QUAERITUR: TLM “straw” subdeacon

From a reader:

I serve Low Mass five or six days out of the week as well as participating in Sunday Vespers, so my priest recently asked if I would be able to serve as the straw subdeacon for the Mass. I expressed my willingness, but when I started to read, I found out that the Church mandates straw subdeacons to be Instituted Acolytes. This was the first time I had even heard of such a status, and after researching it, I don’t know anyone that would be, unless it is the same thing as a “lay minister.”

My priest is prudent and knowledgeable man, so I don’t think he would ask me unless he thought it permissible. I want to be obedient to the Church, and I also want to help make a Solemn High Mass for the Easter Vigil possible. I plan on contacting a transitional deacon from an adjoining diocese to see if he would be able to do it, but if he can’t, is this something that, while not ideal, I could do this once.

If you can do it once, you can do it more than once.

When for good or ill Pope Paul VI suppressed the minor orders with Ministeria quaedam, he said that the role of the subdeacon was assumed by the new version of lector and acolyte.  He also said that  Acolyte 2.0 could be called “subdeacon”.

In the past, even though the rubrics assumed that those serving in all roles in the sanctuary were tonsured clerics, the non-tonsured, non-cleric substituted for altar servers in the natural course of things.  So it is today.  So it is that non-acolytes and non-lectors substitute for those installed ministries
now.  Let’s say the “beta” version of Acolyte 2.0.

Moreover, the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei once responded to a question posed by the Australian Ecclesia Dei Society in the early nineties about this very issued.  The reference for this PCED letter is 7 June 1993, Prot. 24/92 to the Australian Ecclesia Dei Society. The PCED said then that, yes, an officially installed acolyte could take the role of the subdeacon in a Solemn Mass if a cleric wasn’t there to take the role.

It seems to me quite reasonable that a non-installed lay person could substitute for an installed acolyte lay person in the role of subdeacon, who would not now be a cleric anyway in the Latin Church.

An installed acolyte would not wear a maniple.  He would not wipe the chalice after the ablusions, etc.

That said, I doubt that a non-installed acolyte substituting for an absent subdeacon in a solemn TLM is an “abuse”.

It is not the ideal, but it wasn’t an abuse in the past when things were far stricter in many ways.  Someone who says it is an abuse should produce his own documentation saying that it is.

For notes and documentation, you need to 1983 Code, Ministeria quaedam, and you can get help from the new (and older) edition of Fortescue-O’Connell edited by Reid.

The can of worms opened up by this line of argument is that there has been an official interpretation of CIC 1983 can. 230 §2 indicating that females can substitute for absent acolytes and lectors in some liturgical actions.  If that is the case, what – other than common sense, a horror of the downright wrong, and a healthy sense of self-preservation – would prevent a female from substituting for the absent acolyte who would be substituting for the absent cleric to take the role of subdeacon in a Solemn or even Pontifical TLM?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. berenike says:

    Apparently Fisher House in Cambridge has women serving the EF.


  2. C. says:

    Fisher House Contact:

    Fr Alban McCoy OFM Conv. B.A.(Kent), M.Litt.(Oxon)
    Phone: 01223 742190
    E-mail: chaplain@fisherhouse.org.uk

  3. JARay says:

    I actually am an Instituted Acolyte. I was instituted by the late Archbishop Lancelot Goody in 1975 in his Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia along with about 100 other men. A neighbouring parish has a number of women who think that they are Acolytes, but they are not. Their parish priest, who was into all things weird and wonderful, now deceased, instituted them himself and referred to them as Acolytes. Archbishop Goody instituted Acolytes because he was determined that women would never take over on his altars. With his death that all changed!
    Sic transit gloria mundi!

  4. Bthompson says:

    If acolyte now is equivalent to subdeacon, would a man instituted Accolyte in the OF be straw or a real subdeacon were he to serve?
    I ask to define the category, I am not planning on assisting any solemn high masses.

  5. cpaulitz says:

    Ecclesia Dei has actually ruled against a lay subdeacon.

    It happened one year ago in a letter to a man at my parish. Msgr. Perl said that only ordained priests or deacons could act as subdeacon.

