The Order of Subdeacon
The Subdiaconate -- the 1st of the Major Orders
The subdiaconate is the order which is under, or next to, the diaconate. As with the growth of the Church the work of deacons increased, and also divine services were celebrated with greater solemnity, holy Church introduced this order and assigned to its members some of the functions that before had been taken care of by deacons. This must have been done before the middle of the third century.
Although the subdiaconate is not a sacrament, it has been counted a major order since the beginning of the thirteenth century at the latest. The reason for giving it such a high rank lies in the functions and obligations attached to the order.
The subdiaconate is the decisive step in the life of the cleric. Whereas the minorite may return to secular pursuits, if he chooses to do so, the subdeacon assumes the obligation of observing perfect chastity in the unmarried state and of reciting the Divine Office, both for life.
It is not certain when celibacy became a law for the subdeacon, but it must have been rather early, since St. Gregory mentions it about the year 600.
The recitation of the Divine Office grew out of the custom, found already in the Old Testament, of reciting prayers at stated hours, i.e., the third, sixth, and ninth hour. It was but natural that the monks from the very beginning of the monastic life should adopt this custom. In the course of time the prayers were given a more definite form, and the number of hours was increased to seven to bring them in conformity with the psalmist's words: "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee." (Ps. 118, 164). Psalms made up the principal part of the Office. The obligation for secular clerics to recite the Divine Office publicly and in common is met first in the fifth century. For a long time the obligation was incumbent only on those clerics who held some benefice. It was only toward the end of the twelfth century that all members of the major orders were obliged to the private recitation of the Office.
According to the present discipline of the Church the subdeacon assists at solemn liturgical functions and sings the Epistle during a solemn High Mass. He also washes the corporals, palls, and purificators, that have been used for the celebration of holy Mass. If no subdeacons are available, deacons or priests attend to these duties.
The features which appear in the ordination of subdeacons are:
- The statement of the title under which the candidate is ordained.
- The prostration and the Litany of the Saints.
- The investiture with the insignia of the office.
By title, we understand a certain guarantee or security insuring decent support to the cleric. Originally title designated the church to which a cleric was attached, the service of which entitled him to support. Holy Church wishes that clerics should be free from material cares, so as to be able to devote themselves wholly to priestly work. The customary titles in our days are, for secular priests: the title of benefice, of service of the diocese, of the missions; in the United States it is the title of the service of the Church. Religious priests are ordained to the title of poverty, or the title of the common table.
The subdiaconate is conferred:
Saturdays of Ember weeks: after the fifth lesson.
On all other days: immediately before the epistle.
The candidates present themselves for ordination dressed in alb, cincture, the amice loosely hanging about the neck. On their left arm they carry the tunic and maniple, and in their right hand a burning candle.
The Call. The bishop, with his miter on, sits on the faldstool before the middle of the altar. The archdeacon bids the candidates come forward; the notary reads their names. There is added in this ordination to each name the title under which the candidate is to be ordained.
Let those who are to be ordained subdeacons come forward: N. N., to the title of the Church N.; N. N., to the title of his patrimony; to the title of the missions; Frt. N., of the Congregation of N., to the title of the common table.
First Instruction. When all are assembles in the sanctuary, the bishop addresses them as follows. This instruction is left out if all the ordinands are religious, since religious have already taken the decisive step for life in their religious profession. In this case the candles are laid aside and the Litany of the Saints follows immediately.
Dearly beloved sons, you are to be promoted to the sacred order of subdeaconship. Again and again you must carefully consider the office for which you ask today of your own accord. For as yet you are free; if you so decided, you may lawfully pass over to secular pursuits; but after you have received this order, you will be free no longer to withdraw from the chosen course, but bound for life to the service of God, whom to server is to rule. And you will be under obligation, with His help, to observe chastity and to employ yourselves in the ministry of the Church at all times. Therefore, while there is time, reflect. If you decide to persevere in you holy resolve, come forward in the name of the Lord.
