ASK FATHER: Non-seminarian Lectors and Acolytes

From a reader…


Can laymen who are not in the seminary, upon request, receive the orders of lector and acolyte? My parish likes having me read, they say I am good at it, but I am not sure that I feel comfortable doing it unless I receive the minor orders.

First, keep in mind that the are no longer, in the Latin Church, minor orders, although the institutes set up under the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” regularly have the men go through the rites for them.

According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, now, there are two instituted ministries, lector and acolyte and the clerical state begins with ordination as a deacon, not with the tonsure.

I would just as soon see a revival of the minor orders.

That said, yes, it is possible for laymen (and men only) who are not seminarians to be instituted as lectors and acolytes.

In my opinion, it would be good for us to have more instituted lectors and acolytes in parishes.

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  1. seattle_cdn says:

    Could this not also be a good way to get more straw-subdeacons? :)

  2. vandalia says:

    I think there are several aspects to the question:

    1) Under Church law, layMEN can be instituted as lectors and acolytes.

    2) I strongly agree that men should in fact be instituted to these offices – beyond seminarians and transitional deacon candidates.

    3) I am not aware of any US Bishop who has shown the slightest inclination toward doing so. One part of the spectrum of US Bishops would see this as an undesirable “clericalization” of the desired lay participation in the Eucharist. On the other hand, the one case where there is a tangible benefit from an instituted acolyte in a parish is in the purification of chalices. Many – including me – view the fact that a cleric must now purify these vessels as a limit on communion under the 2nd species and the potential use of 20 “Eucharistic ministers” (I know that is the incorrect term – which is why it is used in these circumstances) at a Mass. So between the two difference camps in the US Church, I see very little chance of it actually happening.

    Also, there was a judicial process that began in Melbourne (under Cardinal Pell), and I believe continued to the Vatican, over whether instituted lectors have automatic preference over those of non-instituted readers. The one word answer is “no.” This is a good summary of the canon law of the practical rights of a lector in a parish:

    (This is also extremely interesting since it is probably one of the rare instances of a judicial proceeding that did not involve a marriage case or a case involving sexual abuse by a priest.)

    I put this in the same category as reception of Confirmation before “First Communion.” Most Bishops will agree in theory that it is a good idea. But it is not going to change across the country. Too many entrenched interests.

  3. frbkelly says:

    I am a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, and just wanted to say that we have had permanent lectors and acolytes for about 40 years.
    Bishop Flavin (of happy memory) took seriously the teaching of _Ministerium Quaedam_ and instituted a program of permanent lectors and acolytes in our diocese. This has been a tremendous success, and is one of the factors in allowing us to keep open many smaller parishes which could not support a priest full time.
    It has ensured a body of educated and involved laity in each parish, which is a great boon to the life of the church here in our diocese.
    Each Lent, the bishop institutes lectors and acolytes who have been trained for service in their respective parishes.
    I take him to have been prophetic in this, as it has made it unnecessary to institute the Permanent Diaconate with its requirement of celibacy and the clerical state.
    Most of the actual help that our priests need in our small parishes can be done by acolytes and lectors who have been properly trained and instituted. It provides a great example of the collaboration of the lay faithful in the ministry of priests done correctly.

  4. WmHesch says:

    It seems the “mens” of Paul VI envisioned laymen being instituted as lectors and acolytes… Actually the 1972 document is pretty explicit about it. I’ve always been baffled why that never materialized.

  5. moon1234 says:

    I think one of the reasons you will not see a change in when confirmation is administered is a simple fact of attendance. In MOST parishes children who are in public school attend CCD, one hour, each week. As SOON as confirmation is done they stop coming.

    THAT is the simple reason why confirmation is not given before first communion. I have been told this by many priests. Confirmation in the EF is a possibility in my diocese, but it is ONLY advertised to those who attend the EF. Most of the confirmandi are under the age of 12. When I inquired why it would not be offered to those attending the parish CCD, it was explained that all those who were confirmed would stop coming to CCD as they would see their “education” as “complete.”

