Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 18

Having considered the liturgical formation of seminarians and their equivalents in articles 15-17, the Constitution now turns to the on-going liturgical formation of priests.

Vatican Website Translation:

18. Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord’s vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care.

Latin text:

18. Sacerdotes, sive saeculares sive religiosi, in vinea Domini iam operantes, omnibus mediis opportunis iuventur ut plenius semper quae in functionibus sacris agunt intellegant, vitam liturgicam vivant, eamque cum fidelibus sibi commissis communicent.

Slavishly literal translation:

18. Priests, whether secular or religious, already working in the vineyard of the Lord, are to be assisted by all opportune means so that they might always more fully understand the things that they do in sacred functions, live the liturgical life, and live it in communion with the faithful entrusted to them.

The Council Fathers note that liturgical formation for priests should not be limited to their seminary years, but should be an element of their on-going “professional” education. One assumes that “sacerdotes” here means both presbyters (priests of second rank) and bishops. I suggest that, had the restoration of the permanent diaconate been operative at the time Sacrosanctum Concilium was written, on-going professional liturgical formation for deacons would also have been recommended in this article.

Readers of Pray Tell might want to address: 1) How have the Council Fathers’ intentions for on-going liturgical formation for the clergy been carried out in practice over the last fifty years? 2) What concrete “means” have been or could be developed that would successfully achieve the goals of this on-going formation in the present? 3) To what extent should this on-going professional liturgical education be expected of other servant-leaders of community worship?


  1. Father
    I am tempted to repeat my post on article 16. The Latin Mass Society offers training in the EF. It would be good to have similar training in the OF and related or integrated training for servers, deacons, choir masters and others. If bishops endorsed particular courses their clergy would know better what the bishop had in mind as the range of approved and permitted ways of offering Mass.
    Many clergy would say that they are too busy to go on such courses. If the importance of Mass is as discussed in other postings, then it should be time well spent.

  2. It’s not only clergy, of course. Run a session for lectors or ministers of Communion, and you can more or less guarantee that the folk who actually need the refresher are the ones who won’t show up.

    In-service and refresher courses are mandatory in the fields of education, civil servants, etc, and yet as a Church we remain largely unprofessional about what our liturgical ministers do, whether ordained or lay.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #2:
      Paul, do realize you have proved that there is a undeniable proof of “Roman Catholic” DNA that you all can dispute the origin and who was Typhoon Mary for ubiquitous catholic apathy. Well done, sir.

    2. @Paul Inwood – comment #2:
      I amazed that you have enough installed lectors as to support this kind of training. If you mean “readers” at mass instead of installed lectors when you write “lectors” in comment # 2 then the course should begin by explaining to participants that they are not really lectors.

      1. @Daniel McKernan – comment #6:

        I assume you mean “instituted” lectors. Yes, I used the term “lectors” rather than “readers”, which is what the Brits call them, in deference to the standard US terminology employed by most of the readers of this blog. The only instituted readers (as the Brits call them) and instituted acolytes normally found in British parishes are seminarians on their way to priestly ordination. All readers that I work with are therefore real ones, not instituted ones (if you see what I mean!)

  3. Mr. Culbreth, could you explain your comment at #3? I normally can follow the thread of conversation but in this case I confess myself baffled.

  4. Personally, I’d like to see the ministry of lector and acolyte to be an officially installed ministry for qualified men and women of the parish, where there is a diocesan “seminary” program, maybe a two year course, designed for each, not just how to proclaim, but also based upon based Church teaching in Scripture and Tradition. As for acolytes, they would not just be Communion distributing pedestals, but also responsible for ministry to the sick and home bound and required to do that service in addition to assisting at Mass. They would be trained in pastoral theology as well. This would end the indiscriminate, let anyone do these ministries, approach that we’ve had since lectors and communion ministers were allowed.
    They would be installed by the bishop and required to have yearly diocesan workshops. I’d hope for the re-institution of sub-deacon also.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #5:
      It would be interesting if each of these ministries were required before a candidate was accepted for seminary. It would be interesting to see if your required workshops could be implemented for parish clergy. I would love to be a fly on the wall if you were appointed a bishop and started requiring your clergy and laity to attend these workshops.

