ASK FATHER: Priest forbids a deacon to wear a dalmatic

From a reader…


Can the priest celebrant of Mass tell a deacon tell a deacon to not wear a dalmatic at Mass? Some people think it best that a deacon wear a dalmatic for a higher degree of solemnity but not on common ferial days unless preaching. I imagine this might not be worth bickering over for transitional deacons, but what can a permanent deacon do?

“Higher degree of solemnity”.   That sounds like that old chestnut of “progressive solemnity”.

B as in B, S as in S.  That’s just liturgical stinginess.

The proper vestment of the priest is the chasuble.

The proper garment of the deacon is dalmatic.

The priest cannot be prevented from wearing his chasuble and the deacon his dalmatic.

As far as wearing it only when preaching is concerned, it is ironic that there is an old tradition of priests and deacons removing their chasuble or dalmatic to preach!

Of course when a priest has decided to make Mass about himself (“See? I get to wear a chasuble and HE only gets a stole!”) there is not much you can do.  This is an exercise of power, which suppresses commonsense.

I suppose that you have already tried to win him over.  With charm, keep working on it.

You might consider, when you have the chance to preach, explaining the significance of vestments and how the different offices require them in her sacred liturgical worship.

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. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. ThePapalCount says:

    It seems that many priests are apprehensive about having deacons around. I know of a priest who refused to allow a deacon to preach for over a year, despite the fact that the deacon was a gifted speaker.
    Bishops, please let your priests know– those who need to know — that deacons are here to stay and that this type of lunacy over vesture will not be tolerated. The GIRM and other documents make it clear that at Mass the deacon can wear his dalmatic.

  2. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Just when I think I’ve read it all, seen it all. Telling the deacon not to wear the dalmatic? I think the deacons look great in the dalmatic!

  3. mcferran says:

    A response based upon liturgical law might be more helpful. The GIRM states (338 Canada): “The vestment proper to the Deacon is the dalmatic, worn over the alb and stole; however, the dalmatic may be omitted out of necessity or on account of a lesser degree of solemnity.” It seems unfortunate to describe the words of the GIRM with such vulgarity. Given the established liturgical law, the real question is, “Who decides when it is appropriate to omit the dalmatic on account of a lesser degree of solemnity?” Presumably the diocesan bishop could establish norms for this. In the absence of such a diocesan law, surely the priest celebrant of the Mass should have some say in the matter. While it may be that the priest “has decided to make Mass about himself”, there is no evidence of that here. He may merely have been taught that dalmatics need not always be worn.

  4. Blackfriar says:

    I like to see dalmatics worn, and would encourage them in the ordinary form. However, readers should be aware that in the extraordinary form of the Dominican Rite – and perhaps some of the other rites of the various orders – dalmatics are NOT worn by deacon and subdeacon in Masses on ferial days (unless they fall in an octave of a feast), nor on Vigils, on Good Friday, nor in some Masses of the Dead. They are not worn in the Asperges, either, though priest, deacon and sub-deacon (provided he is actually in holy orders) wear the maniple.
    In some Dominican churches, the maintenance of this custom of not wearing the dalmatic on ferias has been maintained, and is, I believe, quite legitimate.
    It’s a pity that the Church has (largely) lost the legitimate variety of practice which the various rites of the religious Orders provided. Sadly, a lot of the variety one encounters today is of the illegitimate kind. Not all variety is illegitimate or untraditional, however.

  5. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Father, various commenters have expressed Rite specific norms. What is normative, by Rite, for the Deacon?

  6. It is my contention that the rubric permiting the Deacon to lay aside the Dalmatic is a specific instance of the OF trying to accommodate multiple traditions (albeit in a ham-fisted way).

