Why can a deacon celebrate a marriage? I thought only priests could do sacraments. (Green Bay)
The answer depends upon which ritual church sui iuris to which a person belongs. The Catholic Church currently consists of 24 autonomous ritual churches, each one being in the full communion of the Catholic Church in Rome. Most Catholics belong to the Latin, or Western, church; whereas others ascribe to one of the 23 Eastern Churches. While there is but one faith, the sacraments are expressed differently.
In the Latin church, when a man and woman marry, they exchange consent in the form of vows in the presence of the church’s minister, who assists them by receiving those vows on behalf of the church. The sacrament is received through the exchange of the vows. The bride and groom confer the sacrament on each other. The minister, often a priest, does not “marry” them, but assists by receiving those vows.
There is no sacramental formula that requires a priest, or even the power of the priestly ordination. There is no special priestly blessing required to bring the marriage about or pronounce them husband and wife.
What is required is that the assisting minister be endowed with the faculty to receive the vows. This means the minister must have the faculty to assist at a particular wedding, in a particular place, at a particular time. The Code of Canon Law (n. 1108) lists deacons as those capable of receiving faculties to assist at marriages. For a deacon to assist validly at a wedding in a particular parish, he must have been given the faculty either by the local ordinary, (the diocesan bishop, a vicar general, or episcopal vicar), the pastor of the parish or another minister with the faculty to assist regularly at weddings at that parish. If a deacon has been so delegated, he does so validly, just as would a priest or bishop, provided both parties are baptized or ascribed into the Latin rite and neither belongs to one of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
That leaves 23 ritual churches, sometimes known as Eastern churches, of which 14 are Byzantine. They have a different understanding of how marriage is contracted and the necessity of priestly ordination to the celebration of marriage. For these churches, a priest is required for the reception of marriage. A priest is required to perform the rite and bless the union. His blessing is required. Hence the priest does not merely receive the vows, but also bestows a binding blessing. In the Eastern Churches, a deacon cannot officiate at a marriage because deacons lack the necessary priestly power to bestow the blessing.
In the Diocese of Green Bay, it is becoming more common for deacons to officiate at weddings. It is important to understand that even though a deacon can officiate at weddings in the Catholic churches of the Latin rite, he is still unable to celebrate a Mass. A Mass is still highly recommended for marriages between Catholics.
Even if a marriage is celebrated within the context of a Mass and a priest is present, a deacon can still be delegated to receive the consent (vows) of the couple.
Fr. Belongia is rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay.
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