ASK FATHER: Married deacons and the fascia

fasciaFrom a permanent deacon…


Can a married Deacon use a fascia with his cassock, considering that it symbolises chastity?

If it symbolizes chastity, most certainly then, a married deacon can wear it, since he should be living a life of chastity as should every married man.

If it symbolizes celibacy, then he shouldn’t wear it.

If it symbolizes continence, well then, I’d would defer to Ed Peters to lead the discussion from this point onward…

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  1. “life of chastity as should every married man”, yes. More fully… every person!

    Also, if this thing were to symbolize chastity (I have no idea), then anyone who could not honestly wear it should be on their way to confession pronto.

  2. Supertradmum says:


    “A deeply felt need in the decision to re-establish the permanent diaconate was and is that of a greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in the various spheres of the family, work, school etc., in addition to existing pastoral structures. Among other things, this fact explains why the Council, while not totally rejecting the idea of celibacy for deacons permitted this Order to be conferred on “mature married men”. It was a prudent realistic approach, chosen for reasons that can be easily understood by anyone familiar with different people’s ages and concrete situations according to the level of maturity reached. For the same reason it was then decided, in applying the Council’s provisions, that the diaconate would be conferred on married men under certain conditions: they would be at least 35 years of age and have their wife’s consent, be of good character and reputation, and receive an adequate doctrinal and pastoral preparation given either by institutes or priests specially chosen for this purpose (cf. Paul VI, , nn. 11-15: , II, 1381- 1385).”

  3. Giulio says:

    I know at least two studies on the topic:
    Christian Cochini, Le origini apostoliche del celibato sacerdotale (2011)
    Cesare Bonivento, Il celibato sacerdotale – Istituzione ecclesiastica o tradizione apostolica? (2007)

    Mons. Bonivento upheld the thesis that married deacons should abstain from “uso del matrimonio” i.e. live continency. I think he has something, otherwise why getting the permit from wife to get ordered, if she had nothing to lose?

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Giulio, I was told a long time ago by a priest involved in the Ordinariate, that this total celibacy was intended originally by Benedict for those priests as well as for the permanent diaconate longer ago than that. Too many exceptions seems to have changed the original ideal. although I do know some priests and wives in “Josephite” marriages.

  5. The problem is not that the fascia is a sign of chastity (for so is the cincture and the deacon is obliged to wear that by the rubrics), but that the fascia is a sign of jurisdiction or authority, which ordinarily the deacon does not possess. (Though there are exceptions, such as the fascia of a canon, of a Jesuit, etc.)

  6. APX says:

    Personally I think that regardless of what the fascia symbolizes, it should be worn with the cassock, otherwise the cassock looks more like a clerical muumuu (at least from what I’ve seen).

  7. Cyrillus Mariae Cheung says:

    now I am confused , what is the meaning of the fascia then?

  8. Giulio says:

    @Supertradmum I pointed to those studies not because they are recently written, but for their content.
    Mgr. Bonivento asserts that in the first centuries ordained men were bound to continency; due to the number of violation of this law, the latin Church opted for celibacy as the best way to guaranteed continency and thus ordained married men became a thing of the past.
    Now, with CVII the Church allows ordained married men again, without no explicit binding to continency. Mgr. Bonivento says She should explicitly impose the continency law, and I think he is hitting a nerve.
    Cannot say much about Cochini’s book as it is further down in my reading list.

  9. Giulio says:

    Just checked that there are English translation of both books.
    Christian Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, Ignatius Press ISBN978-0-89870-951-3
    PRIESTLY CELIBACY : Ecclesiastical Institution or Apostolic Tradition?

  10. VexillaRegis says:

    For how long has the priestly fascia been used?

  11. FL_Catholic says:

    I’ve done a little research into this myself (I’m in the middle of reading the National Directory on the Formation of Permanent Deacons from the USCCB), and its amazing that no one seems to know for sure whether or not married deacons are required to abstain from the marriage act. It seems bizarre that such a major part of the Latin Church could go for decades with no true direction on something so important.

  12. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    The arguments are laid out here:

  13. SimpleCatholic says:

    Since this was originally about the fascia, and Dr. Peters has re-presented here for us his extremely cogent argument for continence (which is not the same as chastity or celibacy), I will make some observations about the fascia and its friends the cassock and the biretta.

    I would just say that, like the biretta, there are not really any universal rules about exactly who can wear the when we’re talking about clerics or “quasi-clerics” like seminarians. It’s diocese by diocese, and the most important principle governing the use of the cassock, fascia, and biretta in these strange times is PRUDENCE. Fathers, Deacons, and especially seminarians, gird your loins spiritually, keep yourselves always in the state of grace, and pick your battles wisely.

