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The Tonsure

The Clerical Haircut 
according to the Traditional Catholic Rite of Holy Orders Return to True Catholic

by A. Biskupek, S.V.D
Mission Press, 1954
Imprimi Potest May 4, 1942 Charles Michel, S.V.D. Provincial
Imprimatur May 4, 1942 + Samuel A. Stritch, D.D.
Archbishop of Chicago 
Tonsure, from the Latin tonsura, denotes the cutting of the hair as well as the shaven crown worn by clerics as a distinctive mark of their state. 

The origin of the tonsure must probably be sought in the custom prevailing among the Romans of shaving the head of a slave. Confessors of the faith were in some cases treated in the same manner out of contempt and mockery. To proclaim themselves slaves of Christ monks at a very early date began to shave their heads. Toward the beginning of the sixth century clerics gradually adopted the custom of the monks, however in a modified form, not shaving the whole head, but leaving a narrow crown of hair. In this form the tonsure is still worn by members of some religious orders. Generally, however, it was greatly reduced in size until it now resembles a half-dollar coin. In some countries, where Catholics form a minority among a non-Catholic population, as in the United States, the tonsure is not worn. 

In the beginning no special rite was employed for the bestowal of the first tonsure. When a man decided to devote himself to the service of God and was assigned to the personnel of a certain church, he began to wear the tonsure. In the course of time suitable ceremonies were developed for the adoption into the clerical state. For a long time these ceremonies formed part of the rite, by which the first minor order was conferred, and it was probably only in the eighth century that the bestowal of the first tonsure became a separate rite. The wearing of the tonsure was made obligatory for all clerics during the Middle Ages. 

Tonsure is not an order, since no office and no spiritual power is conferred by it. It is a sacred rite, by which a layman is received into the clerical state, and the prerequisite for the reception of orders. 

The word cleric is derived from the Greek kleros, which means portion or inheritance. The choice of the term is suggested by the words of God addressed to the tribe of Levi, by which the clerics were typified: "You shall possess nothing in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and inheritance in the midst of the children of Israel" (Numb 18, 20). St. Jerome, commenting on the passage, thus interprets the word cleric: "They are called clerics, because they are the portion of the Lord and because the Lord is their portion." The Lord has chosen the clerics for His special service, and they have freely accepted the choice. In order to give themselves with wholehearted and undivided attention to the service of God, they renounce the pursuit of secular vocations. However, they are not left without the means of living in conformity with their state, for "they that serve the altar partake with the altar. So also the Lord ordained that they who preach the gospel should live by the gospel" (1 Cor. 9,13 f). As in the Old Testament the Levites were supported by the rest of the people by the payment of tithes, first fruits, and a definite share of the sacrifices, so priests are supported by the faithful, the chosen people of the New Testament. 

The word clergy, strictly speaking, designates all persons who have received the tonsure, even though they are not priests; however, popular usage commonly restricts its meaning to priests only. 

Tonsure may be conferred on any day and at any hour of the day. If tonsure is conferred during Mass, this is done: 
Saturdays of Ember weeks and Holy Saturday: after the Kyrie. 
Saturday before Passion Sunday: after the Introit. 
On other days, if the Mass has Gloria: after the Kyrie; if the Mass has no Gloria: after the Introit. 

The candidates present themselves for ordination dressed in a cassock. On their left arm they carry a surplice and in their right hand a burning candle. 

The Rite

The Call. The bishop, with his mitre on, sits on the faldstool before the middle of the altar. The archdeacon bids the candidates come forward; the notary reads their names: 
    Let those who are to be promoted to the first clerical tonsure come forward: N. N. etc.
Each one answers adsum, i.e., present, goes before the altar and kneels, holding the burning candle in his right hand. The bishop rises and prays: 


    V. Blessed be the name of the Lord. 
    R. From henceforth, now, and forever. 
    V. Our help is in the name of the Lord. 
    R. Who made heaven and earth. 

