During Lent, two of our seminarians (Mark Ashwood at Allen Hall in London, and Bienn Carlo Manuntag at St Mary’s College in Birmingham) received the ministry of lector. A third seminarian (Michael Smith at the Beda College in Rome) received the ministry of acolyte. The institution into these two ministries, of lector (or ‘reader’) and acolyte, marks for each student an important stage in their journey towards priesthood. These two ministries are, in fact, ancient liturgical roles in the Church.
From the early Church up until today, various ministries have developed for the service of God and his people. With the passage of time the ministries most associated with the liturgy became incorporated into the programme of training for those preparing for Ordination to the Priesthood.
For this reason they came to be known as ‘minor orders’ and were: porter, reader, exorcist and acolyte. Once a seminarian had received each of these ‘minor orders’ he would, God-willing, progress to the ‘major orders’ of subdeacon, deacon, and then finally, priest.
Before the Second Vatican Council some bishops felt that the minor orders of porter, reader, exorcist and acolyte should be reviewed along with the role of subdeacon. While Vatican II revised the Liturgy of the Church it was left to Pope Paul VI himself, a few years after the council on August 15, 1972, to revise the minor orders which he outlined in his important document Ministeria Quaedam.
Pope Paul renamed these minor orders ‘ministries’ since some of these functions were now carried out by both lay folks and clerics by virtue of the universal priesthood of all the baptized and in line with the Second Vatican Council’s renewed emphasis on the full and active participation of all the baptized in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.
The Pope considered that, of the four minor orders, reader and acolyte should be retained as ministries on the way to priesthood, the latter also to incorporate the previous role of subdeacon. Thus the term ordination was now reserved only for those becoming deacons or priests.
Both reader and acolyte are roles intimately related to the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, respectively. Those instituted into the ministry of reader are encouraged to develop a particular love of the sacred scriptures which they will proclaim; and those becoming acolytes are encouraged to deepen their appreciation especially of the Holy Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood whilst growing in love for the Mystical Body of Christ – the people of God – especially the poor and the weak.
Candidates for both ministries are required to demonstrate a strong determination to give dedicated service to God and His People. Normally a candidate is first instituted into the ministry of reader and subsequently, at a later time, into the ministry of acolyte. A suitable period should elapse between the institution of each of these ministries in order for the exercise and appreciation of each of these ministries to take place. Intervals are similarly observed before the ordination to the diaconate and to the priesthood.
Given the important roles these ministries serve within the Church the rites used to impart them help us to focus our minds on the particular aspects of service that will be involved. During the institution of reader the candidate is given a copy of the sacred scriptures with these or similar words:
“Take this book of Holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the Word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people”
Similarly, during the institution of the ministry of acolyte the candidate is given one of the sacred vessels of the altar to hold while the following or similar words are pronounced:
“Take this vessel with bread for the celebration of the Eucharist. Make your life worthy of the service at the table of the Lord and of his Church”
It is thus in a spirit of thanksgiving and joy that three of our seminarians have received these ministries. We wish them well in their future service of God and His People and pray that he will fill them with his blessing and strengthen them for faithful service in his Church.
Pictured top, Bienn Carlo Manuntag receives the ministry of lector at St Mary’s College, Oscott, in Birmingham; middle, Michael Smith receives the ministry of acolyte at the Beda College in Rome; and, above, Mark Ashwood receives the ministry of lector at Allen Hall in Westminster.