  6. Gail F says:

    I have no answer for the question. I just wanted to say how much I like the term “straw subdeacon.”

  7. Deacon John Nusse says:

    JARay makes an important point in his posting, namely that many people in the church have a misunderstnading of what an Instituted Acolyte is due to the aspect that most parishes refer to anyone serving at Mass as an “acolyte”. An individual, who must me a male, can only be made an Instituted Acolyte by the local Ordinay and his functions in the liturgy are not transferable to anyone else who may be functioning at a parish, either as a server or as an EMHC. The same applies to the office of Lector; many parishes call thier readers lectors which I think adds to the confusion.

  8. The custom of a non-installed and/or untonsured “straw subdeacon” has long been tolerated, if not actually officially sanctioned. Often a typical parish would not be able to have a Solemn High Mass, say, for Christmas or Easter, unless they pressed the sacristan or the janitor, or some other mature gentleman of the parish, into service. There are two fine gentlemen in the DC area who have performed this function in the past. Neither has any illusions about themselves, and will do it only for the greater good, and only if asked.

    Obviously, a major cleric (priest, deacon, and/or subdeacon in those institutes and orders which have them) is preferable.

  9. Ezra says:

    Fisher House definitely has had women serving for the EF Mass, as I discovered while visiting Cambridge after the publication of Summorum Pontificum: requests for the EF resulted in a Saturday evening vigil Mass with serviettes. Whether this was Fr Alban McCoy’s little joke at the expense of traditionalists or a result of genuine ignorance is debatable.

  10. Gaz says:

    I believe that the allowance made in Australia that Fr Z refers to followed something back in the 1950s that said that a man who wasn’t an ordained sub-deacon could supply for a sub-deacon at high Mass. This was due to Australia’s status as mission territory.

    It’s not ideal, but then again, neither is a Missa Cantata. What do they say? “Aim high and do the best with what you’ve got”. It’s a heck of a lot better than “It’s optional, we won’t bother with that”.

  11. moon1234 says:

    I wonder what Bishops create then when they ordain men into minor orders today? Are they preforming a meaningless ceremony that has no effect? This would seem to almost be sacriligious if that is truely the case.

    I would like to think that the minor orders are supressed in the Novus Order, since (with the exception of Acolyte and Lector) they are not mentioned at all. In the EF, I think you would have a rift form for those who have “come over” from other groups such as SSPX, SSPV, CMRI, etc. if lay men start filling roles intended for clerics.

    A BETTER solution would be for the Bishops of this world to start ordaining MORE mend into minor orders for the TLM. If ICRSS, FSSP, etc. all have ordinations to the minor orders then why would a normal diocese not be able to ALSO have ordinations to the minor orders? This would then eliminate the problem of having properly instituted men to fulfill the roles that lay men are being pressed in to.

    I, for one, would love to study for ordination to the minor orders. Since Sub-Deacon was always a minor order, a married man could be ordained as subdeacon. I think that bringing back the minor orders, now that we have SP, would be a wonderful way to foster vocations.

  12. SimpleCatholic says:

    @ Fr. Z: “would prevent a female from substituting….”

    A stampede of angry mantillas from the congregation, perhaps….

  13. jcr says:

    An installed acolyte… would not wipe the chalice after the ablutions, etc.

    Why not? It is the function of an instituted acolyte to help the priest or deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. When no deacon is present, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes, and arranges them in the usual way (GIRM 192). If he can wipe the chalice in other circumstances, why can’t he do so in a solemn Mass?

  14. @ Fr. Z: “would prevent a female from substituting….”

    A stampede of angry mantillas from the congregation, perhaps….

    A woman who wears a mantilla would rather be caught dead than serve as a subdeacon…

  15. everett says:


    Acolytes are not ordained, they are installed. There is no indelible mark placed on the soul. That being said, I agree with your thought that the instituted Acolyte (and Lector) should be used far more than they currently are. It’d be another good way to work toward dealing with the EMHC “problem” as when an acolyte is present, that person is supposed to be an EMHC over any non-instituted person.

