Friday, 5 November 2010

Orders and Liturgy...

Don't panic! This won't be another pompous rant by me about Liturgy and how Trad Catholics get it spectacularly wrong...even more so than the Modernists in some respects. The blogger Ex Fide has written two comparative, very cogent and well-thought-out posts, here and here, about Holy Orders, specifically the Diaconate and Subdiaconate, their respective roles within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and the inherent dangers in certain tendencies in the Western approach to them (yet more wonderful ''developments''). The points I find resonant are questions about whether a Priest is a Deacon (and Subdeacon, although since 1974 this point raises other questions*), and whether it is desirable (or even decent, liturgically that is) for a Priest to fill the role of Deacon and/or Subdeacon in the celebration of Mass. I personally find it very strange that three priests (none of whom will have been ordained Subdeacon if their ordinations were after 1974) have to be procured for a celebration of High Mass in the Old Roman Rite. I remember serving a Mass about two years ago (as ''Torchbearer'' - one of the prerogatives of Pontifical liturgy in my opinion) which had to be sung without Ministers because one of them didn't turn up. I was irked by that at the time and still feel irked by it to this day because it is redolent of a mentality fundamentally at odds with the Sacred Liturgy - the ''Low Mass mentality,'' as a friend of mine sometimes says. Why should the Sacred Liturgy suffer vast curtailments just because you can't procure a priest to ''do'' Subdeacon, that is, as Ex Fide says, step down temporarily for the duration of Mass? Since the Subdiaconate is a Minor Order instituted by the Church I think that even laymen can ''do'' Subdeacon for want of a tonsured cleric, in the same way that laymen and boys can ''do'' Acolyte and form the liturgical choir. If the Subdiaconate is a Major Order though (as it seems to have become in the West), why does the Bishop not lay hands upon the ordinand? The laying on of hands is an integral part of the ordination of the Major Orders but not the Minor ones. Also, if it is a Major Order, what authority would Paul VI have to abolish it?

Lumen Gentium says that ''the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by episcopal consecration.'' Again this sort of makes stale Paul VI's later restoration of the permanent Diaconate in 1967; flattens out, as it were, the restoration of a more holistic tradition in the Roman Church, for the implications of this assertion still cling to the indelible mark hermeneutic, and seem to imply that a priest is less ordained than his bishop, and a deacon less than a priest etc. I think that those ridiculous geriatrics who make the Second Vatican Council out to be something that it wasn't (the ''spirit of Vatican II'' crowd - diametrically opposed to the Trads, who think the Council little better than a latrocinium, or a synod of brigands hijacked by liberals - poor old Bugnini, the scapegoat of Tradworld!) make a very cogent point when they accuse the pre-Conciliar Church of clericalism. There is always a grain of truth in a heresy - the very fault of heresy is the perversion, or exaggeration, of the Truth. Were it not for the sidelining of the Diaconate as a permanent Order in the West (and in its place a more exalted kind of priesthood - with disastrous consequences for the Liturgy) the gap between priest and congregation, the distinction between the priesthood of all believers and the priesthood of the hierarchy, would not have appeared so great. God instituted three orders of Bishop, Priest and Deacon - not just Bishop and Priest, with the Deacon as a temporary, inferior, state. Deacons are very important - so important, in fact, that I think every parish should have one. Unfortunately this assertion of the Second Vatican Council merely perpetuates that mentality, with the Pope as a kind of super-bishop answerable to none but God alone (if even He).

Since this is a link to another blog I shall stop rambling on now. In the early Church, as in Egeria's day, the focal point of the Christian life was the solemn celebration of the Sacred Liturgy on the Lord's Day by the Bishop with the assistance of his Priests and Deacons and the whole Christian community - what on earth has it become? One hour a week in a parish church which provides defective liturgy is just not good enough (and how often do you see your diocesan Bishop???), and you may try to compensate for this by devotions in the family, and the ''domestic church'' reflects, in a certain sense, the Church community as a whole, but is this really what Christianity is about, I ask you?

* For instance, are priests ordained after 1964 (the year Paul VI made the maniple optional) allowed to wear the maniple? And are priests ordained after 1974 (the year Paul VI abolished the Subdiaconate and Minor Orders) allowed to ''do'' Subdeacon at Mass having not been ordained in the first place?


