Subdeacons in traditional societies

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…

they exist but are quite rare. I think the other parish in town has a longterm subdeacon, and I want to say there’s one in Tucson.

I mean in terms of a single man being ordained a subdeacon and being able to marry, or a married man who loses his wife being able to marry again.

This is possible in a small number or Eastern churches, although I forget which.

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Orthodoxwiki provides this information:

Subdeacons are mentioned in canons with age restrictions (of 20 years of age) and prohibitions on marriage after ordinations (like deacons and priests) - e.g., Apostolic canon 26. A variety of methods of dealing with these canons have been employed, including:

  • Blessing acolytes or readers to vest and act as a subdeacon temporarily or permanently

  • This causes a new distinction between a ‘blessed subdeacon’ and an ‘ordained subdeacon’. It should be noted that a ‘blessed subdeacon’ may not touch the altar or assume other perogatives of ordained subdeacons outside services.

  • Reserving the formal ordination service to candidates for the diaconate

  • Simply ignoring the canons and permitting subdeacons to marry.

How do your Churches handle this?

We just ordain married men - they’re usually not hard to find :+1:

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I see. Would they be allowed to remarry in event that marriage ends?

Usually a man would only be ordained if he feels that his marriage is very stable / intends to be in it until death / already has several children, etc. All 3 subdeacons I know have been married for decades. If the marriage ends, they may not want to remarry; they may live single or become monks.

If they do want to remarry they could, but they would stop being a subdeacon (they can be released from the role -and returned to the lay state)


while that tends to be a good source, just keep in mind that on a variety of issues, orthodox jurisdictions disagree on, well, whatever . . .

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Thank you, I will. This provided canon and various answers by jurisdictions to implementing it so this felt like pretty good information even across multiple jurisdictions though. Is there something it missed out on?

I haven’t really checked it out, but there are jurisdictions that simply don’t have celibacy for subdeacons. I’m not sure whether these are all Oriental rather than Eastern, but I recall that they exist.

I think some of these ordain subdeacons very young, at 10 or so.

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