  16. moon1234 says:


    I will need to ask our Priest’s if this is something + Bishop Morlino may be interested in doing. He has been very open to tradiaiton. I know we will need to approach him about EF confirmations within the next few years. I have six, soon to be 7, children so I would like to know sooner rather than later. Many in the TLM community have been going down to Rockford, IL when + Bishop Doran has EF confirmations at St. Mary’s in Rockford (ICRSS).

  17. JCR:

    The restriction refers specifically to the Traditional Mass, where the role of a subdeacon is specifically defined. In the reformed liturgy, the duties of the subdeacon were transferred to the acolyte. Your reference to the GIRM does not apply here.

  18. Federico says:

    Why not just petition the diocesan bishop to be instituted an acolyte if this will be an ongoing desire to serve the Church (this is not a vocation)? The priest could support it and a canonist could surely be found to work, pro-bono, in support of the petition should the bishops refuse.

  19. SimonDodd says:

    Excuse my ignorance but if the role of subdeacon no longer requires ordination, could someone explain why it would be “quite reasonable” for a regular layman to substitute for an installed acolyte layman in the role of subdeacon, yet “a horror of the downright wrong” for a non-installed laywoman to substitute for an installed acolyte layman in the role of subdeacon?

  20. wolfeken says:

    I do not understand why some believe there is a “right” to a Solemn High Mass when the necessary components are not there. If you do not have a schola/choir, you do not have a “right” to slop together a Missa Solemnis using a CD player. If you do not have a processional cross, you do not have the “right” to hold up a printout of a cross while processing. If you do not have two ordained men to serve as inferior ministers, then have a Missa Cantata.

    The Missa Cantata is not ideal, as some have noted, but there is permission to have incense and torchbearers with that liturgy. So use it. Don’t cheapen the Missa Solemnis by making stuff up. A layman wearing a tunicle is an insult to many traditional Catholics who take the time to play by the rules — which are often difficult rules to say the least. But the rubrics have been written for a reason, giving us a high bar for which to aim — not one to see how we can wiggle around it.

  21. Ioannes Andreades says:

    There are an awful lot of inconsitencies about various ministries, and I think that the Holy Father should issue some sort of Ap. Const. to deal with issues just like the one on hand. It seems that these inconsistencies existed even before the reforms. It was probably a bad idea to consider as the ideal for mass (priest, real deacon, real subdeacon) a situation that almost never existed. I don’t mind that the post VII reforms removed the position of subdeacon from solemn masses (though why they had to be removed from solemn pontifical masses, which could certainly have actual deacons and subdeacons on hand, makes no sense). But the new ideal that said that every minister’s function needed to correspond to their instituted/ordained level still had gaping loopholes such as the one under discussion. Thus there was the proliferation of concelebrations, replete with priests who do very little save at the consecration and non-instituted lay people performing the roles of “minsters”. But why is it okay for non-instituted lay people, who are not part of the “ministerial” priesthood, to take the place of instituted ministers, while it is not for those of the ministerial priesthood? Why can’t priests assume the roles of deacon? Thus, for some reason, it is okay for a lay person to perform the deacon’s task of reading the General Intercessions , even if there are dozens of concelebrants (and–even at Papal masses–deacons). However, the proclamation of the Gospel is restricted to clerics. This dichotomy makes no sense. Who better to fulfill the roles of ministers than those of the ministerial priesthood? Either ministry/ministerial means something or it doesn’t. Maybe the roles of lector, acolyte, etc. should not be considered “ministries” if we want to reserve the word “ministerial” to those who have attained Holy Orders. It would have made more sense to say that there are liturgical roles–not minisries–for the laity (congregation, choir, acolyte, reader) and ministries needing to be performed by ordained clergy, thus eliminating EMHCs and lay people reading the Gen. Interc’s. To the extent that this distribution is undesirable, reverting to the pre-Vat II arrangement seems preferable to what we have.

