By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
Do deacons assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church?
Can. 828 - §1. Only those marriages are valid which are celebrated with a sacred rite, in the presence of the local hierarch, local pastor, or a priest who has been given the faculty of blessing the marriage by either of them, and at least two witnesses, according, however to the prescriptions of the following canons, with due regard for the exceptions mentioned in cann. 832 and 834, §2.
§2. That rite which is considered a sacred rite is with the intervention a priest assisting and blessing.
Can. 832 - §1. If one cannot have present or have access to a priest who is competent according to the norm of law without grace inconvenience, those intending to celebrate a true marriage can validly and licitly celebrate it before witnesses alone:
1° in danger of death;
2° outside the danger of death, as long as it is prudently foreseen that such circumstances will continue for a month.
§2. In either case, if another priest, even a non-Catholic one, is able to be present, inasmuch as it is possible he is to be called so that he can bless the marriage, without prejudice for the validity of a marriage in the presence only of the witnesses.
§3. If a marriage was celebrated in the presence only of witnesses, the spouses shall not neglect to receive the blessing of the marriage from a priest as soon as possible.
Thus, we can see that deacons of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as is also the case with Orthodox deacons do not bless marriages according to the rites of their particular Churches.
Yet deacons do assist at marriages according to the liturgical rites of their particular Churches.
In the Constantinopolitan tradition, the deacon’s role is clearly written into both the Betrothal and the Crowning (the two parts of the marriage rite). As is customary the deacon chants the synaptes (Great Synapte, Ektenia of Fervent Intercession, and the Aitesis Litany). He introduces each of the prayers with the customary introit: Let us pray to the Lord. He carries the rings on a tray, assists with the tapers, censes at the Alleluia, and in some recensions chants the prokeimenon and Epistle, while the priest chants the Gospel.
The liturgical practices reflect a considerable difference in understanding between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the East in regards to the Mystery of Marriage. While Roman Catholic deacons and only since Vatican II have been able to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, the deacons in the East while having an integral part in the marriage rites never have blessed marriages, and in the canonical sense do not assist at marriages. Their assistance is in regards to the presbyter or bishop who celebrates the marriage and acts in Roman parlance as the “minister” of the marriage, unlike the Latin custom where the parties to the marriage act as the “ministers” and the bishop, presbyter, or deacon acts as a witness.