Instituted acolytes and the subdiaconate

Traditionally, after the EF Easter Vigil, our celebrating priest and our senior servers repair to a suitable place to have a cigar together and to recap our performance over the Triduum. This year, we went a little beyond that in order to discuss planning for the future. We all love a good Solemn Mass of course, but we seldom have the opportunity to get all the necessary clergy in one place at the same time, as all the priests in the diocese with any sort of interest in the EF have their own pastoral work to do. A man in diaconal formation, however, has taken an interest in participating in the EF upon his ordination. That just leaves us the matter of the subdeacon to address in order to have more frequent Solemn Masses.

Yes, I know that the order of subdeacons has been suppressed. However, at the same time Pope Paul suppressed the order, it looks like he fused the subdeacon’s functions into the instituted ministries (formerly minor orders) of lector and acolyte. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has ruled that instituted acolytes may serve as subdeacons at Solemn Mass, with some minor modifications. However, you don’t often come across instituted acolytes outside of seminaries.

So I got to thinking whether it might not be prudent for some of our senior servers such as myself (generally men in their 30s or 40s, both married and unmarried) to petition the bishop for institution – or otherwise to ask the priests charged with the EF to float the idea by the bishop, asserting an important pastoral reason (the Solemn Mass being the normative form of Mass in the Roman Rite). Non-seminarian instituted ministers are quite rare, to be sure, but institution of laymen for these functions is not without precedent. The Diocese of Lincoln in Nebraska, I know, does so, and likely several other dioceses do as well.

Of course, this will be at the bishop’s discretion, but it seems to me that this might be the best way to regularize more Solemn Masses in dioceses where available priests are few and available priests who want to have anything to do with the Extraordinary Form are almost non-existent. Any thoughts about this potential undertaking?

Is your bishop friendly to the EF?

He generally has been; however, the EF is something of a marginal phenomenon in the diocese. He has been very kindly when we’ve called upon him for help (confirmations in the EF, for instance), though I am sure his mind is generally on something else.

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If he’s friendly, all he can say is no… Mine has leaned pretty neutral and allowed it in mine

To me this sounds cool. If you read Pope Paul VI’s ministeria quaedam the motu proprio that changed minor orders, you can detect an intention that it should go beyond the seminary. Given that I think it is entirely within reason to at least float the idea to the Bishop. It never hurts to ask.

I didn’t know that. Our Eastern Catholic church has subdeacons. Good luck with that. I have seen where they can be a big blessing.

I would like to see them fully restored in the east.

It should be a group of subdeacons serving at the altar during Divine Liturgy. The men and boys up there are filing in for the missing subdeacons.

hawk, one of the substitutes

“I am not a subdeacon, but I play one on TV, err, Sunday”


[Absent this necessity, laymen should never be in the Holy Place!]

Upon inquiry, I find that some of my colleagues actually have written to the bishop about this matter before, but nothing has ever come of it. This does not surprise me, as most bishops likely don’t think of this matter at all with regards to non-seminarians, and leave the institutions for the seminary rectors in the case of seminarians. We have, in the past vested non-instituted “straw” subdeacons in the tunicle without any complaints from the bishop or any of the clergy, so the general rule applied here is that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. It’s not quite licit, but if the bishop has no problem with it, then we’d do best to hold our tongues and follow his lead. If ever he or another senior cleric should, then we should make the petitions for institution to regularize the situation.

If I were to venture a guess as to why the instituted ministries seem to be informally reserved to seminarians in most places, I’d guess that it would have little to do with the EF and much to do with the OF. An instituted minister would take precedence over a lay reader or server or EMHC, and many – including women, who cannot be instituted – have a stake in these positions. Broader application of the instituted ministries would be a godsend for the EF, but the EF is still something of a niche phenomenon in most dioceses. Moreover, what would training look like? Would it focus on the Latin, chant, and rubrics that would be most useful for us, or would it be OF-centric?

These are all hypotheticals, but it’s often a nebulous world that those men filling these sub-clerical roles in the EF context, which truly do require a lot of specialized study, inhabit.

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This has already been done in a few occasions. The diocesan parish Mater Ecclesiae, which is the only diocesan parish in the world that celebrates the traditional Mass exclusively (in Berlin, New Jersey) has a layman who is an instituted an acolyte. So, it would not be a complete novelty to institute lay, married acolytes.

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