“Straw” Subdeacons & “Tridentine” High Mass

In another entry concerning a nightmare scenario, blog participant Michael posted an interesting piece of information from the Pont. Comm. "Ecclesia Dei" which, frankly, I had forgotten all about.

A question was raised about who might subsititute for a subdeacon at a High Mass.  There was a practice of dressing in a tunic a fellow as a subdeacon, sort of a "straw" subdeacon, as they were nicknamed.

In any event, Michael wrote:

I would like to supply some important information, which won’t be well known. In 1992 (?) on behalf of the Australian Ecclesia Dei Society I sent a dubium to the Ecclesia Dei Commission asking them to clarify the situation about who may act as a substitute for a subdeacon at a Solemn Mass, in the absence of cleric.

Whatever about what might have applied or was practised before the Council, this is the ruling now, as given by the Ecclesia Dei Commission:

A layman who has been instituted with the office of Acolyte may perform the duties of a subdeacon at a Solemn Mass. He performs all the duties pertaining to this office during the Mass but does not wear the maniple.

Obviously, this ruling excludes women and any also layman who is not an instituted acolyte.

This is helpful, if not definitive.

However, I still must raise the specter of the nightmare.  The response from Ecclesia Dei may have come in 1992, though Michael was unsure of the date.  (Ironically, that would have been issued when I worked in that Commission and I might have even been the one who drafted the letter.  I don’t recall it, however.  In those days we had a lot of correspondence.)

The official interpretation of can. 230 §2 of the 1983 CIC which says that women may substitute for acolytes came in 1994. 

We must remember that a clarification came in a letter in 2001 stating that priests are not compelled to have girls serve at the altar even if their bishops grant permission for them to do so in their dioceses.  It is unlikely that anyone organizing a High Mass with the so-called "Tridentine" rite would think to have girls anywhere in sight around the altar.

So, while it is still only the stuff of nightmares, I think the question is still open.  In the absence of an available cleric for the role of subdeacon for a "Tridentine" High Mass could a woman substitute under the interpretation of can. 230 §2 of the 1983 CIC??

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32 Responses to “Straw” Subdeacons & “Tridentine” High Mass

  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    Absolutely not.

    First of all, this decision appears to have come in the form of a singular administrative decree (canons 48-58 in the CIC83). As such, it is only applicable “only in respect to the matters which it decides and for the persons for whom it was given.” Therefore, this decision is only applicable in Australia, from when the dubium came. However, canon 17 establishes the principle of parallel places, therefore other locales can presume that they would receive the same answer if the raised the same dubium, and so, until otherwise demonstrated by the legitimate authority, other places would have the right to apply this decision to their local situation.

    Secondly, this administrative act makes provisions for those who are “instituted as acolytes”, not simply for acolytes. Only men can be instituted as acolytes (c. 230). Women, in view of the authentic interpretation issued in 1994 can function as acolytes, but they cannot be “instituted” as acolytes, therefore, this administrative act cannot be used to permit women to function as subdeacons during a celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, since the provision is made specifically for those who have been “instituted” according to the norms of canon 230, 1.

    If one wanted a clearer answer, one could always submit a dubium to the Ecclesia Dei commission. If the rumors of a coming universal indult are indeed true (and I pray they are), questions like this will have increasing importance for the universal Church, and provisions will need to be made in the Vatican for Ecclesia Dei to answer them (unless competency is transferred to another dicastery, such as the Cong. for Sacraments and Divine Worship).

  2. Father: It’s a little early for All Hollow’s Eve is it not?

    Personally, I can’t picture too many priests currently offering a
    Tridentine Mass and those that I think would do so in future allowing
    women at the altar.

    BUT, if it’s not explicitly outlawed I can see some priests allowing it.
    Especially, if they have female altar servers during their NO now. They
    may not be strong enough to stand up to the parental opposition to suddenly
    “banning” their females outright.

    Then, there is always the “womanpriest” crowd lurking-especially in the
    Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis. Some of them would LOVE to jump
    at the chance to “be up there”. Or, if not them a woman period. I can think
    of 3 parishes in this Archdiocese that would read your post and rub their
    hands in glee right now.

    Is there a definition of girl versus woman somewhere? I assume it probably
    has something to do with age?

  3. I just read Mr. Ferguson’s answer. Being a Canon Lawyer, I’m sure he’s right.

    However, is there a difference between substituted versus instituted? For
    instance, I can see the dissenting parishes, claiming the female acolyte cannot
    be formally “instituted” but we can “substitute” her as we see need her. The
    definition of “need” being very fluid-unless it’s defined someplace.

