This post will explore the various postures and gestures of the deacon during the course of the Eucharistic Prayer. In addition, it will consider the same with respect to concelebrants who may be joining the principal celebrant in offering the sacrifice of the Mass. Learning from the traditional practice of the Roman rite can make the complex gestures and actions of the Eucharistic prayer more graceful and therefore more prayerful.
During the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon assists the celebrant with the chalice and the missal (See General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), 179). Thus, the postures of the deacon will depend on whether he fulfills both functions or simply one of them. If two deacons are assisting at Mass, one deacon could remain at the celebrant’s left and turn the pages of the missal while the other deacon remains at his right to assist with the pall and chalice. Alternatively, if there is a master of ceremonies to turn the pages of the missal, one deacon could remain at the celebrant’s right, while a second deacon, carrying the thurible, joins the torchbearers before the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer and incenses the host and chalice at each elevation from a kneeling position (See Peter Elliott, Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite, Ignatius Press, 1995, 404).
If, however, the same deacon does in fact fulfill both functions at the altar, he may go from the right side of the priest to his left side after the washing of the hands at the preparation of the gifts in order to turn the pages of the missal to the prayer over the gifts and the preface. He would stand within an arm’s-length of the missal, in order to avoid unnecessary movement when turning the pages with his right hand, his left hand resting on his chest. (During the commemorations of the living and the dead in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon, the deacon historically has taken a step back from his position in order not to overhear the priest pronouncing the particular intentions for which he is praying.)
The deacon would remain at the celebrant’s left side until just before the epiclesis, when he would return to the priest’s right side to remove the pall from the chalice and uncover any ciboria. He takes the pall from the chalice with his right hand, his left hand resting on his chest. He removes the covers from the ciboria with his right hand, his left hand resting on the base of each ciborium. After removing the pall and the covers, he kneels in position, at the right side of the priest.
During the words of institution, according to tradition, he may bow slightly from the kneeling position. At each elevation, the deacon might lift the back of the celebrant’s chasuble with his left hand, his right hand resting on his chest, if this is necessary (See Adrian Fortescue, J.B. O’Connell and Alcuin Reid, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, Bloomsbury, 2009, 140). During each elevation, the deacon directs his gaze to the consecrated host and to the chalice. After the elevation of the chalice, the deacon rises at the same time as the celebrant and covers the ciboria and chalice once again, before passing to the celebrant’s left side to turn the pages of the missal from a standing position. He does not mirror any of the gestures of the celebrant during the course of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Just prior to the doxology, the deacon once again moves from the left side of the celebrant to his right side in order to elevate the chalice. The deacon removes the pall from the chalice in the usual way. It may be more gracious for the celebrant to hand the deacon the chalice. The deacon takes the chalice with the fingers of his right hand at the node, with his left hand on its base. He holds the bowl of the chalice roughly at the same height as the paten in the hands of the priest, and he is turned slightly in the direction of the priest. He lowers the chalice at the same time as the celebrant lowers the paten. He may place the chalice with his right hand in the same position on the corporal that it occupied prior to the doxology, or he may hand the chalice back to the celebrant to place it there. He covers the chalice with the pall in the usual way. The deacon waits with hands joined for the invitation to the Our Father.
In addition to one or more deacons, there may also be concelebrants at a Sunday Mass in a parish. If there are only one or two of them, they might stand to the left and right of the principal celebrant, leaving room for the deacon to exercise his ministry at the celebrant’s side. If they are somewhat more numerous, two might stand on either side of the celebrant and others on either side of the altar, one or two on each side, as in the manner of concelebration in Eastern churches. If they are more numerous than six, it may be best for all the concelebrants to stand in a semi-circle (rather than in a straight line) behind the main celebrant, again, leaving room for the deacon to exercise his ministry. In this way, the concelebrants manifest that they are truly circumstantes during the course of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
During the parts of the Eucharistic Prayer read by the celebrant alone or by a concelebrant alone, the other concelebrants hold their hands joined except where noted below. As they speak the epiclesis in a low voice with the celebrant, for example, the concelebrants extend both hands toward the elements, palms down, fingers joined, right thumb locked over the left thumb, for the duration of the entire epiclesis. They do not make the sign of the cross over the elements with the celebrant. During the words of institution, as they speak the words of consecration in a low voice with the principal celebrant, they may extend their right hand, fingers joined, toward each of the elements in a pointing gesture with the open hand, their left hand resting on their chest. They do not repeat at the consecrations the same gesture made during the epiclesis (See Elliott, 162). During the elevation of each species, with hands joined once again, they direct their gaze to the elevated elements (See GIRM, 222). Each time the principal celebrant genuflects, they bow profoundly from the waist. The celebrant and concelebrants join their hands during the memorial acclamation. Following the memorial acclamation, all the concelebrants hold their hands in the orans position as they join the celebrant in reciting the anamnesis section in a low voice.
If one or more of the concelebrants are selected to read aloud a portion of the Eucharistic prayer which follows, that concelebrant alone does so with hands outstretched in the orans position. (Obviously, this gesture will only be possible if he is reading his portion of the Eucharistic prayer from the altar missal itself or from a card or booklet placed beforehand where he is standing at the altar.) All other concelebrants, including the principal celebrant, join their hands during this time.
In Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon, the concelebrants do not lift their eyes to the Father at the beginning of the words of consecration as the principal celebrant does (See GIRM no. 222; André Mutel and Peter Freeman, Cérémonial de la Sainte Messe, Éditions Artège, 2012, 196). However, they bow with the principal celebrant with hand joined at “In humble prayer we ask you almighty God,” and stand up straight to make the sign of the cross on themselves at its conclusion, resting their left hand on their chests. At the words, “To us also your servants,” they strike their breast with the right hand open, fingers joined together. The entire forearm pivots from the elbow in a smooth and relaxed gesture. The left hand is held on the chest below the point where the right hand will strike the chest. Then, the concelebrants join both hands once again. During the doxology, the concelebrants keep their hands joined and look at the elevated elements.
In the next post, this series will examine the postures and gestures of the Communion rite from the perspective both of the positive indications found in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, and the broader customs practiced traditionally in the Roman rite at that point in the celebration of Mass.