In the last 50 years, various minor orders in the church, including porter, exorcist, and the major order of subdeacon simply no longer exist in the Latin Church who no longer felt they were necessary [all of the minor orders and the subdiaconate are still used within the Independent Sacramental Movement]. What is the theology behind these orders and why were they abolished?
As early as the third century, certain roles of service, including deacon, subdeacon, lector, and acolyte, were present in the church. These orders over time became linked to preparation for the priesthood and were divided between “minor orders” (porter, exorcist, lector, and acolyte) and “major orders” (subdeacon, deacon, and priest). Each order was received and its function performed for a suitable time before a man was ordained to the priesthood.
The roles were varied but served a legitimate purpose in the early church, usually related to the Mass. For instance, the porter was the doorkeeper, responsible for opening and closing the church and guarding the door during the celebration of Mass.
Together the orders constituted ministries of service that developed in the church according to need. Yet over time, many of them lost their function. The orders, especially porter and exorcist, became symbolic. The loss of these functions occasioned a revision of the orders after the Second Vatican Council.
In 1972 Pope Paul VI suppressed the four minor orders and replaced them with the two “special offices” or ministries: minister of the word (lector) and minister of the altar (acolyte). The role of the subdeacon was subsumed by the role of acolyte. The conferring of these ministries was no longer to be called “ordination” but instead “installation.”
In reforming these offices, it seems that Pope Paul VI intended to open certain ministries to the laity, including the ministries of lector and acolyte. Such roles were no longer to be seen exclusively as markers along the pathway to the priesthood.
However, in practice, the custom of officially instituting lectors and acolytes retained its connection to preparation for priesthood and diaconate. The laity, in part because these ministries are limited to men, were rarely installed in these roles. However, at the same time, it was acknowledged that these functions could be performed by other persons, even if not officially installed in these roles, when the celebration of the liturgy required it. This opened up the practice of lay men and women serving as lectors, acolytes, and eventually Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. For the most part, the instituted ministers and those not instituted fulfil the same functions, but some privileges are extended only to instituted ministers (for instance, only instituted acolytes can assist with the purification of the vessels after Communion).
Today, each year seminarians are installed as lectors and acolytes and serve in these ministries as preparation for holy orders. However, at the same time, in parishes throughout the archdiocese, men and women perform these same roles, not necessarily as a preparation for additional roles of leadership and service in the church, but for the benefit of their parish communities and their worship of God.
After the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church of the Latin rite, Pope Paul VI with the apostolic letter Ministeria quaedam established that the ostiariate, the exorcistate and the subdiaconate are no longer conferred at the level of the universal Church, while they are the lectorate and acolyte have remained since then considered to be lay ministries, as they do not change the lay status of a faithful established in them (in other words, they do not make the faithful a cleric). The functions of the sub-deacon passed to the acolyte, while the liturgical ministry of the exorcist, reduced to the fact of handing the holy water to the celebrating priest, was already practiced by acolytes, and that of the host was already carried out by laymen. With the same document the pontiff gave the possibility to local churches to maintain as ministries the suppressed orders and to institute new ones, a fact that has happened in some dioceses.
With the apostolic letter Spiritus Domini of January 10, 2021, Francis, Bishop of Rome extended to women the possibility of accessing the ministries of lectorate and acolyte. [Bollettino quotidiano della Santa Sede del 09.12.2021)
When the Minor Orders were born, they had an autonomous character, as a service that some members of the Christian community performed. Already in the early Middle Ages they lost their autonomous value and began to be considered as successive degrees that prepared to receive the diaconate and the presbyterate, although at least until the sixteenth century there were also numerous men (mainly students or “public officials”) who they received one of the minor orders in order to be able to live on the financial income deriving from an ecclesiastical benefit. Finally, after the Council of Trent, the minor orders were reduced only to mostly formal stages during the years of formation in the seminaries, in preparation for presbyteral ordination.
Traditionalist Catholic and Independent Catholic groups, both those separated by obedience to the Holy See, and those approved by it, have generally maintained the conferral of traditional minor orders, and always that of the sub-diaconate.
