Deacons and the Latin mass

Also known as the “Extraordinary Form.” Below, in an example, the priest blesses the deacon about to chant the gospel.

Anyway: someone wrote to Fr. Z to inquire how his father, a newly ordained permanent deacon, could learn how to serve mass in the Extraordinary Form.

The answer:

The role of deacon is, frankly, the most demanding of the three sacred ministers during a Solemn Mass.  Having a live tutor will help for the trickier parts.

You can find fairly detailed descriptions of what deacons are to do during Solemn TLM’s in the reworking of Fortescue/O’Connells’ Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described done by Alcuin Reid.

One of the best ways, however, would be to work with a priest or deacon, who himself as taken the role.

In the meantime, I would get busy learning to sing Gospel tones and making sure to know the different forms of the Ite for the end.  The Ite is normally the same tone as the Kyrie at the beginning.  And there is always the Exsultet if you need something to work on.

Another point I would think about ahead of time would be what to do with a biretta, putting it on the right way, getting used to taking it off before standing up, not sitting on it, that sort of thing.  There are few sounds as disappointing as that crunching sound.

And avoid moving too stiffly or with too many sharp angles like a wind-up toy, or rushing around as if there were a fire … Vigil of Easter notwithstanding.

I’m curious to hear if any deacons out there have been trained for this form of the mass.  ???


  1. I don’t know of any deacon so trained but just reading Fr. Z’s short response made me think…

    Now I have absolutely no memory of a TLM (or of the Church before Vatican II) nor have I ever been to a TLM but it sounds like it is a very choreographed event. This just make sme think of the complaints I have heard from some elderly folks about the “New Mass” being a performance. Seems like both forms open themselves up to a performance, the old just at much as the new. I guess its all in how the celebrant, deacon, etc. carry things out. I have no desire at all, whatsoever, to attend TLM as deacon or in congregation and I fin dit strange that a Church that called for a reform of the 1962 Liturgy via a valid ecumenical council turns around and later seems to abandon that call by promoting the very same 1962 Liturgy it sought to reform. Guess things liek this is why we make acts of faith in the divine guidance given the very human elements of the Church.

  2. Dev Thakur says:

    Dante: It is interesting/strange that the Church that reformed the liturgy then turns around to allow the previous liturgy.

    The only explanation I can think of: the changes were rash, hurt a lot of people, the attachment to the traditional Mass (emotional as well as philosophical) never went away, younger people even have become attached. The Church realized something was wrong about what happened, and hence we got Ecclesia Dei and then Summorum Pontificum.

    That is why there was no concession by the Church to go back to pre St. Pius V reforms, or any other example in history. Because those reforms were not nearly as radical as what happened in the 60s and 70s.

    As to permananet deacons and the TLM: yes in St. Francis de Sales in Georgia (an FSSP parish) there is a permanent deacon.

  3. Unlike Dante, I do remember the EF of Mass when it was the norm. (Old age can be such a blessing as memories multiply). About 6 years ago I began attending a church where High Mass in the EF is celebrated quite regularly, and did so for about 18 months. I was even chosen to function as subdeacon on occasion, there being no other people available. I was often involved in a variety of ways.

    Eventually, I reverted to attending the OF form of Mass as I found the celebration of the EF to be such a performance; everything had to be done “just so” and, to me, it was quite mechanical. But what disturbed me most was that more than just a few people who attended the EF (about 70% being from outside the parish) almost looked down upon those who, like Dante, had no desire to attend the EF. It was almost a case of “We’re more reverent than you” which is truly sad. They railed against anyone at the EF who chose to receive Communion in the hand and there were even (failed) attempts to have the parish priest mandate Communion on the tongue – kneeling of course – at all 4 of our weekend parish Masses.

    There we have the rub; I have no problem at all with those who wish to participate in the EF so long as they don’t seek to foist it on others or regard themselves as being more pious than the rest (pharisee and publican come to mind). Sadly, it is easy to find this mentality amongst comments made on Catholic blogs, especially here in the UK.

    I hasten to add that our parish priest is far from falling into any of the categories previously mentioned. Being a true liberal, he not only allows – but also celebrates – the EF of the Mass as a sign of the Church’s catholicity and out of pastoral sensitivity towards those for whom the EF is important.

