ASK FATHER: Eastern Catholic Priest or Deacon as Deacon for Traditional Latin Mass?

From an Eastern Deacon…


Can an Eastern Catholic Priest or Deacon serve as Deacon for the Latin Mass?

Why… YES!

As a matter of fact, I have dealt with this before, concerning the Eastern Subdeacon, but the law applies to priests and deacons.

Perhaps some of you will remember the…

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 ACP 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 Buccatini 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.


*I think I got that right.   It’s been a while since I’ve used ancient Greek actively.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Ah yes, target practice at Msgr’s compound, followed by Campari, steaks, and the homemade bucatini all’amatriciana…the bocce tournament…When my homeschooling days are finally over I will include something of this as an episode in my dystopian novella for inclusion in the time capsule, for the now baby Catholics to ceremoniously uncover one fine day in future, and appreciate that, yes, we were indeed thinking of them back in the day…

  2. Ughh… the internet ate my first comment.

    While there’s no problem generally speaking with the Eastern Catholic subdeacon substituting for the Latin Catholic subdeacon and the Eastern Catholic deacon substituting for the Latin Catholic deacon, there’s an additional issue with e.g. the Eastern Catholic deacon substituting for the Latin subdeacon or the Eastern Catholic priest subsituting for the Latin deacon or subdeacon.

    This is because, it is generally not permitted in the Byzantine Churches for a cleric to vest and act other than as his current clerical rank. If you have two priests at an ordinary parish liturgy and no deacon, they must both serve as priests, you can’ t have one of them serve as the deacon, even though having a deacon is preferable in the Byzantine liturgy.

    This kind of substitution for a missing lower ranking cleric did happen in the past, but it is considered to have been a latinization in the United States, so it’s a very touchy subject.

    I have heard a report of deacons acting as subdeacons in Russian monastic contexts (crossing the orarion for the entire service and wearing their cuffs), but before applying this kind of oikonomia to his own situation, the Eastern Catholic cleric would want to consult with his Bishop.

  3. totustuusmaria says:

    Isn’t the difference between “instituted” and “ordained” merely a semantic difference? There is still a traditio, and it is still held that reception of the minor orders are perpetual and unrepeatable. I agree we should call it ordination once again, but I don’t think the essence of the rite has changed.

  4. Fr. W says:

    Is the Eastern-Rite deacon/priest to obtain permission from his Eastern Patriarch, or from the Latin-Rite bishop? That part confuses me

    [From the Eastern Eparch.]

  5. q7swallows says:

    I have been dining by myself in our local ranch-style diner in the middle of serious ag country, laughing out loud reading this post. There is so much about all of it that I enjoy in so many ways . . . . It made me remember (with a certain amount of anguish) just how much really wish I could go on your pilgrimage . . . .

  6. Elizium23 says:

    I must definitely try out “having decorously mactated the victim” on every priest I know, possibly as a subtle test of sense of humor vs. orthodoxy.

  7. Matt R says:

    I saw this in Rome. He wore Roman vestments on both occasions asGood Friday deacon of the Passion and the subdeacon for Easter Mass.

  8. Elizabeth D says:

    I don’t like the “decorously mactated the victim” because that is the only reference to Jesus in the story and it seems like there could be a more personal way of speaking of Him.

  9. JohnNYC says:

    [begin quote from Fr. Z’s post]
    *I think I got that right. It’s been a while since I’ve used ancient Greek actively.
    [end quote from Fr. Z’s post]

    Dear Father, if by “????????”, you intended to express “quaeritur”, then EUGE! You got it perfect! A small note: the diacritic mark for smooth breathing (????? ??????/spiritus lenis) should be as follows: ? (not ?).
    If you compose on the iPhone this is not possible from the “Greek” keyboard. There is no Ancient Greek keyboard for the iPhone. :-( Not even for the fancy iPhone 6+. :-( :-( :-(

    On the Mac, however, Ancient Greek can be properly typed using the Greek Polytonic keyboard (System Preferences/Keyboard/Input Sources). Lower-case epsilon with a soft breathing (?) is done by typing an apostrophe and then epsilon.

    Also, FYI: you actually didn’t “use … Ancient Greek actively”. You used it “mediopassively”! Ha Ha Ha!!! ;-) ;-) ;-)

    And since we still have several day left in the Easter Season, I wish you and your readers a Blessed and Happy Easter!!!!!

    ??????? ??????!!!!!!!!

  10. VexillaRegis says:

    JohnNYC, sorry about those question marks! The last words were easy to decifer, though :-) : Christos anesti!
    Regarding spiritus lenis and spiritus asper, I never miss an oppurtunity (when the subject comes up) to tell people, that Archimedes did NOT say “youreeeeka”, he said “HEVreka!”

  11. JesusFreak84 says:

    My favorite bedtime story! :D :D :D

  12. AVL says:

    What a cool bunch you guys are. That sounds like a great time. I kinda wish I were one of you guys instead of being home wiping baby butts and not sleeping.

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