Although several medieval theologians regarded minor orders as sacramental, this view was no longer held by the Church, for the fundamental reason that minor orders, including the subdiaconate, were not of Divine or Apostolic origin. The rites by which they are conferred are quite different from ordination to holy orders. Minor orders are conferred by the presentation to the candidate of the appropriate instruments, in accordance with the ritual given in the “Statuta Ecclesiae antiqua,” a document which originated in Gaul about the year 500. We do not know how even in Rome the porters and exorcists were ordained in former times. Lectors received a simple benediction; acolytes were created by handing them the linen bag in which they carried the Eucharist; subdeacons by the reception of the chalice. Moreover, while deacons and priests could be ordained only on the four Ember Saturdays and on two Saturdays in Lent, minor orders could be conferred on any day. Even at the present time the latter may be conferred, apart from general ordinations, on all Sundays and on Holy Days of obligation, not necessarily at Mass. The usual minister of these orders as of the others, is a bishop; but regular abbots who have received episcopal benediction may give the tonsure and minor orders to their subjects in religion. By papal privilege several prelates Nullius (i.e., exempt) can confer these orders. It is an almost universal custom now to confer the four minor orders at, one time, and the Council of Trent leaves the bishop quite free to dispense with the interstices (quod vide).
Clerics in minor orders used to enjoy all ecclesiastical privileges. They may be nominated to all benefices not major, but must receive within a year the major orders necessary for certain benefices. On the other hand, they were not bound to celibacy, and were lawfully allowed to marry if they wished to do so. Marriage, however, caused them to forfeit every benefice immediately. Formerly it did not exclude them from the ranks of the clergy, and they retained all clerical privileges, provided they contracted only one marriage and that with a virgin, and wore clerical costume and the tonsure (c. unic., “De clericis conjugatis” in VI); they might even be appointed to the service of a church by the bishop (oecumenical Council of Trent — Sess. XXIII, c. vi). This earlier discipline, however, is no longer in accordance with modern custom and law. A minor cleric who marries is regarded as having forfeited his clerical privileges.
The necessity of Holy Orders, their degrees, and the preparation for receiving them. — Natural qualification does not communicate supernatural power for any, much less for the priestly office. This is given by God in a supernatural manner through Holy Orders. Holy Orders are the root and source of all pastoral power, not only of the strictly priestly, but also of the teaching and governing power. The Church therefore has ever required the reception of Holy Orders for this threefold power.
The priesthood has two degrees, the episcopal and the priestly. The episcopal degree ranks the recipient among the sacerdotes primi ordinis and confers in radice the highest magisterial, sacerdotal, and pastoral power under the Primacy. The priestly degree confers radicitus the power to exercise, subordinately to the bishop and to a limited extent, this threefold power. The limitations affect:
- The teaching office; as the simple priest does not belong to the infallible apostolic magisterium, and teaches only in the name of the Bishop;
- The sacerdotal office; since the priest cannot dispense the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, nor perform some of the other liturgical functions—consecration of churches, altars, and the like;
- The royal or pastoral office; since the priest does not belong to the hierarchy of jurisdiction, i.e., possesses no legislative, judicial authority, but is the organ of the bishop and participant in the pastoral office.
As the priesthood (sacerdotium), so the subordinate ministry (ministerium) has various degrees: Deaconship, Subdeaconship, and the four minor orders of Acolytes, Exorcists, Readers, and Porters.
Every degree of Holy Orders confers a certain power together with the grace necessary for its proper exercise. These powers and graces increase in dignity and excellence in proportion to the dignity of the respective order.
Corresponding to this power and grace must be the disposition and life of the recipient and the immediate preparation for its reception. Hence the Church ordains that certain interstices of time shall intervene in order that the candidate may be well instructed concerning the individual order, well grounded in the corresponding degree of virtue, and ‘ascend from degree to degree’ growing constantly in knowledge and piety. The disposition and sentiments proximately required for the reception of each order the Church endeavours to instil by previous spiritual retreats, by prayers and fasts (Ember days), and by the particular rite of the order.
