QUAERITUR: An Eastern Subdeacon for a Roman Solemn Mass? A Clerical Bedtime Story.

From a reader:

I have a friend who is a Eastern Catholic subdeacon, officially installed in his own rite. [installed?] Would it be possible for him to serve a subdeacon during a Latin Extraordinary Form Solemn high Mass? And if so, which vestments would he wear, his own eastern vestments or the Tunicle?

The Latin Church has its Code of Canon Law and the Eastern Churches have their Code.  For this, we have to consult also the Eastern Code.

Can. 701 of the Eastern Code says:

“For a just cause and with the permission of the eparchial bishop, [like the diocesan bishop in the Latin Church] bishops and presbyters of different Churches sui iuris can concelebrate, especially to foster love and to manifest the unity of the Churches. All follow the prescripts of the liturgical books of the principal celebrant, avoiding any liturgical syncretism whatever, and preferably with all wearing the liturgical vestments and insignia of their own Church sui iuris.

This canon does not mention deacons or subdeacons. However, can. 1501 of the Eastern Code (parallel to can. 19 of the Latin Code) says:

“If an express prescript of law is lacking in a certain matter, a case, unless it is penal, must be resolved according to the canons of the synods and the holy fathers, legitimate custom, the general principles of canon law applied with equity, ecclesiastical jurisprudence and the common and constant canonical doctrine,”…

… and can. 1499 (parallel to can. 17) says, in part,

“If the meaning remains doubtful and obscure, they [laws] must be understood according to parallel passages, if there are such, to the purpose and circumstances of the law, and to the mind of the legislator.”

Let’s pull this all together.

An Eastern subdeacon (who is ordained, not just installed – the Eastern Churches continue to ordain men to the subdiaconate – just WE LATINS SHOULD BE DOING!!) can serve as a subdeacon at Latin Rite Mass, as long as his bishop/eparch permits.

Said subdeacon would follow the rubrics of the Roman Missal, but he would ideally wear the vestments proper to his own Church.

So, to illustrate, ….

nce upon a time in the Diocese of Black Duck at St. Fidelia in Tall Tree Circle, Father the Parish Priest, Guido Schmitz, was blessed with a visit by his 2nd cousin Subdeacon Grigori of the Eparchy of St. Theophan the Recluse.  Father 1st Assistant, upon meeting the Subdeacon, quoth, “We have a real subdeacon! Let’s have a Solemn Mass on Sunday!  Sven can be Deacon.”  Reverend Mister Sven Martínez was a not-quite-elderly Permanent Deacon around the place, rare in his permanent diaconal ministry as an expert in all matters liturgic.

Everyone deemed this a winning plan.

And so they gathered around the black bakelite telephone in the pastor’s office and called Subdeacon Gigori’s’s Eparch.

The Eparch, who answered his own phone, was delighted at this opportunity to foster unity between both lungs of the Church.  He, though not a Latin himself, sought every opportunity to underscore that he understood the mens of the Lawgiver in Summorum Pontificum, that the Roman Rite had its great liturgical tradition that rivalled his own.  He knew that Pope Francis had clearly affirmed Benedict’s provisions in TBI™, and that the Supreme Pontiff also had been involved with Eastern Churches in S. America.  Consequently, the Eparch concluded swiftly that it was both pleasing and opportune to deign to grant to the Reverend Subdeacon his Permission.

He added, with not-quite-mock menance, the stern admonishment to “Say The Roman Black and Do The Roman Red!”

Even as they were sharing their goodbyes and protestations of good will, the fax machine spit out the Eparch’s perfectly legible chirograph.  (The Eparch followed up with letters to both the Subdeacon and the parish priest.)

Subdeacon Grigori happened to have all his proper vestments with him.  They had a couple walk-throughs and – badda bing badda boom – ecce Sunday Solemn Mass.

And so it was that that happy Sunday with the Solelmn Mass and the real Eastern Subdeacon, became a matter of fond recollection and anecdotes.

Later in the year, Subdeacon Grigori returned for another visit!  The first stay at St. Fidelia had been so very agreeable both for its liturgical excellence in the Roman Rite – a new experience for the Subdeacon, if you get my drift – and because of the priestly fraternity that he knew was sure to follow the Sacred Synaxis.

This time, however, Subdeacon Grigori was without his own proper Eastern vestments!  They were were in the bag lost by the airline.  “Haudquaquam mihi molestum’st“, quoth he, in his best effort to fit in with his Latin hosts, “Let us be flexible.”