    As an aside, if minor orders are given to PCED attached groups, do the minor orders have any meaning? If a person is given the minor order of exorcist, does he indeed have that power or is it simply ceremonial? Taking that one step further, why not eliminate ALL minor orders if they do not endow any special meaning on those receiving them. i.e. if an instituted lector is not to be preferred over any layman, then why bother having them at all? The elimination of the minor orders was the beginning of the slippery slope to “lay clerics.”

  6. sw85 says:

    I plan on writing my (arch)bishop today to request installation as an acolyte. We’ll see what happens.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    I am an instituted acolyte. My diocese does not have an official program for the instituted ministries, where generally only seminarians are instituted. I had asked my bishop and he was more than happy to do it. I believe I am the second laymen that he instituted in the diocese. My pastor was supportive (and surprised). Even though I technically have “precedence” over commissioned acolytes and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, I do not press the issue at my parish… yet.

    My advice to the questioner would be to do your research and ask your bishop.

  8. Elizabeth D says:

    I had to go follow vandalia’s link to see under what circumstances there could possibly be a canonical trial over the question of whether instituted lectors have precedence over non instituted readers. It involves a former seminarian who had been instituted a lector during his second year prior to leaving seminary. He was persuaded that he ought to be able to insist at the Cathedral that his supposed “rank” gave him a right to read at Mass which trumped the fact that they already had enough readers and a waiting list of people who wanted to read, and was so distressed over it that he wrote in his canonical petition, “Will the Archdiocese no longer have me? Am I to be exiled, excommunicated or executed? Aim I no longer to be regarded as an instituted reader? Would a permanent instituted reader coming to the Archdiocese be stopped at the border?” He felt that his reputation was damaged. The ex-seminarian’s canonical advocate is a married laywoman who writes well and tried her best, but as confused as him. The basic problem arose out of the young man not having adequate theological, canonical or liturgical learning to grasp precisely the nature of what an instituted lector is, obviously neither did his advocate understand, or she could maybe have saved him some suffering and the $500 the archdiocese told him to pay for court expenses.

  9. Stephen Matthew says:

    There are two primary reasons that these ministries are not used more often:
    1. There is no standard for a formation/training program for these men, and most diocese do not have the extra resources to independently develop such a program.
    2. If these ministries were taken up by large numbers of men, it would eventually exclude women from these roles, which most of the churchmen these days would see as a negative.

    Also, two posters mention instituted ministers taking precedence over others, and that is true that ideally they should, but that isn’t exactly an enforceable standard. The acolyte, thanks to the ability to assist in purifying vessels, and the fact they won’t necessarily displace anyone else, will likely be more warmly received. Also, acolytes can be referred to as sub-deacons (those used to be different things, but the rite for instituting an acolyte actually contains certain elements borrowed from the ordination of a sub-deacon), so it would be reasonably to think that an instituted acolyte could serve as a sub-deacon for a Solemn Mass.

  10. Clemens Romanus says:

    Is it true that Instituted Acolytes are called Subdeacons in England and Wales?

  11. jhayes says:

    frbkelly wrote I take him to have been prophetic in this, as it has made it unnecessary to institute the Permanent Diaconate with its requirement of celibacy and the clerical state.

    The issue about celibacy for the permanent diaconate is that if the Deacon’s wife dies, he cannot remarry. However, a married man can be ordained to the permanent diaconate and continue his relationship with his wife as before ordination.

    A 2014 CARA study for the USCCB estimated that there are over 15,000 active Permanent Deacons in the US and that 93% of them are married

    In a more recent report, CARA gives a total of 17,264 Permanent Deacons compared to 38,275 Priests in the US (both numbers include inactive, as well as active clergy). So, Permanent Deacons make up almost 1/3 of ordained Catholic clergy in the US.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    I recently heard that the Greek bishops voted to call instituted acolytes subdeacons, as Bl. Paul VI allowed. I am not sure of any place else. I am of the opinion that if anyone is to be called a subdeacon, it should be if someone has been instituted as both lector and acolyte.

  13. jacobi says:

    Personally I receive Holy Communion only from hands which have been anointed for that purpose, following ancient Catholic custom. I do not receive from a lay distributors.

    I believe Father, that acolytes under the Tridentine/NO systems are permitted to distribute??

    That is certainly a reason why, as we face severe shortages of priests in the immediate coming years, more acolytes would be good.

