Monday 2 February 2009

Usus Antiquior in Seville

Check out this picture of an Old Rite Mass celebrated in Seville, which was posted on the New Liturgical Movement site. This picture shows how, as the Usus Antiquior is revived across Catholic Christendom, so too are the traditions that accompanied it when it was the norm. In this picture you can see some examples of the local Spanish use of the Roman rite, such as the ridiculous (i.e. just about right) number of candles on the altar, the Spanish cut of chasuble, and the acolytes and thurifers in tunicles instead of Roman cottas.

There are plenty of interesting comments to read on the New Liturgical Movement post, some people asking about the tunicles. Apparently the confraternity involved, "el Silencio", has the particular privilege of vesting their acolytes in tunicles which is an established and ancient custom in Seville ( also practiced in France, particularly Lyons, and possibly also in Salisbury.

One hopes that such questions and research might lead to more discussion about the status of minor orders in our own church. I am personally in favour of a serious revival of the minor orders, and the liturgies and customs attached to them. It is common to invite a layman to act as Subdeacon at a Solemn High Mass, and there have long been altar societies like the GSS in the Church of England, but how much better would it be, from a pastoral perspective, to reinstitute minor orders? Surely if members of that group which we now call "servers" were given differentiated roles, and solemnly inducted according to traditional Episcopal liturgies, their value to the worshipping community would be more clearly stated, and their morale enhanced. And what a good way to get young people involved, and to keep them involved, in the liturgical life of the church.

In many Orthodox churches, the minor orders have this function of rewarding service to the church and recognising a particular level of commitment. For example, it is not uncommon for ex-seminarians who have decided that they don't have a calling to the priesthood to marry and be ordained Subdeacon. Readers traditionally receive the tonsure in a special service.

In some parts of Western Christianity too, the minor orders have been retained; the FSSP and other traditionalist Catholic organisations still ordain their seminarians to the subdiaconate. In the Anglican communion, one can train to be a Reader and march around in a blue tippet, although in this case the focus is on the licensing of a lay minister rather than the ordination of a person to Minor Orders. The traditional view of Minor Orders has held that they are a sacramental, that is, something which manifests the respect due to the Sacraments, and as Catholic Anglicans looking hard at the church of the future, perhaps it is time to seriously reconsider these forms of ministry.


  1. I entirely agree. It was said that Bishop Cyril Easthaugh (sp?) of Peterborough did ordain sub deacons.

    Nonetheless until such does happen the old custom of the lay subdeacon vesting in the tunicle (as the Spanish servers mentioned) but NOT the maniple should. I suggest, be retained.

    Thank you for your splendid posts


  2. You're welcome.

    One thing that confuses me is whether the Subdeacon of the Mass, if he be a layman, may wear the biretta with pom and the maniple during Mass. When I act as subdeacon, I do wear the maniple because I'm told to, and lot of the rules don't easily apply to our situation. I gather the subdeacon must be a seminarian or have received the tonsure in order to wear the maniple and pom, but at an FSSP Mass, I saw a seminarian acting as subdeacon, maniple but no pom, implying a differentiation between the subdeacon of the mass and another "subdeacon", such as a crucifer vested in tunicle. Thoughts?

    As for Bishops ordaining subdeacons, I'm all in favour of that, although I wonder if any would get away with it these days. Is there a more recent precedent of such ordinations?

  3. There have never been minor orders in the post reformation Church of England except for that, for a brief time, of sub deacon. Interestingly enough, the last 'ordained' sub deacon in the CofE died last year, having been ordained in the early 1950's. He was also thought to have been the last alive. It used to be the case that 'ordained' sub deacons wore the maniple and the hat appropriate to their order, which is a single bladed biretta, this back when Deacons had two blades and priests three in the CofE. Wippels used to make a biretta with no blades (a laymans biretta, it was called) for laymen who acted as sub deacon, but the use of the maniple was forbidden and still is, really. Mind you, nobody cares any more what people wear, that seemed to go out when Deaconesses were phased out with their fetching blue cassocks.

