Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 76

Vatican website translation:

76. Both the ceremonies and texts of the ordination rites are to be revised. The address given by the bishop at the beginning of each ordination or consecration may be in the mother tongue.
When a bishop is consecrated, the laying of hands may be done by all the bishops present.

Latin text:

76. Ritus Ordinationum, sive quoad caeremonias sive quoad textus, recognoscantur. Allocutiones Episcopi, initio cuiusque Ordinationis aut Consecrationis, fieri possunt lingua vernacula.
In Consecratione Episcopali impositionem manuum fieri licet ab omnibus Episcopis praesentibus.

Slavishly literal translation:

76. The rites of Ordination, both in regard to ceremonies and in regard to texts, are to be reviewed/revised. The addresses of the bishop, at the beginning of either an Ordination or a Consecration, could be done in a vernacular language.

In Episcopal Consecration it is lawful to do the laying on of hands by all the Bishops present.


In retrospect it may be surprising to see how little was actually mandated by the Council Fathers with respect to the reform of the ordination rites in comparison with what has actually occurred. In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite: 1) the rite of tonsure, by which one entered the clerical state, has been replaced by a rite of entrance into candidacy; 2) of the four so-called “minor orders” (porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte), one has been suppressed (porter), one has removed from the cursus by which one was ritually prepared for ordination into major orders (exorcist), and two have been designated “ministries” (lector, acolyte), open to (male) laypersons (although those on the way to ordination as deacons, priests or bishop are “installed” in these ministries as part of their clerical formation); 3) of the three so-called “major orders” (sub-deacon, deacon, priest), the sub-diaconate has been suppressed, while “ordination” (not “consecration”) to the episcopate has been added. In addition both the structure and the texts of the remaining ordination rituals (deacon, presbyter/priest, bishop) have been extensively re-worked.

Both of the direct mandates from the Council Fathers have appeared in the revised rites: 1) all of the ordination texts and not simply the bishop’s “allocutiones” may be pronounced in the vernacular; 2) not simply the principle consecrator and co-consecrators, but all bishops in attendance may join in the laying on of hands as they “co-opt” the new bishop for the order of the episcopate.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss: 1) how effective the new ordination rites have been in articulating the Church’s understanding of these orders in the light of Vatican II documents such as Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, Optatam totius, Presbyterorum Ordinis, and Christus Dominus (e.g., the experience of ordination as ritualized joining of an “old boys’ club” rather than being designated for a particular form of ecclesial service); 2) the resurgence of certain “customs” (e.g., giving mothers the cloths by which the newly ordained priests’ hands have been wiped of oil so that they may be buried with them) associated with ordination; 3) how formal installation as lector or acolyte interacts with the “designation” of lectors, servers and extraordinary ministers of holy communion without any formal ceremony in present practice.



  1. I have to confess that I find the ordination ritual (at least, as I have experienced it at Jesuit province celebrations, and especially in the 15 years since my ordination) a mix of encouragement and desolation. Encouraging: some of the language is reasonably crafted (“imitate what you celebrate”), and in some cases the ritual gesture of imposition of hands transcends what could (and, alas, sometimes does) appear as exclusivizing to manifest itself as a gesture of genuine fraternal affection whose warmth extends to the whole community. Desolation: as Fr Joncas implies, the ritual realization can all too easily look like initiation into the “old boys’ club;” a recent liturgy had a woman as one of the readers and as the cantor for the psalm, before and after which no women were in evidence in a crowded sanctuary.

  2. The homily at ordinations can be problematic also. Preaching at sacramental celebrations is burdened with the duo task of addressing those receiving the sacrament (confirmands, wedding couple, ordinands, infirmed, etc…) and rest of the assembly. How does the bishop prepare a homily that does not make the assembly mere eavesdroppers to his words of admonition and encouragement to the ordinands? A former diocese of mine had the ordinands sit on little benches/stools in front of the cathedra for the homily; to me it always looked like story time at the library.

  3. The steps that lead to ordination reinforce the hierarchy and climbing the ladder. Perhaps it was necessary at one point in history to provide a “testing” ground for the candidates to priesthood and/or it makes a veiled theological point that “minor” orders are contained in “major” orders, but in present day practice, doesn’t this create a false message of progression of ministry at the expense of the worshiping community? I would agree with Michael’s questioning of lector and acolyte installations.

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