Deacons and the Chrism Mass

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Deacons and the Chrism Mass


Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 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 priestly promises.

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 his memory.

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.

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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 states:

"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 Communion."

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 liturgical rites.

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