  4. Dante: Since you have never been to a TLM, simple justice suggests that you not make yourself its judge.

    “Choreographed” is a loaded word, because it suggests theatricality. It would be fair to say the EF is more structured than the OF, and this this structure extends to positions, movements, and gestures. In all of this the ministers are acting as servants of the liturgy, for the benefit of God’s people. But it is orderly, dignified, and self-effacing. No one’s being asked if he has a birthday or anniversary that week. Visitors aren’t being shamed into raising their hands to be applauded. And the ministers are doing nothing to call attention to themselves, but only to the sacred action and the Blessed Sacrament.

    As you say, the OF is often accused of theatricality. That’s not because it’s usually celebrated in a grand or splendid or awe-inspiring way. It’s because the celebrant, facing the people, becomes a personality. It’s because eye contact and voice modulation come to bear where there sued to be silence and focused orientation. It’s because creativity and inculturation have been used as licenses for spectacle. It’s because celebrant and others exploit and/or invent options, importing novelties into the Mass in an attempt to make the celebration more “meaningful”. It’s because squads of lay faithful recruited to scurry here and there in the name of active participation cause the liturgy to take on the aspect of a talent show or school play in which everyone needs to be featured so that no one’s feelings will be hurt.

  5. Deacon Norb says:

    Hmmm . .

    OK, I was in college when Vatican II hit and thus remember the Tridentine Mass but mostly from the viewpoint of a pre-teen/teen server or a member of the congregation. In my home parish, we only did a Pontifical High Mass (where we obviously had ordained priests serving as both deacons and sub deacons) maybe twice a year.

    On one occassion, I was invited to participate as a deacon in a “Novus Ordo” Latin Mass and that was fascinating. The hardest part for me was remembering the music notes of the Latin dismissal chant.

    We do have one deacon in our area of the Midwest who is very much into the Extraordinary Form and has closely studied the role of a deacon in that style of liturgy. He had to. He deliberately requested an assignment to the one parish in that diocese where the Extraordinary Form was allowed and welcomed. Those diocesan liturgical “guru’s,” however, explained in very deliberate and graphic terms that the liturgical role for a deacon in the Extraordinary Form was NEVER to be mixed with the liturgical role of a deacon in the for commonly used form. The opposite is also true. When doing the older liturgy, follow totally the older liturgy rituals; when doing the newer liturgy, follow only the newer rituals.

    Now my deacon colleague is never forgetful (he has a graduate degree) but he often — perhaps deliberately — mixes the his role as a deacon in the two forms up. That genuinely gets his diocesan Office of Worship all upset.

    For what it is worth!

  6. Deacon Trevor says:

    For 14 years I was the MC at the Latin Mass parish in Toledo, Ohio. There was never an altar placed in front of the high altar at the church, so all English Masses are said at the high altar, with Latin, bells, incense and, to this day, only male altar boys. Even at the NO, we use Elevation, torches, etc. I have trained young priests in the Latin Mass for years and the Traditional sacraments. I have been ordained a Deacon for the Diocese of Toledo for 2 years.
    As soon as I was ordained, many of these same families whose boys I trained started complaining to the pastor that a deacon has no place at the Latin Mass. In fact, my pastor received an e-mail from the Diocesan chancellor stating that, until the USCCB sorts this out, it was his opinion that deacons can’t distribute Communion, preach, or use the Tridentine form for Baptisms/wedding service, even though this is contrary to the letter and thrust of Summorum Pontificum. Being shut out by my own and unsupported by the pastor, I was transferred to another parish. How does this make you feel, considering that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (remember, still the Latin Mass) allowed Deacons to perform Solemn Baptisms and weddings, who always had the faculties to preach and distribute Communion at Mass, long before the 1970 NO or the 1983 CIC?
    I received an e-mail from the EDC stating that a deacon in good standing can assist at any form of Mass and perform all the functions he is entitled to by virtue of his ordination. But, to answer your question, I am well-trained and have even trained fellow deacons to assist as deacons and subdeacons at a Missa Solemnis. This painful experience has exposed a warped ecclesiology among many Trad or neoCon faithful and many new young priests who, in their desire to see the priesthood raised to a former glory, ironically trod on those most inclined to help, the Deacons.
    God bless you in your holy ministry, Deacon Trevor Fernandes+

  7. Dev Thakur says:

    Deacon Norb:

    What kinds of mixing does this deacon do?

    I can imagine there would be an appropriate “influence” but cannot think of what specific things the deacon would do in the new form that he shouldn’t?

  8. Dev Thakur says:

    Deacon Trevor,

    Clearly you were wronged and treated unfairly. People react out of silly memories or emotional responses, fear or worry.

    But the *law* is clear. If you are a deacon, you are a deacon. You can act as deacon or subdeacon at Mass, you can distribute communion (was done in the “old days”).

