Rorate Caeli

Traditional lay acolyte installed in New Jersey

Last April we shared a response from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED) on who may serve as a "straw" subdeacon at a traditional Latin Solemn High Mass. In addition to previous PCED clarifications that any seminarian permitted to wear the cassock and collar (the post-1970s equivalent of tonsure) may do so, the letter stated "the function of Subdeacon can be legitimately assumed by an acolyte suitably instituted by a Bishop, but with the particular appropriate ritual differences."

Therefore, a man who has been ordained a priest, or deacon or, in the case of traditional societies, a subdeacon, may serve as subdeacon. A seminarian permitted the Roman collar, or an instituted lay acolyte, may serve as a straw subdeacon. The latter category requires the straw subdeacon to not wear the maniple; not pour the water into the chalice at the offertory, letting the deacon do so; not touch the chalice infra actionem, nor cover it with the pall, nor uncover it; and after the communion the straw subdeacon does not purify the chalice, as the celebrant must purify it, after which the straw subdeacon covers it with the veil and burse and carries it to the side table.

As we originally stated, it is a rare thing for a bishop to institute a lay acolyte who is not a seminarian. The Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, ran an article in its newspaper on the institution of a man from Mater Ecclesiae parish to the ministry of acolyte:

On Feb. 18, Bishop Dennis Sullivan called John Rotondi, a 36-year old married father of five, to the Ministry of the Acolyte at Mater Ecclesiae in Berlin, allowing him to assist the priest and deacon during the solemn high traditional Latin Mass.


In his new ministry, in addition to assisting the priest and deacon, he will be responsible for such tasks as lighting the candles on the altar, and carrying them in procession, and during the solemn singing of the Gospel; and to prepare the water for the sacrifice of the Mass.

“I’m happy to be called to higher service,” Rotondi said after the ceremony. “I hope to help the greater good of Mater Ecclesiae.”

Like other post-1962 developments such as the permanent diaconate, we are not necessarily condoning expansions made by Paul VI to minor and major orders.  However, when a traditional parish uses the options to the benefit of their TLM community, it is at least worth mentioning.  Moreover, it also shows how to have more Solemn High Masses with a licit straw subdeacon, as it remains illicit to use a layman not in seminary, or not installed as an acolyte by a bishop, as a straw subdeacon.