QUAERITUR: Should I, a deacon, go on “strike” when I see liturgical abuses?

From a deacon:

Dear Father Z,
my parish priest is leftist and modernist (like the vast majority of priests and bishops here in ___) and always changes the words of the Missal, adding his personal opinions. His homilies are more about ___ than the Gospel. My question is: as a permanent deacon, would I sin if I went on strike and quit acting as a deacon at Mass?

I strongly advise against any cleric going on “strike.” You are ordained for the Church – it’s not a job. You are a deacon, you should always act as a deacon, whether at Mass or elsewhere.

That said, let’s make distinctions about what “acting as a deacon” means.

As a deacon, you need not function as the deacon of the Mass at every Mass you’re at. It is acceptable for you to sit in choir.  Even sitting in choir, you can assist with the distribution of Holy Communion if there are not enough priests present to do so.

If you have serious and well-founded questions about the validity of the Mass being offered, you should certainly abstain from serving at it.  Then you should take other steps in keeping with the last part of Redemptionis Sacramentum.

If you are reasonably sure the Mass is invalid, document what you see and in private bring your concerns to the priest.  If the priest will not address your concerns, bring your concerns to the bishop with copies to the diocesan vicar for clergy, or your regional vicar.  If you are still not satisfied with the response, send what you have to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

If the questions go to liceity, but not validity, again, document your concerns and bring them to the priest in private.  If that does not produce results, write to the bishop, again with copies, etc. If you’re still not satisfied with the response, write directly to the Congregation for Divine Worship.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Can you briefly make the distinction between valid and licit? I used to know, but I’m getting old.

  2. priests wife says:

    Valid but illicit and valid but illegal, are descriptions applied in Roman Catholicism to an unauthorized celebration of a sacrament that nevertheless has effect. While validity is presumed whenever an act is placed “by a qualified person and includes those things which essentially constitute the act itself as well as the formalities and requirements imposed by law for the validity of the act”,[1][2] Roman Catholic canon law also lays down rules for lawful placing of the act. Unless these rules concern something greater than merely ecclesiastical law, they do not apply to those who have not been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it.

    one example would be with the bread offered to be consecrated into the Body of Christ- In the Roman rite, it must be unleavened. To use risen bread would be illicit, but the consecration would be valid- it would be the Body of Christ (In the Byzantine rite this is opposite, it is our tradition to use risen bread- hosts are illicit)- but if the priest did not say the words of consecration, the bread would not be the Body of Christ and this would be an invalid Eucharist.

    to the deacon who is having trouble with his pastor- perhaps you can ask your bishop for a different assignment if nothing improves. Unfortunately, while you are obligated to serve at the pastor’s pleasure if that is your assignment, ‘silence implies consent’ and it will seem that you are agreeing with his ‘liberal’ ways

  3. Faith says:

    I’m not sure about a deacon going to a bishop for anything. We kinda/sorta have a deacon in my parish. He is a different personality than the pastor. In fact, before the pastor came, the pastor insisted that the associate pastor be transferred. He wanted his own people.
    When the deacon saw that staying in the parish wasn’t going to work, he asked to be transferred. He’s still waiting–a couple of years have gone by. He’s telling everyone that he’s retiring and moving to Florida. But everyone thinks that it’s because the pastor has put the word out to lose his transfer papers.
    So we have a deacon that doesn’t do anything, but be ignored by the priests.

  4. Dave N. says:

    Strike? Hmmm. Maybe he should file a complaint with the Deacon’s Union first.

  5. fvhale says:

    Preliminary disclaimer: I am not a permanent deacon, although folks have loving asked me about the topic, more or less continuously (last time yesterday at lunch at a seminary), for a dozen years. I kindly thank them and explain that God has not yet asked me to be a permanent deacon.

    But I have given serious consideration, and studied and prayed about the current state of the Permanent Diaconate, and, dear God, how I urge everyone to pray for the permanent deacons they know.

    With almost no background about this particular dear deacon, such as how long he has been ordained, what sort of formation he received, how deacons are supported (ongoing formation, council, etc., of course not financial) in his diocese, I can only say:

    Dear deacon, remember and reflect on your ordination. You answered that you were “resolved to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love in order to assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ,” that you would “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience as the Apostle urges, and to proclaim this faith in word and action as it is taught by the Gospel and the Church’s tradition,” that you would “maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer appropriate to your way of life and, in keeping with what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours for the Church and for the whole world,” and that you would “shape your way of life always according to the example of Christ, whose body and blood you will give to the people.”

