Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. What determines which of the eucharistic prayers is used at Sunday Mass? When I try to follow along in my missalette, I often lose my place at this point, because I am trying to figure out which eucharistic prayer the celebrant has chosen. Is it simply up to him? I know that you’re probably thinking that I shouldn’t be reading the missalette at that point anyhow, just listening to the priest. But I have a learning disability and become quickly distracted hearing the spoken word alone. (Superior, Wis.)

A. The Roman Missal contains four general eucharistic prayers, another two on the theme of reconciliation as well as a eucharistic prayer for Masses for various needs and occasions, which has four variations. In addition, there are three eucharistic prayers for Masses with children, but those are now published in a separate volume.

To answer your question, the choice of which one to use is left pretty much to the priest-celebrant’s discretion. There are, however, in No. 365 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, some guidelines that help the priest decide which prayer might be most appropriate — with respect, at least, to the four basic options.

The Eucharistic Prayer 1 (sometimes referred to by its former title, the “Roman Canon”) is especially appropriate on major feasts, since it provides for references to that feast to be included in the prayer itself. It is also suitable on feast days of those saints who are mentioned by name in the prayer.

Eucharistic Prayer 2 is the briefest of the four options and for that reason is often used for weekday Masses.

Eucharistic Prayer 3 is “preferred on Sundays and festive days,” and Eucharistic Prayer 4, which is the lengthiest of the four, “gives a fuller summary of salvation history.” (I tend to use this one when I am celebrating with a congregation that is especially in touch with biblical theology or, sometimes, as a change of pace with a weekday congregation.)

For your purposes, in trying to find quickly in your missalette the particular prayer the priest has chosen, I would suggest that if you turn first on weekdays to Eucharistic Prayer 2 and on Sundays to Eucharistic Prayer 3, the odds will be with you.

Q. In our diocesan newspaper, I have noticed pictures of deacons in what I have always considered to be “priests’ collars.” I am curious as to when this practice started and why. I know that the number of new priests has decreased dramatically in the last few decades. Is this new look for “appearances”? (Harrisonburg, Va.)

A. There are two categories of Roman Catholic deacons. Those referred to as “transitional” deacons are those who are on their way to becoming priests. They are normally ordained to the diaconate one year before priesthood.

On the other hand, permanent deacons are not on the path to the priesthood. They often have full-time jobs in secular professions and many of them are married. Deacons of either type are members of the clergy. They can preach at Mass and administer the sacraments of baptism and matrimony.

Transitional deacons, as far back as my seminary days in the 1960s and probably beyond, have customarily worn clerical attire when going out to parishes for diaconal ministry.

The permanent diaconate was restored to the Catholic Church in the early 1970s, and I am assuming that your question probably relates to permanent deacons, since there are some 15,000 of them in the U.S. but only a few hundred transitional deacons.

Permanent deacons most often do not wear clerical collars. In fact, national guidelines for deacons say that “because they (permanent deacons) are prominent and active in secular professions and society, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops specifies that permanent deacons should resemble the lay faithful in dress and matters of lifestyle.”

The guidelines go on to say, however, that each bishop has the prerogative of determining the proper attire for permanent deacons within his own diocese.

Some dioceses prohibit clerical collars. Some grant it to the deacon himself to determine the occasions on which the collar will enhance his ministry. Many dioceses — perhaps most — generally discourage clerical attire but make exceptions when a deacon is involved in hospital or prison ministry.

At least one diocese directs that, when deacons dress in clerical collar, they wear a gray shirt (rather than black, as a priest would wear).


Questions to Father Doyle may be sent to him at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com or 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.