The Armorial Bearings of Roman Catholic Deacons

I’ve have once again come across several images of the coats of arms of Deacons in the Roman Catholic Church on the internet which moves me to write, yet again, that:


One simply does NOT exist. None, nada, zilch, zip, bupkus. Anyone who asserts otherwise is a liar and should be horse whipped (with a horse whip).

In the Roman Catholic Church there are two types of Deacons. Transitional Deacons are ordained to that lowest rank in Holy Orders as a final step prior to their Presbyteral ordination. There are also those who are called to enter into ordained ministry as Deacons with the intent of remaining so permanently. For neither type is there an external heraldic ornament sanctioned by the Holy See, which is the only authority within the Catholic Church capable of making such a determination and assigning such an ornament.

Some of you are perhaps saying to yourselves, “No, hang on, Father, that’s not so. Deacons use a black galero that has no tassels on it.” Now, I want you to read the next sentence carefully.


In the Christian churches of the West, especially among those with a sacramental/liturgical style of worship such a heraldic ornament does exist in the Church of England. An entire system of hats for the use of the clergy of the Church of England was devised and adopted by the English College of Arms by an Earl Marshal’s Warrant of 1976. By extension, what is done in the Church of England is frequently, though not universally, done throughout the Anglican Communion. So, a black galero with no tassels is used heraldically by Deacons in the Anglican Tradition.

That has no effect on Roman Catholic Church heraldry.

Again, there is NO approved external ornament for Deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. Those who adopt the galero with no tassels are incorrect because it is an Anglican custom. Those who simply decide to make up out of whole cloth some other external ornament to function as a “Deacon’s crest” or to add a special augmentation to the shield of the arms of a Deacon like a chief indicating diaconal ministry are also quite wrong to do so. Those who claim such things are sanctioned by the Holy See are lying. Full stop.

So, what option is there for a Deacon? Well, for Transitional Deacons (a state which usually last no more than 12 months) they should wait until they are ordained Priest and ensign their arms with a Priest’s galero. For Permanent Deacons they have the option of using arms ensigned with helm, mantle and crest as laymen do (which is appropriate if they have descendants who will inherit the arms some day) or they may bear arms consisting of the shield and motto alone without any other ornament.

A coat of arms is a mark of identification not a perk to indicate your job or function. The Church has said very little on heraldry for clergy below the rank of Bishop and most of what we have by way of “rules” for the lower clergy comes from immemorial custom. Because the Permanent Diaconate was dormant for several centuries, including those centuries when heraldry developed, there are no customs for the arms of Permanent Deacons. It is hoped that the Holy See will address this at some point but until it does


8 thoughts on “The Armorial Bearings of Roman Catholic Deacons

  1. Utah Vic

    So, if I hear you correctly….you’re sayin’…no. It does bear repeating, as does the spiel about how a promotion, or advancement grant a change in arms.

  2. Deacon Lance Weakland

    I thought it was forbidden for clergy to use the helm or crest. Deacons are clergy. It would seem the second option is the only one available for Roman Rite deacons.

    1. guyselvester Post author

      No, you are under a false impression. It isn’t “forbidden” for clergy to use a helm or crest. Rather, it is not customary. There is a difference between the two.

  3. John Kane

    I would expect someone already with a personal coat of arms, before being ordained a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church would still be entitled to keep it. It is personal after all. Indeed his right to display it would be supported, at least in Scotland, under the auspices of the Lord Lyon King at Arms, the heraldic court in law, in Scotland, even if his bishop or archbishop didn’t like it. However under clerical obedience a priest or deacon might be ordered / forced simply not to display it.

    1. guyselvester Post author

      That’s not in question. The post is about the ornament external to the shield to indicate the rank of Deacon and the fact that there is none in the Roman Catholic Tradition. Deacons, like anyone else, may have a coat of arms.

  4. Fr N R Paxton

    While this is a matter of opinion, I do not think it fitting for clerics to bear [secular, combatant] achievements with helm, crest & mantling. For a deacon, a shield & motto alone seem fine. This was also what the late priest Lord Vaux of Harrowden (Dom Gabriel Gilbey OSB of Ampleforth Abbey) had in ‘Burke’s Peerage’.


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