Another voice: on deacons doing weddings

Another voice: on deacons doing weddings August 29, 2011

A blogger took issue with this post, and offered her thoughts:

Deacons have their place but they are not an alter Christus. They are not intended to be a substitute for the priesthood.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that the Church allows permanent deacons to preside at weddings, baptisms and funeral home services but most people look at the diaconate and  just see nice old men  who do all the scut work so that the priest has more time to devote to the sacraments. Other people are quite frank about their distaste for what they see is as laymen playing priest. Deacons who find these perceptions offensive should either shrug their shoulders and carry on or lobby for their pastor to launch a  teaching project telling  the folks in the pews what deacons have permission to do.

And finally, the guy who writes Deacon’s Bench really doesn’t seem to like weddings or group baptisms anyway. I get the impression that he’d be happier with an Amish style affair.

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18 responses to “Another voice: on deacons doing weddings”

  1. Just wait until she learns that in many parts of the world, Catholic marriages can and are validly witnessed by deputized lay people. A vein might pop faster than you could say “Lefebvre.”

  2. Where was Dymphna in catechism class when it was discussed that in an emergency any layperson can baptize. As Deacons are ordained clergy they are ordinary ministers of baptism.

    And then the misconceptions about matrimony as the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony (and this is life long) are the spouses. The priest or deacon are the official witnesses to the marriage. Civilly the state thinks that the minister, judge, priest, deacon, rabbi etc effect the marriage but that is not Catholic theology.

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    1623 According to Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church. In the tradition of the Eastern Churches, the priests (bishops or presbyters) are witnesses to the mutual consent given by the spouses,124 but for the validity of the sacrament their blessing is also necessary.125

  3. The writer of the blog is right in the fact that there is an overwhelming number of Catholics who are not well informed as to the role of deacons in the Church. Actually even some bishops, priests and even deacons are not that clear as to what the role is. I guess is a work in progress; but more information is needed to make clear that deacons are not “lay people playing priests”.

    An aspect the blog writer ignores (and also many Catholics also ignore or are ignorant of) is the fact that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is not administered by the priest or deacon, it is actually the couple who are entering into the Sacrament and the priest of deacon is only a witness of a covenant between the couple and God.

    The figure of a priest is indeed a powerful image, and through popular culture and popular tradition many expect a priest to be the one in front of them when they say yes. We have to understand that, and to educate and inform that the deacon is just a valid witness as the priest.

  4. It’s worth noting: in the Eastern rite Catholic churches, a priest is required to celebrate a marriage. Their theology of the sacrament is somewhat different from the Latin rite, and does not hold that the bride and groom marry each other with the presiding minister as merely a witness. The priest actually confers the sacrament, in the person of Christ.

    But yes: there’s much that the people in the pews do not know about deacons (or about almost anything else Catholic, for that matter). We have our work cut out for us.

  5. In marriage prep, I specifically focus on the Roman tradition’s belief that the vows make marriage (following ancient Roman civil law) and the Eastern tradition’s belief is that the priest’s blessing makes marriage. It hasn’t come to this, but I guess I could bring up that point if a bride/groom has an issue with me about a deacon taking the wedding.

    But with the grandmother-of-the-bride who lambasted me about handing over a wedding to a deacon, I have no recourse!

  6. Sadly, this view is not all that uncommon. I have been unsuccessfully looking for a simply BRIEF flyer, tract (whatever) that could explain the Order of Diaconate, using quotes from the CCC, from Bl. JPII and B16 (to convince the more die-hards) as well explanatory text. Anyone know of something like this? Anyone want to take on the project?

  7. Slightly off-topic from weddings bu on-topic to Deacons and sacraments, I am blessed to be the Baptism Coordinator in our parish: It’s the best ministry I’ve ever been part of. I love it. Our Deacon is wonderful. Won-Der-FUL. He’s an expert in the sacrament of Baptism, often serving as a trainer on the topic in our Diocese. I am so blessed to work with him.

    And here’s my point: Given a choice, our parishioners would by far prefer our Deacon to any one else to celebrate their Baptisms, RCIA or infant baptism, either one.

    We baptize by immersion and, as a father and grandfather, our Deacon has a talent for “handling” the infants and children as they descend into the tomb of our font and come out again with new life through Baptism. Maybe it is because he so keenly understands and appreciates the sacrament. Maybe it’s both.