The litany finished, all rise. The bishop, with his miter on, takes his seat on the faldstool before the middle of the altar; if candidates for deaconship or the priesthood are present, the archdeacon announces in a loud voice:
Let those who are to be ordained deacons and priests return to their place.
Second Instruction. As the ordinands kneel before him, the bishop addresses them as follows:
Dearly beloved sons, who are to be ordained subdeacons, carefully consider what office is entrusted to you. The duty of the subdeacon is to prepare the water for the ministry of the altar, to assist the deacon, to wash the altar cloths and corporals, to hand to the deacon the chalice and paten used at the sacrifice.
The offerings which are brought to the altar are called the Loaves of Proposition. Of these offerings so much must be placed on the altar as will suffice for the people. There should be nothing in the tabernacle to decay.
The cloths which are used for the covering of the altar must be washed in one vessel; the corporals in another one. Where the corporals have been washed, no other linen is to be washed, and the water must be poured into the baptistry.
Endeavor, therefore, to perform these material services properly and with careful attention, and in a like manner to fulfill the spiritual obligations symbolized by them.
The altar of holy Church is Christ, as John testifies, who says in his Apocalypse that he saw Him as a golden altar standing before the throne. In Him and through Him the gifts of the faithful are offered to God the Father. The palls and corporals of this altar are the members of Christ, namely, God's faithful; with these the Lord is clothed, as it were, with precious vestments as the psalmist says: "The Lord is king, He is clothed with beauty." Blessed John also saw in the Apocalypse the Son of Man girded with a golden cincture, that is, surrounded by the multitude of saints.
If, therefore, it should happen through human frailty that the faithful are defiled by some sin, you must minister to them the water of heavenly doctrine, so that, cleansed by it, they may again be an ornament of the altar and take part in the celebration of the divine Sacrifice.
Hence, be such as to worthily assist at the divine Sacrifice, and to serve the Church of God, which is the body of Christ. Be grounded in the true and Catholic faith; for, as the Apostle says; All that is not of faith is sin, and schism, and outside the unity of the Church.
And so, if hitherto you have been tardy as to the church, henceforth you must be prompt. If hitherto you have been prone to indulge in sleep, henceforth you must be vigilant. If hitherto you have been given to drink, henceforth you must be temperate. If hitherto you have been wanting in honor, henceforth you must be without reproach. May He deign to grant it to you, who lives and reigns, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
Behold what ministry is entrusted to you. Therefore, I exhort you so to conduct yourselves as to be pleasing to God.
Prayer for the Ordained. Then the bishop, with miter on, rises and, facing the people, prays:
Let us, dearly beloved brethren, beseech our God and Lord to pour out His + blessing and grace upon these His servants, whom He has deigned to call to the office of subdeaconship. May they be faithful ministers in His sight and attain the reward laid up for the saints, by the help of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
Let Us Pray
The assistants: Let us bend our knees. R. Arise.
Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, vouchsafe to + bless these Thy servants, whom Thou hast deigned to call to the office of subdeaconship. Make them in Thy holy temple valiant and watchful sentinels of the heavenly army, faithful ministers, of Thy holy altars. May the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and fortitude, the Spirit of knowledge and piety, rest upon them; fill them with the Spirit of Thy fear. Strengthen them in the divine ministry, so that, obedient to law and submissive to direction, they may obtain Thy grace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
Receive the amice, by which is signified moderation of speech. In the name of the + Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy + Ghost.
The subdeacon answers: Amen.
Receive the maniple, by which are signified the fruits of good works. In the name of the + Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy + Ghost.
The subdeacon answers: Amen.
May the Lord clothe thee with the tunic of gladness and the garment of joy. In the name of the + Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy + Ghost.
The subdeacon answers: Amen.
Receive the book of epistles and have the power to read them in the holy Church of God, for the living as well as for the dead. In the name of the + Father and of the + Son, and of the Holy + Ghost.
The subdeacon answers: Amen.