Latin Catholic Subdiaconate


Good afternoon, Friends;

Hello again, it’s me Discerning13 with another questions. Hope it’s not a bad one.

I was in a Skype chat with a couple friends and a seminarian last night and we began to talk about the liturgy. We began to talk about the TLM & the subdiaconate.

My Question: Could there be a lay subdeacon in the Novus Ordo, if so, what would be their roles?



What do you mean by a “lay subdeacon,” and what do you mean by “in the Novus Ordo”? There is only one kind of subdeacon, and while the office is not conferred in the sacrament of holy orders, it is still considered a major order. Today the subdiaconate and minor orders are not conferred as a permanent state but as stepping stones to the priesthood, and then only by permission and for the Traditional Mass. Apart from the subdeacon’s role in a Missa Solemnis, I do not see what liturgical role he could lawfully play properly as a subdeacon. A subdeacon could lawfully perform the function of altar server at a Novus Ordo Missae, but unless I’m mistaken, officially his role would be equal to that of any other altar server.


QUAERITUR: “straw” subdeacon.


From the 1972 Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam (at ):

“4. Two ministries, adapted to present-day needs, are to be preserved in the whole Latin Church, namely, those of reader and acolyte. The functions heretofore assigned to the subdeacon are entrusted to the reader and the acolyte; consequently, the major order of subdiaconate no longer exists in the Latin Church. There is, however, no reason why the acolyte cannot be called a subdeacon in some places, at the discretion of the conference of bishops.”

So if someone were called a “subdeacon” they would be an Instituted Acolyte.


An Instituted Acolyte can do the ritual purification of the sacred vessels during Mass. Another type of altar server cannot do this. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 279).


Hi Discerning13,

As has been said, the subdiaconate as a clerical order was suppressed in 1973 by order of Pope Paul VI. It was officially replaced with the minor order of the installed acolyte and lector, who were envisioned as taking over in the new Mass the role that had previously been played by the subdeacon in the old (e.g., reading the epistle). In the TLM, the subdiaconate continues to exist, but as a liturgical office only. There is no corresponding order. Hence the role of subdeacon tends to be filled by a cleric, where available, or an installed acolyte where not, and in some cases a non-installed acolyte (so-called “straw subdeacons,” a practice that is illegal but formally tolerated).

In practice, however, bishops simply don’t install subdeacons that aren’t seminarians. I am aware of only diocese in the US that does, Galveston-Houston. I suspect this is because only men can be installed as acolytes (installation as an acolyte is still a minor order after all, and acolytes have limited power to bless things – fruits, nuts, and fishing tackle as I recall, since I heard a seminarian friend joke that once he was installed, he could bless half his class!). So in practice the roles that were officially reserved to acolytes instead devolve to trained but uninstalled laymen who may be either male or female.


Acolyte is still regularly conferred to candidates for the permanent diaconate prior to ordination as a deacon.



What I wonder about, the Subdiaconate was officially suppressed in 1973, the Novus Ordo came out on Advent of 1969 so that’s about 2 years, what did Subdeacons do for those two years at Mass? And the Subdeacons that existed in 1973, did they automatically become Deacons, or were they “demoted” to Acolyte?


Some of the functions of a subdeacon at Mass (holding the paten in the humeral veil) had been already been suppressed during the interim reforms of the mid-sixties. After that, they continued to read the epistle and carry the vessels to and from the altar. To an untrained lay eye of today, a subdeacon at Mass between 1965-1973 would have looked like a second deacon., but one who read the epistle, rather than gospel.

Existing subdeacons in 1972 remained subdeacons until they were either ordained deacons or left holy orders altogether. (We had one man in our parish who was a subdeacon at the time.) Since a cleric’s time in the subdiaconate was usually only a matter of months, anyway, most went on to the diaconate and then no subdeacons were ordained.

It is important to remember that the subdiaconate was a major order of the Church. When a man was ordained as a subdeacon, he was obligated to celibacy and the recitation of the Office, and was styled as “The Rev. Mr. ___.” When one reads texts from the middle ages up until V2, the three orders of the Church are always listed as subdeacon, deacon and priest. Bishop was considered the fullness of the priesthood, rather than a separate order, which is why bishops were conscrated pre-V2, rather than ordained. It was in the (ecumenical) aftermath of the council that one saw the redefinition of orders as bishop, priest and deacon, and the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate. In the centuries prior, it had been debated as to whether subdiaconal ordination was a sacrament or a sacramental, with most theologians apparently leaning toward the latter. While not instituted by Our Lord, nor mentioned in scriptures, the subdiaconate already existed by the year 255, which makes it quite ancient. (Ditto for ember days, and a number of other ancient things that suddenly bit the dust in the same era.)

