ASK FATHER: Can a Bishop be a Deacon for a Priest in a Solemn Mass?

From a reader…


Would it be licit for a Bishop to offer to serve as Deacon for a Extraordinary Form Solemn High Mass Extraordinary Form celebrated by a Priest who is not a Bishop?

That would be just plain weird.

I have no idea how the ceremonial of it all would play out. Fortescue, Wapelhorst, … any of the other standard Rubricians wouldn’t be of much help to figure it out.

This is in the great category of The Possible. A Bishop was ordained as a Deacon. He still possesses the diaconal character.

It is also in the great category of The Inadvisable.

It would be like … putting ketchup on sushi or playing Vivaldi on a banjo.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I never imagined – thanks for a world of Baroque Curiosities The Inadvisability of which to test upon the unsuspecting ear!

  2. JamesM says:

    I think it would be licit for a Bishop to act as a deacon in a Missa Solemnis. (Even more likely to be the case within his own see) However, as Fr. Z has pointed out it would be weird.

    The question really should be WHY would anyone think this was a good idea?

  3. Imrahil says:

    I could imagine

    * a bishop deaconize for a bishop higher in rank in some sense (Pope, Metropolite, Cardinal, diocesan bishop – so, a diocesan bishop could deaconize for his metropolitan but also vice versa, as the latter is not at that place the head of the local church)

    * a bishop deaconize in a reunion of priests ordained at the same time, of whom more than one have been meanwhile been consecrated as bishops,

    * a bishop, very occasionally, deaconize for a priest who is a good personal friend and has his first Mass or a jubilee of some sort.

    It has been heard of, btw. Some German professor of theology – don’t recall whether it was Fr. Rahner or Fr. Vorgrimler – was once deaconized for by a once-scholar of his who had become bishop. As you guessed when I brought up the names, it was no TLM, though.

  4. Michael_Thoma says:

    I agree, but for the same reason, I generally think it’s a bad idea for a priest to be in the role of deacon as well. It’s been tolerated custom in the Latin Church (especially Extraordinary Form), but I still don’t prefer it.

  5. Perhaps a bishop who wants to learn the extraordinary form might want to start with a less demanding role before progressing to be celebrant. I don’t think this would be a normal, routine situation, but it might be a transitional situation until he becomes proficient. Another possibility perhaps might be the case of a bishop who has a slight physical disability that makes celebrating difficult but does not preclude him from performing the diaconal roles. Again, that would not be the norm, but an unusual situation. Certainly a bishop would not want to defer to a priest just because he doesn’t feel like celebrating. On the other hand, these problems probably have other solutions that aren’t as, well, weird.

  6. merio says:

    Our Bishop, who had sat in choir before he was ordained a Bishop, is not the celebrant for our EF Mass on Easter. He doesn’t know how to celebrate the EF. He will be delivering the homily and that is it. We are just grateful that he is coming because the Bishop we had before would have never – and did not ever- attend the EF. So, I don’t think that he would even be fulfilling the role of deacon because he is not even reading the epistle. This is a brick by brick in our diocese for which we are grateful and excited.

  7. IoannesPetrus says:

    I think it would be licit for a Bishop to act as a deacon [sic]… WHY would anyone think this was a good idea? (JamesM)

    I would say it’s a valid concept rather than a licit prospect, given that laws to that effect do not exist (according to Father).

    As for the other question: I’ve never considered the idea until now, but I would suspect it’s really up to the clergy to play around with it, insofar as they think a Missa Sollemnis is e.g. conducive to popular devotion, or appropriate for the feast of the day. In that regard, if there are few (available) clerics—including the (local) Bishop—who can rightly fill the roles needed…well, by now perhaps one could see why people may think this a good idea.

    I have some ideas (re: liceity) on vesture, less on ceremonies and—overall?—barely any practical experience of the usus antiquior. Still, I don’t mind sharing…so long as anyone’s interested.

  8. Matt Robare says:

    In Papal High Masses bishops served as deacons, but it was, of course, a different situation.

  9. IoannesPetrus says:

    My apologies: I should have said laws to that effect do not seem to exist (according to Father).

  10. Gabriel58 says:

    I once served as subdeacon at a Mass in which the deacon was a Bishop-elect. He had already comitted to assist for the occasion, and still fulfilled the role. He was, of course, not yet consecrated, though he has begun to wear the zuchetto. He chose to leave it aside for the evening’s services. It was, even then, an odd situation.

  11. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    I say this without benefit of having Bugnini’s memoirs on hand, but… as I recall, the Consilium reformers decided that priests should not function as deacons (at least, not while wearing diaconal vesture) out of respect for liturgical “authenticity.” That is why, in the Ordinary Form, priests do not have the option of serving as deacon of the Mass vested as deacons; they must either concelebrate Mass or assist in choro vested as priests (i.e., in chasuble [or at least alb and stole] or choir dress, but not diaconal stole and dalmatic). Up to now, I’ve had a problem with that (after all, priests remain deacons, no?). Given this preposterous scenario, I’m reconsidering.

