Faith and Liturgy News
Following on from the last edition of The Duce which outlined my approaching ordination to the Permanent Diaconate in November, I thought it prudent to include brief discussion about the role of the deacon at Mass. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM, 171) summarises the many special liturgical functions of a deacon. It states:
When he is present at the celebration of the Eucharist, a deacon should exercise his ministry, wearing sacred vestments. In fact, the deacon:
- Assists the Priest and walks at his side;
- Ministers at the altar, both as regards the chalice and the book;
- Proclaims the Gospel and may, at the direction of the Priest Celebrant, give the Homily…;
- Guides the faithful people by giving appropriate instructions, and announces the intentions of the Universal Prayer;
- Assists the Priest Celebrant in distributing Communion, and purifies and arranges the sacred vessels;
- Carries out the duties of other ministers himself, if necessary, when none of them is present.
The role of the deacon flows from sacramental ordination; a ministry of service. Indeed, the term ‘deacon’ derives from the Greek word diakonia; meaning service. Through ordination, the deacon enters into the service of the church and becomes a sacramental sign of Christ the Servant, witnessing to the entire church’s identity as servant to the world which is principally expressed through the Mass itself. The Eucharistic Celebration becomes the very core of a deacon’s identity and responsibility. Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004)states:Deacons “upon whom hands are imposed not for the Priesthood but for the ministry”, as men of good repute, must act in such a way that with the help of God they may be recognized as the true disciples of him “who came not to be served but to serve,” and who was among his disciples “as one who serves” .
The liturgical ministry of a deacon should never be seen as something optional when “greater solemnity” is desired. Rather, a deacon’s ministry, particularly within the context of the Mass, should express the very communio of the church by integrating the variety of ministries sometimes present: bishop, priest, deacon, laity, Eucharistic minister, lector, acolyte, musicians and altar-servers. The action of diakonia is a fundamental element of the church; which means we cannot be a church without it. Since the Mass is the act by which the church is instituted, it follows that all constitutive elements should be fully expressed sacramentally.
The deacon must not be perceived as one who is “not quite a priest,” or whose role at Mass becomes “priest, junior grade.” Rather, the deacon’s liturgical role must be expressed in a way that is uniquely diaconal; a manner that sacramentalises the very servant-nature of the church.
Mr Graeme Pender
Faith & Liturgy Coordinator