  14. Matt R says:

    For the Nth time, an instituted subdeacon isn’t really a straw subdeacon. The PCED said the only restriction is that they refrain from wearing the maniple. A straw SD ought to follow the pre-conciliar restrictions.

    Galveston-Houston also installs lay men as acolytes and lectors.

  15. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Fr. Kelly,

    It sounds like the Diocese of Lincoln is doing great work with its instituted lectors and acolytes. You stated that with these ministries, “it has made it unnecessary to institute the Permanent Diaconate with its requirement of celibacy and the clerical state.”

    I have a different view. Perhaps the Church did not revive the ancient diaconate merely to provide liturgical ministry in the Church. As I read the documents of the Magisterium, the permanent diaconate is its own unique calling, and a very important one, within the life of the local church. The Apostles certainly found it important to entrust to the deacons the works of charity and outreach in the community.

    Permanent deacons also do what we priests cannot do. As men who are in the clerical state, and who nonetheless live and work out in the world, they provide a unique witness of a Catholic cleric to people we cannot easily reach. Many of them are married with children, which provides a valuable resource for us priests as well as we carry out family life ministry. I understand that some bishops feel permanent deacons are a hassle and may compete with priestly vocations. In my experience as a pastor of various parishes, I have found the permanent deacons to be of immense help. The ones I have worked with are devout and faithful to the Church. God bless you in your ministry.

  16. jbazchicago says:

    As an instituted (such a silly word) acolyte all I can say is, “don’t bother”. Sorry to be pessimistic. But it’s not worth it. Granted, I received it when I was studying for Holy Orders.

    What’s a stake here is the clerical state. The clerical state is now conjoined with ordination to the diaconate, not tonsure.

    So taking the minor orders, or being instituted as a lector or acolyte has no value unless it is a value of the bishop of the diocese (or even parish).

    Eccleisa Dei communities are in a quandary, because they receive “minor orders” and subdiaconate, but aren’t clerics. They simply rely on the Constitutions of their Congregation which can enjoin on them the obligations and privileges of clerics (under canon law), mutatis mutandis. But they are privileges, not rights privilege to wear clerics, obligation to pray the Divine Office (but I think the penalty for NOT praying it in this case has no moral culpability).

    Therefore, Ministeria Quaedam was a HUGE FLOP!

    Since everyone is allowed to do everything, even at Papal Masses, when there are thousands of acolytes and lectors milling about, women are permitted to serve as lectors.

    So, I’m an acolyte, that and $4 will get me a cup of coffee…or if I’m at most parishes, that, $4, and a “who the hell do you think you are anyway speech and/or stare” upon mention of my exalted status, will get me a cup of coffee and a gesture toward the door that leads to the parking lot (not that I’ve tried, I haven’t, I just know better).

    Along with Bp. Flavin, Bishop James A Hickey (Cardinal Hickey) did the same thing at St. John Cathedral. He insisted all lectors and acolytes be properly instituted. He later was the cardinal who pushed to permit universally, altar girls.

  17. Per Signum Crucis says:

    jhayes, I read the requirement about celibacy as a married deacon to mean that, while the relationship itself can contine, sexual relations should not or cannot. This seems to be confirmed by the point in the Q&A answer you link about if the deacon’s wife should predecease him.

  18. Dave N. says:

    Having read through the above comments, the present situation of instituted lectors and acolytes sounds a bit, shall we say, “uneven”?

    To my mind, good reason for re-establishing minor orders

  19. Uxixu says:

    Not sure it’d be accurate to say there are no longer minor orders in the Latin Rite. Ministeria Quaedam simply renamed them and they’re still conferred on all on path to diaconate (transitional or permanent just like before), likely due to the specification of Trent that anathematizes any who would deny them. The canons did not enumerate or define them, which left Paul VI free to do what he did. He was undoubtedly right: the minors were an anachronism when confined to seminary. Unfortunately he jumped to the completely wrong conclusion… where he should have instead re-read Trent Session XXIII and called instead for their renewal in the collegiate and parochial churches, as well as the cathedrals. All the more ironic that the retained offices of Lector and Acolyte simply assumed the same role as stepping stones to sacred Orders that the previous minor orders were, used for diaconate formation as well as in diocesan seminary. Their office will always need doing in the parish, though as MQ pointed out can only be ‘instituted’ or ordained upon men.

    jbazchicago makes a good point on the confused state with the Ecclesia Dei societies. What should probably be done is that the clerical state should be set to acolyte, formation of which should be done at the parish level before even seminary (though an individual order or society could still do their own ceremonies and formations, to include traditional tonsure and the other minor orders) and conferred by the ordinary on his canonical visit for confirmations.

