Diaconal doings

Eastern Orthodox deacons have a particular liturgical role and, in some places, a particular pastoral role too, which is closely linked to the former.

In particular, the deacon maintains good order in worship and brings the people's needs to the liturgical gathering for prayer in the litanies. He may also handle the Holy Gifts and, in some places, assist with their distribution at Communion when the need arises.

He doesn't bless people or things, and in some places he may not even do some things that he would usually do (such as the litanies) if there is no priest present to bless him to do them.

This seems to be in stark contrast to Roman Catholic deacons, who may bless people and various things, including holy water, and also perform baptisms and marriages, and for whom ( at least in practice) assisting at Communion seems almost to be an expectation rather than something done out of expediency.

My Orthodox formation and life for the first ten years was within Eastern Orthodoxy, specifically within ROCOR. Now that I am a deacon in the Western Orthodox tradition, it came as a surprise to me when I was asked for blessings after my ordination, and later told by my bishop (who is a liturgical scholar and historian, particularly of western liturgical praxis) that I may perform baptisms in our isolated, priestless mission.

I'm curious about how these rather different understandings of diaconal service came to be, and how far back they go. Does anybody know more?

Comments

  • RC deacons also conduct funerals and preach.
    The only sacraments they cannot perform are to say Mass, hear confessions and sacramentally anoint the sick.
    there are places in the world where trained catechists are commissioned to do everything a deacon can do (baptise, marry, funerals, preach, distribute communion) ..... but without ordination. I know thats a different conundrum, but interesting nonetheless.
  • Alan29 wrote: »
    RC deacons also conduct funerals and preach.
    The only sacraments they cannot perform are to say Mass, hear confessions and sacramentally anoint the sick.
    there are places in the world where trained catechists are commissioned to do everything a deacon can do (baptise, marry, funerals, preach, distribute communion) ..... but without ordination. I know thats a different conundrum, but interesting nonetheless.

    Yes, and to take it a step further, anyone. deaconed, priested or lay, may perform a baptism. Usually this last is only performed person in an emergency, but is that the position in any of the Orthodox traditions?
  • CyprianCyprian Shipmate
    edited September 2020
    Gee D wrote: »
    Alan29 wrote: »
    RC deacons also conduct funerals and preach.
    The only sacraments they cannot perform are to say Mass, hear confessions and sacramentally anoint the sick.
    there are places in the world where trained catechists are commissioned to do everything a deacon can do (baptise, marry, funerals, preach, distribute communion) ..... but without ordination. I know thats a different conundrum, but interesting nonetheless.

    Yes, and to take it a step further, anyone. deaconed, priested or lay, may perform a baptism. Usually this last is only performed person in an emergency, but is that the position in any of the Orthodox traditions?

    Yes. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, baptisms can be done by the laity or deacons in extremis. There are common stories of this happening in Russia during Soviet times. However, it isn't encouraged as normal practice, as it is preferred that the baptismal waters be blessed, the exorcisms done, and the catechumen be anointed, and that the chrismation should follow immediately after the baptism. Where it must happen, the expectation is that, at the earliest opportunity, the newly illumined will be brought to a priest to be chrismated.
    Alan29 wrote: »
    RC deacons also conduct funerals and preach.
    The only sacraments they cannot perform are to say Mass, hear confessions and sacramentally anoint the sick.

    Thank you for this. That's interesting. In Orthodox practice, technically anybody considered sufficiently spiritually mature to hear confessions and offer appropriate guidance may do so with the bishop's blessing, although in practice I have only known this to be granted to nuns or monks. The penitents would then receive absolution from their local priest. I know this sort of arrangement often exists for priests' families in parishes where there is no second priest.
  • I think the RCC would draw a clear line between sacramental confessionand absolution on the on hand and spiritual guidance on the other.
  • Someone who knows more should correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think deacons in the RCC can confer blessings, including of baptismal water. When RCC deacons perform baptisms in a church, isn't it in a font whose waters have already been blessed? Of course, when a layperson performs a baptism in extremis the waters are not blessed at all.

    I think one big reason for the difference between the roles of permanent deacons in the Roman Rite of the RCC vs Orthodoxy is that permanent deacons ceased to exist in the Roman Rite of the RCC for centuries until being revived at the time of Vatican II. Because they had not existed for so long, I'm assuming the RCC had to rely on very old historical precedent to determine their role (including, to some extent, the example of their role in Eastern Rite RC churches and in Orthodoxy). Where there was ambiguity about their role, the Vatican II fathers probably felt that what was not forbidden was permitted.

