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Should deacons dress up as priests?

I opened the most recent Anglican Taonga, the official magazine of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The first article was dominated by a photo of what looked to me to be a priest with the stole crooked. The photo was large and clear (13x18cm; 5x7inch). My first thought was, couldn’t someone have straightened the stole for such a significant photo? But as I read the article I discovered this wasn’t a priest in a chasuble, this was a newly-ordained deacon, with the deacon’s stole as normal (diagonally across the left shoulder) … wearing a chasuble. This is completely new to me personally. I have previously written about priests dressing as deacons, I guess there may be an argument, if one regards the orders as different and equal, and accepts priests dressing as deacons, then one should accept deacons dressing as priests?

I wonder if anyone else outside of NZ has seen this practice of vesting deacons in a chasuble?

Or is this another occasion of NZ leading the world: we were the first to call God “you” in the Eucharist, the first to have a woman diocesan bishop, the first to allow blessing of gay couples, the first to have a Tikanga structure of several bishops from different culutures overseeing the same geographic area, the first to have two equal diocesan bishops, the first to allow Eucharists just as long as (only) the Eucharistic Prayer was authorised somewhere in the Anglican Communion… Are we the first to have deacons dressed as priests?

And… If priests can vest as deacons, and deacons can vest as priests, is there anything wrong with priests, deacons, or lay people vesting in chimere and rochet, or wearing a mitre?

source: photo 1; photo 2

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42 thoughts on “Should deacons dress up as priests?”

    1. LOL! Larry

      No, Joe, sorry if the photo is unclear on your screen – that’s a chasuble. A dalmatic is quite different, including the placing of orphrey bands. This should be visible on any screen?

    2. Father Steven A. Scarcia

      About Deacons dressing like priests…believe it or not, there is ancient reason that Deacons wore vestments that were in all actuality, chasubles. I even remember when there was no Dalmatic available that Deacons wore chasubles with the sides rolled up to the shoulder and then fastened. Sounds awkward and strange but it did exist. But in spite of it all…the correct Diaconal vestment is only the STOLE, worn over the shoulder. Now of course…lets talk about Western Latin & Eastern Orthodox Church differences and traditions. But then again, that’s another story. Don’t sweat the small stuff! “The clothes maketh not the man, or in some Christians traditions, the woman.” Enjoy!

  1. If the different costumes are to make clear the different roles in a drama then obviously people should be dressed differently, otherwise we won’t have a clue what’s going on. However, I suspect that over time the costumes have been used to reinforce the hierarchy so that probably matters, or not, in quite a different way. Sadly the drama has lost much of its zest and imagination and the costumes can’t save that. Perhaps the problem lies there. To invigorate the liturgical drama might mean a whole new wardrobe could be created!

  2. I was asked if it mattered if nurses dressed as Doctors? When I asked does it matter?

    Well as Drs no longer where even shirt and ties, and tend to be female. More importantly are they ‘bare below the elbows, address people with respect and can give appropriate advice. Often look alike in scrubs, and I have been known to teach medics, as I am a midwife.

    We are dealing with power dressing. I worship in a Cathedral as daughter is a chorister. I most definitely know my place, in this bastion of tradition; “Chorister mother”. As for dressing up in robes to do this, well I feel no need.

    God Bless,

  3. It is a little tough to tell from the photos, but is it possible that she is wearing a Dalmatic (which is the proper vestment of a deacon)?

  4. David |Dah•veed|

    It looks as if she is preaching. I think that the error comes from folks who have mistakenly come to think of the chasuble as a preaching vestment when in fact it is a eucharistic vestment. The priest used to don the chasuble in the sacristy just prior to communion because it was a clean vestment that he wore over his dusty street clothes when administering the sacrament.

    But then someone came up with the idea to wear the chasuble throughout the whole service.

    I even sat through a congregational church acolyte class once in a church that had adopted a quasi-liturgical form for their primary Sunday service. The teacher stated that only the senior minister was allowed to wear the chasuble, which s/he wore the entire service, because it was a vestment of the high priesthood, similar to the vestments of the chief priest in the Jerusalem Temple cult. All of the associate/assistant minister in that church were only allowed to wear a priest’s stole.

    I think that Occam’s Razor should be applied more often to liturgical renewal. We need to constantly be aware of the gingerbread that well intentioned follks are want to apply everywhere they can stick some.

  5. Are you sure she is not wearing a ‘dalmatic’ which is deacon’s outer liturgical vestment matching the liturgical colours of the day?

