|ROME, 17 MARCH 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: During Holy Week the Chrism Mass liturgy includes the rite of Renewal
of Commitment to Priestly Service. During the rite the bishop invites
his assembled presbyterate to renew their "dedication to Christ as
priests of his new covenant." When they have done this the bishop asks
the assembled people to "Pray for your priests" and then goes on to ask
them to "Pray also for me." So the dialogue includes the priests, the
bishop and the people but omits any reference to the deacons and their
ministry. The deacons are also normally present in large numbers as
members of the clergy on this key occasion when the whole diocese is
gathered around its bishop. Although the permanent diaconate was
re-established in 1972, the composition of the present missal (and this
rite) predates it and probably did not foresee the growth and importance
of the permanent diaconate in the life of large sections of the Church.
In view of this, is it appropriate to include in this rite an
opportunity for the deacons present to renew their commitment to their
ministry? Or should the rite be left as it is? If the latter, aren't we
missing out on a special opportunity of asking the faithful to pray for
the threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon who in the persons of
the bishops, priests and deacons present have publicly renewed their
commitment to their sacramental ministry of service? I feel that with
the addition of a question and response for the deacons, plus making the
title "Renewal of Commitment to Priestly and Diaconal Service," the
liturgy would no longer seem to exclude a body of men who increasingly
these days give such great service to the Church.
P.C., Birmingham, England
A: I must admit that I found this question very intriguing and
thought-provoking. Of course, it is not a question that I can answer in
the strict sense of the term because any change in the rites belongs
exclusively to the Church's supreme authority. All I can do is add some
pointers of my own reflection on this question.
First of all, we are not before an ancient rite. Before the present
reform the Chrism Mass did not require the presence of all the clergy of
the diocese, although 12 priests were present who assisted in the
blessing of the holy oils. Consequently there was no rite of renewal of
Therefore we would not be infringing on some immemorial tradition by
adapting the rite to somehow include the deacons. As our correspondent
rightly points out, the growth of the permanent diaconate is a new
reality that was not contemplated in the present rite.
At the same time, Holy Thursday, as the memorial of the first Eucharist
and the call to the priesthood, has a particular significance for
priests (and hence bishops) that is not embraced in the specific service
of deacons. Only the priest can follow Christ's command to "do this" in
For this reason I think that while it would be a good idea to somehow
include deacons at the Chrism Mass, I believe that the central focus of
the rite should still be the particular gift of the priesthood.
It might also be a good idea to have a special day in which the bishop
gathers together with the deacons, for example, on the feast of St.
Stephen or of St. Lawrence.
* * *
Follow-up: Deacons and the Chrism Mass [4-7-2009]
Several readers commented on our March 17 piece concerning the
possibility of mentioning deacons in the Chrism Mass.
One reader referred to a 1997 Vatican document, the "Instruction on
Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained
Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest." Article 8 of this document
"To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and
eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches: …
association with the renewal of promises made by priests at the Chrism
Mass on Holy Thursday, as well as other categories of faithful who renew
religious vows or receive a mandate as extraordinary ministers of Holy
While this document sheds some light on the topic, it nevertheless
refers to the relationship between laypeople and priest whereas deacons
are ordained clergy. We might add that the proposal was not so much the
association of deacons with the renewal of priestly promises but with
finding a way to recognize their presence in a celebration that gathers
together the entire community.
Other readers approved of the idea of bishop and deacons coming together
on certain days such as the feast of St. Lawrence or close to the
bishop's anniversary of consecration.
Still other readers suggested that these occasions are eminently
suitable for a diaconal retreat in which the renewal of the ordination
promises can be carried out as a devotional exercise in a manner similar
to that in which those concluding spiritual exercises often renew their
baptismal promises. In this case, such a renewal would not require any
special permission from the Holy See or the development of new