Responsibilities of an Acolyte?

I’ve heard some people mention these boards that certain things should not be done by the laity, but would be permissible for an Acolyte.

In short I was wondering what responsibilities does an acolyte have exactly.

Also, how does one go about becoming an acolyte?


An acolyte is a lay person. So if something can be done by an instituted acolyte, it can be done by some lay people.

One becomes an instituted acolyte by a ceremony of institution performed by a bishop.

The 1972 Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam describes the acolyte:

"6. The acolyte is appointed in order to aid the deacon and to minister to the priest. It is his duty therefore to attend to the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and the priest in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of Mass; he is also to distribute communion as a special minister when the ministers spoken of in the Codex Iuris Canonici can. 845 are not available or are prevented by ill health, age, or another pastoral ministry from performing this function, or when the number of communicants is so great that the celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. In the same extraordinary circumstances an acolyte may be entrusted with publicly exposing the blessed sacrament for adoration by the faithful and afterward replacing it, but not with blessing the people. He may also, to the extent needed, take care of instructing other faithful who on a temporary basis are appointed to assist the priest or deacon in liturgical celebrations by carrying the missal, cross, candles, etc., or by performing other such duties. He will perform these functions more worthily if he participates in the holy eucharist with increasingly fervent devotion, receives nourishment from it, and deepens his knowledge about it.

“As one set aside in a special way for the service of the altar, the acolyte should learn all matters concerning public divine worship and strive to grasp their inner spiritual meaning: in that way he will be able each day to offer himself entirely to God, be an example to all by his gravity and reverence in church, and have a sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, especially for the weak and the sick.”

The full document is at .

Other roles of the instituted acolyte are:
– He is the only lay minister who can do the purifications of the vessels at Mass.
– He is given a priority to lead blessing ceremonies: “An acolyte or reader who by formal institution has this special office in the Church is rightly preferred over another layperson as the minister designated a the discretion of the local Ordinary to impart certain blessings.” (Book of Blessings, Introduction, n. 18).
– He has priority to lead Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, if a deacon is absent: “Those to be chosen first by the pastor are readers and acolytes who have been duly instituted for the service of the altar and the word of God. If there are no such instituted ministers available, other laypersons, men and women, may be appointed;” (Directions for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, 1988, n. 30).

Acolytes normally are on the path to ordination. Very rarely does a bishop insatll an acolyte who is not intended to be at least a deacon.

God Bless

The 1972 Motu Proprio includes: “3. Ministries may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders.”

A USA bishop who is enthusiastic about instituting men who are not preparing for ordination, as acolytes is Bishop Robert Vasa. He wrote about this on 22 September 2006 at .

Pax vobiscum!

Acolytes used to, in the days before VII, be something called “minor orders” of the priesthood. Lectors were also included in that. So, they were an ordained ministry, but not in the same sense as priests and deacons.

In Christ,

Lectors and Acolytes are the two “surviving” of the 4 minor orders. Of course they are no longer called minor orders and they are instituted. Those two “minor orders” are usually only instituted to those on the path to ordination. There are a few dioceses that do institute permanent lay acolytes and Lectors (my terms used) I know for fact that the diocese of Lincoln Nebraska does. SInce these two instituted states were at one time minor priestly orders and do have historical reference the institution is open only to men.

With that in mind I would like to express my opinion on the matter. I hope and pray that church does nothing to this rare “ministry” any time soon. If it is opened up to women all heck would break loose and there would be hordes upon hordes of acolytes and lectors milling around the altar during mass acting like little mini priests with their extra special mini duties. Of course most of them would be women.

The reason they do not institute them these days is most dioceses have bishops who don’t have the guts to institute them for fear of offending women.

Since these are limited only to men, most people who are supporting women priests are against instituting any men as acolytes or lectors.

Just call your diocese if you would like to verify, unless you live in a relatively orthodox diocese most dioceses in the United States today don’t institute Lectors or Acolytes.

In Christ

One of the important differences between an Acolyte and for example an EMHC is that an Acolyte may purify the Sacred Vessels after communion.


After a LOT of research, I think the best way I have heard this explained is that there is no need for anyone to be an instituted acolyte UNLESS they are progressing to Holy Orders. In the tradition. acolytes did progress to the priesthood, not holding a permanent position at this level.

Since we often lack the number of ordianed clerics necessary, the pastor may permit young men and any adult males to serve as an acolyte by being permitted the exercise of a a dignity we do not possess. Doing this humbly before God is proper service.

Please share your research to support bogus statements.

The pastor may not commission men to serve as acolytes. Acolytes are instituted by the Bishop, if not then they are just adult servers.

What dignity people do not possess? Dignity is a gift imparted upon us as creations of God. People are not worthy to serve, but they have the dignity to do so.

I believe that the reason would be to avoid the abuse of “extraordinary” appointments. The reality is that (in the US at least) “extraordinary” deputations have become in fact the “ordinary”, and this is not what the Church intended. Also, there is tremendous value in the fact that one who is an instituted Acolyte has been personally approved and called by the bishop for this office. We can’t forget about that.

