ASK FATHER: Why don’t trads want Permanent Deacons to be in traditional liturgy?

From a reader…


From my brief experience, it seems that most traditionalist parishes are not interested in the permanent diaconate. This seems odd to me, since permanent deacons would be readily available for Solemn Masses, and many parishes are not able to have solemn masses as frequently as they might like. Promoting the permanent diaconate would alleviate that problem. Why does there seem to be such apathy to well trained permanent deacons in traditionalist circles?

“Not interested… apathy…”.

I’ve heard downright hostility sometimes.

This both baffles me and it doesn’t puzzle me at all.

First, there is a problem with understanding that permanent deacons are not less deacons than transitional deacons.  A man who is ordained to the diaconate is a deacon.   Period.  A deacon is a deacon is a deacon.    Hence, they can take the role of DEACON in a Solemn Mass, as well as the role of Subdeacon.

Second, there is the problem of the formation and performance of permanent deacons.  I have zero doubt… ZERO… that the men who offer themselves to be permanent deacons are good men, well-intentioned.  Alas, over the last decades, many of them have not been given adequate formation.  Some were given terrible formation, including a lot of confusion about the role of their wives, if they are married.

On the other hand, I have also known a few permanent deacons whom I would have made BISHOPS!

Third, with a few exceptions in my experience, permanent deacons seem to know very little about liturgy, and what they do know depends on the quality of formation they received… often deficient.  There’s plenty of bad to go around in this matter since the priests with whom they are assigned generally know just about as much.

I am all for permanent deacons being involved in Traditional Liturgy.  THEY ARE DEACONS.  But there is a huge challenge on both sides of the altar rail.

For some people, their hesitancy or hostility toward permanent deacons seems to come from the fact that most permanent deacons are married.  In the matter of continence for permanent deacons, I refer the readership to the thoughts of canonist Ed Peters, who has written about the matter.

Ideally, all men pursuing permanent diaconate should be well-schooled in the Church’s sacred worship.  There should be as high an expectation for them to know their Roman Rite as there is for priests and bishops.   Of course, there’s the rub, isn’t it?

If the Roman Rite is, at least juridically, in two forms, any cleric in the Roman Church who doesn’t know both forms is quite simply ignorant of his own Church’s sacred worship.  That’s dreadful.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. deaconjohn1987 says:

    I’ve been a Permanent Deacon for over 33 years and have attended many Traditional Masses and even served as an altar server at a few. I once wa asked by Fr. Rutler if I would like to assist as deacon at his Mass but my Latin was very poor at the time. I also served at a few Ukrainian catholic Liturgies and even a Coptic Mass (pointy hats allowed :-0). I love the Mass in all its forms and even at my old age of 83, still assist every day at Mass. My blog will show you how much the Mass means to me and many of my followers. Thank you, Fr. Zuhlsdorf, for keeping us informed and active in our wonderful Roman Catholic Faith! p.s. My Twitter handle is ‘traddeacon’ for those who wish to follow me.

  2. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    An additional reason traditional Catholics are not huge fans of permanent deacons is visual. Although one can chant A Deacon Is A Deacon Is A Deacon, it is also true about 99.9% of permanent deacons do not dress like deacons. (It is also true some bishops prohibit permanent deacons from dressing like deacons on the street, or force them to wear gray instead of black, the latter being the case in the Archdiocese of Washington, for instance.)
    So, when a traditional Catholic layman has been used to seeing permanent deacons toss a plain alb over a golf shirt and chinos — the unofficial attire of permanent deacons — we have to acknowledge the level of seriousness is, at least visually, lacking. In addition to the celibacy and educational situations referenced in the post, this is a problem.

  3. Deacon Don says:

    I want to offer a fourth reason … Priests (often responsible for the Deacon’s formation) who have little understanding of the role of the Deacon within the liturgy, regardless of the rite. They understand the transitional Deacon all to well, they were there once, the momentary pause before becoming a Priest, but why would anyone feel called to be a Deacon, permanently? The very existence of the Permanent Deacon is looked on with skepticism or worse, as competition. The Permanent Deacon is not a airplane circling the airport looking to land.

    How many times do we see the Deacon sitting while the reader presents the Prayer of the Faithful? While the Priest reads the Gospel (because it is his “turn” this week)? While the Book of Gospels sits in the cupboard? While the altar is set up by a server? While the Priest purifies the vessels or regularly says the very few words directed for the Deacon to speak? While a hired singer intones the Exsultet? While the chalice handed to a concelebrant … the list goes on and on.

    Yes, liturgical formation was truly minimal, but some Deacons have taken it upon themselves to strive for excellence only to run head-long into walls and the “Not here”, “Not today” mindset.

    Could I assist at a Traditional Mass? Yes. Would I welcome the opportunity to assist at a Traditional Mass? Absolutely? Have I made this known? Repeatedly? Will it ever happen? No.

  4. Never say never.

    Get organized and find a priest who is friendly to your project.

  5. arga says:

    I belong to an FSSP parish and we regularly had a permanent deacon from a nearby NO parish participate as a deacon in High Mass.