The rite of Ordination is admirably adapted to this purpose. Words, symbols, and ceremonies instruct the recipient of the order concerning its dignity and duties and the requisite disposition of his mind and heart. The sacred instruments and vessels presented symbolise the power communicated, the sacred vestments the knowledge and virtue required. The prayers and blessings transmit the corresponding grace, and the exhortations of the bishop inculcate the necessity of cooperating with this grace. The rite of Ordination grows in solemnity and significance with the dignity of the order and the grave character of the responsibilities.
The Tonsure is the ecclesiastical preparation for the reception of every order.
The First Tonsure.—Isidore of Seville [De Officiis Eccles., 1. 2, c. 4] traces the practice of tonsure back to the Nazarite’s of the Old Law, who were ordered to have their hair shaven and to lay it upon the sacrificial fire in token of their perfect consecration to God. The type of ecclesiastical tonsure is found in the ordination of the Levites of the Old Law, as ordered by Moses (Numbers, ch. viii). From the monks, who practised it as a sign of humility and contempt for the world, the tonsure passed over to the clerics in the fifth century, and at the time of St. Gregory the Great we see it sanctioned by ecclesiastical law.
The tonsure is not an order, and confers no ecclesiastical office or power. It is the act of receiving the layman into the clerical state, and on the part of the recipient the consecration of himself to the special service of God. It consists of two parts: the cutting of the hair and the vesting with the surplice. The first signifies the renunciation of the world, the second the entrance into the ecclesiastical state.
Before giving the tonsure the bishop beseeches Our Lord to “bestow upon the youthful clerics the Holy Ghost, who shall preserve them in the practice of a religious life, protect their hearts from the evil ways of the world, grant them an increase of virtue, deliver them from all spiritual and human blindness, and give them the light of eternal grace.”
The bishop then cuts some hair from the head of the tonsure and in five places: viz., from the forehead, from the back of the head, from each side, and from the crown of the head, observing thus the form of the cross. The hair signifies the world and its vanities which the cleric renounces. The cutting in the form of the cross signifies the cross of self-denial which the cleric thereby takes upon himself. The tonsure and himself gives expression to this sentiment by reciting during the ceremony the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup; it is Thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me.” The blessing of God consequent upon his sacrifice is indicated by the antiphon and the twenty-third psalm then chanted.
The investing with the surplice is introduced by the prayer that “with God’s aid the clerics may remain always devout in His Church, and receive eternal life.”
The surplice is put on with the words: “May the Lord put on thee the new man, who according to God is created in justice and in the holiness of truth.” After this the bishop again implores God to “release these His servants from every bond of worldly dress, and that while they put off the ignominy of a worldly garment, they may enjoy His grace forever.”
The parting admonition is as pregnant in thought as it is concise in form. “Dearest children, you ought to consider that to-day you have come under the jurisdiction of the Church, and have obtained the privileges of clerics. Take care lest you lose them on account of your faults, and by a becoming exterior, good morals and works, endeavour to please God. Which may He grant you through His Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The “becoming exterior” includes the wearing of the clerical dress, and in countries where that is customary, of clerical tonsure. The “privileges of clerics” are: The “Privilegium Fori,” in virtue of which they are in certain matters exempted from appearing before a civil tribunal; the “Privilegium Canonis,” which renders those who gravely and unjustly assault them subject to excommunication reserved to the Pope; finally, clerics become capable of acquiring ecclesiastical jurisdiction. (For the particular conditions of these privileges, especially in this country, we must refer the reader to Canon Law.)
The Minor Orders in General. — In ancient times there was a special office connected with each of the Minor Orders. Though at present these offices may be filled by laymen, yet the orders have remained not only as a reminiscence of ancient ecclesiastical practice, but as a worthy preparation for the reception of Higher Orders. [From the description of the IV (?) Council of Carthage (398) we learn that the ceremonies for the Minor Orders were essentially the same then as they are now.