See for a 1911 article on the subject.


Even back then, in the Latin Rite, Subdeacons were transitional. They remained Subdeacons until such time as they were Ordained as Deacons, and then Priests.

Interestingly enough, we have a Subdeacon in our parish. He is Chaldean Catholic, ordained as a Subdeacon in Iraq. The suppression of the Subdiaconate only extended to the Latin Rite. The Eastern Catholics continue to ordain men as Subdeacons, even in a ‘permanent’ capacity.

Our Subdeacon vests as a Subdeacon for Mass, and performs the roles that an Acolyte would perform in the Mass.


Sorry, you guys have it wrong. Subdeacons in the Latin Church are not “really acolytes.” They are really subdeacons. Ministeria Quaedam was issued in 1972. The Holy See revived the use of the subdiaconate and minor orders, for select groups only, with the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum and the related instruction Universae Ecclesiae. The latter states:

  1. Only in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and in those which use the liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria, is the use of the Pontificale Romanum of 1962 for the conferral of minor and major orders permitted.

And looking at this passage again, I realize it answers the question for the OP: no, a Novus Ordo subdeacon is not possible, as it is only granted to groups that use the forma extraordinaria.


The Lincoln Diocese has installed acolytes. I was surprised how little (and inconsistent) information was available on the internet when I got installed. I started a website to have a central location of information.

It is a work in progress. A seminary friend sent me the notes they receive at Mt. Saint Mary’s on acolyte training - which I still need to polish up. The 1972 Motu Proprio: Ministeria Quaedam by Paul VI is there as well as the statement by the USCCB on installed acolytes/lectors and pertinant canon law references.

Take a look. Feedback?

Pax et Bonum,


I’m actually curious about this too.

I’m not entirely convinced that vested “straw” subdeacons still can’t be used in the Ordinary Form, at least to chant the Second Reading and purify the vessels. Since liturgical instruction since Vatican II has prescribed that the paten should be left at the altar, it may not be licit anymore to have the straw subdeacon use the humeral veil and hold the paten at eye level (although I would like to have them do this and watch the baffled looks on people’s faces).

It is noteworthy that in the Ordinariate Use for former Anglicans, the use of the straw subdeacon is a legitimate option, including the holding of the paten with the humeral veil. The order has not been restored, the Ordinariates being part of the Latin church, but the liturgical function is allowed and is executed either by an instituted acolyte, a deacon, or another priest.


There is no such thing as a “lay subdeacon” An acolyte replaces that. And there is no more subdeacon in the OF form.


"QUAERITUR: Acolyte as subdeacon for NO 1st Mass
Posted on 31 May 2008 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
I got this urgent question by e-mail:

Fr. Z –

I am a transitional Deacon preparing for Ordination and First Mass on June 28 and 29 respectively. I would like my friend, who is an installed acolyte and fellow seminarian to serve as subdeacon at a NO Mass. I was wondering if he would be allowed to vest in the tunicle, and if so, is there any documentation on this?

Thank you for your time.

Yes, I am sure that this is possible, for the acolyte… not for the non-acolyte.

But if you are looking for documents, I just don’t have time to look them up at this moment.

We know from Ministeria quaedam of Paul VI, that the acolyte substitutes for the subdeacon and can even be called the subdeacon. Also, I have seen this in practice at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, properly, for years… omnibus contrariis errantibus."


The term is not “lay” subdeacon; it’s “straw” subdeacon, that is, an acolyte who is vested and stands as a subdeacon. I’m not convinced that straw subdeacons still cannot be used in an OF Mass, otherwise, how do we account for 1970-1973? The major order was suppressed, but that does not necessarily mean the liturgical role had to go too.


I think you may be reading too much into the gap you presented. This may just have been an adjustment period. The position wasn’t officially suppressed till 1973 but the subdeacons in 1970 had time to make some personal decisions. And the liturgical committees accordingly.


Well, in any case, I do believe the loss of even the liturgical role of subdeacon, if not the major order itself, was a great loss to the Latin church. Having seen both the EF and Ordinariate Uses, the subdeacon just adds greatly to the beauty of the solemn High Mass.


I agree. Thanks to the restoration of the subdiaconate, even if it’s not full.


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