TO SERVE AND PROCLAIM
I seem to be spending a lot of time in the seminary these days. Week before last I attended the Board of Trustee Meetings at both seminaries and this past week-end, I was invited back to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist and install some of the seminary community officially as lectors and acolytes. There were also candidates for the permanent diaconate of the Diocese of Palm Beach included in the large number to receive these ministries. Before the changes brought about in the simplifications which followed the Second Vatican Council there used to be eight steps leading to ordination of priests:
1. TONSURE – When a young man had made his first commitment to being ordained and had chosen a diocese or religious order for which he would be ordained, he was “tonsured.’ This involved the bishop coming and presiding at a ceremony and each candidate would come forward and be “tonsured” which meant that the bishop cut a lock of his hair off from the top of his head. The tonsuring bishop wore gloves at ceremonies then and there were all kinds of stories about him snipping the finger tips of his gloves while looking for a thinning lock of hair. The ceremony itself was a symbol that the candidate for priesthood was willing to sacrifice worldly affectations and esteem. Classic pictures of monks and friars like St. Francis of Assisi show the tonsure or shaved spot on the top of one’s head. God Himself took care of my tonsure!
2. PORTER – At this preparatory step, the bishop handed the candidate for ordination the keys to the Church and the latter went out and locked and unlocked the doors, an indication that some day soon, the candidate would be responsible for the safe-keeping of the sacred as well as safeguarding entry into sacred space.
3. LECTOR – In this step the candidate would be given the Lectionary as a symbol that they could now proclaim the first reading at Mass (there was generally no second reading at that time or better put, the second reading was the Gospel which then and now can only be proclaimed by a deacon or priest or bishop). This “minor order” survived the changes.
4. ACOLYTE – In this step one was allowed to touch the sacred objects used at Mass such as the chalice, ciborium in which the consecrated hosts were contained, etc. One could also wash the sacred cloths used to purify the sacred vessels after Mass and the sacred vessels themselves. Much more reverence was given in those days to those items which were used in the consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This minor order remained but sacristans and others could touch and wash the linens, clean the vessels, etc. And as we know, boys and girls were allowed to serve at Mass. This minor order remains and those invested with it are allowed to distribute the Eucharist at Holy Communion time by virtue of their “order” as an acolyte.
5. EXORCIST – This was the fourth and last of what were called the “minor orders” leading to the major orders leading to the priesthood and in my day this was a symbolic office, not to be exercised (spelled differently please note).
6. SUBDEACON – The preceding five steps were simply ceremonies of conferral of minor orders but the subdiaconate was an actual ordination ceremony, the first of three possible ordinations; subdiaconate, diaconate. and priesthood. The subdeacon was ordained in a ceremony and it was his lot in life at Mass to hold the sacred paten on which the Body of Christ would rest from the Our Father to Communion. He wore what was called a tunic which looked an awful lot like the dalmatic which was worn by the next order.
7. DIACONATE – All the aforementioned except the ministries of lector and acolyte were eliminated and the diaconate became the first of three surviving ordination ceremonies. (Liturgical sharpies are thinking the bishop has made a glaring mistake! With the reforms bishops were no longer considered consecrated but rather ordained to the episcopal office which explains why I deliberately did not include episcopal ordination in #6 above). The deacon was ordained by the imposition of hands but chrism was not used and still is not used. The deacon’s ministry in the transitional and restored rite at Mass is to proclaim the Gospel, minister the cup at communion, lead the penitential intercessions, invite to share the sign of peace, and dismiss. Additionally a deacon is an ordinary minister of baptism, may witness marriages, and may preach the word plus all manner of other responsibilities.
8. PRIESTHOOD – This one is a no-brainer
9. EPISCOPACY – This one is also no brainer.
Anyway, yesterday at St. Vincent de Paul I instituted future priests as lectors and as acolytes. It was a privilege and since a number of those instituted are our own men, it was a double source of joy.