Deacon's Position at Consecration

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Deacon's Position at Consecration

ROME, 20 SEPT. 2005 (ZENIT)

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

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Q: What is the proper position for the deacon during the consecration? In my parish the deacon stands approximately 1 foot to the priest's right. Then at the "Amen" the deacon elevates the chalice as the priest elevates the paten. At another parish in my diocese, however, the deacon knelt on the altar step, beside the altar servers, during the consecration. I can't remember if he stepped up to elevate the chalice or not. It seems that the former position is more prevalent. Which is the correct or the preferred position? — J.J., Howell, Michigan

A: The position of the deacon during the Eucharistic prayer is dealt with in Nos. 179-180 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). To wit:

"179. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands near the priest but slightly behind him, so that when needed he may assist the priest with the chalice or the Missal.

"From the epiclesis until the priest shows the chalice, the deacon normally remains kneeling. If several deacons are present, one of them may place incense in the thurible for the consecration and incense the host and the chalice as they are shown to the people.

"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."

No. 215 adds a further note on the position of the deacon during a concelebrated Mass:

"After the prayer over the offerings has been said by the principal celebrant, the concelebrants approach the altar and stand around it, but in such a way that they do not obstruct the execution of the rites and that the sacred action may be seen clearly by the faithful. They should not be in the deacon's way whenever he needs to go to the altar to perform his ministry.

"The deacon exercises his ministry at the altar whenever he needs to assist with the chalice and the Missal. However, insofar as possible, he stands back slightly, behind the concelebrating priests standing around the principal celebrant."

I think the documents are sufficiently clear regarding the position of the deacon as to absolve me from inflicting further commentary on those poor readers who have stuck with me through the two years and some 140,000 words that have passed since the beginning of this column. ZE05092021

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Follow-up: Deacon's Position at Consecration [10-04-2005]

Several readers requested further clarifications on the role of the deacon during Mass (see Sept. 20).

Some questions regarded the respective roles of the deacon of the book and of the altar. A Tallahassee, Florida, reader asks:

"There is some confusion as to who does the speaking parts when there are two deacons on the altar.

"One school of thought is that the deacon of the Word only ministers during the Liturgy of the Word and does not speak the responses during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The deacon of the altar ministers at the altar and does the responses during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

"The second school of thought is that the deacon of the Word should do all spoken responses during the Mass and the deacon of the altar only assists at the altar with no spoken parts. Is there a clear definition as to the appropriate procedure?"

Related to this was a question regarding what parts the deacon should say. For example, a correspondent from Stockholm, Sweden, asks if the deacon, rather than the priest, could say the invitation "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith."

The general norms do not go into detail regarding the diverse roles of two deacons although this possibility exists in the Ceremonial of Bishops and is quite common on special solemn occasions or for concelebrated Masses.

The most common custom is that one deacon usually reads the Gospel, the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful, the invitation to make the sign of peace, and other interventions such as "The Mass is ended ..."

The other deacon attends to all that has to do with the altar and recites the private prayers used for the preparation of the chalice.

There are no other prayers or responses proper to the deacon during the Eucharistic Prayer. The responses to the prayers of offertory: "Blessed be God for ever," are either said by all or omitted entirely. The invitation "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith" is always said or sung by the priest; only the priest, or priest concelebrants, proclaim the doxology while the deacon silently elevates the chalice.

This is the usual division of roles, but it is not set in stone. On occasion, some mixing may take place, for example, if the deacon of the Gospel is bereft of musical talent, the other deacon could substitute him in singing the invitation to the sign of peace or the dismissal.

A priest asks how many deacons should be on the altar and what is the proper attire of deacons who do not have a particular function during a Mass.

In most cases, one or two deacons are sufficient. On occasion of the diocesan bishop's "Stational Mass," No. 122 of the Ceremonial of Bishops gives preference to at least three deacons: "one to proclaim the gospel reading and minister at the altar, two to assist the bishop. If there are more than three deacons present, they should divide the ministries accordingly, and at least one of them should be charged with assisting the active participation of the faithful."

In some places, such as seminaries and religious houses with numerous deacons, a custom exists whereby all of the deacons participate in the community Mass dressed in alb and stole.

In such cases the deacons have a role similar to that of clergy in choir in a solemn Mass and they are not, strictly speaking, exercising their ministry at this moment.

For this reason, if they form part of the entrance procession they follow the processional cross but go before the deacon of the Gospel who separates them from any concelebrants. They may have a reserved place in the front pews or in the choir, if there is one, but should be clearly distinguished from concelebrating priests.

At Communion the officiating deacons, and if necessary any others administering Communion, receive from the main celebrant. Any other deacons present in alb and stole may approach the altar to receive from the chalice but only after the concelebrants have partaken.

It is usually feasible to organize things so that the last concelebrants to take Communion administer the Eucharist under both species to these deacons. An alternative method is that once the principal celebrant has administered to the officiating deacons he goes to the front of the altar, or of the sanctuary, and administers Communion to the non-officiating deacons immediately before distributing to the faithful. ZE05100420

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