The expression Acolyte comes from the Greek, akoluthein (to accompany, to follow), in turn, from keleuthos (path). As far back as the first century, we have testimonies that, amongst the various liturgical ministries, there was that of the acolyte. It immediately became one of the four «Minor Orders» (along with that of ostiary, exorcist and lector).
Paul VI, in his Motu Proprio of 1972, Ministeria quædam, suppressed the four minor orders and left Lector and Acolyte as «instituted ministries»; the first related to the service around the Word, and the second around the altar and the sacraments.
“Acolytes” are also those who, without being “established” in the ministry in a stable and official way, collaborate in service around the altar. In this sense, they are also called “ministers of the altar”. These children or young people perform the same services (except for distributing communion or displaying it for worship).
The acolyte serves the president, the deacon, and the altar. They carry the cross in the opening procession; they present the liturgical book to the president and hold it open if necessary; they prepare the altar for the presentation of the gifts; they help the president to receive the gifts of the people, or take the bread and wine to the altar. If there is incense they hand the censer to the president and assist him during the incensing. They can help with the distribution of Communion as an extraordinary minister and, if Communion is given under both kinds, they can serve the chalice or hold it. They also help to purify and tidy the vessels.
All functions of acolytes may be performed by lay persons who have not been instituted in the ministry. But the existence of a group of altar servers in the parish community is of great importance, both for the beauty and good organisation of the celebration, and as a school of spirituality and vocational guidance. Their presence and their help in the celebration, in the presbytery, is a good image of community and a reason for joy for all.
This is the first thing that Jesus says to each one: “Be holy”. Dear Acolyte, You have been taught – and it is true – that, in Holy Mass, that small particle of bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine in the chalice becomes the Blood of Christ. Every time you approach the Altar, you have the good fortune to collaborate closely in this miracle. Your eyes do not see Jesus, but your heart and lips adore Him, as our mothers and catechists made us repeat as children: “My Lord and my God, I adore You, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, as real and as perfectly as it is in Heaven”. It is true! Jesus is there as real and as perfectly as He is in Heaven; and, seeing you, he must recognise an angel. You must behave properly in the service of holy things. Your inner and outer attitude should be in line with what you are doing, especially when you are at the altar, when you make the sign of the cross, when you kneel, when you are seated or when you participate in prayer and singing in common. Filled with respect and inner recollection, your service as an altar boy will become a profession of faith for the community.
Therefore, put all the enthusiasm of your age in the encounter with Jesus hidden under the Eucharistic veil. Offer Jesus your hands, your thoughts and your time, and He will not fail to reward you, giving you true joy and making you feel where the most complete happiness is to be found. You have the example of the Saints who found nourishment in the Eucharist for their path of perfection, if not their bodily life: have you never heard of Blessed Alexandrina of Balazar? She spent fourteen years nourished only by Communion… How many times, says the Holy Curé d’Ars, were they moved to tears by the experience of such a great mystery. They lived indescribable hours of joy before the Blessed Sacrament, like the little shepherd of Fatima, San Francisco Marto, whom you chose as your model and celestial protector.
«Be Holy»: is the first thing that Jesus ask of you. And the second: «Be original». Dear Acolyte, As I wrote to you in 2019 (I don’t know if it has already reached you, but I wrote to you…) in the Apostolic Exhortation Christ Lives, “you will not be a saint nor will you fulfill yourself by copying others. When we talk about imitating the Saints, it does not mean copying their way of being and living holiness: there are testimonies that are useful to stimulate and motivate us, but do not try to copy them, because that could even lead you astray from your unique and specific path, which the Lord has predisposed for you. You have to discover who you are and develop your personal way of being holy, regardless of what others say and think. To become a saint is to become more fully yourself, the one that God wanted to dream and create, not a photocopy. Your life must be a prophetic stimulus that inspires others, that leaves a mark on this world, that unique mark that only you can leave. Whereas, if you imitate, you will deprive this earth and also Heaven of what no one else can offer in your place” (n. 162). Therefore, dear Acolyte, be holy, be original!
