Acolyte and Lector Misnomer?


Recently, I was asked to serve at a parish as an altar server. I was told that they were interested in finding servers who are men and committed to serving.

After deciding I would do so, the person responsible for scheduling the training (different than the individual who was seeking servers) referred to us as acolytes. (The training will be performed by the pastor and a religious brother).

It is my understanding that to become an acolyte (or lector), one must be a male and it is instituted by a bishop to an individual.

This same individual also sent out a tentative schedule with a list of assigned lectors, EMHC, and acolytes for different masses.

Some of the names for the acolytes and lectors are unambiguously female, so clearly some of these individuals cannot actually be acolytes or lectors.

Is the use of “acolyte” and “lector” a common misnomer for “altar server” and “reader,” respectively?

Are there certain things that an acolyte can do that an altar server cannot? (For example, I believe it is true that acolytes are permitted to purify the sacred vessels, whereas an altar server cannot.)

Similarly, what about a lector over a reader?

Happy Epiphany!


“Instituted acolytes” can only be male. I believe the same is true of “instituted lectors.” (Although there might be an exception for nuns in cloisters, but I can’t remember.) They’re basically the next best thing to being minor clergy, and in the old days I’m pretty sure acolytes would have been minor clergy. (Minor clergy could still get married, though.) I forget about lectors, but I think they were minor clergy too.

Regular vanilla, totally layperson acolytes/servers and regular vanilla lectors can be male or female. They are basically emergency acolytes and emergency lectors. (The emergency being the lack of minor clergy, ever since acolytes and lectors stopped being clergy-only jobs.) The use of vanilla acolytes started way before Vatican II (obviously, with all the little boys who were servers/acolytes), but the change to lay lectors started afterward.

Originally, I believe the idea was that the only lay lectors would be (male) instituted lectors. But it was the Sixties and Seventies, so of course that didn’t work.

(Of course, it was also always the Church’s intention that the vernacular readings be sung/chanted. You notice that we’re not doing that, either.)

Anyway, the answer is that acolytes/servers and lectors can be male or female, but I would expect only men to be instituted acolytes and instituted lectors.


Instituted lectors and acolytes (the successors of the minor orders of Acolyte and Lector) are men specially designated by the bishop to fulfill those liturgical roles. In most dioceses, it’s only conferred on those men preparing for Holy Orders.

In the days of yore, there would only be clergy in the sanctuary. The Priests served as priests, the Deacons served as deacons, the Acolytes served as acolytes, and the Lectors served as lectors. Due to a variety of developments though, it eventually came to be that only men preparing for ordination were ordained (and later instituted) as Acolytes and Lectors.

Because of this, laymen began to fill this role. Altar servers and readers are meant to temporarily fulfill the duties of Acolytes and Lectors.

Because the duties are more or less the same (besides cleansing vessels), it is fairly common for altar servers and readers to be referred to as Acolytes and Lectors, although they may not be instituted.


I have been called a lector instead of reader by priests. I’ve also been called a Eucharistic Minister instead of extraordinary minister of communion by priests.

Whadayagonnado? :shrug:

I read the book as clearly as I can, try not to jam the host into people’s teeth when they receive on the tongue, count it a blessing that I am able to serve and don’t give a second thought to what I am called.

Someone saw me in a cassock and surplice holding a thurible today and asked me to hear his confession. I told him I wasn’t a priest and he said, “Well, then you have to dedicate your life to Jesus!” and walked off angry.

Really, whadayagonnado? :shrug:

Its the full moon I tell ya.



It’s only because in English you have two words for “Someone who reads” that this comes up. Interestingly, in early translations of documents you find “Instituted Reader” (and “Special minister of the Eucharist”) In many languages there is only one word so the adjective is used to distinguish one from the other.


Here in the Philippines altar servers and EMHC’s can only be male. Females are not permitted in these roles.
Most readers, however, here are females.


In my experience: Yes. :sad_yes:

An instituted acolyte is also an EMHC by virtue of his institution, and need not be otherwise selected to such a role.



Well, wouldn’t he be a Ordinary MHC then, and not an Extraordinary MHC?
I just like nit-picking. I think I’m not the only one. :wink:


Nope. Perhaps I was inaccurate to say it was *by virtue of his institution *-- Rather, it is a matter of law that the acolyte is to be considered first when designating EMsHC.

Can. 910 §1. The ordinary minister of holy communion is a bishop, presbyter, or deacon.
§2. The extraordinary minister of holy communion is an acolyte or another member of the Christian faithful designated according to the norm of ⇒ can. 230, §3.



Thanks for the clarification - - I needed it! :slight_smile:


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