  6. I have been to at least one Anglican church where the priest changed chasuble at half-time (just before the start of the Eucharistic prayer) – presumably for the “clean clothes” reason cited above.

    It all gets thoroughly confusing for us laymen when there are three priests as priest, deacon and subdeacon – and on occasion where the subdeacon is an ordinand not yet ordained deacon who wears something chasuble like (a tunicle???).

  7. As for being first…. I imagine Christchurch NZ was the ‘first’ to allow a divorced bishop to remarry a twice divorced ‘bride’ in its cathedral. Being ‘first’ does not make it right though!

  8. Thanks for all the comments. Once again: no it is not a dalmatic – that has quite a different look. I am struggling to connect “power dressing” and the order of sacrificial service, the diaconate. I am in favour of priests vesting in a chasuble throughout the Eucharist – otherwise it can give a symbolic message of the Ministry of the Word having a different status to the Ministry of the Sacrament.

  9. Totally agree… If one is to wear a chasuble it must be for the whole ‘game’. An alb is an undergarment and should be worn with a chasuble througout the Eucharist. Although it may be part of NZ’s propensity to think it’s leading the field, given an alb is an undergarment, a cassock and surplice should be worn by priests, other than the celebrant, at a Eucharist and at other services.

    1. Gary, your logic is fascinating. Did you actually read your own comment before you posted it? You say, “A Deacon should wear a stole and a dalmatic, never a chasuble! The orders are different.” Then you go on to say, “as a layperson, I have worn a dalmatic”!

      Bruce, the linked Taonga article has this photo at the ordination to the diaconate.

  10. A Deacon should wear a stole and a dalmatic, never a chasuble! The orders are different. A priest, having been a deacon at one time, can, when needed function as a deacon but I would still want the stole to look like a priest stole. As a layperson, I have worn a dalmatic and no one thought I was a priest.

  11. If there are sleeves (and it appears there could be) and it has open sides, then it is a dalmatic. So, it is very possible that the way the photo angle has been shot could be making it seem like something it is not, making this discussion for naught.

  12. Thank you Sande. Your comment popped up as I was thinking about this, and I have a similar thought. I am a deacon in the Episcopal Church (USA), and often wear a collar to denote ordained ministry (not dressing as a preist any more than t…hey are dressing as deacons) – the ‘costume’ or vestment denotes the function. In liturgical settings, I wear a dalmatic as the Eucharistic vestment of the deacon, or servant. However, there are times when I am the officiant at a Mass of the Pre-Sanctified when a priest is not available to serve as celebrant. I still wear a dalmatic, as is our custom, but wonder if (in cases like this) a chasuble wouldn’t be equally appropriate – as officiant. Perhaps the deacon in this photo is presiding at a Communion service…? — I am troubled by the hierarchical competition between orders of ministry, and wonder if this is not at the root. My prayer is that we do get beyond this and come to see separate and equal, but different, orders of ministry.

  13. While the Ordinal of The United Methodist Church and our Book of Discipline make it clear that deacons have different vestments and do not preside at the sacraments (we have no provision for a mass of the pre-sanctified), except as of 2008, in truly extraordinary circumstances in which absolutely no ordained elder is available at all, in practice there is considerable pressure to equalize the two orders both in dress and in function, including a continuing practice of appointing deacons as pastors (though in this role they are not to preside, while persons know as local pastors who are not ordained but are also considered clergy CAN preside but are not supposed to, but often do, wear an elder’s stole!).

    It’s a bit of a muddle in practice, even if in theory we more or less keep these things distinct.

    For us it’s not about chasubles. Very few of us use them at all. It’s about stoles and “rights” to preside.

    1. Thanks, Taylor. So deacons cannot baptise? I am in favour of priests leading the community gathering (ie. service); and deacons leading the community sent (ie. service). Clearly, such breathing in and breathing out of our community life are related, and there will be some blurring.

    1. Thanks for further helpful comments.

      A reminder: although I am not a fundamentalist about the commenting guidelines here, we have developed a healthy culture here of people being open about who they are – and that includes giving our normal real names. I think this helps the positive, respectful culture of discussion here where we can differ respectfully and productively.

      Nicholas, you mention on this site’s facebook page that prescribed in the section “The Stational Mass of the Diocesan Bishop” in the Ceremonial of Bishops is the bishop being required to wear tunicle, dalmatic, and chasuble. Does anyone know if this is online? Or can someone quote from the actual contemporary text of this?

