Deacon's Duties and Gestures

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Deacon's Duties and Gestures

ROME, 16 MAY 2006 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I train deacons in the pastoral administration of the sacraments and laity in participating in the liturgy. Recently a deacon had some queries for me: a) Does the deacon also raise the chalice or paten together with the celebrant at the doxology at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer? b) After the celebrant gives the blessing at the end of the Eucharist, when the deacon is sending forth the people, "Go you are sent forth ...," does he pronounce the words by spreading out his hands like the priest does at the "Lord be with you"? Or does he pronounce the words with joined hands? c) Is a deacon allowed to give the blessing with the Eucharist at the Benediction? — F.P., Kolkata, India

A: The first question is clearly answered by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 180:

"At the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands next to the priest, holding the chalice elevated while the priest elevates the paten with the host, until the people have responded with the acclamation, Amen."

Note that the deacon holds up the chalice in silence and does not join in singing or saying the doxology.

Regarding the second query, the GIRM, in Nos. 184-185, on the concluding rites specifically states that the deacon dismisses the people with hands joined:

"184. Once the prayer after Communion has been said, the deacon makes brief announcements to the people, if indeed any need to be made, unless the priest prefers to do this himself.

"185. If a prayer over the people or a solemn formula for the blessing is used, the deacon says, 'Inclinate vos ad benedictionem' (Bow your heads and pray for God's blessing). After the priest's blessing, the deacon, with hands joined and facing the people, dismisses them, saying, 'Ite, missa est' (The Mass is ended, go in peace)."

The deacon also keeps his hands joined for the greeting "The Lord be with you" before reading the Gospel, and while saying "Let us offer each other the sign of peace."

The basic reasons for this is that the gesture of opening and closing the hands while greeting the assembly in Mass is considered as a presidential act and is thus reserved to the celebrant.

Also, the invitation to the sign of peace and the dismissal are not greetings but monitions to the assembly.

The "Lord be with you" before the Gospel is a special case as it is a greeting but, perhaps because reading of the Gospel has not traditionally been a presidential act in the Latin rite, the greeting is said with hands closed.

Note that even when a priest celebrates without a deacon he does not open his hands at the aforesaid moments.

All the same, whenever a deacon presides an assembly — for example, for the Divine Office or for a Communion service — he greets the assembly by opening and closing his hands in the same manner as a priest.

With respect to the deacon's imparting Eucharistic Benediction: A deacon is an ordinary minister of the Eucharist and as such, in the absence of the priest, may perform practically all of the rites foreseen in the ritual for worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass.

Thus he may give Benediction providing no priest is present or available. In doing so he wears the same vestments as the priest (cope and humeral veil along with alb/surplice and deacon's stole).

If a priest is available, the deacon assists the priest in the manner described in the books: exposing and reposing the Blessed Sacrament, offering him the monstrance for the blessing, and replacing it upon the altar afterward.

The unavailability of the priest need not mean total absence but a reasonable impediment. If, for example, a deacon is leading Eucharistic devotions while a priest attends many penitents in confession, then the deacon could impart Benediction. ZE06051620

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Follow-up: Deacon's Duties and Gestures [05-30-2006]

After our column on the duties of deacons (May 16) a reader gently upbraided me saying: "I don't mean to be picky, but I believe it is important to point out that the deacon is not an ordinary minister of 'the Eucharist.' Instead, he is an ordinary minister of 'Holy Communion.'"

He then quotes "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 154:

"As has already been recalled, 'the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist "in persona Christi" is a validly ordained Priest.' Hence the name 'minister of the Eucharist' belongs properly to the Priest alone. Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ's faithful during the celebration of Mass. In this way their ministerial Office in the Church is fully and accurately brought to light, and the sign value of the Sacrament is made complete."

Sometimes "being picky" is the best way of keeping us on our toes. Our reader is correct as to this terminological imprecision.

All the same, it does not appear that the expression "ordinary minister of Communion" sufficiently expresses the full range of diaconal ministry which goes well beyond distributing Communion to the faithful and includes several acts of Eucharistic worship reserved to the ordained.

Perhaps we need to coin a new expression such as "ordinary minister of communion and Eucharistic worship" to cover these distinct roles.

Another reader, a permanent deacon from Florida, asked: "Nearly 30 years ago when I was ordained a permanent deacon, the deacon either said or sang the instruction 'Let us proclaim the mystery of faith' during Mass after the elevation of the cup. This action by the deacon continued for many years but it was then changed to the priest-presider proclaiming the instruction — with the reason given that it was considered a presbyteral function. Yet, it is said that deacons in some countries are still the ones giving the instruction.

"Could you please give some background as to why the proclamation was allowed for deacons in the first place, why it was changed, and why it is still be done by some deacons in some countries?"

As far as I can ascertain there was never any official permission for deacons to sing or say this instruction. The rubric in the missal, following the second genuflection of the consecration, simply indicates that the priest sings or says, "Mysterium fidei." The deacon is never mentioned at all.

I presume that the earlier practice was an error stemming from unfamiliarity with both the new rite and the relative novelty of having a deacon present at every Mass. It is possible that the error persists in some countries.

It is also probable that the present English translation compounded the mistake. Saying "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith" triggered a parallelism with the diaconal invitation "Let us offer each other the sign of peace" and probably led some to assume that both formulas belonged to the deacon.

More accurate translations in other languages have avoided this parallelism. Spanish, for example, has the priest say, "This is the sacrament of our Faith," while Italian translates literally "The mystery of Faith." In both cases it is logical for the priest to proclaim this text as it refers to the action he has just performed in the consecration.

The words "Mysterium fidei," although not found in the New Testament institution narratives, formed part of the formula of consecration in the earlier rite. It is probable that they were inserted by Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) to combat the Manicheans who denied the goodness of material things.

After the Second Vatican Council, with the introduction of new Eucharistic Prayers, Pope Paul VI decided to remove the words from the formula of consecration and gave them their present function as an introduction to an acclamation of the faithful. This practice was traditional in some Eastern Churches but constituted a novelty in the Roman rite. ZE06053023

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