  22. This is what The Casuist (1908 — from a moral theology point of view) has to say:
    The general law of the Church forbids a cleric, under pain of incurring irregularity, to exercise solemnly, a sacred order that he has not received (“Clericus qui scienter et sollemniter exercet ordinem sacrum, quem non habet, fit irregularis”). In the first place it must be observed that the canon is directed against clerics, i. e., one must be at least a tonsured clerk, to fall under the canon. Therefore a layman, who, pretending to be a priest, should say Mass, or hear Confessions, would not incur any irregularity by such acts, although he would sin very grievously. One must be at least tonsured to be affected by this canon. The next thing to be observed is that irregularity is incurred only when a cleric exercises a sacred order, which he has not received. Since the discipline of the Church to-day allows laymen to exercise solemnly the minor orders, clerics do not become irregular for exercising them. The irregularity begins with the solemn exercise of the subdeaconate by a minor cleric. The other terms of the canon that require an explanation are:

    1. Scienter – The cleric must know that he has not the sacred order, which he is now exercising, and moreover he must be aware of the irregularity. If he be ignorant of the irregularity, he does not sin grievously, and therefore does not incur the censure.

    2. Sollemniter – When do canonists consider a cleric to have solemnly exercised a sacred order? If the act which the cleric exercises, is never exercised, except by those who have received the order, then it is always done sollemniter. For instance, since Extreme Unction is never administered except by an ordained priest, a cleric not in priest’s orders, who would attempt to anoint the dying, would necessarily act solemnly and become irregular. But if the order which the cleric exercises, is sometimes exercised by others than those who have received it, v. g. one in minor orders may sometimes act as subdeacon at a solemn Mass, then a cleric is said to exercise solemnly a sacred order, which he has not received if he exercises the act *exactly* like those do who have received the order and if he wears the *distinctive ornament* of the sacred order. Thus the *distinctive ornament of a subdeacon is the maniple*, and of the deacon the stole. If a clerk in minor orders acts as subdeacon at a solemn Mass and wears the maniple, he becomes irregular. If he omits the maniple, he does not incur any irregularity.

    On March 10, 1906, the Congregation of Rites issued a decree which was confirmed by the Holy Father, and which covers the points at issue here. The decree says:
    “Clericus ad munus subdiaconi obeundum in Missa solemni, nunquam deputetur, nisi adsit rationabilis causa et in minoribus ordinibus sit constitutus, aut saltem sacra tonsura initiatus.”

    The decree forbids laymen to act as subdeacons in a solemn Mass. The wording is “numquam deputetur.” That a man who is not in subdeacon’s orders, may act as a subdeacon at a solemn Mass, two conditions are required:
    1. That the man be at least tonsured.
    2. That there be real need for him to act.

    Here it might be inquired whether it be the purpose of the decree to forbid even seminarians, who are not tonsured, to act as subdeacons in a case of necessity. We hardly think it is. The decree seems to be intended primarily for those countries where every person who begins to study for the priesthood is immediately tonsured, even though he be but a young boy. In those countries, generally speaking, there are no seminarians who are not tonsured. The custom exists in some countries of Europe on solemn feasts, of having a layman, not a seminarian, but a man who has no notion of ever being a priest, act as subdeacon.

    Even a married man, v. g. the sexton of the church or the sacristan is at times permitted to take the place of the subdeacon. If there were a seminarian in the parish, he of course would be tonsured and very likely in minor orders and in a few years a subdeacon. His acting as subdeacon would not scandalize the faithful, whereas the participation of the layman in the sacred function does scandalize the faithful. In countries like the United States, young men, studying for the priesthood, live in the seminary and wear the cassock, although they may not be tonsured. They hold the same station among the laity as tonsured clerks do in other countries. They are looked upon as clerics and the same conduct is required of them as is required of tonsured clerks elsewhere. In a country like Germany, where many men follow the courses of theology at the university and intend to be priests, but who have never lived in a seminary, nor dressed as clerics, it is unbecoming to allow them to act as subdeacons, and we understand that the decree forbids such action. The decree includes also those young men who, in a country like France or Canada, enter the great seminary to test their vocation, but who do not adopt any clerical dress, nor in any way consider themselves as clerics. It is evident that these should not appear at the altar in sacred vestments to take part in a solemn Mass.

