The subdeacon is an assisting minister to the celebrant at the altar during Holy Communion. Historically, the subdeacon was ordained to either the diaconate or priesthood and held the responsibility of reading the epistle in addition to serving at the altar. With the advent of both lay reader and lay eucharistic minister participation in the service, the role of subdeacon was necessarily broadened to allow the laity also to serve in this capacity. At St. Peter’s, the subdeacon is typically a lay person.
In order to be considered for the role of subdeacon, a server must demonstrate ability to read clearly in public, be familiar with the lectionary, and be willing to undergo diocesan training, if required, in order to be licensed to administer communion. In addition, a server who attains the level of subdeacon should be prepared to assume the role of minister of ceremonies at the same time should there be insufficient servers to cover all roles. The subdeacon must have a clear understanding of the liturgy, including the roles of the celebrant and deacon, and have demonstrated proficiency in serving at all previous levels. The subdeacon must be able to prepare the vessels and vestments for mass in the event of an emergency. In addition, the prospective subdeacon must show leadership potential as evidenced by the ability to write customary notes for special services, mentor new servers, and be a positive role model for other servers as well as the congregation at large, by virtue of the visibility of the position. Because the subdeacon role constitutes a parish leadership position, this persons should also have an understanding of the culture and history of the parish.
Responsibilities and Conduct
The subdeacon is expected to arrive no later than 30 minutes prior to his or her assigned service. Repeated tardiness will result in probationary status and possible dismissal from the Guild.
The subdeacon should vest in black cassock, alb, white cincture, tunicle, and maniple (if available) in the color of the day.
As necessary, the subdeacon should assist the celebrant in vesting.
The subdeacon walks in procession behind the minister of ceremonies and before the deacon. Along with the other sacred ministers, the subdeacon passes through the altar rail gate and moves to the left as the deacon moves to the right and the celebrant moves forward to form a line; the three sacred ministers should be in this formation by the time they reach the pavement at the bottom of the altar steps. The three sacred ministers proceed to the footpace together and reverence the altar. The subdeacon and deacon should bow profoundly while the celebrant bows to kiss the altar.
Incensing of the Altar
When incense is being used in the service, the altar is incensed prior to the Opening Acclamation. While the celebrant is incensing the altar, the subdeacon assists the celebrant by lifting his or her chasuble or cope on the left side to help free the celebrant’s arm to swing the thurible.
Opening Acclamation, Collect for Purity, and Summary of the Law
After reverencing and censing the altar (if included in the service), the sacred ministers arrange themselves in a single file facing the altar, with the celebrant at the center of the footpace, the deacon on the second step of the altar, and the subdeacon on the pavement. When the celebrant turns to address the congregation, the subdeacon turns and moves to the gospel side of the pavement, while the deacon turns and moves to the epistle side; both turn back to face the altar while the celebrant is addressing the congregation. When the celebrant turns back to face the altar, the subdeacon and deacon return to their positions at the center, facing the altar behind the celebrant.
At the singing of the Gloria, the subdeacon remains standing on the pavement behind the celebrant and deacon facing the altar. The subdeacon should make a slight bow at the word “God” at the start of the Gloria and at the name of Jesus, and then the sign of the cross at the conclusion of the Gloria.
Lessons and Psalm
When the Gloria concludes, the sacred ministers all descend to the pavement, with the celebrant in the center and the subdeacon on his or her left. After reverencing the altar, the deacon leads the sacred ministers to the sedilia, where all are seated - celebrant in the center and subdeacon on the celebrant’s left.
Gospel Procession and Reading
The subdeacon, who should already be standing for the singing of the Gradual hymn, joins the gospel procession at the altar rail, preceding the deacon (who is carrying the gospel book). When the procession reaches the place in the center aisle from which the gospel will be read, the subdeacon turns to face the altar and accepts the gospel book from the deacon, holding it at the level of his or her chest or eyes, as is convenient. The subdeacon remains in this position for the duration of the gospel reading. At the conclusion of the reading, the procession re-forms, this time with the subdeacon carrying the gospel book and processing in front of the deacon. As the subdeacon is carrying the gospel book, he or she does not make any other reverence when approaching the altar. When the subdeacon has reached the ambit of the altar, he or she hands off the gospel book to the minister of ceremonies, who places it on the credence.
After handing off the gospel book, the subdeacon returns to his or her seat in the sedilia, first making the sign of the cross should the preacher use the “In the name of the…” form at the beginning of the sermon.
The subdeacon rises for the Creed, proceeding with the other sacred ministers to the pavement at the foot of the altar steps with the celebrant in the center and subdeacon on the left. The subdeacon makes a simple bow at the name of Jesus, moderate bow (or genuflection) at the mention of the Incarnation, and the sign of the cross at the final phrase of the Creed.
Prayers of the People
The sacred ministers ascend the steps to the footpace, kneeling for the Prayers of the People, making the sign of the cross at the prayers for the dead.
Confession and Absolution
The subdeacon remains kneeling at the altar for the Confession, remaining kneeling when the celebrant rises to administer the Absolution, making the sign of the cross as appropriate.
