21 April 2009

Good news: subdeacons

In many places, clergy and people are reaching into old vestment chest and hauling out the dalmatics and tunicles which have not seen the light of day since the 1970s. Masses are being celebrated which increasingly represent and resemble the old ritual and ethos of the 'High Mass'. (A little girl in S Thomas's was fascinated by the sight of the three clergy one behind the other "like carriages in a train". It did not occur to her unpolluted mind to complain about how they 'had their backs to the people'.) I think this is all splendid. It means, of course, that very often a priest has to use his diaconal status rather than his presbyteral. But does this matter (any more than it matters that we all find it practical to give communion from the ciborium in the Tabernacle rather than, as the newer texts prefer, from hosts consecrated in the same Mass)? And the restoration by Benedict XVI of his Cardinal Deacons functioning in dalmatics and mitres suggests that by receiving a sacerdotal ministry a man does not lose the right to appear publicly in a diaconal role.

But suppose there are not three clergy. According to the old rules, anybody who had entered the clerical state by being tonsured, or possessed a 'minor order' - one thinks nowadays of a Reader or a commissioned Acolyte - could (maniple-less) function as a subdeacon, and many Anglo-Catholic shrines in the 1960s acquired Readers for just this purpose. But it meant a lot of pointless swotting to get the 'qualification'.

I think the role of Subdeacon is ripe for revival. Despite its abolition by Paul VI and its disuse in the C of E since 1559, the order is of enormous antiquity. And it has considerable advantages.

It does not legally exist. A bishop cannot ordain a Deacon without creating somebody who, in civil as well as canon law, has the significant status of a Clerk in Holy Orders. And doing this is circumscribed by statute and canon. He cannot license a Reader without having regard to the canons and regulations. But canons and statutes and regulations know absolutely nothing whatsoever of subdeacons. So in ordaining them a bishop would be performing a legal nullity. He wouldn't have to worry about anything except the suitability of the candidate for the role! And, because the law of the Church, and the praxis of mainstream Anglicanism, have no place for the Subdeacon, the order couldn't turn into an automatic stepping-stone to the priesthood, as the diaconate has. The subdeacon would remain a Minister in the local church to which he was ordained.

This seems to me one way of beginning the recovery of the Sunday Parish Mass as a corporate interaction of varied ministries. Go on, you know it makes sense.

13 comments:

Malcolm Kemp said...

This is like music to the ears. Let's hope others - including bishop Administrators in North Norfolk - will follow likewise. I have always been irritated by, and hated, concelebrations (except on occasions you have mentioned previously) but love old fashioned High Mass. The tide seems to be turning and I almsot feel sorry for all those silly people who jumped on the band-waggon and had beautiful sets of High Mass vestments turned into concelebration sets.

First Apostle said...

Why no maniple? Does it have the same sort of status as a stole? At my church, which does do a High Mass with priest, deacon and subdeacon, the subdeacon wears the maniple as well. The subdeacon is always a layman - a seminarian or one of the acolytes.

ex_fide said...

FirstApostle,

I understand the rule to have been that a layman may act as subdeacon, but in this case he doesn't wear the maniple (or presumably the biretta) and certain functions are omitted (maybe holding the cruet of water up to be blessed at the offertory)

I tend to act as liturgical subdeacon fairly frequently, but wear both the maniple and the biretta with pom under the orders of my priest. I have discerned no vocation to the diaconate or priesthood, but enjoy serving at the altar in whatever capacity i may.

I think Fr. H might be onto a winner. I don't honestly believe that the appointment of subdeacons is so objectionable as to cause scandal to the Church. Besides, we have much to discover in the liturgy of ordering subdeacons, in which he is handed an empty chalice and paten as well as a book of epistles, and so instituted to defend the faith, the public worship of the church and the word of God.

rev'd up said...

As I understand it, a mere priest can ordain men/boys to the minor orders: is this correct?

Magister said...

From "Ritual Notes", re: "Lay Subdeacon", it says that a layman may function as a subdeacon at a High Mass and wear the tunicle and biretta but not the maniple.

Mantellone said...

The maniple is/was the sign of the subdiaconal order. Therefore, if anyone acts in that capacity who is not ordained to it, he oughtn't to appropriate the symbol of something he isn't.

Fortescue saith that a layman acting as subdeacon wears amice, alb, girdle, tunicle and biretta but not the maniple (or stole), and I see no reason to disagree either with him or with the S.R.C. (Decree 4181 states this all clearly, according to p468 of O'Connell's 'Celebration of the Mass').

If we're going to do things, let's do them properly, rather than wrongly because they look nice that way.

Paul Goings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Goings said...

Fortescue saith that a layman acting as subdeaconIn fact, Fortescue says no such thing. He does make mention of the tolerated custom of tonsured clerics acting as subdeacon, but says nothing about laymen performing this office.

Clint Brand said...

As the parish verger and sometime "Lay Clerk" for Solemn Mass at one of the Anglican Use parishes in the USA, I certainly appreciate Fr. Hunwicke's remarks. At Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church in Houston, TX, the "Clerk" functions in place of a subdeacon, sans maniple and biretta. Some years ago, given concerns that the bishop might not welcome a layman clad in a tunicle, it was decided to vest the "Clerk" in a scapular matching the chasuble and dalmatic of the celebrant and deacon. For Solemn Mass done more-or-less according to Ritual Notes and adapted to the Book of Divine Worship, the Clerk thus substitutes for the subdeacon and allows us to make Solemn Mass our normative parish Eucharist. If only the Anglican Use could offer a pattern and precedent for something like a "permanent subdiaconate"!

Chris said...

I see no particular reason not to regard the CofE office of Reader - especially since the "Lay" was dropped from the title - as functionally equivalent to a Subdeaconate.

David said...

It's about fifty years since I heard this but as I remember it the rule in the RC Church was that clerics in Minor Orders could function as subdeacon as long as they didn't wear ALL of the vestments. There were two other functions they were not supposed to do. If they broke ALL three of these prohibitions they were automatically exommunicated but if they broke only two of the three there was no penalty. The easiest way to fullfill the law was to omit one of the vestments and the easiest one to omit was the maniple. Legalism can have it's advantages

Regretably, my source for this is now dead.

Nebuly said...

Note that the Norbertine Novice - not a sub deacon - acts as such in the Extraordianry Form but without the maniple

http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2009/04/ef-pontifical-mass-in-czech-republic.html

Subdeacon Joseph said...

This article is strange to me....Some people wish to be, yet some people already are. :P (Also a former doorkeeper, reader, exorcist and acolyte.)