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Citizens of the Sanctuary

by Gary D. Penkala

Solemn Mass For a number of reasons [translation issues, common parlance, etc], there is considerable confusion about ecclesial titles and roles. Here's a short lexicon of those you may find inhabiting your sanctuary from time to time.

I. Bishop

A bishop is the highest order among those in Holy Orders (i.e. the "ordained" clergy). He has the fullness of rank and authority passed on by Our Lord to the Apostles, who were the first bishops. Bishops who head a diocese are called an Ordinary.

Bishops are the usual minister of the sacraments of Holy Orders and Confirmation, although immediately after Baptism (as at the Easter Vigil) and otherwise by episcopal delegation, a priest may administer Confirmation. In terms of sacramental power, there is no higher title than bishop, although jurisdictional difference exist:

  • An Auxiliary Bishop is ordained to assist an Ordinary in his diocese. Since these have no jusirdictional diocese of their own, they are assigned a titular diocese, a "See of Title," which is usually an ancient, suppressed diocese. A Coadjutor Bishop has the right to succeed the Ordinary upon the death, resignation or transfer of the Ordinary.
  • An Archbishop is a bishop who heads an archdiocese. A country is divided into various Metropolitan Provinces, and an important diocese within this Province is designated an Archdiocese. The other dioceses within the Province are called suffragan dioceses or suffragan sees. Their bishops owe an allegiance and respect to the archbishop, although technically the powers and jurisdiction of a Metropolitan Archbishop over the Suffragan Bishops is not extensive by any means. Often administrative prelates, working at the Vatican or in diplomacy, are given the title Archbishop. They, like Auxiliary Bishops, have a Titular Archdiocese.
  • Cardinal is an honorary title given by the Pope to bishops who become his "advisors" Very important archdioceses around the world are often headed by an Archbishop who has been created Cardinal; his title is then, "Cardinal Archbishop of    (New York)   . They are assigned an honorary Titular Church, one of the churches in or around Rome. The primary function of a Cardinal is to vote for a new pope in a Conclave. Collectively, these prelates are known as the College of Cardinals; several among their number are appointed to the functional positions of Chamberlain [Camerlengo] (who verifies the death of the pope), Dean (who heads the College after the pope's death) and Cardinal Protodeacon (who announces the new pope).

    While all Cardinals are generally chosen from ordained bishops, there are honorary ranks among the College, with these titles:
    1. Cardinal-Bishop: the highest-ranking cardinal, whose titular see is one of the seven suburbicarian dioceses surrounding Rome (Ostia, Frascati, Palestrina, Albano, etc).
    2. Cardinal-Priest: a member of the most numerous rank of cardinals, generally a world-wide diocesan archbishop, who holds one of the 150 titular churches in Rome
    3. Cardinal-Deacon: usually a member of the Curia and not administering a diocese
    Currently, only cardinals under the age of 80 may vote, and there is a limit (on paper) to the number of cardinal-electors at 120.
  • The Pope has supreme jurisdiction in the Church, although in terms of Orders, he is just a bishop. Although any Catholic male can be chosen pope by the cardinal-electors, he must first be ordained bishop before assuming the role.

II. Priest

A priest is the second order among those in Holy Orders. At their ordination, they promise obedience to their bishop and his successors, and minister only under the bishop's authority. They are the usual ministers of the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick, although as noted above, they may administer Confirmation to newly-baptized Catholics or to others at the delegation of the bishop.

Various other titles apply to priests:

  • An Episcopal Vicar assists the bishop in an immediate and proximate way. Various kinds of Vicars "represent" the bishop in administration:
    • Vicar General: principal deputy of the Ordinary, holding considerable authority under the bishop
    • Judicial Vicar: deals with Canon Law and Marriage issues
    • Vicar for    (Clergy, Finance, etc)   : fills administrative role in the Chancery
    • Vicar Forane: heads a Deanery (geographical portion of a diocese)
    Vicar means "in the person of" or "as an agent of."
  • Monsignor is an honorary title, conferred by the Pope, generally at the request of a diocesan bishop, recognizing the importance of a priest's position in the diocese or for exemplary work. Pope Francis has instructed bishops not to request this honorif for priests anymore, except for priests over 65 years of age
  • A Pastor is a priest in charge of a parish. Many duties, rights and privileges are found in Canon Law for pastors (shepherds) of souls.
  • Rector is the title given to the head of a cathedral parish, since technically the bishop is the "pastor." The head of a seminary is also called a Rector.
  • A Parochial Vicar is the official title for an Associate Pastor or Assistant Pastor. He is assigned to a parish by the Ordinary to assist the pastor in ministering to the needs of the people.

At Mass, the priest has, over the years, been given various titles, like Presider or Celebrant. Occasionally a liberal agenda accompanies the first. The Roman Missal simply uses Priest, as the mediator who effects the sacrifice of the Mass. Very rarely, it uses "Presider" (as in Presidential Prayers) or "Celebrant" / "Priest-Celebrant" (to distinguish from the concelebrants). Presbyter is a technical name for Priest.

III. Deacon

A deacon is the lowest order among those in Holy Orders. From Scriptural mandate, deacons are ordained to serve the poor, although they have liturgical functions as well. Deacons may administer the Sacrament of Baptism, witness a Marriage, and preside at other liturgies outside Mass, e.g. Funerals, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Divine Office. At Mass, Deacons proclaim the Gospel, offer Intercessions, assist at the altar, elevate the Chalice, distribute the Precious Blood, give verbal instructions to the congregation, and may also preach and purify the vessels.

