Lay Ministers Wearing a Deacon's Stole

And More on the Returning of Hosts to the Tabernacle

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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: In Vietnam, the Eucharistic minister wears a deacon’s stole, as you can see in the attached picture. Is this right? — N.T., Vietnam

A: Our reader accompanied the question with a photo of a gentleman leading a Communion service while wearing a vestment that looked very much like a deacon’s stole over his civilian suit and tie. There was also a second extraordinary minister of holy Communion in the photo similarly attired.

Based on the picture, I cannot affirm if this is a practice in the entire country, a single diocese or even a single parish. I will limit my answer to what was in the photo without making any suppositions as to the extension of the practice.

With respect to this the instruction «Redemptionis Sacramentum» says the following regarding the use of lay pastoral assistants:

«147. When the Church’s needs require it, however, if sacred ministers are lacking, lay members of Christ’s faithful may supply for certain liturgical offices according to the norm of law. Such faithful are called and appointed to carry out certain functions, whether of greater or lesser weight, sustained by the Lord’s grace. Many of the lay Christian faithful have already contributed eagerly to this service and still do so, especially in missionary areas where the Church is still of small dimensions or is experiencing conditions of persecution, but also in areas affected by a shortage of Priests and Deacons.

«149. More recently, in some dioceses long since evangelized, members of Christ’s lay faithful have been appointed as ‘pastoral assistants,’ and among them many have undoubtedly served the good of the Church by providing assistance to the Bishop, Priests and Deacons in the carrying out of their pastoral activity. Let care be taken, however, lest the delineation of this function be assimilated too closely to the form of pastoral ministry that belongs to clerics. That is to say, attention should be paid to ensuring that ‘pastoral assistants’ do not take upon themselves what is proper to the ministry of the sacred ministers.

«150. The activity of a pastoral assistant should be directed to facilitating the ministry of Priests and Deacons, to ensuring that vocations to the Priesthood and Diaconate are awakened and that lay members of Christ’s faithful in each community are carefully trained for the various liturgical functions, in keeping with the variety of charisms and in accordance with the norm of law.

«151. Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the Liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of a fuller participation of the laity but rather, by its very nature, is supplementary and provisional. Furthermore, when recourse is had out of necessity to the functions of extraordinary ministers, special urgent prayers of intercession should be multiplied that the Lord may soon send a Priest for the service of the community and raise up an abundance of vocations to sacred Orders.

«152. These purely supplementary functions must not be an occasion for disfiguring the very ministry of Priests, in such a way that the latter neglect the celebration of Holy Mass for the people for whom they are responsible, or their personal care of the sick, or the baptism of children, or assistance at weddings or the celebration of Christian funerals, matters which pertain in the first place to Priests assisted by Deacons. It must therefore never be the case that in parishes Priests alternate indiscriminately in shifts of pastoral service with Deacons or laypersons, thus confusing what is specific to each.

«153. Furthermore, it is never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a Priest or a Deacon or other clothing similar to such vesture.»

Therefore, the vesture similar to the deacon’s stole found in our photo would certainly violate the norm given in No. 153.

At the same time, during Mass it would be possible, although not required, for an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to wear an alb or some other approved clothing, provided it does not resemble the vesture of the priest or deacon.

This would be in conformity with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 339: “Acolytes, lectors, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other suitable vesture that is lawfully approved by the Conference of Bishops.»

This is possible because during Mass the alb is considered to be the basic liturgical vesture for all liturgical ministries and is not exclusive to the ordained minister.

However, the situation is different whenever a lay extraordinary minister of holy Communion is required to act alone outside of Mass. In this case the strictures of «Redemptionis Sacramentum,» No. 153, would apply.

* * *

Follow-up: When Returning Hosts to the Tabernacle

A reader said that he found some difficulties in a part of our April 7 article. His carefully argued comments are the following:

«The missal is, however, clear that it should be the priest or deacon, and not an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, who should perform this duty in the context of Mass. The priest or deacon should make a genuflection on closing the tabernacle.