    They could rotate the female acolytes so it does not look like they are using
    the same one. Thereby, giving the perception that she is instituted.

  4. Oops, I meant to say: “Thereby, avoiding the perception that she is instituted”
    in my last sentence.

  5. Cathy: Now that you bring it up, I remember something interesting about the the actual terms used in the authentic interpretation of can. 230 §2 of the 1983 CIC which allowed also females to substitute for Acolytes. Unless I am mistaken, I think the actual word in the Latin version (which is the official version) was a form of mulier, “woman”, rather than puella, “girl”. I don’t have at hand the Latin text, however.

  6. Father Arsenius says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf: I have this tucked away in my files…

    >”At its meeting of 30 June 1992, the members of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts examined the following dubium which had been proposed to them:
    >
    >>’Utrum inter munera liturgica quibus laici, sive viri sive mulieres, iuxta C.I.C. Can. 230 #2, fungi possunt, adnumerari etiam possit servitium ad altare.’
    >
    >The following response was given: ‘Affirmative et iuxta instructiones a Sede Apostolica dandas.’ ”

    …This is taken from .

  7. Father Arsenius says:

    My above comment should have ended with:

    “This is taken from: http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdwcomm.htm

  8. Fr. Arsenius: Thanks for the assist! I remembered correctly. Let it be known far and wide that “women” and not “girls” may substitute for absent Acolytes! o{];¬)

  9. Henry Edwards says:

    This is ridiculous speculation. There is no desire for — nor will there ever be — any desire for or toleration of any aberrations such as altar girls or women subdeacons in any TLM community anywhere. And the weak-kneed priests who might countenance such aberrations — are these Arnold S’s “girlie priests”? — are not the kind now studying their 1962 missals by candlelight in the dark of night in preparation for the coming new day.

  10. Mr. Edwards: I pray you are right.

    Some thought they would never see altar girls in the NO either. Don’t underestimate the dissenting crowd. I used to be one. I spent much of my life looking for legal loopholes.

  11. Phil says:

    Even if the male-only acolyte-as-ersatz-subdeacon question is resolved, wouldn’t it still be possible to have female altar servers? You know, the “R.”s who say things like “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutum meam”? Because that would still recall the image from Father’s scenario of a woman in cassock and surplice and women introibo-ing ad altare Dei.

    I’ve probably made a mistake somewhere in here, but given what the commenters on this blog have already brilliantly reasoned out, I’m sure I will not remain in error for long.

  12. Tim Ferguson says:

    Currently, there is nothing in the law itself that prohibits female altar servers in a celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal. While this may be somewhat of a moot point at this stage of development – since those places and priests amenable to the celebration of the 1962 Mass seem unlikely to embrace “serviettes” in place of altar boys. However, if a broader indult is granted, one would hope that the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei, the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship, or the motu proprio itself would address such issues. If the intent of the indult is to accomodate those who are “attached to the older form of worship” it would hardly seem pastorally prudent to allow something which would so strongly violate the sensibilities of those who are so attached. And we know that bishops and the clergy are always pastorally prudent and wouldn’t wish to disturb the sensibilities of those who are attached to the older form of worship. Aren’t they? Oh crap. we might be in trouble here…

  13. Henry and Time: One of the reasons why I posted this “nightmare” was precisely to get at the intersection between the older usages of Holy Mass, with its customs and its rubrics in the 1962 Missale Romanum, and on the other hand today’s disciplines which were not in the 1962 Missale Romanum. Clearly lots of changes have occured in, for example, who is considered a cleric, who may fulfil which roles and how, how Communion is to be distributed, Eucharistic fasting, and so forth.

  14. Phil says:

    Mr. Ferguson: An excellent explanation. Thank you. Of course, here in Arlington, Bishop Loverde granted the indult to two parishes in the same move as he allowed for female altar servers (we were on of the last holdouts in the US, on account of Bishop Keating, of happy memory). Then again, he let decision to have female altar servers rest with the pastor, in consultation with the parish council. Neither of these changes have been implemented at the Cathedral, however.

    Fr. Z: I imagine a lot of people who would like to see the “univeral indult” have not thought about the intersection of the 1962MR and the 1983 Canon Law. I certainly fit into that category. So, thanks.

