GIRM 171: Mass With a Deacon

In GIRM 120-170, we covered the situation in which a deacon does not serve at Mass. Every deacon, and every priest or liturgist who serves with one, should be aware of the prescriptions of GIRM 171-186, which start here:

171. When he is present at the celebration of the Eucharist, a Deacon should exercise his ministry, wearing sacred vestments. In fact, the Deacon:

a) assists the Priest and walks at his side;

b) ministers at the altar, both as regards the chalice and the book;

c) proclaims the Gospel and may, at the direction of the Priest Celebrant, give the Homily (cf. no. 66);

d) guides the faithful people by giving appropriate instructions, and announces the intentions of the Universal Prayer;

e) assists the Priest Celebrant in distributing Communion, and purifies and arranges the sacred vessels;

f) carries out the duties of other ministers himself, if necessary, when none of them is present.

There is a virtue in a parish, if not a diocese, being fairly consistent on these functions. In my experience these six points have plusses and minuses in practice.

As a cleric, 171a and b seem quite appropriate, as is the prescription for liturgical involvement when present at Mass.

171c implies preparation. Even when not preaching, proclaiming the Gospel is a significant task that a person is hard-pressed to “wing” without preparation. As such, every deacon candidate should probably be an above-average lector.

171d is the prescription about which I have the most doubts. I think the need for a “commentator” is minimal in ordinary situations. And while there may be a historical pedigree for the deacon leading these prayers, it seems more appropriate to leave it to the laity. I will accommodate a deacon in this situation, but it might mean shunting aside someone who has prepared the announcing of these prayers. If the deacon is already proclaiming the Gospel, that would seem to be sufficient role.

171 e and f make practical sense.

Thoughts, especially from deacons out there?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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9 Responses to GIRM 171: Mass With a Deacon

  1. Pingback: On Mass with a deacon « The Deacon's Bench

  2. jkm says:

    Not a deacon, but a member of a parish blessed with deacons and with priests who play well with others (though I haven’t seen them be willing to give up the homily to a deacon at a principal Mass yet). I agree that anyone–priest or deacon–who proclaims the Gospel should be well-trained and prepared, whether or not he will be preaching on it. Our deacons are not necessarily the best proclaimers, but they do as well, generally, as our lectors; I think there is variance in that talent even among the best-prepared. I have never experienced a deacon’s being called on spontaneously to proclaim the Gospel, which is what it sounds like you’re describing happens sometimes. I agree that would be unfair to both deacon and assembly. In terms of comments/instructions, we do without them, which I prefer; instructed Eucharists are useful in limited circumstances for catechetical purposes, but not as regular worship. I’d be fine with a deacon making the few logistical comments that might be needed at Christmas and Easter or other times when the assembly includes folks who aren’t familiar with the rubrics. And while I initially shared your question about whether the deacon is the right person to announce the intentions of the Universal Prayer, I have now come to agree that this is appropriate to the deacon’s role of being a bridge between the Church and the world. It also aligns with the Eastern Church’s worship, in which the deacon leads the synapte, or petitions following the Gospel.

    • John Roscoe says:

      Deacon Roscoe. “to spontaneously to proclaim the Gospel” doesn’t happen. A deacon always proclaims the gospel, even with the bishop or other priests present as concelebrants. If a deacon is invited to present the homily, that invitation happens well before the day of the Mass to allow careful preparation.

  3. Deacon Norb says:

    Re your (d), this currently refers to the following:
    –Introducing Guest Celebrants to the congregation.
    –Proclaiming “Form C” of the Penitential Rite
    –Proclaiming the “General Intentions/ Prayers of the Faithful”
    –Calling on the congregation to exchange the “Sign of Peace.”
    –Proclaiming (or chanting during Eastertide) the Dismissal.

    –It also includes proclaiming “The Light of Christ” and chanting certain components of the Exultet on Holy Saturday but using a Deacon here is not a universal practice. Let’s face it, some deacons are terrible singers.

    Once upon a time, it also included announcing the “Mystery of Faith” but that was taken away and I never figured out why.

    Have I missed anything?

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for the comments. We’ll get to your other pieces in the next sections.

      As for the mystery of faith, it might be that the CDWDS tightened up the Eucharistic Prayer as the narrative of the bishop or priest, not the laity, and the deacon was left out in 2000.

      It might also be the expanded old wording, “let us proclaim …” was interpreted as a directive. When we went to the simple statement “The mystery of faith,” it was left to the presiding priest.

  4. naturgesetz says:

    I don’t think “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith” was ever assigned to the deacon in the old Sacramentary. Apparently some priests and deacons just took it into their heads that it was sort of like “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.”

    One thing Deacon Norb forgot among the “appropriate instructions” assigned to the deacon is, “Bow down for the blessing,” when there will be a solemn blessing.

  5. naturgesetz says:

    BTW, in my parish we have a deacon, and the lectors understand that when he is present, he normally announces the intentions of the prayer of the faithful; and when he isn’t present, a lector announces the intentions. The most frequent exception is at youth Masses, where several students take turns announcing the intentions.

    I think the background for the deacon being assigned this duty is that the Prayer of the Faithful was brought into the Ordinary Form as a (modified) restoration of the litanies of the Eastern liturgies, in which the deacon is the one who chants the intentions to which the people respond Kyrie eleison or Soi Kyrie.

    I also think that once people understand that it’s the deacon’s job, they get over an initially hurt feelings. Perhaps it should be considered as similar to a Mass where extraordinary ministers of communion have been scheduled, but one or more concelebrants show up for some reason. Properly prepared extraordinary ministers should not be upset at ceding to an ordinary minister.

  6. Todd says:

    Speaking from the point of view of the one who is appointed by the pastor to arrange such things, I will say that not every deacon I’ve worked with was willing to be part of a schedule. To consistently adjust a few minutes before liturgy might betray a lack of seriousness or respect on the part of the deacon or priest who “feels inspired” to show up at the last minute.

    As I’ve said above, I’m willing to work with GIRM 171d, but I’m not above giving the occasional cleric a lecture about responsibility and planning, if the situation warrants.

  7. William Hughes says:

    The deacon at our parish, when present at Mass, does exactly what the GIRM prescribes and does so very well indeed. His proclamation of the Gospel and leading of the Intentions gives them the importance and solemnity they deserve.

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