The Council of Trent [Sess. xxiii.,c. 17, de Ref] exhorts that these functions be again connected with the orders, i.e., that only clerics in Minor Orders perform these functions. This is certainly not practicable in most places; but the pastor should at least see that these functions of acolytes, sextons, etc., be performed in a worthy manner according to the laws of the Church.
The rite of the Minor Orders is very simple. The clerics are called by name by the archdeacon, and kneel before the bishop, vested in surplice and holding each a lighted candle. The bishop first instructs them concerning the respective order; then, by giving them the instruments (matter) with appropriate words (form), transmits to them the power of the office, and finally in prayer implores for them the grace worthily to fulfil its duties.
The Ordination of Porters. — This order confers the office of caring for the dignity of the house of God and of maintaining order therein. During the early persecutions it was necessary to indicate to the faithful the time and place of divine service, and to keep the doors of the place of meeting locked against intruders. This was the duty of the “porters” and “messengers of God.” The duties of this office are pointed out by the bishop to be: “To strike the cymbal and ring the bell, to open the church and the sanctuary, and the book of him who preaches.” These duties are symbolic for the still higher duty “of closing to the devil and opening to God, by their word and example, the invisible house of God, namely, the hearts of the faithful.”
The matter of this order is the presenting of the keys of the church to the clerics to be touched by their right hand, and the form is the accompanying admonition: “Conduct yourselves as having to render an account to God for those things which are kept under these keys.”
The bishop then invites all present to pray with him “that these porters may be most diligent in their care of the house of God.”
Although the Ostiariate is no longer a distinct institution in the Church, still for that very reason every pastor ought to be a true ostiary, consumed with zeal for the house of God. He must love the church, frequently visit it, banish from it all uncleanliness, disorder, and irreverence, procure decent vestments and ornaments, and guard against the loss or profanation of anything consecrated to divine service. He must himself be punctual and urge others to punctuality in divine service.
Still greater care must he bestow on the “ invisible house of God, the hearts of the faithful,” that they may be closed to the devil and opened to the graces and blessings of God, promoting thus the interior service of God by word and deed.
The Ordination of Readers. — This order confers the office and the grace to read the Holy Scriptures to the assembled faithful. It is the most ancient of the Minor Orders, and may be traced back to apostolic times.
The rights of this office are, as the bishop says, “to read for him who preaches, to sing the Lessons, and to bless the bread and all the new fruits.”
The order is conferred by presenting to the cleric the Sacred Scriptures (or the Breviary) to be touched with the right hand, saying at the same time the words: “ Receive and be reader of the word of God, destined if you faithfully and usefully fulfil your office to have a part with those who from the beginning have acquitted themselves well in the ministry of the divine Word.”
The duties which the office imposes are: “To announce distinctly and clearly the words of God in such a manner that the faithful may understand and be edified, and without any corruption of the text. And what you read with your lips, believe in your hearts and practise by your works, so that you may be able to teach by word and example. When you read, stand in a high place that you may be heard by all and be seen, exhibiting by your elevated position the necessity incumbent upon you of possessing virtue in an eminent degree, and presenting the model of a heavenly life to all those by whom you are heard and seen.”
Every pastor will at once recognize the appropriateness of these practical exhortations for his advanced position in the ministry.
The Ordination of Exorcists. — This is the third of the Minor Orders, and it confers the power of casting out devils from the bodies of the possessed, be they of the faithful or catechumens. It is reckoned among the ecclesiastical orders even by St. Ignatius Martyr in his letter to the citizens of Antioch, by Pope St. Cornelius in his letter to Bishop Fabian, and by other ecclesiastical writers.
The office is described in the words of the ordaining bishop, “to cast out devils, to tell the people that he who does not communicate must give way to communicants, and to pour the water in the service.” [During the administration of Baptism, or during Mass, for the washing of the priest’s hands.]
The conferring of the order takes place by presenting to the cleric the book containing the exorcisms (Ritual, Pontifical, or Missal) with the words: “Take and commit it to memory, and have power to impose hands on persons possessed, be they baptised or catechumens.”
