, be happy that a deacon is doing them and not a feminist nun named Sr. Randi.

That said, I agree that these services are not optimal. Over time they can, as you suggest, confuse some people into thinking that there is no huge difference between some service and Holy Mass. There should be great care given to catechesis in the parish, and clarificatory notes in the bulletin and pulpit announcements. There should be constant prayer for vocations to the priesthood, so that people have constantly in their minds that only priests forgive sins and say Mass and that these services are not the same as Mass.

Furthermore, it seems to me that having a “priestless” day could very much “promote and encourage vocations”, if the situation is handled correctly.  It has you asking questions, doesn’t it?

To your question “Is there any way we can stop them?”  Sure!  Find a priest and chip in for the expense of his coming there.  Work to promote vocations.  Pray for more priests.  Have sons and bring them up as good Catholics.

Another point: It strikes me that the parish priest is really trying to provide an opportunity for people to be together in church, hear some Holy Writ, and receive Communion even on a day which is not a day of precept (obligation) even though it would be also understandable not to schedule anything.  It could be that he is hoping to keep people coming to church on weekdays in view of having more priests in the future.   Perhaps as part of your going to church for some service like this, you could remain after and say a Rosary for the intention of more priests for the diocese.



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  1. Trisagion says:

    Father, Thank you for your line about being grateful that it is a deacon. I detected in the question, in the line about causing confusion between priests and laity, a suggestion that your correspondent somehow thinks that deacons are laity. I have encountered this, together with an inexplicable hostility towards deacons from many. It is in fact one of the few things that united the aggressively liberal and the ignorantly trad. Liberal seem to dislike the permanent diaconate for the simple reason that it is not open to women and trads because they think it is part of some wicked, Vatican 2 inspired plot to abolish the norm of clerical celibacy, a fifth column, if you like. I am also prepared to concede that they might have been on the receiving end of badly formed deacons who make it up as they go along, teach rubbish and elevate the position of their wives to some kind of co-equality . I can’t tell you how deeply saddening this is to those of us who, faithful to the magisterium and properly formed, throw ourselves heart and soul into our diaconal vocation, giving the Church athe permanent and public sacramental ministerial dimension of diaconate for which the Council of Trent called.

  2. Spaniard says:

    Be thankful to have a deacon. The religious community I belong to has ten parishes to attend (the furthest, an hour and a half away) , plus an asylum, a convent and a prayer group. And we have only one priest. The nuns are the ones that, with the bishops permission, have to give Communion even on Sundays: there are NOT ENOUGH priests even for obligation days!!!

  3. rtjl says:

    If you want to avoid the possibility of people not appreciating the difference between a communion service and Eucharist, you could promote the possibility of celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours. You could celebrate Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Office of Readings or Mid-day prayer as appropriate. These are all celebrations that can be appropriately led by a deacon.

    It should be noted that the church has been warmly encouraging the more widespread celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours since Vatican II. You can find this encouragement clearly stated in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Cathechism, The General Introduction the Liturgy of the Hours and in a significant number of pronouncements of the current Pope and the previous Pope. This encouragement has largely been ignored by many, but certainly not all, clergy and liturgists. It has, however, been taken up recently by many laity who are discovering the value of the Liturgy of the Hours on their own, sometimes with the resistance and discouragement of clergy and religious.

    We often forget that the Liturgy is NOT just the mass. It also includes the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours as it is now frequently called. The Mass is the pinnacle and capstone of the liturgy but it is not the entirely of the liturgy. The liturgy of the hours is an excellent preparation for and, in a way, an excellent extension of Mass: it both leads to and proceeds from the Mass. In my opinion, our parish and diocesan liturgical life is truly incomplete without the regular celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours.

    Combined with appropriate catechesis, and inclusion of prayers for vocation the celebration of the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours may be more appropriate for your needs than the celebration of communion services.

    You can find many resources to help you with celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours on the Internet.

  4. Kevin says:

    I’ve never been quite sure as to the point of holding “services of Word and Communion” on any weekday, except on days of obligation, but that may just be my lack of education on the matter.

    I would however echo the points above that having a deacon makes your parish very fortunate indeed and certainly does not blur the lay/cleric distinction since a deacon is no more a member of the laity than a priest is. Perhaps such services will not encourage vocations to the priesthood, but they may encourage them to the diaconate. St Stephen, pray for us.

  5. Lepidus says:

    At least your parsish is looking at alternatatives. We have a bigger parish (caused by a merger of 4) with two priests. When one is on vacation, rather than the other one do 2 Masses a couple days a week, they just cancel them. (Not the ones that the vacationing priest would have been scheduled for. Always the same ones – like the sole evening one). Then, they wonder why nobody goes to Mass anymore….

