QUAERITUR: Are deacons “ministers of the cup”?

From a reader:

I am a Candidate for Holy Orders as I prepare for ordination to the diaconate in 2015. We are being told that as deacons we are ministers of the Cup. For our formators this means when there are EMHC we should distribute the Precious Blood. Here is the question, how far do we take this phrase within the Liturgy? It seems odd for an ordinary minister to be set off to the side with the chalice while an EMHC distributes the Body of the Lord next to the priest.

Oh, that phrase… “minister of the cup” makes my eyes and ears bleed.  It’s better than “minister of the wine”, I guess.

I once wrote about Archbishop Sample’s letter on the diaconate (HERE) and his pertinent comment that the primary role of a deacon is not a liturgical one.

That said, a deacon is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion. If present at Mass, the deacon should assist with the distribution unless there are enough priests or there is no need for a second minister other than the priest (probably the case most of the time).

Some liturgists talk about the deacon as “minister of the cup” but it is hard to see good reasons for that other than aesthetics (priest with the hosts, deacons with the Precious Blood).  Holy Communion is Holy Communion.

Whether one is distributing front and center where everyone can see, or off to the side, anyone is privileged to be administering the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ.  Where a person is standing, or which accidents in which Our Lord has hidden his substance one is chosen to distribute does not alter that reality.

Since you seem to be preparing to be ordained as a transitional deacon, your liturgical role ought to be emphasized.  (That is not to suggest that permanent deacons are not as much deacons.) Yet, a transitional deacon’s role is ancillary to the priest,’s.  It seems to me  appropriate that – if Holy Communion is being distributed under both species – you (transitional deacon, that is) be positioned near the priest… if for no other reason than to observe and learn.


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  1. Nathan says:

    I fear this may stem from a misunderstanding of the liturgical role of the deacon in the TLM, as well as a misunderstanding of the precedence of the distribution of Holy Communion to the Faithful within Holy Mass. It’s easy for me to see a 1970s-era “liturgist,” when forced to look at the Missale Romanum, to see the rubrics in the Offertory “Diaconus ministrat vinum, subdiaconus aquam in calice,” (rough translation: the deacon puts wine and the subdeacon puts water into the chalice) and conclude, “See, the Deacon is the Minster of the Cup!”

    The deacon in the TLM, from the Offertory through Communion, has specific duties related to the Chalice, as the subdeacon has specific duties related to the paten. The deacon is responsible for taking off the pall and putting it back on the Chalice. I do remember reading in pre-Novus Ordo sources that the deacon’s liturgical role is tied in a special way to the Chalice.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that he is the “Minister of the Cup” in the sense that he is specifically in charge of distributing the Precious Blood at the distribution of Holy Communion in the OF. The deacon’s traditional role, IMO, is much more related to the Chalice in the offering of Holy Sacrifice of the Mass than it is to the distribution of Holy Communion to the Faithful. Perhaps the more difficult misunderstanding here is to compress the whole of the liturgy of the Mass into the distribution of Holy Communion as if that distribution were by far the most important thing to occur.

    No doubt the reception of Holy Communion is of vital importance to the Faithful and to the Church writ large. But, IMO, it cannot be put on a liturgical pedestal above the re-presentation of Christ’s Redemptive Sacrifice that occurs during the Canon–the implications of that Act are truly cosmic and are the fulcrum of all of history.

    In Christ,

  2. Jamin says:

    I believe that #94 and 182 of the instruction indicate the preference for a Deacon to administer the Chalice if both species are being distributed.
    On a slightly side note: If we truly believe that the whole of Christ is contained in the species of bread or wine, then it should not bother us as to which we distribute. There should not be a fear of an EMHC distributing the Body while the Deacon is just distributing the Blood. In fact it would be nice for some who wish to receive under both species, and desire to only receive from an Ordinary Minister, to be able to receive the Body from a Priest then receive the Blood from the Deacon.

