Friday 20 October 2017

The Subdeacon - there is no "Straw"

The question of the qualifications for the Subdeacon in a Solemn Mass continue to be raised and the need for clarity is important. Some are very confused, there is no need to be.

The Subdeacon was abolished along with the minor orders of Porter and Exorcist by Paul VI. The Lector and Acolyte were retained and part of the process of seminarian development on the journey to the priesthood. The clerical state does not formally begin until the Diaconate. The vision of Paul VI was that since the Subdeacon was not formally the clerical ordained state, it was still, technically speaking, a layperson. A seminarian is still today, a layman until diaconal ordination. Paul VI left open the possibility, and perhaps hope, that lay people would be formally "instituted" as Lectors and Acolytes for parish life. This has happened in the Diocese of Lincoln and as far as we can tell, nowhere else.

During the period of the traditional Mass growth under the old "indults" of Pope John Paul II, the Subdeacon was not a particular pressing issue. The Mass was generally celebrated as a Read, or Low Mass and sometimes sung. This is particularly true outside the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and even in their case, outside their seminary or large parishes, they would not have generally offered Solemn Mass.

Let us be clear, the Mass should always be Solemn, the Sung Mass and Read Mass came about as exceptions. A decade now after Summorum Pontificum we've seen much growth of the traditional Mass and the desire for people to have Solemn Mass.

Now here is where we get into a problem and what can be called a creeping modernism by those influenced by the ever changing liturgical dynamic of most parishes and the options of the revised modernist Roman Missal.

After 1962, an option was created for a "semi-solemn" Mass with a deacon undertaking the sub deacon responsibilities. There also began, after 1965, an abhorrent thing called a "straw" Subdeacon, a layman, without maniple and with some other changes, serving as such. After Summorum Pontificum, this practice began to take hold again.

After questions, the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a statement that those men "clothed" in seminary, could fulfil the duties. This was fairly and legitimately given broad interpretation. What did "clothed" mean? For a short period of time then, it was tolerated for a seminarian to serve as Subdeacon.

In 2013, a formal instruction was issued prohibiting this. The Subdeacon, could be in seminary or theoretically, could be a married man with a family, but he must be a formally Instituted Lector and an Instituted Acolyte.


It behooves everyone associated with working toward liturgical restoration and involvement in the traditional Latin Mass to follow what is expected. The great danger is for incrementalism or "gradualism" and the "novus ordo mentality" to take hold within the traditional Latin Mass. It must be resisted and rebuked at every turn whether globally with the suggestion of the new lectionary supplanting the traditional to the local level and parishes or groups of people who associate together for the purpose of organising a Mass.

There is no such thing as a "straw Subdeacon." It does not exist, those who insist it does and that any layman, including a seminarian not formally instituted are wrong.

If it is not possible to properly offer a Solemn Mass in accord with the rubrics and norms it should simply not be done and a Sung Mass should be done it its place.

There is a duty of those who purport to be authorities or put themselves forward as having some depth of knowledge and authority over the liturgy and to instruct with clarity and truth.

Questions on this matter can be directed to


  1. Why is being an instituted lector required to act as a subdeacon? The 2013 letter just says instituted acolyte.


    1. Peter,

      In 1973, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Apostolic Letter Ministeria Quaedam. This letter reformed the minor orders and restructured their liturgical functions and responsibilities. One of the things that Ministeria Quaedam did was to suppress the order of subdeacon and split the powers of the subdeacon between the two offices of Lector and Acolyte.

      It is not clear whether the office of Acolyte contains the powers of the instituted Lector automatically or if one needs to be instituted as a Lector to receive that half of the subdeacon's powers. It is thus wise to receive both ministries if possible to ensure that you possess all of the subdeacons responsibilities. That being said, even in pre-Vatican II days, a cleric who was only tonsured was allowed to substitute for the subdeacon under certain circumstances. So following that logic, even if you possess only one of the instituted ministries, it might be possible to act as a "straw-subdeacon."