    In practice, if a Church wants a High Mass and cannot run to a third cleric, then for those of our persuasion, where the role of reader is diminished somewhat, then the reader should sub deacon but again, theoretically, without hat or maniple. This was the practice at our Church until our reader became a wandering Bishop. I will not wear a hat during Mass now because of the problem of setting a precedent.

  4. A bladeless biretta? how unusual.

    I thought since the sort we wear these days is the Roman style, we ought to be following roman custom which I understand to be three wings with pom for priests, and deacons and no pom for seminarians in choir.

    I didn't know the biretta had a history in the post reformation church before the Catholic revival and even then, what was revived was contemporary Roman custom, i.e. literally the custom of the church in Rome and not a local variation. Do you have sources?

    I'm sure there have been instances of ordinations to minor orders in the last century. I don't believe for a second that places like S. Saviour's invited colonial bishops over just to give Benediction! If ordained subdeacons have been around in recent history then why aren't we in the process of reviving all of the minor orders now? I think it could be crucial for the future.

  5. The bladeless biretta must have been unusual, yes. I would like to have seen one, but have only been told about them.

    I did not say that the biretta had a use prior to the Catholic revival in the CofE, although the canerbury cap is not a too distant cousin. I would suggest that the work of Percy Dearmer suggests that the revival did not simply impose contemporaneous Roman practices, but encouraged the revival of more ancient ones. The 'Back to Baroque' movement, later on, was far more concerned with that kind of thing, once Anglican priests began holidaying on the continent. 'Deremonial Curiosities' is a fine reminder that not everything was straightforward though.

    Of course colonial Bishops were shipped over to do more than give Benediction - although simply having a Pontifical Mass was in itself worth the ticket price for many who would not otherwise have had the chance. They also confirmed and ordained, although I would be very surprised if they ordained to anything other than the three higher orders. There is no record of the minor orders ever having been used in the CofE. The revival of this , then, is a misnomer. You cannot revive that which has not hitherto existed and I, personally, feel it would be impossible as well as undesirable at this present moment.

  6. Canterbury cap, of course and Ceremonial curiosities.

  7. With respect, I have to disagree with your last two points.

    Surely the subdiaconate and minor orders (for there is much differentiation between the two in some sources) were part of the pre-reformation chuch and if we believe ourselves to belong to that same church surely the revival of minor orders would be a revival in the true sense, a restoration of something lost during the reformation. There is also no way to prove that minor orders didn't function during the early years of the reformation before being phased out.

    Also, before someone accuses me of trying to promote a fast-route to a visible (and yes, costumed) form of ministry that threatens the status of major orders then let me point out that the minor orders are historically derived from the functions particular to the deacon, and were instituted by the church in order to help him, as the appellation "subdeacon" indicates. In Arabic, a subdeacon is known as الشماس المساعد meaning the "helper deacon" implying that he is not "THE deacon of the Mass" but rather someone set aside to help the deacon in his functions. This is similar to the Bishops handing down to presbyters the duty of celebrating the Holy Mysteries. All of this places those is minor orders definitively below the Major Orders in the hierarchy.

    It might not be practicable now to push hard for minor orders, but looking at parts of the Church where minor orders function, I can see that a lot of good can be derived from them, ESPECIALLY the seminarians' subdiaconate.

  8. I would respectfully warn against citing English and American robe makers as authorities.

    No Roman authority I have found knows of these deacon's birettas etc - anymore than they do of the bogus 'seminarian's' collar

    All Augustinian and Oratorian novices and all seminarians - those not even admitted to the Ministries and those with Candidacy and in Deacon;s Orders - use the three horned biretta - with tufts - the Oratorians, Jesuits and others have the knot instead.

    Masters of Theology and Doctors have the four horns. And forget not the Spanish Biretta in its various forms -

    Unconvinced but writing under correction


  9. In the RC church the subdiaconate was a major,not a minor order.

  10. Right, but not holy orders. I guess I'm trying to talk about the subdiaconate and the minor orders together which means I've failed to distinguish between them sufficiently.

  11. I wonder if it isn't better to avoid clericalising the servers - in effect removing them from the laity. But I agree something ought to be done to encourage the development of the minor orders as lay orders.

    A attempt has been made with Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, but this can also lead to abuses. What to do?!