Using Deacons as Readers and Servers

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Using Deacons as Readers and Servers

And More on Priests' Funerals

ROME, 10 JAN. 2006 (ZENIT)

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

Q: This year our superiors said that due to the large number of transitional deacons at the seminary, we will be scheduled to serve as readers and altar servers. Is it appropriate? I have never seen something like this. — (initials withheld) Denver, Colorado.

Q: Please speak about a layperson participating in more than one ministry during any given Mass (for example, a member of the choir being an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist) and the situation of one person being in two or more ministries (for example, both a lector and an usher) during the same pastoral year. — M.B., The Hague, Netherlands.

A: As both questions dealt with ministries I opted to deal with them together.

Since, apart from my professorial duties, I am also a spiritual director in Rome's largest international seminary for future diocesan priests, I can appreciate the superior's genuine concern for finding an adequate liturgical role for a large number of deacons (a blessed problem indeed). The proposed solution, however, is not the most liturgically appropriate.

It is a general principle in liturgy that each one of the different ministries perform its proper role. And those who have received a ministry have, so to speak, precedence in undertaking this ministry over those who have not received this ministry or even over those who have received the sacrament of holy orders.

As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Nos. 98-99, say in dealing with the roles of lector and acolyte: "In the ministry of the altar, the acolyte has his own functions (cf. below, nos. 187-193), which he must perform personally." And "In the Eucharistic Celebration, the lector has his own proper office (cf. below, nos. 194-198), which he must exercise personally."

Certainly all deacons have received both ministries and may perform the tasks of lector and acolyte if the need arises and no other ministers are available.

However, since there are also many seminarians who have received the instituted ministries, they should be called upon to serve at the ambo and the altar, reserving the deacons for their proper liturgical role.

The solution might be found in a change of system in organizing diaconal service. It is possible to design a rotation so that every day different deacons serve at Mass and preside over the Divine Office.

Also, full use of all the possibilities of using deacons in the liturgy may be adopted even on ordinary days. For example, by habitually using two deacons at Mass, and by having a deacon expose the Blessed Sacrament and accompany the priest for Benediction and even, if necessary, give the benediction himself.

The second question does not involve so much instituted ministers as lay people who are delegated to perform some of the functions of the instituted ministers or other necessary functions in the course of the celebration.

In principle there is no difficulty whatsoever in such a person fulfilling more than one ministry providing they are physically and temporally compatible.

It is difficult, for example, to serve as part of the choir and simultaneously serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, but since only people who are duly prepared may serve in the latter capacity it is not impossible.

Sometimes it is necessary for lay people to generously undertake several functions that others are unable and unwilling to share.

More than the number of offices, what is important is the spirit that is brought to these acts of service. They should be carried out simply and truly from a desire to serve and give glory to God and never from a vain desire to be a protagonist.

A person who carries out a ministry with such a spirit is always delighted to receive help and cooperation from others and never worries about who does what. ZE06011023

* * *

Follow-up: Using Deacons as Readers and Servers [1-24-2006]

Some readers commented on our column regarding deacons serving as lectors (Jan. 10). A Texas reader mentioned that it was a legitimate practice before the liturgical reforms.

"In the older form of the Roman rite," the reader wrote, "the priest reads the epistle and Gospel by himself at low Mass. Priests can act as deacons and subdeacons; deacons can act as subdeacons at high Mass. A cleric of high order can always act liturgically in a role normally reserved for a cleric of lower order.... In the uneducated mind of this layman, it seems that this kind of adaptation can be tolerated, both by church law and in practice, in the seminary setting without too much fuss."

(The order of subdiaconate, by the way, was abolished by Pope Paul VI for the present Roman rite; it had functions similar to those of the present instituted acolyte.)

I would say that while there is no specific law that would forbid a priest or deacon from acting as a lector or acolyte if necessary, it would certainly be against the spirit of the present liturgy for him to serve in this capacity if someone who could carry out these duties was available.

A further difference in past and present law is that while present law foresees, for example, that a concelebrating priest may carry out the deacon's functions, or proclaim the Gospel even if not concelebrating, in no case does he ever wear the deacon's vestment, the dalmatic. In the former liturgy, priests serving as subdeacons and deacons would wear the subdeacon's tunic and the dalmatic.

While it is true, as our reader observed, that "active participation" is above all a spiritual and internal act, it is likewise true that present liturgical norms rightly stress that this inner participation is fostered if the celebration truly manifests the whole body of the Church in her different orders and ministries.

The liturgical celebration in the seminary, rather than an exception, should really be the paradigm for celebration in the diocese. It should teach the seminarians how to "actively participate" both internally and externally in exercising, first of all the royal or common priesthood of all the faithful, and then the different ministries and the degrees of orders.

A seminarian who has not learned how to exercise his royal priesthood while still a layman will have difficulty in fully appreciating the exercise of the sacrament of orders and in inculcating true active participation in the faithful under his care.

A couple of other questions from readers addressed related topics.

One correspondent asked: "Is it proper that a lay reader also be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion if there is another reader or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion also available?"

While it is preferable, although not obligatory, that the reader be distinct from the acolyte, there is no incompatibility between reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

Indeed, if the reader were also an instituted lector, he enjoys a certain precedence in serving as an extraordinary minister over someone who is not an instituted minister.

In the same manner, if an instituted acolyte serves Mass, he has precedence over any other extraordinary minister, provided of course, that an extraordinary minister is really necessary.

Finally, a San Antonio, Texas, reader asked: "There seems to be a lot of confusion as to when a permanent deacon should wear the dalmatic and whether the stole is worn inside or outside of the dalmatic. Some pastors won't allow the stole to be worn on the outside so as to not confuse them for priest."

Confusion indeed! By the way, there is no difference, with respect to liturgical vestments, between the permanent and the transitional deacon. The dalmatic is the recommended vestment for both.

The deacon's stole is always worn underneath the dalmatic.

This norm, however, also applies to the priest who should wear the stole under the chasuble. The usage of wearing the stole over the chasuble is a fad that seems to be slowing losing ground to traditional practice as well as benefiting good taste and decorum.

Liturgical tradition elucidates this point by saying that the stole, as a symbol of priestly authority, should always be covered by the chasuble, the symbol of priestly charity. ZE06012420

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