QUAERITUR: ordination in traditional form without minor orders

From a reader:

I had a question regarding ‘regular’ seminarians getting Extraordinary Form ordinations. 

I’m going into the seminary this fall for my diocese, so it would be a while before I get to ordination (if, God willing, I do), but I’ve been wondering about something. 

If the bishop would permit an EF ordination, do you have to go through all the minor orders as part of that, or do you just get ordained as a deacon and priest using the appropriate rubrics? 

Not sure how that would work.

No, you would not have "climb the stairs", as it were, of the traditional minor orders.  You could be ordained a deacon or priest directly with the older form of ordination.

There is a fine logic to "climbing the stairs", but the validity of Holy Orders does not depend on the reception of the minor orders.

A word of advice. 

As a man about to enter the seminary, I wouldn’t bring it up.

That said, I am more and more of the opinion that we should rethink the changes made to these ministries and minor orders.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, SESSIUNCULA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. B.C.M. says:

    My friend, do not EVER EVER EVER ask this question or even remotely indicate you’re interested. I and a number of my seminary brothers were chased out of formation, dismissed, and explicitly harassed by formation directors, professors and other faculty of the seminaries we were in.

    Adopt the adage ‘submarine seminarian’. Never surface for air unless you’re certain that no enemies are about. And… I know this sounds terrible… Don’t trust ANYONE except your spiritual director. And make sure he’s not against you. Choose one that will support you and challenge you.

  2. ‘A word of advice.

    As a man about to enter the seminary, I wouldn’t bring it up.

    That said, I am more and more of the opinion that we should rethink the changes made to these ministries and minor orders.’

    Great advice, Fr. Z.
    On both counts.
    God will provide. He always does.

  3. In my estimation, one of the worst mistakes of the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy was the promulgation of Ministeria Quaedam. This was Paul VI’s 1972 motu proprio which, among other foolish things, suppressed the minor orders and swept away the sub-diaconate. Please note that these changes are not intrinsically connected to the Roman Missal of 1970; they came after the introduction of the new Ordo Missae. This cavalier approach to ancient offices in the Church served only to excite those who thought of the entire liturgy as something we whip up new each morning to suit our tastes, and the unintended effect of banishing the minor orders was, it seems to me, to undermine the understanding of laity and clergy alike of the sacred character of the major orders. This is most especially true of the sub-diaconate, which was revered from Christian antiquity. The radicals argued that the sub-diaconate and the minor orders were not Scriptural. Fine. Neither is the College of Cardinals or the dignity of Archbishop, but these institutions have served the Church well for many centuries. I can think of no better way to begin undoing the damage done by the Council-as-rupture crowd than restoring the minor orders and the sub-diaconate, even in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

  4. Fr Z is as always MOST PRUDENT. As a seminarian in the Ordinary Form, it would be most prudent to never make this request nor mention it to any seminarians, faculty members or diocesan clergy. IF, however, the Bishop asks if anyone wishes to be ordained according to the Extraordinary Form and it seems as if he legitimately will allow it, THEN you can come forward. Some bishops, including mine (Cardinal Keeler) asked me and my classmates if any of us wanted to be ordained by the Pope. Diocesan custom was to allow the ordinandi the option of being ordained at home with his classmates or in Rome by the Pope. I would have asked but my younger brother who had Muscular Dystrophy, would not have been able to attend and of course one of my parents would have had to remain behind to care for him. Hence, I opted to be ordained here in the USA so my entire family could be with me as well as my four classmates and my close and dear friends from the seminary.

    I do agree with Fr Z that the suppression of the minor orders needs to be revisited. Any pope could restore them in the Ordinary Form. While you are in the seminary for eight to twelve years, having these milestones are helpful. The ministries of lector, acolyte and candidacy are there but often seminaries or dioceses give more than one in the same academic year whereas in the Extraordinary Form, you have something to look forward to each year of you major seminary formation. The Byzantine Catholic Church still retains these minor orders as I remember serving Bishop William Skurla’s (now Eparch of Passaic) subdiaconate in the seminary. While I would not want canon law changed to make the recipients clerics before diaconate, the tradition, beauty and elegance of these orders and the encouragement they give to those ‘in the pipleline’ so to speak, I think make it worth revisiting.

  5. Jack Hughes says:

    Does anyone know if one has to be a submarine seminarian at Holy Apostles in conneticet? only reason is that its likely I’ll be going there if my vocation with the fathers of mercy works out.