  1. Interesting icon. I think it's St Herman of Alaska on the right of the Lord, and St Alexis Toth on the left - so if it's supposed to show a deacon, it doesn't!

    The point is well made, though. I've nothing to add to Michael's excellent exposition on Ex Fide. I was provoked to make the same point, with less precision and economy, a couple of years ago, by an illustration reproduced on Fr Ray's blog, which I recognised from a 1950's catchetical work. It showed the development, through successive stages minor and major, from tonsured larva to presbyteral dragonfly - without reference to bishop, eucharist, liturgical or pastoral function. Absolute nonsense.

  2. I certainly agree every parish should have a deacon.

    As to the minor orders my view is that parishes should have these too. The problem of regarding them as nasty grubs necessary for the dragonfly to emerge exemplified by Moretben above is spot on.

    There is something bizzare about dressing a priest as a sub-deacon. I would rather an acolyte serve as a sub-deacon than a priest do so. A Byzantine parallel is where readers are given a blessing to serve as sub-deacons. Bishops (Greek ones certainly, Moretben or Michael can help me out on others - please!) may celebrate more simply by wearing the phelon but Byzantine priests never dress as deacons or sub-deacons.

  3. I always thought there was something odd about it, though I never new why.

  4. Bishops (Greek ones certainly...may celebrate more simply by wearing the phelon but Byzantine priests never dress as deacons or sub-deacons.

    That's right. The phelonion was originally common to bishops and priests - the former adding the episcopal omophorion.

    The sakkos, on the other hand, came in with the Turkish yoke. On Fr Blake's blog there was also a recent post identifying the sakkos with the western dalmatic (which it does resemble somewhat), the claim being that the bishop is thus the "diakonos" par excellence. This was to illustrate an allocution by the Pope, in which he wished to remind priests that they're also, allegedly, "deacons forever".

    The sakkos, however, has nothing to do with the diaconate - it's an imperial garment, adopted by the bishops under the turkokratia, together with the crown, the eagle rug and the "imperial" throne in the middle of the nave, to show that the bishop was required henceforth to function also as an "ethnarch", assuming the role of the Emperor.

  5. Moretben,

    Absolutely spot-on (as usual). Rather interesting to see that HM The Queen wore the broad equivalent of a sakkos as part of her vesture at Her coronation.

  6. Patrici!

    The Council of Trent (23rd Session) decreed that:

    Chapter 13: "Such as have a good testimonial, and have been already tried in minor orders, and are instructed in letters, and in those things which belong to the exercise of their orders, shall be ordained subdeacons and deacons. They shall have a hope, with God's help, to be able to live continently; they shall serve in the churches to which they may be assigned; and are to know that it is very highly becoming that, after ministering at the altar, they should receive the sacred communion, at least on the Lord's days and solemnities. ******Those who have been promoted to the sacred order of the subdeaconship shall not******, until they have remained therein during at least a year, be permitted to ascend to a higher degree, unless the bishop shall judge otherwise."

    and further:

    Chapter 12: No one shall for the future be promoted to the order of subdeaconship before the twenty-second [22] year of age; to that [Page 184] of deaconship before his twenty-third [23] year; to that of priesthood before his twenty-fifth year."

    The sub-diaconate is clearly a stepping stone on the way to ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. But with the sub-diaconate came the promise of the celibacy and the duty to recite the Breviary - so it used to be an important step and was a sign that the candidate was entering the clerical state. . The Subdeacon is not be be ordained to the Diaconate for at least a year to see if he keeps his promise of celibacy.

    Now without having the time to find and cite an authoritative source I would say that just as the Bishop can do the things a priest can do - hear confessions etc - becuase he is a priest as well as a Bishop so likewise the Priest can do the things a sub-deacon can do - sing the Epistle at Mass and hold the Paten and generally assist the Deacon.

    In a collegiate church or a monastic community where there is only one Solemn High Mass on a Day it is natural that priests would have to serve as sub-deacons and deacons.

    I am ignoring your 1974 point....

  7. So what if the Council of Trent says that. The Council of Trent says plenty of others things which represent a departure from tradition too.

  8. "...was a sign that the candidate was entering the clerical state. ."

    The sign of entering the clerical state was the tonsure - hence the chapter "De Clerico Faciendo" in the first part of the Pontificale.

