An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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Minor Orders

Ministries such as porter (doorkeeper), lector, exorcist, and acolyte which were transitory steps that led to the major orders of deacon, priest, and bishop. The minor orders date from at least the third century. Ordination to minor orders in the early church included a commission to exercise the office and the handing over of instruments appropriate to the office. For example, a doorkeeper would be given keys to the church, and a lector would be given a book. The subdiaconate was considered a minor order until it was included among the major orders by Pope Innocent III in 1207. The subdiaconate was suppressed in the Roman Catholic Church in 1972. Pope Paul VI also abolished the orders of porter and exorcist in 1972. Lay people, candidates for the diaconate, and candidates for the priesthood can now be installed in the ministries of lector and acolyte in the Roman Catholic Church. These lectors and acolytes are not ordained or in holy orders. A few Episcopal churches continue to allow a liturgical role for a "subdeacon" at the eucharist. Lay servers at the altar in many Episcopal parishes are known as acolytes. The Anglican Ordinal of 1550 made no mention of the minor orders, and Article XXXVI of the Articles of Religion, "Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers," mentions only the consecration of bishops, priests, and deacons. See Major Orders.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.