Monday, January 31, 2011

Instituted Lectors and Acolytes: A Proposal

In a previous post, I commented on the difference between Acolytes and Lectors, and altar servers and readers. This post is an attempt to show that difference, and offer a proposal. Also, so that no-one could possibly claim I'm trying to "turn back the clock," I'm going to be using sources primarily written by Paul VI or that of the reformer, Annibale Bugnini (insert your sarcastic witticism here; or if you prefer, ring the bells in celebration).

I have intentionally limited my citations, where possible, to this time of the beginning of the reformed Liturgy, for the sake of discerning what the intentions of those reformers were. No doubt, there has been much to say since then, but I believe my proposals fall in line with what is currently in force.

I have done this, hopefully, to offer an alternative to the notion that a "reform of the reform" is necessary, owing to the fact that the first one failed. I contend that, rather, the reform as intended never truly happened, so what is needed is an actual implementation of what was called for during the reform, and in the many years since the Concilium. This seems (to me) to be consonant with what Pope Benedict is calling for. (NOTE: I'm not saying a reform of the reform isn't necessary, let's just start with what is given.)

On a personal note, out of a desire to see truly beautiful liturgy that elevates the soul to contemplate the Mysteries (and if my proposals are valid ones), I think that this is an avenue worth pursuing in every parish, hence my writing about it.


Formerly, the ministries of Acolyte and Lector were a part of the "minor orders," steps on the way to becoming an ordained cleric in to the "major orders". These ministries, in varying degrees, are seen all the way back to the early Church.

Although these ministries are not traced back to apostolic times, they have a recorded history dating back to at least 255a.d.. I'd also note, especially since this is a primary reason for their reconfiguration, and for the sake of discussion, that the Second Eucharistic Prayer allegedly dates back to the same time period, even though it is doubtful if it was ever used in the tradition of the Church, and was "revived" (or came in to use for the first time) during the same time that these ministries were reconfigured in to something else.

For more information on the Minor Orders, see ye olde Catholic Encyclopedia.


In 1972, Paul VI issued a Motu Proprio, Ministeria Quadeam (On certain kinds of Ministries), which changed the way these venerable ministries would be carried out in the service of the Church.

The reason for this, as referenced in the document, were meant to be in accord with the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, when they wrote in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, for the "full, conscious, and active participation" of all the faithful. Moreover, that the faithful in exercising their lay priesthood, exercise a true ministry, in collaboration with those in the ministerial priesthood.

IT SHOULD BE NOTED at this point, that, contrary to popular myth, the minor orders were not suppressed by this document. Rather, the minor orders were "re-ordered" in an effort to include the lay faithful among their ranks in exercising these ministries.

The new norms laid out in the document for what were formerly called the minor orders are summarized as follows (for full text, see the document):

-What  were called minor orders are now called "ministries"

-"ministries" may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders

- two ministries, adapted to "present day needs," are to be reserved universally-- those of lector and acolyte. The functions of the subdeacon are to be assumed between the two ministries... the acolyte can be called a subdeacon in some places at the discretion of the bishop's conference.

(note the word "universally"-- it makes allowances for those who would want to continue to use all of the minor orders)

-Those who can be instituted into these ministries, in accord with ancient tradition, are to be reserved to men only.

- these are ministries conferred by the Ordinary.

-candidates for ordination must be instituted into these ministries prior to ordination.


First, the minor orders were never suppressed, even though earlier in the document, Paul VI talks about his intention that "what was obsolete in these offices be removed," he doesn't actually suppress them in the action items.

Second, these are ministries exercised at the behest of the Bishop. In fact, the rites for installation actually use the same symbols as the conferral of minor orders. It makes an allowance for using other offices formerly known as minor orders, as we see with the various fraternities and communities (FSSP, Oratorians, etc)

Third, they are now open to lay men.


Paul VI in this document, and other documents, doesn't seem to be opening a floodgate of the laity taking over the liturgies; but rather, he continually calls for "formation, formation, formation". The men instituted in to these ministries truly need to have the education to carry out their duties permanently. They need to have a desire to learn more and pray for growth in their area of ministry. How many permanent diaconal candidates, prior to institution in these ministries, truly get the necessary formation in these areas? For that matter, how many seminarians?

There are many of the "Am-church" persuasion who would not see this episcopally appointed ministry as an obligation upon the person instituted, or the parish in which they serve to use them. That, if we had an instituted lector, they would just take their spot in the weekly rotation of readers.