    In case a cleric not in sacred orders acts as subdeacon at a solemn Mass, the decree of the Congregation of Rites just mentioned makes a few observations for his guidance. He is to vest exactly like the subdeacon, omitting only the maniple. He is to perform all the ceremonies, as if he were a subdeacon, except the following:

    1. He must not pour the water into the chalice at the offertory, but must let the deacon do so.
    2. He must not touch the chalice infra actionem, nor cover it with the pall, nor uncover it.
    3. After the communion, he must not purify the chalice, the celebrant must purify it; after which he (the subdeacon) covers it with the veil and burse and carries it to the side table.

  23. And this is what the Benziger Brothers’ Ecclesiastical Diary and Ordo has to say:

    March 14, 1906. – I. [The Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites] Prohibits the practice of admitting clerical students who have not received Minor Orders, or at least sacred tonsure, to act as subdeacons in Solemn Mass; even a cleric in Minor Orders is not permitted to serve in the capacity of subdeacon, unless there be *reasonable* cause.

    There would be a reasonable cause if on the more solemn feasts or on occasion of a Solemn Requiem Mass no sacred minister would be present, or if present, he could not for some reason act as subdeacon. The cleric acting in such a capacity may perform all the duties of the subdeacon except that he is (1) not to wear the maniple, (2) not to pour the water into the chalice at the Offertory (which is to be done rather by the deacon), (3) not to touch the chalice, infra actionem, i.e. from the Communicantes to Communion, and (4) not to remove or put on the pall nor wipe the chalice (which is to be done by the celebrant). After communion he may cover the chalice with the veil and burse and carry it to the credence.

  24. So, my personal take on this is:

    Even in the old days, when there was nobody else to do it, a layman was asked to do it, as long as everything that needed to be omitted was omitted. If it is done the same way now, it should not be a big shock or source of scruple… but again, assuming that there’s a reasonable cause.

    Since we no longer have Subdeacons as part of the clerical state and those who would normally be instituted lectors or acolytes (even if they are given the name of Subdeacon) do not have a clue about how to be Subdeacon at a traditional Mass, it still falls on laymen (usually servers) who *know what they are doing* to step in when there’s no willing or knowledgeable cleric to be Subdeacon.

    I say willing because it’s been my experience that many Priests who say the traditional Mass do not really like being Subdeacon (for some unknown reason to me, this group sees the role of the Subdeacon as a “demotion”). But also, of course, the fact remains that nowadays lay servers, usually, know more about Rubrics that most Priests or Deacons that we run into.

    Regarding the case of laywomen: it was the “rule” in the old days that whatever caused “admiratio” had to be eliminated or was not to be allowed at all. No matter how common it is to see a woman in the Sanctuary in the context of a New Order Mass today, it would still be a *tremendous shock* to see a woman in the Sanctuary serving a Mass in the context of the traditional Mass… and it would be *much more* shocking to see her in Vestments acting as Subdeacon. That type of “admiratio” among the servers and the congregation does nothing to increase the glory of God or the spiritual benefit of the faithful.

    So, having a (knowledgeable) layman act as Subdeacon, while not ideal, in cases of reasonable need is O.K. as long as it does not become the regular custom and nothing is done about getting a cleric before asking a layman to act as Subdeacon.

  25. Father Z correct me if I am wrong in my statement. It seems to me that in times past, whenever, a non-ordained man served as sub deacon, he was canonically prohibited from advancing to Major Orders without a special dispensation.

  26. Christophorus says:

    According to Fortescue (O&R) 14th ed. on page 13 the Ecclesia Dei Commission has tolerated that installed accolytes may serve as ‘wooden’ or ‘straw’ sub deacons. The citation was – 7Jun1993 prot. 24/92.

  27. Hieromonk,

    Do you have particular examples? I do not think that your possible examples apply (or have ever applied) to the case in point: when there’s no one else to do it well.

    Of course, if you have someone who just does it for the sake of it, all the time and thinks himself to be a dully established Subdeacon even though he is not and demands to be treated as such, then yes, in that case the person should never be allowed in any degree of Holy Orders (Major or Minor). But that is not the context of this post/comments.