«All are born as originals, but many die as photocopies»: observed Blessed Carlos Acutis. He wanted to say that, “although appearing different, in reality they end up being the same as others, running after what the powerful impose on them through the mechanisms of consumption and bewilderment. Thus, they do not allow the gifts that the Lord has given them to blossom, they do not make available to this world the very personal and unique capacities that God has sown in each one” (n. 106, of the aforementioned Exhortation Christ Lives). Please, dear Acolyte, do not let yourself fall into mediocrity, which debases and makes us grey. But life is not grey, life must bet on great ideals. Do not follow negative people, but continue to radiate around you the light and hope that come from God! As you know, this hope does not disappoint; it never disappoints! With God nothing is lost, but without Him all is lost. Do not be afraid, therefore, to throw yourself into the arms of the Heavenly Father and trust in Him, who will see to it that you are made into the original saint that He wants you to be.
In conclusion and to summarise in some way what has been said, I leave you the holy and original figure of Jesus’ acolyte: Saint Joseph! It may be difficult for you to envision him helping at Mass, but if you think about how it was that the Son of God could descend from Heaven to earth, become man and grow until he became food for the life of the world, you will see who the great acolyte was. And even when you need to rush to remedy forgetfulness or a last-minute surprise, you won’t have difficulty recognising yourself in Saint Joseph, distressed in search of the twelve-year-old Son who was lost in the temple of Jerusalem. He didn’t want to lose Jesus for anything in this world! He didn’t want to lose Mary of Nazareth, the bride who had already been promised to him, for anything in this world and then a baby appears: Joseph puts aside his own plans and follows God’s plans, taking the Virgin Mother with the Son she is carrying in her womb, and bringing them home. And Saint Joseph does not want to lose you, for anything in this world, generous and good acolyte. Confidently invoke and zealously imitate Saint Joseph so as to always serve with dignity the miracle of Jesus’ descent to earth that is performed daily on our Altars.
Guardian of the Holy Family and Patron of the Universal Church, may Saint Joseph guard and protect all Portugal’s altar servers with those who accompany, encourage and instruct them, from families and catechists to diocesan and national organisations, under the paternal gaze of parish priests and priests to whom I gladly recall this appeal of Saint John Paul II (in his Letter to Priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday 2004): “in the regular Sunday and weekday celebrations, the altar servers meet you, in your hands they see the Eucharist “made”, in your face they read the reflection of the mystery, in your heart they sense the call to a greater love. Be for them fathers, teachers and witnesses of Eucharistic piety and sanctity of life!” May my Blessing reach everyone, bearer of grace and joy. Pray for me.
Rome, San Giovanni in Laterano, 16th of April 2021.
If you have made your First Communion and are in the habit of participating in the mass every Sunday as a family; if you have a spirit of service and the maturity to be faithful; then present yourself to the priest who will ensure that you receive the proper training.
Instituted acolytes are those whom the bishop of a diocese has called and made acolytes. This call and this institution by the bishop means that an instituted acolyte is invited to participate with great commitment in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the heart of the Church, and that he must do so whenever he is present and invited to do so by the head of the celebration.
The non-instituted acolytes far outnumber the instituted. They are the ones we know best, because we see them every Sunday serving at mass in our parishes. The can be boys or girls. They are called to be altar servers by the pastor of each parish and not the bishop of the diocese. This call is preceded by preparation.
Every liturgical assembly needs at least four liturgical ministers to serve: the president, the lector, the cantor and the acolyte.
Were the president of the celebration to do everything, someone might think that the mass were his alone, when that is not true. Because Jesus wanted and continues to want it to be for all Christians assembled. What He wants most is that each one does his/her part, so that the celebration belongs to everyone and everyone feels that they are responsible for it.
Any questions or requests for information should preferably be submitted to the parish registry office, in order to obtain the most appropriate response.