After the announcements and Offertory Sentences, the subdeacon exits his or her place in the
sedilia, moving the foot of the altar steps, timing his or her arrival with the deacon and celebrant. Upon reaching the pavement at the base of the altar steps, the sacred ministers fan out, with the subdeacon on the left, the celebrant in the center, and the deacon on the right, timing this movement so that all sacred ministers are together in a row as they begin to ascend the altar steps. The sacred ministers move to the footpace and reverence the altar, with the subdeacon and deacon making a profound bow and the celebrant kissing the altar.
If incense is being used, it is laid on at this time by the celebrant. After incense has been laid on, the celebrant moves to the sedilia while subdeacon moves to the epistle horn of the altar to receive the veiled chalice and paten from the minister of ceremonies, and places it to the right of the deacon, who is standing in the center of the footpace. The subdeacon assists the deacon in the preparation of prepares the vessels. After the deacon has folded the veil, the subdeacon receives it and hands it to the minister of ceremonies, who places it on the credence.
On the direction of the deacon, the subdeacon receives the water cruet from an acolyte waiting on the pavement on the epistle side of the altar. The subdeacon turns to the celebrant to bless the water, and then pours the water as directed by the deacon, returning the water cruet to the waiting acolyte. Once the vessels are prepared, the subdeacon moves to the gospel side of the altar, while the deacon moves to the epistle side, facing one another while the celebrant joins them in the center; all face the altar until the conclusion of the Offertory.
At the conclusion of the Offertory anthem, and when finished with the preparation of the vessels, the sacred ministers will turn to face the nave of the church; this is the signal for the Offertory procession to begin. When the procession nears the altar rail, the sacred ministers will move together to meet the processional party, the three fanning out at the gate so that the subdeacon on the left, celebrant in the center, and deacon on the right. The celebrant receives the offering bason, handing it off to the subdeacon. The celebrant receives ciborium next, handing it to the deacon, and then receives the cruet. All three sacred ministers turn to face the altar and move up to the footpace with the offerings. The subdeacon hands the alms bason to the celebrant to be blessed and receives it back, crossing behind the celebrant to the epistle side and the waiting acolytes, handing the bason to an acolyte.
Incensing at the Offertory
If incense is in use in the service, the altar and offerings are incensed at this time, with the subdeacon assisting the celebrant with lifting the chasuble on his or her left side while the altar is being censed. After the celebrant has handed the thurible off to the deacon, the subdeacon moves to the pavement on the gospel side, facing the altar, while the deacon censes the celebrant, and then turning slightly to face the deacon (who will be standing on the pavement near the epistle side of the altar) to be censed, bowing before and after. After the deacon has handed the thurible off to the thurifer, the subdeacon moves to the center, facing the altar (still on the pavement), timing his or her arrival with the deacon, who will be standing on the second step. All three sacred ministers should be arranged in single file facing the altar.
Preface and Sanctus
When the celebrant turns to the congregation to sing the Sursum Corda, the subdeacon turns and moves to the gospel side of the altar, still on the pavement, and faces the altar. When the celebrant turns back to the altar for the Preface, the subdeacon turns and moves to the center, still on the pavement, and faces the the altar (in the same single-file arrangement as before). When the celebrant reaches, “Therefore…” just preceding the Sanctus, the subdeacon moves to the footpace on the gospel side, still facing the altar. At the start of the Sanctus, the subdeacon bows, with the other sacred ministers, to the words, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,” and then resumes an upright posture.
Remain standing, reverencing as appropriate (genuflection, if being used in the service) at the elevation of each of the elements.
Lord’s Prayer, Fraction Anthem, and Prayer for Humble Access
Remain standing, genuflecting or kneeling with the celebrant and deacon do so.
The subdeacon receives Communion from the celebrant along with the deacon, before the the rest of the altar party. After receiving, the subdeacon serves the chalice to the altar party, and then to the communicants on the gospel side of the altar rail.
When all have received, the subdeacon takes the chalice to the altar on the epistle side and assists the celebrant in the Ablutions, passing cleaned vessels to the minister of ceremonies to be removed. Once the vessels have been cleaned, the subdeacon receives the veil from one of the acolytes, and returning to the celebrant’s left, veils the chalice, placing the pall over the chalice and the veil over them both and setting it aside. Once the corporal has been folded and placed inside the burse, the subdeacon places the burse atop the veiled chalice and carries them to the epistle side of the altar, handing them off to an acolyte to be placed on the credence. See “The Ablutions” in this document for more information.
Post-Communion Prayer and Final Prayers
The subdeacon proceeds to the pavement on the epistle side of the altar and faces the altar; all sacred ministers should be arranged in a single file, with the celebrant on the footpace and the deacon on the second step.
Blessing and Retiring Procession
After the Post-Communion Prayer, the sacred ministers move to the center (the subdeacon) still on the pavement), and then split with the subdeacon moving to the gospel side and the deacon to the epistle side when the celebrant turns to bless the congregation. After the blessing, the subdeacon and deacon move to the footpace on their respective sides, reverencing the altar with the celebrant, and then turn to face the congregation for the retiring procession. As the choir is exiting their stalls, the sacred ministers move toward the altar rail, falling into single file with the subdeacon leading and celebrant at the end, and join the rest of the procession to the rear of the nave.
After the dismissal, the subdeacon returns to the vesting area to assist the celebrant with his or her vestments and to return the subdeacon’s vestments to the sacristy.