As so often, I need help from readers who possess the capacity to help me. As so often, my train of the thought has been stimulated by a fine recent piece from the ever-admirable Peter Kwasniewski. And, as so often, PF is at the bottom of it all.
In that first Christian millennium, what and who were the occupants of that great wealth of Minor Orders? And I think I mean, primarily, what and who were they sociologically?
Back in the days of Christendom, were all those Doorkeepers and Acolytes, Readers and Exorcists ... as we might say ... full-time employees of the Church, maintained by the Church? Or, like the servers and readers and Eucharistic Ministers and Permanent Deacons of today, were they essentially keen and worthy part-timers, not paid by the Diocese, who put on an alb on Sundays and, with the intention of enriching the Liturgy, lend a hand?
I think this matters, because it bears upon the question of what are the laity; what is their calling. There are massive practical consequences, such as "Are we clericalising the Laity?" (See PK's article in NLM). My strong instinct is to say "Yes we are and we shouldn't be". But I haven't thought all this through properly.
I do find some very suggestive help in the old Pontificale Romanum. It is in what the Bishop says to the candidates before Ordination to the Subdiaconate: "Up till now, you are free, and it is licit for you at your will to move over to worldly callings. Because if you receive this order [the subdiaconate], it will no longer be possible for you to jump back from what you have set before you ... [Hactenus enim liberi estis, licetque vobis pro arbitrio ad saecularia vota transire; quod si hunc Ordinem susceperitis, amplius non licebit a proposito resilire ...]."
And he goes on to specify celibacy, and the subdiaconal obligation to be in Ecclesiae ministerio semper mancipati.
So ... all those in minor orders could walk away, grow their hair, and get a different, secular, job, and (this seems to be implicit) find a wife. I am afraid that I cannot follow Bishop Schneider's opinions, expressed in a recent article, that "to carry out any, even a more humble, service in public worship, it is necessary that the minister receive a stable or sacred designation" [My emphasis]. The pre-Conciliar Pontificale makes it perfectly clear that those in minor Orders are at liberty, if they feel like it (pro arbitrio), just to walk away from (transire) that ministry and grab a votum saeculare. When the Pontiff made clear that subdeacons were semper mancipati (like pieces of merchandise permanently purchased), he implied that this had not previously been their status.
But, as long as they remained functioning as doorkeepers, etc., were they an integral part of the clerus Romanus; fed a mensa pontificali, recognisable by their tonsure? Or were they like the modern laity lending a hand?
This method of enquiry ... getting into the ancient Roman texts ... offers us the the most robust and simple way into the problem of what were the occupants of the 'Minor Orders'; and what are the men and women admitted to the two 'ministries' invented by S Paul VI?. And what is a layperson?