Lay Ministers Wearing a Deacon's Stole

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Lay Ministers Wearing a Deacon's Stole

By Father Edward McNamara, LC

ROME, 21 April 21 2015 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In Vietnam, the Eucharistic minister wears a deacon's stole, as you can see in the attached picture. Is this right? — N.T., Vietnam

A: Our reader accompanied the question with a photo of a gentleman leading a Communion service while wearing a vestment that looked very much like a deacon's stole over his civilian suit and tie. There was also a second extraordinary minister of holy Communion in the photo similarly attired.

Based on the picture, I cannot affirm if this is a practice in the entire country, a single diocese or even a single parish. I will limit my answer to what was in the photo without making any suppositions as to the extension of the practice.

With respect to this the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" says the following regarding the use of lay pastoral assistants:

"147. When the Church's needs require it, however, if sacred ministers are lacking, lay members of Christ's faithful may supply for certain liturgical offices according to the norm of law. Such faithful are called and appointed to carry out certain functions, whether of greater or lesser weight, sustained by the Lord's grace. Many of the lay Christian faithful have already contributed eagerly to this service and still do so, especially in missionary areas where the Church is still of small dimensions or is experiencing conditions of persecution, but also in areas affected by a shortage of Priests and Deacons.

"149. More recently, in some dioceses long since evangelized, members of Christ's lay faithful have been appointed as 'pastoral assistants,' and among them many have undoubtedly served the good of the Church by providing assistance to the Bishop, Priests and Deacons in the carrying out of their pastoral activity. Let care be taken, however, lest the delineation of this function be assimilated too closely to the form of pastoral ministry that belongs to clerics. That is to say, attention should be paid to ensuring that 'pastoral assistants' do not take upon themselves what is proper to the ministry of the sacred ministers.

"150. The activity of a pastoral assistant should be directed to facilitating the ministry of Priests and Deacons, to ensuring that vocations to the Priesthood and Diaconate are awakened and that lay members of Christ's faithful in each community are carefully trained for the various liturgical functions, in keeping with the variety of charisms and in accordance with the norm of law.

"151. Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the Liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of a fuller participation of the laity but rather, by its very nature, is supplementary and provisional. Furthermore, when recourse is had out of necessity to the functions of extraordinary ministers, special urgent prayers of intercession should be multiplied that the Lord may soon send a Priest for the service of the community and raise up an abundance of vocations to sacred Orders.

"152. These purely supplementary functions must not be an occasion for disfiguring the very ministry of Priests, in such a way that the latter neglect the celebration of Holy Mass for the people for whom they are responsible, or their personal care of the sick, or the baptism of children, or assistance at weddings or the celebration of Christian funerals, matters which pertain in the first place to Priests assisted by Deacons. It must therefore never be the case that in parishes Priests alternate indiscriminately in shifts of pastoral service with Deacons or laypersons, thus confusing what is specific to each.

"153. Furthermore, it is never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a Priest or a Deacon or other clothing similar to such vesture."

Therefore, the vesture similar to the deacon's stole found in our photo would certainly violate the norm given in No. 153.

At the same time, during Mass it would be possible, although not required, for an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to wear an alb or some other approved clothing, provided it does not resemble the vesture of the priest or deacon.

This would be in conformity with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 339: “Acolytes, lectors, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other suitable vesture that is lawfully approved by the Conference of Bishops."

This is possible because during Mass the alb is considered to be the basic liturgical vesture for all liturgical ministries and is not exclusive to the ordained minister.

However, the situation is different whenever a lay extraordinary minister of holy Communion is required to act alone outside of Mass. In this case the strictures of "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 153, would apply.

* * *

Follow-up: Lay Ministers Wearing a Deacon's Stole [5-10-2015]

With respect to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion wearing a vesture similar to a deacon's stole (see April 21), a reader from Singapore wrote:

"It might help to clarify that this is common not just in Vietnam but in other parts of Asia. Father, of course, answered rightly that lay ministers should not wear any vestment or clothing that might blur the lines between the ordained and lay ministries.But I would suggest that it wasn't a 'stole' per se that the extraordinary ministers in Vietnam were wearing over their suits, but rather a sash to denote their role as Communion ministers during Mass. We have the same custom in the Singapore Archdiocese, where many parishes identify their EMs by having them wear a white sash over the shoulder. In the same way, the church wardens wear a different colored sash to identify themselves in the performance of their duties. Years ago, when the EMs were first introduced in Singapore, they were required to wear albs in some parishes. But that gave rise to confusion among some that they were somehow connected to the priestly office. And in time, that was replaced with a simple white sash — which admittedly could be mistaken by some to be a deacon's stole — but it's really not the same thing. Hope that helps."

I would say that, wearing a sash during Mass denoting the role of the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is a legitimate option for the bishop to determine and unlikely to cause confusion.

However, in the photo sent to me the minister was directing a Communion service in the absence of a priest, and the sash resembled very closely the stole worn by deacons. There are ways of designing a sash that would avoid all confusion.

A reader from Oxford, England, asked: "Occasionally one sees priests vested as and serving as deacons in the ordinary form (in particular, I have seen this in the Good Friday liturgy — or even with bishops, as when cardinal deacons assist at the Holy Father's Mass). Is this appropriate?"

In the ordinary form there are no occasions in which a priest dresses as a deacon. If three priests proclaim the Gospel on Good Friday, they use red chasubles or simply alb and stole. The case is different with bishops, who may wear the dalmatic under the chasuble on certain solemn occasions such as ordinations. The case of cardinal deacons, who are usually bishops, is a particularity of papal celebrations which has its own liturgical traditions and legislation.

Finally, a reader from Indiana commented: "At our parish we sometimes have the priest and two deacons, and all of them are dressed the same. It is confusing. None of them wears the deacon stole but all have on the full vestments. Is this allowed, and how could the faithful know which is a priest and who are the deacons?"

I would suggest to our reader that the next time it happens he take a closer look at the deacons' vestments. It is probable that they are wearing a dalmatic of a design similar to the priest's chasuble. The dalmatic differs from the chasuble in having wide short sleeves and, usually, two stripes down the front and back.

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