  15. RBrown says:

    1. It has never been apparent to me what it means now to be “instituted” or installed as a lector or acolyte. Both are now considered to be lay ministries, which means they no longer bear any relationship to Holy Orders (unlike the previous 1700 years when they were considered to be part of minor orders). They are no longer grades of Holy Orders (though sacramentals not a Sacrament). This means they are merely functions–but they are functions which can be performed by anyone.

    Then again, maybe we can say that someone is installed in the ministry of acolyte in order to fill in as a sub deacon at a mass using the 1962 Missal.

    2. I am not a canon lawyer, but my understanding is that according to the hermeneutics of canon law, “laici” of 230.2 is to be interpreted as “Viri laici” of 230.1.

    BTW, the 1994 switcheroo on altar girls was during my Roman years. I could walk out of my room and in less than a minute be standing in front of the Angelicum canon law classrooms. Just after the decision, the mere mention of it brought steam out of profs’ ears.

    3. It is ironic that during my intro course in canon law in 1990 I said in class that canon 230 made no sense because it was ambiguous. I still don’t think it does.

    4. Two stories: When the 1983 Code was promulgated, a priest friend–a moral theologian–called to tell me. He said that everyone knew the Code was no good, but it was thought a bad code was better than no code at all.

    Also: The dean of the faculty of canon law was a good friend, who had worked on writing the Code. When I raised questions about various parts of the Code, he said, “There are a lot of holes in this Code.”

    One other point: If the Code is in fact not very good and has lots of holes, it is because the theology behind it is sloppy (and I’m being kind).

  16. Tim Ferguson says:

    When (soon, God willing) the broader indult is granted, it would be very helpful to have a guide to the “disputed questions” concerning the use of the 1962 Missal in this post-83 Code ear (ancd, contrary to what RBrown says, I think the 83 Code is good – certainly not perfect and in need of further revision, but good, nonetheless). There are a lot of unanswered questions: how are the commemorations of newly canonized saints to be included in the 1962 Missal? The altar girls question, can Benediction be given immediately after Mass as was formerly done? How does one incorporate (or does one incorporate) the ceremonies currently in force for marriages and funerals into celebrations of the 1962 Missal? How about the other rituals, such as those for the RCIA, or the institution of lectors and acolytes?

    Hopefully, authoritative answers will be given to these and many other questions in due course by Ecclesia Dei, the CDWDS and/or the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. Until that time, a manual of disputed questions and apparent answers might be a helpful thing.

  17. tim says:

    (shudder)

  18. In any case, it is clear that Canon lawyers will have job security for the
    immediate future! ;-)

  19. Deacon Jeffery BeBeau says:

    Father Z,

    An interesting response from Micahel. I beleive I made mention of the decision from the Ecclesia Dei Commission in my comments to your post on October 15. I present here again.

    “However an instituted acolyte may fill the role of the subdeacon, acording to a letter from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (7 June 1993, Prot. 24/92). In which case the maniple is not worn.”

  20. Dcn. JB: Thanks for that citation.

  21. fr.franklyn says:

    I imagine those priests who want to toy with the liturgy will do so with the NO.Butthe nightmare although not probable is somewhat possible.Right now the TLM is limited to those comunities that requested it.These are few and they have been able to find priests who will celebrate mass in the 62 missal.But the Pope wishes to restore the TLM to the life of the church and NOT restrict it to these small communities. Only a bad priest would purposely say the TLM with altar girls or ,God forbid,a female straw sub,so as to denigrate the mass and upsetthe people.He would have to go through all the trouble of getting the latin down and the complicated rubrics. Perhaps this is what is taking time-figuring out all the answers to problems that arise when the 62 missal is celebrated widely in 2006.

  22. RBrown says:

    “When (soon, God willing) the broader indult is granted, it would be very helpful to have a guide to the “disputed questions” concerning the use of the 1962 Missal in this post-83 Code ear (ancd, contrary to what RBrown says, I think the 83 Code is good – certainly not perfect and in need of further revision, but good, nonetheless). There are a lot of unanswered questions: how are the commemorations of newly canonized saints to be included in the 1962 Missal? The altar girls question, can Benediction be given immediately after Mass as was formerly done? How does one incorporate (or does one incorporate) the ceremonies currently in force for marriages and funerals into celebrations of the 1962 Missal? How about the other rituals, such as those for the RCIA, or the institution of lectors and acolytes?

    Hopefully, authoritative answers will be given to these and many other questions in due course by Ecclesia Dei, the CDWDS and/or the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. Until that time, a manual of disputed questions and apparent answers might be a helpful thing.”