  14. Nicholas LaMonica

    In the Roman rite, very long ago, there was a practice whereby a deacon wore what was called a folded chasuble, I believe during penitential times (I believe).

    To this day, Cardinal Deacons attending the Pope wear a dalmatic with the damas…ked miter proper to a cardinal (I have some pics of the Second Vatican Council fathers in session attending Mass with Cardinal Bishops vested in cope, Cardinal Priests wearing chasubles and Cardinal Deacons in dalmatics)!

    Finally, a Roman Rite bishop, when fully vested, wears not only the chasuble but also the dalmatic of the deacon and the tunicle of the sub-deacon underneath. There’s been a long history of “cross dressing”, at least in the Roman Rite.

    That being said, I’m a believer in ministers vesting for Eucharist in the vestments proper to which grade of the ministry to which they belong lest confusion reign.

  15. When the “change at halftime” is in effect, it seems to be more about coping with dubious climate control and synthetic fabrics than an attempt to make a liturgical statement. Also some priests like to stride about and gesture during sermons, which seems to be hampered by the “holy poncho.”

    Our churches nearly always have lovely traditional pulpits, but I haven’t seen anyone actually preach from one in over two decades. The thing these days, at least from my vantage point on the west coast of the U.S., is to head out to the front of the pews and hold forth from there. The use of radio mics seems to be what is making this possible. Perhaps this usage is particular to the U.S./west coast?

    Actually on that subject, perhaps more could be said about sound systems and their variations in church…

  16. David |Dah•veed|

    The cassock for clerical use evolved as the common street clothes of the cleric. In the West it is more form fitting and in the East it is larger and flowing. It is not a liturgical vestment.

    An alb, as evolved for use liturgically by the modern western church, is an indoor garment that has its roots in Roman civil dress. When outside, especially in cool or cold weather, it was common for Romans to use a cloak or tunic as outerwear. The alb has become the basic liturgical vestment of all orders of clergy in the western church. It is white, representing purity. A surplice is an abbreviated form of the alb. Different explanations exist for the reasons for the development of the surplice. Most involve a matter of expedience.

    In the western church the various orders of ordained ministry wear different liturgical items appropriate to their office. (The liturgical garb of the orders of ministry have evolved differently in the eastern church.)The deacon wears a stole that crosses the body from the left shoulder to the right hip and then hangs to a point below the knee for non-eucharist portions of a eucharistic service and for non-eucharistic services. During the eucharist the deacon wears the dalmatic.

    The priest wears a stole that drapes around the neck and hangs down the right and left sides of the chest to a point below the knee for non-eucharist portions of a eucharistic service and for non-eucharistic services. During the eucharist the priest wears a chasuble.

    It has become custom in some parishes for the clergy to wear the dalmatic and chasuble throughout the entire service for the reason as mentioned above by Father Bosco. He and I part ways at this point as I am in favor of setting the sacrament apart because it is the sacrament. In the same manner that I am in favor of the eucharist being a sacrament of the baptized.

  17. I work in a Hospitality industry, where we have stewards,Team leaders & the Department head. Now regd the question asked above “Should deacons dress up as priests? ( if asked in my organization would mean) Should a Steward wear a Managers outfit & vice versa. It sounds so foolish, because each and every level has its own responsibilities and works to be performed. The outer vestments or Uniforms are only for distinguishing one persons job from another.

  18. David |Dah•veed|

    Dios mio, can you imagine wearing an alb, tunicle, dalmatic and chasuble at the same time, plus whatever the bishop may choose to wear under the alb? (At that point I personally would be wearing just boxers and an undershirt.) One could hardly move about it would seem, and without setting the thermostat so low that everyone else would freeze, bishops would be flopping over from heat prostration on a regular basis!

    I have heard of bishops in some western churches wearing the dalmatic during an ordination service.

  19. OK I am a Christian and all this seems like a different language to me. ‘Albs, Dalmatics, chasubles????’

    As for the Eucharist ‘Do this in remembrance of me’
    Simple. Luke 22:19

    If Christ were to come and post would it say?
    “Why are you acting like Pharisees and Sadducees?”

    The Church should be busy in doing the work of God. Perhaps it is time to chuck the vestments and become ‘bare below the elbows’ in Service.

    I realise this may cause offense, and so apologise for sensitivity poking.

    God Bless.

