"Are deacons just glorified EMHCs?"

"Are deacons just glorified EMHCs?" January 4, 2011

Somebody actually posed that question to Fr. Z.

The good padre  — who was last heard from tackling the subject of deacons and the collar — offers an answer and some history.


Sadly, many permanent deacons I have known in times past were little more than glorified EMHC’s (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) because they were lacking in good theological preparation before ordination.  I am glad to hear far and wide that programs of formation for the permanent diaconate are being overhauled and vastly improved.

That said, a deacon is an ordinary minister of Communion, not merely an Extraordinary Minister of Communion, because of their ordination.  Diaconate, after all, is a step of Holy Orders, which conforms their souls for the tasks to which Holy Church sets them.

We make a distinction between Ministers of the Eucharist and of Communion.  The former confect the Eucharist.  The latter distribute the Eucharist.   Deacons don’t confect the Eucharist.  Cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum 154.

This has roots, of course, in Scripture.

Read the rest, and take time to look over the comments, too, which are always interesting — and sometimes even entertaining.

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8 responses to “"Are deacons just glorified EMHCs?"”

  1. There seems to be a great deal of confusion on the role deacons play in the Church. In my experience as an aspirant to the Deaconate, there is a great lack of knowledge on the part of Catholics as to what a deacon is and what are his functions. Bishops and priests also vary as to their attitude towards deacons, from outright hostile (someone called deacons “glorified altar boys”) to welcoming and valued. Despite almost 50 years of having being reestablished as a distinct ministry, it seems the Church has not yet figured out how to manage it. While common in the U.S. in some Latin American countries they are almost none existent. I guess time will tell how this ordained ministry will develop.

  2. Having moved here from Ireland 8 years ago – I have to tell you that it was a real eye opener for me to come across married deacons. A deacon to me was only ever someone on his way to the priesthood, and I encountered several of those in our parish through the years.

    Seems to be huge discrepancy from country to country in how deacons appear and participate in parish life. I wish Ireland would follow the US model though – I think the Irish church would be better off for it…

  3. Priests don’t confect the Eucharist, as in Hey, whip us up a batch of Jesus punch and cookies, Father! Sorry to be irreverent, but writing about confecting the Eucharist is an even more crass reduction of the Blessed Sacrament. The diaconate, being a permanent order of ministry in the church, is not a step of Holy Orders. One of the reforms of Vatican II, which began with Paul VI’s Sacrem diaconatus, which reinstituted the diaconate and allowed married men to be ordained deacons, was to dismantle the so-called cursus honorum, which was a medieval distortion of the sacrament of order. The reform continued with Paul’s Minsiteria quaedam, with which he reformed orders in the Latin Church quite dramatically, doing away with all minor orders, excepting lector and acolyte. Whether a deacon is well-trained or not, he is not a glorified altar boy nor is he a glorified Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

    I one time heard a Diocesan Director of the Diaconate say something along the lines that, as deacons, we must always defer to the priest because we have only received one ordination, as if sacramental grace could be cumulatively quantified. Really, what really poor sacramental theology! Certainly diaconal formation programs have improved and will continue to do so, especially in light of the norms issued by Congregations for Clergy and Education back in 2000 and the USCCB norms that arose from them and issued in 2004. Diaconal formation is especially difficult in dioceses like the one I serve because we have no seminary or Catholic college or university. I guess stated more temperately, there better ways to make that point. Part of Fr. Z’ appeal is his inflammatory style.

  4. Scott …

    Google the term “confecting the Eucharist” and you’ll be surprised at how often it comes up. Our modern ears interpret it differently than the original Latin intent which, from confectio, means “to prepare.”

    It’s fairly archaic, and favored by more tradition-minded commentators like Fr. Z.

    But I agree: it’s to hear that and not think of Willy Wonka.


  5. My response is not rooted in merely a visceral reaction to the verb confect, it is based on the fact that it is woefully and probably in this case deliberately inadequate to what happens when we celebrate Eucharist. Precisely because it is a mystery no words capture it absolutely, but there are certainly more accurate ways the tradition gives us for grasping this mystery. I certainly have no trouble with the fact that a priest is necessary in order to celebrate Eucharist, but a confectionary view of the Blessed Sacrament is simply bad sacramental theology.

    I don’t tend to get too bogged down in the ideology of it all (i.e., traditional, progressive, etc.). However, if nothing else (and there is plenty else), such a view makes little room for anybody but the priest and introduces, again, the biggest problem with pre-Vatican II liturgy, namely that the assembly, let alone a deacon, is extraneous to the Mass. As Cardinal Newman quipped about the laity, We’d look pretty silly up there without them!

    Confect does not merely mean to prepare in the sense of getting something ready. Rather, it means to make, as in preparing a meal using ingredients. As Nicholas Lash, I believe, once averred “A theologian is one who watches his/her language in the presence of God.”
    Again, this is an area where the East has preserved the ancient Christian praxis more faithfully than West, especially post-Trent.

  6. Deacon Scott, if you have a problem with the term “confect”, you have a problem with the Code of Canon Law, which uses the term. “Confect” is a term of art in sacramental theology. It’s the way the Church talks. No need to get spun up about it.

    Seeing that Blessed JHN himself recognized the place of the laity at Mass, I hope you are not implying that the pre-conciliar liturgy was essentially lacking this component. For over a century, popes and others deeply concerned with the liturgy have urged the laity to take make the responses proper to them, as well as to unite themselves interiorly to the Holy Sacrifice. It’s all there in the old Baltimore Catechism, Scott — check it out.

  7. Romulus:

    I am not merely implying that the pre-Vatican II liturgy was seriously deficient with regard to the assembly (i.e., the laity), I am stating it outright. This was the main reason for the reforms, which did not begin with the Council, but with the liturgical movement in the late nineteenth century, on which many of the conciliar reforms are based.

    You are correct that the Code of Canon Law employs the term “confect.” It appears exactly once in the Code promulgated in 1983 by Pope John Paul II- in Canon 900 §1, states that there cannot be a vaild Eucharist without a validly ordained priest. The word “confecting” also appears once, in Canon 1167 §2, with regard to sacramentals. If you notice, I begin my first comment by stating this up-front that a priest is, indeed, an absolute necessity when celebrating Eucharist.

    Let’s be careful not confuse canon law with theology. I would say that any sacramental theology that still employs confect as a term of art needs to qualify the use of the term and be very precise about its intended meaning. I would be hard pressed to think of any current sacramental theologian who employs this word as a matter of course. The term “confect,” which is derived from the Latin verb conficere, which means, at least in sacramental and canonical terms, “to effect.” The problem I have with the use of the term is that it is taken and often meant as “to make.” The distinction between effecting and making is hugely significant in this context. While, as a religious educator of long-standing, I like the Baltimore Caetchism for many things, I will stick with the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, which replaced the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent on which the Baltimore Catechism was based. Moreover, I find The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be perhaps the most valuable catechetical resource we presently have.

    I am not spun up, just, like you, pitching in my two pennies.

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