I beg to differ. As the ministries are conferred permanently by the Bishop, it seems that it is their responsibility to, when able, exercise this ministry. If a Lector intentionally "sat it out,"  while some other random person carried out the function and butchered the readings of the day, to me, it seems it could be a grave matter-- especially if the substitute reader caused the faithful in attendance at Mass to be distracted or pulled out of prayer as a result of the poor reading.

Canon 230 seems to be stating that there is a hierarchy-- a difference between those permanently installed by the Ordinary, and those who are deputed for a short time by the pastor of a parish.

The GIRM also seems to prefer those instituted ministers to other lay folks in these areas (cf. GIRM 100, 101).

Further, we can see this paralleled in an explicit hierarchy presented in the General Introduction to the new book of blessings-- that, after a person in orders, "an acolyte or reader who by formal institution in the Church is rightly preferred over another lay person as the minister designated... to impart certain blessings." (18)

Finally, drawing another parallel, in Immensae Caritatis, there is a hierarchy laid out for those distributing communion in the absence of a clergy or acolyte: Lector, major seminarian, man religious, woman religious, catechist, [finally] one of the faithful-- a man or a woman. Though this is relating to EMHCs, it seems reasonable to presume a similar hierarchy would be in place in the absence of Acolytes and Lectors.

IF this was the desire of reforming the ministries, to include lay men in these ministries, and even for those instituted as a progression toward Orders, I can think of very few places in the world that I am aware of that use them in this manner. In America, the average parish has lost this concept entirely, if the concept ever even existed.


My proposal is that, if these instituted ministries were utilized in the manner in which the documents seem to state, we would be cutting out a lot of excess fat in our liturgies. The liturgy would flow a bit better, without the pauses of tons of people walking around. Further, there would be an increased reverence-- the better quality of the formation of the ministers would allow for more emphasis on the ars celebrandi as it applies to the various ministries. In essence, the Mass would become more "Roman" Catholic, rather than generic, beige catholicism. Of course, this is just one aspect of the Mass-- along with music, the singing of prayers by the celebrant, the "orien"-tation of prayer, etc-- but I think it is a major component.

If there were two or three Acolytes and Lectors at every parish (with a proper amount of formation), and they were embraced by the pastor, we would see them doing the readings, assisting the deacons, and even if need be, an acolyte could purify the vessels. They would be vested, and process in with the other ministers (which was the intention in the GIRM when talking about this issue. Not for lay folks in plain clothes to process in carrying books-- how tacky). 

They would take on responsibilities in educating those who would be temporarily deputized in the functions of reader and altar server. These men could be a major asset in the cultivation of vocations among the young.

In all of this, there is the confusion of lanuage. The more recent document, Ecclesiae de Mysterio, is very clear about the need for a consistent terminology and distinction here. Lectors and Acolytes, by virtue of their institution by the Bishop, take on an ordinary ministry; whereas readers and altar servers take on an extraordinary one (albeit, imho, a more "real" ministry than that of EMHCs, but that's another post entirely).

To conclude, in practical terms, the "instituted ministries," as they are now called, have largely only been used as they were prior to the Reform-- for minor orders along the path to ordination. It seems that, if the reality is that these ministries are truly minor orders, not instituted ministries, and reserved only to those on the path to ordination, then all of these documents from a very confused period in the Church really have no bearing. HOWEVER, if it is not the case, and these ministries can be exercised legitimately by the lay faithful, it seems that these documents hold a key to an authentic reform of the Liturgy, and add clarity to what Sacrosanctum Concilium called for in this regard.

Any comments you have would be most welcome. Or, if you think it makes sense, feel free to send this along to your Pastor or Bishop. God bless you!

Sorry for the absence!

Hello out there!

Sorry for the break in blogging-- I have been working on a few posts in the past week, and also, have been helping my wife with an essay for her MA in Theology... 

Anyway, I am going to be doing a series of posts on some proposals for the Liturgy. Some of this is old stuff that you may have heard elsewhere, but I hope that they are fresh enough to consider discussing some of the implications of my proposals.

Feel free to comment!

God bless!


Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the Implementation of the New Missal...

I was reading through the USCCB's guide to Implementation of the New Missal yesterday. My colleague and I were talking about how a lot of the spin is really aimed at a small minority of the Faithful.

I predict that the new Missal translation is really not going to bother most of the congregation. A five minute talk at the end of Mass on why the new Missal (presumably not the week before), and then the new rules for translation (laid down in Liturgiam Authenticam) calling for a more literal rendering of the Latin, give an example of a new translation of a prayer, compared to an old one, and that should really do it (ex. go look up the collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent... it will blow your mind!).