    The problems run deeper and for the most part cannot be resolved by any Vatican Congregation.

    1. The flaws of Canon 230 are not sui generis–that canon is a reflection of Ministeria Quaedam, which was a motu proprio that suppressed, subdiaconate, minor orders, and first tonsure. Thus: it isn’t just a matter of an interpretation or authoritative answers–a new motu proprio is needed to restore what had been suppressed.

    2. It is the same with canon 276, which I consider an inadequate expression of the priesthood. But this canon is, I think, a faithful representation of Presbyterorum Ordinis.

    3. The question of new saints inserted in the old calendar is fairly minor.

  23. Tim Ferguson says:

    The problems could indeed be resolved by a Vatican Congregation, since Congregations have the ability to issue General Executory Decrees, or even, if the matter is approved in forma specifica by the Holy Father, to create law.

    The subdiaconate, despite the statement of Paul VI in Ministeria quaedam, did not cease to exist in the Latin Church sui iuris, and continued to be conferred, illicitly by the Society of Pius X, and since the mid-eighties, licitly by the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, etc. A motu proprio, or other papal statement acknowledging that fact, and extending the ability of creating subdeacons (whether they be ordained or installed) to all Bishops of the Latin Church would be helpful, and would be in keeping with paragraph 7 of Ministeria quaedam.

    I guess I don’t have doctrinal problems with the conciliar definition of the priesthood, either as expressed in the conciliar documents or the Code.

    The insertion of new saints into the old calendar is, indeed, fairly minor, but is a question, and the manner in which it should be done (e.g., does St. Maximilian Kolbe “bump” St. Eusebius out of his spot on August 14, should the feasts which were transferred in the 1970 reordering of the calendar be transferred in some new reordering of the 1962 calendar?) Minor questions are still deserving of answers.

  24. RBrown says:

    “The problems could indeed be resolved by a Vatican Congregation, since Congregations have the ability to issue General Executory Decrees, or even, if the matter is approved in forma specifica by the Holy Father, to create law.

    The subdiaconate, despite the statement of Paul VI in Ministeria quaedam, did not cease to exist in the Latin Church sui iuris, and continued to be conferred, illicitly by the Society of Pius X, and since the mid-eighties, licitly by the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, etc. A motu proprio, or other papal statement acknowledging that fact, and extending the ability of creating subdeacons (whether they be ordained or installed) to all Bishops of the Latin Church would be helpful, and would be in keeping with paragraph 7 of Ministeria quaedam.”

    $$$
    1. A Motu Proprio is a decree that exercises papal power. It is not merely an acknowledgement of something or the other.

    2. The minor orders, subdiaconate, and first tonsure need to be restored not just permitted.

    3. The problems caused by Ministeria Quaedam concern the Church in general and are not merely relevant to various groups using the 1962 Missal.

    “I guess I don’t have doctrinal problems with the conciliar definition of the priesthood, either as expressed in the conciliar documents or the Code.”

    $$$ Why did you assume I meant doctrinal problems? I never mentioned a word about doctrine.

    Having said that, I’ll take this opportunity to link to an article written by a learned man to whom I am very close:

    http://christianorder.com/features/features_2001/features_nov01.html

    “The insertion of new saints into the old calendar is, indeed, fairly minor, but is a question, and the manner in which it should be done (e.g., does St. Maximilian Kolbe “bump” St. Eusebius out of his spot on August 14, should the feasts which were transferred in the 1970 reordering of the calendar be transferred in some new reordering of the 1962 calendar?) Minor questions are still deserving of answers.”

    $$$ Generally, this could be handled by producing a supplement similar to what is used by various religious orders as well as the Archiocese of Rome.

  25. RBrown: A couple things. First, I think there should simply be a new version of the Missal for the older rite that incorporates, mutatis mutandis the new calendar and texts for the more recently canonized. Second, the SSPX et al. might have been putting men through the ritual for subdeacon, but there were not thereby made clerics. This opens a whole can of worms about just what the minor orders do to a man ontologically, I suppose.

  26. Tim Ferguson says:

    while a motu proprio certainly is an exercise of papal authority, not everything contained in a motu proprio is an exercise of legislative or executive authority. The statement “given at Rome on August 15, 1972,” for example, does not decree that the date be henceforth referred to as August 15, 1972, it is, rather, an acknowledgement of fact (which acknowledgement may be erroneous). Similarly, a subsequent papal decree could acknowledge that the subdeaconate continued, in whatever form, in the Latin Church, through the actions of the SSPX, and through the legitimate actions of the FSSP and the ICKSP – as well as decree that said subdeaconate be restored.

