I got this question via e-mail:
In societies that use the 1962 Missal, when does a man become a cleric? The current 1983 Code says they become a cleric at the diaconate. Do societies like the FSSP and ICK have an indult? I know they have an indult to continue the subdiaconate, but are the subdeacons clerics?
This is the old question of when the clerical state begins… and we are not talking about being hired out of Madame Ethel’s Secretarial and Finishing Academy… though.. well… best leave that one alone.
For this question, everything depends on the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Canon 266.1: "A person becomes a cleric through the reception of the diaconate and is incardinated into the particular Church or personal prelature for whose services he has been advanced."
In the old days, under the old 1917 Code, the clerical state began when a man received his First Tonsure. In fact, the tonsure was the sign of the clerical state and for a very long time all clerics had to maintain the tonsure, in the case of most priests a round spot shaved on the top of their head… assuming they had hair there, of course. Some of us have pretty dramatic natural tonsures. Religious would have their heads shaved with a small band, or crown of hair around their heads.
Keep in mind the difference between the "religious" state and the "clerical" state. Men can be under vows in an order or institute of religious or consecrated life and not be a cleric. Not all religious are clerics and not all clerics are religious. "Cleric" refers more to a man who is incardinated, rather than under vows.
Historically, the clerical state was important for matters of jurisdiction in the case of prosecution (in some places clerics could not be tried in secular courts) and also who could have a "benefice", or a grant of the income deriving from property owned by the Church.
Until 1972 the four Minor Orders were clerics states, defined by the Council of Trent. After a man was tonsured, he would be "ordained" (though these are not sacramental Holy Orders as some medieval theologians thought)
- Porter or Ostiarius
While these were orders for clerics, they did not require a promise or vow of lifelong celibacy. That started with the next Order, Subdiaconate.
The Major Orders were:
Paul VI suppressed the minor orders in 1972, requiring that candidates for the diaconate and priesthood be "installed" in the stable ministries of Lector and Acolyte, the Acolyte subsuming the tasks of the old Acolyte and the Subdeacon.
The traditionalist groups such as the FSSP and the ICK, as well as others, have permission to put their men through the paces of the Minor Orders. However, none of these old orders makes a man a cleric. They can cut all the hair they want, but only ordination as a deacon makes a man a cleric, under law. So, in these traditional groups, we have to distinguish between their own internal customs, what they chose to do within their communities, and how the Church’s law sees the situation.
When the clerical state begins is very important for the Church’s laws. The clerical state exacts certain duties and there are censures which are applied to clerics. Also, the clerical state makes it possible to hold some offices in the Church.