    You can use anything in the traditional Ritual as well, unless it was specifically reserved to a priest or bishop. That includes baptisms and funerals no doubt.

    Frankly we would love to have you at my parish which has a daily TLM, but we are in another diocese.

  9. CHICK O'LEARY says:

    I have served as deacon at solemn high Masses in the extraordinary form on a couple of occasions. In each case I spent a fair amount of time rehearsing with the celebrant who has been doing the Latin Mass on a regular basis for many years and who was always ready to give prompts when necessary.
    As there is no real role for a deacon except in a solemn high Mass of the extraordinary form, there have not been many opportunities to practice.

  10. In my long-ago altar boy days, we had a deacon from the seminary come to do his field work. Except for funerals, we NEVER had a Solemn Mass at our church — every hour, on the hour on Sundays! — so when the deacon came to Mass he was “in choir,” in cassock and surplice, and put on his stole when he preached (he did so once that I recall) and distributed communion but otherwise sat, stood, and knelt with us servers who were there to assist with communion only (or those who were “plate,” as opposed to “book” or “bells”).

    So the idea that the deacon in the old days was restricted could not be true, empirically.

  11. wineinthewater says:


    The Pian Missal really isn’t a good comparison. It kept many other forms of the liturgy in place (anything more than 200 years old). But most notably, the liturgical situation in the Church was so bad just 38 years after the Pian Missal was promulgated, the Pope had to promulgate a new Missal. There were so many unauthorized additions to printed liturgical books that the Pope actually had a hard time finding unadulterated copies.

  12. Chick, Deacon Trevor, at al: It’s not quite true that the deacon has no place in the EF except in Solemn Mass. There is also the possibility of a diaconal MC in a Missa Cantata, of either the less solemn or more solemn form. Fortescue/O’Connell/Reid has the particulars, but I do recall that in Missa Cantata a clerical MC may remove and replace the pall. I believe he also assists in the preparation of the chalice. A lay MC may not perform these actions, but it is perfectly fine and appropriate for a deacon to do so in this context.

    Trevor’s post-ordination experience is very sad and disturbing. I am guessing that among the laity there are many who don’t consider him a “real” deacon, since he’s not on a track to the priesthood. Even worse, is Trevor (gasp!) a married man? There are some far-out traddies who consider this an out-and-out defilement. There may be serious gaps in the adult lay catechesis in this parish. The pastor ought to have worked harder to address this.

  13. Diakonos09 says:

    I guess my most basic questions are these: was Vaticna II a valid ecumenical council? Do we as Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit directs us through these councils? Was the reform of the 1962 Liturgy legitimately deliberated, voted upon and its constitution ratified by the pope?

    I totally understand allowing those who grew up with the TLM to continue its use (although I would think that as Catholics they would prefer to follow the Church more than their emotions and attachments). I would also understand the erection of a Tridentine Ordinariate as the Anglican Catholics now have and make the distinction clear.

    I just do not see how the left hand can say one thing and the right another. I have been told that the motu proprio of a pope is not as high in standing as the decisions of an ecumencial council with the Pope. Nonetheless, it is a valid juridical action by the pope and I am not one to deny this. But valid doesn’t always mean best.

    Church history has many many example of decisions by inidivual popes that turned out to be just plain bad or even diastrous decisions in the long run. I just pray our next Holy Father rectifies this situation and continues the path along with the Holy Spirit began leading the Church into the 21st century.

  14. Diakonos09:

    -Vatican II was a pastoral council. It has made some suggestions, most of which concerning the liturgy have been ignored. E.g. it emphasized Latin and chant, and *never* mandated altar girls, versus populum and Communion in the hand. So it’s implementation is a failure and Pope has tried to bring us to a better implementation. The traditional Mass will help this.

    -Was Trent a valid ecumenical council? Yes, for all time! And it mandated Latin, condemned the vernacular, etc. So what was sacred then is sacred now.

    -There is also a problem in equating the Novus Ordo, even when properly done, with what Vatican II said. Vatican II (specifically Sacrosanctum Concilium) mandating some simplifications, allowed the vernacular — but it did not mandate changing the Roman Canon, adding a bunch of other Eucharistic prayers, allowing a very loose translation into the vernacular, etc., etc.

    The Church seems to be “backpedaling” a bit on the Novus Ordo and on the policy to suppress the traditional Mass and ostracize those who support it. She is backpedaling because she is realizing that this was wrong, and has damaged the faith!