  20. Geoffrey says:

    “So taking the minor orders, or being instituted as a lector or acolyte has no value unless it is a value of the bishop of the diocese (or even parish).”

    I disagree. I knew not to expect anything when I sought institution to the acolytate. My sole intention was to be right with God and the Church. In fact, I had thought that I would have to be discrete about it… until my bishop announced it to a small group of fellow parishioners (I think he said something like “I am going to make him an acolyte”). The instituted ministries are of tremendous value, even if no one else values it.

    This is an interesting essay on the instituted ministries / minor orders:

  21. frbkelly says:

    Fr. Sotelo,
    My comment was in no way meant to denigrate the permanent diaconate. I have known a number of permanent deacons over the years who serve the Church in extraordinary ways every day.

    My point was that in our small (in population) diocese which is spread out over (mostly rural) southern Nebraska, we have found that the permanent acolytes and lectors are able to do most things that we have need of in keeping our small parishes open and operating. These are lay ministries, and as such, they are ways that men with a lay vocation can provide a determinate and necessary service in our parish communities. In addition to their roles in the liturgy, they very often act as lay trustees and parish/Finance council members assisting and advising the priest in the running of the parish.
    These things can be done by lay men without the special calling to the clerical state that is essential to the diaconate.
    In our context, we can rightly expect that even in the smallest parishes, we can find men who can be appropriately called to be lectors or acolytes.
    It is not so likely that so many men are being called to the diaconate across the diocese. This calling requires much more from the man who receives it than do the minor orders/lay ministries.

    This is exemplified by the fact that an instituted acolyte can marry just as any other layman can. A married man can be ordained a deacon, but should he become a widower, he must live out his life without the possibility of remarriage.
    The USCCB document that jhayes cites points out that, as clerics, deacons are appointed by the bishop to serve the diocese. This means that the bishop is, or should be free to assign deacons anywhere in the diocese and not merely in their home parish. If a man is raising a family and holding down a job, this can be a practical impossibility, and a serious burden on his family.

    Our own context has indicated against the initiation of a permanent diaconate program, though on the occasions when a permanent deacon has moved into the diocese, he has been able to carry out his ministry under the direction of the bishop.
    I was not out of high school when the permanent acolyte and lector programs were established here, so I do not presume to speak for Bishop Flavin’s intentions, but his decisions have proved to be extremely beneficial to the life of the Church in Southern Nebraska over the years.

  22. Chatto says:

    Clemens Romanus – no, that’s not true. I think most Catholics here in E&W wouldn’t have a clue what lectors, acolytes, or sub-deacons are! The Church of England still has sub-deacons as part of the diocesan Curia, and as a liturgical role in High Church congregations, but outside attendants of the EF, they’re unheard of.

  23. Clemens Romanus says:

    Chatto, mea culpa. I had heard that rumor a while back and thought it was in the GIRM for E&W. Thanks for the correction.

  24. JARay says:

    As someone who is an Instituted Acolyte in the Archdiocese of Perth, Western Australia, I conducted a Liturgy of the Word this morning at 7-00 am. I have been an Instituted Acolyte for the last 39 years.
    It just so happens that I also did receive Minor Orders but that was some 52 years ago when I actually was a Seminarian at The English College, Lisbon (now, sadly, no longer in existence).

  25. jbazchicago says:

    First apologies if I offended you or your enthusiasm. That was certainly not my intent. I’m indeed happy for you. Let me say however, that you did prove my point. You have a bishop who sees it as a value and he promoted it.

    There is a huge problem with the clerical state and tonsure. Tonsure stems from the idea that he is fed ‘from the table of the bishop”, the bishop is responsible for him, he is a member of the bishop’s household. We have to straighten out what that actually means, particularly in regard to married deacons. We need to reestablish what it all means. There was a developed theology of the minor orders. Minister Quaedam didn’t have an ounce of thought put in to it other than it seemed “early Church”. Bishops need to foster their paternal solicitude toward their priests, deacons, and seminarians (EXCLUDING deacons’ wives!!!!)

