ASK FATHER: Deacons in Novus Ordo Masses

17_04_17_recession_01From a reader…


Father, can you please shed some light on GIRM #171-173 (and there abouts), regarding the position of the Deacon during the procession to and from the altar?

We were instructed in the seminary to be in front of the priest. I am seeing more and more (even on EWTN) the deacon walking in procession to and from the altar NEXT to the priest. This seems to be wrong. It “appears” then as the Deacon is equal in all aspects to the priest. In fact, in my diocese deacons have been asked to not conduct any, so called, “Communion Service” because it “looks” like he is offering the Mass in the eyes of many of the laity. At Masses where the Deacon preaches, I have even heard parishioners say to the Deacon after Mass: “nice Mass Father.” And the Deacon, of course, never correctes them. Is the statement about being “next to the priest” meant for only within the sanctuary, or only as an alternative to being in front of the priest during the procession, as when not carrying the Book of the Gospels? I believe there is another part of the GIRM (escapes me at the moment) that states the Deacon exits the same way he enters. I would read that as, if entering carrying the Gospels in front of the priest, then you should leave in front of the priest even if not carrying the Gospels.

It seems, our “Uppity Deacons” today enjoy making issues of virtually everything.

Thank you Father, for your wise and much appreciated thoughts.

It has been a long time since I had a deacon for a Novus Ordo Mass, and it has been a really long time since I was a deacon for a Novus Ordo Mass.  I was deacon for a Solemn TLM last Sunday, however.   During that Mass I walked at the side of the priest on the way in and during the Vidi aquam, because he was in cope and because I had to carry the aspersorium. If there had not been a Vidi aquam I would have walked in front of the priest. I also walked at the priest’s side from the sedilia to the altar.  It was pretty clear that the priest was the priest and that the deacon was the deacon: we were dressed differently.  At the conclusion of Mass, I walked in front of the priest.   That’s how we do it in the Roman Rite… traditionally.

What does the GRIM say?

171. When he is present at the celebration of the Eucharist, a Deacon should exercise his ministry, wearing sacred vestments. In fact, the Deacon:

a) assists the Priest and walks at his side;


172. Carrying the Book of the Gospels slightly elevated, the Deacon precedes the Priest as he approaches the altar or else walks at the Priest’s side.

I believe the GIRM says that the deacon walks in front of the priest in the entrance procession when he carries the Evangelarium.   I suppose then that if he goes in in front of the priest, he should leave that way too.

Perhaps this is a chance for enrichment of the Novus Ordo.  Perhaps the more traditional entrance and exit would be a good idea.

I suspect that there are deacons who would like to jump in.


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 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Dcn PB says:

    It’s clear in the GIRM that the deacon walks at the priest’s side unless he is carrying the book of the Gospels. He would therefore process out next to the priest even if he preceded him with the Gospels for the entrance procession.

    According to the Ceremonial of Bishops the deacon processes in to the side and slightly behind a bishop (again, if not carrying the Gospels). This usually happens if there are two deacons at the Mass. Of course, the bishop can ask you not to do this and walk at his side and I have heard of them doing this.

    It’s not exactly clear what you mean by “uppity” deacon. A deacon should do what is proper to his order, period.

    With regard to mistaking a deacon for a priest, they are dressed differently and carry out different functions. Hopefully, people will begin to understand who a deacon is as they become more familiar with them.

    Sometimes it’s prudent for me to correct someone who mistakenly calls me “father” and sometimes it isn’t. We do the best we can. Sometimes people who know I’m a deacon call me “father” as a force of habit. I know they don’t think I’m a priest.

    There are better reasons for not having a communion service at a parish but that’s a different topic.

  2. JabbaPapa says:

    While not myself a deacon — pacem — our small traditionally sized diocese (geographically the size of most parishes these days :-( ) has multiple permanent deacons, and in practice the place of the deacon during the procession simply varies according to what the priest or Bishop happens to need for that particular procession. All else being equal, the deacons proceed behind the priests, and the priests behind the Bishop — exceptions to this occur when the deacon or one of them is charged with assisting the main celebrant in some processional ministry, whether this might be carrying something, or symbolically assisting the celebrant with his vestment during the procession, or because that deacon is to play a more emphatic rôle than usual during the Mass.

  3. pelerin says:

    It’s many years since there was a Deacon in my parish. He became quite a novelty in the parish. Perhaps they are seen more in the US?

