Deacons and the Easter Triduum

No Celebration If There Is No Priest

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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 want some clarification on the Easter Triduum liturgies. Can a deacon preside at these liturgies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil, in a situation where there is no priest available? If yes, what are the dos and don’ts? — R.M., Kitwe, Zambia
A: The quick and immediate answer to the question is no, the deacon cannot preside at any of these functions, and if no priest is available they are simply not celebrated.
It must be remembered that the celebrations of the Easter Triduum are not days of precept, so while everything possible should be done to ensure their celebration for as many faithful as possible, this must be done without undermining the nature of the celebrations themselves.
It must also be remembered that the celebrations are intimately related to one another and to their inner meaning. The Holy See’s 1988 circular letter «Paschales Solemnitatis» and the norms of the new Latin Missal are clear that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the Good Friday service are related in such an intimate way that they should generally be celebrated in the same church. Although they are not necessarily celebrated by the same priest, their intimate union and their nature require the presence of a priest. Regarding the difficulty of celebrating for more than one parish, «Paschales Solemnitatis» states:
«43. It is fitting that small religious communities, both clerical and lay, and other lay groups should participate in the celebration of the Easter Triduum in neighboring principal churches.
«Similarly, where the number of participants and ministers is so small that the celebrations of the Easter Triduum cannot be carried out with the requisite solemnity, such groups of the faithful should assemble in a larger church.
«Also, where there are small parishes with only one priest, it is recommended that such parishes should assemble, as far as possible, in a principal church and participate in the celebration there.
«On account of the needs of the faithful, where a pastor has the responsibility for two or more parishes in which the faithful assemble in large numbers, and where the celebration can be carried out with the requisite care and solemnity, the celebrations of the Easter Triduum may be repeated in accord with the given norms.»
A footnote to the first paragraph clarifies the case of cloistered communities: «In monasteries of nuns, every effort should be made to celebrate the Easter Triduum with the greatest possible ceremony, but within the monastery church.»
Regarding the union of Holy Thursday and Good Friday the document says:
«46. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the evening, at a time that is more convenient for the full participation of the whole local community. All priests may concelebrate even if on this day they have already concelebrated the Chrism Mass, or if, for the good of the faithful, they must celebrate another Mass.
«47. Where pastoral considerations require it, the local Ordinary may permit another Mass to be celebrated in churches and oratories in the evening, and in the case of true necessity, even in the morning, but only for those faithful who cannot otherwise participate in the evening Mass. Care should nevertheless be taken to ensure that celebrations of this kind do not take place for the benefit of private persons or of small groups, and that they are not to the detriment of the main Mass.
«According to the ancient tradition of the Church, all Masses without the participation of the people are on this day forbidden.
«48. The Tabernacle should be completely empty before the celebration. Hosts for the Communion of the faithful should be consecrated during that celebration. A sufficient amount of bread should be consecrated to provide also for Communion on the following day.
«49. For the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, a place should be prepared and adorned in such a way as to be conducive to prayer and meditation, seriousness appropriate to the liturgy of these days is enjoined so that all abuses are avoided or suppressed. When the tabernacle is located in a chapel separated from the central part of the church, it is appropriate to prepare the place of repose and adoration there.
«53. It is more appropriate that the Eucharist be borne directly from the altar by the deacons, or acolytes, or extraordinary ministers at the moment of communion for the sick and infirm who must communicate at home, so that in this way they may be more closely united to the celebrating Church.
«54. After the post-Communion prayer, the procession forms, with the crossbar at its head. The Blessed Sacrament, accompanied by lighted candles and incense, is carried through the church to the place of reservation, to the singing of the hymn ‘Pange lingua’ or some other eucharistic song. This rite of transfer of the Blessed Sacrament may not be carried out if the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion will not be celebrated in that same church on the following day.
This last norm underlines the union of the two rites which in a way form a single whole and so a priest must be available for both celebrations.
It must also be noted that since the norms of the missal only allow for distribution of the Eucharist outside of Mass to the sick on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and only to the dying on Holy Saturday, then it follows that there can be no Celebrations of the Word with Distribution of Communion on these days.
This day is the memorial of the first Mass and it would not be appropriate to substitute the Mass for any other celebration.
However, where the presence of priests is totally impossible some forms of pious exercise may be organized by catechists or even deacons to remember these days but excluding the distribution of Communion and the reservation of the Eucharist.
The celebration of the Easter Vigil is not associated in this way and may be celebrated independently of the other two functions. However, the vigil is essentially a Mass and thus cannot be presided over by a deacon. The Eucharist distributed on that day should be consecrated in the Mass itself.
However, in communities where no Masses whatsoever are to be celebrated on Easter Sunday, it would be possible to distribute communion outside of Mass. If possible it would be preferable that this communion service use hosts consecrated during the Easer Vigil.
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In last week’s article I concluded with a quote supposedly by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It has been pointed out to me that the text is not from her although she did hang a different version of the text on a wall of her orphanages. That text did not contain the final lines I quoted. I regret the error and kindly request that it be removed from any copies of the original article that might have been posted online.
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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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