When it came time for the Solemn Mass, our Subdeacon vested contentedly as a Roman subdeacon, this being the only commonsensical course to pursue.  The music for the Ordinary was the Mass by Stravinsky, in honor of their Western/Eastern, modern/traditional liturgical nexus.

Subdeacon Grigori, as before, flawlessly carried out his subdiaconal ministry according to the Roman Red and Black, not a syllable lacking or gesture out of place.  He even used the thurible in the Roman manner, though afterwards he showed the altar boys how they used it in his Church.

Having decorously mactated the Victim, the clerics went to the Church hall for coffee and doughnuts with the folks. Subdeacon Grigori gave the parishioners a presentation about the differences between Roman and Byzantine liturgy.

Once the pastoral duties were complete, including a baptism and a Churching, the clerics went off together, parish priest, Fathers assistant, and Subdeacon, to St. Ipsidipsy over in the next county.  St. Ipsidipsy was, of course, the infamous parish entrusted to their mutual friend, Msgr. Zuhlsdorf (hey… fiction is the only way I’ll make Monsignor…).  In Monsignor’s rectory they had a light lunch.  Since they were way out in the wilderness, they then repaired, as was their wont, to Monsignor’s private outdoor firing range near the satellite dish arrays, backup generators, CPU cooling tower, bocce ball courts, and various antennae.

Having prayed to St. Gabriel Possenti and their Guardian Angels for steady hands and safety, they proceeded to put thousands of rounds through a variety of handguns. AR-15s with high-capacity magazines were not lacking. A Barrett .50 cal sniper rifle was fired with great effect.

They all agreed with Grigori’s observation that the glint of sunlight off the shower of casings falling to the ground about their feet was not unlike the sparkle of sun in the Holy Water during that morning’s Asperges.

The only dark note in the afternoon came when Father 2nd Assistant’s Sig Sauer P220 jammed from an errant round of .40 cal that had mysteriously made its way into the .45 ammo can. They consulted, set the Sig apart for closer inspection, and Father continued with his Beretta (… what else?).

Every story has its low point, and they had had theirs. It was a grave moment of concern, but their natural, hard-wired conservative, nay rather, even traditional Catholic cheerfulness overcame even that hitch in their afternoon.

Once all the paper was conclusively dead and all the metal targets had been sufficiently rung and spun, they invoked St. Joseph, Defender of the Church and Mary, Queen of the Clergy and sought out the humble church of St. Ipsidipsy where they sanctified their Sunday through Exposition, Vespers (sung antiphonally), and Benediction.

The scent of spent gunpowder mingled with the incense as together they wafted through the waning sunlight from the windows, their ears ringing merrily from both the .50 cal. and the Sanctus bells.

The conclusive clank of the tabernacle’s door sent them back to the rectory to clean their weapons over Campari sodas and then to enjoy homemade Bucatini all’amatriciana, steaks, salad, bottles of Barolo, which Monsignor had prudently opened before even the first round of .45 ACP had been fired.  They tucked in, reviewing news from the blogs, sharing the usual informations priests are privy to – amusing and dire – about diocesan and parish matters, chuckling for a while over a story in the Fishwrap and by turns glowering over the liberals’ continued misinformation campaigns, reviving anecdotes from seminary and past assignments all while not forgetting to proffer current tips on the best places to buy ammo.

The designated driver had been chosen by lot back at St. Fidelia’s (it fell to Father 2nd Assistant, who was therefore to be exempted for the next couple weeks), and so they brought out the cigars, the Warres ’77, the Hennesey XO and the Lagavulin 16.  Unicuique suum, after all, which happened also to be the motto on the coat of arms of Father 3rd Assistant.

His actis sumptisque omnibus, waving goodbye to Monsignor Z, they hitched up their cassocks, piled into the Father Pastor’s spacious new Volkswagen Phaeton, and sped down the road.

And so they came back to St. Fidelia’s, tired but happy.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. OrthodoxChick says:

    Most fun I’ve had reading all day – bravo!

  2. Mike says:

    Bene factum, quia ab initio usque ad finem risi fabulae.

  3. bohanlon says:

    Mystic Monk makes decaf coffee too, Father…

    [Are you complaining?]

  4. As an Eastern Catholic, this was absolutely hilarious! Thanks for the laugh, Father :) I needed it today.

  5. bohanlon says:

    Not at all, Father! It was quite an enjoyable read! I look forward to the novelization! Perhaps I ought to have added one of these to my previous comment: ;)

    (As an aside, I did not drink much coffee before I entered the seminary; that has changed now. At least I know where to get the good stuff! I have been informed that the consumption of coffee is an important part of the priestly lifestyle.)