    1. I see no reason, Lorraine, why anyone should be offended by your genuine search for answers. Might I suggest a starting point is reading my book Celebrating Eucharist free here. It explores a lot of the points you are asking about. I see absolutely no reason why the church cannot do both: serve with passion and sacrificially and wear vestments. Nor is anyone suggesting vestments are essential for validly celebrating Eucharist. But nor is singing, lighting, flowers, musical instruments,… As for Luke 22:19 being simple – well in one sense, yes. In another (and are you following my series, “The Bible says…“?) Luke has Jesus with a cup, then the broken bread, then continuing the Passover meal, then another cup – is this what you do every time you “simply” follow the command you point to? As for Pharisees and Sadducees – are you aware of how they were different to each other, and in what they were the same, and in which ways Jesus’ own beliefs and practices were the same or where he differed? People are regularly surprised when they begin to understand the Jewishness of Jesus. Would your “simple” celebration of the Eucharist itself not always be the full Jewish Passover meal? The one celebrated by both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. When you do this, “Why are you acting like Pharisees and Sadducees?” Blessings to you too.

  20. I suspect the problem here, as is often the case in Anglicanism, is that much which many find meaningful is actually meaningless. For so long as the Anglican Church leaves these matters undefined, they have no meaning beyond personal interpretation. As such, you final question “is there anything wrong with priests, deacons, or lay people vesting in chimere and rochet, or wearing a mitre?” can only be answered with ‘no, there is nothing wrong’. So far as the Anglican Church actually defines it, chimeres, rochets, mitres, clerical collars and stoles are just clothes. It may be somewhat odd for the laity to wear rochet and mitre – but as rochet and mitre are not defined, required or (to my knowledge) legally restricted from laity then I can’t see any basis for stating it to be more wrong than wearing a Hawaiian shirt!

  21. David |Dah•veed|

    I am not sure that is true everywhere Vincent, or the ABC would have been out of place instructing the Presiding Bishop of TEC to not wear her miter while presiding at a service in his province. She was allowed to vest only as a priest, so she carried her miter under her arm as she processed without a crozier, or as befits her office, her primatial staff.

    As a side note, I think that the Dean of the Cathedral should have had someone carry her miter held up for all to see in front of her, but +KJS is more humble than that.

  22. When celebrating a Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite a bishop wears both tunicle and dalmatic (in a special lightweight version!) under the chasuble. In the Ordinary Form, since there is no subdeacon, he has the option of wearing the dalmatic. Pope Benedict XVI now does so at all papal Masses. This symbolizes the fact that the conferring of a higher order does not cancel out the lower one, so a priest may legitimately take on the role of deacon or subdeacon at a Solemn Mass.
    That being said, since the lady in your photograph is not under Roman discipline (and would not be recognized as a deacon, let alone a priest) the question of what she wears is entirely academic.

  23. Go to http://www.thepapalvisit.org.uk and click on Replay the visit/the
    visit in pictures/pilgrims in the piazza for pictures of HH outside Westminster Cathedral. Although he is wearing a full chasuble of modern design, the dalmatic can be clearly seen. When he wears classic Roman vestments it is more obvious (plenty of pics on the Vatican website).
    The Wikipaedia article on Pontifical High Mass gives a useful summary of what the bishop wears in the older form of the Rite. If he is the local Ordinary (or a visiting Cardinal) he processes in wearing cappa magna and vests either at the throne or in the sacristy; He is assisted by two additional deacons wearing dalmatics over choir dress. On 8 December this year I attended such a Mass celebrated in his diocese by the Bishop of Nottingham to mark the tenth anniversary of his consecration, and all the details were meticulously observed, even down to the use of two mitres (not worn simultaneously, I would hasten to add.)

    1. Thanks, so much, John. In the photos to which you refer, certainly the eighth one does give that impression – but that’s the only one I can see. What is interesting, then, is that clearly on another photo in that exact same series, a bishop stands next to the pope – he is wearing a chasuble, but certainly not a dalmatic. So, I’m now more confused – not less so!

  24. Standing next to the HF is Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State. He is wearing a chasuble because he has just concelebrated the Mass with the Pope along with dozens of other bishops and priests who were similarly vested. (This was an OF not an EF Mass.) The ceremonial of bishops was considerably simplified in the 1960s and most bishops don’t wear the dalmatic when celebrating in the Novus Ordo, but the HF has recently made a point of doing so to emphasize continuity.
    The Extraordinary Form, of course, uses all the books current in 1962 before the rites were altered.

  25. Sorry to comment on a (for want of a better word) ‘dead’ post, Bosco. But just to clear things up, Poihaere, the deacon seen in the pictures, is indeed wearing a Chasuble. There is no profound, theological, liturgical or tikanga reason for her wearing it other than people simply not knowing what they are doing.

