Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: At Mass, how relevant is it for a deacon (either a permanent deacon or a deacon to be ordained a priest) to kneel down at the altar when the consecration comes, as the faithful do in the assembly? -- C.B., Nouan-le-Fuzelier, France
A: The Church attributes a certain degree of importance to the question of posture during the liturgy. The General Introduction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states in No. 42:
"The gestures and posture of the priest, the deacon, and the ministers, as well as those of the people, ought to contribute to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, so that the true and full meaning of the different parts of the celebration is evident and that the participation of all is fostered. Therefore, attention should be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice."
The specific norms regarding the deacon can be found especially under the heading "Mass with a deacon" in GIRM numbers 171-186.
With respect to the posture of the deacon during the Eucharistic Prayer, the following is stipulated:
"179. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands near the priest but slightly behind him, so that when needed he may assist the priest with the chalice or the Missal. From the epiclesis until the priest shows the chalice, the deacon normally remains kneeling. If several deacons are present, one of them may place incense in the thurible for the consecration and incense the host and the chalice as they are shown to the people.
"180. At the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands next to the priest, holding the chalice elevated while the priest elevates the paten with the host, until the people have responded with the acclamation, Amen."
Therefore, the deacon should kneel during the consecration.
At this moment only the priest or priests offering the sacrifice normally remain standing. This point is suggested, albeit not in an explicit way, by GIRM, No. 93:
"A priest also, who possesses within the Church the power of Holy Orders to offer sacrifice in the person of Christ, stands for this reason at the head of the faithful people gathered together here and now, presides over their prayer, proclaims the message of salvation to them, associates the people with himself in the offering of sacrifice through Christ in the Holy Spirit to God the Father, gives his brothers and sisters the Bread of eternal life, and partakes of it with them. When he celebrates the Eucharist, therefore, he must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he says the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ."
In fact, the rule of kneeling during the consecration would also apply to a bishop or other priests who are attending the Mass but not concelebrating.
However, this does not mean that the deacon always adopts the position of the faithful. For example, in some countries the practice of kneeling is different, as mentioned in GIRM, No. 43:
"Nevertheless, it is up to the Conference of Bishops to adapt the gestures and postures described in the Order of Mass to the culture and reasonable traditions of the people. The Conference, however, must make sure that such adaptations correspond to the meaning and character of each part of the celebration. Where it is the practice for the people to remain after the Sanctus until the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and before Communion when the priest says Ecce Agnus Dei (This is the Lamb of God), this practice is laudably retained."
In such cases, the serving deacon does not follow the practice of the faithful and kneels only during the time mentioned in GIRM, No. 179. If he were to do so then, he would be unable to carry out some of his proper diaconal duties, such as helping the priest with the book and being ready to take the chalice for the final doxology.
Finally, if it is necessary to remove a chalice pall, then the deacon should do so just before the consecration before kneeling down.
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