  3. Random Friar says:

    The old Catholic Encyclopedia, under “Deacons”:

    4. With regard to the great action of the Liturgy it seems clear that the deacon held at all times, both in East and West, a very special relation to the sacred vessels and to the host and chalice both before and after consecration. The Council of Laodicea (can, xxi) forbade the inferior orders of the clergy to enter the diaconicum or touch the sacred vessels, and a canon of the first Council of Toledo pronounces that deacons who have been subjected to public penance must in future remain with the subdeacons and thus be withdrawn from the handling of these vessels. On the other hand, though the subdeacon afterward invaded their functions, it was originally the deacons alone who
    •presented the offerings of the faithful at the altar and especially the bread and wine for the sacrifice,
    •proclaimed the names of those who had contributed (Jerome, Com. in Ezech., xviii)
    •carried away the remnants of the consecrated elements to be reserved in the sacristy, and
    administered the chalice and, on occasion, the sacred host, to communicants.

    There’s a couple more details there.

  4. greasemonkey says:

    Consider the Office of Matins for St. Lawrence in the EF breviary.

    R. Father, whither goest thou without thy son Holy Priest, dost thou fare~
    hence without a Deacon
    * It hath never been thy use to offer sacrifice without a minister.
    V. What therefore in me hath displeased thee, my Father Hast thou tried me and~
    found me unworthy to be called thy son Make trial if I am indeed an useless~
    servant, even I, whom thou didst choose, to commit unto me the administration of~
    the Cup of the Blood of the Lord.
    R. It hath never been thy use to offer sacrifice without a minister.

  5. Fr AJ says:

    I know there is a written preference for the Deacon to distribute the Precious Blood, but I’m sure whoever wrote that pictured the Priest distributing the host and the Deacon the chalice – not a layperson with a ciborium. All of our Deacons have been trained by the Diocese that they are only “Ministers of the Cup” and it’s like pulling teeth to get one to distribute the host. I had one Deacon tell me afterwards that it was the first time he ever distributed the host as a Deacon.

  6. BLB Oregon says:

    At our parish, the extraordinary ministers are taught to look for whether there will be deacons and priests present in addition to the presider, and if so there is a prescribed order in which the extraordinary ministers drop out because they are not needed. IOW, the idea is stressed that they really are extraordinary, and are being scheduled in case they are needed, the ideal being that there will be enough ordinary ministers present that no extraordinary ministers will be used.

    The order of dropping out is as follows: when there are deacons present, those scheduled in case they had been needed to assist with the Precious Blood drop out first, then those scheduled to assist with the Body of Christ, but if it is a priest then those scheduled to assist with the Body of Christ drop out first, then those scheduled to assist with the Body of Christ.

  7. BLB Oregon says:

    I meant to type “but if there are extra priests then those scheduled to assist with the Body of Christ drop out first, then those scheduled to assist with the Blood of Christ”.

    We are lucky to have visiting seminarians and retired priests fairly frequently, albeit unpredictably, and so it is not uncommon for an extraordinary minister to find he or she is not needed. Fortunately, I have yet to see anyone be anything but happy to have so many ordained ministers in attendance. If we had so many ordained ministers that scheduling of extraordinary ministers could be scrapped altogether, I feel confident the consensus would be great rejoicing, and stories to the children that they ought to be thankful they weren’t around for the old days. I know the ones who conduct the communion services on the pastor’s day off would be happy about it. (Honestly, I think that group is secretly hoping Archbishop Sample will eliminate the communion services altogether, excepting for those who can’t travel, at least in the metro areas.)

  8. catholicmidwest says:

    Catholics just cannot get past focusing all of their energies on liturgical roles, can they? I mean, we have laypeople who think that “being active in their parish” can only mean being an EMCH or whatever they call it, and now this.

    Deacons, scripturally, are supposed to be men who serve the Christian community in their needs. Typically, these were also not the sorts of needs that priests or bishops fulfilled either. They were much more practical needs. Deacons should probably be contacting members of parishes and making sure that everyone who’s sick gets prayed for and no one goes forgotten. Things like that.

  9. catholicmidwest says:

    What I would really like to see is deacons leading laypeople in morning and evening prayer on a regular basis in parishes, since they’re supposed to pray it anyway.

  10. Archicantor says:

    Fr. Hunwicke had a good post a while back on the interpolation of the phrase “Mystery of Faith” in the Words of Institution as reflecting the early Church’s understanding of 1 Tim. 3:9 as a reference to the custom of deacons holding the chalice (http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.ca/2007/12/mystery-of-faith.html). There are, of course, several Byzantine customs that would justify a reference to the deacon as the “minister of the cup” (e.g. the invitation to Communion in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

  11. APX says:


    If I remember correctly, it’s actually the sub-deacon who removes the chalice veil, and purifies it and replaces the chalice veil after communion. Something I always found baffling because I thought deacons were “ministers of the cup” as well. I’m pretty sure I got the term from this blog too.

