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A Deacon Baptising At The Eucharist?

Deacon Greg Kandra baptising

I was recently fascinated by a discussion on my e-friend’s facebook page and website (do check out the discussion there). Deacon Greg Kandra examined whether a deacon can baptise at the Eucharist. I’m wanting to continue that discussion here, maybe widening it out of its original RC context. What would be the situation in Eastern Orthodoxy? Do Anglican rites have anything to bring to the discussion?

Maybe we need to start by unpacking the “can” in “can a deacon baptise at the Eucharist?” If a deacon baptises at the Eucharist – read my lips – there’s no question: it is valid. The validity of the baptism is not dependent on the order of the baptiser – a lay person baptising is just as valid as a bishop baptising…

A lot of the discussions (and some I’ve had since the online discussion) have said it is irregular/illicit because it is a change of presider. What is fascinating, is that in rubrical-rich Roman Catholicism, there is no instruction about whether deacons can baptise at the Eucharist.

I am as concerned as the next person that there is a clear presider [I encourage you to read this]. Sometimes I have been at services where who leads what appears to have no rationale whatsoever. I have seen the Eucharistic Prayer split into little bits with even the Last Supper story (what some would refer to as “the consecration”) divided amongst clergy – one telling the story about the bread, another taking up telling about the wine…


Others have argued simply that a deacon can baptise outside the context of the Eucharist, therefore a deacon can baptise within the context of the Eucharist.

Let me also put my cards on the table: I think it is appropriate for baptism to lead into communion – communion completes the sacramental action of initiation [I am strongly in favour of communion for all the baptised] and communion is the repeatable part of our incorporation into the Church.

Rubrically, let me add some Anglican points to the discussion. In the Church in which I serve (NZ Anglicanism), the rubrics for baptism only refer to “The bishop or priest” The rite is clear.

The Minister
… a bishop or priest presides over a baptism. If the priest is absent it is permissible for a deacon to baptise.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa [NZPB/HKMA] page 381

It continues, “In the case of emergency a lay person may baptise“, and people may need to be reminded what an emergency is: it is not the bishop or priest being caught up in traffic…

Those who seek to stretch the NZPB/HKMA rubric may claim that it is not forbidden for a deacon to baptise if the priest is present. These would say, the rubric does not say, “only if the priest is absent…

Canadian Anglicanism follows a similar line:

The bishop, when present, is the celebrant, and is expected to preach the word
and preside at baptism and the eucharist. At baptism, the bishop officiates at
the Presentation and Examination of the Candidates; says the Thanksgiving
over the Water; reads the prayer, “Heavenly Father, we thank you that by
water and the Holy Spirit’’; and officiates at what follows.
In the absence of a bishop, a priest is the celebrant and presides at the service.

The Book of Alternative Services (BAS) page 150

Now, here is where it becomes fascinating, because at the point of baptism, the BAS has

The Baptism
Each candidate is presented by name to the celebrant, or to an assisting priest
or deacon, who then immerses, or pours water upon, the candidates, saying,

N, I baptize you in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Book of Alternative Services (BAS) page 160

In BAS, the presider is termed “the celebrant” who, we’ve noted, BAS says is to be a bishop or priest. But the actual baptism can be done by an assisting deacon. This is the same in The Episcopal Church’s BCP.

I found the CofE’s Common Worship online difficult to navigate beyond:

Minister of Baptism
Where rubrics speak of ‘the president’, this indicates the parish priest or other minister authorized to administer Holy Baptism. When the bishop is present he normally presides over the whole service. Parts of the service not assigned to the president may be delegated to others.

Notes to Holy Baptism 

My concluding thoughts: you can have a clear presider and still share leadership within a service. The deacon leading The Prayers, as just one example, does not diminish or confuse the priest’s (or bishop’s) presiding.

What do you think?

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23 thoughts on “A Deacon Baptising At The Eucharist?”

  1. I don’t know if this family tie should make a difference, but I baptised my son at the Eucharist while still a deacon.

    1. Yes, that’s an interesting discussion, John. Were you asking the questions of the parents to yourself & then making the promises as parent? Blessings.

