Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In the ordination of permanent deacons, during the procession, some wives of deacons expressed the idea of wives carrying their husbands’ vestments and walking beside or behind their husbands who are to be ordained. This seems to show vividly their support for their deacon husbands and symbolize the primary importance of marriage sacrament in the life of a married permanent deacon. The introduction to the Rite of Ordination of Deacons does not give any chance of wives’ participation in the rite. Is this a sign that the wives should give up on that idea mentioned above? — B.C., Houston, Texas
A: Wives are certainly very important, indeed essential, in the process of preparing married candidates for the permanent diaconate. According to the Code of Canon Law 1031.2, a married candidate cannot be admitted without the consent of his wife.
We can take, for example, the guidelines for the formation of permanent deacons issued by the Australian bishops in 2005 and which reflect common practice:
“27. If married, he [the candidate] must have the active support of his wife (and family). If not married, or if widowed in the future, he must be willing to accept a lifelong commitment to celibacy.
“35. An applicant’s wife will be encouraged to participate in at least some aspects of this formation program. Some additional sessions should be conducted specifically for the wives (and family members) of applicants.
“36. At an appropriate time during the formation program, and with the consent his wife and those who have overseen the formation program, an applicant would formally petition the bishop to be accepted as a candidate for ordination to the diaconate. It would be expected that, at definite stages throughout a formation program, an applicant would be formally instituted by the bishop in the ministries of lector and acolyte. A candidate would make a five-day retreat before ordination.”
In spite of this importance there is effectively no fixed role for deacons’ wives in the ordination rite.
There are probably several practical reasons for this. For example, on many occasions the candidates for the permanent and transitional diaconate are ordained together. On some occasions there are also priestly ordinations in the same ceremony. It would be impractical to single out some candidates in such mixed ceremonies.
Likewise, the order of the entrance procession at ceremonies such as ordinations is pretty much determined by the liturgical rules, and they do not allow for many additions. The persons who enter with the procession are usually those who have a precise liturgical function during the ceremony, although there are several exceptions to these rules in virtue of ancient privileges.
However, there might be one way of introducing the role of wives without violating the liturgical rules.
On the one hand, it is clear that the one vesting the new deacon is either a deacon or a priest. As the rubric of one ordination booklet describes it:
“The men, now ordained, are vested for the first time in the stole, worn over the left shoulder and fastened to the side. This vestment, a symbol of their ecclesial office, is worn to reflect the ministry of service they provide to the Body of Christ as teachers and messengers of the Gospel. The Dalmatic, a symbol of Justice, reflects the ministry of Charity that all deacons must take upon themselves to benefit those who are most in need. Each Deacon is assisted by members of the Clergy, personally chosen by them.”
This vesting by a fellow deacon of a priest and the subsequent exchange of peace with the bishop and all the deacons who are present is a sign of welcoming into the specific order of deacons, and thus it has a clear liturgical function.
On the other hand, nothing is said about how the stoles and dalmatics reach the hands of the deacons or priests doing the vesting.
In this area usages vary widely according to local custom and the practical logistics of the celebration. In some cases the candidates carry their vestments over their arms from the beginning of the ceremony. More commonly they are prepared on a table, and the vesting ministers receive them from a master of ceremonies or an acolyte just before this part of the celebration begins.
There is, however, a longstanding and widespread custom in many Latin American countries in which the parents bring the vestments of the candidate to the edge of the sanctuary where they are received by the vesting minister. This is a concrete sign of their support for their son’s vocation.
This custom could conceivably be introduced by bishops in other in other places, since it does not go against any liturgical law and can carry a wealth of meanings.
It could also work well in mixed ceremonies in which parents bring up the vestments of a transitional deacon while wives could do so for married deacons. I would suppose that this is already the case in Latin America, but I do not have confirmation.
One small disadvantage is that it might make a long ceremony a little bit longer, but that is a practical decision that can be taken on a case-by-case basis.
* * *
Readers may send questions to email@example.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.