The prayer which follows asks the blessing of God, “that these exorcists may be spiritual rulers for expelling devils, with all their multiform wickedness, from the bodies of the possessed.”
Whilst the reader exercises his office principally for catechumens, the exorcist is ordained also for the benefit of the faithful. The reader only reads the word of God, the exorcist invokes the name of God with authority. The former only teaches, the latter also exercises power.
This order can be exercised at present only by a priest with special authorisation from the bishop, since the Church has for various reasons withdrawn the jurisdiction originally granted to all exorcists.
The higher and personal duty of exorcists still remains: “To drive from their own minds and bodies all uncleanness and wickedness, lest they yield to those spirits whom by their ministry they drive away from others; to learn by their office to rule over their passions, so that the enemy may not be able to lay claim to anything as his own in their conduct.“
The Ordination of Acolytes. This order is of great antiquity in the Christian Church. During the persecutions the Christians held their services at night-time in subterraneous places called the catacombs. Hence lights were needed, and certain men were placed in charge of these lights, and called “Ceroferaii, Candle-bearers.“ After the persecutions this institution was preserved on account of the sublime meaning of light and its mystic connection with the Holy Sacrifice.
The office of the acolyte is “to carry the candlestick, to light the lamps and candles of the church, and to minister wine and water for the Eucharist.”
The cleric touches with the right hand the candlestick with a candle not lighted, which the bishop presents with the words: “Receive this candlestick and candle, and know that you are obligated to light the lamps of the church in the name of the Lord.” He then receives the empty cruet from the bishop, whilst the latter says: “Receive this cruet for supplying wine and water for the Eucharist of the Blood of Christ in the name of the Lord.”
The duties of this office are well set forth in the admonition and in the three concluding prayers. The bishop exhorts the acolytes to fulfil worthily their office, “for,” so he continues, “you will not be able to please God if, carrying in your hands a light for Him, you serve the works of darkness In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation shine as lights in the world Be therefore solicitous in all justice, goodness, and truth to illumine yourself and others and the Church of God. For then will you worthily minister wine and water in the sacrifice of God when by a chaste life and good works you shall have offered yourselves as a sacrifice to God.”
In the first of the three prayers he dwells on their ministry at the altar. In the second he refers to the types of acolytes in the Old Law — Moses and Aaron. In the third he beseeches God to “illumine their minds with the light of science, and water them with the dew of His piety, so that their ministry may be acceptable.”
The Higher Orders. These orders are called Higher Orders because of the greater and nobler ministry of the altar to which they introduce the cleric. They are called sacred because they confer the right to handle the sacred vessels, and because the recipients are consecrated to God by a perpetual solemn obligation of chastity.
Subdeacon. — As the Minor Orders, so also the subdeaconate sprang from the diaconate, and is of most ancient origin. Mention is made of it in the letters of St. Cyprian († 258), in the councils of Elvira (305), Laodicea (361), Carthage (398), the Apostolic Constitutions, etc.
The principal functions of the subdeaconship were: assisting the deacon —as the name indicates— at Mass by presenting the chalice, paten, etc.; receiving the offerings from the hands of the faithful; reading the Epistle during Mass; transmitting messages during times of persecution. In the Greek Church subdeaconship is reckoned among the Minor Orders. Isidore of Seville says that subdeacons were obliged to continency because they came in contact with the sacred vessels; and Gregory the Great forbade the ordination of any one who did not vow chastity.
The ordination of subdeacons takes place immediately before the Epistle, the reading of which is proper to this order. The names of the ordinands are called, and the title announced to which they are to be ordained. For as they are to serve the altar during their whole future life, the Church requires that their decent support be first provided for.
Vested in amice (which, however, they have not placed upon their head when putting it on), alb, and cincture, carrying in their left hand the maniple and on their left arm the tunic, and holding in their right hand a lighted candle, they stand before the bishop, indicating that they are still free. The bishop with touching earnestness exhorts them first “attentively to consider, again and again, what a burden they this day freely seek.”
