ASK FATHER: Deacons in the Novus Ordo

From a diaconal reader…


I have begun serving Solemn High Masses, at local parishes near my assignment for a couple of years now. The experience of serving at the Latin Mass has enriched my diaconal ministry in ways that I never imagined.

Which brings me to my two quick questions: First, when I am serving the Mass of Paul VI with a priest that wants me to turn the pages of the Roman Missal is it liturgically proper or appropriate for me to move back and forth, as I would in a Solemn High? If possible, it would seem to me to be precisely the mutual enrichment that is organic within authentic liturgical development and renewal. Perhaps this is done in other parts of the world or country. I have just never seen it done in the NO. Secondly, a deacon friend mentioned that there are rubrics for a deacon to function, at a Missa Cantata; however, I have not been able to find the rubrics. He stated that when done the deacon would function “almost as a blend of and emcee and what you would expect to see a deacon do in the NO.” Are you aware of any such function for a deacon?

Thank you again for your time and for all that you do.

I like this question.  Also, it’s good for St. Stephen’s Day.

I often mention how learning the Vetus Ordo will change the way a priest understands his priesthood.  You have brought in that deacons learn more about themselves in the traditional form.  Thanks for that.   There is no question that the same will be true of all the servers at Mass and all the lay baptized at Mass.

Yes, I think it is fully appropriate to move to the priest’s right for the sake of covering and uncovering the chalice using the pall, and then returning to the book after the consecration if the Eucharistic Prayer is long enough to warrant the trip.  In your absence from the book, another (male) server should come up to turn the pages.  That server would return to the side when you return to the book.

At my home parish in St. Paul, we had always two deacons on for the major Sunday and festal Masses with the Novus Ordo, all ad orientem and in Latin with traditional vestments, etc.  One would read the Gospel and become a kind of subdeacon, and the other would be the deacon “at the altar”, so to speak.  It was a division of roles that worked well.

As far as the deacon at a Missa Cantata is concerned, I won’t go there.  Frankly, I don’t like that set up.  Let the Missa Cantata be what it is.   Let the deacons serve for Solemn Mass.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mschu528 says:

    I’ve only ever been aware of a “semi-solemn” form of the TLM (i.e. deacon but no subdeacon) being permitted for the post-55 Holy Week revision, according to the S.R.C. declaration of 1 Feb 1957 (found in A.A.S. 49, pp. 91ff):

    Ubi actiones liturgicae hebdomadae sanctae ritu simplici peraguntur, si praesto sit alter sacerdos vel saltem diaconus, nil impedit quominus hic, diaconali more indutus …

    Did this at some point get extended beyond Holy Week? I hope not, as it just seems awkward and disruptive to the role of the deacon in the traditional rite. I could, however, imagine an extra priest/deacon to sing the Praeconium or assist with singing the Passion being useful. Ideally these are sung by deacons who are not the deacon of the Mass anyway, so it would not be a break with the natural “flow” of the liturgy.

  2. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    The USCCB website has a compilation of notes about rubrics and guidelines for deacons at Mass:

    It specifically mentions: “During the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands near but slightly behind the priest, so that when needed he may assist the priest with the chalice or the Roman Missal.” So a deacon moving back and forth from the missal to the chalice as needed seems completely correct within the Novus Ordo ceremonies. (Although some people might not be used to that.)

    And special wishes of a blessed St. Stephen’s Day to all the deacons out there.

  3. Archlaic says:

    By happenstance I was present a few years ago at a TLM with a deacon but no subdeacon… form was almost identical to a Solemn Mass (with “missing-man formation”) and the duties of the subdeacon were performed by the deacon where practical and by the celebrant or servers where not. It seemed to work out OK but I asked the priest about it after Mass. He told me that there was a form of Mass conceded by indult in France (and I think he mentioned some other places on the Continent) called a “Messe Diaconale”… whether it is true, and how it came to be accepted (in at least one spot) in the USA remain shrouded in mystery…

  4. PostCatholic says:

    About eight years ago I was present at a Divine Liturgy in the Ruthenian church officiated by both a priest and deacon. I thought there was great clarity in the deacon’s role–it was his job to tell the congregation what to do, without exception. “Let us pray,” “Pray that our sacrifice…” “Let us proclaim…” “Bow your heads for…” etc. The priest didn’t address the congregation at all; he addressed God. (With the exception of his homily, which noteworthily was given from a spot amid the assembly and not from the sanctuary.) I remember thinking that perhaps the restoration of the diaconate in the Latin church liturgy had a way to go still. If be interested in your thoughts on that model.

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