When to Wear a Dalmatic

And More on the Liturgy of the Hours

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I never assist in Mass wearing just the alb and the stole. I insist in wearing the ordinary vestment for a deacon, my dalmatic. In case of Communion services, should I or shouldn’t I wear a dalmatic? Is this a vestment reserved only in case of a sacrament, such as the Eucharist? Also, may a deacon wear a dalmatic when celebrating a baptism or presiding the sacrament of holy matrimony? — J.M., Tampa, Florida

A: The proper vestment for a deacon at Mass is an alb (with an amice if required), cincture, stole worn in the diaconal manner, and dalmatic. The stole and dalmatic should be of the corresponding liturgical color.

This vestment is a knee-length, sleeved garment. It was originally developed in Dalmatia, modern-day Croatia, and was imported into Rome during the second century.

At first the dalmatic, which was originally longer, reaching the heels, and more ample than today, was not well received, being seen as somewhat effeminate. Later, however, it became popular among Roman senators and imperial officials as a substitute for the toga and was even used as the proper garb for the consecration of the emperor.

From this it became a habit proper to the pope and to bishops. Finally it was introduced as a vestment for the deacons of Rome by Pope Sylvester I in the fourth century and gradually became their proper vestment. For a time, especially during the ninth to 14th centuries, bishops and even priests would sometimes wear the dalmatic under the chasuble. This use persists today, but only for bishops, who may vest a light dalmatic underneath the chasuble in solemn celebrations, especially ordinations.

According to current practice, priests celebrating according to the ordinary form never use the dalmatic. In the extraordinary form there are certain solemn celebrations in which a priest substitutes for a deacon and is vested accordingly. Likewise on exceptional occasions cardinal deacons serve the pope dressed in dalmatic.

With respect to its habitual use, we may say that the dalmatic is to the deacon what the chasuble is to the priest. Therefore, in most cases the deacon may use the dalmatic only when the priest would use the chasuble.

An exception to this rule is when a deacon accompanies a bishop or priest who wears a cope in a solemn celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours or for Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, there are no ritual situations in which a deacon would use the dalmatic on his own. It would seem that it is only used when carrying out his functions accompanying a bishop or priest.

Therefore, just as a priest would not use the chasuble for a Communion service, the deacon would not use a dalmatic. The same can be said of other celebrations of sacraments and sacramentals, such as funeral services, outside of Mass.

The proper vestment for celebrations such as baptisms, weddings, funerals and the like outside of Mass is alb (or surplice over a cassock), stole, and cope of the appropriate liturgical color. In most cases the appropriate color will be white, although violet may be used for funerals. These vestments may be used by both priests and deacons with the only difference being the manner of wearing the stole.

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Follow-up: Varying Editions of the Liturgy of the Hours

Related to our Sept. 9 reply on the Liturgy of the Hours, there was a question regarding some aspects of the Divine Office.

A Detroit reader asked: “The closing prayer for the proper in the [breviary] is the same as the collect from that office’s Mass. Would it be appropriate to use the new translation in place of the one found in the current LOTH, as this could cause confusion in places where the Hours are prayed in public?”

This question has been answered in the affirmative by representatives of the bishops’ conference. Either in public or private celebrations, the newly translated collects may always be used. However, this is not yet obligatory and will become so only with the publication of a revised Liturgy of the Hours.

In the same vein, the liturgical response “And with you spirit” should be used for all occasions, even in those books which are still awaiting a revised translation.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. 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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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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