  6. B.C.M. says:

    I would say, when in doubt…


  7. ray from mn says:

    A priest who currently blogs once answered this question with “Your job as a seminarian is to get ordained! Do nothing to endanger that!”

    A second vocation friend was ordained in the Ordinary Form some years ago. When the powers that be at his seminary found out that he celebrated his first Mass in the Extraordinary Form, they took him off their mailing list.

  8. David1 says:

    I have a silly question: if the goal is be ordained under the extraordinary form, why not join the FSSP or the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest seminar in the first place?

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Two seminaries I know well, friends of the family, wish the minor orders were established in order to make the process “deeper and more real”. Both think the minor orders would encourage vocations. They will never mentioned it in their liberal seminaries. They have learned to be wise and prudent, if not just plain concerned they would be asked to leave, if it were known how orthodox they both are.

  10. Goes to show – if at all possible, go to Denton (the FSSP).

    Certainly it was careless to abolish these ancient and venerable orders, all part of the ‘aggiornamento’, ‘updating’ trend to make the Church more ‘modern and streamlined’ – because of course in the modern world when something doesn’t have a specific purpose it has no value.

    I am strongly in favour of the re-establishment of the minor orders, and not only for those in priestly formation. Having actual clerical acolytes and lectors in every parish that were properly trained for their liturgical roles would be a boon to not only the New Rite but the Old as well. Remember that in the Old Rite, anyone in minor orders may serve as a Subdeacon and chant the Epistle, the latter even in a sung Mass. Remember also that minor clerics (except Subdeacons) may marry after ordination, so celibacy is not an issue.

    Permanent Subdeacons could serve as such in the Old Rite. In everyday life they could act as assistants to permanent Deacons, as was perhaps once the case. There are good reasons why clerics who are not priests should not in our time serve as Exorcists, but it is not bad that priests are ordained specifically for this role.

    Porters could perform the duties of ushers or sacristans, not too far from their original role.

    Wouldn’t this be true Traditionalism? As well as consistent with the conservative Vatican II vision of ‘going back to the roots’.

  11. Geoffrey says:

    “I have a silly question: if the goal is be ordained under the extraordinary form, why not join the FSSP or the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest seminar in the first place?”

    Perhaps he wants to say Mass in both forms of the Roman Rite?

    It seemed that the minor orders were reformed into ministries because they had lost their traditional emphasis. Exorcists, for example. Only ordained priests, with the permission of their bishop, can perform exorcisms (even before Vatican II), so this one made no sense to me.

    I think if instituted lectors and acolytes were more widespread, things would be very different. And remember, Pope Paul VI said that instituted acolytes could be called subdeacons. We have all the pieces; we just have to put them together!

  12. Jack Hughes says:

    @David I

    Perhaps said seminarian is called to be a Diocison Priest, also remember that if you are ICKSP or FSSP you need the persmission of the Bishop to operate, perhaps said seminarian wants to quitely introduce Traditon into his Diocese

  13. Lee says:

    “Does anyone know if one has to be a submarine seminarian at Holy Apostles in conneticet? only reason is that its likely I’ll be going there if my vocation with the fathers of mercy works out.”

    I hope not, because a submarine seminarian would never identify oneself as such in the blogsphere! Submerge and go silent…if you can. We need good priests!

  14. Jack Hughes says:


    come to think of it, it was a stupid question, the Fathers of Mercy are an excellent congregation, they wouldn’t knowingly send thier seminarians to somewhere where there was madness going on.

  15. JPG says:

    1. Along with a number of other changes one of the dumbest was the abolition of the minor orders. It served no purpose. The “steps “allow one to grow into the the vocation. this is simply proper psychology as well as spiritual formation. It comes with any profession.
    2. I would suggest keeping one’s mouth shut. Even conservative clergy have a a learned dislike of the traditional forms and will turn you out. I say this from comments made by clergy who are not liberal in the least but have had the hermeneutic of rupture so inculcated that those people with any traditional sympathies are viewed as reactionary dissenters. I am a layman who is 50 and express my sympathies only sparingly. I do not attend a “giant puppet” NO Parish in fact our Pastor drew cheers when he moved the tabernacle to the center behind the altar of Sacrafice and not a side altar. This made the Tabernacle the focus of the Church and not a breadbox off to the side. This Pastor would not welcome a TLM but I assure you he is as orthodox as any writer here. So to the prospective Seminarian tread very lightly and pray. The restof us ought to pray for you as well.