  7. padredana says:

    ThePapalCount, there is a reason that priests are so hesitant about deacons. My experience of permanent deacons is that they are often well intentioned men who receive very little serious theological or liturgical formation. They often cause more work for the priest because they need to be re-formed after the woefully inadequate training they have previously received. In many cases they also refuse to be on board with the priests vision for the parish and work against him. So, all that being said, in my opinion, deacons should be seen, and not heard (unless a deacon is particularly gifted). They also, in my opinion, should be rare. Also, I am speaking in generalities, and there are surely exceptional deacons.

  8. Ave Maria says:

    The deacon must be obedient to the pastor. He may seek to ask the bishop, if he thinks the bishop will not just go right back to the pastor to let him know the deacon asked him about this, to set a norm for all the parishes. And priests have the issues of obedience to their bishop which can get dicey in this modernist church.

    Of all the deacons I have known, about half or 40% are those I can willingly listen to. Some others are political or heretical and I never want to hear them again.

  9. Imrahil says:

    Dear padredana,

    but, honestly speaking, and with all due respect for charitable activities and management,

    let’s look at the things from a practical standpoint. (I could give some of an argument why this practical standpoint is not an entirely illegitimate standpoint, but I cut that short.) [Holy Orders imparts an ontological character. We must never reduce orders to the merely practical. Otherwise, there is no difference between us and protestants.]

    but to speak a sermon (in all those situations where sermons practically appear) without being celibate is the one thing (of felt importance) which a deacon actually can do which a layman actually cannot do (unless the local Church is rather disregarding of regulations, but that’s another story).

    Sure, there’s reading the Gospel and there’s, I guess, purifying the altar and adding the water to the wine for the Offertory, but these things are done anyway and just in the same manner by the priest as by the deacon. And you don’t take three years of training, even of after-hours training, to be a reader who can read this thing which others can’t.

    Hence I conclude that the sermon is why anyone would become a deacon in the first place. Nor is this entirely illegitimate; sermons need time of preparation which our burdened priests may be happy to be without every once in a while; someone may think and even justifiedly think that he is a gifted speaker who should put his gift to the service of the Church; etc.

  10. Uxixu says:

    The extreme inconsistency from diocese to diocese in formation to handling of deacons is just short of scandalous. Every parish should have them. They should wear dramatics in every Mass except perhaps Good Friday and should wear clerics in the street and the cassock on church grounds.

    It should be the greatest strength of the Ordinary Form to have plentiful deacons, acolytes, and lectors not confined to the seminaries, offering aid to the diocesan priests in so many areas and relieving them of having to do everything or delegate to laymen.

    Best way to do that is to have them at least partially formed in ‘lay ministries’ over a much longer period, as it was before the seminaries mandated by Trent. Largely in the parish, though one also envisions frequent visits to the cathedral and designated places of instruction for formation.

  11. “My experience of permanent deacons is that they are often well intentioned men who receive very little serious theological or liturgical formation. They often cause more work for the priest because they need to be re-formed after the woefully inadequate training they have previously received.”

    In the early years of the permanent diaconate, yes. One diocese in the Midwest got so fed up with the behavior of so many of them, they suspended their faculties en masse for several years. Indeed, my own experience as an MC with the older ones has mostly been dismal, being defiant, uncooperative, and emotionally immature (and these are men of retirement age). However, in more recent years, the time required for formation of candidates has gone up from two or three years to as much as five. I imagine the selection process has also improved dramatically.

    As for the dalmatic, if it were me, I’d ask the priest in question for an explanation, one that holds up with documentation, if only for one’s own benefit. Failing that, I’d give up on it. It’s not worth fighting sometimes, and (in my opinion) it’s one more result of celebrating Mass “versus populum.” Over a period of years, some of them start thinking it’s all about them.

    I also don’t like diaconal stoles. Just wear a regular one in the proper fashion, and it’s more useful if a priest needs one instead. But, that’s another story.

  12. jbazchicago says:

    Dalmatics, yes.
    Preaching, never.
    I don’t know why this is “a thing.”