    [Especially a certain kind of coffee!]

  6. mamajen says:

    LOL Very entertaining read! Really like those vestments as well–it would be neat being able to attend a mass with a mix of vestments.

  7. mamajen:

    Here’s an example from the Coronation Mass of Pope Bl. John XXIII :)


  8. mamajen says:

    Thanks, JonathanCatholic–that was great!

  9. Moro says:

    I’ve known a Roman Rite deacon vest in Eastern rite vestments when functioning as a deacon at Divine Liturgy. A Maronite deacon confirmed he would vest as a Roman deacon in the Roman Rite. However, for baptisms and marriages Eastern Rite deacons do need faculties of the Roman rite since that is not something deacons do in the East. My understanding is that priests can only vest in a given rite if they have faculties of that rite, but deacons vest according to rite celebrated.

  10. I know, right? You’re welcome, mamajen :)

  11. teomatteo says:

    ….tired, happy and safe. Amen.

  12. Sonshine135 says:

    That was the best clergy story I have ever read…..and there was much rejoicing!

  13. Hughie says:

    I hope you don’t mind, what with my being Scottish and all, if I deal with a non-liturgical matter first. I applaud your choice of whisky. Royal Mile Whiskies, Edinburgh — extortionate prices for rich American visitors a speciality — say of Lagavulin 16: “Massive, peat-smoke typical of southern Islay, yet with a dry finesse that makes up a classy package. Apparently the teetotal Johnny Depp sometimes orders a dram of this and just sniffs it (it’s that good!). A worthy classic.” It is, of course, the driest of Islay malts and so you have to drink, NOT sniff, lots of it to properly “wet your whistle”. A bonus indeed.

    As to liturgical considerations, I remember quite clearly being deeply impressed with the participation of the Eastern Rite prelates and priests at the Funeral Mass of Blessed Pope John Paul II. Attired in the vestments, insignia and regalia proper to them, they chanted in their own liturgical language and particularly noticeable was the fact that it was one of their number who conducted the final incensing of the coffin before its removal for entombment. On the EWTN website there is a Gallery of Images from the Funeral Mass. If you click on set of images Number 12 you will see this.

    Personally, I had never witnessed anything like it. Perhaps I was all the more impressed as a friend, Fr Clarence Gallagher SJ, was Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome (1990-95), and founded (in 1991) the Ezio Aletti Study and Research Centre, the Centro Aletti. Fr Clarence, who died May 5 last, advised JPII on matters relating to the Eastern Churches and, indeed, organised two sets of seminars for him on the matter.

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    That was a very nice teaching story, Father!

    Btw, did you see where one of Archbishop Cordileone’s cousins was at Khe Sanh, and just got his Silver Star this week? Blackfive linked to the story; it was in the LA Times.

  15. StWinefride says:

    But Father! “us lot across the Atlantic” don’t like … ahem… guns! Perhaps you play golf, then you could rewrite it…

    Since they were way out in the wilderness, they then repaired, as was their wont, to Monsignor’s private driving range and 9 hole golf course…!

    There, that’s better! :)

  16. MichaelKavanagh says:

    I laughed, I cried, it was better than “Cats”.

  17. Fr AJ says:

    If you will recall, at the Installation Mass of our Holy Father Pope Francis an Eastern Rite Deacon chanted the Gospel in Greek among other things. He was wearing Eastern Rite vestments.

  18. Ed the Roman says:

    (snif)That was so beautiful!(wiping tear).

  19. babochka69 says:

    Well, that explains it, then. My Byzantine Rite pastor has bi-ritual faculties and offers Mass a couple of times per week at a neighboring parish. When he is at that parish as the sole celebrant, he wears Roman vestments. When he concelebrates at the same parish, he wears his own Byzantine vestments.

  20. albinus1 says:

    St. Ipsidipsy was, of course, the infamous parish entrusted to their mutual friend, Msgr. Zuhlsdorf (hey… fiction is the only way I’ll make Monsignor…).

    Esp. since Pope Francis has evidently decided, alas, to stop naming Monsigniori, at least for the time being:


  21. rome1453 says:

    I am an Eastern Catholic Subdeacon and I always wondered how that would work. Thank you.

  22. e.davison49 says:

    “The scent of spent gunpowder mingled with the incense as together they wafted through the waning sunlight from the windows, their ears ringing merrily from both the .50 cal. and the Sanctus bells.”

    Liberals are going to have aneurysms.

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