They then prostrate themselves on the floor in token of their entire consecration to God, whilst the bishop and the clergy implore the intercession of all the saints, that God may bless this sacrifice for the Church and for the candidates. Near the end of the Litany the bishop rises, and in full pontifical robes, with mitre on and crosier in hand, turns to the candidates, blesses them, and prays “that God vouchsafe to bless… to bless and sanctify… to bless, sanctify, and consecrate these elect.” They are blessed in being separated from the world and raised above it; they are sanctified, i.e., endowed with grace for the ministry; they are consecrated, i.e., dedicated forever to God and the Church.
After the Litany the candidates kneel before the bishop, who explains to them the office of the subdeacon. “It is incumbent upon the subdeacon to prepare water for the service of the altar; to wash the palls of the altar and the corporals, to assist the deacon and present him the chalice and paten used in the Sacrifice.”
The bishop then presents to all an empty chalice, with a paten placed on it, to be touched by them with the right hand, and says: “See whose ministry is given to you; I admonish you, therefore, so to comport yourselves as to be pleasing to God.” The archdeacon presents to them cruets with wine and water, and a basin, with finger-towel, to be touched in the same manner.
After having then implored upon them the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, the bishop draws the amice over the head of each, saying: “Receive this amice, by which is signified prudence in speech.” Putting on the maniple, he says: “Receive the maniple, which signifies the fruit of good works.” Putting on the tunic, he says: “May the Lord clothe thee with the tunic of sweetness and the garment of gladness.” Lastly he presents to them the book of Epistles, to be touched by them, and says: “Receive this book of Epistles and have power to read them in the holy church of God both for the living and the dead.”
As the subdeacon ascends to the altar and, though remotely, takes part in the Holy Sacrifice, the Church requires of him a perfect sacrifice. This must contain the two elements of every true sacrifice, the negative —that of self-renunciation in perpetual chastity; the positive— of consecrating all his days and hours to God through the prayer of the Breviary. He must be a “prompt and watchful sentinel of the heavenly army in the holy sanctuary; a faithful minister,” in the state of divine grace (alb); devote his tongue to singing the praises of God (Div. Off. amice); labor and suffer for God (maniple); and care not only for the cleanliness of the palls and corporals, but purify by heavenly doctrine the members of Christ, the faithful who may suffer from the stain of sin, so that they may again be a worthy ornament of Christ.
Deacon. The diaconate is of divine institution, and possesses a sacramental character. The name deacon signifies minister, as the deacon ministers to the priest or bishop at the altar.
The ordination of deacons takes place after the Epistle is read. The candidates advance vested in amice, alb, cincture, and maniple, holding in their left hand the stole, on their left arm the dalmatic, and in their right hand a lighted candle. The archdeacon in the name of the Church asks the bishop to ordain these sub-deacons to the burden of deaconship, and on the question of the bishop, testifies that they are worthy. The bishop then announces to the clergy and the people that he chooses these subdeacons for the order of Deaconship, and requests “any one that may have anything against them to come forward confidently, and to speak before God and for the sake of God, but to be mindful of his own condition.” [The Third Council of Carthage (397) enacted that “no cleric should be ordained who had not been proved by the examination of the bishop and the testimony of the people.” Afterwards the voice of the people was limited to raising necessary objection. The Council of Trent ordains (Sess. xxm. c. 5, de Ref.) that “those who are to be raised to any one of the greater orders shall, a month before ordination, repair to the bishop, who shall commission the parish priest or some other suitable person to state publicly in the church the names and the desire of those who wish to be promoted, and to diligently inform themselves from persons worthy of credit of the birth, age, morals, and life of those who are to be ordained, and shall transmit to the bishop, as soon as possible, letters testimonial, containing the inquiry made.” The rite of ordination refers to this precept, and points out the duty of reporting to the bishop, in case any one should know anything serious against a candidate.]
The office of the deacon is designated by the bishop as the duty “to minister at the altar, to baptise and to preach.”
The bishop invites the people to pray with him, that God may “pour down upon these His servants the grace of His blessing, and mercifully preserve in them the gifts of the consecration conferred upon them.”
