What the ministers represent
The deacons who precede the bishop and kiss the altar stand for the just men who suffered for the truth before the coming of Christ. Thereafter they stand erect behind the bishop, because many following the footsteps of Christ suffered death for him. Some stand to the right, others to the left. The right signifies the contemplative life, and the left the active life. On the right stand those who minister to Christ in the contemplative life.
Two deacons come in turn to kiss opposite sides of the altar, for Christ sent the disciples out by twos before his face into every town. Their kiss signifies, as they say on entering: Pax huic domui; the altar, the hearts of the elect. Then they return to the bishop, and the disciples returned to Christ telling of the works of signs.
There should be as many subdeacons and acolytes as deacons. There are seven deacons because the Apostles chose seven deacons for the ministry. And because the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit confect the sacraments of the Mass [sacramenta missae conficiunt]; again seven minister because there were seven disciples fishing whom our Lord invited to supper.
The seven subdeacons are interpreted as the seven columns in the house of wisdom. By the seven acolytes the seven lamps of the tabernacle, or the seven candelabras of the Apocalypse are understood.
If five deacons minister, then they represent the five disciples present at the resuscitation of the maiden (Mark V). But five subdeacons minister because the five parts of Scripture taught these sacraments. For the Old Testament is divided into the laws and prophets; the New into the Acts and Letters of the Apostles and the prophecy of Apocalypse. Five acolytes serve because the five books of Moses testified to these mysteries.
If three deacons are ministering, they signify the three Apostles present with the transfigured Lord on the mountain. There are three subdeacons because the law, prophets, and psalms predicted these sacraments. Three acolytes serve because faith, hope, and charity perfect these mysteries.
If one deacon serves, he is the young man who clove to Jesus, when, having cast aside his tunic, he ran away naked (Mark XIV). By one deacon is also understood Stephen, who by his death pursued Christ alone.
Quid ministri designant.
Diacones, qui episcopum praecedentes altare osculantur, designant iustos, qui ante Christi adventum pro veritate patiebantur. Deinde post episcopum erecti stabunt; quia plurimi Christi vestigia sequentes pro eo mortem subierunt. Quidam a dextris, quidam a sinistris stant; quia dextra contemplativam; sinistra activam vitam significat. In dextra stantes sunt, in contemplativa vita Christo ministrantes. In sinistra consistentes, sunt in activa vita Christo servientes. Duo diaconi vicissim vadunt altrinsecus osculari latera altaris; quia Christus misit binos discipulos ante faciem suam in omnem civitatem. Osculum eorum significat, ut intrantes dicunt: Pax huic domui; altare, corda electorum. Postea revertuntur ad episcopum; et discipuli reversi sunt ad Christum nuntiantes opera signorum. Quot diacones, tot subdiacones, et acolythi esse debent. Septem diacones ideo sunt, quia apostoli septem diacones in ministerium elegerunt. Et quia septem dona Spiritus sancti sacramenta missae conficiunt; ideo etiam septem diacones ministrant, quia septem discipuli post resurrectionem in piscando laborabant, quos ad prandium invitabat. Per septem subdiacones, septem columnae domus sapientiae accipiuntur. Per septem acolythos, septem lucernae tabernaculi, vel septem candelabra in Apocalypsi intelliguntur. Si quinque diacones ministrant; tunc hos quinque designant, qui Domino in resuscitatione puellae adfuerant (Marc. V) . Quinque autem subdiacones serviunt, quia haec sacramenta quinque partes Scripturae docuerunt. Vetus enim Testamentum in legem et prophetas dividitur: Novum in Actus apostolorum et Epistolas eorum, et prophetiam Apocalypsis partitur. Quinque acolythi sunt, quia quinque libri Moysi haec mysteria testificati sunt. Tres diacones si ministrant, significant tres apostolos qui Domino in monte transfigurato aderant. Tres subdiacones sunt, quia lex et psalmi et prophetae haec sacramenta praedixerunt. Tres acolythi serviunt, quia fides, spes et charitas haec mysteria perficiunt. Unus diaconus si ministrat, illum adolescentem qui Domino in passione adhaesit, scilicet Ioannem, significat, quando reiecta sindone (Marc. XIV) nudus profugit; per unum quoque diaconum designatur Stephanus, qui solus sua morte Christum est consecutus.