Role of deacons

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: I am exploring ways to engage a permanent married deacon in the liturgical and pastoral life of the parish beyond conventional or predictable ways.

Recently, at a Second Rite of Reconciliation,  I asked our deacon to be available in a prayer space – similar to that of the prayer spaces used by visiting priest confessors –  for a pastotoral conversation with parishioners on any matter of concern, especially to spouses, parents and grandparents. He was also available to assist with preparing people for the Sacrament of Penance including examen of conscience. Additionally he was available as a prayer partner and/or for the distribution of Holy Communion after confession.

It was made perfectly clear to penitents that the deacon could not confer the Sacrament of Penance, albeit sitting in his alb and stole.

A number of people availed of the deacon’s ministry and found it engaging and fruitful

I’d welcome your response to this initiative, and other suggestions.


A: It’s good of you to encourage the work of deacons. There are priests who do not even want deacons to do what they are assigned to do.

So the trick is to balance the proper role of deacons with the proper meaning of the liturgical act.

The second form of the Rite of Penance was a great idea on paper, but it is fraught with difficulties in practice. Most significantly, very few people grasp its intent: one single liturgical unit beginning with a hymn and ending with a common dismissal, with all participating fully, consciously and actively along the way.

It doesn’t work whenever the penitents so outnumber the confessors that the hearing of confessions lasts any longer than, say fifteen minutes. And hearing confessions at these events often takes over an hour. This throws the entire liturgy into disarray in the same way that a 45-minute homily would do at any Sunday Mass.

Into that disarray have entered many creative ideas to help people pass the time—none of which constitutes participating fully, consciously and actively in the liturgy that is actually underway.

In your situation, I would counsel abandoning the second form and replacing it with the first form. In other words, hear confessions individually. Let people know that the priests will be available to hear confessions for an hour or so, that they may come and go as they please, and that during that time the deacon would also be available to provide pastoral conversation, prayer partnership, or assistance with examining one’s conscience. That could provide a useful niche for the deacon, utilizing his skills without interrupting a common celebration.

I would NOT have anyone distribute communion after confession. That is a totally separate liturgical act. Besides, forgiveness of sins really should suffice for this event.

I like your idea of providing other services to people, but not while a communal liturgy is underway.