The bishop then confers the office and the sacramental grace by the essential acts of this ordination. Extending his hands, he in a most solemn manner [In a preface, also called “The Consecration” this is the first order where prayer takes such solemn form] implores God to “look with a benignant eye on these His servants, who are now dedicated as deacons to the service of His holy altars.”
Placing his right hand on the head of each, he says: “Receive the Holy Ghost in order that you may have strength to enable you to resist the devil and his temptations.”
He puts the stole on the left shoulder of each, and vesting him with the dalmatic, he prays: “May the Lord clothe thee with the garment of salvation and vestment of gladness, and may the dalmatic of gladness encircle thee always.” Finally he presents to them the book of Gospels or the Missal, conferring “the power of reading the Gospel in the church of God, both for the living and the dead.” He concludes with two prayers, that these deacons “may become worthy of those seven, whom the apostles selected, and of whom Blessed Stephen was the leader.”
The obligations of the deacon were very extensive in former times. They presented the catechumens for baptism and acted as sponsors; they wiped the sacred chrism from the forehead of those that were confirmed, and bound it with a linen cloth; they were the inseparable ministers of the priest and bishop at the altar; they distributed Holy Communion and brought it to the absent and the sick; they published the penance to public penitents and brought them again before the bishop for reconciliation; they examined the ordinands and presented them for ordination; they visited the sick and prepared them for the reception of the holy sacraments; they were charged with the care of the poor and of the confessors in prison; they were the custodians of the church and the administrators of its revenues; they accompanied the priest when going to administer Extreme Unction; they investigated the impediments of matrimony and introduced the marriage couple to the bishop; in a word, they were “the eye, ear, mouth, heart, and soul of the bishop.”
At present their ministrations are mostly limited to the altar. In case of necessity and with the permission of the pastor or the bishop they may administer Holy Communion; in the absence of the priest and in an urgent case they may baptise, and, finally, they maybe commissioned by the bishop to preach.
The priest and pastor has assumed in great measure at present the offices of the deacon, and SS. Lawrence and Stephen are his special patrons. Like them, he must be ready to give his life for Christ and His holy Church, and is charged particularly with the care of the sick and the poor.
The Priesthood. — The ordination of priests takes place before the last verse of the Tract. The ordinands are called by name and advance in the dress of the deacon, bearing in place of the dalmatic a folded chasuble on their left arm, and holding in their right hand a lighted taper. They kneel in a semi-circle around the bishop, and the archdeacon presents them, testifying to their worthiness. The announcement to the clergy and people is far more solemn than that for the deacons: “Since, dearest brethren,” so the bishop begins, both the master of a vessel and the passengers have either a common feeling of security or a common fear, in like manner those who have a common interest should have a common opinion. Wherefore whatsoever you know of the conduct or morals of these deacons, freely make known, and give them such testimony for the priesthood as they shall deserve, and not from any motives of affection.”
He then explains the office of the priesthood to the candidates: “It is the duty of the priest to offer sacrifice, to bless, to govern, to preach, and to baptise. Heavenly wisdom, approved morals, and a long observance of the laws of God should commend those selected for it… Realise what you do, imitate what you handle, so that, celebrating the mystery of the Lord’s death, you may be able to mortify in your members all inclinations toward vice and concupiscence. Let your doctrine be spiritual medicine for the people; let the odor of your life be the delight of the Church of Christ, so that by your preaching and example you may build up the family of God, and so neither we for having promoted you, nor you for having received, so great an office, may deserve to be condemned, but rather rewarded by the Lord.”
The essential parts of the ordination then follow. The bishop places his hands upon the head of each candidate. After him all the priests present do the same. The bishop and the priests then hold their right hands extended and raised over the heads of the ordinands. All this is done amid a solemn and impressive silence. After having invited all to pray with him, the bishop beseeches God “to pour down upon these His servants the blessing of the Holy Ghost and the strength of priestly grace.” In the solemn form of the preface he continues to implore God “to renew in their breasts the spirit of sanctity, so that they make their lives worthy of imitation by others; that they become his prudent fellow-workers; that all the virtues may shine in them, so that being able to give a good account of the stewardship entrusted to them, they may obtain the rewards of eternal happiness.”
