Q: We have a little “debate” going on — friendly — about whether a deacon can receive a person into the Church in danger of death. I don’t see this possibility mentioned anywhere in the ritual books. I also consulted your book,Celebrating Initiation: A Guide for Priests. Granted it is a guide for priests, but you don’t mention deacons — and you don’t have a chapter regarding the reception of a person in danger of death. I think that canon 844 would take care of this — if a priest were present. I don’t see a deacon having this faculty — perhaps because reception is tied so closely to Confirmation and perhaps a previous celebration of Penance?
Any thoughts or clarifications? Thanks again for your time!
A: The rite of reception says that the bishop receives baptized Christians into the full communion of the Catholic Church, but he may entrust the responsibility to a priest (RCIA 480). There is never any mention that a deacon has this faculty, even in danger of death.
As you point out, under certain circumstances a deacon may give communion to a non-Catholic Christian in danger of death. That’s the most important sacrament a person can receive at that time.
In history, this ceremony has roots in liturgies of reconciliation, so it has always had a priest presider. The attachment of confirmation to the rite of reception is fairly recent, but strengthens the position that the celebrant needs to be a priest.