    Another thing about the RCC today is that a lot of things that were allowed with Vatican II but not intended to become the norm became the de facto norm, in some countries more so than in others. Deacons presiding at baptisms, weddings, and funerals is one of those things, I think.

    I think the only things that deacons can do liturgically at mass in the Latin Rite of the RCC that a layperson cannot do are proclaim the gospel, preach a homily at mass, prepare the chalice at the offertory, hold the chalice at the doxology concluding the eucharistic prayer, invite the laity to exchange the sign of peace, and announce the dismissal at the end of mass. The other things that deacons do (like lead the prayers of the faithful) are said in the rubrics to be performed by a deacon or, in the absence of a deacon, by someone else who could be a layperson. But I often see laypeople lead the prayers of the faithful even when a deacon is present, even if strictly speaking it isn't allowed.
  • edited September 2020
    *pedant alert* There was a vestigial survival of deacons in Rome itself until halfway through the 19c, primarily for canon lawyers and diplomats (a few of them made it to cardinal without ever being priested or bishopped) who for all sorts of reasons, did not want to proceed further.

    In Latin Canada, deacons do a lot of preaching, and performing baptisms and marriages. From my standing-at-the-back of Orthodox services, they seem to have a lot to do with music and leading prayers.

    Having a quick look at the figures for eastern churches in Canada, the only one with an appreciable number of permanent deacons is Toronto of the Ukrainian province. Most cucriously, the Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto only has 1 diocesan priest and 106 permanent deacons. I wonder if there is a typo there... although a previous year reports 75 against 7 priests.
  • I've been doing some rooting around to find out about RC deacons and baptism. The Introduction to the Rite of Christan Initiation is clear that the ordinary ministers of baptism are bishops, priests and deacons. As far as I know there is only one order of service so deacons presumably bless the water, anoint the candidate and pronounce the exorcism. And bless the congregaton at the end.
  • Cyprian wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    Alan29 wrote: »
    RC deacons also conduct funerals and preach.
    The only sacraments they cannot perform are to say Mass, hear confessions and sacramentally anoint the sick.
    there are places in the world where trained catechists are commissioned to do everything a deacon can do (baptise, marry, funerals, preach, distribute communion) ..... but without ordination. I know thats a different conundrum, but interesting nonetheless.

    Yes, and to take it a step further, anyone. deaconed, priested or lay, may perform a baptism. Usually this last is only performed person in an emergency, but is that the position in any of the Orthodox traditions?

    Yes. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, baptisms can be done by the laity or deacons in extremis. There are common stories of this happening in Russia during Soviet times. However, it isn't encouraged as normal practice, as it is preferred that the baptismal waters be blessed, the exorcisms done, and the catechumen be anointed, and that the chrismation should follow immediately after the baptism. Where it must happen, the expectation is that, at the earliest opportunity, the newly illumined will be brought to a priest to be chrismated.

    Thanks - I'd forgotten that chrismation at the time of baptism is a part of the Orthodox tradition.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    edited September 2020
    The office of deacon in the ELCA (US) has recently been changed to Minister of Word and Service, meaning they are ordained to preach and lead in the liturgy and do service work for the community. Many are also in the teaching profession from elementary all the way up to college. Some go into specialized ministries like campus ministry. Since they are ordained, they also have representation at synod assemblies and can be named as an ordained representative to the national assembly. There are times deacons may get special dispensation from the bishop to take on sacramental ministry usually when they are serving remote communities.
  • What is the role of deacons in non-episcopal churches?
  • While Dlet was still at school (Presbyterian in my day, Uniting Church now) the Chaplain retired and was replaced by 2 much younger men. At their induction service, one made it clear that he intended to remain a deacon and used the phrase "remain a minister of the Word". The other, a few years older, was already a minister and he said he would be a "minister of the Word and Table". The younger one would preach, counsel/advise, and take some of the non-communion services. The other would add communion services.
  • Alan29 wrote: »
    I've been doing some rooting around to find out about RC deacons and baptism. The Introduction to the Rite of Christan Initiation is clear that the ordinary ministers of baptism are bishops, priests and deacons. As far as I know there is only one order of service so deacons presumably bless the water, anoint the candidate and pronounce the exorcism. And bless the congregaton at the end.