«You discuss purifications in the previous two paragraphs. Clearly an instituted acolyte can do the purifications, clearly he is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion (1972 motu propiro Ministeria Quaedam, No. 6). For example, Roman Missal, Order of Mass, No. 137: ‘When the distribution of Communion is over, the Priest or a Deacon or an acolyte purifies the paten over the chalice and also the chalice itself.’

«The ‘Good Friday’ ceremony is not a Mass, but it has the rubric ’29. When the distribution of Communion has been completed, the ciborium is taken by the Deacon or another suitable minister to a place prepared outside the church or, if circumstances so require, it is placed in the tabernacle.’

«Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 165, has ‘Another deacon or one of the concelebrants takes any remaining consecrated particles to the tabernacle, then at a side table cleanses the paten or ciborium over the cup before the cup is cleansed.’ In this Mass it is an ordained minister, but it is not the celebrant, the bishop.

«If there is a Mass with a priest and instituted acolyte (but no deacon), who can do the purification? Either, clearly. If the instituted acolyte does the purification, can he also put the ciborium to the tabernacle? It seems more appropriate that it be done by the person doing the purification, the instituted acolyte. The Ceremonial of Bishops indicates that it not be done by the celebrant.

«An argument could be made based on General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 317, having footnote 131, mentioning the 1938 instruction Nullo Unquma Tempore. This says things such as ‘6. (c) The key of the tabernacle must be most diligently kept by a priest.‘ But given that it was written before there were extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, it does not shed light on this question. The footnote also refers to Code of Canon Law, canons 934-944. The last part of Canon 938 has, ‘The person in charge of a church or oratory is to see to it that the key of the tabernacle is which the blessed Eucharist is reserved, is in maximum safe keeping.’ No mention is made of the key being held by a priest, as it was in the 1938 instruction.

«General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 163, is quoted in your article. It is for ‘Mass Without a Deacon’ and includes about the Priest: ‘as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.’ But it also de
scribes the priest doing the purification. It is clear from other parts of the Roman Missal that an instituted acolyte can do the purification. So this seems to have been written both for ‘Mass Without a Deacon’ and ‘Mass Without an Instituted Acolyte.’

«On the whole I do not think the Roman Missal is particularly clear on the role of the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, particularly this point about whether they can return the ciborium to the tabernacle on days other than Good Friday.

«Regarding the sentence ‘The priest or deacon should make a genuflection on closing the tabernacle’: This contradicts the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 274: ‘If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is situated in the sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of the Mass itself.'»

Although our reader has made a careful argument regarding the purification of the sacred vessels by instituted ministers, I respectfully believe that one key point has been overlooked.

An instituted acolyte is an «ex officio» extraordinary minister of holy Communion, but he does not purify the sacred vessels in the absence of a deacon as an extraordinary minister but as part of his ordinary ministry of acolyte.

Thus, for example, if an instituted acolyte served a concelebration with no deacon in which the number of priests made the use of extraordinary ministers unnecessary, the purification of the sacred vessels would still fall upon the instituted acolytes and not upon the priests.

Furthermore, going to the tabernacle, although it is done during the time of the purification, is a distinct act from the purification and is not mentioned as a task for the instituted acolyte. I hold that it is the proper task of an ordinary minister who is necessarily always present at Mass.

The case of Good Friday is an exception out of necessity, as the priest is otherwise engaged during the time when the Eucharist is brought from the altar of repose. I think that the quotes from the Ceremonial of Bishops, at least in this case, are somewhat specific to the episcopal celebration and do not apply to the case at hand.

Finally, although our reader correctly quotes the GIRM, No. 274, regarding not genuflecting during Mass, this norm refers to the normal movements during Mass itself when one passes in front of the tabernacle during the celebration. I believe that when the minister opens the tabernacle itself to reserve the Eucharist, then, in this case, the usual principle that one genuflects before closing the tabernacle would apply. Usually no genuflection would be made on opening the tabernacle, as the Lord is already present upon the altar.

I thank our correspondent for his attention and interest in observing faithfully the liturgical norms.

* * *

Readers may send questions to 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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