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Home » Liturgy

The Deacon at Mass: A Theological and Pastoral Guide

Submitted by on 2 February, 2009 – 5:27 pmOne Comment
The Deacon at Mass: A Theological and Pastoral Guide

Deacon William T. Ditewig provides here a great study of the permanent diaconate. Greatly involved in the diaconate here in the United States, especially as the executive director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops headquartered in Washington, D.C., he has also written several books and articles and is a noted authority on the modern-day diaconate.

Vatican Council as well as the deacon’s role at the Eucharist or the Mass. He argues that the deacon is not a “liturgical flower pot,” as some would say. In reality, the deacon has a proper role to perform as the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the new General Instructions of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John Paul II show. Vatican II did not restore or make up the permanent diaconate; the diaconate has always been in existence but was originally used as a stepping stone to the priesthood – one of those hoops a candidate for the priesthood had to go through to reach ordination as a priest. Before the diaconate became just a stepping stone, several saints and other holy deacons did not “go all the way” to become priests, including Blessed Alcuin of York, the teacher of Charlemagne and St. Francis of Assisi; St. Lawrence; St. Stephen; St. Ephrem; and others. The diaconate has a rich history, as this short list shows.

Ditewig also wishes to help those already ordained as deacons, those preparing for ordination, and others lay and clerical members to learn more about the diaconate. The deacon has some important services to perform during the Mass, which is the highest form of prayer in the Roman Catholic Church, and the author discusses their origins. He also strongly argues why the deacon should perform his role in the Mass even at the weekday Mass.

Are deacons semi-clergy and semi-laity? No – they are clergy, not bishops or priests but of the third of Holy Orders in the Church. Vatican II documents dictates that all are to participate in the liturgy according to their role. At a Mass where a deacon is present as well as several priests, the other priest or priests should not do the deacon’s parts. The deacon should perform his role and the priests should perform their roles, just as the lector should do his or her role in accordance with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and Vatican II. Deacons should not function liturgically only on Sundays or major feast days. They should also function even if their family is not present in the church, performing their roles when they are at any Mass. Of course, tact and common sense are needed. A deacon should not just barge in to demand that he do his role if he is visiting another parish.

Ditewig strongly suggests in line with the new GIRM that the deacon wear the dalmatic and the stole at Mass and other ceremonies. He rightly shows that only wearing a stole over the alb without the dalmatic is not proper. In the early days, when the permanent diaconate was being rediscovered, many deacons typically wore only the stole, saving the dalmatic for high feast days and other special events. Ditewig says the dalmatic should be always worn by the deacon unless the presiding priest or celebrant is only wearing a stole, which is not the proper attire for a presiding celebrant but is the attire of a concelebrant. Ditewig says that the chasuble is the priest’s liturgical garment and the dalmatic is the deacon’s liturgical garment. He recommends that they match, of course, if possible.

Ditewig comments on various liturgical and theological issues of the diaconate using his own experience and based on Church documents from which he provides quotes. This book is a great aid to deacons, those preparing for the diaconate, and others interested in the topic.

Deacon William T. Ditewig, Ph.D., is a retired U.S. Navy Commander. His doctoral degree is in theology and religious studies from the Catholic University of America. He is a co-author or author of The Diaconate (2007), Today’s Deacon (2006), Theology of the Diaconate (2006), The Deacon Reader (2006), 101 Questions and Answers on Deacons (2004) and other articles.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., 2007

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One Comment »

  • John F. Forster says:

    I am very pleased to read of Deacon William, a person very well prepared theologically, and who is on, what I believe to be, the right track in characterizing who and what the Permanent Deacon is and does. Still today there are far too many misunderstandings and misrepresentations of just who the Permanent Deaconate is, what he is called to do/perform and how he is to be present, presented (a cleric not a lay person, nor a half lay-person, half ordained minister) and functional within the Church. Still today, some 45 years following Vatican II and the re-establishment of the Permanent Deaconate by His Holiness Paul VI, there are far too many even ill advised remarks and strongly inappropriate ideas concerning the Deacon as a person called by God to fill a very important institutional and pastoral role in the Church. The Church is facing a time, like no other, when the call is so strong, to face head-on the many social ills,and the pastoral/theological deficit of so many parishioners. There is such a vast need for prepared, ordained ministers of the Word who, also having other talents and educational backgrounds are ideal, well-rounded persons, able to reach out to the many in such desperate need economically, socially, medically, and spiritually. The Deacon, a minister of service to The Body of Christ, is one who, should perform duties like a cleric, should be presented like a cleric, should look and sound like a cleric as he is one within the three-fold ministery of Holy Orders–a cleric. Deacon William, in my view, sees the role and the identity of the deacon with 20/20 vision. Certainly it would serve local Church leadership, aspirant deacons, parish communities and individuals well to look deeper into the reality of this, God’s calling, the Deaconate for the richness that is inherent in it’s service to God, to those in need, and to the entire Body of Christ-the Church. Many thanks to Deacon William for his active postulate as a Deacon, and his witness as a spokesperson who presents the Deacon in the Holy and dignified manner intended by our Church Doctors and Fathers and most certainly by God who calls individuals to this service to others.
    In the Fraternal Love of Christ,