  6. Glen M says:

    Given the degree of changes these past fifty years, in my humble opinion, these services are potentially dangerous. They should only be used in parishes where no Sunday Mass has been offered for a considerable amount of time. It would be too easy for modernist forces to cunningly forward their agenda of married priests and female ordination. The safer thing to do especially during the week is pray the Divine Office as a group, include a Rosary offered for vocations.

    The precept of the Church is to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, although frequently is laudable. One mortal sin on the soul at death results in eternal damnation. Therefore, I suggest our priority should be frequent Confession which you need a priest for, not a permanent deacon or busy-body nun.

    We should keep any priest shortage in perspective. Here in the New World, there are many parish histories describing how the faithful would travel most of the day to attend Mass. In Ireland they would have to sneak off to the woods in fear of the Protestant lords. In the Middle East today people are being martyred for attending Mass. Yes we should pray for vocations, but let’s also count our blessings. No one with accessible transportation should complain about traveling an hour or two to get to Mass. If frustration forms think of our Redeemer dying on the Cross and be silent.

  7. SonofMonica says:

    Surely restoring a married priesthood in the West is better than priestless Sunday “services,” no? It’s not an end-all to the vocations crisis, but I think it would help in the short run.

  8. Sissy says:

    SonofMonica said: “Surely restoring a married priesthood in the West is better than priestless Sunday “services,” no?”

    Well, it has certainly worked wonders for the Episcopalians.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    SonofMonica —

    How would “restoring a married priesthood in the West” help? Do you really, seriously think that zillions of married men (and their wives) will instantly emerge from the woodwork, when these same men didn’t emerge from the woodwork before? Or are you thinking that since thousands of seminarians discerned their way out of the seminary back in the Seventies, that they are, in the middle or end of life, going to discern their way back in? Please. Some of those guys talk big about married ordination, but they’re really more interested in posing than working. They haven’t all discerned their way to the permanent diaconate or the other rites, have they? Nooooooo.

    If Latin Rite Catholic men (and their wives) really really heard the call of the Holy Spirit in great numbers to join the married priesthood, they’d be beating down the doors of the various Eastern rites, or they’d be beating down the doors of Latin Rite bishops and there’d be shedloads more guys making it through to the diaconate. And they’re not. The only guys (and their wives) who are showing up are the pastoral provision ex-Protestant folks. (And good for them.)

    So basically, you’re proposing to overturn the last ten centuries or so of Church history and custom, for the sake of theoretical men who don’t exist or don’t bother to show up, when the pastoral provision is working just fine in its limited way to help men who do exist and did care enough to answer the Lord’s call, albeit temporarily being mixed up about how to do it.

  10. priests wife says:

    Suburbanbanshee- I agree- a married priesthood as the norm in the West would be almost silly- as for all rites, a spiritual renewal is needed, not suppose stop-gap measures.

    Trisagion- yes- deacons are clergy! And they can ‘do a lot’ according to their talents, education and their parish priests’ and bishops’ direction- a deacon friend of mine does ALL the baptism and marriage ‘triage’ for his 10,000 registered family parish. How are the 2 priests supposed to deal with that work load? A married diaconate can be a very positive thing- as always, it is formation, balance (deacons-married or not- are clergy but they are not priests) and virtue that will make this work well.

  11. Sissy says:

    Suburbanbanshee, to your point, if married men were so eager to serve the Church, wouldn’t there be more applicants for the diaconate than could be accommodated?

  12. wmeyer says:

    Sissy, some of us are too old to be considered.

  13. frjim4321 says:

    Somebody once told me that while it’s not the nature of the liturgy to teach, it does in fact always teach. It might be teaching something good, or it might be teaching something bad. (E.g., “polka masses.”)

    It seems to me that any time you take communion out of its context (i.e., the celebration of the Eucharist ) it is teaching something bad. Which is why we reserve it to true emergencies (the sick, the homebound, the dying).

    These “word and communion service” novelties seems like contrivances that don’t have the status of “emergency” and could be wrongly seen as “normal.” That sets a dangerous precedent to be avoided.

  14. Volanges says:

    Certainly Rome does not envisage that Communion Services will be done simply because Fr. wants a day off. In fact, while it leaves it up to the bishops to decide, Redemptionis Sacramentum seems to rather discourage them.

    [164.] “If participation at the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible on account of the absence of a sacred minister or for some other grave cause,”[269] then it is the Christian people’s right that the diocesan Bishop should provide as far as he is able for some celebration to be held on Sundays for that community under his authority and according to the Church’s norms. Sunday celebrations of this specific kind, however, are to be considered altogether extraordinary. All Deacons or lay members of Christ’s faithful who are assigned a part in such celebrations by the diocesan Bishop should strive “to keep alive in the community a genuine ‘hunger’ for the Eucharist, so that no opportunity for the celebration of Mass will ever be missed, also taking advantage of the occasional presence of a Priest who is not impeded by Church law from celebrating Mass”.[270]

    [165.] It is necessary to avoid any sort of confusion between this type of gathering and the celebration of the Eucharist.[271] The diocesan Bishops, therefore, should prudently discern whether Holy Communion ought to be distributed in these gatherings. The matter would appropriately be determined in view of a more ample co-ordination in the Bishops’ Conference, to be put into effect after the recognitio of the acts by the Apostolic See through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It will be preferable, moreover, when both a Priest and a Deacon are absent, that the various parts be distributed among several faithful rather than having a single lay member of the faithful direct the whole celebration alone. Nor is it ever appropriate to refer to any member of the lay faithful as “presiding” over the celebration.