  13. Imrahil says:

    Just for clarification,

    I did not (intend to) reduce Holy Orders to a practical standpoint. I do assume, though, that practical things are a major impetus for people to actually stand candidate for Holy Orders (with the possible exception of the priesthood of monks and the like especially in contemplative orders), and a legitimate one at that, and did not intend to suggest anything further.

  14. Joseph Mendes says:

    from Redemptionis Sacramentum:

    “[125.] The proper vestment of the Deacon is the dalmatic, to be worn over an alb and stole. In order that the beautiful tradition of the Church may be preserved, it is praiseworthy to refrain from exercising the option of omitting the dalmatic.”
    (“[125.] Diaconi vestis propria est dalmatica, super albam et stolam induenda. Ut servetur pulchra Ecclesiae traditio, laudabile est facultate dalmaticam omittendi non frui.”)

  15. JGavin says:

    As to whether Deacons ought to preach should I think be left to their Ordinaries. I seem to recall that Francis of Assisi was ordained a deacon just so he could preach at Mass. As to the dalmatics, this smacks of the custom whereby deacons were forbidden to where the Roman Collar. That certainly was an attempt to laicize if you will someone with major orders. I seem to recall a quote ” deacon is a deacon”. I would also wonder whether this pastor is eligible for medicare ? This sounds straight out of the 1970’s , 1980’s liturgical sense.

  16. CSp says:

    Why is preaching by deacons a thing? Because the Church says it is. Lumen gentium 29 says that deacons are to “instruct and exhort the people” among their other duties. So, yes, they should preach. It is incumbent on the bishop and his delegates to ensure that deacons are properly selected, formed, and instructed. For my diocese, a man must complete 12-18 undergraduate credits in Scripture, philosophy, and theology from a Catholic institution before he can even apply. Once a candidate, he takes an additional 18 courses across his three year candidacy period. Other dioceses around me have different requirements.

    It occurred to me as I was reading through comments both under this posting and others about deacons that there is this historical distaste for permanent deacons among traditionally-minded Catholics. But much of what has been said can be said of priests. Inconsistent or poor formation; liberal worldviews; poor preaching. Please do remember that whether priest, bishop, or deacon, these are men called by God to lead the Church. They may be imperfect or sometimes led by ambition, but they are the men ordained to sacramental orders. The Church is not a democracy and we don’t get a vote. Pray for them.

  17. thepraypad says:

    It is a little disheartening to read the disdain with which some regard the Permanent Diaconate. I am currently in formation and did not choose this to stroke my ego. I am also under no pretense that I will be a latter day John Chrysostom. We will receive five weeks of Homiletics each of the next four years and I pray that this will prepare us enough not to make complete fools of ourselves from the pulpit.

    This calling is not being taken lightly by any of us as far as I can tell. We are well aware that this is a Holy Order and we can really screw things up liturgically if we are not careful. Even worse, we can lead some astray by poor preaching.

    That being said, I am with those who say follow the GIRM. Let the Priest wear what is proper for the Priest and the Deacon what is proper for the Deacon. I am sorry that many of you have had an ill-prepared Deacon.

  18. PurrPurr says:

    I would like to see more deacons, but only those fully faithful to the faith. God knows that we have enough dissident ordained men. With more deacons, there would be less involvement by the laity at the altar during the Mass and when distributing Communion. The so-called ‘extraordinary’ Ministers of Communion (often falsely categorized as ‘Eucharistic ministers – ‘Eucharistic’ is reserved for priests only) are no longer ‘extraordinary’ as they are present in droves at most parishes where I have attended Mass (Praise our Lord that I found a parish that is the exception to the rule, though I can only attend there once a month!) Have some integrity, parish administrators, and drop the term ‘extraordinary’ from the description and correct the name of the position to ‘Ministers of Communion”. If I have a choice (often I don’t) of who will give me Communion, I always choose the priest (1st) or the deacon (2nd). As most deacons are married men, their wives must also be fully faithful to the faith, also. Formation? Do a lot of research on your own. Oftentimes, a teacher will tell you what he/she wants you to know, not everything that you should know.

Comments are closed.