  14. From my admittedly limited experience, the number of permanent deacons I’ve encountered who wear the cassock with any regularity is relatively small. Usually, it’s when serving as Master of Ceremonies for a Mass—and then, with a surplice. I’ve never seen one wear a fascia. (I only rarely find priests who wear it, either.)

    I’ll also add: rubrics notwithstanding, most deacons and priests I know forgo the cincture, as well. (The rubric doesn’t appear to be—to use an apt word—binding: “336. The sacred garment common to all ordained and instituted ministers of any rank is the alb, to be tied at the waist with a cincture unless it is made so as to fit even without such.” There’s a little wiggle room there.)

  15. robtbrown says:

    Supertradmum says,

    Giulio, I was told a long time ago by a priest involved in the Ordinariate, that this total celibacy was intended originally by Benedict for those priests as well as for the permanent diaconate longer ago than that. Too many exceptions seems to have changed the original ideal. although I do know some priests and wives in “Josephite” marriages.

    It is my understanding that celibacy is to be grandfathered into the Ordinate. For those who have been married Anglican clergy, there would be dispensation from celibacy. For everyone else, celibacy is required.

  16. robtbrown says:

    Edward Peters says:

    The arguments are laid out here:

    A man I know was ordained a permanent deacon yesterday. He told me that in one of his classes the canon lawyer said that the law requires celibacy even for married deacons–but that everyone ignores it.

  17. Supertradmum says:

    not that simple for the Ordinariate, as I know personally from conversations; the grandfathering was supposed to be for the “first wave” only. The fact that celibacy is being ignored by the permanent diaconate has troubled me for some time. This state of disobedience does not bode well for those who choose to ignore the wishes of the various Popes concerning celibacy.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Well here we go…

    1. The argument Dr Peters brings about that the draft of the new CIC was changed proves, to me, the contrary what he thinks it does.

    Assume it was undeliberate: then, of course, the use of marriage is allowed for deacons, which the draft explicitly said.

    Assume it was deliberate: then the Church, and the responsible bishops and canonists (starting right away with Pope St. John Paul II), which in full knowledge that the distinction between “continence” and “celibacy” is nowhere made in the Church’s language, failed to state a ban on the use of marriage in explicit and understandable terms, could not be excused from responsibility that tens of thousands of deacons are in contradiction to canon law (which would not, as a rule, mean subjective sin, but still). This would be absurd, hence, etc.

    2. Add as subsidiary arguments that the large-scale extension of the deaconate which Vatican II, rightly or wrongly, wanted, and for which they explicitly said that they’d sacrifice the deaconate’s celibacy for, seems only possible if this celibacy doesn’t mean they have to abstain from marriage use.

    3. Although Dr Peters correctly says that a statement from Rome is not an authentic interpretation, still, there has been a statement from Rome.

    So, let’s leave quite open whether married, deacons should be continent, or continent on celebration days, or not, and let’s also leave open whether the law shouldn’t better be clarified to express what it wishes to express in accord with its own previous terminology (I think it should),

    but I’m quite certain that the law – the vague law, if you will, but the law – does not prescribe continence to married deacons.

    4. And hence, there is no disobedience.

    And even if that were not the case, and if Dr Peters were right: On a human level at least, there’s not much sense in complaining about disobedience when the superior fails to give his order in a graspable manner.

  19. Imrahil says:

    is nowhere made in the Church’s language

    what I intended to say: is nowhere made in the language of the faithful (except sometimes among canonists when they really do look at the issue). Dr Peters has of course quite well proven what the terms actually mean in official terminology.

  20. murtheol says:

    Alright, then, for the last time. The Holy Spirit has abandoned apostolic celibacy for married Deacons. This is the radical departure from a centuries-old norm that few have adequately grasped.

  21. Imrahil says:

    Well, let’s say “the Council Fathers and Popes”, rather… (This was their obvious intent, although Dr Peters has proved that the technical expression of that in the law they made is somewhat lacking.)

    The problem with ascribing such a measure to the Holy Spirit is that one would not want to critizise it. Our Lord instituted a Ministry within His Church, which at some times has to make decisions. It must in any case be said that this does not seem to break any definitive necessity, if the married non-continent clergy (including even priests) of the East has been tolerated for centuries, also departing from Apostolic Tradition (whether or not they abstain on the celebration day).

    That said, the Council could choose between
    a) leaving it as it is, which means no really visible deaconate (except for as a training step for priest-candidates),
    b) artificially reducing the priesthood by not ordaining men qualified for priesthood, just to keep them in the deaconate, or
    c) (artificially, if you will) enlargen the deaconate by ordaining men not qualified according to previous law, but who set no insurmountable obstacle in divine law: including that they are necessarily unqualified for priesthood*.

    There’s much to be said in difficult decisions for “sticking to as it is”; however, it must be conceded to the Fathers that neither alternative is quite ideal.