  28. SimonDodd says:

    Latinmass1983, that answer raises a host of questions. Presumably “admiratio” has an idiomatic or term-of-art sense of “shocking” rather than it’s literal sense of “wondererous,” otherwise the (indisputedly wonderous) blessed sacrament would have to go. On that understanding, your premise seem to be that if something would be shocking, it can’t happen. But shocking to whom? Can anyone with a fit of the vapors put a halt to something? Suppose your pastor agrees to have a one-off EF daily Mass, and when a trendy parishioner happens to walk in, he is shocked, just shocked, to see all that latin babble he thought we’d done away with. When he bends the pastor’s ear about his sense of “admiratio” at this distress, don’t you agree that the pastor ought to tell him to take a hike? One person’s professed shock can’t be enough, and it’s hard to draw a line, so perhaps the better way to think of it is if there is good reason to find it shocking, if a reasonable person would be shocked, then the rule you report is violated. But then… If laypeople can act as subdeacons, as a reasonable person should know, what is the reasoned basis for a reasonable person to be shocked at a layperson serving as a subdeacon? Can it really turn, as it seems, on the supposition that if one sees a man in the role, one either knows the man’s status or can erroneously make assumptions about it? And even stipulating that some people (not all) may find it shocking, how (to borrow your formulation) does it increase the glory of God or the spiritual benefit of the faithful to celebrate in the extraordinary form without a subdeacon rather than accept a laywoman’s service in that role, once it’s conceded that laymen can serve in that role?

  29. everett says:

    If in fact there is some connection between an acolyte and the suppressed subdeacon that makes it alright for a lay man to substitute, the reason a lay woman would be unacceptable is because a lay woman cannot be instituted as an acolyte (presumably because there is in fact that link).

  30. totustuusmaria says:

    This whole “Instituted Acolytes are instituted not ordained” thing is nothing more than a distinction of terminology. The common opinion for many years before ministeria quaedam was that ordination into the minor orders made the ordinand a sacramental but did not confer holy orders. The minority opinion was that of St. Thomas that it gave an indelible mark on account of the fact it couldn’t be repeated. The argument for the former was first that there was no laying on of hands and second that the minor orders were of ecclesial rather than apostolic origin. During the middle ages it was thought that the traditio or transfer of vessels alone conveyed orders, but Pius XII defined that the matter of the sacrament for the deaconate & priesthood was the laying on of hands alon. Since there is only the traditio & not the laying on of hands in the minor orders, it was generally assumed they were not Holy Orders. Pius XII’s opinion, however, was that if the Church ever did define the traditio as conveying holy orders, then it would be clear that the Church has the power over the matter of the sacrament. One issue, therefore, is the matter of the sacrament. Aother is that mitired abbots can ordain in the minor orders. So between the issues of matter & apostolic origin, the general opinion before the council was already that they were non-sacramental. I, by the way, think they are participations in Holy Orders.

    The Instituted ministries still touch the sacred vessels. They still have similar powers given — even greater powers in the case of acolytes, since the acolyte is now made a minister of Holy communion by virtue of his institution, a scandal if it is not a participation in Holy Orders (IMHO). In fact ministeria quaedam specifically says that the orders are now called ministies.

    I know of no reason why one can say that there is any ontological difference between them, except that the instituted ministers do nlt go through the ordo faciendi clerici. I suppose. This means that an instituted acolyte should not wear a berreta. But the instituted acolyte is as much an ordained minister as the ordained acolyte. In fact, he did what the subdeacon did. He touched the sacred vessels, ao you might say he is more so.

  31. SimonDodd,

    Let’s see if we can provide some clear answers to that “host of questions”…

    In the context in which it was used, the word means something negative, something shocking because it is scandalous, as in an abuse and a deviation from the rule and/or practice — not something that people think we got rid of after Vatican II. There are also different degrees of “shock.” (I think that as much as we may not like seeing girls serve Mass, it would be something much worse to see a woman act as Deacon or as Presider in a Catholic church… wouldn’t you agree?).