  12. Giuseppe says:

    Baroque composers expected their music to be played by any means possible, to be transcribed, to be reinvented, etc. Here’s the great mandolin player Chris Thile playing a Bach Prelude from one of his Partitas for Violin. One of the best Bach CDs out there.


  13. Phil_NL says:

    Isn’t there some long forgotten canon that imposes a latae sententiae ordination as a bishop for any priest daft enough to propose this?

    If not, there should be. It’s the only fitting punishment.

  14. I don’t think it is possible as it violates some fundamental principles. It would be even worse if it was the local ordinary. It is very different than a priest acting as deacon, as a priest would not have the same status and liturgical specifications as a bishop. A bishop is always a bishop so would have to be treated as one.

    It would also undermine the image of the bishop as the “chief-Priest” so to speak of the diocese. It seems weird and inadvisable at best, maybe even illicit at worse. We are not even mentioning the principle that a prelate should not fulfil a role for one junior to him (A problem we have had here as we have a local religious superior who cant deacon for a local priest.)

  15. Stephen Matthew says:

    I don’t know anything about the idea of a bishop serving as a deacon, but I did hear a story to the affect of a bishop who was also a Cardinal acting as the server at a Low Mass for an ordinary priest.

  16. JamesM says:

    Fr. Thomas Kocik
    “in the Ordinary Form, priests do not have the option of serving as deacon of the Mass vested as deacons; they must either concelebrate Mass or assist in choro vested as priests”

    This is correct, however from memory I believe there is the allowance to continue if it is part of an established tradition. I believe this is why the London Oratory, for example, has priests as deacons at their Solemn NO Mass on Sundays.

  17. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    JamesM: It is an established tradition throughout the Latin Church. What makes the London Oratory different in this regard?

  18. Tarcissian Tendency says:

    The greater may always do the lesser, but quite why a bishop would Deacon at Mass is beyond me.

  19. Dafyd says:

    I’ve on (extremely rare) occasion seen a bishop perform acolyte duty for young priests still learning the ropes, but never as a deacon, and even then, only at a weekday Mass. I will say that it was deeply, deeply humbling to see a bishop do that.

    The more typical scenario I’ve seen when a bishop doesn’t celebrate himself is for him to sit enthroned in choir habit, with a few instances where he rises for certain liturgical acts due to pride of place (absolution, final blessing, etc).

  20. jflare says:

    I should think it would make more sense for His Excellency to simply learn to offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. By doing so, he could better enable all involved–including himself–to worship God more effectively. I can’t imagine that any priest would be very thrilled with being the celebrant when his deacon happens to be his boss.

  21. wolfeken says:

    The easy argument against a bishop acting as a deacon at a TLM is that a bishop’s role at Mass is always different from that of a priest and, in fact, does not use the Roman Missal. His Low Mass requires chaplains and his High Mass requires a host of extra clergy, including an assistant priest. Just sitting in choir means acolytes need to do several distinct things when a bishop is present, depending on whether or not the bishop is in his diocese (complex) or not (simpler).

    Once a man goes from priest to bishop, the governing rubrics concerning liturgy change to reflect the dignity of his office.

  22. Uxixu says:

    I recall the story Stephen Matthew mentions of a Cardinal serving a priest at Low Mass. A server is just a substitute for the sacred ministers at High Mass anyway…. That sounded as befitting the humble character of the individual far more than any lowering of the dignity of the consecrated episcopacy but that seems particular to the nature of Low Mass, though as mentioned even a Pontifical Low Mass shows greater dignity due to the bishop as an heir to the Apostles.

    Then there’s the Cardinal-Deacon who still wear dalmatics but have been required to be consecrated bishops since 1962 (at least priests since 1917)…

  23. John Nolan says:

    Having priests act as deacon and ‘subdeacon’ at a Novus Ordo Solemn Mass is standard Oratory practice (as is genuflecting to the tabernacle when incensing the altar) and is not confined to London, or indeed to the Oratorians. Bugnini might not have approved, but he’s long gone. Perhaps he’s tinkering with the heavenly liturgy as we speak.

  24. Gaz says:

    Our Bishop graciously sat in choir for Solemn Pontifical Mass. Afterwards he let slip that he was in one of the last classes ordained as SubDeacon. Of course we told him he should have sung the Epistle! He’s a very fine and encouraging Bishop.

    When I pray the Holy Rosary, I include my Ordinary’s intentions along with the Holy Father’s in those couple of prayers at the start… A habit picked up when our previous Bishop was on an ad limina visit….

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