  26. Elizabeth D says:

    Bishops should have a paternal solicitude toward all the faithful in their territory. Fathers have daughters as well as sons.

  27. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Per Signum Crucis,

    Having read the materials contained in jhayes’ link in combination with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s statements regarding the virtue of marital chastity, I think that your interpretation that conjugal relations are not permitted to married deacons is not supported. That said, it is vital that a man preparing for the permanent diaconate be aware that he will be called to celibacy in the event his wife predeceases him and honestly evaluate whether he can accept that discipline.

  28. Elizabeth D says:

    Gerald Plourde, the letter of canon law does say all clerics are to observe perfect and perpetual continence. You may be aware Ed Peters has written very extensively on that subject

    The ancient Church practice was defined and reemphasized by the Church at various times as continence after ordination even by married clerics. That is a long precedence for the practice and the intent is clear that it applies to married people. So if there is some good reason for the Church to not require that of married permanent deacons today then I think Dr Peters has pointed out Canon Law should be modified to permit it, rather than just tell them they do not have to follow the law.

  29. Pastor in Valle says:

    It would not be correct to say that minor orders do not exist—the Council of Trent explicitly teaches that the Sacrament of Holy Orders consists of both major and minor orders, and there is an anathema attached. It does not specify what those orders are (presumably because the East has a different list). So, the most one can say is that since the lamentable Ministeria Quaedam of the early 70s, minor orders are simply not given in the OF West, but are received per saltem at Diaconate.
    There is an irony that Vatican II wanted to restore the orders to the parishes, instead of them being simply steps to the priesthood. Paul VI thought that the best way to do this was to create ‘lay ministries’ instead. And now these ‘lay ministries’ are rarely if ever given in parishes but are simply treated as steps to the priesthood.

  30. Imrahil says:

    For what it’s worth, I think that when a pre-conciliar legislation or precedent says “cleric” in a liturgical context, this should now be taken to have the meaning “cleric, or instituted acolyte or lector, or seminarian, or someone who has received a minor order in a PCED setting”.

    These are no longer grasped by the legal definition of what a cleric is, and consequently are not touched by the canonical consequences of the clergy state. But still, an ancient rule about what is reserved to clerics liturgical was meant to include such people, and consequently applies so still.

    It would be an interesting question whether an instituted acolyte really is a subdeacon, and whether that is dependent on the responsible Episcopal Conference calling him a subdeacon.

    (He is, in any case – I’m inclined to say “of course” – an acolyte. Ministeria quaedam never said it was abolishing the minor orders of lector and acolyte and substituting them with “offices of service” of the same name. It has been taken to do so, but in reality “only” the ostiary and the exorcist fell into abeyance; it referred to the continuing minor orders of lector and acolyte as offices of service. As if there was any office in the Church that is not an office of service, but I digress. It did, though, explicitly say that the subdeacon – even, I take it, in a PCED context – is no longer to be considered a major order [which was always a somewhat doubtful question].)

    Dear Pastor in Valle,

    where does Trent say that? Though I too hold that minor orders actually do exist, I think the only dogmas which Trent taught under anathema were
    * that Holy Orders is splitted into orders of different rank (not just one),
    * possibly, it mentioned in passing that there were then major and minor orders.

    In any case, only a rather insignificant number of modern (19th, 20th century) theologians have hold the minor orders to be properly sacraments.

  31. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “In my opinion, it would be good for us to have more instituted lectors and acolytes in parishes.”
    Ditto. How service at the altar ever became a child’s ministry escapes me.

  32. Imrahil says:

    Well, dear Dr Peters,

    service at the altar traditionally was reserved to unmarried men. Deacons and above cannot marry, subdeacons couldn’t either. Clerics in minor orders could marry, but, if I’m rightly informed, had then to quit their service and become laymen (though retaining the quasi-character of their degree).

    I’m not aware of any rule that required the substitute-clerics-per-time (which is what altar boys is) to be unmarried, and the sacristan who often does step in to do altar service certainly isn’t, but it seems quite consequent that unmarried men were chosen with preference.