    There was nothing there about the theological or liturgical orientations of any priest or bishop with whom you might serve during your short time on this earth. Serve Christ and His Church with all your heart and mind and soul. Take the high road of humility and faithfulness, rather than the way of protest which, more often than not, leads to bitterness. May you celebrate ever more faithfully the liturgy, and be filled with the love of Christ whose minister you are. Bring Christ as light, as love, as food to others, perhaps the poor and needy around you. If there are things you cannot change, such as the “style” of your pastor or bishop or other priests around you, then practice humility and love them, practice obedience until you are a living icon of the one who humbled Himself and became obedient, the very one your bring to others.

  6. catholicmidwest says:

    It doesn’t sound like it’s just “style” that’s the issue here. Not everything is just about “style” because not everything is only an opinion.

  7. I’d definitely advise going against on “strike.” Do one’s parts faithfully and without abuse…pray for the priests, pray for the Bishop.

  8. jdscotus says:

    My question is why someone who assumes the invented role of a “permanent deacon” cares about liturgical abuses.

  9. fvhale says:

    @jdscotus: Do you reject the Apostolic Letter given Motu Proprio by Pope Paul VI, June 18, 1967, “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem”?

    “It is the task of the legitimate assemblies of bishops of episcopal conferences to discuss, with the consent of the Supreme Pontiff whether and where—in view of the good of the faithful—the diaconate is to be instituted as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy.” (n. 1)

  10. jdscotus says:


    Yep. Like Vatican II and its aftermath, this is an innovation that goes against the decrees of multiple councils. It’s sort of like having a “permanent apprentice.” Even if I stipulate your appeal to Paul VI as legitimate, my point remains valid. In the inventory of innovations, when does one innovation assume supremacy and the other ones require a “strike”?

  11. pberginjr says:

    @fvhale – I won’t presume to speak for jdscotus (especially since he already has), but I reject the idea of a “permanent diaconate” v. “transitional diaconate”. As I recall there is really just the “diaconate”. Dr. Peters, in his article about diaconal continence, said something to the effect that if we were to remove the adjectival qualifiers when referring to deacons, just calling them deacons, it would do much to clarify the purpose of their office and remove the notion of the deacon as a “married priest” or “non-celibate cleric”.

    @jdscotus – what about men, and saints, in history who were essentially “permanent” deacons, not married and not ordained priests (like St. Lawrence, St. Stephen, St. Ephrem the Syrian, John the Deacon, St. Vincent Saragossa, St. Francis of Asissi)? For a long time the diaconate really was a permanent office, do you reject that history too? The possibility that a man could serve in such a capacity now?

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  13. jdscotus says:


    Thank you for your comments and questions. My quick reply is that it has never been the rule or custom that a married man should be a deacon, and what we are talking about here is exactly that: married men, almost always older, who maintain a spouse (and the spousal privilege) and who do not wear clerical garb outside the confines of a church. The Church has always held that deacons must remain continent. That you employ a qualifier like “essentially” is problematic. And the Church did many things “for a long time” that she ceased doing for various reasons, and the appeal to them as somehow justifying their renewal in our age is something Pius XII condemned repeatedly as non-historical agitprop. Here’s how a good friend of mine, a convert, puts it: “I will say the role of [permanent] Deacon always struck me as odd. It seems to occupy some unknown space between Priest and Laity and I am missing out on why it is necessary.”

  14. jdscotus says:

    BTW, “Deacon Greg” — ugh, the first name obsession of the post Vatican II crowd is as repulsive as it is bewildering — can commit a hit-and-run attack on those with whom he disagrees for as many times as he wishes, but until he can introduce some arguments in favor of permanent deacons, he remains “Deacon Greg,” nice guy post-Vatican II interloper.

  15. jdscotus says:

    More from my convert friend, whose good sense and good taste surpasses almost all bishops’ good taste and good sense in this country: “It [the permanent diaconate] almost seems like a role which allows someone to “play Priest” without having to do everything required to be a Priest. I think most of the men pursuing this path mean well but it should, like Extraordinary ministers of communion and communion in the hand, be banished. If only I were Pope.”