  2. Chip chillington

    A more apt example from the Eucharist are the roles of the celebrant/presider and the assisting ministers (priests, deacons and or lay Eucharistic ministers/chalicists). While the former prays the Great Thanksgiving on behalf of the whole congregation, s/he does not administer the sacrament to each member of the assembly. The assisting ministers share in that, some administering the bread while others administer the cup.

    1. Thanks, Chip. I have experienced the presider at the Eucharist not administering communion. I, as presider, would always distribute communion (and have others participate in administering). Blessings.

  3. Just wishing out loud…

    I would be one for following the rubrics in denominations/churches with agreed-upon formularies, but interpreting in the most lenient manner possible. I think the presider, whether bishop or priest, should be able to share the work, to delegate, to those of their choosing.

    And since most churches believe that even baptism by a layperson is valid, let’s move towards a day when we recognize the priesthood of all believers/the ministry of all the baptized and incorporate layfolk in rites & sacraments when & where appropriate. I’m reminded of the Latter-day Saints, which have a male lay priesthood. Baptisms, which usually occur when a child is 8 years old, are often administered by a father, grandfather, uncle, brother or cousin.

      1. i Padre, whereas commenting and ticking the followup box doesn’t result inemail alerts, seperately subscribing to an article does.

        1. Thanks for that further info, David. I am noting this. I don’t know which will come first: Jesus’ return, or my getting round to having the time to do the list of things I want to do… Blessings.

  4. Interesting experience you point out about the tag-teaming of clergy for the Great Thanksgiving. I remember that last year up at College we had something like this happen with a Priest and a Deacon where they decided to share the leadership of bits of the Great Thanksgiving, almost alternating between the two paragraph by paragraph. Surely, very strange. Stranger still, the Deacon gave a blessing (You not We/Us) at the end of the service and then the priest gave their blessing straight after.

    You raise some interesting points Fr, particularly as we continue to wrestle with the shape and form of vocation of the Diaconate.

    1. Thanks, Ben. What is disconcerting, from my perspective, is that this approach undermines the understanding that the Eucharistic Prayer is prayed by ALL present – the presider is verbalising the prayer. Blessings.

  5. I am interested in the discussion. As a Reader and part of the leadership team in our parish, I often act as the Deacon during the Eucharist as well as Reading the Gospel and prayers and marking with the presiding Priest the Peace and other acclamations during the service., and administer the Chalice. Our new Incumbent likes Baptism to be part of the Eucharist and we regularly have Baptisms during them. I act as Deacon there and hold his Service Book at the Font to allow him to be hands free for the administration of the Sacrament. There is no confusion about who does what? if we have the Bishop, normally for a Confirmation Service he presides and also Baptises those candidates coming for Baptism and Confirmation. I don’t see any reason why an Ordained Deacon cannot baptise as part of the service, surely the discretion to do so is within the gift of the person presiding?

    Our Vicar at the welcome for every service introduces himself (for visitors etc) and states that he is part of a team of people who administer in the parish. I and others in ministry feel recognised and included, not just another pair of hands doing stuff in a service.

    I am sure that I am not alone in feeling that discussing the semantics are important, but we need to keep things as simple and easy to follow as we possibly can. Constant change in who does what can be confusing for regular attenders, let along visitors and Baptism families, who might be coming to a mother church to maintain their family historic connections while they worship in other traditions or may not even be regular church goers.

    Baptism seems to be for the whole people of God and deserves to be marked by joy and celebration, welcoming the new Christian, whether Infant, Young person or adult into God’s family.

    Most recently we had a family Baptism of Father, Mother and three children, which was a little complicated, but well managed and shared with the whole congregation, that family are now regular attenders, with two children in our Choir. I feel privileged to be part of our Ministry Team, which practices a form of inclusion not seen in every parish.

    1. Thanks, Ernie. Yes – your point is well made: the “rules” are to facilitate good worship – worship is not in order that the rules be followed 🙂 Blessings.

  6. I was ordained Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church in 1997 and was received (back) into the Anglican Church in 2011. I presided at many Baptisms during my 14 years as a deacon in the RC Church (not during Mass), but have only presided once at a Baptism (not during the Eucharist) since my return to the Anglican fold. When Baptism takes place during the Eucharist, I accept it should be the norm for the Priest or Bishop to preside – though there may be times when exceptions should be made. What I find a little ‘unimaginative’ is the way I get treated when acting as Deacon at a Baptism within the Eucharist! I am always given a role which to my mind properly belongs to a server – such as holding a towel or the oils. I think it would be far more fitting to invite the Deacon to present the newly Baptised (or their godparents!) with the lighted candle and obviously to say the appropriate words. I get the feeling that many members of the congregation think that a Deacon should only preside at a Baptism ‘in case of emergency’!