    I am not anti Novus Ordo, but I hope it will be brought in line with the true vision of the Council, which was never to create a completely separate rite. I also hope however, that just as Vatican II changed praxis since Trent, future decisions of the Church will return praxis close to what it was before.

    If Vatican II can revoke the mandates of Trent, then certainly we can also go back. We are a Church of eternal teaching, not beholden to what is “newer” or more “modern” and hence there is no problem in “going back” when we are going back to good things, and moving forward when we are moving forward to good things.

    God bless.

  15. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Dev et al…

    Vatican II was a “valid ecumenical council,” as Pope John declared it so several times in his opening address. He also declared that its purpose was not doctrinal, but pastoral:

    “Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries.

    The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.

    For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.”

    Dcn. G.

  16. Thanks, Deacon Greg. So it seems that the mind of Blessed John XXIII (and I presume Paul VI and Blessed John Paul II) was to restate the official teachings and refashion the customs and practices into styles of speaking, teaching and worshipping that have meaning for the contemporary world.

    That makes a lot of sense. As a post-Council Catholic I have often wondered WHY, if everything was so much “better” or “more Catholic” in the “old days” the people just fell away. And if things are so “terrible” since Vatican II they why is the population of Catholics so much more increased than in the 1960s?

  17. Southern Dcn says:

    Why people have fallen away is based on more than the changes of Vatican II. One good look at the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s and on tells us that society changed and the perception of community lost meaning over time. The belief that “I” am important and need to take care of “me” became the motto over “us” in community and what benefited the entire society.

    The rallying points of WWI, WWII, and the Cold War passed and in doing so, we turned our energy into finding happiness at all costs. Our support structure found in a tight knit community fell by the wayside as “nuclear” families became the norm. When this happened, faith transferred from something “we” believed in together to something that “I” could control and position to the way “I” liked it. If I was not in line with the community – so be it. If I didn’t like a teaching, who cares. God and I could talk in the privacy of my home, why do I need to go to church. I, I, I,. . . .where is God in such a lonely place?

    We just witnessed the end results of this change – greed, self-importance, and the “what’s in it for me” mentality. It all played into the near collapse of our economy. Again, forget you if I can make a buck.

    Where does God play in all this – - he doesn’t. Its all about me, not God. When that mentality permeated society, Church became irrelevant. It was the changing times that caused the churches to become empty.

    There is a ray of hope. People have an emptiness from this type of living. People still know that they need God and they need to fight the tendency to allow Him to drift away. If this was not the case, why are our churches overflowing on Christmas and Easter??

  18. Hope that I, a Catholic laywoman, can weigh in on this issue as some of the comments have stirred some nostalgia in me. My memories of the pre-Vatican II mass are very personal. My uncle was a priest and used to spend his vacations with my family. During that time, he would take me to the parish church where he said a private mass every day. He told me that since there were no altar boys there, he wanted me to give the responses. So he gave me the altar boy’s pamphlet with the responses, as I recall, phonetically presented. He insisted that I memorize the Latin, not just read it. (I remember forgoing a movie outing the night before so that I could get the Confiteor down pat.) Of course, I knelt behind the altar rail and did not move any of the sacred books or vessels (nor did I ring the bells). Imagine the shock of my classmates that September when we were asked to tell how we spent our summer vacations. I said, “I served mass.” Nobody believed me.

    (Disclosure: Lest anyone be offended by this “out of the ordinary” tale, my uncle was consecrated bishop (This is what they called it then.) two months before the opening of Vatican II, was known as a conservative bishop, and was head of the liturgical commission in the diocese. But, aside from that, he was a wonderful uncle.)

  19. HMS: that is a wonderful story.

    Sometimes we of the traditional bent react against things we don’t fully understand (though usually we are reacting against things we understand all too well).

    It is true that in the “old days” when a male could not serve, a female could make the responses. This was considered better than having no one at all and having the priest make them alone.

    Of course she would not enter the sanctuary. This expedient was sometimes done in cases where a priest was saying Mass for women religious and there was no server. It makes sense for a private Mass as you describe with your uncle.

    Deacon Greg: thank you for your quote re: Vatican II. I certainly do not doubt at all that Vatican II was a valid council.

    However it was not doctrinal, and I think that is important. It made suggestions regarding approach and practice and as they were changes, they can be changed again. Finally, they are very vague at times, ambiguous, and the Magisterium I feel (especially our current pope) is working towards a definite interpretation that will be in continuity with the past rather than in rupture with the past.

    God bless our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.

Leave a Comment