There are two kinds of deacons:

  1. A Transitional Deacon is a seminarian who has received the first level of Holy Orders and who intends to be ordained to the Priesthood. He will often spend a Diaconal Year in a parish prior to priesthood ordination.
  2. A Permanent Deacon is a man who has been ordained to the first level of Holy Orders as his ultimate station. He may be single, married or widowed. If he is single or widowed upon ordination, he may not marry afterwards.

IV. Acolyte

Acolyte is a technical, precise term for a ministry in which a man on the path toward ordination is instituted. This ceremony is presided over by a bishop, and "inducts" the man in an OFFICIAL capacity to assist in the sanctuary. Acolytes may serve in various roles, including thurifer, altar server, master of ceremonies. In addition, they assist with the preparation of the altar and are primary among the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. They should serve first, before any other parish EMHCs, whenever they are present at Mass.

It is with deep humility that the parish EMHCs, even if scheduled for a Mass, should step aside and allow the primary "extraordinary minister" to serve, all the while being grateful that the parish has fostered a vocation in this man.

Some Catholic parishes and many Protestant denominations use the term acolyte to mean "the child who lights the candles" or any other altar server. In my opinion, this is wrong in Catholic parishes. Acolyte for us is a precise step on the road to ordination. Any other use of the term is confusing, misleading and inaccurate.

Note: the official term (used in the bishop's liturgical book the Roman Pontifical for the initiating ceremony is: Institution of Acolytes. although many places refer to the Installation of Acolytes and/or Installed Acolytes.

V. Lector

Now here's the surprise: Lector is just as technical a term as Acolyte. It is actually the first step a man makes, after Candidacy, on the path to ordination. As with Acolytes, a bishop celebrates the Institution of Lectors. This charges these men, as you might expect, with reading from Sacred Scripture (apart from the Gospel) at Liturgy. Again, as with Acolytes, those in the parish who normally read at Mass should yield to Instituted Lectors for the First and Second Reading at Mass.

But what should we call those people who read at Mass who are not Instituted Lectors? See VII below for the answer.

VI. Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

An Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion is someone who assists with the distribution of the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ during Communion, when sufficent ordinary ministers are not present. And who are the "ordinary" ministers?

  • bishop
  • priest
  • deacon

As noted above, the officially instituted Acolyte is first among the EMHCs, and should always be given preference, after clergy, in the distribution of Holy Communion.

The correct and preferred title for this ministry is Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and, its length notwithstanding, is what we should use in official titles, lists and schedules. Informally, they certainly can be known as EMHCs. Some parishes use the hold-over, "Eucharistic Minister," for the sake of brevity, although, I suppose, if necessary, "Communion Minister" might be better.

While only males can be instituted as Acolytes, women may serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

VII. Reader

I know that since the mid-60s almost every parish had been calling that new-fangled ministry, "Lector." This person reads from the Old and New Testament (except Gospels) in Liturgy, and may also present the intentions of the Universal Prayer if no deacon is present.

This new ministry was revolutionary after Vatican II, allowing not only the readings to be heard in the vernacular immediately, but also for laity to read, including women. Fifty years ago, we began calling these readers Lectors, which in retrospect was probably not a good idea, because it could easily have led to confusion with the Instituted Lectors. This hardly became an issue, though, because so few of the laity even knew that there were such people as Instituted Lectors. The Church has lately come to embrace all the roles that exist in her company of ministries, and we're only too happy to publicize the existence (which was always the case) of Instituted Lectors and Acolytes.

So what should we call those lay people who substitute when Instituted Lectors are not present? It's always safe and best to use the terms found in the Roman Missal, which simply calls them Readers. At my parish, we've begun using Reader and EMHC as the headers on the Liturgical Ministers' schedules.

While only males can be instituted as Lectors, women may serve as Readers at Mass.

VIII. Master of Ceremonies

The Master of Ceremonies, just as his title suggests, is responsible for the dignified celebration of liturgies entrusted to his care. He must know quite thoroughly the liturgy at hand, and must have a temperment conducive to the calm instruction of the many people involved in an intricate ceremony.

Many episcopal ceremonies are directed by the bishop's MC, who might also be his priest-secretary. It is not necessary, however, that all MCs be clergy. It would be very wise, in every parish, that one of the senior altar servers, perhaps a sharp high school gentleman, be trained as a Master of Ceremonies. We all know the great benefit that would ensue, particularly during the ceremonies of the Triduum, which are as intricate as any get during the year. This young man, before going off to further education, would be responsible for training his replacements. And if this corps could assemble a local Manual for Liturgies … what a fantastic boon for the parish!

IX. Altar Server

The Altar Server, in the absence of Instituted Acolytes, assists at Liturgies in a variety of roles:

  1. Crucifer [cross-bearer]
  2. Thurifer [dealing with incense]
  3. Candle-bearer
  4. Book-bearer
  5. Preparation of the altar & chalice [water and wine]
  6. Washing the priest's hands
  7. Holding a paten (if used)
  8. other incidental tasks, like holding the aspersorium [holy water bucket]

As in the other substitutes for the instituted ministries of Lector and Acolyte, both male and female participants are now allowed as Altar Servers. It is, as of a 1994 official Vatican text, the prerogative of each bishop to decide the matter in his diocese. Some have said that altar servers may be male or female; at least one has held to the traditional model of males only. Some have allowed each pastor to decide in his parish; pastors have ruled in both ways. The official text from the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, allowing for the possibility of female altar servers, also noted:

(T)he Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.

Article written 04 May 2015

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