Ministry of Acolyte

Next week, I and 14 other men in formation for the permanent diaconate, will be installed as acolytes by Bishop Peter Jugis at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Charlotte. The rite will take place during the annual re-commitment Mass for permanent deacons serving in the Diocese of Charlotte, which will be celebrated at 6:30pm on Thursday, August 10 (the Feast of St. Lawrence). The Mass is open to the public, and students who are in the Charlotte area over the summer are most welcome to attend.

Before being ordained, men in formation for the diaconate or the priesthood must be installed into two different lay ministries, and must serve in those ministries for a period of time. The first is the ministry of lector, into which I was installed on July 14, 2016. The two ministries of lector and acolyte take the place of the older minor orders of porter, exorcist, lector, acolyte and sub-deacon, through which men seeking ordination prior to 1972 progressed. I wrote about that in a blog post last year when I was being installed as lector.

So What’s An Acolyte?

An acolyte is a lay minister who assists the priest and deacon at the altar during Mass. Most of an acolyte’s duties can be performed by any altar server. There are, however, a few things that make an acolyte different.

  • Being installed by the bishop as an acolyte means accepting a life-long call to ministry (the same is true of the ministry of lector). An altar server can decide at any point to stop serving, but an acolyte makes a permanent commitment.
  • If there is no deacon present, an acolyte may prepare the altar for the Eucharist by laying out the sacred vessels, and may also purify the sacred vessels after Communion.
  • An acolyte is an official extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. This means that if there are not enough ordained ministers (priests or deacons) to distribute communion, an acolyte should assist before other lay people are asked to assist.
  • Finally, an acolyte may expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance for Adoration (he may not give Benediction).

What this means, practically, for our campus ministry, is that beginning this fall semester you will start to see me more actively assisting Father at the altar during Mass. This will not be to the exclusion of other altar servers. I know we have a small sanctuary, but there should be room enough for Father, myself, and a server. I will be discussing with our student altar servers at the start of the semester how the duties at Mass will be divided.

It does mean that we will not be needing students to serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion on a regular basis. This will remain true once (God willing) I am ordained deacon, as I would then be an ordinary minister of Holy Communion.

It also means that during our weekly times of Adoration on Wednesday evenings, we will be able to have the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar in the monstrance, which will be a welcome addition to our mid-week devotion.

Again, any students who are in or near the Charlotte area are invited to come witness our installation into this ministry at 6:30pm at St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte. There will be a light reception after the Mass. Please continue to pray for me and my fellow classmates in our discernment as we take this next step toward our diaconal ordination.