    So, while people may disagree with the use of Latin or the return of the traditional Mass, it cannot be put on the same level as or be considered the same nature of “admiratio” when used in relation to a woman acting as Subdeacon. Besides, the traditional Mass would *not* be an abuse or corruption of the official practice of the Church, since that Mass was used for centuries and many people still have memories of that. Plus, the traditional Mass does not go against the teachings of the Church.

    Having women in the Sanctuary taking the role of the Sacred Ministers, especially in the context of the traditional Mass, is something else. In addition to resembling the practice of some weird and invalid Anglican/Pentecostal mass, it is also something that most of the people attending a traditional Mass would know not to be the practice and tradition of the Church either before or after Vatican II.

    A Pastor who decides to establish a regular traditional Mass would normally annouce it to the people. So, there should not be any valid reason for fits of liberal fury (even though they might do it anyway).

    Usually, when a layman acts as Subdeacon, it tends to be someone known to the community because it tends to be one of the [more knowledgeable] servers and people will know whether he is a seminarian or not, or whether he is a cleric or not, etc. Also, as mentioned earlier, when a layman does this, it SHOULD only be in cases of emergency or reasonable need — it should not be a daily practice. Additionally, as said above, when a layman acts as Subdeacon, he omits the Maniple and some of the ceremonies that a cleric or a real Subdeacon would not omit. Some of these things are visible to the people and they should be able to notice the difference.

  32. SimonDodd says:

    Latinmass1983, I appreciate the thoughtful response; nevertheless, I have a few points of disagreement.

    1. I agree that it would certainly be shocking to see a woman purportedly “presiding” at what purported to be a Mass. Women can’t be priests (only the Church can make a priest and she has no authority to ordain women to the priesthood), and I might venture that this is another reason to object to the watering down of our terminology for what the priest does (a priest celebrates the Mass; when that is reduced to “presiding,” the function seems within striking distance of the laity). On the other hand, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a woman presiding over a communion service in a Catholic church; that happens routinely.

    2. All else being equal, I agree that it would be shocking to see a woman vested as and acting as a deacon: Whatever arguments one can make about ordaining women to the diaconate (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis doesn’t speak to the issue: “Ecclesiam facultatem nullatenus habere ordinationem sacerdotalem mulieribus conferendi, hancque sententiam ab omnibus Ecclesiae fidelibus esse definitive tenendam”; cf. CCC ¶ 1569), the Church has not decided the question and praxis can’t get ahead of doctrine. Now, before anyone rejoins “aha! So a female deacon would be shocking!,” my point of disagreement is that in the question we have here, all else isn’t equal. The shock would be from someone taking it upon themselves to act in a role they are not able to exercise because the Church cannot or has not authorized it. That is not the case here. As I understand it, the Church has said that a layman can substitute for a subdeacon in some circumstances, and so it’s unclear to me how it could be shocking for a member of the laity to act in a role that the Church has authorized. If I attend an EF Mass and see my friend Steve—who I know is not ordained—serving as subdeacon, that would not be shocking to me unless I was unaware that laypeople may act as subdeacons, and if I was aware of that, I wouldn’t be shocked if it was my friend Angela.

    3. I will happily stipulate that if we went back in time and put a female subdeacon in a TLM in 1900, it would cause shock. But while the TLM is in many senses transcendent of time, I’m not sure that I agree with your unstated premise that its celebration today is frozen in the context 1962. Why would it be shocking then (or in 1900)? Because at that time, no one had ever seen women serving within the sanctuary. Today, women routinely do so. Contrary to snide remarks by trendies, the folks who attend EF Masses aren’t bussed in from 1900; they cannot be unaware that we today have altar girls and the like, and so it’s hard for me to understand how the mere presence of a woman near the tabernacle—even if she is doing something the Church allows women to do—could be shocking to people in 2011 who are fully accustomed to what would have been shocking in 1900.