Here's why I think that this is all it will take. A few weeks back, we were very blessed to host the kids from Wyoming Catholic College, who come every winter to do a week-long winter outdoor experience, and stay at the parish. Part of their week-long routine, of course, is the spiritual component. The campus chaplain comes along for the week, and offers daily Mass. The college has a weekly Mass in the Extraordinary Form, held on Wednesdays when school is in session.

Knowing this, and my own affinity toward the usus antiquior, I made arrangements for them to have the EF on the Wednesday of their stay here. I also invited several parishioners who had never attended a Mass in the traditional form, and we had all of our elementary school kids from the after school program come along, as well.

The response (from the parishioners) was overwhelmingly positive! Though they were a bit confused about some of the differences in the Mass (I had handouts available), they were simply blown away with the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite. It was nothing grand or fancy, just a simple Low Mass, but it truly elevated their hearts to contemplate Christ-- indeed, what Mass should do.This is exactly what the Council Fathers called for when they wrote of the desire for the faithful to engage in a "full, conscious, and active participation" in the Mass. Even our elementary school kids responded very well to it.

Similarly, over Christmas, we travelled home to MN, where we had the baptism of our new baby in the EF, and then a Missa Cantata afterward. All of our relatives, many whom had either not been to a "Tridentine Mass" since their childhood, or never at all, responded very positively.

Now, of course, there was some confusion, but in both circumstances, most all of the folks in attendance said that, with a little bit of repetition, they would be very comfortable with having it offered regularly, and in fact (in the case of the relatives), would love it as an alternative to the uninspiring, protestantized Masses they have access to currently (their diocese is not in very good shape at all).

Now, if good, faithful Catholics, who had never had any experience of the Extraordinary Form, can walk away from a much more complicated form of the Mass, and not know the responses, and still have an intensely personal encounter with Christ, then I don't think changing a few words of the Mass in English is going to be the end of the world.

Which brings me back to the USCCB's guide for implementation... Both myself and my colleague were confused as to why we really need to spend a whole YEAR working on implementation. As I read through the document, I couldn't help but notice the absence of reference to Redemptionis Sacramentum, the document from the CDWDS on abuses regarding the Eucharist. Also noteworthy in this handy guide was the blurring of roles of ministers involved in the Mass-- for example, the equating of an Acolyte and Lector with an altar server and reader. Presuming best intentions possible on the authors, perhaps they were trying to K.I.S.S.,  but still, though lay ministers can be used in the Mass, there is a lot of nuance in Church teaching on when, how, and why, and that should be noted.

The real reason, I think, that there is so much frenzy over this new missal is in the fact that there is still a wrong-headed notion of "active participation," especially among "liturgists," and so all of the effort is on mobilizing the troops, making sure we involve all of the lay ministries.

For "everyone else" (i.e, those not involved in liturgical ministries) it seemed as though the document was trying to do a PR campaign on the Mass to get them on board. Many of these liturgists say that we need to do this, especially in the wake of the new bout of clergy abuse, the people in the pews don't need more upheaval. And maybe there's a fair point-- the Mass, after all, should be a stabilizing factor in the life of a Catholic.

But as I said, I think all that really needs to happen is a short, 5-minute explanation on why, and then to simply allow the Faithful to pray... Indeed, what an opportunity for us to all think about what it is we are praying, perhaps even for the first time.

There were some really very good things in the guide, but I can't help but think as a whole it's a very "Americanist" approach to things.

My advice to anyone involved in implementation of the Missal... do catechesis on the Eucharist. Talk about why we would even bother to come to Mass at all, and whether it makes a difference, anyway. 

Talk about how the Incarnation, God becoming man, has changed everything-- and we can't turn back from that. Talk about how we experience this mystery, the Incarnation, every time we come to Mass.

Once we have had an authentic encounter with Christ, then the words, especially with a more accurate rendering of the prayers in Latin, simply lead us more deeply in to that very mystery. Work on that, and no-one is going to make a huge fuss over words like "consubstantial," or "ineffable".

If we start to cultivate a "eucharistic orientation," then everything else will fall in to place. This new missal is a start--  it's a big deal, but let's not make it a bigger deal than it is, and rather, focus our energies on other things, as well. Like what, you might ask? Well, Pope Benedict has quite a few suggestions...


Many thanks to the good folks over at for re-posting my blog. For those visiting, feel free to leave a comment in the combox-- my blog is pretty new, but I hope to be posting regularly about all sorts of things. I hope you'll check back in the future. God bless you, and prayers for you this day!

(For those who haven't found this great site, I'd highly recommend it, especially for those who don't have all day to browse all of the very good blogs and Catholic news sources out there)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

History in the Making...!

