Subdeacons in traditional societies

Pope Paul VI abolished all subdeacons in the Roman Catholic Church. I have heard that some traditional societies in communion with Rome (FSSP, Institute of Christ the King…) still ordain seminarians as subdeacons for the purposes of the high solemn mass. Is this ordination valid?

I would think so. It’s not a matter of valid or invalid in the same sense as a sacrament. I believe the order of subdeacon could only properly be considered a sacramental, like the consecration of a Virgin or the blessing of an abbess, rather than a sacrament…

No, he didn’t abolish them; he suppressed the role, and there is a difference. There may be ordained subdeacons, although as @twf states, it’s not a sacramental ordination the same as deacon/priest/bishop. Suppression in simple terms meaning that there is no role for them to exercise, but the Extraordinary Form of the Mass provides that role otherwise gone.

Edit to add: since there’s no sacrament, there’s no real point to discussing “validity”, either. It’s either licit or not, and the Vatican has ruled it is.

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Yes, but the functions are fulfilled by the acolyte and the reader, and the acolyte can be called a subdeacon if the episcopal conference wants to. Even before this change, subdeacons did not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.

The FSSP, ICRSS, and other orders using the 1962 liturgical books enjoy the privilege of ordaining subdeacons—ordinations performed by bishops—and the subdeacons are styled as The Rev. Mr. ______. However, under the 1983 code of canon law, these subdeacons are not clerics, so they end up in a gray area. This is why they are typically subdeacons for only a very brief period before their diaconal ordinations, usually for a matter of weeks, a month or two at the very most.

Prior to V2 the three Major orders were priest, deacon, subdeacon. The episcopate was seen as the fullness of the priesthood, which is why they were consecrated, not ordained. This was a major shift. There was never any authoritative teaching as to the nature of the subdiaconate, though most theologians considered it a sacramental. But given that the Church already had subdeacons in the year 250, its suppression in 1972 was the elimination of something quite ancient. I find this saddening.


Wasn’t it Pope Paul VI not Pope Paul IV. I could be wrong.

Yes, a typo happened. Corrected.

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On the topic of deacons. In the old pre-vatican II rite the deacons also distribute communion? In my Parish in the Latin mass at least on Sundays are Deacon would help the priest distribute communion.I’m genuinely curious because I thought in the extraordinary form only the priests could touch the host and distribute communion. Or Are there cases where there are other priests helping out at the altar but they have a Deacon’s position? Genuinely curious thank you for any insight

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Deacons were considered extraordinary ministers in the old rite, used only when necessary to distribute communion. In practice now, the FSSP will allow their transitional deacons to distribute, but usually do not extend this to diocesan permanent deacons. The pastor actually makes the call.

Gotcha, so in large church gatherings and also in extreme cases like the impending death of a person and the priest cannot make it to the one receiving the Deacon distribute communion

But officially, weren’t deacons actually “Ordinary Ministers of Communion” even before V2? Unsure about subdeacons.

When “Extraordinary Ministers” were created, I don’t recall any announcement that deacons were only now considered “Ordinary”. They likely were all along.

Do FSSP and ICKSP allow transitional deacons or subdeacons to bring Holy Communion to people who are homebound, or in hospitals?

No, deacons were extraordinary ministers prior to the restoration of the permanent diaconate. Remember, there were only transitional deacons prior to V2, so one didn’t see a deacon very often.

Were they considered clerics before 1983? What about someone ordained subdeacon in the 1970s - would he be considered clergy in 2020?

Word “Cleric” is quite confusing. Historically, any university student was considered Cleric and as such they would be able to request Church Tribunal instead of State Tribunal (which was done so much that it was effectively viewed as abuse by nobles).

Even in pre-V2 era, Subdeacons were not considered to be Sacramentally different from other people- they had no Sacrament of Holy Orders imparted upon them. However according to canon law, they were clerics because they already promised to remain celibate and obedient to Church etc. It is very similar to Eastern Orthodoxy- canons forbid subdeacons to marry or re-marry once they are widowed. Yet nowadays canons are ignored and some subdeacons are instituted just temporarily. OrthodoxWiki covers that pretty nicely.

Question boils down to what does one mean by “being considered cleric”. Subdeacons were never considered part of Holy Orders. Church Tribunals are probably dependent on oath so that would still apply, but officially and under current code they are not clergy. I am not sure if there are any implications for this because what code does not bind them to, oath still does.

Also, fun fact… did you know that Latin Church had quite different view on Major/Minor Orders than Eastern Churches did? It was question of terminology. Those who served different purpose at Mass than laity/altar servers were called Major Orders and others were Minor Orders. Funnily enough, that made Subdeacon the lowest Major Order in the West while Bishop was not even considered Order different than Priest (because their functions at Mass are effectively same). East however considers Subdeacons highest of Minor Orders and Bishop is not viewed same as the Priest, which reflects Sacramental status. Latin Church post-V2 shifted to Eastern teminology reliant on Sacramental understanding for better clarity.

TLDR: Probably not :smiley:

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Thank you for the thorough reply Orbis! That is quite explanatory!

In my parish, we have a man who has been a subdeacon for decades, but like you say, other people are a subdeacon for ~30 minutes before they are ordained to deacon :wink:


How can this be justified if both men have received the sacrament of Holy Orders?

It’s their practice. It doesn’t have to be justified.

The subdiaconate was supressed in 1972, and basically all subdeacons were nearing ordination to the diaconate and priesthood, so the few subdeacons that there were at the time of suppression were immediately ordained as deacons, then as priests the following year. There were next to none who weren’t soon ordained, and the very few that weren’t ordained remained canonically in the clerical state, essentially in the category of a laicized cleric, practically speaking. I actually knew one in his later years–he passed away a few years back–and he never married, and just remained as a layman, though he had been ordained a subdeacon.


I would actually like to see a revival of the subdiaconate in the EC (and probably EO, but I don’t get an opinion there :rofl:).

And I am well aware that celibacy would have to be dispensed for this (that is, in the majority of churches that require it; not all do).

At the moment, men from the parish (including myself) simply “fill in” for them. (“I’m not a subdeacon, but I play one on the altar” :roll_eyes:)


I think the subdiaconate in the EO is doing alright; we have two subdeacons at our church even. There are other subdeacons in the area too, so the role doesn’t seem too in danger. What about in the EC?

Did you mean to say chastity perhaps? You’re right that after subdeacon ordination, an unmarried man is not allowed to marry, so only married men (“chaste unto their wives”) would be able to take the position…

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