    4. If I understand your second paragraph, you’re saying that not even the trendiest of trendies could be legitimately shocked at seeing a TLM because “the traditional Mass does not go against the teachings of the Church.” If that is the criterion, I fail to see how one could be legitimately shocked at seeing a female subdeacon, because that doesn’t go against the teachings of the Church either. The Church teaches that only women can be ordained to the priesthood, but she also teaches (perhaps a less restrictive phrasing would be appropriate, so as to include disciplinary authority: “has laid down”), we have been told, that laypeople can act as subdeacons, at least in some circumstances. When those circumstances obtain, how does it go against the Church’s teaching for a laywoman to act in a role in which the Church says laypeople may act?

    5. If I understand your last paragraph, you’re saying that when a layman acts as subdeacon, the community knows his situation and that of the parish, and that reasonable people would note the subtle distinctions in vestments. I agree. I fail to see, however, how that distinguishes the situation of a layman from a laywoman.

    When I was growing up,

  33. SimonDodd says:

    Sorry, strike that last clause (“When I was growing up”)—I was going to tell an anecdote and thought better of it. I thought I’d deleted the whole paragraph, but I guess I left the opening clause!

  34. SimonDodd,

    1. Women presiding over a communion service? I’ve never see it, but I would not think that it seems “OK” to most people if they experience it. Most people just put up with it because that’s what they’ve been forced to go with for years.

    2. Because all things are not equal, the Church officially has always expressed the preference to have males in the Sanctuary, before and after 1900’s or 1962. Can we safely assume that when the Church allowed laymen to substitute for roles of Sacred Ministers or clerics, She was thinking of lay-men and not women? In the context of the traditional Mass (either in 1962 or in 2011), without necessarily being frozen in the context of 1962, it is still shocking to see women in the Sanctuary in any function while Mass or some other liturgical/quasi-liturgical service is going on. I know that this all seems theory and wishful thinking. Well, the only way to find out would be to put it into practice. Have a woman act as a Subdeacon in the context of a traditional Mass. See what you’ll get! In the context of the New Order, the response would not be the same, so the context matters (not only the year).

    3. What the Church allows, especially in times of need, does not always mean that it is to be done or overlooked if it were done in other places. Examples of this are cases of permission to Priests/Bishops in missionary lands. Not all the indults granted to them were given to the Universal Church or they would have been considered to be abuses. When the Church gave permission for women to serve or be in the Sanctuary, the traditional form of the Mass (as done in 1900 or in 1962 or in 1980) was not the context of this or similar permissions.

    4. I’ve heard people say that lately girls have been allowed to serve at traditional Masses. The very fact that it is rarely done where these Masses are celebrated, indicates that people still find it shocking and out of place and unnecessary. It also seems that in this places, it is forced upon the people by a Priest or upon Priests by the Bishop, etc.

    5. Female Subdeacons do not go against the teachings of the Church? Since when? Have we ever seen a woman in a seminary getting ready to be ordained Subdeacon or Deacon with full Church approval? I would be surprised if the general word “laymen,” when the Church allowed them to substitute for Sacred Ministers, had women in mind. If She did, the specific term of women would have been used in order not to leave any doubts as to what was meant. Do we know of any instituted Acolyte or Lector who is a female?

    6. The community knows that the practice of the Church has always been careful when it came to allowing women in the Sanctuary. That did not change much officially after Vatican II. While there were permissions that were not there before, I do not think that it was meant to put men and women in an equal state of preference when it came to who could be in the Sanctuary. Or that it was meant to give preference to women over men or girls over boys.

    So, what I said at first is the best way to “solve” this: Plan a {traditional} Solemn Pontifical Mass and have all the roles filled by women, except those that cannot be substituted laymen. See what the result is. See if it creates shock or not.

  35. Centristian says:

    “That said, I doubt that a non-installed acolyte substituting for an absent subdeacon in a solemn TLM is an ‘abuse’.

    It is not the ideal, but it wasn’t an abuse in the past when things were far stricter in many ways. Someone who says it is an abuse should produce his own documentation saying that it is.”

    Abuse or no, it does still strike me as at least unseemly: a layman, that is, dressed in alb, dalmatic, and biretta, posing as a cleric in major orders. The better alternative, I think, to resorting to the use of a straw subdeacon would be to celebrate a Missa Cantata with incense and the full compliment of servers, instead.

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