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Subdeacon is a title used in various branches of Christianity. It is sometimes spelled with a hyphen: sub-deacon.


Eastern Orthodoxy

A subdeacon is the highest of the minor orders of clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This order is higher than the anagnostis and lower than the deacon. The subdeacon's essential role is to assist the bishop during a hierarchical Divine Liturgy (a Divine Liturgy at which a bishop is present and presiding) by vesting him, holding his service book, carrying his staff, presenting him with the dikiri and trikiri, etc. There is a special service for the ordination of a subdeacon, although in contemporary practice an acolyte or a reader may receive the bishop's blessing to vest and act as a subdeacon, either for a particular occasion or permanently. The main reason for this practice lies in the fact that the canons (e.g. Apostolic canon 26 et al.) prohibit subdeacons to marry after their ordination (just like deacons and priests). This latter stipulation has sometimes led to the reservation of the formal ordination service to candidates for the priesthood, although this is not universal.

The subdeacon is vested in a sticharion with an orarion tied around his waist, up over his shoulders (forming a cross in back), and with the ends hanging down in front, tucked under the section around the waist. [1] Like readers, subdeacons are permitted to wear a cassock, although many only do so when attending services.

When there is no bishop present, a subdeacon will take the role of acolyte, assisting the priest during religious services in the sanctuary, the area around the altar in a church.

Subdeacons have a similar role and function in the Oriental Churches (Armenian, Coptic, etc.)

Roman Catholicism

A subdeacon was one of the major orders of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church until it was abolished along with the minor orders and the tonsure in the aftermath of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Today, the Holy See has permitted certain religious societies of priests such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter and the Institute of Christ the King to retain the subdiaconate as well as the Roman Missal of 1962. The ministry of the acolyte, which replaced the subdiaconate elsewhere, is in some national conferences called the ministry of subdeacon but is still a lay office.

The other major orders—deacon, priest, and bishop—were retained because they are considered sacramental, or part of the sacrament of Holy Orders, whereas the subdiaconate and the minor orders were considered ecclesiastical or created by the Church. Thus, a subdeacon does not receive the laying on of hands at his ordination. Instead, the ceremony consists of him receiving from the bishop an empty chalice and paten, his vestments, cruets of wine and water, and the Book of Epistles. When a seminarian is ordained to the subdiaconate it is here that he makes his promise of celibacy for the greater perfection of chastity. It is also the time that he becomes bound to say the Divine Office.

Subdeacons have a specific role during Solemn Mass. This included (but was not limited to): carrying the cross in liturgical processions, singing the epistle, carrying the Book of Gospels during the Gospel procession and holding it while the deacon sung the Gospel aloud, and assisting the priest or deacon in the setting of the altar. In the Latin Rite church (except as noted above), these liturgical functions have been subsumed by the now lay ministries of lector and acolyte. The vestment particularly associated with the order of subdeacon is the tunicle, though the subdeacon also wears the maniple since it is a major order. The subdeacon also wears the humeral veil during Mass when touching sacred vessels. This is seen at Solemn High Mass when the subdeacon presents the chalice and paten to the deacon at the offertory and when he holds the empty paten during the canon, the host having previously been placed on the corporal.


While the office of subdeacon was abolished in the Anglican Church at the time of the Reformation, certain churches and communities in the Anglican Communion assign a layperson to act as subdeacon in the celebration of the liturgy of the mass or Holy Eucharist; however, this is considered a liturgical function one fills, not an order to which one is ordained. In practice, an Anglican subdeacon performs similar roles to those performed in the Roman Catholic Church.

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