Can only Males incense the congregation at Mass?

My daughter has been an Altar Server at our parish for 13 years. Recently, she was told to by a male sacristan that only men are allowed to incense the congregation. He lets her be the thurifer up until that point and then he takes it upon himself to do the task. My daughter asked a priest and he said if she is the thurifer, then she is to incense the congregation as well. However, the sacristan still refuses to allow her to do it and insists he is right. Is the sacristan correct?

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Father has the final say. If you want to be sure ask the Bishop.


Your sacristan needs to learn their place and submit to the legitimate authority of the Pastor. If the Pastor says that she can do it, she can do it.

If the Pastor himself limited it to males, that would be okay and licit.

This is just idiocy and usurpation.


The sacristan overrules the priest, and the priest agrees to be overruled by him? I wouldn’t have expected either of the two to act the way they did.


You need to have Father declare his position on this in front of yourself, your daughter and the Sacristan. That is the ONLY way to get it settled once and for all.


I don’t know about the congregation but it seems this male sacristan has incensed everyone here!




Pardon my French but this sounds like a attitude contest between the authority of the Priest and that of the Sacristan.

If she is a minor would sit down with Father, without your daughter present, and make it clear that she will serve the church in any capacity that he wishes as allowed by the church but she will NOT be made a pawn between two people in order to save face.

If your daughter started at the minimum age in my diocese, 7, then she is now 20. Its really past time to be “fighting her battles” but if this sacristan is truly rouge, I see it as a good thing to step in as he is bold enough to challenge an adult woman. Go with her for support and explain that your family will not be treated badly for their gender. You are obedient to him, not others.

In short, the priest has the final say. The sacristan is correct only if the priest has mandated men only, which he’s saying he has not.


The Committee on Liturgy of the USCCB recommends that if both males and females are allowed to be altar servers in a diocese, there should not be a distinction made between the functions of those allowed to serve.

1. Although institution into the ministry of acolyte is reserved to lay men, the diocesan bishop may permit the liturgical functions of the instituted acolyte to be carried out by altar servers, men and women, boys and girls. Such persons may carry out all the functions listed in no. 100 (with the exception of the distribution of Holy Communion) and nos. 187 - 190 and no. 193 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

The determination that women and girls may function as servers in the liturgy should be made by the bishop on the diocesan level so that there might be a uniform diocesan policy.

2. No distinction should be made between the functions carried out in the sanctuary by men and boys and those carried out by women and girls. The term “altar boys” should be replaced by “servers”. The term “server” should be used for those who carry out the functions of the instituted acolyte.

These are the functions listed in no. 190
190. In the absence of a Deacon, after the Universal Prayer and while the Priest remains at the chair, the acolyte places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar. Then, if necessary, the acolyte assists the Priest in receiving the gifts of the people and, if appropriate, brings the bread and wine to the altar and hands them to the Priest. If incense is being used, the acolyte presents the thurible to the Priest and assists him while he incenses the offerings, the cross, and the altar. Then the acolyte incenses the Priest and the people.

Your diocese undoubtedly has an Office for the Divine Liturgy. If this fellow won’t listen to the priest, the diocese can probably direct you to the directives for your diocese showing this fellow that he is defying the policies of the bishop, who is always the chief liturgist in his diocese.

I would tell him the sacristan that while my daughter (or son, since that is what I have) defers to adults and will do as she is told, this sacristan is putting her in an impossible position when he asks her to help him defy the liturgical policies of the bishop. That is not a nice thing to do.

Having said that, I would go to Father with my child and ask what a server is supposed to do when one of the adults tells a server to do something other than what Father directed. If Father says, “just go along with it” or “just go along with it, but be sure to let me know later,” then do that. Handle this in whatever way the pastor wants it done. Pastors get far too little of that attitude; it is a good one to teach your child as she begins a lifetime of working in parishes with other parishioners and their control issues.


I think you may be calling a male Sacristan incorrectly. He should be called an Acolyte if he is serving at the altar. We have grown male Acolytes and we have younger male and female altar servers.
Answer is given in this quote.

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He is not an acolyte, he is only a sacristan.

So he comes up in the middle of Mass and if she said no would yank the thurifer out of her hands?

I’m sorry if I didn’t make that post very clear.
The section you’re quoting isn’t mine. It was from the GIRM (# 190) describing the duties of an acolyte.
Above that section is an excerpt from a directive by the USCCB Committee on Liturgy, and it says "…Although institution into the ministry of acolyte is reserved to lay men, the diocesan bishop may permit the liturgical functions of the instituted acolyte to be carried out by altar servers, men and women, boys and girls. Such persons may carry out all the functions listed in no. 100 (with the exception of the distribution of Holy Communion) and nos. 187 - 190 and no. 193 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

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He will not give it to her. He hangs on to it and walks to Fr with it. It looks off, when an Altar Server starts with it, then a guy in a shirt, tie and pants takes over all of a sudden.


He is a fellow parishioner with control issues, which is a spiritual fault.
The way to deal with the spiritual faults of fellow parishioners is to overlook them when we can, but if we seem to be stuck with the conundrum of having to be disobedient to the pastor in order to do so, we ought to ask the pastor how to handle the situation. Sometimes, he will want his directive to be followed and sometimes he will prefer to have the wrong borne patiently and thankfully out of his sight.

Unless Father is in defiance of your bishop or the Magisterium, just do what Father says to do. You won’t go wrong. The easier you can make his duties to bear, the better. You will have done the work of Sts. Veronica and Simon of Cyrene.

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I’m a Sacristan and I don’t serve at the altar. Sacristans are there to prepare all of the vessels and books and the Church for Mass. We make sure to have the bread, wine and water set out on the back table to be brought up at the offering to be Consecrated. We set up the Chalice with all of the linens and vessels on the Credence table for Mass. We put the Tabernacle key in the Tabernacle, we set the temperature in the Church for Mass, we turn on the lights and unlock the doors, we put out the collection box for the collection money to be placed in, we set up the Lectionary to the proper pages. I don’t set up Father’s books I let him do that. After Mass we make sure everything is cleaned properly, put away, turned off and locked up. I have never served at the altar except in an emergency when I was up there already reading and my great nephew who was an altar server forgot one of the cruets. I brought it up to him at the altar for him to give it to Father.


That is so bizarre.

You need to address his improper behavior with Fr.


First of all if he is serving he should be in the proper attire as an Acolyte. This does need to be addressed with the Priest. Maybe if your daughter is young he doesn’t think she can handle the hot thurifer while incensing the people.

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Only the priest Incenses the Altar, not the congregation.

The altar server assist in handing the priest the censor, but does not incense the altar.

Also, I didn’t think the Acolyte was a restored ministry in the Church ?


That is a charitable reading of the situation, since he did not explain it that way.

It is probably not his meaning at all, but it is a good habit to err on the side of charity.

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