He now vests them with the insignia of their office. He arranges the stole (orarium) before the breast of the newly ordained in the form of the cross, which form is illustrative of the words: “Receive the yoke of the Lord, for His yoke is sweet and His burden light.” Putting on the chasuble, he explains it to be the symbol of charity. After praying for the perfection of this charity, he continues the acts of ordination.
Whilst the “Veni Creator Spiritus” is sung, he anoints the thumb and index finger, and the palm of both hands with the oil of catechumens, “that whatever they bless may be blessed, and whatever they consecrate may be consecrated and sanctified.” After thus imparting the power to bless, he communicates the power to offer, by presenting to each one the chalice with wine and water, and the paten with the host, saying: “Receive power to offer sacrifice and to celebrate Masses both for the living and the dead.”
As in the other orders, the newly ordained immediately exercise their office by offering the Holy Sacrifice with the bishop. Thus the priests were wont in ancient times to offer the Holy Sacrifice with the bishop on high feast days; Innocent III. requires the Cardinal priests to offeritwiththePope. This practice illustrates the unity of the Holy Sacrifice and of the priesthood, whose head is the bishop.
After the essential parts of the Mass are concluded, the third power of the priesthood is communicated, that of remitting sin. This power thus appropriately appears as an emanation from the Holy Sacrifice. Christ had given His apostles the power to offer the Holy Sacrifice at the Last Supper, but the power to forgive sin He conferred upon them only after His sacrifice on the cross was consummated and He had risen and appeared to them again.
The exercise of this power presupposes the preaching of penance and of the forgiveness of sin. Therefore the priests must first confess before the bishop the faith which they are to preach. The bishop turns to the newly ordained, the mitre on his head and crozier in hand, whilst they, standing before the altar, recite aloud the Apostles’ Creed. The bishop is then again seated, and placing both hands upon the head of each, as he kneels before him, says the words: “Receive the Holy Ghost: whose sins you snail forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” He then unfolds the chasuble of each, saying: “May the Lord clothe thee with the stole of innocence.” The sacerdotal power is now conferred in its entirety, and this is indicated by the unfolding of the priestly vestment.
At the close of the ordination the bishop demands of the neo presbyter the promise of obedience. He takes the folded hands of the priest between his own, and asks: “Dost thou promise to me and my successors reverence and obedience? ” to which the priest answers, “I promise,”whereupon the bishop kisses him on the right cheek, saying: “The peace of the Lord be always with thee!” Answer, “Amen.” This touching ceremony at the same time strikingly represents the binding force of this obedience on the priest, the paternal kindness with which the obedience is exacted by the bishop, and the internal and external peace, which is the fruit of paternal love and filial obedience.
This same relation of the father to the son is further expressed by the parting benediction of the bishop: “May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, descend upon you, that you may be blessed in the priestly orders, and may offer propitiatory sacrifices for the sins and offences of the people to Almighty God, to whom is honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Immediately before the last Gospel the bishop again addresses the newly-ordained, and exhorts them to “consider well the order they have received and the burden placed upon their shoulders, to strive to lead a holy and religious life, and to please Almighty God, that they may be able to obtain His graces.”
In conclusion he enjoins upon those who have received the first Tonsure and the four Minor Orders to recite the seven penitential psalms, the Litany of the Saints, with the versicles and prayers; those who were ordained subdeacons or deacons, one nocturn of the divine office; those who were ordained priests to say after their first Mass three other Masses, to wit, one of the Holy Ghost, one of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a third for the faithful departed. [Hæc tamen obligatio non ita urget, ut necessario eligendi sint dies liberi primi occurrentes; “nam celebratio earundem Missarum ulterius differri potent, si rationabilis causa subsit.” (Cavalieri, tom. c. xii. № xx.) Notandum est per missam officio conformem in aliquo festo B.M.V. non minus satisfied, quam per missam votivam de eadem in die libera.]