      May I ask, as an ordinary minister of the Eucharist and of the Word, if you avail yourself of annual workshops for these services?

      I do recall a parish pastor who, fancying himself something of a Messiah, “ordained” twelve deacons for his parish in the late 70’s.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #9:
        Todd, I don’t know about your diocese, but our diocese requires the clergy to attend an annual clergy conference which is educational, to attend our diocesan retreat and to take a week of continuing ed and to notify the bishop as to what that is. I give annual workshops for all our liturgical ministers, and have to duplicate these for those who can’t attend on the day I have scheduled, thus showing yes, I am out of my mind not just in recommending sub deacons, but duplicating the dates of the same class. We are also encouraged to attend Provincial meetings of priests which have a teaching component. So, yes, I practice what I preach and I’d say most of our diocesan priest do too.

    2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #5:
      Fr, McDonald – I agree wholeheartedly with your vision of how a program of instituted lectors and acolytes would be implemented – including that universal law should be revised, or indults issued, to permit women to be instituted to these ministries.

      Perhaps we could add to the pastoral duties of instituted lectors and acolytes, that they be responsible for the formation and development of EMs and readers. In most of the parishes around here, those ministries are “led” by lay volunteers who tend to focus on the scheduling aspect (which they are qualified to do) rather than the formation and development aspect (which they may not be qualified to do). How does a pastor induce a lay volunteer leader of lay volunteer readers to “fire” an incompetent reader? Or, if that is too negative: how does a lay volunteer leader of readers put together a program of regular assessment, feedback and formation?

  5. I’m glad to see instituted electors and acolytes brought up. At present only candidates for the priesthood and permanent diaconate are so “instituted” on the way to ordination. This restriction exists because the law only permits males to receive these offices. Many decades ago, the bishops as a body agreed to not institute lay readers and acolytes until Rome made women eligible as well. If women and couldn’t serve in these roles without being instituted, the injustice would be noted by all. I propose the bishops formally petition the Vatican for an indult so as to institute both men and women. What would be gained: more formal training for readers would eliminate completely the lingering notion that this is a role open to just any volunteer. And since instituted acolytes may assist at the altar in the absence of a deacon, is an ordinary minister of communion, and (drumroll please) can purify the vessels after Mass. The latter would be justification alone even if the male restriction remained. If the indult came through, the lawful role of women in the liturgy would get a boost.

    Allan, subdeacons? Have you lost your mind? BTW, I was the last person ordained a subdeacon in my diocese back in 1971.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #8:
      What bishops as a body decided to refuse to install men into the ministry of lector/acolyte? Restricting a ministry of the Church from generations of men (since 1973) out of political correctness when the ministry was available to them is most unpastoral and seems to submit the life of the Church to secular values. I also know that there are dioceses that install permenant acolytes and lectors, a fact contradicting your impression (e.g. Lincoln, Baker). Bishop Robert Vasa wrote about the importance of permenant acolytes/lectors in an article “Church offices are more than mere functions” of 22 September 2006 in the Catholic Sentinel:

      ‘We hear a lot of talk about the need to implement more fully that which Vatican II intended. Yet when Vatican II is implemented in a fashion clearly consistent with the theology of Vatican II and with the mind of the Holy Father, then such an implementation is described “as a giant leap backward” intended only to “eliminate all women from the ministries.” This was never my intention, and it is not my intention now. It appears that those who claim to want an implementation of Vatican II prefer the pre-Vatican scenario which restricted these official ministries to those preparing for priesthood while allowing the laity to exercise the “function” but not possess the “office.” In their view, the fact that the “offices” are restricted to lay men means that offering them is backward and regressive. In my view, the fact that these esteemed “offices” and not only the “functions” are, since 1973, open and available to lay men, is a marvelous step forward in the full and orderly implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

      (from the article).

