19 April 2009


I have in mind to complain about Liturgy which has just one Minister: the celebrating priest. I call it Monoliturgy. But a couple of caveats:
(1) I am not attacking 'private masses', in favour of which I have recently blogged, or guild masses, or ritual masses such as those at the conferring of sacraments or at funerals , etc. etc.. What I have in mind is the main corporate Mass of the Lord's People on the Lord's Day. Which ought, in my view, to express in the involvement of formal ministries its corporate and very special status.
(2) This has nothing to do with sacerdotalism but a fair bit to do with clericalism. In the centuries after the Reformation, the C of E was repeatedly nagged by Puritans and Presbyterians to make its worship more of a clericalist monologue.

We have an account of the ministry of an ordinary North African town in 303. We learn of Paul the Bishop; of Montanus, Victor and Memorius his presbyters; his deacons Mars and Helios; his four subdeacons, and a considerable squad of sextons (Dix SL 24). Clearly Sunday Mass at Cirta was no Monoliturgy but a corporate 'performance' involving a diversity of ministries which were clearly not informal or ad actum, but formal and structured. But a normal Sunday Mass nowadays may have a deacon - if the parish is lucky enough to have a transient deacon preparing for the priesthood, or a 'permanent deacon' - but in the great majority of cases, although various laypeople may read, or intercede, or serve, or sing, or (extraordinarily) administer Communion, there will be no formal ministries involved except for that of the Priest. True, an Oriental Liturgy ought always to have a deacon; but in my experience Orientals in the diaspora often cannot afford a deacon. A priest, of course, is necessary for there to be a Eucharist.

Together with the almost mandatory deacons, what used to be called the 'Minor Orders' supplied the rich interaction of ministries which characterised worship in the early centuries. But they turned into mere stepping-stones for aspirants to the presbyterate and have now disappeared. Or have they? More on this shortly.


Rubricarius said...


I have been re-reading Wordsworth's 'Medieval Services' and was struck by the description of multiple deacons and subdeacons at Lincoln.

A friend in the USA told me his community were deprived of a full Triduum because the priest was ordered to be dressed down as a deacon elsewhere which strikes me as aliturgical (and actually forbidden in the 1985 Caeremoniale!)

More deacons and minor orders in parishes?

Nebuly said...

Over on New Liturgical Movement one may find more than enough discussion as to whether or not priests should act as deacons.

Suffice it to say that It is clearly discouraged rather than forbidden; Cardinals act as deacons to the Pope: the deacon at the Papal Mass of John Paul II in Westminster Cathedral was a priest; old liturgical norms should inform later ones; etc etc etc

Would that High Mass were again the norm in the West

Rubricarius said...

I would have thought a reading of C.E. Cap.1, 22 "...numquam tamen vestibus diaconalibus induti." was rather clear in forbidding, rather then discouraging, dressing a priest as a deacon.

I would much prefer to see more real deacons around.

The Religious PĂ­caro said...

Of course, the EO still have minor orders.

Anonymous said...

Last I heard, a bishop is a priest is a deacon is an acolyte is an exorcist is a porter - nothing wrong with a bishop serving mass in a pinch...

In the good ol' days at solemn mass often all three sacred ministers were in priests orders, with the caveat that if one of the three happened to ONLY be in deacons orders he should start at the deacon's position rather than sub. Point is that deacons technically "serve" at the bishops court and were used to distribute "fermentum" to the various parishes within the see on Sundays to demonstrate their corporate-ness; hence the elaborate liturgical dance with the paten and humeral veil.

Nebuly said...

I would have thought a reading of C.E. Cap.1, 22 "...numquam tamen vestibus diaconalibus induti." was rather clear in forbidding, rather then discouraging, dressing a priest as a deacon.

Well whatever those Cardinals are doing ( and they are all in priests orders are they not? ) they are dressed as deacons....
and not as 'concelebrating' priests

ex_fide said...

Formal re-institution of minor orders across the board......some people harp on about it consistently but others dismiss it as over-clericalising the church. Yet despite this no one seems willing to take the arguments seriously enough to be reviewed formally.