    From the little that I have read, and I too am having trouble finding sources that are truly authoritative, it does seem that in the Western Rites of the RCC, at least, deacons can bless things like water for baptism, although there are exceptions, although when a priest is present at a liturgy it seems the priest should be the one conferring the blessing. I thought that deacons were not allowed to make the sign of the cross over a person or congregation, at least not liturgically while saying "May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," but it seems that that is allowed too, with the same caveat as above. If a priest has a falling out with the church hierarchy, there are many blessings that he can still give that continue to be valid, but are illicit. I wonder if that is the same for deacons, or is the validity of their blessings contingent upon their being in communion with the rest of the Church, under the authority of their ordinary, etc., etc.?
  • Alan29 wrote: »
    I've been doing some rooting around to find out about RC deacons and baptism. The Introduction to the Rite of Christan Initiation is clear that the ordinary ministers of baptism are bishops, priests and deacons. As far as I know there is only one order of service so deacons presumably bless the water, anoint the candidate and pronounce the exorcism. And bless the congregaton at the end.

    From the little that I have read, and I too am having trouble finding sources that are truly authoritative, it does seem that in the Western Rites of the RCC, at least, deacons can bless things like water for baptism, although there are exceptions, although when a priest is present at a liturgy it seems the priest should be the one conferring the blessing. I thought that deacons were not allowed to make the sign of the cross over a person or congregation, at least not liturgically while saying "May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," but it seems that that is allowed too, with the same caveat as above. If a priest has a falling out with the church hierarchy, there are many blessings that he can still give that continue to be valid, but are illicit. I wonder if that is the same for deacons, or is the validity of their blessings contingent upon their being in communion with the rest of the Church, under the authority of their ordinary, etc., etc.?

    My understanding is that when a deacon is officiating he will still do the blessings even if a priest or bishop is present. I think its a general principle that ordinary ministers (which includes deacons at baptisms weddings and funerals) they do it by the book in their own right and not even the pope should be wheeled on to usurp them.
  • Alan29 wrote: »
    Alan29 wrote: »
    I've been doing some rooting around to find out about RC deacons and baptism. The Introduction to the Rite of Christan Initiation is clear that the ordinary ministers of baptism are bishops, priests and deacons. As far as I know there is only one order of service so deacons presumably bless the water, anoint the candidate and pronounce the exorcism. And bless the congregaton at the end.

    From the little that I have read, and I too am having trouble finding sources that are truly authoritative, it does seem that in the Western Rites of the RCC, at least, deacons can bless things like water for baptism, although there are exceptions, although when a priest is present at a liturgy it seems the priest should be the one conferring the blessing. I thought that deacons were not allowed to make the sign of the cross over a person or congregation, at least not liturgically while saying "May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," but it seems that that is allowed too, with the same caveat as above. If a priest has a falling out with the church hierarchy, there are many blessings that he can still give that continue to be valid, but are illicit. I wonder if that is the same for deacons, or is the validity of their blessings contingent upon their being in communion with the rest of the Church, under the authority of their ordinary, etc., etc.?

    My understanding is that when a deacon is officiating he will still do the blessings even if a priest or bishop is present. I think its a general principle that ordinary ministers (which includes deacons at baptisms weddings and funerals) they do it by the book in their own right and not even the pope should be wheeled on to usurp them.

    I think the point is that if a priest or bishop is one of the celebrating ministers, a deacon should not be the presider. Similarly, if a bishop is taking part in a liturgical celebration, normally the bishop should be the presider. When this has not been the case, bishops have vested and sat "in choir" in order to signal that they are not one of the celebrating ministers, but I think this is not encouraged, at least in the Roman rite of the RCC.
  • A question I have for anyone who knows is whether a priest is expected to preside at the Eucharist at the mass of his/her own ordination, although the bishop that ordained her/him is also celebrating.
  • CyprianCyprian Shipmate
    edited September 2020
    Thanks to all, for your thoughts and for sharing your experiences.
    A question I have for anyone who knows is whether a priest is expected to preside at the Eucharist at the mass of his/her own ordination, although the bishop that ordained her/him is also celebrating.

    It would be highly irregular in the Orthodox Church to have a bishop present and serving sacramentally but not to be the chief celebrant at the Liturgy. The only time I have known of something similar was in an Eastern Orthodox parish when a Byzantine Rite bishop was performing ordinations in a Western Rite parish. As the bishop did not know the rite, he did not celebrate but presided from the throne, as it were. However, the ordinations were to minor orders only. For major orders, the candidates would usually be ordained at a Liturgy celebrated according to the bishop's rite.