    There’s one other thing: He loves his ministry. He often advises those of us in ministry: if you don’t love it anymore, don’t do it. Thousands of Baptisms later, he still loves Baptism. Maybe his spirit is contagious. Maybe I’ve caught it from him. But I know that our community is massively blessed by our Deacon and his gift.

  8. “Catholic Update” from St. Anthony Press had a VERY good issue on the diaconate some years ago. You might be able to search their archive…

  9. Deacons have had to be trailblazers for years to be recogized rightfully as part of the clergy. Since we are only 50 or so years into the permenant diconate, I suspect that theeducation will have to continue for years to come.

  10. My wife and I chose to have a permanent deacon (a friend to both of us and a gifted public speaker and homilist) witness our marriage and preach at our wedding mass over 30 years ago, with my wife’s parish pastor presiding at that mass.

    It never ceases to amaze me how long it takes for understanding about the permanent diaconate to reach the masses in the pews, if this story is any real indication.

  11. RE: #12

    Or some people just want to have their marriage witnessed by their priest. Yes, the deacon is ordained clergy but he is not the same as the priest and there is a different (for lack of a better word) feeling to a ceremony presided over by a deacon – it isn’t better or worse, just different. I would hope that parishes would allow the couple the choice of who witnesses their marriage rather than dictating to them – this is thier sacrament and should reflect their choices as to celebrant.

    I know that when my beloved and I wed we requested our campus minister be the officiant at our wedding mass because he was the one who knew us best – having been our priest for three years – even though we were married at my parent’s parish. I would have been quite upset if the parish has arbitrarily assigned someone to preside over the ceremony instead of allowing us to choose.

  12. Katie…

    Ideally, people should be able to have whomever they want witness and bless their wedding. That isn’t always possible.

    This situation was somewhat unusual. But it was hardly arbitrary.

    First, the bride was not from the parish (which is another long story…). Then, the original priest from the parish who did the pre-nuptial investigation unexpectedly had to leave the country. There were no other priests available for that date at that time. Since it was a ceremony, the deacon (that would be me) was assigned to do the wedding as a substitute. The bride, disappointed, decided she’d rather have a priest. So she called a friend of a friend — a priest she didn’t know from yet another parish — and told him there was an emergency and that she needed a priest to do her wedding. He agreed to do it — despite the fact that he lived several miles away and he’s the only priest in his parish. When he arrived and found that there was a deacon who was able to do it, he was shocked. And angry.

    We do the best we can. Sometimes, of course, that’s just not enough.

    Dcn. G.

  13. Its going to be quite a while until the diaconate as a full and equal – but separate and different – Order in ordained ministry is seen as such by the people. And really (I must remind myself) can they be faulted? I mean…for so long in the Roman Rite the diaconate is seen as a 6-12 month “field work” experience in prep for priesthood, the last and more solemn stage of seminary. And then ordained ministry has been so focused on presbyterate as its core then even bishops were seem more as “priests who got promoted” rather than those who are ordained to the fullness of Orders through whom we and the presbtyers receive our mission in ministry. I know all this intellectually yet so hard to keep remembering and accepting experientially. Maybe we need to also promote a better knowledge and devotion among the people to the diaconal mission and lives of Sts Stephen, Lawrence and Francis?

  14. @Diakonos09, what do you mean by “full and equal.” It’s called a “hierarchy.” It’s not an equal order. Perhaps you can speak of complementarity, but just as a priest is not equal to a bishop, a deacon is not equal to a priest.

    That said, the practice of the Eastern Church should guide us, since the Eastern Church has continued to maintain the diaconate as a separate ministry. There we notice that deacons do not do many of the things they are allowed to do in the Roman Church. This post criticizes laity in the pews, but do deacons have an appreciation and education in what was proper to the diaconate before 1968? Before then (and still in the Eastern Church) you’d be hard pressed to find deacons, except in <> circumstances, preaching <>, touching the Sacred species directly with their hands, baptizing, imparting blessings, or witnessing marriages, etc.

  15. By “full and equal” I do not refer to the differences in hierarchical ministry which must always guide the lfe of the Church. Rather, this term is often used to denote the fact that the diaconate is as authentic and necessary to the life and ministry of the Church as are the episcopate and the presbyterate. The foundation for this truth about the diaocnate is found in the New Testament, the Church Fathers (especially St. Ignatius of Antioch), the Catechism, and the words of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

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