  16. JPG says:

    As to Mr Ertner suggestion of reinstituting in the Parishes this would seem to be a good idea.
    It draws a level of committment on the part of the man.

  17. @David I, Geoffrey, and Jack Hughes: I’ve considered the FSSP and ICKSP, but I don’t think God wants me there. We need good priests in the dioceses before things will really start to change. So, yeah, pretty much it’s a matter of being able to change things in the ‘average’ parish, hopefully for the better.

    I’ll keep my mouth shut for now. I’ll see how things progress as I go on.

    Just to put this in a bit of context –

    * Our recently retired bishop did an ordination for the FSSP
    * The current bishop specifically requested that one of our recently ordained priests go and learn the EF so he can say it for a group in one of our parishes
    * The current bishop is aware of my traditional inclinations (Latin Mass, kneeling for Communion, etc), but he doesn’t seem to care, nor do any of the priests at the seminary, as far as I can tell
    * The seminary I will be attending uses cassock and surplice for serving Mass and formal functions…other things are in the pipeline

    That being said…I’ll still be careful. Thanks for the info, Father.

    St. John Vianney, pray for us!

  18. chatto says:

    What are everyone’s thoughts on non-seminarians being instituted as Lectors and Acolytes (in the Ordinary Form)? I know it’s possible, and didn’t Cardinal Pell do it for a group in his diocese last year? I can think of a good half-dozen young men in my diocese in England who aren’t discerning priesthood (they’re studying to be doctors, or teachers, or starting their own businesses), but who serve as lay MC’s at parishes, and are dedicated to their prayer lives and the Church’s liturgical traditions. What would be the benefits and drawbacks of forming them to carry out these sub-diaconate roles?

  19. One of those TNCs says:

    I was surprised and most pleased to see the illustration of the major and minor orders, since it is also in my copy of My Catholic Faith (c. 1949, rev. 1956 ed.) I turned to it after finding out that our local cathedral has an acolyte, or subdeacon, serving there (it seems that the definitions of these two have been blurred a little) and I wanted to find out more about it. This particular acolyte/subdeacon was a joy to watch. No, he was not the focus of my attention; Eucharistic adoration was. But the novelty – I had never seen a subdeacon “in action” before – and the reverence and precision with which he served made me thank God that there are still such dedicated, humble and well-trained men willing to serve in this capacity.

  20. jrotond2 says:


    What are your (or anyone else’s) thoughts about instituted Lectors and Acolytes in EF parishes? I would be speaking of non-seminarian laymen (married or single). In fact, I know of a married man who has functioned as a straw-subdeacon at the FSSP church in Littleton, CO and he is not an instituted Acolyte (rather, a dedicated layman well versed in matters liturgical). My pastor here in our exclusively EF parish (diocesan) is very much in favor of having instituted Lectors and Acolytes from among the ranks of laymen parishioners, but the bishop is probably not amenable to doing so (even in the OF). My personal take is that if we allow such, including layman as straw sub-deacons, that this is another way we can augment the liturgical life of the parish especially by more Solemn High Masses and publicly celebrated Divine Office services.


  21. Father S. says:

    “There is a fine logic to “climbing the stairs”, but the validity of Holy Orders does not depend on the reception of the minor orders.”

    Further, any validly ordained deacon (EF, OF, Eastern Rite, etc.) receives all minor orders at ordination, as, sacramentally, higher authority subsumes lower authority.

  22. I agree that in hindsight, the change of the minor orders was not wise. But I do not think it was either careless or foolish.

    At the Council of Trent* the Fathers there earnestly urged that the minor orders be restored to use within the parishes, particularly because their being conferred solely within seminaries and amongst priests in training was held up to ridicule by the Protestants. This directive from Trent was no more followed, unfortunately, than was regular praying of the office with the people in the parishes.

    The impetus for the change in the minor orders (which, as has been argued on this blog recently, has not really changed them from being the sacramentals they always were, even if “ministry” is used instead of “minor order” and “institution” instead of “ordaination”) was to have ministries that were actually employed in our churches. It seemed to Pope Paul and his counselors that lectors and acolytes would be the two ministries (along with the diaconate, which was also restored as a ministry that actually exists outside of sacerdotal training, and which restoration has been a success) that would best fit the needs of the Church. I don’t disagree, although the ministries were never promoted as the Pope desired.

