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Cassock-taking, Tonsure and Minor Orders
at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Winona, Minnesota

February 2, Candlemas



On this February morning, the sun illumines without warming the seminary[1] buried beneath the snow. On account of several storms, common in the central U.S. this time of year, many families and friends had to cancel their travel plans, giving up the opportunity to surround the seminarians this Candlemas. Nevertheless, nearly half the seminarians[2] are about to take an important step towards the altar during the course of the Pontifical Mass of Ordination celebrated by Bishop Bishop Fellay.

“Do not let yourselves be saddened. It is, on the contrary, a source of happiness to be able, through the Cross, to win souls for God for eternity.[3]

The 15 seminarians of the second year receive the cassock, sign of their consecration to God. Encircling the altar on bended knee, their cassocks over their arms, they listen to the blessing of the bishop. Having left the chapel to change, long minutes pass by during which the words of the bishop keep coming to mind: renouncement of the world to belong to God... the cassock, black as death, the condition for living for God...

Emotion runs high for the families who see their sons garbed all in black entering anew into the church, led by the superior of the seminary!

The tonsure makes the seminarian enter the Church’s hierarchy.

Then the 10 seminarians of the third year present themselves, surplice over their arms, to receive the blessing. They come to keel before the pontiff who in a symbolic gesture cuts four locks of hair in the shape of a cross. “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance,[4] the new Levite says at this moment. It is an allusion to the Old Testament tribe of Levi, who, possessing no territories in the Promised Land, instead received for their services in the Temple their Lord himself as inheritance.

The vesting with the surplice follows, symbol of this new man, whom “divine love leads to the foot of the altar,[5] who comes to be “adopted” by the bishop, and for whom the bishop begs of God “charity and preservation from every stain.[6]

“Dearly beloved sons, consider that beginning today you are given a place of prominence in the church and you participate in the privileges of clerics.[7]

The surplice is the exterior mark of this distinction. At the seminary, the clerics alone wear it in choir.

In virtue of these ordinations, the seminarian receives special graces which the layman does not receive, albeit he exercises the same functions, such as sacristan.

Finally the 7 seminarians of the fourth year are called to present themselves to receive the minor orders[8] of Porter and Lector. In his instruction, the Pontiff presents them with the office of Porter: to open the doors of the church, to ring the bells, and he already commends to them the souls of the faithful. “May your word and your example close the door to the devil and open the hearts of the faithful to the word of God in order that they may keep it and accomplish it in good works.”[9] When they then touch the keys of the church, the bishop reminds them also of the account they will have to render to God for such an office.  At the entrance of the church, one by one, they open the door and ring the bell.

Having returned to the altar, they are ordained Lector for the edification of the faithful. “May you believe with all you heart and accomplish in your actions that which your lips read... As you stand erect to read, you ought also to give good example and practice a height degree of virtue than those who listen to you.”[10]

In his homily, Bishop Fellay remarks how, beginning with the first steps towards the altar, the Church directs the gaze of her Levites towards the souls that they will have to sanctify.

“I am the godfather of a vocation

Fr. Rostand (District Superior of the United States) and Lagarde assisted at the throne. The latter, despite his 88 years, has made a long journey from Chambery (France) to assist at the taking of the cassock of one of his former faithful, a seminarian at Winona. Still young, this seminarian has entrusted his vocation to Fr. Lagarde. “From this day on, I shall not cease praying for him.” Indeed Fr. Lagarde has sung today the Nunc Dimittis of the aged Simeon, we wish him to remain with us to accompany his protégé to the altar.

This belongs to the order of the impossible, we do not understand![11]

Rising again to the scandal and impiety of Assisi, His Excellency reminds all of the duty to protest and make reparation, and he adds: “we are thinking of a new Rosary Crusade!”[12]

Despite the head, despite the leaders of the Church, Tradition progresses...[13]



[1] Under the direction of Fr. le Roux and their 6 professors, Frs. Asher, Iscara, Peek, Dean, Abbet, and Wood, the 85 seminarians are divided into 7 years: a year of Humanities, one of Spirituality, 2 years of Philosophy, and 3 of Theology.

[2] Comprised mostly of Americans (the U.S. and Canada), the seminary counts 2 Africans, 1 Indian, and 3 Europeans.

[3] Sermon of the ceremony.

[4] Ritual.


[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] There are 4 Minor Orders, generally received in two distinct ceremonies: Porter and Lector, then Exorcist and Acolyte. Then come the 3 Major Orders: Subdiaconate, Diaconate, and Priesthood.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sermon of the day

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

click images to enlarge

First-year seminarians prepare to be vested in the cassock draped over their arms.

The newly-garbed seminarians re-enter the chapel after donning their black cassocks, led by the assistant priest and seminary rector, Fr. Yves Le Roux (foreground in gold cope).

The second-year seminarians kneel before the altar as Bishop Fellay as he admonishes them concerning their clerical duties before they receive the tonsure.

Bishop Fellay administers
the tonsure...
Seminarians awaiting their tonsure
hold candles, symbolizing the
first grace they received at baptism,
being continued and amplified
through this step in the clerical life.
...then vests the seminarian
in his white surplice.
Send forth the increase
in Thy harvest, O Lord!
Two fourth-year seminarians
touch the church keys
during the ordination to the
minor order of Porter.

Having already opened and closed the church doors, a new porter rings the church bell; Fr. Le Roux assists.

The schola chants one of the propers.

The bishop and his ministers before the altar. Visiting priest from France, Fr. Lagarde, is behind Bishop Fellay (white-haired and in dalmatic).

An annual tradition at Winona: the outdoor group shot after Candlemas ceremonies in the frigid (and very snowy) Minnesota winter!

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