    Add to that that often the actual clerics in minor orders or tonsurates (not substitutes now) were boys, viz. those in minor seminaries where these existed.

    And add to that that back in the days parishes often ran schools, which means that schoolboys are quickly available: they have no employer who’d complain, need not take a day of vacation and have no work of their own waiting for them. The school would allow them to miss a lesson; they might have to learn the stuff on their own but after all, altar boys usually were drawn from the – more pious but then also – smarter boys.

    Doesn’t sound so entirely inconsequent for altar-serving to become a children’s ministry.

    On the other hand, carrying the processional heaven was a men’s ministry, traditionally reserved for the four men of the parish of most recent marriage.

  33. mburn16 says:

    “How service at the altar ever became a child’s ministry escapes me”

    I would have to ask when you believe it became such. Even in the EF parish I have sometimes attended, there are very young servers…albiet in accompanyment to older ones.

    But if you look at the extent to which altar service became so stripped down…you will probably have your answer. Few churches use incense, few have altar bells, even fewer Priests use birettas. Outside of carrying a candle and asisiting with the washing of the hands, it has become such a minimalist position that “oh, look how cute little Mikey is helping out the Priest” may well be the logical conclusion.

  34. jhayes says:

    Per Signum Crucis, that issue was resolved in 2012:

    Earlier this week, we were informed that Cardinal-designate Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, with Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary, has forwarded to Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan the Pontifical Council’s observations on the matter (Prot. N. 13095/2011). The observations, which were formulated in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clarify that married permanent deacons are not bound to observe perfect and perpetual continence, as long as their marriage lasts.

  35. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    To be clear, I was kid altar server. My boys all served. I am quite aware of the skill of some kid servers (and the incompetence of many others) and know about convenience of kid servers, and getting $ 5 tips for weddings, and ringing bells, etc etc etc etc. NONE of that answers my question: why is ANY service at the ALTAR considered a ministry that should be regularly, even designedly, undertaken by kids?

  36. Imrahil says:

    Only, dear mburn16, that altar service became regularly done by children (in case of incense, older children) far before these developments took place.

    Ah, and, pretty any parish around here, and certainly mine, have the whole processional cross / incense (at least for special festivities) / flambeaus (which are a bit heavier than mere candles) / altar bells / bringing the sacred vessels, bread, and water and wine to the altar / etc. program. Some even have torches (which means, an additional six [?] flambeaus used during the Eucharistic prayer). I grant that there are no birettas, and the bells are only rung for the Elevation and for Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil Gloria and in Eucharistic processions, no longer at the Offertory etc. as they are in EF contexts.

    Do I really live in an island of the blessed?

  37. Uxixu says:

    Imrahil says: “service at the altar traditionally was reserved to unmarried men.:

    Note that Trent, Session XXIII, Ch XVII specifically permits married clerics in Minor Orders (provided unmarried men are not available and they’re married no more than once) and more than that specifically commands they wear cassock & tonsure in church!

    Fortescue presumes tonsured clerics in minor orders as acolytes (though notes the rarity of sacred ministers unavailable outside Rome) but O’Connell already seems to presume it’s to be lay substitutes… Seems it was a temporary arrangement around the World Wars that became normalized. The norms should be hinted as to the minimum ages: 20 for Acolyte.

  38. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Speaking of ringing bells, allow an old altar boy to recall Fr. Murphy (RIP) calling us together after Mass and saying “Boys, boys, boys, at the elevation, we are NOT calling the Fire Department! A simple ring or two is plenty, okay? Got it?” Yes, Father.

  39. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    jhayes, do not get us started. This issue was not resolved by that letter, or by the other. See, scroll to my discussion of both PCLT letters.

  40. vandalia says:

    I have to agree with the problems of having child altar servers. Granted, it has been that way probably as long as the United States has been a country. But, it definitely creates a negative impression.

    What does it say when service at the altar is done by ten year olds? How can any parishioner take away from that situation the belief that what has happens at the altar is consequential? Or when it is almost universally believed that a move from altar server to lector is a promotion?