    So no, not for the Orthodox. I can't imagine it happening in any Catholic church either.
  • It does seem from what a number of you have posted, that the approach taken in our Western Orthodox tradition is very close to the present Roman Catholic diaconal role. I suspect that there is ancient precedent for this and would appreciate knowing more.

    I'm still curious about how little Eastern Orthodox deacons may do, to the point where, while leading worship in the absence of a priest, a deacon may not vest, lead a litany, or do any of the things for which he would usually take the blessing of the priest. In essence, he becomes a layman, at least functionally.
  • Cyprian wrote: »
    I'm still curious about how little Eastern Orthodox deacons may do, to the point where, while leading worship in the absence of a priest, a deacon may not vest, lead a litany, or do any of the things for which he would usually take the blessing of the priest. In essence, he becomes a layman, at least functionally.
    In my experience, in our tiny Mission church in the Antipodes, our Subdeacon (we have no deacon) has the Bishop's blessing to do all that a deacon would normally do, when no priest is available ( and that's all but one Sunday in the month, most of the time).

  • A question I have for anyone who knows is whether a priest is expected to preside at the Eucharist at the mass of his/her own ordination, although the bishop that ordained her/him is also celebrating.

    No the bishop continues to preside on the principle that you don't chop and change between celebrants. The new priest becomes one of the concelebrants alongside the other priests.
  • and indeed before Vatican2 this was the only time that there would be a concelebrated Mass.The new priests would join the bishop in concelebrating.
  • Forthview wrote: »
    and indeed before Vatican2 this was the only time that there would be a concelebrated Mass.The new priests would join the bishop in concelebrating.

    But not at the altar. The one time I saw it (60 years ago) the new priest knelt at a prie-dieu behind the bishop at the foot of the altar steps. As they both had their backs to the people and the prayers were muttered sotto-voce it was impossible to tell what was going on.
    Ah the good old days when the laity knew their place.
  • Yes, on the two occasions pre Vatican 2 when I saw this the newly ordained priests just remained in their places before the altar but were considered to be concelebrating with the bishop. One of these times was in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris where over 30 new priests were ordained by Cardinal Feltin. I doubt that there will be as much as double figures these days in the same building when it is re-opened.
  • Alan29 wrote: »
    A question I have for anyone who knows is whether a priest is expected to preside at the Eucharist at the mass of his/her own ordination, although the bishop that ordained her/him is also celebrating.

    No the bishop continues to preside on the principle that you don't chop and change between celebrants. The new priest becomes one of the concelebrants alongside the other priests.

    What about at the consecration of a new bishop? Does the newly consecrated bishop preside over the Eucharist following the consecration? Does it depend on whether the bishop is being consecrated to be the ordinary of the diocese in which the consecration is happening, or whether the bishop is being consecrated to be ordinary of a different diocese or an assistant bishop of any diocese?
  • CyprianCyprian Shipmate
    edited September 2020
    Alan29 wrote: »
    A question I have for anyone who knows is whether a priest is expected to preside at the Eucharist at the mass of his/her own ordination, although the bishop that ordained her/him is also celebrating.

    No the bishop continues to preside on the principle that you don't chop and change between celebrants. The new priest becomes one of the concelebrants alongside the other priests.

    What about at the consecration of a new bishop? Does the newly consecrated bishop preside over the Eucharist following the consecration? Does it depend on whether the bishop is being consecrated to be the ordinary of the diocese in which the consecration is happening, or whether the bishop is being consecrated to be ordinary of a different diocese or an assistant bishop of any diocese?

    In Eastern and Western Orthodox praxis, bishops, priests, and deacons (and even subdeacons, for that matter) usually concelebrate in order (by rank and then, within a rank, by date of ordination). So a newly-ordained priest at his ordination is the juniormost priest and would never be the primary celebrant. Similarly in the case of bishops, a bishop would usually be consecrated at the hands of the Metropolitan and assisting bishops, and the seniormost of them would continue to be the primary celebrant. You wouldn't usually change the primary celebrant half way through the Liturgy.

    I have known of one exception to this, and this was when a bishop was consecrated to be the primate of a new local church which was founded at the same time. In that case, his consecrators were not brother bishops from his own synod (because it didn't exist yet) but rather the bishops of the sister local churches. The seniormost bishop among them started as the primary celebrant but the newly-consecrated bishop took over to offer the Mass among the gathered people of his new local church for the first time.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    Alan29 wrote: »
    A question I have for anyone who knows is whether a priest is expected to preside at the Eucharist at the mass of his/her own ordination, although the bishop that ordained her/him is also celebrating.

