It’s Getting Real: My Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders – 1 – The Significance of Candidacy and Why It is Required On the Journey to The Priesthood
As I announced on Sunday, on this Wednesday, May 25, I will be admitted to Candidacy for Holy Orders. Because not everyone is familiar with what this means in particular I wanted to take this time leading up to talk about the significance of this next step. This first article in the start of a mini article-series to share more information and my own reflections about this upcoming leg of the priestly journey. Today, I will talk about the significance of Candidacy and why it is required on the journey to the priesthood.
It must be stated first that there are several formal steps to the Catholic sacerdotal priesthood, and this is true for both East and West (Roman/Latin). I will be discussing this from a Western point of view. These formal steps begin when a man enters theology after his years of philosophy. This transition is huge because this means he is half way there (and very much hanging on a prayer – sorry!). The process of these formal steps after the reforms of Vatican II have been the following for most years and most dioceses (at least in the U.S.):
Lector, Acolyte, Candidacy, Deacon, Priest
Lector and acolyte are called “ministries“ by the Church with deacon and priest are considered part of the official clerical state (clergy).
The bishops have been recently making revisions to priesthood formation and total formalized program the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF). One of these changes that some bishops including mine have made is placing Candidacy as the first step and having a man be admitted to it right before he officially enters theological studies.
Brief Historical Outlook of The Church’s Gradual Approach Priestly Formation and the Ministries of Lector and Acolyte
The heritage of these formal steps is the former “minor orders”-and-subdeaconate-to-priesthood system of the days before the reforms of VII affected this area of the Church’s life (pre-1972). This previous system was:
(Tonsure), Porter, Lector, Acolyte, Subdeacon, Deacon, Priest.
(My goal is not to go into detail about what all these other orders were. So I will provide links below for your information.)
In the old days when a man received tonsure (part of priest’s hair shaven off to mark him as a religious or clergy member for the public/others to see) he officially entered the clerical state as a cleric though he was not a deacon/priest/bishop. The “minor orders” were porter, lector, and acolyte. “subdeacon” was part of the “major orders” along with deacon and priest. A man was free to marry (along with, leaving priestly formation in the West) up till before he was ordained a subdeacon. After he was ordained a subdeacon, he was now officially bound to celibacy and required to recite the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours for the Church. This gradually approach, with reforms over time, to the priesthood has been around for centuries. There is evidence that the minor orders have been around at least since the 3rd century. They have existed in both the East and West.
In the West they began to be seen more as stepping stones to the priesthood instead of independent orders (similar to how the permanent deaconate is understood today) like more-so in the East, I believe. Coming into the 20th centuries minor orders and the subdeaconate were generally not seen as sacramental ordinations like deacon and higher orders are. This was because, unlike deacon/priest/bishop, they were not of apostolic origin as established by Christ Himself, given to the Apostles, and passed down.
After Vatican II in 1972 Pope St. Paul VI’s motu proprio Ministeria quaedam replaced the minor orders and the subdeaconate with the “ministries” of lector and acolyte. Both lector and acolyte are official ministries conferred upon men that give them the “right” to perform certain task during the liturgy. Lectors are officially designated to proclaim the Word at Mass like the deacon and priest is officially designated to proclaim the Gospel. The same can be said about acolytes. “Acolyte” can be broadly used to refer to an altar server, but more precisely in regards to orders an acolyte is a man who has been officially designated by the Church to assist the priest and deacon at Mass and perform certain liturgical duties. And there are special duties he can do that normal altar serves cannot. One of these is the exposing and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament in a simple exposition (adoration without blessing and formal prayers). Because he is not a deacon or priest he cannot give a blessing. The subdeaconate with its functions were subsumed into the position of acolyte, which can be referred to as “subdeacon.”
Both of these are referred to as ministries in part because they are a type of minister during the liturgy and carry out official roles for the Church. To take on these roles officially a man must be “installed” to these ministries meaning to perform a specific rite that makes them an official lector or acolyte while they make certain promises and receiving a specific blessing. Lay men who are not in priestly or permenante deaconate formation can be installed in these positions as well (like in the Diocese of Lincoln, NE), but they are usually reserved to those seeking to be ordained.