    I wasn’t at her ordination but a very close friend of mine was to vest and take part in the service. Upon talking to Poihaere’s Priest in Charge and the ordaining bishop my friend queried the decision to vest her in a Chasuble. He explained that the Chasuble is a Priestly garment but that was met with varying degrees of suspicion. The bishop, wanting to keep the peace and maintain a reverent atmosphere, conceded to the Priest in Charge and so she was vested in a Chasuble after Ordination. The result of which being that my friend decided not to robe for the service, and the beautiful pictures of Poihaere’s ordination will always be a bit of a joke.

    It’s a shame really that clothes got in the way, given that she was the first woman to ever be ordained in St. Faith’s, Ohinemutu…this little ‘quirk’ seemed to take away a little bit from that.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Christopher. I do not think of posts such as this as having a certain “use by date”. The issues of who wears what and why are certainly current, and your comment is a helpful contribution to that. Thanks and blessings.

  26. I have (almost) carefully read all the posts above.

    I understand a distinction is to be made between the status of the indivudal and the function the same person is undertaking during a Eucharist.

    Some examples may clarify my point (or they may just muddy the waters).

    An ordained priest sitting with the rest of the congregation who comes forward to read would not be expected to wear any attire that signifies a priestly status.

    The ancient customs of offering the Solemn Eucharist at Salisbury in southern England (and other places) there was a priest (wearing a chasabule) a deacon (wearing a dalmatic) and a sub-deacon (wearing a tunicle).

    I don’t know whether Salisbury keep a college of men only ordained as a (vocational) deacon for these solemn celebrations?
    Or did a priest dress down?
    Or did a lay person dress up?

    And I don’t ever recall hearing of an order of sub-deacon.

    Was the use of priest, deacon and sub-deacon at a solemn Eucharist a way of remembering the Trinity in a way that a priest and deacon (being two) could not?

    1. Thanks, Alan. In your “status/function” distinction, the question would be – not about whether they “wear attire” but may they wear incorrect attire?

      I do not know the Salisbury history, but would be surprised if it was much more than a combination of having real deacons and subdeacons with the long-standing belief that a priest is a deacon and a deacon is a subdeacon. Are you suggesting that these roles were fulfilled by lay people?

      The subdeacon is the highest of the minor orders in the East and the lowest of the major orders in the West.

      I do not think that the three at the altar in Salisbury is a remembering of the Trinity.


      1. On certain liturgical days at Salisbury, when the Bishop celebrated, he was assisted by several deacons and subdeacons – seven of each on Good Friday, I think – which would argue against any Trinitarian symbolism.

        No doubt among the many clerics attached to the cathedral there would have been both deacons and subdeacons (and the minor orders) as well as priests; certainly there would have been no possibility of anyone “dressing up” to a ministry to which he had not been ordained, and the converse “dressing down” was probably not necessary (although that may not mean it didn’t happen). In parishes, OTOH, if there was, say, a chantry attached to the church with endowment for a priest or two, but no deacons, no doubt they would have “dressed down” to assist the parish priest, at least on the greater feasts and fasts.

  27. In the extraordinary form of the Roman Catholic Mass (the Tridentine Mass of 1962) and in Anglican parishes (both those in communion with Canterbury and the “continuing” movement) which are Anglo-Catholic, the two penitential seasons, Advent and Lent, as well as Mass for the Dead (in which black or purple vestments are worn), one will see the deacon, as well as the subdeacon, replace the more familiar dalmatic with the chasuble, albeit folded at the front, with the deacon, from the proclamation of the Gospel to the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament, folding the folded “Gothic” or “Semi-gothic” chasuble and wearing it over the left shoulder as a so-called “broad stole.” The wearing of the chasuble by deacons predates the 4th Century, when all orders of the clergy, as well as the laity, wore the “chasula” for the Mass. Only the use of the dalmatic and tunicle (the latter worn by the subdeacon), first started in Rome after its introduction by the present-day Croations, only to spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. As the folded chasuble is only worn for the penitential periods or for the dead, an exception exist; Gaudete and Latare Sundays, in which rose-colored vestments are worn, although in smaller parishes that lack them, the purple dalmatic, common after 1960, are then pressed into service.

    1. Thank you so much, Richard. Aside from chasubles being the vesture of all in the early centuries you mention, this is news to me. I hope I get some time to explore this further. Blessings.

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