Saturday, November 20, 2010

Altar Servers (Altar Boys/Girls & Acolytes)

Formerly, only young men, whom the Church sometimes hoped to recruit for the priesthood, and seminarians could serve at the altar, and thus altar boy was the usual term until Canon 230 was changed with the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1983 which provided the option for local ordinaries to permit females to serve at the altar. The term altar server is now widely used and accepted due to this. The entire diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska as well as many individual parishes throughout the country retain the former practice, as do traditionalist Catholic orders (FSSP, Institute of Christ the King, SSPX).
An acolyte is one of the instituted orders which is installed by a Bishop. The title of acolyte is still only given to men as it is historically a minor order. This term is now usually reserved for the ministry that all who are to be promoted to the diaconate, whether permanent or transitory, must receive at least six months beforehand (Canon 1035 of the Code of Canon Law).


Duties in the Ordinary Form

In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite of the celebration of Mass, Acolytes have the following responsibilities during
  • Entrance: Acolytes may carry the processional cross and candles (also called acolytes, or flambeaux) at the front of the entrance procession. Others may carry incense and a thurible.
  • Proclamation of the Gospel: If it is a regional habit, candles and/or incense can be carried in procession to the ambo or lectern.
  • Offertory: When the priest receiving these gifts, acolytes assist him by carrying them.
  • Preparation of the chalice: Acolytes present the cruets of water and wine for the deacon or priest to pour in the chalice.
  • Lavabo: An Acolyte administers the water to the priest as he ritually washes his hands.
  • Liturgy of the Eucharist: Acolytes ring altar bell at the Hanc Igitur and both elevations of the species.
  • Recessional: When the priest and the Acolytes leave the altar, again the processional cross and candles are carried.
At a solemn Mass, four or more Acolytes is ideal. A weekday Mass usually only requires 1 or 2 servers. If a bishop celebrates Mass solemnly, two vimpas, so as to take care of mitre and crosier, as well as other functions.


Duties in the Extraordinary Form

The extraordinary form of the Roman Rite celebration of Mass, acolytes have the following responsibilities (depending which type of mass) during
  • Mass of the Catechumens
    • Processional: Acolytes carry the thurible, incense boat, processional cross and candles (flambeaux) in a Missa Cantata.
    • After the sacristy bells are rung and first genuflection at the high altar, the acolyte takes the priest's biretta, kisses it, and places on the Presidential Chair.
    • Post-Epistle: Acolytes move Missal from Epistle side of the altar to the Gospel side of the altar.
  • Mass of the faithful
    • Acolytes ring the altar bell once as the priest unveils chalice and places veil on altar.
    • Preparation of the chalice: Acolytes present the cruets of water and wine for the deacon or priest to pour in the chalice.
    • Lavabo: An acolyte administers the water to the Priest as he ritually washes his hands.
    • Beginning of the Sanctus: Altar bell is rung thrice.
    • Canon of Mass: When the priest extends his hands over the chalice, acolytes ring altar bell once, stand, take the bell, without genuflecting kneel on either side of the priest.
    • Consecration: At each consecration acolytes make a deep bow at the priest's first genuflection, and ring the bell once. During each major elevation, acolytes kneel erect, raising the back of the chasuble and ringing the bell thrice. During the priest's second genuflection, acolytes release chasuble, make a deep bow and ring the bell once. After the consecration, holding the bell, acolytes return to their posts and kneel.
    • Post Agnus Dei: Acolytes get patens from credence table and go back to posts with genuflections and kneeling. When the priest genuflects and says the triple "Domine, non sum dignus..." acolytes ring the bell thrice.
    • Communion: Follow priest with paten in hand and hand over breast for the Communion.
    • Ablutions: Get the water and wine cruets from credence table. For the first ablution at center of the altar, the acolyte with the wine approaches as the priest tips the chalice toward the acolyte. The acolyte pours a little wine into the chalice, he bows and turns to his right and returns to the Epistle corner and wait for the priest. When the priest approaches for the second ablution, the acolyte makes a moderate bow, pours a little wine over his fingers and then as much water as he desires. Then, with genuflections, switch the chalice veil from the Gospel side to the Epistle side with the Missal at the same time.
    • Ending procession: Same as Processional.


In the ordinary form of the Mass, acolytes should wear an alb and cincture or a surplice over a cassock. Everyone who wears an alb and a cinture may wear an amice (especially if normal clothing is visible above the neck of the alb). In the extraordinary form, Acolytes wear a cassock and surplice. According to the general rule of the Latin Rite a surplice should always be worn over a cassock. Traditionally, an Acolyte wore the same colour as the church's pastor or rector. Thus, a red cassock would be worn if the pastor had that privilege. Black and red are the most common colours for an Acolyte cassock. Acolytes do not wear a clerical collar or rabat. In English-speaking countries that collar is traditionally worn from ordination as a subdeacon onward, but in others it was worn by all seminarians.


Female altar servers

Once prohibited in the Catholic Church, female altar servers, also called altar girls, are now allowed provided that the diocesan bishop and the parish priest allow the practice. Today only one Roman Catholic diocese in the U.S., the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, does not allow female altar servers.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

It is interesting to hear about the duties of the acolytes! Every duty during a Holy Mass is important! One thing I am not sure of is this: Are acolytes the same thing as altar boys and girls?

Anne said...

Hello Kim, sorry for being late on this, an explanation regarding the Acolyte is as follows which comes from Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. In a letter (you can find the original at EWTN), he writes:

The ministry of acolyte, alongside that of instituted lector, is an instituted ministry of the Church. These ministries replaced the former minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte) and the order of subdeacon. These minor orders were reserved to seminarians but rarely — or in the case of exorcist, never — exercised. Rather, they served as different stages leading up to the reception of major orders.

Pope Paul VI abolished the minor orders and the order of subdeacon in 1973 and replaced them with the two ministries of lector and acolyte.

All seminarians and candidates for the permanent diaconate receive these ministries before ordination to the diaconate, usually during the period of theological studies.

These ministries, however, are no longer reserved to seminarians, but in virtue of their connection to priestly formation, may only be received by laymen.

The rite of instituting a lector or acolyte is usually reserved to the bishop or to a major superior in the case of members of religious congregations.

Their functions are superficially similar to those of an altar server during Mass but with the important difference that when he exercises his ministry the acolyte is acting as a minister of the Church.

His functions are also broader; he must be chosen first whenever an extraordinary minister is required to either give out communion or expose the Blessed Sacrament.

In the absence of a deacon an instituted acolyte may also purify the sacred vessels, an action which is usually not permitted to extraordinary ministers.

Because a period of specific liturgical training is required before institution the acolyte is often responsible for training and organizing other altar servers.

This ministry, although open to many adult laymen, has been used in relatively few dioceses as a stable institution

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this explanation! :)