    No the bishop continues to preside on the principle that you don't chop and change between celebrants. The new priest becomes one of the concelebrants alongside the other priests.

    Which is the pattern in sensible realms of mother Cantuar, too. Heaven only knows what they do in GAFCON realms - I no longer recognize them as Anglican anyway - though at least in Australia they have claimed intellectual property rights over the word Anglican and refer to more Christ-like wings of the tradition as "Canterbury." I doubt if they have Mass (even if they called it Commemoration of the Lord's Supper) at an ordination.
  • My recollection of the enthronement of ++Glenn is that there was communion (not a "Eucharist" but otherwise I can't recall the name). Most took the wee cuppies being handed around, but we resolutely marched to the communion rail to take the chalice.
  • KayAreCeeKayAreCee Shipmate Posts: 10
    A question I have for anyone who knows is whether a priest is expected to preside at the Eucharist at the mass of his/her own ordination, although the bishop that ordained her/him is also celebrating.

    Among Lutherans... sometimes.

    Granted, we have a slightly different view of both the office of ministry and of the role of a bishop (and a presbyter!) than our Roman, Anglican, or Eastern siblings in Christ. But if an ordinand is being installed at the congregation they're going to be pastor of at the same Eucharistic celebration as their ordination, our rubrics state that the newly-installed pastor is to celebrate the Eucharist at their installation. At least one of my seminary classmates did that at his ordination/installation; the bishop ordained him, gave him the charges for the installation of a new pastor, and then he took over and presided at the Table, with the bishop assisting with the distribution of the Sacrament. Since my ordination was a separate service from my installation, the bishop presided at the ordination, and then I was installed later by one of the assistants-to-the-bishop, who also assisted with distribution after I presided.

    At my most recent installation, the bishop installed me as pastor, and then I took over as celebrant. My memories of it are a little vague, but I'm honestly not sure that he even assisted with the distribution. I think I offered, and he demurred, since there was already a more than adequate number of assisting ministers from the parish.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    Gee D wrote: »
    My recollection of the enthronement of ++Glenn is that there was communion (not a "Eucharist" but otherwise I can't recall the name). Most took the wee cuppies being handed around, but we resolutely marched to the communion rail to take the chalice.

    There was a chalice? Improvement! I was at Brother Andrew's Big Church (because we don't do saints) for a chaplains' conference a few years back, and there was something that seemed to mention Jesus and an Upper Room, and then a tea trolley with miniscule one-deck white bread sandwiches (no filling) and sample cups of Ribena was wheeled out and some sort of a Commemoration of the Real Absence of Jesus (because he's not in white bread and Ribena after all) and I'm buggered if I know what happened next because about eight of us upped and headed somewhere for stronger communion
  • Wow.
    I recall when you could get a common cup at Brother Andrew's... Granted, this is 20+ years ago. Interesting times.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    IIRC, there were 2 chalices on this occasion, but only those from a stole parish went forward for communion at the rail. The rest took a bit of bread from the tray being passed around, and then a wee cuppie. I don't know what happens at a normal service. At least it's not far from the cathedral to either CCSL or St James King St.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited October 2020
    They were my occasional visit churches when not at my home parish at Granville (I drove past a few to get there for "traditional" liturgies).

    On deacon tasks, I recall our Antiochian Orthodox diocese got a raft of deacons to assist which were much appreciated, many coming from the Levant. Our subdeacon was authorised to assist greatly, and at one point even I, as lay as they come, was inflicted on the congregation via a sermon on the feast / Sunday of St Gregory Palamas during Great Lent (penance for them indeed!). There was no repeat performance -- our priest was trying to encourage us.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    As an aside, do you know what is happening at Granville? We hear stories that it has gone downhill in the last couple of years
  • Sorry, no. It would not surprise me if it was less liturgical. The congregation was small and skewed elderly (though the choir had some younger people) back in 2003, and while there were a few of us 20 somethings there were not a lot. I hoped it may continue to have a wide basin to pull from (I came from Fairfield; some came from nearer to the and on the mountains), but did not expect it.

    Their website says traditional 9am and contemporary 11am, both in English, with Mandarin and Cantonese services reflecting changing populations. I think I knew the rector (canon!) in charge, based on name -- from my time at Cabramatta Anglican. I know his sister better, and just messaged her today. He is very evangelical. I'll check with his sister if it is him. What a change.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Thanks.
  • In a sign of how sleep-deprived I am, I read the name wrong. Ignore my mad ramblings on names and sisters above.
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