When 2 Deacons Are Present

And More on Blessings and the Extraordinary Form

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ROME, NOV. 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- 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.

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Extraordinary Form; Book of Blessings

After our reply on the extraordinary form and the Book of Blessings (see Nov. 2), some readers asked for further clarifications.

An Alabama reader asked: «Can a permanent deacon impart blessing on people or articles as the priest or bishop does by making the sign of the cross over them? Can he also bless water apart from baptismal water?»

A deacon, whether permanent or transitory, may carry out all those blessings not specifically reserved to a bishop or priest in the Book of Blessings. The rites open to the deacon include most blessings of people, devotional objects and also holy water.

Although the deacon may impart these blessings, he should usually defer to a priest if one is present and available. Likewise, blessings during Mass are always done by the priest.

A Mississippi reader made a request regarding Summorum Pontificum: «The extraordinary form of the Mass is celebrated weekly at a church in New Orleans. When Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament follows Mass, the priestly blessing and the last Gospel are eliminated from the Mass. Is this procedure correct?»

While I am no expert on all the intricacies of the extraordinary form, classical liturgical guides such as Fortescue-O’Connell-Reid in English and Trimelloni in Italian both describe the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after Mass or before a procession as following the Fourth Gospel. Trimelloni states that even in those rare cases when Mass was allowed before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, the priest blessed the people as usual and not with the Blessed Sacrament (No. 437, A4).

It would appear therefore that the practice in this parish is incorrect with respect to the rubrics of the extraordinary form.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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