      Normally, the office of Instituted Lector is supposed to be received before one receives the office of Instituted Acolyte, and therefore when someone is an instituted acolyte, it is often assumed that the person is already an instituted Lector as well. Historically one does not skip the lower ministries to get to the higher ones. However, in recent years some dioceses have begun to reverse the order of the ministries by conferring the ministry of instituted Acolyte first and then conferring the office of lector later. This poses a problem. First, if the acolyte's powers already include the lector's powers, then why does an acolyte need to be instituted as a Lector at all? The practice of conferring the ministries in this order implies that the Acolyte's powers are not included in the Lector's powers and vice versa, and thus you should receive both offices to ensure that you get all of the subdeacon's powers.

      Even before the reform of the Minor orders, if someone was ordained to an order out of the normal order, they were expected to be ordained to the order that they missed before being allowed to move up to the next order.

    2. For a short period of time then, it was tolerated for a seminarian to serve as Subdeacon.

      In 2013, a formal instruction was issued prohibiting this. The Subdeacon, could be in seminary or theoretically, could be a married man with a family, but he must be a formally Instituted Lector and an Instituted Acolyte.

      The 2013 protocol did not prohibit seminarians from acting as subdeacons. The 2012 protocol allowing seminarians to act as sudeacons is still in force. The 2013 protocol was explicitly asking the Vatican about whether non-seminarian laymen could function as subdeacons at a solemn mass. The response from the Vatican said that non-seminarians must be instituted as acolytes to function as a subdeacon. However, this protocol did not revoke the 2012 protocol that said that seminarians with the right to wear clerical clothing could act as subdeacons. This suggests that the following people may fuction as subdeacon:

      1. Subdeadcons, priests, and bishops
      2. Laymen who are instituted as acolytes regardless of being a seminarian or not
      3. A seminarian who has the right to wear clerical clothing..

      Rorate Caeli published a letter from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei from 2012 that said explicitly that seminarians who were entitled to wear the Clerical Collar were allowed to act as substitutes for the subdeacon in a solemn high mass. (I suppose the logic was that these seminarians are the modern equivalent of tonsured clerics, who were also permitted to substitute for the subdeacon in the Pre-Vatican II days.)

      The question that was posed to Ecclesia Dei was:

      2. Do the decree of Sacred Congregation of Rites (no. 4184) and the decision of Pontifical Comission ‘Ecclesia Dei’ (no. 24/92), concerning the possibility of serving as a subdeacon during the Mass in forma extraordinaria, apply also to diocesan seminarians (who are not seminarians of the institutes erected by Pontifcial Commision 'Ecclesia Dei') who wear clerical clothing?

      The answer given by the commission was: Affirmative

      You can see the document here:

      Having received the clarification that seminarians were able to function as subdeacons if they had the right to wear clerical clothing, Rorate Caeli decided to find out if anyone else other than seminarians with the right to wear clericals could function as a subdeacon. Thus in 2013, Rorate Caeli posed a followup question to the Pontifical Commission:

      "May a layman who is not a seminarian serve as a subdeacon at a Solemn High Mass?"

      The letter that was posted above in the article dated April 15, 2013 is the response to that question. However, it cannot be used to prohibit non-instituted seminarians who have the right to wear clerical clothing from functioning as subdeacon because it is not about seminarians. The question is only about which "non-seminarians" may function as subdeacons. The answer to this is clear, if you are not a seminarian, then you should be instituted as an acolyte to function as a subdeacon at a solemn mass, but it does not say that a seminarian who has the right to wear clerical clothing may not act as the subdeacon.

    3. I am a bit confused by the ritual restrictions placed on the Instituted acolyte when they are functioning as a subdeacon. Is a man who has been instituted as a lector and an acolyte a straw subdeacon or a real subdeacon?

      Pope Paul VI seems to suggest that the reformed ministry of Lector and the Acolyte possess all of the subdeacons powers and says that bishops conferences could call them subdeacons if they want to. If the office has the all of the powers of a subdeacon and can be called a subdeacon, doesn't that make it a real subdeacon? (If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like duck....isn't it probably a duck?)