    I want to point out that I agree with my good friend that most (if not all) of the men who are pursuing the path towards a permanent diaconate are of good will. Still, we know about Dr. Johnson’s warning about good intentions and the smooth road to Hell.

  16. robtbrown says:

    If memory serves, the push for a permanent diaconate originated because there were places in the 3rd world that would seldom see a priest. These men would Baptize and Marry.

    Of course, what happened was the activist obsessed nations (read: US and Germany, both heavily influenced by Protestantism) decided that the permanent diaconate was an indication of a flourishing parish: We have 3 permanent deacons and 10 Extraordinary Ministers of Communion!

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  18. pberginjr says:

    @jdscotus – I agree with most of what your saying, just to be clear.
    1) I know and agree there’s never been a rule that married men ought to be deacons.
    2) I get your point about my use of “essentially”, but disagree.
    3) Yes, Pius XII did come to mind, I thought you might bring it up, and yes, I generally agree.
    4) My only comment on Deacon Greg is that I won’t comment.
    5) Yes, it does seem like “‘play[ing] Priest’ without having to do everything required to be a Priest.”
    6) Yes, I think most of the men pursuing this path mean well and/or are of good will or intention.

    So we have this huge surplus of deacons in America (don’t we have something like 60% of the deacons for 5% [assuming all go to church] of the world’s Catholics?). I do not intend to offend, stir up excitement, or suggest that no deacons in America have legitimate diaconal vocations, but does anyone else think that perhaps some folks missed out on a different vocation?

  19. Precentrix says:

    1) All deacons are permanent deacons. They don’t stop being deacons. Not even when they’re dead. Or, for that matter, when they’re bishops ;-)

    2) The problem is not permanent diaconate; the problem is that we’ve forgotten what deacons are actually *for*.

  20. Deacon6 says:

    I spent 5 years in formation to be ordained a permanent deacon. Since that time I have served countless hours in my parish striving to bring souls to Christ. My goal is to be absolutely faithful to the magisterium. (Permanent) deacons are mentioned in Scripture and existed in the early church for centuries. Hardly an “innovation.” It’s discouraging to read some of the comments here. It’s sad to be told your vocation is a mistake by those you have been ordained to serve, when you have spent years discerning and praying about it, submitting to holy mother church every step of the way, and when it’s the center of who you are.

  21. pberginjr says:

    @Deacon6 – Thanks for your vocation. As I thought I’d stated clearly, I don’t think that all deacons missed a vocation or don’t have a legitimate vocation to the diaconate, I’m merely suggesting that many of the deacons I’ve known haven’t been very clear of their liturgical role. A lot of this has to do with poor formation (generally, certainly not in all cases, apparently including your own), and a lack of clarity from the bishops, and to an extent the Holy See as to why a deacon exists, as Precentrix noted “what deacons are actually *for*”.

    The poor catechesis of the laity on the function/purpose of deacons also creates a problem and is to blame in that the laity do not know how to assist and support deacons because they don’t know what they are and why the church has them. I acknowledged the existence of an essentially “permanent” diaconate in an earlier post, and understanding the comments of Pius XII on the dangers of “archaisms”, believe that the “restoration” of a “permanent” diaconate wasn’t a bad thing, it was just implemented VERY poorly (robtbrown ‘s suggested reasons above seem as good as any). The good news is that the US bishops are presently reviewing the whole subject and (novel idea) setting standards for formation, education, function, liturgical roles, etc. so that deacons around the country are on more equal ground with regard to such topics. As I understand it, Bishop Slattery’s diocese of Tulsa has the best formation program in the country at the moment. Again, I’m sorry if I’ve offended, as that was not my intention.

  22. KCHawk says:

    I am the mystery friend jdscotus mentioned in his prior post.

    Just wanted to add, as jdscotus did, that I do not mean to demean the fine men who permanent Deacon and I do believe the vast majority of them are well intentioned. However, whenever I attend an Ordinary Form Mass in our area it seems as though the Deacon is just an additional person up at the altar and I have a hard time understanding why we need the role. I know the role goes beyond Mass but, again, it seems as though we do not need a Deacon role to fill those needs.

