From a reader…
What was the state of, requirement for tonsure, for secular clergy, in Rome, under Saint John XXIII, after his 1960 Synod. (That synod seems to represent the apex of the organic development of clerical discipline flowing out from the Council of Trent).
Funny this should come up today of all days. On 14 September 1972 Paul VI released a document which he had signed on 15 August. This was the – in my opinion – disastrous Ministeria quaedam.
In Ministeria quaedam abolished the minor orders. Not to worry. The minor orders had only been around since the earliest centuries of the Church. Yeah… it was time to get rid of those old things. Yes, things are so much better now.
In any event, the minor orders were conferred on males having attained the age of reason. Before they received orders they had to first receive clerical tonsure. Once, that inducted men into the clerical state. Now, diaconate marks entrance to the clerical state.
So, tonsure has not been obligatory since 1 January 1973, which is when Ministeria quaedam went into effect. It was subsequently superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Some institutes such as the FSSP and the ICK – with the permission of the Holy See – now regularly confer tonsure and then the minor orders. However, their members still do not become clerics until diaconate.
At one time, the clerical tonsure was rather extensive, as in the illustration. However, it came to be reduced to about a silver dollar – or priest’s host – sized shaved circle at the crown of the head. The tonsure was obligatory for clerics according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The bare spot had to be maintained. Letting the tonsure grow over was tantamount to abandoning clerical state. If a man let it grow over and then refused to restore it after being warned, he could be dismissed from the clerical state.
Why so important? Because by law clerics were forbidden to participate in some public entertainments. With the tonsure, clerics could not pretend not to be clerics. Of course in time of persecution, it also made them easier to identify.
I used to see the clerical tonsure occasionally when out and about in Rome and I once had a barber who, the first time, always offered to give me one… until God and time did the job.