Lay persons and deacons

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Could lay persons fulfill the role of deacons at the Rite of Election?


A: Oh, my. Well, my answer is going to be yes, but please don’t. Let me explain.

The RCIA mentions deacons only once in this ceremony, and that is to present the candidates. But it says that someone else may do that (130). The Ceremonial of Bishops says the same thing (413).

The CB also says that the deacon reads the intentions (417), and that outside of Mass, the bishop “is assisted by a deacon” (419).

Traditionally, the deacon reads the gospel at such ceremonies. He would also indicate postures for people who may be unfamiliar with them. You would also expect him to dismiss the elect and the assembly, but the RCIA has the celebrant do this (136). (Personally, I think that’s an oversight, and that dismissals belong to deacons.)

The difficulty is that the RCIA and the Roman Missal and even the CB all envision that the Rite of Election takes place during Mass, though the RCIA and CB concede that it could take place outside of Mass.

In my view, once a ceremony takes place outside of Mass, one must be cautious about presuming that all the roles required within Mass still pertain. In the Book of Blessings, for example, it’s perfectly fine for a non-ordained person to read the gospel. I maintain that the same is true at Vigils in the Liturgy of the Hours.

So, you could argue, that outside of Mass, the deacon’s roles do not have to remain with the deacon. Even so, a non-ordained person does not use the greeting, “The Lord be with you,” even outside of Mass, nor give the dismissal formula, nor command a change in posture or exchange of peace. But there are precedents for a layperson to read the gospel and list the petitions.

Still, a bishop should be accompanied by deacons whenever possible, and it is at least courteous to let deacons fulfill their usual roles at the liturgy.

So, could laypersons perform at least some of these functions? Yes, but I advise letting deacons exercise their ministry. That’s why they are there.