Major orders

Major orders
Pope praying the prayer of consecration.

The term major orders or sacred orders was a part of the clerical terminology of the Roman Catholic Church until shortly after the Second Vatican Council, when the use widely disappeared due to reform of the clerical structure. During the Counter-reformation, the Council of Trent issued a decree outlining the orders of the clergy. The first four, the minor orders, have various liturgical functions and were conferred upon seminarians studying for the priesthood. The major orders were the final ones, and the ministers in those orders were:

There is disagreement as to whether Council of Trent defined seven or eight orders. Chapter II of the decree talks about seven orders, omitting bishops, which would indicate that bishops are merely super-priests and not a separate order. However, chapter IV talks of bishops, distinguishes them from the other ecclesiastical degrees of ministers, and discusses their ordination, indicating that they are a separate order from the presbyteriate. Due to the debate, the ministers in the orders are presented here, without making a claim on three or four orders.

A man could be admitted to the major orders only after receiving the minor orders. The vestments common to all those in major orders are the maniple, which was prescribed to be worn at all Masses until the Second Vatican Council. Each order has a distinctive outer vestment for Mass, with the subdeacon wearing the tunicle, the deacon wearing the dalmatic, and priests wearing the chasuble. Bishops wear the tunicle and dalmatic under the chasuble to signify their possession of the fullness of Holy Orders. Deacons, priests, and bishops also wear the stole, the common garment of Holy Orders.

The reason that these orders were considered "major" was that, with ordination to the subdiaconate, both the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours and perpetual celibacy became mandatory. Those in minor orders do not have this obligation. Thus, e.g., an acolyte did not have to pray the Divine Office and could marry without Papal dispensation should he leave the seminary. These lesser orders along with the subdiaconate were seen simply as liturgical functions, which could be changed on the authority of the Church. This is exactly what happened in 1972, when Pope Paul VI suppressed the subdiaconate and changed the minor orders to lay ministries. The major and minor orders, including the subdiaconate, however remained in use at conservative Traditionalist Catholic seminaries.


Council of Trent Decree on the Sacrament of Order

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • major orders — plural noun In the Roman Catholic Church, the higher degrees of holy orders, ie bishop, priest and deacon • • • Main Entry: ↑major * * * major orders, = holy orders. (Cf. ↑holy orders) …   Useful english dictionary

  • major orders — n. the Christian clergy orders of deacon, priest, or bishop * * * …   Universalium

  • major orders — n. the Christian clergy orders of deacon, priest, or bishop …   English World dictionary

  • Major orders — The higher ranks of the *clergy were the three orders: bishop, priest and deacon. Cf. Minor orders …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • Major Orders — the higher grades of the Christian ministry; those of bishop, priest and deacon ♦ Subdeacon, deacon and priest, to whom marriage was forbidden. (Heath, Peter. Church and Realm, 1272 1461, 363) Related terms: Minor Orders, Orders …   Medieval glossary

  • Major orders — the higher ranks of the Christian ministry, comprising the orders of bishop, priest, deacon and sub deacon …   Medieval glossary

  • major orders —  Старшие чины …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

  • major orders — /meɪdʒər ˈɔdəz/ (say mayjuhr awduhz) plural noun See order (def. 17) …   Australian English dictionary

  • Orders — a) with respect to the monastic or regular life, groups of communities following the same rule or under a common administrative and spiritual structure b) with respect to the Christian ministry, the various grades consisting of the major orders… …   Medieval glossary

  • Orders of clergy — the various grades consisting of the major orders bishop, priest, deacon, sub deacon and the minor orders acolyte, exorcist, reader, doorkeeper …   Medieval glossary