    In Collegiate churches, after the canons, through the ranks of beneficiati and then the mansionari there would have been clerics who were not priested (the same in Monastic foundations). In theory at least chapter should have had canon-deacons (and similarly the College of Cardinals had Cardinal-Deacons who assisted the pope at functions). The view that developed, as per Patricius' post that offices such as that of deacon were unimportant in their own right and the 'larvae to the dragonfly perfection of priest', to use Moretben's words, meant this all ended up rather cosmetic. At one time there were real Cardinal-Deacons etc.

    In the Russian Church senior deacons, such as the deacon who serves the Patriarch, out-rank ordinary priests and the office of deacon is not seen as a chrysallis - to use Moretben's imagery again.

  9. In my opinion it's the habit of thinking always in this inadequate and misleading "top-down" or "bottom-up" pyramidal way (epitomised by the 1950's illustration I mentioned above) that's the source of most of the confusion on this(and in ecclesiology generally); that, and the red-herring of celibacy, of which more subsequently.

    Instead we ought to do it liturgically – "centre-out" – i.e. starting at the altar. The Eucharist is in the Church, and the Church is in the Eucharist: it's the Eucharistic assembly presided over by the Bishop (viz. St Ignatius of Antioch) that consitutes the Church. So everything is with reference to the bishop (just as everything in theology starts, or ought to start, with the person of Christ), the immediate source and centre of all "order" - not with a tonsured larva. All other functions and offices are dispensed by the bishop, and operate by virtue of communion with him. He represents the "mains supply", if you like, into which all the appliances are plugged - from which it follows that the various appliances are redundant without him (which is why we don't have vagantes in the Orthodox Church. A presbyter without the commission of a canonical Bishop is a radiator without the mains - a cold lump of metal and wiring).

    Thus, the Bishop ordains other "elders" (presbyteroi), who have stood with him around the altar, to be his vicars, so as to exercise HIS sacramental and governing functions on his behalf, and in his absence in a subordinate, contingent and limited capacity.

    The deacons are something quite different from the presbyters. They are the bishop's – and the people's - servants or "messengers" (hence the Archangels on the deacons' doors), running constantly between altar and nave, bidding this, begging that, assisting here, exhorting there. They're not defective or half-formed presbyters, and neither is the presbyter a “rounded-up” deacon.

    Now, as required, a bishop, priest or deacon might supply the function of a reader, for example – as when my own Archbishop once joined me in the kliros as I struggled ineptly through a Paraklesis service – but this is purely economia, certainly not a re-assumption by the bishop of the order of Lector held in potential under his omphorion, as simple common sense should tell us. As there are no equivalent circumstances in which economia would require either a bishop or a priest to “stand in” for a deacon, if no deacon is present the prayers and actions proper to that office are omitted.

    Celibacy is implicitly and explicitly a requirement of the monastic (clue in the name!) life, not the clerical state. Bachelor-priests or bachelor-deacons are not a canonical category in Orthodoxy. Insistance on “clerical celibacy” from the subdiaconate therefore introduces and fosters the idea that the diaconate is simply a halfway house to “full priesthood”.

  10. Moretben,

    If I were wearing a violet kamilauka I would doff it in your honour - your last comment is pure brilliance.

  11. The subdiaconate was a major order juridically, canonically, but not sacramentally. I have been deacon at High Masses, in which an acolyte fulfilled the role of subdeacon. An acolyte who had been ordained (or whatever the new term is.) I am myself a priest, but gladly and often fulfill the liturgical role of deacon and subdeacon. It makes sense to me, for, though a priest, I remain both deacon and subdeacon as well as acolyte, lector, etc. for the rest of my life. As for the diaconate, permanent diaconate is a good thing, i admit, and have always wished that many more were ordained. Permanent subdiaconate and minor orders would also be a good thing, so that every parish and monastery would have a full range of orders to build up the Body of Christ. But the fact also remains, that none may be ordained priest without first being ordained deacon. This is the 2000 year old practise of the Church of Rome. So, then, my diaconate was transitory in relationship to my priestly ordination, an obligatory step towards the priesthood. And yet, my diaconate is also permanent, as i remain a deacon forever, since the character is indelible, just like the character of the priesthood. This justifies my acting as liturgical deacon, and this justifies the holy Tradition of the Church of Rome.