    I wonder if the Anglican cathedral in Worcester, England discussed where in the procession the man dressed as an asparagus should walk! I bet there are no rules for that! The picture has caused quite a bit of controversy here. Anglicans are not used to having vegetables blessed let alone seeing someone dressed as a very large vegetable walking up the aisle of a cathedral.

  4. Adaquano says:

    The pastor should hopefully be calling his deacon by his man such as Deacon Jim, Deacon Dave, Deacon Tim to help parishioners distinguish the two.

    I don’t think many people in my parish have too much trouble with the difference. My biggest complaint is that our deacon only gives the Precious Blood, meaning we have one lay person distributing Hosts.

  5. JMGcork says:

    What if there were two Deacons at a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated by a Priest? Would they walk on both sides of the Priest? What if the aisle was not wide enough? Would they walk side by side in front of the Priest? Would they walk one in front of the other as in the Extraordinary Form with Subdeacon and Deacon?

  6. Ellen says:

    My parish has deacons. They don’t have dalmatics (yet) but they wear the alb and stole. They walk by the priest and are called Deacon Bob, Deacon Victor etc. Maybe some day we will get dalmatics, we finally got rose vestments. Brick by brick.

  7. Titus says:

    The GIRM is obviously contemplating that the celebrant processes in vested in cope, and that the deacon holds the hem. Thus the necessity that he walks by the celebrant’s side.


  8. introibo2016 says:

    In the Ceremonial of Bishops (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1989) it mentions in a variety of places the role of deacons at Mass with a bishop. The following is concerning the role of deacons at the stational Mass of the bishop at his cathedral. For the sake of brevity, I only list the ones pertaining to this article and accompanying conversation.

    122. It is preferable that as a rule at least three deacons… assist in a stational Mass: one to proclaim the gospel reading and minister at the altar, two to assist the bishop.

    128. As the entrance song is being sung, the procession moves from the vesting room (sacristy) to the sanctuary (chancel) in the following order:
    – censerbearer carrying a censer with burning incense;
    – an acolyte carrying the cross, with the image to the front, walks between seven other acolytes,
    or at least two, carrying candlesticks with lighted candles;
    – clergy, two by two;
    – the deacon carrying the Book of the Gospels;
    – deacons, if they are present, two by two;
    – concelebrating presbyters, two by two;
    – the bishop, walking alone, wearing the miter, carrying the pastoral staff in his left hand and
    blessing with his right;
    – a little behind the bishop, the two deacons assisting him;
    – finally, the ministers who assist with the book, the miter, and the pastoral staff.

    170. After the blessing, one of the deacons dismisses the people…. All reply, Thanks be to God. Then, as a rule, the bishop kisses the altar and makes the due reverence to it. The concelebrants also, and all in the sanctuary (chancel), reverence the altar, as at the beginning of Mass, and return to the vesting room (sacristy) in procession, following the order in which they entered.

    Now the GIRM, following what Fr. Z already referenced:

    186. Then, together with the Priest, the Deacon venerates the altar with a kiss, makes a profound bow, and withdraws in a manner similar to the Entrance Procession.

    In my diocese, there is usually only one deacon for the bishop’s stational Mass. However, at the celebrations where the diocese is encouraged to participate as a whole, there are usually enough deacons for it to play out as in the Ceremonial of Bishops. Usually the deacon who carried in the Book of the Gospels processes out either in front of the bishop with the two assisting deacons behind the bishop (in the case of three deacons) or side by side with the assisting deacon (in the case of two deacons). It seems that both the Ceremonial and GIRM leave it open to interpretation.

    All deacons in my diocese are (supposed to be) in alb, stole and dalmatic at Mass and usually the priest-deacon confusion only occurs in parishes that are not accustomed to a deacon.

  9. bsjy says:

    By and large, the deacon does what he is told to do by the celebrant, certainly in terms of where he is in the procession. The Ceremonial of Bishops and the GIRM are trumped by the whispered instructions in the narthex.

    When I get called “Father” instead of “Deacon” I let it go because a) the end-of-Mass handshake line is not a place of liturgical instruction and b) I have kids so it is not entirely inapplicable.

    It is the rare priest or bishop who looks forward to being corrected by a deacon or lay person on some finer point of ceremonial procession or address. I think this is a place where love covers a multitude of “sins” and some group work could be done at the parish or diocesan level to raise everyone’s awareness of the norm. Even if they subsequently choose to ignore it, they won’t be ignorant of it.

