Over the last several weeks, deacons and others have been wrestling with the notion of deacons assisting at the various live-streamed Masses going on around the country. Two major questions have emerged:
- Should deacons be assisting at all at these Masses?
- If deacons are present at Mass, should they abstain from receiving Holy Communion?
First, should deacons (or, really, ANY other ministers besides the priest) be assisting at a live-streamed Mass?
I would begin with a caveat. It depends! There may be logistical or other factors which would make the assistance by a deacon problematic. For example, if a sanctuary is so small (such as a private chapel in the rectory) that the deacon cannot remain some feet away from the priest, then perhaps he should forego assisting.
However, in general, it seems to me that whenever possible, the deacon should be present and assist at Mass. The liturgical witness of the deacon’s ministry at the Eucharist is important and a vital sign of the diaconal identity of the Church. As one of the bishops said at the Second Vatican Council, “The Church has a right to all of the graces given to her by God, and the diaconate is one of those graces.”
On a practical level, of course, the priest and deacon should be sure to discuss in advance the specifics of their liturgical “choreography.” As most of us realize, our normal positions vis-a-vis the presider can easily be adapted keeping “social distancing” in mind. Sure, we will temporarily be a bit closer when we hand the gifts to Father, but we can immediately return to a safer distance. On a personal level, I assisted and preached at last Sunday’s live streamed Mass from our parish, and Father and I were able to maintain a safe distance from each other while still carrying out our respective ministries. Given the layout of our sanctuary, it took very little adaptation to make it work.
Second, if deacons are present, what about Holy Communion? Should deacons abstain from receiving Holy Communion; in fact, CAN the deacon abstain?
Looking at these questions from a technical perspective, it is possible for the deacon to abstain from receiving Holy Communion. The only minister who MUST receive Communion is the priest-presider, since it is he who is offering the sacrifice in persona Christi — and the sacrifice must be consumed. This, however, is a minimalist approach to the Eucharist. For many years, many people did not receive Communion at every Mass for a variety of reasons. It was Pope Pius X who encouraged a greater reception of Communion by the people; this effort continued and was emphasized at the Second Vatican Council, so that now nearly everyone receives Communion at every Mass they attend.
But what about the Deacon, especially in today’s situation? I think we would all agree that it is best if the assisting deacon were to receive Holy Communion. This is true on many levels, including the sign value of seeing the deacon receive. Now, how might that be done safely today? It seems to me that one legitimate option would be for both priest and deacon to receive by means of intinction, with the deacon then consuming the remaining Precious Blood and purifying the sacred vessels. I realize that other deacons and priests are using the more traditional (at least in the Latin Church) approach, but intinction seems to offer the safest method, in my opinion.
I used the expression “sign value” above, and I think that’s an important consideration. Our sacraments are public; they are, as the Baltimore Catechism used to have it: “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace.” Part of the outward sign of the Eucharist is the ministry of the ordained, which should be exercised in as complete and fulsome way as possible.
So, if at all possible, “it is good for us to be here” at the side of our priest-brother for the Eucharist, even while we remember to stay at a safe distance. And, if we’re there, we should receive Holy Communion, using the safest means available.
Just one deacon’s opinion.