Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What's in a name?

Thank you you for your generosity in supporting the acolyte program this past weekend at the Sunday Masses!  If you missed us, download the registration form and return it to the sacristy or parish office!! We had a good response this weekend from young men and families in the parish.  One question that kept being asked, though, had to do with the differences between the altar servers and the acolytes.  So let's take a look together at what an acolyte is!

The term "acolyte" comes from the Greek word ἀκόλουθος (akolouthos) which means "attendant" or "servant".  In Greek culture, kings and nobles had acolytes to serve them in important matters.  These were not the slave-servants, but educated young men who did the important tasks like writing dictated letters, reading important documents, and delivering messages.

In the early Church, the word "acolythus" was used to indicate those men who ministered at the Mass and other liturgies.  They assisted the priests and the deacons with whatever was required during the Mass.  We have records from the 500s that testify to the "ordination" of acolytes.  Ordination meant two things: 1) that the acolyte was officially given a role in the community on behalf of the church, and 2) that the man was given an place within an "order" of different ministries, which were called "minor orders" (porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, subdeacon, deacon, priest, bishop).  These minor orders were what seminarians received as ministerial preparation throughout their years in seminary.  These rites of ordination continued until 1972 (Motu proprio Ministeria quædam), when Pope Pius VI restructured these ministries and limited them to "lector" and "acolyte".

Though that is a much abbreviated etymology and history, it swiftly brings us to present day.  Today, the word acolyte properly means those men who are duly instituted "for service at the altar and to assist the Priest and Deacon. It is his place principally to prepare the altar and the sacred vessels and, if necessary, to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful as an extraordinary minister" ("General Instruction of the Roman Missal", no. 98, henceforth GIRM).  "Duly instituted" means that a bishop has questioned the man and has assigned to him this liturgical role which he will officially exercise on behalf of the church.  Therefore, when there is an instituted acolyte present, he serves the Mass or assists at the liturgy in an official capacity and on behalf of the Church, because the Church has deputed him to do so.

In a parish setting, however, there are usually not instituted acolytes around, unless there is a seminarian there who has been instituted.  Therefore, young men can assist at the Mass and are called "acolytes" because they substitute for an instituted acolyte.  For the most part, they would do the same things that an instituted acolyte does:

     "The functions that the acolyte may carry out are of various kinds and several may occur at the same moment. Hence, it is desirable that these duties be suitably distributed among several acolytes. 
     …In the procession to the altar, the acolyte may carry the cross, walking between two ministers with lighted candles. Upon reaching the altar, however, … he puts it away in a dignified place. Then he takes his place in the sanctuary. 
     Through the entire celebration, it is for the acolyte to approach the Priest or the Deacon, whenever necessary, in order to present the book to them and to assist them in any other way required. Thus it is appropriate that, in so far as possible, the acolyte should occupy a place from which he can easily carry out his ministry either at the chair or at the altar. 
     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. 
     A duly instituted acolyte, as an extraordinary minister, may, if necessary, assist the Priest in distributing Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, in the absence of a Deacon, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction. 
     Likewise, after the distribution of Communion is complete, a duly instituted acolyte helps the Priest or Deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. In the absence of a Deacon, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies them, wipes them, and arranges them as usual. 
     After the celebration of Mass, the acolyte and other ministers return together with the Deacon and the Priest in procession to the sacristy, in the same manner and in the same order in which they entered" (GIRM, nos. 187-193).

These are, most generally, the duties of an acolyte for a regular Sunday Mass.  I have highlighted with italics the places that the GIRM makes a distinction between what an acolyte and an instituted acolyte does to show that there is a difference between one who officially ministers on behalf of the Church and one who substitutes his role.

Altogether, then, the acolyte serves in a special way at the Mass and other liturgies.  It is a special place that requires prayer, reverence, and a decent knowledge of the Mass.  In upcoming trainings for the acolytes, we will be going over the basic structure of the Mass and the ways in which the young men will be assisting the priests.

Don't forget: Acolyte Orientation will be on August 10 from 11am to 1:30pm.  We will begin in the church and lunch will be provided.  Parents are more than welcome to join us.  Tell us your coming by emailing

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Why acolytes?

I've been looking forward to this weekend for a while now.  I have been blessed to spend 5 weeks at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and look forward to 4 more.  I have been so impressed by the individual parishioners, couples, and families I have met.  Everyone I have met really wants Jesus.  They want to draw close to Jesus.  They want to walk with Jesus.  The world doesn't want Jesus, though.  The world wants us to be distracted by the pleasures of the flesh and earthly treasures.

When I was a boy at my home parish in Arden, NC, I became an acolyte as soon as I could.  I was 10 years old.  I saw my older brother and some of my friends serving at the altar, and I wanted in!  It was nice to be part of something bigger.  However, I learned that being an acolyte was more than that.  I discovered that if I stayed physically close to the church, I would learn how to spiritually stay close to the Church.

As creatures of God, we are created with a body and a soul.  The body comes from genetic code and an underlying design which is an instrument of God's design.  The soul is that part of us that is directly infused by God.  Our soul, which is how we think and choose to act, is expressed by our actions and works.  In a certain way, though, our bodies also affect our soul.  By being part of a group of young men who fulfilled some precise service for God (indeed, the best service we can render here on earth is the Mass), I developed habits which helped form me into a Christian man.

To be an acolyte is to allow the Mass to direct one's actions, thoughts, and prayers.  It is to work together in service of the Lord.  It is to stand, sit, and kneel in the holy of holies and be close to the sacred mysteries by assisting the priest.  It is to become a servant.  It is to enjoy a bit of fraternity amongst the other young men who find the same desire to give an hour each Sunday in service to Our Lord, his Church, and the parish.

So, why have I been looking forward to this weekend?  I look forward to the opportunity of sharing with you why an acolyte program is so important in the life of a parish.  I look forward to seeing you and your sons and answering your question, "Why acolytes?"  "Why me?"  I look forward to signing the young men up in the parish to be part of something extraordinary.

I look forward to seeing the young men in the parish band together and serve God in the spirit of Psalm 42: "I will go to the altar of God, the God who gives joy to my youth."

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Welcome to the new website of the St. Thomas Aquinas Acolyte Corps.  Fr. Winslow is happy to be rolling out a new acolyte program with the assistance of the seminarian assigned to the parish this summer, Noah Carter, and the parish's new Master of Ceremonies, Jonathan Torres.

The whole reason that we are working on developing this program is because better acolytes render better service at Mass both to God and to the parish by their reverence and prayer.  A good acolyte program helps the congregation pray better at Mass.  This is also a great way for the young men in the parish to work together and develop an authentic Christian identity and fraternity.  Together, the young men will walk together in a journey of faith by learning amore about their faith and the worship of God.

After the weekend Masses of August 3 and 4, there will be information in the narthex about the new acolyte program and a chance for you or your son to sign up for our first Orientation which will take place on August 10.  You can also use the contact form in the side bar to send your information and sign up, or as questions concerning the new program.

As we all work together in our journey to heaven, I ask for your support in making this new acolyte program a success.

Wishing you God's abundant blessings,
Noah Carter
Interim Master of Ceremonies
Seminarian - Diocese of Charlotte