  12. APX says:

    by “it” I mean the chalice, in case anyone has a tendency to start hemorrhaging or spazzing out over ambiguous pronouns.

  13. In the Divine Liturgy of St. James there is a rubric, which is no longer observed in the present day, in which the priest (s) distributed the Body of Christ into the right hand of the communicant, while the deacon(s) communicated the Chalice to the faithful, never giving the chalice to the faithful to communicate themselves, but holding and the communicant guiding the Chalice from the base only. The formula of the Deacon while administering was “The Blood of Christ, the Medicine of Life.”

  14. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Dearest Fr Z – For once I’m baffled by a comment of yours — that you refer to Archbishop Sample’s letter on the diaconate as a ‘pertinent’ comment that the primary role of a deacon is not a liturgical one.

    I thought that the earliest Christian apostolic tradition was that the primary role of a deacon is liturgical, since deacons primarily are the new covenant continuation of the levites, looking after the holy vessels, assisting the aaronite priesthood and guarding the tabernacle…moreover that the diaconate is primarily about service to the bishop, not the community: the word ‘diakonos’ referring to ‘a commissioned service’. Service to the community would be a later addition to the diaconate, stemming from the 3rd century…whereas their liturgical function goes back to the most ancient liturgical formulae which predate the codification of the New Testament.

    Fr Hunswick has several articles on this (see http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.be/2011/01/diaconia-2.html)…would these articles not constitute the latest knowledge about the historical diaconate?

  15. Nathan says:

    APX, sorry to be unclear in my post. You are absolutely correct that the subdeacon removes the chalice veil and purifies the Chalice after Holy Communion. I was attempting to refer to the deacon removing the pall (the small square of stiffened cloth that covers the Chalice while it is on the altar proper during a Solemn Mass) during the offertory, canon, and sacrificial banquet.

    In Christ,

  16. Random Friar says:

    I do have to admit that as a transitional deacon, I generally did minister the Body of Christ, next to the priest-celebrant. In part, because I wanted to prevent what Fr. Z describes elsewhere, lay blessings within the context of Mass. Call it “running interference.”

    Yes, blessings are not supposed to happen there. But it’s difficult to say ‘no’ as a deacon, while Father next to you does it.

  17. Dcn Scott says:

    While I don’t imagine too many of my fellow members of WDTPRS would have much use for Herbert Vorgrimler’s one volume book on the sacraments, there is one quote, which I used as an epigraph for the first chapter of master’s thesis on the diaconate, one that I think is very pertinent here: “In his person, the deacon makes it clear that the liturgy must have consequences in the world with all its needs, and that work in the world that is done in a spirit of charity has a spiritual dimension.”

    I like this because it captures the totality of diakonia. As a permanent deacon, I appreciated very much with Abp Sample’s pastoral letter, even there are certain prescriptions I am glad are not in effect in my diocese. I am sure that within his jurisdiction what he sets forth is what is needed.

  18. jhayes says:

    Here’s the list from the GIRM of what the deacon does as “minister of the cup”

    178. After the Universal Prayer, while the Priest remains at the chair, the Deacon prepares the altar, assisted by the acolyte, but it is the Deacon’s place to take care of the sacred vessels himself. He also assists the Priest in receiving the people’s gifts. After this, he hands the Priest the paten with the bread to be consecrated, pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, By the mystery of this water, etc., and after this presents the chalice to the Priest. He may also carry out the preparation of the chalice at the credence table….

    179. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the Deacon stands near the Priest, but slightly behind him, so that when necessary he may assist the Priest with the chalice or the Missal.

    From the epiclesis until the Priest shows the chalice, the Deacon usually remains kneeling. If several Deacons are present, one of them may place incense in the thurible for the Consecration and incense the host and the chalice at the elevation.

    180. At the concluding doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Deacon stands next to the Priest, and holds the chalice elevated while the Priest elevates the paten with the host, until the people have acclaimed, Amen.