    [* This is why the allowance for married deacons is no step to married priests – at least not in the intention of the Council. If married priests were introduced, somewhat all of our permanent deacons would be ordained priests rather immediately, all those who are now ordained deacons would be rather ordained priests, because: why not? and we could make better use of them, and the deaconate would immediately be a step to priesthood again.]

  22. FL_Catholic says:

    Imrahil makes some interesting points. It is true that if the Latin Church allowed married priests that a large chunk of the married deacons would want to “step-up” to priesthood, but I have to say that to me those who would apply to do so were never truly filled with a proper understanding of being a Deacon in the first place.

    The Order of Deacons conforms a man’s soul into a mirror of Jesus the Servant. The priesthood is about Jesus as High Priest. They are two completly different ministries with different purposes. Obviously, transitional deacons come to an understanding of Jesus as Servant so that they might better offer the Sacrifice for the Church as a mirror of the High Priest once they are ordained to the priesthood. But that was their final calling, to the priesthood. Those who are called to be Deacons must mirror the Servant for their entire lives, becomming more and more like the Suffering Servant, to the point of dying to self in the service of the Church. To then want to “move up” to the priesthood means they never truly lost that love of self and embraced their calling as a servant.

    While the married priesthood, to me, is an idea that is long overdue in the Latin Church and will call many more men to the priesthood (not to mention give more examples of good, holy, and complete Faith-filled families to a society in desperate need of such examples), I think its a mistake to say that the married priesthood will make the married deaconate disappear. Both ministries would still be needed to fulfill the mission of the Church in these dark days we live in.

  23. Imrahil says:

    Dear FL_Catholic,

    well, thanks for your kind words.

    I disagree, and to quite many points. Here’s why (I try).

    For one thing, I have a more realistic view of that “calling” thing. Priesthood is, of course, a vocation; but God calls priest in a complicated mixture of ways; the words of spiritual advisers, the judgment of the environment, rational deliberation, “it so happens”, grace (which is grounded upon nature), “direct” (if you suffer the imprecision) stirring up by the Holy Spirit, have all their place therein. Final safety about his calling the priest only has when he’s received the Sacrament. Moral theologians teach that noone (at least if he is not called in that direct way as was Samuel) is obliged in morality to respond to the calling. The image of “one plan God has in store for you” beyond the general Commandments that you have to find out and then follow under pain of sin is, though the issue is complicated, in general faulty (see Prof. Wollbold, “Als Priester leben” [Living as a Priest], p. 93-95).

    Then, Holy Orders is not about renouncing the self (in any more specific or stricter way than Baptism, save accidentally). That belongs to the religious life. Love of self is, as we all know, in any case a duty of the Christian (which the ascetic of course also fulfills, because asceticism is highly meritorious).

    As we’re treating secular clergy here, of course they’ll not say not to (well-deserved) honors (such as the “Monsignor” or “Concillor Spiritual” titles) or if they qualities and achievements are valued by their superiors, so as to fill posts of more responsibility with those that have shown to be qualified. “Careerism” is an unfriendly word, but what careerism in itself is is quite well and somewhat natural to the secular clergy. (I do not mean the sort of careerism that works by intrigues and machinations, of course.)

    Then, there have, of course, always been some who chose to be only a deacon, for a couple of reasons. St. Francis comes to mind. Or also Theodolfo Mertel, who was a layman lawyer in service of the Papal States who, after finding a cardinal’s hat placed on his head, sought the deaconate to match his cardinalatial title, but never aspired to be a priest.

    But the ordinary way to go is not this; in the ordinary way of things, a deacon presented with a position that means more use to the Church (it’s not like he’d have to put himself forward!) and the fellow-Christians he serves, not too many additional hardships, and honor for himself – what do you suppose him to do? reject?

    In any case, I wouldn’t really say that priesthood is about representing Christ as the High Priest: that’s actually the precise description of the episcopate. What is the priest? Well, he represents Christ as priest; is that too simple? A priest is he who consecrates, that (I heard once), or something similar, was St. Thomas’s definition, and I think that’s what priesthood is: the power to celebrate the Eucharist validly.

    And the deaconate? Well, I’d translate deacon chiefly into Latin in a different manner. A deacon is a minister, in the precise Latin meaning of the word, but not without any touch of that “administrative official”, “organizer” etc. that has become connected to it. (Any Christian may, some in some situations must, and many do, perform works of mercy, without the need to be ordained for it.)

    (A subdeacon; an acolyte [“henchman”]: there we are nearer to the notion of “servant” as usually understood.)

    And as Holy Orders is one coherent institution, which is chiefly about the Eucharist: the bishop who consecrates It and represents Christ the High Priest in the Church who celebrates it; the priest who (as such, “merely”) consecrates It – this requires an “and so on”, so indeed, we have to find a chief element of even the Holy Orders below priesthood in their service at Mass. (Whether they are sacraments or sacramentals is peripheral to that question.)