  6. B says:

    Sometimes the issue can be clericalism too.

  7. kat says:

    While I agree with all above, I will offer just one more, especially in trad circles which are strictly TLM:
    most people just don’t see it as Traditional. Although there were permanent deacons in the early Church, I know that my parents’ generation (born 20’s and 30’s) did not have permanent deacons. It seems to have returned after Vatican 2.
    Therefore, for those for whom Vat 2 is the symbol of a changed Church, so is the permanent deaconate.

  8. Papal Fan says:

    There used to be (still does?) an article from the SSPX that argued against Permanent Deacons. While its association with Vatican II already made it suspicious in their eyes, the impression I got was that a deacon who still lives the life of married, (presumably sexually active?) man cheapens his ordination. I’m just paraphrasing what I remember from reading it years ago. It probably had more reasons than that.

    Interestingly enough, I once read a review from +Lefebvre’s official biography that he was in favor of permanent deacons!

  9. There is a visceral suspicion in trad land of anything that is (or is believed to be) post-Vatican II.

  10. InFormationDiakonia says:

    I have made it known to our Director of the Permanent Diaconate (who is also our formation director) that I feel it important to learn more about the TLM as part of our formation and I’ve even started looking at learning Latin, although I fear it will be self taught. There’s no TLM in my town, but there is across the river….in another state and diocese of course. I don’t want to say where exactly given what I perceive as potential hostility towards my comments by some in our diocese.

    Having said that, I am pressing on with trying to get further training in the TLM as part of our formation. There isn’t even an introduction to it, which is baffling, but actually it is not. There’s the overarching issue – that of the bishop and others who don’t actively offer support for the TLM in our diocese and it bleeds over into diaconate (and possibly priestly) formation and dilution of our Rites.

    I’ve not heard back yet from our director on my request to have the TLM placed into formation, but I am hopeful. He already is incorporating chant into our formation, which I suppose is an opening to take towards getting the TLM taught as well. It is, as you say Father Z, our Rite and right :-).

  11. Gil Garza says:

    The 23rd Session of the Council of Trent, in the Decree on Reform, chapter 17 ordered, with “burning with the desire of restoring that pristine usage” that the Holy Orders from deacon to door-keeper be restored.

  12. JabbaPapa says:

    The issue with the Permanent Diaconate in the traditionalist priestly Fraternities is mostly that they have a strict requirement of not just chastity but celibacy, so that it is not possible for a married man to seek the diaconal Ordination within these Orders.

    Of course, there is also a certain degree of reticence over the Diaconate as they tend to view it as an “innovation” of Vatican II (no, Vatican II simply rescinded a moratorium, whilst also providing theological clarity on the nature of the Diaconate and Priesthood), but as to the Fraternities they would tend to expect that celibate men seeking Ordination would seek the Priesthood rather than the Diaconate.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    ‘The 23rd Session of the Council of Trent, in the Decree on Reform, chapter 17 ordered, with “burning with the desire of restoring that pristine usage” that the Holy Orders from deacon to door-keeper be restored.’

    I have heard this before. Interesting that it took centuries for the Church to get around to this. The minor and major orders should be more than just stepping stones to the priesthood, as they were in the early Church. (For proof of this, glance through the old Roman Martyrology. Many saints are mentioned as deacon, subdeacon, lector, etc.)

    I think Pope St Paul VI tried to do this with the instituted ministries of acolyte (subdeacon) and lector, which I would like to see have more of a role in the EF. These seem to be treated with more or less the same “suspicion” as (permanent) deacons. Technically, an instituted acolyte can act as a subdeacon in the EF. If we had more traditionally minded instituted acolytes and permanent deacons, we could have Solemn Masses aplenty!

  14. Gil Garza says:

    Furthermore, the above-quoted Decree on Reform, chapter 17 says that stipends should be assigned to those in the restored orders and care should be taken to provide the restored orders where the numbers of the faithful can benefit from them and revenues can support them, namely in cathedral, collegiate and parochial churches. Regarding the issue of married vs celibate clerics Trent says, “And if there should not be unmarried clerks at hand to exercise the functions of the four minor orders, their place may be supplied by married clerks of approved life; provided they have not been twice married, be competent to discharge those duties and wear the tonsure and the clerical dress in church.”

  15. moon1234 says:

    The problem with minor orders is that they really only exist in the Traditional seminaries.

    Many parishes call a reader a lector or a server an Acolyte. They may be male or female. Many, myself included, Trads are very suspicious of people who ascribe to themselves instituted titles that they were not ordained or consecrated in.

    I DO NOT consider the retired bingo lady or the liberal leftist who reads from the pulpit on Sunday a Lector. Outside of seminaries or traditional orders I have not met a single instituted Acolyte. Almost all of the permanent deacons I have met are either married with children or retired (with children). It just does not come across as normal when you see a deacon walk out of church with wife and kids.

    All respect for the office one bears. We need more Priests for the Church. The more transitional deacons the better in this era.

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