I have said all this to put Candidacy itself in its proper context as one of a number of formal steps in a system of priestly formation that has been a feature of the mind and life of the Church for centuries. All of this also sets the tone to give the reception of Candidacy its significance.
When it comes to formation, when a man enters the seminary he does so because he believes God could be calling him to the priesthood and needs to spend the foreseeable future in a special environment and intense lifestyle to see this out. He begins his journey in philosophy studies and while discerning God’s will and seeking an increasingly level of certainty that the Lord is calling. For 2 or 4 years (Pre-Theology or College) this is a time for discernment, as neither he nor the representatives of the Church in charge of him know his call yet. After 2 or 4 years he should begin to gain a good picture of his call and approach a level closer to moral certainty that God is calling him. When he enters theology or sometime soon after, just as I stated in the previous post, there must be a switch from discernment to preparation. He is no longer mainly thinking about priesthood; he is preparing for priesthood. He strongly believes God is most likely calling him all the way, and he must say to himself, “Okay, I believe, Lord, that You are calling me. I will continue down this path and will only stop if You say stop. If not, I will keep going on.” There is still no guarantee or priesthood, however, and absolute certainty will only come when hands are laid upon his head.
For me, the reception of Candidacy will be this moment of switching from mainly discerning to preparation. By becoming a Candidate for Holy Orders, I have shown all or most of the signs of a priestly vocation to the Church. In short order, I seem to fit the bill, but there must be a little more time before ordination. I have expressed desires in many ways to be a priest, if God is calling me, and my actions have been consistent with those desires. Once I receive candidacy I can have a moral certainty that God is calling me to be a priest unless He says stop at a certain point in the future. It will be this point I will say I am willing to be ordained in due time, and I am ready to give me life away for the Church and the salvation of souls in this particular way, unless God pulls me out in a way that is sure as the fact that He has brought me to at least this point in the journey. At this point I promise God and the Church to keep faithful to my duties and priestly preparation up to the point I am ordained.
In terms of changes that occurs to a man who becomes a Candidate, he is now allowed to wear clerics. However, there is no change in his status; he is still a layman, and there is no title change. He is still just “Mr.” So-and-So just like any other Joe Schmoe.
Candidacy is a required for two good reasons:
First, it’s part of canon law that before a man is ordained he must first become a candidate to be ordained.
Canon 1034 §1:1983 Code of Canon Law
“An aspirant to the diaconate or to the priesthood is not to be ordained unless he has first, through the liturgical rite of admission, secured enrolment as a candidate from the authority mentioned in cann. 1016 and 1019 [Bishop for example].”
And secondly, as shown above, it is part of the Church’s wisdom in her step-by-step process of forming her clergy to spread out the time it takes to prepare a man to be a priest. It makes sense that a man must be officially designated as someone who meets the requirements before granted him Holy Orders at a later time. A special blessing for Candidacy is said over the man like one is said at ordination except no ordination is taking place and is not a prayer of ordination.
Lastly, it is important to add this last bit of detail regarding Candidacy from canon law that is given right after the previous citation:
“He must previously have submitted a petition in his own hand and signed by him, which has been accepted in writing by the same authority.”
Part of the process of receiving Candidacy was meet writing a handwritten letter requesting my bishop to be admitted to Candidacy, which was signed by my seminary rector in charge of my formation. At every step from Candidacy to Priesthood a man must write a formal letter in his own hand to be admitted to the ministry or clerical state he is wishing to be admitted to.
My next article in this mini-series is going to be about on looking and reflecting on the text of the Rite of Candidacy
More on minor orders: here and here.
More on subdeacons here and here.
A seminarian in 2015 gives his thoughts on being admitted to Candidacy here.
Cover Image from “Homily – Bishop Zarama at the Rite of Admission to the Candidacy for Holy Orders, 2019.” Used under fair use.