    At the very minimum, servers should be high school juniors and seniors. In an ideal world, the ushers and altar servers would switch roles. Let the children hand out the bulletins, and have the most distinguished men in the parish serve at the altar. Look to the example of St Thomas Moore.

    @Elizabeth D. – I have not had the time to search for the documentation, but the written “slap down” that the first instance tribunal in Melbourne delivered was apparently not enough. I seem to recall that this decision was appealed to the Vatican (Rota?) which affirmed the lower tribunals.

  41. Imrahil says:

    Ah well, dear Dr Peters, he should have added: “Just wait for the Easter Vigil’s Gloria. Then you can ring to heart’s content.”

    Dear Uxixu,

    thanks for the information! Seems I was misinformed. Now looking it up, even in the 13th century we had that “the four lower orders neither impede the contracting nor annul the contract” ( Supp. 37 III; the latter I knew).

    Interesting that they even were to be tonsured.

  42. Uxixu says:


    Canon 2. If anyone says that besides the priesthood there are not in the Catholic Church other orders, both major and minor,[17] by which, as by certain steps, advance is made to the priesthood,[18] let him be anathema.

  43. Imrahil says:

    Ah yes, thank you. Adding meat to the discussion^^

    That dogma must imply that there are orders (indefinite plural) below the priesthood. It may perhaps also be taken to imply that there must be at least two of them, the higher of which is then called major … In the “both major and minor”, the Council may just have banned anyone who dared think that what the Church did would not happen in reality, and the Church certainly did have major orders and minor orders back then. I wonder.

    At any rate, Ministeria quaedam did not abolish the minor orders. In essence and besides language issues (such as “services” for “minor orders”) it only said – and I’ll be interpreting it with a little stretch, but still I think I’m right – that noone heretofore should be ordained ostiarian or exorcist (those who were already remained so, and those who are in an EF setting are again) and that the minor orders can be taken by laymen. The 1983 CIC then supposedly added that they are always laymen because clergy begins at the deaconate (between the two dates, priest-candidates ordained to such offices probably counted as clerics).

  44. mamamagistra says:

    Re: boys’ serving at the altar, there is this explanation in the CDW’s July 27, 2001 letter on altar servers, which was the answer to the dubium about whether a bishop is obliged to permit female altar servers in his diocese and whether a bishop could obige his priests to admit female altar servers (both questions answered in the negative):

    … such an authorization may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar, nor require that priests of the diocese would make use of female altar servers, since “it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar” (Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conference, March 15, 1994, no. 2). Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain, not least of all due to the well known assistance that such programs have provided since time immemorial in encouraging future priestly vocations. (emphasis mine)

  45. Uxixu says:

    Much as with EMCH as well as lectors, the problem as I see it is really not females… it’s laity. Many otherwise perfectly orthodox people are perfectly fine with laity in the sanctuary when it should be recognized that they’re substitutes for clerics. Why not have (minor orders) clerics?

    That clerics can only be male neatly solves the other issue.

  46. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Elizabeth D,

    See jhayes’ subsequent posting citing the 2012. Further, even priestly celibacy is neither dogma nor doctrine but a mere discipline of the Latin Rite Church and, given the addition of the Anglican Ordinariate, no longer universal for priests within in the Latin Rite. One can be chaste without being celibate, as priests of the Eastern Uniate Churches have always demonstrated.

  47. mamamagistra says:

    I suppose the bell-ringing, like all aspects of serving, has to be at the pleasure of the priest. At our Novus Ordo parish, it’s two quick twists of the wrist – three times, except for one priest “of a certain age”, for whom you don’t ring the bells on weekdays. But serving our elderly pastor at our Traditional Latin Mass parish, it is call-the-Fire-Department bell-ringing while the sacristan is also ringing the church bells for everyone outside to hear — almost makes you think that our Lord just appeared on the altar. ;-)

  48. jbazchicago says:

    I’m fascinated by people who use this blog to show off what they know, or what they think they know, particularly when it has no relationship at all to the topic or thread at hand. Then the one-up-man-ship that ensues.

    No wonder why people think traddies are all daffy.

    (I happen to be one, but try not to admit it!)

  49. Elizabeth D says:

    Gerald Plourde, I can only say again, “if there is some good reason for the Church to not require that of married permanent deacons today then I think Dr Peters has pointed out Canon Law should be modified to permit it, rather than just tell them they do not have to follow the law.”

