When 2 Deacons Are Present

Author: Father Edward McNamara


When 2 Deacons Are Present

ROME, 16 NOV. 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: At a Mass where there are two deacons and one of the deacons is going to be preaching the homily, which deacon should proclaim the Gospel? Should the deacon who is going to be preaching proclaim the Gospel, or should one deacon proclaim the Gospel and the other preach the homily? In a similar situation, who proclaims the Gospel when a bishop is the main celebrant and a concelebrating priest is going to preach the homily, but there is more than one priest concelebrating and there is no deacon? Does one priest proclaim the Gospel and another preach, or does the priest who is preaching proclaim the Gospel? — R.B., Marquette, Michigan

A: The norms on this point are not absolute and allow for a certain degree of flexibility in order to adapt to special circumstances. At the same time, there are some aspects of liturgical decorum that should be respected as far as possible.

One principle that should be respected is that if a deacon is present, it is he who reads the Gospel. A priest should proclaim only if the deacon is impaired for some exceptional reason, for example, if he did not know the language of the Gospel in a multilingual celebration.

All things being equal, when there are two deacons they are usually divided as the deacon of the Word and the deacon of the Eucharist. Apart from proclaiming the Gospel and the general intercessions, the deacon of the Word takes his place to the celebrant's left during the Liturgy of the Eucharist or may also incense the Blessed Sacrament during the Eucharistic Prayer. The deacon of the Eucharist takes care of the habitual diaconal functions during the preparation of gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer and the sign of peace.

Another general principle in liturgy is to avoid useless movements.

In this light a deacon who is to preach should usually take the role of the deacon of the Word so as to carry out both functions with ease and without interruptions.

There may occasionally be good reasons for a change in minister. For example, if the Gospel is to be sung, then the deacon better qualified for this task may proclaim the sacred text, even though another will preach.

In the case of concelebration without a deacon, the principal celebrant, bishop or priest should not read the Gospel even though he would normally be the one to preach the homily.

If a priest other than the principal celebrant is to preach, then in general he should also read the Gospel. The fact that several priests may be concelebrating is not enough reason to divide up the tasks between several ministers and thus multiplying unnecessary movements.

Exceptions to this general rule of thumb may be made for reasons similar to those mentioned for deacons: difference of language, singing the text, etc.

* * *

Follow-up: When 2 Deacons Are Present [11-30-2010]

There was a question on file related to our Nov. 16 column on the service of deacons:

"We have a large suburban parish with six weekend Masses. Every fourth Sunday is 'deacons preach' weekend, an event which we permanent deacons look forward to with eagerness and no small amount of joy.

"When we had three deacons each of us would preach at two Masses. This worked very well for us. Recently, however, the bishop transferred one of our deacons to another parish. That left two of us to cover six Masses. The question has arisen as to the mechanics of one deacon serving at three Masses. It is our understanding that we should not serve as Mass deacon at more than two celebrations in a single weekend.

"The solution we have come up with is for us to serve as Mass deacon for two Masses and to be the preacher only at one other Mass. Now the question. When not serving as Mass deacon, is it proper for us to proclaim the Gospel in addition to preaching? Or should the celebrant be the one to proclaim the Gospel? It seems to be an odd reversal of roles. One priest — an associate — insists on doing it this way. My brother deacon says that the rubrics are clear: The deacon, if present, should proclaim the Gospel.

"If the deacon is not Mass deacon but is preaching only, is he 'present' in the sense the GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] intended?"

Although this question addresses a particular situation, I would say the following.

I am supposing that the general rule that nobody may receive Communion more than twice in one day applies also to deacons.

On that basis, there would be some difficulty with a deacon serving three Masses on a single day. It is true that it would not be obligatory to communicate at the third Mass, but it would be strange to carry out all of the diaconal ministries and not receive Communion.

However, there is no reason why he could not serve at one Saturday evening Mass and two Sunday Masses, or the reverse. The fact that the same liturgy is followed on Saturday and Sunday has no bearing on the norm that allows no more than two communions in any one day.

Thus, I believe that our reader's supposition that the deacon can serve no more than two Masses over the weekend does not hold up.

At the same time, I would say that it would not generally be in conformity with the norms for a deacon to read the Gospel or preach if he were not actively ministering at Mass. GIRM, No. 66, says: "The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate …."

Therefore, while GIRM allows for an exceptional case in which a non-concelebrating bishop or priest may preach at Mass, no such exception is envisioned for a deacon.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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