    Then again I am a crotchety convert who attends the TLM. I am like someone who once smoked but stops and annoys everyone else with their fervent anti-smoking rant.

  23. Hidden One says:

    It seems odd to me that people who would, presumably, be inclined to attend EF Solemn High Masses have no use for deacons.

  24. “As a deacon, you need not function as the deacon of the Mass at every Mass you’re at. It is acceptable for you to sit in choir.”

    Don’t the rubrics of the Novus Ordo require a deacon to function as the deacon of the Mass, if he is the only deacon present? Or have I somehow misunderstood the following items from the GIRM?

    116. If a deacon is present at any celebration of Mass, he should exercise his office.

    171. When he is present at the Eucharistic Celebration, a deacon should exercise his ministry,
    wearing sacred vestments.

    116. In qualibet Missae celebratione si adest diaconus, hic suo munere fungatur.

    171. Quando celebrationi eucharisticae interest, diaconus, sacris vestibus indutus, suo ministerio fungatur.

  25. robtbrown says:

    “Fungatur” is not necessarily translated as “must perform”–except in Germanic cultures, obsessed with reducing behavior to obligations. “May perform” is acceptable–and probably more rational. “Let him perform” is also good.

  26. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    @pberginjr, right, but the better article to send people to for THAT point is mine in Chicago Studies here: http://www.canonlaw.info/Chicago%20Studies.pdf.

    Pater’s Martimort graphic reminds me of this: “It is well known that, according to the ancient Latin discipline, priests and deacons who had previously contracted marriage were required, upon ordination, to practice continence but were not required to separate themselves from their wives. … In Rome, in the ninth century, [these wives] received a special blessing … and a special costume was even conferred upon them.” Aimé Georges Martimort, Deaconesses: an historical study (Ignatius, 1986) at 201, citations omitted, discussing the wives of deacons.

    For the rest of continence debate, see: http://www.canonlaw.info/a_deacons.htm.

  27. pberginjr says:

    Sorry for the lack of citation Dr. Peters, I ALWAYS cite my sources in papers, not on blogs, so I’m glad you put the link there. I always kind of thought that was how the diaconate was supposed to function (continence after ordination), but you article actually gives the proof to back it up historically.

  28. “Fungatur” is not being translated by “must perform”, but by “should perform” in English and the equivalent in German. “May perform” seems to me unlikely in this context (if the intention was to indicate licitness or a right to minister as a deacon, there would more likely be a verb used to indicate that specifically, rather than the subjunctive), and in any case is not particularly supported by the various translations, which should carry some interpretative weight in the absence of any authoritative interpretations.

    The German translation is not any stricter than the English, but corresponds to it: “Wenn ein Diakon anwesend ist, soll er in jeder Messfeier seinen Dienst ausüben.” (Draft translation of the 2002 GIRM, as the German translation of that edition of the Missale is not published yet; but the version in force has something similar). The Spanish as well: “116. En cualquier celebración de la Misa, si está presente un diácono, éste debe ejercer su ministerio.”

    However one interprets the Latin, if the text of local editions of the Missale is expressive of a local adaption, this text would be authoritative.

  29. cl00bie says:

    I was really pleased at this question, because being in formal inquiry into the Permanent Diaconate, this seems to be a stumbling block for me. My concern also was what to do should I be ordered to perform liturgical abuse by my pastor such as:

    1. Using a creative dismissal not listed in the Missal.
    2. Doing some sort of hand-holding ceremony in the sanctuary during the Pater Noster.
    3. Holding up the ciborum, while the priest holds up the chalice.

    All of which I have seen recently. This was accompanied by a little “eucharistic minister” ceremony where they all gather round the sanctuary during the fractioning rite and are given their hosts, and all consume them the same time as the priest. 1-2-3 goumph!

    Father Z.’s response was helpful, and I checked out the comments to see if there might be other ideas. I should have known better. The usual assortment of rad-traddies who bemoan Vatican II were haunting the comment area spouting their usual anti-Deacon drivel.

    On the up-side, I have been praying to God to help me with my problem of lack of patience, and he has been putting people like you in my path to practice. Thanks!

    Oh, and Dr. Peters, the USCCB has ruled on that little “continence” thing. I’ll defer to my local ordinary if you don’t mind.

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