In the old days the journey to priesthood was marked by a series of steps called minor orders. Each of the minor order was accompanied by certain liturgical functions. The minor orders were distinct from the major orders, as a seminarian could leave the seminary having received minor orders and still get married. However, leaving the seminary after receiving major orders was much more difficult and required dispensation from Rome.
The minor orders began with the Rite of Tonsure in which the seminarians hair was ceremonially cut. Following the rite of Tonsure the seminarian would receive his first minor order, of porter/doorman. Following porter there was lector, exorcist and acolyte. The minor orders themselves were not sacramentals and not part of holy orders. The minor orders were preparation for holy orders. The major orders which followed subdeacon, deacon and priest.
In 1972 the Church suppressed the minor orders and instead choose to confer "ministries". Last year I received the first ministry, lector. This past month I received the ministry of Acolyte. Practically speaking this means that I serve at masses, help prepare the altar, can bring communion to the sick, etc...
Following the end of next year, God willing, I will receive the Rite of Candidacy in which I prepare for ordination to the deaconate and one year later the priesthood.
note: pictures to be posted as soon as the networks speeds up enough that I can download them.
It is hard to believe I am already a year and half in the seminary. It is also crazy to think that there are three and half more years to go.