      Also, I'm not sure what is meant by the articles' title: There is No Straw Subdeacon.

      I thought that a straw subdeacon was a man who had been tonsured or who was in the minor orders or their modern equivalent, who was substituting for a subdeacon? Surely those exist, right?

      Also, can anyone point to a document that explicitly says that non-instituted laymen MAY NOT function as subdeacons? The document here says that instituted acolyte laymen could function as subdeacons, but the letter said nothing about other laymen not being allowed to. I suppose you could say that the letter implied that you could only be a subdeacon if you were instituted, but does anyone know of an explicit document that says a man who is not an instituted acolyte may not be a straw-subdeacon? Thanks.

  2. Peter, yes you are correct. I only mention Lector as it would come before Acolyte. The Subdeacon sings the Epistle, so the presumption is that he is already a Lector before Acolyte. Surely, that is what PCED would think, the Acolyte would have already been an Instituted Lector. Yet, in Toronto at St. Augustine's, for some unknown reason, Acolyte comes first.

  3. Ok, thank you very much.

    Now, if a married layman were to be installed as an acolyte only by the local Ordinary, could he both act as Subdeacon and sing the epistle at a solemn High Mass?

    I ask because I might be in this very situation!

    Thanks so much,


  4. Peter, to confirm what I expected, it is similar to the question of a "Permanent Deacon" serving as Deacon in the traditional Mass. The answer is yes, a Deacon is a Deacon. Therefore, an Acolyte is an Acolyte, whether in seminary or not, unless it would be revoked, as it is not a rite of ordination but one of installation. I would think the Acolyte would also have been installed as Lector in order to read the Epistle, but if we follow the logic that if one can do the greater, then one can do the lesser, it should be fine.

    I don't know of any diocese in Canada, other than the Anglican Ordinariate, where a non-seminarian is installed as an Acolyte or Lector. I can tell you that I know of a case where the request was made and it was denied unless one was indeed, in seminary. The reason? "Well, we can't have women and the installed person would be right need to bounce a woman out of the sanctuary."

    So, if you can pull this off in Sudbury for your community there, it will be a coup!

  5. Thanks so much for the reply! :-)

    My sense is that our Bishop is open to the possibility. But I suspect that he would only do this for the TLM....and only if the Pastor specifically requests it.

    The Bishop of Sault Ste Marie is going to be in choir at our TLM next week (Oct 29)

    So just to be crystal clear: If my pastor was interested in having me, a married layman, sing the epistle at a Missa Cantata routinely, and furthermore have me serve as a subdeacon if/when we have a solemn High Mass, then what must be done AND all that is necessary to do done, is to have the Bishop install me as an acolyte and not necessarily as a lector as well.

    Also...let me ask the following as well...

    1. Is the novus ordo installation to acolyte ok?
    2. Are there any shades of modernism here? Does this all seem legit to you?
    3. Could the installed acolyte legitimately ring the Church bell, say, 10 minutes before Mass, since that is a lesser task?

    Thanks so much for the guidance! :-)

  6. I wanted to add that the Bishop of the Diocese of Camden, NJ, also did install a married layman to be an acolyte for the TLM (not happening just in Lincoln).

    Here is a link to the article:

    1. Peter, I am not a seminarian, but my bishop installed me as a Lector and as an Acolyte in the same ceremony so that I could help out at our TLM. I sing the epistle or readings at missae cantatae and take the role of subdeacon at Solemn masses. I can also touch the sacred vessels, help set up the altar, and carry the chalice from the credence table to the altar during the offertory. I can also help chant the liturgy during mass or the office. You're basically the treated as a minor cleric according to the TLM rubrics, because you are one. The bishop also advised me to wear the cassock and collar while on official duties in the Church.

      The modern versions of the two institution ceremonies of lector and acolyte probably take 15-20 minutes combined if you do them outside of mass. I would receive both ministries if you can get them. I don't believe that it is proper to skip the institution to the office of lector if possible. From a traditional point of view, It is highly irregular if you skipped an order using the old books books. (You weren't allowed to proceed to the next minor order until you remedied the missing order).