What a phenomenal time to be living as a Catholic!

I was teaching a class on Church History for adults in the parish last night, and I brought up the tremendous  events which are happening in England right now.

For those who don't know, the fruit of ecumenical dialogue is beginning to reach its culmination, at least in some areas.

On January 1st, three former bishops of the Church of England were received in to full communion with the Catholic Church. Tomorrow, they will be ordained to the diaconate, and on Saturday, be ordained to the priesthood.

They are the first (along with several sisters) to take advantage of the Ordinariate set up by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus.

The Ordinariate will set up a provision for former Anglicans to come in to full communion with the Catholic Church, while retaining some of the beauty of the Anglican Patrimony... which should be noted, is rooted in the old Catholic Sarum Rite.

Though we'll get formal numbers as people start to come in to the Church en masse, these Bishops, and then later in the Lenten and Easter seasons, anglican priests, will set up the framework to minister to the lay faithful (potentially 100's of thousands!) who will be received in to the Church corporately during the Easter season.

This begs to ask the question, "why"? Why is it such an important event? Isn't it really just a bunch of dissatisfied people who want to take their ball and play elsewhere?

I would respond with this question-- did Christ found one Church, or did he intend for some 38,000 (and growing) "denominations" of Christianity? (For a breakdown, see ye olde Wikipedia)

Hilaire Belloc said it best:

"There is no such thing as a religion called 'Christianity'... there never has been and never can be or will be a general Christian religion professed by men who all accept some central important doctrines, while agreeing to differ about others... "

"There is and always has been the Church, and various heresies proceeding from a rejection of some of the Church's doctrines by men who still desire to retain the rest of her teaching and morals." (The Great Heresies, p. 144)

To do so, he posits, is to at some point (or in many and various ways), contradict the essential tenants of which the Church was founded on, thus unravelling all of orthodox Faith, leaving a faith which is totally unreasonable, and in fact, the antithesis of Faith.

But I digress. This history making moment is historic precisely because it is a corporate reunification of those who have previously rejected this essential doctrine in to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church instituted by Christ in the Apostles, and continues through the successors of Peter and the Apostles gathered around him. To them I say, "welcome home!"

Such an event is momentous, indeed. We should pray for the unity of the Church, especially for those who have already undergone suffering, by way of being persecuted for the sake of Christ and his Truth. We should pray for those separated brethren who, so overwhelmed by modernism, no longer believe in an objective Truth. We should also pray for those who continue to work in true ecumenical dialogue, daily showing the beauty and romance of Orthodoxy, that all might be truly one in Christ-- "ut unum sint".

Finally, we should pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, for health and long life, and that he not flee, for fear of the wolves.

(As Fr. Z. says,) Pope Benedict is the Pope of Christian Unity.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Church and the Public Forum...

His Excellency, the Most Reverend Paul Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne (aka the whole state of Wyoming!) has a blog. On it, he recently posted a talk he gave in preparation for the new legislative session on the role of government, and the natural law. It is entitled Self-Evident Truths and the Natural Law. I would highly recommend you check it out!

I'm on the way to CCD right now, but if I have time to comment further on it, I'll try to later.

Kudos to His Excellency for stepping in to the Public Forum with such a well-reasoned talk!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Benedictus Dominus-- First Post!

Greetings to the blogosphere, the world-at-large, or no-one in general!

This is my second attempt at a blog... my first blog was short-lived, due basically to the fact that I had nothing to say. However, having spent the better part of a year reading other blogs, and being an employee of the Church, I have realized I have a lot to say! (joking... mostly.)

But first, the title of the blog... the Benedictus, also known as the Canticle of Zechariah, and prayed daily at Morning Prayer, has long been one of my favorite prayers in the Divine Office.

These are the first words of the father of the Last and Greatest of the Prophets, John the Baptist, after being struck mute by God for a period of 9 months, for his lack of faith in the message of the Angel.

We all are called to a conversion of greater Faith in God, and, once we have an authentic encounter with God, whether as dramatic (or traumatic) as Zechariah's or not, our response should be grounded in the fact that our lives have been forever changed by this act, that we can daily say the same as that humble priest of the Temple-- "Blessed be the LORD the God of Israel, he has visited his people and redeemed them!"

My hope with this blog is to share insights that I have had in to life, liturgy, and reclaiming an authentically Catholic culture in the 21st century, so that we might do our part in building up the City of God. I may comment on other issues of the day, too, but we'll see what I have time for. I'll try to avoid polemics, and be charitable--but... I am human, and therefore, a sinner too.

Until the next post, may God bless you, and be assured of my prayers for you.