    You seem to have a confusion about “celibacy” (being unmarried) and “continence” (being sexual abstinent). Obviously I am not contesting at all that the Church can permit ordination of married men. Just pointing out that traditionally (and according to the letter of canon law in the Roman Rite) when non-celibate (married) men are ordained, they commit themselves to live in perfect and perpetual sexual continence. In the Roman Rite the norm is for ordination of unmarried men as priests, a norm that is a great treasure obviously Scriptural and theological in its origins, being a closer identification of the priest with the chaste Christ bridegroom of the Church whose marriage bed is the Cross. Ordination of unmarried priests also avoids difficulties of the requirements of Holy Orders coming into conflict with the requirements of Holy Matrimony. Some groups have had compromise practices; I seem to recall that some Eastern Christian churches had a practice of married priests reverently practicing a periodic continence like a liturgical fast from intercourse with their wife prior to celebrating the Divine Liturgy.

  50. jhayes says:

    Elizabeth D, I think it’s important to note that Dr. Peters doesn’t argue that existing Permanent Deacons are obliged to abstain from sex with their wives.

    In the article you linked, he explains:

    From the outset of my observations on the text of Canon 277 I have acknowledged the anomalous canonical situation of married men ordained without personal (or uxorial) consent to the obligation of continence and I have defended the exercise [of] conjugal rights among such persons

    As I understand his position, he believes that either current practice should be ratified by an official action clarifying that Permanent Deacons (and former Anglican priests of the Ordinatiate) are exempt from continence as well as celibacy as long as their existing wife lives, or otherwise, that the obligation of continence be confirmed and Permanent Deacons and former Anglican priests be ordained only if they and their wives consent to the obligation of continence.

  51. Elizabeth D says:

    jhayes, that is similar to what I said at 7 April 2015 at 11:04 pm. Dr Peters is a layman and an expert canon lawyer, and he is not the ordinary (ie bishop) of any deacons or their confessor or spiritual director, I don’t see him as insisting what deacons “must do” but simply interpreted canon law which currently does in fact plainly say all Latin Rite clerics are to observe perfect and perpetual continence. However everyone is aware that very few current permanent deacons were told of any such thing or formed for that prior to ordination, they simply understood they could not remarry if their spouse passed away. Although it seems to be the exception, there ARE some permanent deacons who (with consent of their wives) do observe continence, I know at least one.

    Personally I think there are reasons for it and I am in favor of perfect and perpetual continence being one of the commitments that any man makes before receiving Holy Orders in the Latin Rite. I do think I have seen Dr Peters also defend that there are good reasons for such a position. But if the Church wills for them to be free in regards to conjugal intimacy then yes it makes sense for canon law to be changed to allow that. That could be done.

  52. Uxixu says:

    Continence of the clergy SHOULD be the goal. If a concession to human weakness must be granted by the determination of the Supreme Legislator, that should be encoded in Canon Law. In any case, a sort of fast similar to that of the Eucharistic Fast (and observed in the East) of abstaining from marital relations for at least some period of time before approaching the Altar of Sacrifice seems… prudent.

  53. jhayes says:

    Uxixu wrote Continence of the clergy SHOULD be the goal.

    We probably would not have anywhere near the current 17000+ Permanent Deacons in the USA if those married men and their wives had been asked to promise continence. That compares to 26000+ diocesan Priests and 12000+ religious Priests.

    Locally, Permanent Deacons officiate at funerals, marriages and baptisms, make house visits and free up our limited number of Priests to do the things only they can do.

  54. OlderCatholic says:

    Requiring perpetual continence of permanent deacons is the quickest way I can think of of drastically reducing their numbers and perhaps destroying the entire program. I understand that this fact may not deter some of the people seeking this change.

  55. Non-enforcement of the law requiring perpetual continence by permanent deacons (as I understand that law, mainly on the basis of Dr. Peters’ articles) is just one more instance of the lamentable toleration of violation of liturgical, moral, and canon law that plagues the Church today. The higher the hierarchical level–priest, bishop, bishops conference, etc.–of this toleration, the more lamentable it is, in my view.

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