Thursday, October 28, 2010
Gone, but not forgotten
With the "new" system (the cursus honorum), things were much more rigorously controlled. A lay man became a cleric, a member of the clergy, through a ceremony (NOT an ordination) called tonsure. This was a rite in which the new cleric's hair was cut as a sign of humility and service. A good example would be how we see "Friar Tuck" depicted in all those Robin Hood movies: Friar Tuck was just bald; he had been tonsured. Under canon law, a tonsured person was no longer a lay person, and was now eligible and able to receive ordination.
Next come the four "minor" orders: these were ordinations, but they were not permanent sacraments. Porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte were all received in turn, with men serving in each order for some length of time before being ordained to the next one.
Then come the three "major" orders: these were ordinations, and it was at ordination as a subdeacon that a cleric made his promise of celibacy. Then came deacon, which was (and remains) a sacramental ordination, and presbyter. Notice that under this system, the bishop is not included in this depiction of Holy Orders. That's because bishops were not seen as part of this system; they were simply PRIESTS who had been given greater administrative responsibilities. As well, bishops were seen as above this whole system, since it was the bishop who ordained people to all of these orders. For this reason, the ceremonies involved with all of these orders were called "ordinations" while the ceremony by which a priest became a bishop was called a "consecration."
All of this changed with the Second Vatican Council. First, the bishops declared that bishops ARE a part of the sacrament of Holy Orders. They also decided that, at least in the Latin church, tonsure, the four minor orders, and the major order of subdiaconate were no longer needed, and they were "suppressed." What had been called the "orders" of lector and acolyte were retained, but now as lay ministries, not ordinations. So, the new system was: deacon (it is through ordination as a deacon now that a person becomes a cleric, since tonsure is no more), presbyter, and bishop.
The reason I bring this up is simple: Since this older system was around for so long, it is what most people have in their imaginations: everything "ends" in priesthood, and everything else is subordinate to it. This is still the way many people act. So, deacons get asked all the time: "When will be ordained a REAL priest?" My wife was once asked, "When you die, will Bill become a REAL priest?"
Imagination is a powerful thing, and until people's imaginations are changed about how the church now views ordination, bishops and deacons are going to struggle with "identity" issues. Notice that the Second Vatican Council spent a lot of time talking about the sacramental identity of the laity, the episcopate and the diaconate: things CHANGED, but imaginations change more slowly.