Liturgy Matters — The role of the deacon at Mass

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

What is the role of the deacon at Mass?

The development of a diaconate ministry in the early church was the result of a need for additional workers in the field to care for the poor and needy in order to give the apostles/disciples more time to spread the message of the Gospel and to pray. The deacon’s role at Mass reflects this model of service.

The deacon’s role in the Introductory Rite:

The deacon is vested in a white robe called an “alb,” a stole worn over the right shoulder across the body, and, sometimes a tunic called a “dalmatic.” In the entrance procession, he carries the Book of the Gospels, preceding the priest celebrant or walking beside him. The deacon places the Book of the Gospels on the altar showing the connection of Word and Sacrament. Then together with the priest, he reverences the altar with a kiss and takes his place beside the priest in the sanctuary.

After the Sign of the Cross and greeting, the priest introduces the Act of Penitence. If the third form of the Penitential Act is used, the deacon engages in a litany in dialogue with the rest of the assembly using three invocations such as, “You bring light to those in darkness, Lord have mercy.” If sung, this litany may be led by the cantor.

The deacon’s role during the Liturgy of the Word:

The deacon has two primary responsibilities in the Liturgy of the Word — the proclamation of the holy Gospel and the announcement of the intentions in the Prayer of the Faithful.

It is because of his service ministry that the deacon is the first choice to name these petitions. His ministry keeps him in touch with the needs of the church, the world and the local community. On occasion, he may also be asked to preach the homily as well.

The deacon’s role during the Liturgy of the Eucharist:

During the Liturgy of the Eucharist the deacon assists the priest in receiving the gifts from members of the assembly. He also prepares the altar and the vessels for the Eucharistic Prayer. If incense is used, after the priest incenses the altar and cross, the deacon incenses the priest and all the people in preparation for the offering that will be made.

During the Eucharistic Prayer the deacon stands near the altar in order to assist the priest as needed. The deacon kneels, if he is able, for the central portion of the Eucharistic Prayer. For the final doxology and Great Amen the priest elevates the sacred Host and the deacon lifts up the chalice.

In the rite of peace, after the priest’s introduction and greeting of peace to all, the deacon instructs the people to offer each other some sign of peace. During the fraction rite, the deacon may assist the priest in breaking the sacred Hosts and preparing the vessels for distribution.

When holy Communion is distributed under both forms, the deacon always serves the chalice. The reason for this is the symbolism of service associated with accepting the chalice.

After distribution the deacon may assist the priest with purification of the vessels by placing a small amount of water into each vessel, swirling it around to pick up remaining fragments of the Eucharist and droplets of the Precious Blood and consuming them.

The deacon’s role in the concluding rite:

The deacon instructs the people to bow for the final blessing. After the blessing the deacon dismisses the people with a reminder to live in peace, witnessing to the message of the Gospel.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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