What is a Deacon’s role at Mass?

This article was posted on: October 4, 2017

Since Pope Paul VI approved the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the United States in 1968, we are much more likely to encounter a deacon. But many of us did not grow up with a deacon at our parish, and there is sometimes confusion as to his role, especially in the sacred Liturgy. And as deacons, we often get questions.

One of the functions of a deacon is to assist the priest celebrant at Mass. Among his duties, the deacon prepares the altar for the sacrifice, distributes holy Communion to the faithful and cleanses the sacred vessels. And a particular responsibility the deacon has during Mass is to proclaim the Gospel. According to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, when the deacon is present at Mass, he is to proclaim the Gospel. Sometimes people will wonder why the deacon proclaims the Gospel, and not the priest. During the rite of ordination, the bishop says, “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are”. So, in receiving the Gospel, the deacon, in a particular way, becomes a “man of the Book.” And to be a man of the Book means that he internalizes and lives it in all aspects of his life, including family, work and service to the church. He is then, always and everywhere, to be an image of Christ the Servant. The deacon then, in proclaiming Gospel at Mass, should be a visible sign to the faithful of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in action.

Often, at the beginning of Mass, the deacon will process in with the Book of the Gospels. One of the questions we occasionally get is: Why don’t you genuflect or bow like everyone else does? The short answer is that, for the deacon, the act of carrying the Book of the Gospels is itself his act of reverence. But the deacon must always remember that he has received the Book of the Gospels as a gratuitous gift from God. And when it is time to proclaim the Gospel during Mass, the deacon bows before the bishop or priest celebrant and receives a blessing. This blessing highlights the fact that the privilege and responsibility the deacon has been given is not of his own making. It is not something he has “earned”. And he is to recognize that both the gift and the responsibility come from God. The deacon, by his example as herald of the Gospel, calls all of the faithful, in turn, to proclaim our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Deacon Ned Willkom from All Saints Parish in Stanley

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