    I apologize for presuming that, by “sloppy theology” behind the new Code, and “inadequate expression of priesthood” you were speaking doctrinally, however, I’m at a loss to determine, if not doctrinally, how your problem with the Codal description of the priesthood could be adjectivally expressed.

    Thank you for the link to Dr. Brown’s article on the confusion in the priesthood. I haven’t digested it entirely, but I do think that, from a quick read, he puts too much weight on the Code’s description of the priesthood, which is not meant to be a definition (a definition could better and more appropriately be found in the Catechism – since the Code deals with law, and therefore with human acts, it tends to avoid statements of ontology except insofar as they have juridical consequences).

    I do appreciate the conversation, and hope that it’s not seen as degenerating into bickering

  27. RBrown says:

    “Thank you for the link to Dr. Brown’s article on the confusion in the priesthood. I haven’t digested it entirely, but I do think that, from a quick read, he puts too much weight on the Code’s description of the priesthood, which is not meant to be a definition (a definition could better and more appropriately be found in the Catechism – since the Code deals with law, and therefore with human acts, it tends to avoid statements of ontology except insofar as they have juridical consequences).”

    I am the Dr Brown of whom you speak.

    1. In the article I referred to no. 276 for two reasons: First, others had previously written about the inadequacy of PO as a expression of the priestly life of those in religious institutes (which is about one third of all priests). Second, I wrote for a lay audience and thus wanted the clarity of canon law.

    2. I made no mention of ontology. The canon refers to obligations (and thus acts) that lead to perfection.

    3. Re 276: It concerns obligations and strongly states (imprimis) that pastoral duties come first. As I note in the article, this is not an adequate description of the obligations of a priest.

    4. Finally, I wrote the article after considerable research as well as extensive conversation with the aforementioned friend who was not only then dean of the faculty of Canon Law at the Angelicum but also a specialist in the question of Orders (I think he also was one of those who composed the new Code). He agreed with me.

  28. RBrown says:

    “RBrown: A couple things. First, I think there should simply be a new version of the Missal for the older rite that incorporates, mutatis mutandis the new calendar and texts for the more recently canonized. Second, the SSPX et al. might have been putting men through the ritual for subdeacon, but there were not thereby made clerics. This opens a whole can of worms about just what the minor orders do to a man ontologically, I suppose.”

    1. I would think that someday there would be new version of the 1962 Missal, but I don’t think that could be done now–the SSPX and others devoted to the Roman Rite are generally distrustful of Rome.

    2. I doubt that the ontological status of subdeacons and those in minor orders will ever be settled. To me it is enough to say that their tradition of 1700 years means that their suppression was a travesty.

  29. Dear Mr Jeffery BeBeau,

    Yes, you did mention that protocol in your posting and it is the same one. I am the culprit who posed that dubium to the Ecclesia Dei Commission. I don’t agree that the decision applies only to Australia, as Mr Ferguson suggests. Another dubia of mine concerned the inclusion of commemoration of Saints added to the calendar since 1962.

    Fr Z, I can assure you that the Commission’s statement concerned only those men who have had the ministry of acolyte conferred on them by a bishop. It has no application to those who “substitute” for acolyte.

    It is my view (for what it’s worth) that Minor Orders ceased to exist in the Western Church with the publication of Ministeria quaedam. Orders are now enjoined with the diaconate. As some commenters posted, a question arises as to whether bishops may confer “Minor Orders” and the subdiaconate according to the Tridentine Pontifical on those who are not candidates for Holy Orders (i.e. the diacontate or presbyterate). Another question which arises therefrom is whether that is desirable.

    One thing which is most desirable, I believe, is that the Holy See stipulate that females may not assist as altar servers during the Tridentine Rites and that Holy Communion during those Rites is ordinarily to be received on the tongue, whilst kneeling.

  30. Michael: >>One thing which is most desirable, I believe, is that the Holy See stipulate that females may not assist as altar servers during the Tridentine Rites and that Holy Communion during those Rites is ordinarily to be received on the tongue, whilst kneeling.<<

    Yes, that would be helpful. But I wonder if it is going to happen.

  31. Yes I wonder too Father. May I ask you to contact me regarding the various decisions of the ED Commission please Father?

  32. Michael,

    I’d also be interested in the various decisions of the ED Commission. In my research I have found that very little of the information seems to be avalible.