    What derailed the spread of these ministries in the Church, is that they are reserved to males, and the reluctance of the bishops to insist on both the use of these ministries in the parishes and their reservation to males as required. It was only shortly after the promulgation of the 1970 Missal that women, along with laymen, began to serve as pro tem readers (do people remember how at first they were not permitted to read from the ambo, but had to stay outside of the sanctuary) and extraordinary ministers of holy communion (one of the acolyte’s roles). Because women can’t be installed as lectors and acolytes, men also aren’t (unless they are destined to be deacons or priests).

    Pope Paul was counting on more backbone from his bishops. After 1968 and Humanae Vitae it’s hard to see why he thought spines would suddenly appear, but that seems to me what has happened. Perhaps getting the two ministries put into service as intended in Ministeriam Quaedam would be a good first step to restoration of the minor orders. (Although ordaining someone to be an exorcist, if he is not going to be able to exercise the ministry, seems to be rather pointless. If priests alone, and only some of those, are to be allowed to exercise this ministry, then I wouldn’t see a compelling reason to restore that particular ministry. The Church seems to have decided that this particular work is best done only with the additional armor that sacerdotal ordination confers.)

    *That the functions of holy orders from the deacon to the porter, which have been laudably received in the Church from the times of the Apostles, and which have been for some time discontinued in many localities, may again be restored to use in accordance with the canons, and may not be derided by the heretics as useless, the holy council, burning with desire to restore the ancient usage, decrees that in the future such functions shall not be exercised except by those constituted in these orders, and it exhorts in the Lord each and all prelates of the churches and commands them that they make it their care to restore these functions…in cathedral, collegiate and parochial churches of their dioceses. (23rd Session, Chapter XVII)

  23. Gladiolus says:

    Paul VI opened a veritable Pandora’s Box with the reform of the Minor Orders, scrapping some and turning the remaining ones into “ministries”. His comment in #7 of the Motu Proprio which says that “In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, institution to the ministries of reader and acolyte is reserved to men” seems irrational – if they are only ministries and not Orders, why should they be limited to men, given the context of his reform which is “in accordance with the reality itself and with the contemporary outlook”? As “ministries” this is very hard to defend; as Orders, it is simply obvious that they cannot be open to women. Further, he admits the importance of the Major Order of Subdiaconate but then subsumes it into the “ministry” of lector. All of this, by his words, is motivated by the desire for “full and active participation by all the people” which “is the aim to be considered before all else” [really very worrying that last part, but he was Supreme Pontiff, so who am I to criticise?] . There is an implicit contradiction if you say the Minor Orders are not Orders but ministries, and therefore not specifically attached to formation of future priests, and open them up to all the faithful, but then restrict them to men. Far worse, by removing the Minor Orders (and one of the Major ones as well) for seminarians, their progress and growth in holiness, which, God-willing, accompanies their formation, finds no external recognition, or, indeed, means of expression (at least in an ecclesial context).
    As far as the future is concerned, I believe the first step is to work with what we have – the role of the Subdeacon should be reintroduced into the OF of the Mass, and, lectors (if available) should perform it. Subdiaconate then needs to be restored as a Major Order and the remaining “ministries” re-examined – since it is patently obvious that the reforms introduced by Paul VI in Ministeria Quaedam have certainly not advanced the ideal of “full and active participation by all the people” (and how could they?) but have only weakened the training of Priests.

  24. Gladiolus says:

    Oh yes, and for our future seminarian, mum’s the word (I hope you understand that the other side of the pond).

  25. The reason for referring to the minor orders as ministries rather than orders was, I believe, to distinguish them clearly from the major orders. After all, this continuing precision in language is a feature of a deepening theology of orders, which has been rather undeveloped in some ways. (Theology is often deepened in the face of challenges to traditional practice and prayer, as in the doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation following the Arian crisis, and the doctrine of transsubstantiation following the growth of nominalist philosophy in the West.)

    Our current understanding of the Sacrament of Orders is that there are three orders conferred by the sacrament: Episcopacy, Priesthood and Diaconate. That has not always been understood so clearly; some theologians in past ages submitted that there were seven orders (as in the illustration with this post) and that the episcopate wasn’t a separate order, but part of the priesthood, while others classified the four major orders as part of the Sacrament and the four minor orders as not. Reserving the term “orders” for only those states conferred by the Sacrament, and “ministries” for those functions instituted by the Church makes the distinction clear.

