Altar Server Ranks

I am the Head Altar Server at my local Parish. I was going to elevate a fellow Altar Server at my parish as my assistant, per se, but I’m not aware of any “proper” names for such assistants to Head Servers. Any idea or recommendations?

That, I’d say, is a very local question. I don’t know of any formal definitions in canon law or the Missal other than acolyte (which you are not dealing with), master of ceremonies, and “other lay ministers” (GIRM 98, 100, 106).

There are some common customary names like thurifer (the one who carries the thurible), or crucifer (cross-bearer) but they aren’t legal definitions.

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Whatever you and your pastor agree to, as all servers are simply “servers”* with no distinctions. Personally, I’m in favor of keeping it that way rather than setting up some kind of ranking.

*These titles/roles notwithstanding:

  • acolyte (one who’s instituted to that ministry)
  • thurifer (carries the incense thurible)
  • crucifer (carries the cross in procession)
  • lucifer (candle bearer - and this “l” term is rarely used for obvious reasons)
  • book bearer
    Most parishes don’t regularly have enough servers to just be one thing or another and they’re all more or less equally trained for multiple duties. I’ve never been in a parish that has a “Head” server.
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The name makes sense…Lucifer means “brings light”, after all…but methinks the meeting that chose that name ended about 15 minutes too soon.

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I can add little to either @Quasi_Tenebrous or @Cor_ad_Cor have said. We’re talking about roles that are properly the duty of Acolytes. You are substituting in the absence of an Acolyte…which is the case for probably 95% of parishes. Sadly, the Ministry of Acolyte has been tethered to that of Order of Priesthood…just like the Diaconate has. As in, progressive steps in a process.

Although it is a natural inclination to recognize and reward one of your fellow servers for stepping up and taking personal responsibility, it is a bit odd for a server to have a server.

I am unsure of your age. But men, either married or single, can be instituted as Acolytes…even if they have no desire or intention of becoming deacons or priests. It is a Ministry conferred by a Bishop. Ask your pastor about it. Some dioceses install laymen as Acolytes…some only reserve it for men training for diaconate or priesthood. My diocese does. At our Cathedral, only instituted acolytes serve at the altar. Many are men in their '30’s and older.

I may have been what you describe as a “head server” before I retired to just being an instructor/director. I would avoid ranking servers as it may do more harm than good. It might create jealousy or envy among the servers and ultimately lead to resentment. Servers are there to assist the clergy, not older servers.
At my parish, we do not have ranks but “senior” servers who have consistently served for 5+ years get an “altar server” cross to wear on their alb. Perhaps you might consider recognizing and honoring particular servers in this fashion, were everyone is eligible based on years of service.

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FYI - Most parishes (even traditional Latin Mass parishes) now just use the name “torch bearer” in order to prevent scandal and confusion

Hello OP,

I would recommend you check out this website from the Diocese of Trenton’s Latin Mass community.

They have a good article regarding the ranks and what they do. Obviously, this is for the Latin Mass, but it can easily be used for the Ordinary Form too.

However, the biggest and I think the most important thing they do is induct their servers into the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen (also known as the Guild of St. Stephen)

Here is a PDF version of the Guild’s handbook (even though this handbook is for the Latin mass, the parish that posted it and has the Guild does not do the Latin Mass)

For Latin Mass: https://catholicparishesofborehamwood.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Altar-Servers-Handbook.pdf

Hand Book for Ordinary Form of Mass: https://www.amazon.com/St-Stephens-Handbook-Altar-Servers/dp/0852442777
https://www.abebooks.com/9780852442777/St-Stephens-Handbook-Altar-Servers-0852442777/plp

In it, it has the following “ranks”
Postulant
Junior Acolyte
Senior Acolyte
Master of Ceremonies
President (might be now called “Master of Ceremonies 2”)

The job roles are:

  • Torch Bearer
  • Crucifer
  • Boat
  • Thurifer
  • Acolyte 1
  • Acolyte 2
  • Sacristan

NOTE: If you “google” the Archconfraternity, there are a lot of webpages about them from the SSPX. However, the while the SSPX has their own Archconfraternity of St. Stephen chapters, they are NOT an SSPX organization.



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Is there a title for the server who rings the bells at the appropriate times during Mass? My parish doesn’t seem to have one.

Yes, “a smart kid.”

Perhaps the title, “Assistant Master of Ceremonies (AMC)” is what you’re looking for.

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I don’t think there is any distinction… but we have something we call “Lead Altar Server” which is either one who is oldest when it comes to kids, or one at the Missal (because he sits closest to the Priest as we have Deacon, and also because this duty of handling Missal isn’t usually done by very young kids).

When I started Altar Serving I was already almost adult, so at Parish camp (I was volunteering there) I told kids that I finally get to be Lead Server as I’m the oldest one… and then they asked the vital question ; “But how long have you been altar server?” :smiley: … then it evolved into everyone calling out how many years they were Altar Serving and I stood there, being disqualified from position as it was either my first or second year Altar Serving at the time. I even forgot to turn off my mobile (I’ll blame fact I was taking care of kids because I have no other excuse) and someone called me during Mass (which consisted entirely of kids, volunteers and Priest) which prompted me to being demoted even further. Needless to say, I never forgot to turn off mobile again.

That’s either Server 1 or Server 2 (traditionally called Acoyte 1 or Acoyte 2) - I’m not sure which

There is no official rank. All servers are humbly serving Christ through preparation of the mass, and therefore, the motivation to serve the Altar should not be for rank or title. The first shall be last comes to mind here (Matthew 20:16).

For making altar serving simpler in terms of who does want, my parish growing up had ‘regular servers’ and ‘senior servers’ and the senior server made sure everything was set up, the Eucharistic ministers didn’t forget anything when they set up, and they are the crucifer or if used, the thurifer. My parish made this distinction physically known which I didn’t care for since it shows outward rank which has no need. But ‘regular servers’ had a hood on their alb and ‘senior servers’ had no hood on their alb.

This led to servers caring more about whether or not they wore a hood than actually serving Christ through the Eucharist. So if its for an organizational purpose I get it, but it takes away from what is actually happening in mass if a full hierarchy is established. After all, altar servers are not an ordained role or anything so all these ranks are purely made up by the parish priest. My church actually had an ‘installment’ mass for new servers with a set of prayers that required the response ‘I do’. Then when you graduated to go to college there was a ‘devestment’ mass, very odd and really just for show.

Depending on the role the altar servers are doing, this would be closer. When I was ‘senior altar server’ in my parish growing up, my role was to make sure everything was properly set up from the key in the tabernacle being ready to getting the lectionary placed and the chalices and ciboriums ready as well as wine and water being poured and ready for mass as well as other things.

These are things that are more in like with what a Mass of Ceremonies would do so in that case, this title is more appropriate than some made-up hierarchy of altar servers that takes away from what is actually taking place, that being serving Christ through the Eucharist.

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That role is properly called “sacristan”.

In our parish the sacristan is a small cadre of girls and women only. Our pastor has decided that while service at the altar is restricted to boys and men, it is fitting that the ladies have an activity that is proper to them. The Carmelite Sisters help out greatly in training and filling in.

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In college I was a sacristan fulfilling the above roles as well as being one of the lectors and eucharistic minister. I wasn’t the altar server though as that was someone else so as you wrote, sacristan is something separate.

Interestingly, my parish growing up allowed both males and females to be altar servers.

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