    182…. If Communion is given under both kinds, the Deacon himself administers the chalice to the communicants; and, when the distribution is over, standing at the altar, he immediately and reverently consumes all of the Blood of Christ that remains, assisted, if the case requires, by other Deacons and Priests.

    183. When the distribution of Communion is over, the Deacon returns to the altar with the Priest, collects the fragments, should any remain, and then carries the chalice and other sacred vessels to the credence table, where he purifies them and arranges them as usual, while the Priest returns to the chair.

  19. BLB Oregon says:

    –Catholics just cannot get past focusing all of their energies on liturgical roles, can they? I mean, we have laypeople who think that “being active in their parish” can only mean being an EMCH or whatever they call it, and now this. —

    To clarify, though: that is some laypeople, but by no means all. The people I can think of who are most active in liturgical ministries spend more time on ladders and mowing grass and helping out at St. Vincent de Paul and Altar Society stuff like cleaning the church and putting on funeral luncheons than they do in liturgical roles. Granted, this may not be true in other parishes, but if our Knights of Columbus and Altar Society members were told that they were being booted from liturgical work and back to charitable heavy lifting and making casseroles and flipping burgers at the parish picnic, they would be very happy about that. For the most part, they are not of the get-me-int0-the-limelight type.

    Besides, the innovation of blessing non-communicants during the Rite of Communion was, as far as I know, introduced by the clergy, not extraordinary ministers. The introduction of adult non-communicants and extraordinary ministers into the mix just highlighted why the innovation was not a good idea. Not every problem of this kind was a grassroots effort.

  20. Deacon Don says:

    I’m not even going to point out #94 and #182 in the GIRM and the obvious, “in distributing the Eucharist to the faithful, especially under the species of wine.”

    I just want to get the word “transitional” clarified … I can’t seem to find it in the Canons of the Church. I am not finding a special “Rite of Ordination” … I don’t see a unique Prayer of Consecration or different vestments. I ask myself, if he for whatever reason does not move through to priestly ordination, does he lose his status as a Deacon? (And yes, we have Permanent Deacons who are NOT married and have taken the appropriate vows.)

    Your post reflects a bias that is so common within the hierarchy … even a first-year seminarian is granted rights and privileges that an ordained Permanent Deacon is refused. I know Deacons who are not permitted to preach (even though they have the faculty) and must sit and watch the seminarian preach every second week. He sits in the chairs with the servers while the seminarian sits at Father’s side.

    The bonding of the Deacon to the ministry of the Precious Blood is rooted deeply in tradition. It is even part of the institution as Acolyte.

    Still, the bottom line … is a Deacon a Deacon?

    Somehow I think the changes in 2009 to Canon 1009 (Art.2) speaks clearly. A Deacon is a Deacon, always Permanent.

  21. jhayes says:

    Deacon Don, this is from the USCCB:

    For many years ordained ministers “ascended” from one office to another, culminating in ordination to the presbyterate, or priesthood. The Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), however, authorized the restoration of the diaconate as a PERMANENT order of ministry. So, while students for the priesthood are still ordained deacons prior to their ordination as priests, there are more than 13, 000 deacons in the United States alone who minister in this Order permanently. There is no difference in the sacramental sign or the functions between these so-called “transitional” and “permanent deacons.”


  22. Elizabeth says:

    SEMI-RELATED QUESTION: recently at a neighborhood parish (not our regular parish), a visiting priest con-celebrated with the pastor. During distribution of Holy Communion, the visiting priest sat down when 3 extra-ordinary ministers appeared in the Sanctuary to distribute Communion. It looked like he was ready to distribute, but kind of got “pushed aside”. Is this “normal”?

  23. robtbrown says:

    Deacon Don,

    I agree with much of what you say. I think that in order for Perm Deacons to be treated as equal to Trans Deacons, three things need to happen:

    1. Perm Deacons habitually wear clerical clothes.

    2. Perm Deacons be obligated to the entire daily Divine Office.

    3. Perm Deacons have jobs appropriate to the life of a cleric. No lawyers, engineers, insurance salesmen, etc.

    BTW, I have a good friend from Rome, a converted Jew who is a priest. He was a Permanent Deacon . . . or was he?

  24. robtbrown says:


    4. Permanent deacons have the same educational requisites as Trans deacons.

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