    An example of the confusion that using the same terms can bring is the continuing kerfuffle over women deacons. The early texts use the Greek term for ordination for deaconesses just as it does for deacons, even though there are other places where the two offices are clearly distinguished. But it has led even the Greek Orthodox to question whether women received a Sacrament of Orders or not. This was precisely what led to ordination for women in the Episcopal Church: the ancient order of deaconesses was restored, then it was decided that the ancient texts referred to ordinations (as in Holy Orders) and women were ordained deacons. And thence to the illegal ordinations of 1973 in Philadelphia and on to the blessing of the same in 1976 in the U.S. English liberals used the example and texts to bring about the same changes in the Church of England and liberals within the Catholic Church agitate on the same basis. The confusion of imprecise terminology (imprecise because it was still developing) is no aid to a clear theology.

    As to Gladiolus’ comments on the lectors and subdiaconate, actually some of the functions of the subdiaconate were assigned to the lectors (such as reading lessons) and some to the acolytes. And it is the acolytes, within Ministeriam Quaedam which are entitled to the use the title “subdeacon” as determined by bishops conferences, not the lectors.

  26. These comments about minor orders have been very interesting. Is there a good resource to find out more about them (internet or book)? Also, how can one find out if a given diocese does have official instituted minor orders, esp. lector and acolyte? Thanks.


  27. Dr. Eric says:

    These stories about the seminaries make me absolutely sick. I am disgusted and appalled at the disdain for Holy Mother Church and Her traditions. I don’t know how any of the good priests made it through.

    St. Jean Vianney pray for us!

  28. Fr. Newman (or anyone else),

    What was the role of the sub-deacon in the 1969 Missal? Were there rubrics governing what he did during the Mass? I find this very interesting as I had always imagined the sub-diaconate being suppressed before the introduction of the new missal.


  29. robtbrown says:

    Steve Cavanaugh,

    1. The minor orders were already distinguished from the major orders by the words “minor” and “major”

    2. The move away from minor orders was so that they could be called “lay ministries”. MQ is explicit about this.

    3. The use of the word Transsubstantatio (formally, by the Church in 1215 but theologically before that) predates the rise of Catholic nominalism.

    4. In so far as you’ve cited Trent, we should also note that Trent said that there are seven degrees of Holy Orders, incl sub-deacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, and porter.

    5. The understanding of the nature of the episcopate was settled long ago, with the distinction between potestas ordinis and potestas iurisdictionis. I don’t doubt there is still confusion, but IMHO a proper understanding of the distinction clears up the matter.

    6. I agree that MQ was an effort for the minor orders (now lay ministries) to live outside the seminaries. The consequence, however, from MQ, is confusion. As a friend in Rome, now a English priest, told me: I had to send a formal request to my bishop, who then sent me a dimissorial letter. And what do I receive? A lay ministry.

    Although those efforts to improve parish life might have been of good intention, nevertheless, what they produced is just warmed-over Protestantism.

    7. Diaconate Ordination presents serious problems. In episcopal and presbyteral ordination the ordinati are given Sacramental power, a character having been imprinted on the soul. The Deacon is also said to receive a character–but receives no Sacramental power.

    If the deacon, however, receives a character but no Sacramental power, then why cannot it also be said that the sub-diaconate and minor orders also receive a character? (There was serious tradition of this approach).

  30. Ed the Roman says:

    Gee, I was going to ask what it was that lectors read. I do remember the 1962 Mass, but not in great enough detail to recall this.

    Perhaps the fact that we never, ever went to a high mass explains how I missed what lectors did. My father would have stuck needles in his eyes before he went to a high mass. He may have changed his mind about this by now, but I haven’t asked him yet.

  31. chatto says:


    I’m with you in thinking that they’d be a boon to parish life in the OF and EF. As everyone has noted, they simply don’t exist in the OF, and most in Solemn Masses I’ve seen evidence of (I’ve never been to one), the Deacon and Sub-Deacon are generally priests. It seems we’ve got the same situation in our respective dioceses, with dedicated laymen, “well versed in matters liturgical”, but without any real place in the liturgy. I can only hope that as with the re-establishment of the permanent Diaconate, it’s only a matter of time before this reform really kicks in.

Comments are closed.