    Let us pray, dearly beloved brethren, to the Lord Jesus Christ for these His servants, who for the sake of His love hasten to offer the hair of their heads. May He bestow upon them the Holy Spirit, to preserve in them forever the spirit of piety and protect their hearts against the entanglements of the world and worldly ambition. And as they are changed in outward appearance, may His right hand grant them an increase of virtue, deliver their eyes from all blindness, spiritual and human, and bestow on them the light of everlasting grace. Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

The Cutting of the Hair. Here the choir begins and continues the following antiphon and psalm (Ps. 15, 1-5): 


    It is Thou, O Lord, that wilt restore my inheritance to me.
    Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in Thee. I have siad to the Lord: Thou art my God, for Thou hast no need of my goods. 

    To the saints who are in His land, He hath made wonderful all my desires in them. 

    Their infirmities were multiplied: afterward thy made haste. 

    I will not gather together their meetings for blood offerings, nor will I be mindful of their names by my lips.

The whole antiphon is repeated: 
    It is Thou, O Lord, that wilt restore my inheritance to me.
While the psalm is being sung, the candidates are tonsured. The bishop cuts some hair from the head of each, in five places, so as to form a cross: in front and in the back, above the right and the left ear, and from the crown of the head. At the same time the bishop pronounces the following words, which the candidate repeats after him: 
    The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup. It is Thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me (Ps. 15,5).
Prayer. Having tonsured all, the bishop, miter off, rises and facing the candidates prays: 
    Let Us Pray 

    Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that these Thy servants whom, prompted by divine love, we have tonsured today, may always remain in Thy love, and do Thou keep them forever without stain. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

The choir now sings the following antiphon and Psalm 23. As soon as thy have begun, the bishop, miter on, seats himself. 


    These shall receive a blessing from the Lord and mercy from God their Savior, because they are the generation of them that seek the Lord.
    The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof: the world and all they that dwell therein. 

    For He hath founded it upon the seas: and hath prepared it upon the rivers. 

    Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in His holy place? 

    The innocent in hands and clean of heart, who hath not taken his soul in vain nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbor. 

    He shall receive a blessing from the Lord and mercy from God his Savior. 

    This is the generation of them that seek Him, of them that seek the face of the God of Jacob. 

    Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of glory shall enter in. 

    Who is this King of glory? The Lord who is the strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle. 

    Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates; and the King of glory shall enter in. 

    Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory. 

    Glory be, etc. 

    As it was, etc.

Here the whole antiphon is repeated. 
    These shall receive a blessing from the Lord and mercy from God their Savior, because they are the generation of them that seek the Lord.
The bishop, miter off, rises, turns to the altar and says: 
    Let Us Pray 
    The assistants: Let us bend our knees. 
    R. Arise.
Turning toward the tonsured he prays: 
    Here, O Lord, our humble prayer, and vouchsafe to bless these Thy servants. In Thy holy name we now invest them with the garb of holy religion. May they, by Thy help, remain faithful in Thy Church and merit to attain life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.
The Investiture with the Surplice. The bishop now seats himself and, miter on, invests the candidates with the surplice, saying to each: 
    May the Lord clothe thee with the new man, who is created according to God in justice and true holiness.
The bishop rises, with his miter off, and prays: 
    Let Us Pray 

    Almighty, eternal God, forgive our sins and deliver these Thy servants from all slavery of secular fashions, so that, as they renounce the ignominy of worldly style, they may possess Thy grace forever. And as we make them wear the likeness of Thy crown upon their heads, may they, by Thy help, merit to attain within their hearts the everlasting inheritance. Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.

Admonition. The bishop seats himself and, miter on, addresses the candidates as follows: 
    Dearly beloved sons, you should consider that today you have been placed under the jurisdiction of the Church and have received the privileges of clerics. Take care, lest you forfeit them through you fault. Strive to be pleasing to God by modest dress, becoming demeanor, and good works. May He grant it to you by His Holy Spirit. R. Amen.
Procedure after an ordination. 

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