Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, Professor of Liturgy and Dean of Theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: It is clear that it is improper for a deacon to pray with extended hands, or orans, during Mass. But outside Mass, when presiding, for example, praying the Our Father during the baptism rite, is it appropriate for the deacon to pray with extended hands? Another occasion might praying a Collect, during a Service of the Word with Holy Communion, in the absence of a priest. — T.S., Aberdeen, Scotland
A: It is true that there is no moment when the deacon extends his hands or opens and closes his hands during Mass as this is considered a presidential gesture. An exception of sorts would be in those countries, such as Italy, where it is permitted that those who wish may extend their hands during the recitation of the Our Father. In this case, obviously, it is not considered as a presidential gesture.
This is why the Roman rite has no opening and closing of hands during the greeting “The Lord be with you” before the Gospel. Proclaiming the Gospel is not considered a function of the celebrant, and thus it is preferably done by a deacon or, in his absence, a concelebrant. It is proclaimed by the celebrant only if no other ordained minister participates.
Some other liturgical families take a different view and actually reserve the proclamation of the Gospel to the celebrant, leaving the deacon to read the Epistle.
The idea of extending the hands as proper to the presiding celebrant would be the key to answering the question at hand regarding celebrations outside of Mass.
I would say that if a deacon is considered as an ordinary minister for a celebration, and the rubrics of the celebration makes no distinction between deacons and priests, then the deacon would follow the same gestures as indicated for the priest.
The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of the Priest says:
“38. When a deacon presides at the celebration, he acts in accord with his ministry in regard to the greetings, the prayers, the gospel reading and homily, the giving of communion, and the dismissal and blessing. He wears the vestments proper to his ministry, that is, the alb with stole, and, as circumstances suggest, the dalmatic. He uses the presidential chair.”
The rubrics for the rite for Distribution of Holy Communion Outside of Mass, which is different from the above rite for Sunday, indicate that the priest or deacon use the presidential greeting at the beginning of the celebration, and this is usually done opening and closing the hands. At the end of the celebration it specifically says that the priest or deacon extends his hands at the moment of the final blessing.
Although not specifically indicated, it would be presumed that the priest or deacon would also extend his hands for the final prayer before the blessing.
The same principle is mentioned in the Book of Blessings. Some blessings are reserved to priests and deacons, yet even for those not limited to the ordained the rubrics specify that:
“A minister who is a priest or deacon says the prayer of blessing with hands outstretched over [the persons or objects being blessed]; a lay minister says the prayer with hands joined.”
This would also be true for baptism where deacons are named as ordinary ministers of the sacrament.
The rite of baptism speaks only of the “celebrant” and makes no distinction between deacon and priest. It is true that this rite has practically no indications whatsoever regarding the gestures used by the celebrant. However, I think that it can be safely presumed that the gestures used in blessing the baptismal water and the final solemn blessings would be made in the usual manner with hands extended over the persons and objects being blessed and with the sign of the cross at the proper moments.
Canon 1108 permits Latin-rite deacons to officiate at the marriage of Latin Catholics outside of Mass. In this case he would impart all the blessings using the habitual gestures. He would also extend his hands during the opening prayer if this is used.
The same principle would be used for other similar situations in which a deacon presides at a liturgical celebration such as an office of the Liturgy of the Hours.
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