    [166.] Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations, the diocesan Bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday. Priests are therefore earnestly requested to celebrate Mass daily for the people in one of the churches entrusted to their care.

    In my parish we have them only on Sundays when there is no priest within 300 miles. The person who leads the Liturgy of the Word is not usually the person who leads the Communion Rite. Canada’s ‘Sunday Celebration of the Word and Hours’ format is different from simply “The Mass without the Eucharistic Prayer” and is also different depending on whether the Leader of Prayer is a Deacon or a lay person.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    Certainly Rome does not envisage that Communion Services will be done simply because Fr. wants a day off. In fact, while it leaves it up to the bishops to decide, Redemptionis Sacramentum seems to rather discourage them.

    Most of the time the priest’s day off, almost by definition, is not on a Sunday (or Saturday afternoon). I have mass on my day off because (1) I want to go to mass anyway and (2) it’s early in the morning.

    That having been said, a priest should have not omit his day off because of a daily mass that someone scheduled for him in the middle of the day.

  16. Sissy says:

    Fr. Jim, I completely agree with your post at 9:46 am, and I really appreciate what you said.

  17. Sissy says:

    wmeyer, I wasn’t trying to imply that any man who doesn’t apply for the diaconate isn’t eager to serve the Church…that was poorly worded. My point is, if married men are anxious to be priests, it would appear to me that we’d have a whole lot more deacons.

  18. Deacon Jeff says:

    We are here to serve. How to do so is not our call, we merely follow the instructions of the pastor and our Ordinary. Obedience can be a wonderful thing, not having to worry about the “prudence” of a decison. Seems the local Ordinary and the local pastor have made a prudential decsion.

    I mirror the comments of Trisagion above, especially the “thank you father” for saying “be thankful you have a deacon.”

  19. Sissy says:

    Thank you, Deacon Jeff. I am very grateful for our two wonderful deacons, and I will tell them so! [and pray for them]

  20. wmeyer says:

    Sissy, I understood, and took no offense. I was very interested, but as I am soon to be 64, and need 4 more years as a confirmed Catholic to apply, I will be well over the 60 years the diocese flags as maximum.

    On the other hand, I have reflected that to be a deacon in a parish dominated by Modernist practices would be most disturbing.

  21. Sissy says:

    wmeyer, I think you are right that it would be no picnic to be an orthodox deacon in a Modernist parish. The parish I used to attend had just that situation….the deacon was a wonderful, orthodox man, but his life was made miserable by the priest and DRI. He’s the only bright light there.

  22. Deacon Jeff says:

    “He’s the only bright light there.”

    Matt. 13:33

    Sometimes we are called to be leaven.

  23. Volanges says:

    frjim4321, I was in no way suggesting that Fr. should omit his day off. My comment was simply that many of the parishes that have Communion Services, have them during the week when Fr. takes a day off. Some even have them on days when there are other Masses celebrated. I don’t think that that is what Rome envisioned when it allowed Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.

  24. jacobi says:

    I get uneasy when reading about the current pre-occupation with receiving Communion regardless. Is it but the spin-off from the post-Vatican II attempt on the part of some, to turn the Mass into a Protestant communion service?

    We are required to hear Mass on Sundays and Holydays of Obligation, say 56 times?, but to receive Communion only, once a year.

    There are, as has been pointed out, other forms of liturgy, or what about just going to church and praying in front of the tabernacle, or saying the Rosary?

    Another solution for most of us, Volanges and Spaniard apart, and certainly on this side of the pond, is to go to another church.

  25. HeadSacristan says:

    Communion services during the week are inappropriate as they disconnect the action of receiving communion from the celebration of the Eucharist. Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre wrote a pastoral letter on the subject a few years ago (http://www.drvc.org/administrator/components/com_quixplorer/quixplorer/quixplorer.php?action=download&dir=pdf%2Fletters&item=do_this_in_memory_of_me.pdf&order=name&srt=yes) on the topic, which received commendation from the Vatican. The relevant information starts on page 5, at section II. +Murphy does not permit Communion services to take place in his diocese.
    Whether these services end up being held or not, on the day that there is no priest to celebrate Mass, it is very important that there are fervent prayers for men to answer vocations to the priesthood.

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