      Using the term “lector,” a word that has a specific meaning for something that it is not, a “reader” appears to also be unpastoral becaue it needlessly spreads confusion about the ministry. The Church has lectors and the Church has readers. The Church has acolytes and the Church has EMHCs and altar servers. We do not call altar servers “acolytes” because they are not the same thing. It is especially troubling to see terms such as these misused by persons who have been invested with some authority in these matters. As to the term “subdeacon”, my understanding is that some conferences use the term “subdeacon” for those we call “acolytes”. These roles also remain part of the life of the Roman Church in the EF.

      1. @Daniel McKernan – comment #11:

        Oh dear. Yes, we do call some altar servers acolytes, if they fulfil that role at a solemn Mass, to distinguish them from thurifers, boat-bearers, cross-bearers, torch-bearers, etc.

        Regarding subdeacons, do they still have any useful function? I seem to remember reading somewhere that they are now no longer allowed to “keep the paten warm” during High Mass in the EF, and the epistle can be read or chanted by a lay person.

        Regarding which Conferences decided they would not institute lay people as lectors and acolytes as long as these ministries were not open to women, I rather think the Canadians were first off the mark, followed close behind by the US and the British Isles conferences. If individual bishops have gone against the decision of the Conference in their own dioceses, they have been acting ultra vires and risk being branded as mavericks.

  6. Paul – note the two *bishops* or dioceses named – Lincoln,NE and Baker, OR. Mr. McKernan – both of these bishops ignored the USCCB in many areas e.g. sexual abuse norms, liturgical norms, etc.

    BTW – Burksweitz is retired and replaced by Conley (let’s give him some time and see what happens); Vasa has been moved to California (let’s also give it some time and see what happens in Baker, OR)

    Fr. Michael – to your point, IMO, the reply would be *uneven* at best. Many dioceses are on their second or third generation after VII in terms of diocesan policies around lectors/ EMs, etc. Uneven represents the fact that USCCB, FDLC, Liturgy Training Publications of Chicago, etc. all attempted to, initially, provide trainings, ongoing educational resources, etc. Would say that initially there was excitement and enthusiasm. But, there is a tension – some dioceses leave it to individual pastors to make these determinations; other dioceses have well regarded training and continuing education programs. But, IMO, the enthusiasm has waned. Would agree that good practice would be diocesan programs that encourage lectors, EMs, with ongoing education, some level of commitment, and there is also the issue of terms (do you stay a lector as long as you meet policies or should there be term limits to give others a chance?)

    In terms of priestly professionalism – like Paul Inwood and Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, the church needs to adopt policies just as other professional classes – MDs, counselors, teachers, etc. Once year ongoing education (that can be in many different areas) doesn’t really meet this standard; nor do annual retreats (what does this have to do with the topic?); or giving workshops (same comment). In many fields, necessary courses may be required annually; so far example, every priest would be required to do at least one liturgy, one preaching, one theology or morals course annually with required test scores.

  7. In Chicago, the deacons have annual continuing-education requirements, and there are some liturgical offerings that can fulfill those requirements. In addition to twice-yearly gatherings with educational components that are quite similar to what Fr. Jack Feehily described for priests in his diocese, we have other options, too. For example, the Liturgical Institute offers annual preaching workshops, and a variety of other liturgical continuing-education offerings. (And these are available to, and attended by, clergy from dioceses outside of Chicago).

    It is true that not all deacons avail themselves of these continuing-education opportunities – but quite a few do. If the diaconate office had the resources to track and enforce compliance with these requirements, I believe compliance would become near-universal.

    My observation is that “permanent” deacons don’t receive as much liturgical formation as seminarians do, so a lot of us come into our ministries with some gaps. And so, continuing-education becomes even more important to fill gaps that weren’t adequately addressed during formation. This takes on even more importance as deacons fulfill ever more liturgical duties – presiding at baptisms, weddings and the funeral/burial rites – that were mostly done by priests a generation ago.

    (I don’t wish to be too critical of formation programs; there simply is not enough time to provide all the formation and training that everyone wishes for. In the last decade, I believe some formation programs have beefed up their formation so as to be compliant with Rome’s directory for the formation of deacons. But there are a couple of generations of deacons already out here in the field who didn’t get the benefit of these higher standards.)

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