      If the bishop would do the old form of ordination for you, that would be even better if you could get permission to do it, but you would have to be tonsured and ordained through all of the minor orders, because the old books don't allow you to skip orders. There is also an argument over whether the old acolyte and the new acolyte are the same since the new acolyte has more in common with the subdeacon than the acolyte.

      Also, Peter, even the Council of Trent granted permission to ordain married men as minor clerics if no celibates could be found. In fact, Session 23 in its Decree on the Reformation, Chapter 17 declared that it was permissible to ordain married men to the minor orders and said that if married men were ordained to the minor orders that they were commanded to wear the tonsure and cassock. (So the idea of married minor clerics is not exactly modernist.)

  7. Thank you Anonymous for your comments. I agree, that the Lector and Acolyte should be both conferred, as anonymous mentions, due to the circumstances that they were separate in the old and one could not "skip" one and assume the lesser due to the greater office. In Toronto's seminary, as I wrote and Anonymous confirms elsewhere, they are generally installing Acolyte first and then Lector. However, in our Archdiocese, there will be no non-seminarians installed, though wee do have two for the Ordinariate who could, theoretically, assist in a traditional Latin Mass, though I expect, Houston will not be pleased. A "novus ordo" Acolyte would the same as a novus ordo priest, ordination is conferred by the intent and the laying on of hands, same here. As for "is it modernist?" Of course it is! That's why we're in this silly situation. Of course, what is more odd, the ICRSS, FSSP, etc., still ordain in the proper order and still tonsure even though Paul VI did away with them. Anonymous' point about the Council of Trent providing for married men to be installed as Lectors and Acolytes. Yes, this is true and it meant that men were serving at the Altars, not "little clerks." The intent was clearly intended that those serving at the altar were formal clerics, not just boys. This is a lesson for us in the whole matter here. As for the bell, there is simply no Porter office, so I would say, yes.

    Thank you both.

  8. While I hate to give this any publicity, there is this which caused the need for Una Voce Toronto to clarify the situation.

  9. Anonymous, let us discuss this matter of "clothed," or the "right to be clothed" seminarian serving as Subdeacon. What does "clothed" mean? In the Toronto Oratory, clothed means wearing the Oratorian habit but at some point, the man is "installed" as a Lector and later as an Acolyte. At St. Augustine's Seminary, they wear no habit at all, not permitted until Diaconate. Now, this Lector/Acolyte installation occurs late, in 7th year, after the pastoral year and one year before Diaconate. For six years, there is no installation, no clothing, of any kind. Now, in the former days, they would have all received tonsure and been clothed in Year 1. Surely, just because one is in Seminary does not mean he is "clothed." This would negate the need for the whole installation restriction.

  10. Thanks guys for the responses.

    Incidentally, I was both clothed as an Oratorian (at the Toronto Oratory...a beautiful ceremony actually), and also did one year at St. Augustine's. Does this change my predicament any? (insofar as I am currently a married layman open to singing the epistle at Mass)...also, did I receive the equivalent on tonsure? And if so, do I enjoy any privileges now to legitimately assume any functions at a TLM?


  11. Dear Unknown,

    Thanks so much for your replies! :-)

    I was said:

    I sing the epistle or readings at missae cantatae and take the role of subdeacon at Solemn masses. I can also touch the sacred vessels, help set up the altar, and carry the chalice from the credence table to the altar during the offertory. I can also help chant the liturgy during mass or the office. You're basically the treated as a minor cleric according to the TLM rubrics, because you are one. The bishop also advised me to wear the cassock and collar while on official duties in the Church.

    Unknown, do you have any documentation from the Bishop (something in print, say) outlining the above privileges? If so, I was wondering if you could send me a copy, so that I can build a better case with my pastor and Bishop to grant analogous privileges for myself and some of the other servers.

    With many thanks,


  12. Peter, As with a friend of mine who was an Acolyte in the SSPX, I believe those privileges ended.

  13. The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter institutes non-seminarians as acolytes (I am one) and it seems the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston does too.