    1. Thanks, Peter. Presenting the lit candle sounds a good way that the deacon, as the church’s “world-facing” leader, expresses that ministry. Blessings.

  7. Christine Allan-Johns

    There is an English translation problem here. In Greek, the “priesthood of all believers” is hieros. (called to be holy) “Priest” as in elder (what we Anglicans refer to as priest) is presbuteros (eg leader)) Both are translated as priest in English. As a priest, I have been told “I am just like you. You are no different from me”, which is true – we are all called to be holy. But my role as “priest” is in leadership. There is a difference in roles. This is not known widely and misused.

  8. This is such an interesting question! All the different rubrics seem to be unclear on this. Fundamentally, I wonder if this isn’t so much about deacons baptizing but about the integrity of presidency when a Eucharist acretes other rites. In a well-ordered Eucharist, the president has a visible leadership and reserves certain actions (greeting, absolving, collecting prayer, offering thanksgiving and blessing) as distinctly presidential. Other elements can be delegated (like leading confession, reading scripture, preaching, leading in prayer). When Baptism occurs at the Eucharist, the question is whether it is presidential or can it be delegated. I think our standalone Baptisms, albeit meeting pastoral needs, confuse us into thinking they are the sacramental norm, whereas surely the context of the Eucharist should be that norm. When seen that way, I think the unified presidency of the rites makes most sense. Having another minister, be it a bishop, priest or deacon, do the baptizing, is akin to the Eucharistic president giving away bits of the Great Thanksgiving: it might seem like sharing, but it’s fracturing the rite. True ministerial sharing is something like that which Peter mentioned above about the giving of the candle. At my cathedral, the archbishop baptizes and confirms twice a year, and presides at the Eucharist. The cathedral pastor, who has prepared the candidates, gives them the lighted candle: a liturgical recognition of the catechetical light she has already shared.

    1. Thanks, Gareth. In a way, you are restating the question 🙂 When you compare it to “the Eucharistic president giving away bits of the Great Thanksgiving” – that actually is the current majority Christian practice 🙂 [Not saying I disagree with you]. Blessings.

      1. I think that the majority Protestant practice is no Great Thanksgiving. A simple recitation of the instituting words of Jesus at the supper in the upper room and a prayer of thanks & blessing for the elements is about as complicated as it gets. Often done in two parts, first for the bread, then sharing the bread and second for the cup and then sharing the cup.

    2. I wonder if we can ‘learn’ from the Mass which the Pope celebrates each year in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord? This Mass is the nearest I have seen to a concelebration – not just of the Eucharistic rite, but (more relevant for our purposes) the Baptismal rite. The Roman rite of Baptism essentially has five visible acts: (1) the anointing with the Oil of the Catechumens; (2) the pouring of water in the Name of the Holy Trinity; (3) the anointing with the Oil of Chrism; (4) the presenting of a white garment; (5) the presenting of a lighted candle. Obviously, in the case of real emergency, a Baptism is valid if only act (2) is carried out. Back to the Sistine Chapel! On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Pope baptises around 12 babies – children of Vatican workers. Whilst he himself performs act (2) on all 12 or so babies, he is assisted by 3 or 4 bishops who divide acts (1), (3), (4) and (5) between themselves – the Pope doesn’t carry out these acts on any of the babies. Perhaps this gives a pointer to how deacons could be used if baptism is celebrated during the Eucharist? Just to be clear – the Pope recites all the parts of the rite (so that the entire congregation can hear them) – he simply delegates some of the actions to others who are themselves ‘ordinary’ ministers of Baptism.

  9. Bosco, the CofE Common Worship provision also has a rubric in the rite – much of the rite is reserved to the president, eg presentation, decision etc but at certain points other ministers are mentioned. These points are combined with action much as in the papal rite described in this thread.
    The actual rubric at Baptism reads “ The president or another minister dips each candidate in water, or pours water on them, saying…”
    Again suggesting a practical delegation where necessary.

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