Saturday, September 27, 2008

Annales Ecclesiae Ucrainae: The Greek Deacon of the Papal Mass

The following piece was forwarded to me by John Sonnen. It was written on the blog Annales Ecclesiae Ucrainae by the Rev. Dr. Athanasius D. McVay, a Byzantine rite priest.

The article, The Greek Deacon of the Papal Rite of Mass, considers the role of the Eastern rite deacon both in the context of the solemn papal liturgy of the more ancient Roman use, as well as in present papal practice and concludes by asking some questions about that present practice.

I quote it in full, but before I do a quick note. In the first sentence, Fr. McVay speaks of the Pope as having his own "particular rite of Mass" which will likely raise some question marks or eyebrows. When he says this, he is no doubt merely speaking of the ceremonial particularities found in the Pope's celebration of the Roman rite in its solemn form as is particular to the Pope, just as we could likewise look at the ceremonial differences between a Solemn Mass in the Roman rite and a Solemn Pontifical Mass with its unique pontifical rites and ceremonies.

Without further ado, the article.

Friday, 26 September 2008
The Greek Deacon of the Papal Rite of Mass

by Rev. Dr. Athansius D. McVay

Today, few people are aware of the fact that the Pope has his own particular rite of Mass. Special ceremonies and liturgical customs are present at solemn papal liturgies which are not found in the ordinary rites of the Roman Church. The reason for these special ceremonies lies in the identity of the Bishop of Rome himself: besides being the principal hierarch of the Latin Church (thus, until recently bearing the title Patriarch of the West), the Pope is the Father and Head of the Universal Church. Symbolic of this universal headship is the presence at solemn papal functions of the Greek deacon.

As Bishop of Rome, the Pope follows the rites of the Roman Church. However, until 1969, on very solemn occasions, the papal mass followed a unique, codified ritual, which included ceremonies which were performed by specific functionaries of the Papal Court and Roman Curia. For instance, the Pope was assisted not merely by ordinary ministers but also by his closest collaborators, the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, as they are officially entitled. The senior cardinal-bishop functioned as the principal assistant-priest, and two cardinal-deacons performed many of the diaconal and subdiaconal functions. In addition, curial priests ministered as ordinary deacons and subdeacons at the Mass. These were entitled the Apostolic Deacon and Apostolic Subdeacon, by way of the fact that the See of Rome is entitled the Apostolic See because of the succession of its bishops from the Apostles Peter and Paul.

Another unique feature of this special papal ritual was the participation of Oriental clergy: in addition to the Cardinal and Apostolic Deacons and Subdeacons, the ceremonial prescribed two Byzantine-rite clerics, entitled the Greek Deacon and the Greek Subdeacon. These deacons were typically ordained monks from the Italian Byzantine-rite monastery of Grottaferrata, near Tivoli. This monastic community is not “uniate” per se, because it has always been in union with the Pope of Rome. The principal liturgical function of the Greek Deacon and Subdeacon was to sing the epistle and gospel in Greek after they had been sung in Latin by the Apostolic deacons. At the conclusion of the epistles, both subdeacons kissed the feet of the Pope, and after the singing of the gospels, the Pope kissed both Latin and Greek texts.

In addition to the ministration of the Greek deacons, the Pope himself used certain vestments and sacred vessels which resembled those of the Byzantine Rite. Over his right hip he wore a subcintorium, which is similar to houa Byzantine prelate’s epigonation. The Eucharistic bread was also covered by an asterisk; a safeguard in the form of a star, which is placed over the Eucharistic bread at every Byzantine Eucharistic Liturgy. In addition, in common with the old Byzantine custom, the papal liturgies preserved the ancient usage of only two liturgical colours. Red and white were the colours of Roman senators and imperial court officials. The Bishop of Rome adopted these colours in his personal vesture as an insignia of the highest rank. While the Pope now dresses almost exclusively in white, pieces of his vesture are still red, typically his outer garments such as his hat, shoes, cloak and his mozzetta. When the civic capital of the Roman Empire moved to Byzantium (renamed Constantinople) the Byzantine rite maintained this pristine Roman colour scheme, as did the Pope of Old Rome, who continued to wear white liturgical vestments for joyous celebrations and red vestments for penitential occasions and for commemorations of the martyrs.

During the reforms of the Roman Rite following the Second Vatican Council, the solemn papal mass was abolished but some of its unique elements were retained in papal ceremonies. The custom which has received the most attention occurs at the funeral of the Pope himself, where, as a remnant of the ancient practice, the dead Pope continues to be vested in red, his traditional mourning colour. However, because the dual colour scheme has been abandoned, confusion has ensued as to who is to wear red at papal mourning. Traditionally, only those concelebrating or ministering with the Pope wore red. When the Pope died, only he was vested in red; the sacred ministers wore black or purple because they were not concelebrating with the dead Pope but with the Cardinal Dean. Benedict XVI has partially restored the ancient custom: he has returned to red papal mourning for the funerals of cardinals; the only funerals at which a Roman Pontiff assists (the single exception being Paul VI presiding at the funeral of the assasinated Italian politician Aldo Moro, in 1978).

In our day, the Greek deacon often (but not always) makes an appearance at solemn papal masses but, contrary to the former practice, he need no longer be a monk of Grottaferrata Abbey. Sometimes he is Greek, other times Russian, Ruthenian or Ukrainian etc. and proclaims the gospel in the liturgical language of his own Particular Church. Any signs of inequality between the Latin and Greek ministers have been suppressed. Due to the universal and superior mission of the head of the Roman Church, subsequent to the Council of Trent, the Roman Church began to consider its rite as being superior to other rites. Such a theological trend used to be reflected in the old papal liturgy during which the Latin deacon was accompanied by seven candle bearers whereas the Greek deacon was flanked only by two. Also, only the Latin deacon carried the gospel book and the Greek ministers sat farther away from the papal throne. These distinctions were not carried over into contemporary papal ceremony, in accordance with the solemn decree of Vatican II on the equal dignity of all rites. Today, both Latin and Byzantine deacons carry gospel books in procession and both are flanked by an equal number of candles. There have even been occasions where the Byzantine Deacon took precedence. An historical example happened at the opening of the Synod for Europe in 1999, when the Byzantine deacon alone proclaimed the Gospel in the Old Church Slavonic language (as seen in the photo above). The greatest innovation has been the proclamation of the gospel by a Greek Orthodox deacon, at a papal Mass where the Patriarch of Constantinople assisted at the Liturgy of the Word.

Despite examples of his presence at the most notable papal liturgies, the role of the Greek Deacon has been left virtually undefined since 1969. At each celebration, he is instructed to do different things because no one is quite certain as to what his role should be, other than singing the gospel. In order to help solve this conundrum, several key questions need to be answered: For example, what liturgical postures were prescribed (or assumed) by the Greek ministers at papal masses prior to and following the 1969 reforms and why? And further, what role should the Greek Deacon play in the procession or the incensing at the current liturgy?

Traditionally, the presence of Greek ministers at papal mass has emphasized the universal mission of the Pope but how can the Greek Deacon’s role be defined today, in accordance with ecumenical considerations and a current understanding of the role of the Roman Pontiff vis-à-vis the Eastern Catholic Churches and even the Orthodox Churches? Answers to these questions will emerge from further historical-liturgical study of the ceremonies of the papal rites. Such research will undoubtedly reveal the reasons for the Greek Deacon’s continued presence at these rites and lend to the dignity required in celebrating one of the principal Christian sacramental rituals.

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