  10. Respectfully, I think this is all much ado about…not much. So what if people think the deacon is a priest? If they call him “Father”? Really, what is the big deal?

    Most people don’t really pay all that much attention to the details, so they won’t notice differences in how the priest and deacon are vested — or, even if they do, they aren’t likely to think it’s all that significant. The same with the differences in roles of deacons and priests in the Mass. This sort of thing bypasses most people, and probably it always has and always will. And I’m hard-pressed to see why this is a big deal.

    Now, if the deacon himself gets confused? If he begins to think, or act, as if he is a priest? Then we have a problem. But barring that, I don’t see the problem.

    If the deacon has his head screwed on straight, then eventually, there will be clarity. [Right.] Or, it may come when previously confused parishioners see father-but-actually-deacon out and about with his wife and family, dressed in civvies. At some point, they will ask, “but I thought he was a priest?” and it will be explained.

    This reminds me of when I was in the seminary, at a time when we were told we’d better not start thinking we’re priests! All effort must be avoided to keep us from any, ahem, “clericalism.” So much so that when men were ordained deacons, and they started wearing clerical attire (as called for in Canon Law), this was…”problematic.” And we were told stories of supposed episodes of confusion that were traumatic, blah-blah-blah.

    When I was a seminarian, people would see me assisting at the altar, and call me “father”; I would try to correct as best I could. Then someone said, “I know, but I don’t know what to call you!” I think more people get that there’s a distinction of some sort between seminarians, deacons and priests, but they don’t care to spend any mental energy on sorting it out. They don’t see why it should matter, and I’m hard-pressed to see why they are wrong.

    [Even before I was ordained, and I was working in a Vatican office, I would go to other Vatican offices and the IOR and be called “Monsignore”. For a while I tried to make the correction but, after a while, thought, “Meh.”]

  11. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    I am a mere instituted lector, in formation for the diaconate. I work as teacher, and recently started at a new school. Parents saw me MCing for the bishop at a confirmation Mass, wearing black cassock and cotta. A colleague told me a parent had said they hadn’t realised a priest was teaching at the school. My colleague tells me her reply was simply, “We’re very blessed!”

  12. Precentrix says:

    Round here, the deacons usually walk in front – often carrying the book, but more likely because the aisle is narrow and it would be largely impractical for them to walk side by side. [Exactly. The Roman Rite is FLEXIBLE. This is something that people have to begin to realize.] When there are two deacons, they are both in dalmatic and still go in front.

    Our parish is not particularly traditional.

  13. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Adaquano: Actually, the General Instruction makes clear that the deacon is ordinarily the minister of the Chalice (the Precious Blood) so this is nothing to complain about. Whether or not there should be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at all is a separate question. (I believe not, except in the rarest of circumstances and true necessity). But if EMHCs *are* used at Mass, and the Precious Blood is distributed, it is certainly still proper for the priest to distribute the Host and the Deacon to distribute the Precious Blood, according to that G.I.R.M. for the novus ordo Mass. So that if there are additional Communion stations, then an EM could distribute the Sacred Host.

    Of course, when we eventually bring back communion rails and eliminate the distribution of the Precious Blood, to be more in accord with our tradition, it will be a moot point !

  14. steve51b31 says:

    As spiritual director for a legion of Mary Curia, I was taken aback by the greeting from members of a Byzantine Rite praesidium, who referred to me as “Father Deacon”.

    Well, I guess, when in Byzantium …..

    Still doesn’t feel quite right !!!!

  15. I’m a transitional deacon.

    I agree with bsjy that “the end-of-Mass handshake line is not a place of liturgical (nor theological nor canonical) instruction”, so when someone calls me Father there, I just let it go. Nevertheless, I have always wandered what makes a Priest (sacerdos) be called a Father (pater). Is it his “spiritual fertility”? He can beget sons and daughters to the church in the Baptism… does that make him a Father? If so, why not also call the Deacons this way? In my diocese, our Cardinal Archbishop used to call us “Father Deacon N” informally…

    Quaeritur: What would we the proper attire for Masses with our bishop where more than 3 deacons are present? We normally ask the three deacons serving with the bishop to dress with their albs, stole and dalmatics; meanwhile all other deacons (sometimes 6 or 7) wear their choral attire (cassock, surplice, NO stole)… Any comments?

Comments are closed.