Minister v. Server


I was just wondering few days ago, why aren’t altar servers called ministers of the altar or extraordinary ministers of the altar, similar to EMHC? Sorry, I don’t know if priests are considered ordinary ministers of the altar. Or why aren’t EMHC and Hospitality Ministers called servers? Why aren’t the terms all similar like the examples below? I guess my mild OCD is kicking in. :shrug:

Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
Extraordinary Minister of the Altar
Minister of the Word
Minister of Hospitality
Minister of the Music

Server of the Altar
Server of Holy Communion
Server of the Word
Server of Hospitality
Server of the Music


I guess because the only real ministers of the altar can be those in Orders. (?)

Holy Communion can be legitimately distributed by laypeople. It is possible to do this.

However, it is only ever possible for those in Orders to bring about what the altar brings about, and I would broadly include deacons in this even though they don’t confect the Eucharist, because their service to the Church is necessarily part of the official ministry of Christ. So, I do not think it would be appropriate to speak of servers as extraordinary ministers of the altar, for these there cannot be.


There’s a temptation about to “ministerialise” everything in the Church - that is, to turn everything into a ministry - hence: “minister of hospitality”. Properly speaking, ministries belong only to those who are ordained. A better (but rarely used term) is apostolate. Extraordinary ministers of holy communion are a slight exception to this but the point remains. That’s not to say that the services performed in such roles aren’t valuable and deserving of respect but it’s important not to confuse the distinct roles of the laity and ordained.


Agreed. The work is valuable, but it isn’t a ministry (in the Catholic sense of the word).

I’ve seen some parishes with “parking ministers,” who help you find a place to park your car. It’s getting a little ridiculous.


The confusion of lay and ordained was the whole point. Some sectors of the Church would like to flatten out those distinctions as much as possible. I think it is a passing fad. I agree, we need to give new life to the idea of “apostolate” and to refocus the laity on finding their apostate, for the most part, OUTSIDE the sanctuary. We are called to transform the secular order, not to comfortably serve at Mass.


I agree. I prefer the term server. I’m a EMHC and it’s hard to say the long version, and saying just Extraordinary Minister sounds snobbish, and when I just say the initials people look at me as if I’m contagious. So I end up saying Communion Minister which doesn’t feel right. I’d prefer Communion Server. It sounds right because all I’m really doing is serving.


The ordinary minister who does the job of the altar server is an Instituted Acolyte. Only men can be instituted as acolytes, not women. Every man who is ordained as a deacon should first become an Instituted Acolyte for at least six months (Code of Canon Law, canon 1035). The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) has: “100. In the absence of an instituted acolyte, there may be deputed lay ministers to serve at the altar …”.

So if there is a Mass with 100 instituted acolytes, but only room in the sanctuary for seven, it would be wrong if any of the seven were not instituted acolytes. The extraordinary ministers would be doing the job of the ordinary ministers when they are available.

Similarly the first reading is proclaimed by an Instituted Lector. GIRM 101 “In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, …”.

Similarly the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful are read by the deacon. GIRM has the section “Mass with a Deacon” “177. After the introduction by the Priest, it is the Deacon himself who announces the intentions of the Universal Prayer, usually from the ambo.”

So if the church wanted to further emphasise that there are ordinary and extraordinary ministers for these tasks it may come up with terminology to do so.

– Extraordinary Ministers for Serving at the Altar
– Extraordinary Ministers for Proclaiming the Readings from Sacred Scripture Before the Gospel
– Extraordinary Ministers for Announcing the Intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful

The term “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion” reminds those ministers that they should only distribute communion when there are not enough ordained ministers. These terms would remind other ministers that they should only do those tasks in the absence of the ordinary minister.


Shorter terms would be “extraordinary lectors” and “extraordinary acolytes”. Then there would be:
– instituted lectors and extraordinary lectors;
– instituted acolytes and extraordinary acolytes.


The volunteer organizer should be called “The Minister of ministries!”

Just kidding. Minister is overused. Overused big time.


“Minister” just means someone who is authorized by the Church to perform a function. That’s all.

There is nothing wrong with the use of the word minister. People only make a big deal of it because the Protestant Churches connotation with the head of the Church, pastor or cleric.



There are some practical reasons to not follow these guidelines. I am currently an Instituted Lector, and next year I will be an Instituted Acolyte. Following the “letter of the law”, I should arrive at whatever Mass I attend on a given weekend, inform the assigned “extraordinary lector” that I am here, and that he/she should step aside so I can read. That is the way the rule is written. In practicality, this will not happen. There are too many other concerns here on a personal level to fully comply with the rule.

Likewise, next year, as an Instituted Acolyte, the rules would require me to ask someone to step aside so I can serve on the altar, even though no one knew for sure I was even going to be at that Mass.

There are a lot of other factors at play here, and I do not believe that the “following of the rules” supersedes certain real life situations that occur regularly.



Deacon2Be, the Code of Canon Law, Canon 833, 6º requires the Oath of Fidelity be taken by “those to be promoted to the order of diaconate”. The oath includes:

“I shall follow and foster the common disciplines of the whole Church and I shall observe all ecclesiastical laws, especially those which are contained in the Code of Canon Law. … So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.”

The Code of Canon Law includes:

“Can.* 846 §1. In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully;”

The Roman Missal is one of these liturgical books.

The complete oath of fidelity is at .


Again, no one is arguing that. However, again, if it is know far in advance that you will be there, particularly if it is your parish, you should be serving or at least sitting in choir, presuming for family situation allows it.


Exactly. Thank you.


I tend to agree with this statement, but I often hear and maybe this is not correct, how a Deacon’s wife has her own separate ministry at times. Yes, the wife of the Deacon can and often times does go through much of the formation process with her husband but in no way is ordained. Is it correct then to say she has a ministry though?


I don’t see how a deacon’s wife can be said in any way to “have a ministry” of her own per se as a by-product of either her husband’s ordination or some expectation of the Church. Her key role is supporting her husband in his ministry. It MAY happen that a deacon’s wife chooses to be involved in one or more areas of parish life or other good works, and that’s fine, and some such activities may be considered as a ministry - eg., reader, EMHC, etc. But those result from her own choice, not as a yoke to her husband’s ordination. I know deacons’ wives who are very active (almost to a fault - 'cause they aren’t co-deacons), and some not involved at all in parish life beyond the occasional parish social occasion.


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