|ROME, 20 SEPT. 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
* * *
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).
"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
"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.
* * *
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
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
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.