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 New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa [NZPB/HKMA] page 381
… a bishop or priest presides over a baptism. If the priest is absent it is permissible for a deacon to baptise.
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 wordThe Book of Alternative Services (BAS) page 150
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.
Now, here is where it becomes fascinating, because at the point of baptism, the BAS has
The BaptismThe Book of Alternative Services (BAS) page 160
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.
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 BaptismNotes to Holy 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.
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?