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6. Of Ostiarii, or Doorkeepers

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER IV. Inferior officers of the church

6. Of Ostiarii, or Doorkeepers

These, though the last of the lower orders, were of a more elevated rank than the modern sexton, with whom they should not be confounded. The ostiarii belonged, in a sense, to the clerical order; while the sexton is the attendant and waiter on the clergy. Their duties were more comprehensive than the latter, in that they separated the catechumens from believers, and excluded disorderly persons from the church. They closed the doors of the church, not only at the close of religious worship, but during the services, especially after the first part of it, called the missa catechumenorum. They had also the care of the ornaments of the church, and of the altar. It afterwards became their duty to ornament the church and the altar on festive occasions – to guard the grave-yards and sepulchres of the dead; to present the book to the preacher; to ring the bell; to sweep the church, and on Thursday of passion-week to make preparation for the consecration of the chrism, or anointing oil. They are sometimes called mansionarii and janitores.

The most probable explanation of the origin of this order is that they were made doorkeepers of the christian church in imitation of the doorkeepers of the Jewish tabernacle as related in the book of secret discipline. If so the origin of this office was antecedent to the time of the apostles. The office was esteemed as essential in observing the secluded rites of our religion as it was in celebrating the mysteries of pagan superstition. The office was known in the Eastern church in the time of the Sardinian council (c. 24) but was discontinued about the seventh or eighth centuries – being no longer necessary.

The customary forms of ordination are prescribed in the fourth council of Carthage, c. 9, and the ceremony of delivering the keys is derived from the book of secret discipline.

Alcuinus De. div. opp. p. 269: Slat. can. cJer. torn. iii. Canis. p. 398.

Binterim S. 311.

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