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Should priests dress up as deacons?

"subdeacon" in tunicle, priest in chasuble, "deacon" in dalmatic

"subdeacon" in tunicle, priest in chasuble, "deacon" in dalmatic

This post is the sequel to the discussion whether we should ordain per saltum.

Many communities have a tradition (or are developing, or seeking to develop a tradition) of a Eucharist with a presiding priest, a deacon, and a subdeacon (see photo on the left by Gordon Plumb).

Leaving to one side the often-not-insignificant emotional issues of neglecting to use a wardrobe full of glorious (expensive) matching vestments, and possibly not over-stressing the value of colour(fulness) in liturgy, one question I would like to explore here is: is it appropriate for a priest to dress (and function) as a deacon in the liturgy?

Options I can think of for “Should priests dress up as deacons?” are:

1) Symbolism should express and enhance reality. A priest is not a deacon, even if once ordained a deacon – when they are ordained priest they cease to be a deacon. One does not collect orders like a set of postage stamps or Russsian dolls. Only deacons should dress and function as deacons.

2) Symbolism should express and enhance reality. Priests are still deacons. They can dress and function as deacons.

3) The role of the deacon is a good model for shared leadership at the Eucharist without detracting and distracting from the presiding of the priest. Dalmatics should not be left in the wardrobe. Their colourful presence enriches worship and need no longer be connected to their historical origin or theological positions about ordination expressed in 1 & 2 above.

If you/your community has lay people dressed in a dalmatic – would they have lay people dressed in alb and diagonal stole? Why or why not?

There may be other variants and options that can be added to the comments.

Should lay people dress up as deacons?

Slightly simpler options I think:

1) No. Symbolism should express and enhance reality. They are not deacons. Vesting them as deacons confuses both the ministry of the laity and the ministry of deacons.

2) Yes. Until the diaconate is seriously renewed, with each community with one or more deacons, the important role of the deacon in liturgy will need to be exercised by lay persons. The role of the deacon is a good model for shared leadership at the Eucharist without detracting and distracting from the presiding of the priest. Dalmatics should not be left in the wardrobe. Their colourful presence enriches worship and need no longer be connected to their historical origin or theological positions about ordination.

The subdeacon was an ecclesiastical institution created by the church, rather than regarded as an order of ministry. It ceased in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church in 1973. The subdeacon’s vesture is the tunicle. There, hence, appears no theological or liturgical reason against having lay persons vested in a tunicle.

ps. I was sorely tempted to call this post One Hundred and One Dalmatics, or to weave 101 Dalmatics into the text. I’m still not sure whether resisting that temptation was the right thing to do.

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