In the past, we made a mistake in thinking of the major orders of deacon and subdeacon and the minor orders (varying over the centuries) of porter, lector, acolyte, cantor, and even exorcist were merely steps on the way to the priesthood, and not important ministries in-and-of themselves. The restoration of the permanent diaconate has taught us much about this value.

Since we often lack the number of ordianed clerics necessary, the pastor may permit young men and any adult males to serve as an acolyte by being permitted the exercise of a a dignity we do not possess. Doing this humbly before God is proper service.

Yes, but perhaps instead of “dignity” the word “office” or “function” or “ministry” might be a better choice.

Unfortunately, your interpretation is wrong. There are some duties of the Instituted Acolyte which are forbidden to laymen. Purification of the Sacred Vessels being the chief amongst them.

The minor orders’ cheirothesis was an important, and not always transitional, step. V II reduced the Latin Rite from 4 to 2, and changed the term from ordination to installation; the ritual is still the same, only the name has changed. The Major orders’ cheirotonia is still referred to as Ordination. It was not uncommon for ordained (by chirothesis) Lectors, Acolytes, and even Exorcists to be such for years, some being former seminarians who instead got married (Which also meant the church no longer had to support them, but did not relieve them of their duties automatically).

This tradition is still held in the Eastern Catholic Churches, where some churches have as many as 7 different minor orders by cheirothesis: Candlebearer, porter (doorman), lector, acolyte, exorcist, cantor, and subdeacon. THe Ruthenian Church still allows Lector, Cantor, Acolyte, and Subdeacon per Ruthenian Particular Law; the same 1999 promulgation also speaks of their ordination.

Wow-Excuse me-I had just heard it put to me this way by a very trustworthy source, specifically with regard to tradition-pre-VII. I was not making any comparison to the Eastern Rite, which I unfortunately know very little about(obviously). I am an adult serving the TLM. I was reading and doing a lot of looking and research and I was becoming concerned that I needed to become an acolyte, since the server FUNCTIONS as an acolyte. Hey, I’m no little kid here. I just wanted it to be proper and as correct as possible. I was told no, and that we don’t DO that unles you are pursuing Holy Orders. I know of no instituted acolytes in my diocese onder the new rite or the TLM. I am considering the deaconate but I really am not sure that’s the right thing. I’m married, so I have a vocation-not going to be a priest. I don’t really think that the tradtional (TLM) folks have seen the deacon the same way as the NO has acccepted the permanent deaconate.

FrDavid96–I agree w/ your comments extraordinary has become ordinary and IF this is going to be ordinary, isn’t another step/level of commitment required? That’s what I am trying to get right in my own mind

I appreciate the shovel up side the head-

In our everyday vocabulary, “acolyte” and “altar boy” essentially mean the same thing. We sometimes try to make a distinction by saying “Instituted Acolyte” to refer to those who have actually been installed into this ministry by the bishop (or even a priest delegated by the bishop).

If what you are doing would be called “altar boy” (regardless of your age!) then you need not worry about doing something which you’re not permitted to do. In this case, it’s a perfectly legitimate, and indeed laudable thing to do.

If you feel that you have a vocation to the diaconate, please don’t think that there is no place for a deacon in the traditional usage. Since your priest is good enough to provide the traditional form in additional to the novus ordo, he would probably welcome some help. Of course, the deacon has his own ministry, and we should never reduce that to simply being a substitute for the priest. In my personal expreience with the traditional form, priests and laity alike have welcomed the ministry of the deacons.

If you would like to explore the possibility of becoming an Instituted Acolyte, perhaps you could contact the vocations director at your diocese and inquire if this is available–I can’t tell from your post if you actually contacted the vocations director. Who knows, it might be so, or perhaps by asking you might be planting the seeds for the bishop to consider starting such a program. It never hurts to ask.

Edit: I almost forgot: yes, another level of commitment is required, but this is nowhere near the level of commitment required of a deacon. It’s not much more commitment than what you are probably already making, that of living your life as a faithful Catholic.

Wow…I started this thread a year and a half ago…it seems strange that I’m going to answer my own question.

An additional privilege of an instituted Acolyte is that, in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, he may function as a sub-deacon. This means that you could have a Solemn High Mass with a Priest, a permanent Deacon, and an instituted Acolyte.

If only Bishops were willing to institute men to this ministry, the Solemn High Mass could actually be more available than it was before Vatican II and we would no longer need the compromise of the Missa Cantata.

Pax Tecum,

Well, in addition to the many replies for duties of Acolyte, i will like to also say they are a great help to the church. For us here in Liberia, we are responsible every Saturday clean up our parishes well. Apart from having duties on the altar, we can also help in other capacities that is by taking initiative.

I can see how an Acolyte could become a special honor for the very few alter boys who may be thinking about priesthood, say highschool age. Give them deeper instruction into the liturgical actions. Have them work for it with study and exprience. It may be more practical in the bigger cities where the Bishop resides and ther would be more special celebrations that do require more “know how” like ordinations.

I see this thread as a starting point:

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