    As it were, the specific jobs of the parish priest are in large part deaconal – and done by commission from the bishop; a priest is he who consecrates, and all the rest, leading or vice-leading a parish, hearing Confessions, witnessing marriages, and so on he does because the Bishop (or Church law, which means the Bishop or the Pope) delegates him to do so. [Note I did not use “delegate” here as it is used in canon law.]

  24. Imrahil says:

    As for the married priesthood… straying a little bit off-topic…

    well, no. Er: no.

    Why not?

    It has been the apostolic tradition that priests do not marry and if celebrated when married, then live continent. (Which means, apart from a direct call by our Lord, that this is impossible without the wife’s consent.) Even in the East where that tradition waned, they have to be continent on the celebration day – and as a priest ought to* celebrate daily, and at any rate should be able to celebrate daily, that amounts with us to the same thing. [* In the sense: It is meritorious if he does; and in any rate, fulfilling his usual duties he won’t be able to do much less.]

    It is an old principle that he who enters the sanctuary abstains from wives. “Be ye clean, that handle the vessels of the Lord.” (Is 52,11) And yes, the chaste married man is, when it comes to it, clean (hence, the married deacon or altar server or the exceptional or Greek married priest poses no problem), but still. (We could delve here still much more deeply to find the actual, theoretical reasons.)

    Now for subsidiary reasons:

    1. The much-heard claim that celibacy is going to be “voluntary” is, excuse the expression, well-meant but moonshine. There is such thing as voluntary celibacy / continence / virginity (I’m allowing myself colloquiality, and shall use these terms interchangably), but it is a mark of the religious life [that term now I do use technically]. Now some of the religious life are in orders and some aren’t; some may live a quasi-religious life without ever having formally committed to it; and some may just turn out the male equivalent of spinsters; but the diocesan clergy, as such, will become a married clergy

    [There is one exception to the necessity of that development: if married priests were forbidden to make careers in the Church and would not get any money from the bishop – and maybe forbidden to take money from the parishioners.]

    2. I think priesthood somehow should be a “profession” that people might enter at a relatively young age; that we also have young priests, middle-aged priests, some “late vocation” priests, and priests gone grey in the service of our Lord. A monoculture of distinguished elder gentlemen, who after having had success in worldly life and earning some popularity, being (it is to be hoped for) faithful, orthodox Catholics, are ordained priests for the service of their parishes – the idea seems rather disencouraging to me.

    3. Some have said, and though I can’t prove it I think they’re right: People won’t go to Confession to married men.

    4. Rather than “give more examples of good, holy, and complete Faith-filled families to a society in desperate need of such examples”, it would not really leave so much of possibility to be a father of such a family and remain a laymen. We will have less faithful laymen family fathers.

    And I doubt it will happen often that the father is ordained a priest first, and his family betters significantly afterwards.

    In fact, the tales we hear about the Protestant “parish house” which is (at least back in the days was) expected to be a shining example of morality for the whole village are not encouraging In fact, in all our just criticism of Nietzsche one shouldn’t forget that this is what he went through in his youth. (Some good poets sprung from it.)

    5. (Surprisingly maybe:) It won’t help in our talks with Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. When we have to, however deep down, claim we are right, it does not help giving them the impression that they were right after all – and how we treat our traditions.

    The Pope is never going to impose celibacy on the Easterners against their will – so far so good, that they should know. But we can stick to our Latin practice as Latiners.

    6. Celibacy is a good means to rule out the unorthodox. One never can be safe against intrigues – but as for the kind but unorthodox man who thinks “I somewhat do believe, don’t I”, “let’s study theology, I’m interested in it; afterwards let’s take such job as we can find”, and who has a horror of “living a double-life”, celibacy is just too great a price for something you don’t 100% support.

    7. Connected to that: though that does not stand in the Bible or any dogma, God seems to have always provided us with priests. Only where faith grows cold or dies, priesthood vocations diminish. Married priests (who, or many of whom, would share the general attitudes of their parishes) would (I hate to sound so Darwinist) quite probably keep alive something that is rather meant to disintegrate, for the overall greater good of souls.

    8. If the old rules about “no being married twice” were followed, St. Thomas teaches that he who has been married to a non-virgin is irregular, except (and that only probably) if the only one who had slept with his wife before marriage is himself. Sth. Supp 66 II. That would rule out many candidates.

    9. The “standard argument” that priests have a lot of work to do.

    As for the usual counter-argument “So does a CEO”: That CEOs have to work so much as to have no real time for the family is a problem of the system; it shouldn’t be different and it could be different (though they’d still have to work much). Not so for priests; here all the work they have to do, they’d also have to do if conditions were as ideal as they could be in this world (except for some administrative things which, in such an ideal world, they could leave to a paid secretary).

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