Acolyte

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The Acolyte by Abraham Solomon, 1842 Solomon Abraham The Acolyte.jpg
The Acolyte by Abraham Solomon, 1842

An acolyte is an assistant or follower assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession. In many Christian denominations, an acolyte is anyone performing ceremonial duties such as lighting altar candles. In others, the term is used for one who has been inducted into a particular liturgical ministry, even when not performing those duties.

Altar candle

Altar candles are candles set on or near altars for religious ceremonies. Various denominations have regulations or traditions regarding the number and type of candles used, and when they are lit or extinguished during the services.

Contents

Etymology

The word acolyte is derived from the Greek word ἀκόλουθος (akolouthos), meaning an attendant, via Late Latin acolythus.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Late Latin Written Latin of late antiquity

Late Latin is the scholarly name for the written Latin of late antiquity. English dictionary definitions of Late Latin date this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, and continuing into the 7th century in the Iberian Peninsula. This somewhat ambiguously defined version of Latin was used between the eras of Classical Latin and Medieval Latin. There is no scholarly consensus about exactly when Classical Latin should end or Medieval Latin should begin. However, Late Latin is characterized by an identifiable style.

Eastern Christianity

An Armenian acolyte holding a ripida K`shots`.jpg
An Armenian acolyte holding a ripida

In the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the nearest equivalent of acolyte is the altar server. At one time there was a rank of minor clergy called the taper-bearer responsible for bearing lights during processions and liturgical entrances. However, this rank has long ago been subsumed by that of the reader and the service for the tonsure of a reader begins with the setting-aside of a taper-bearer.

Eastern Catholic Churches Autonomous, self-governing particular Churches in full communion with the Pope

The Eastern Catholic Churches or Oriental Catholic Churches, also called the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches, and in some historical cases Uniate Churches, are twenty-three Eastern Christian particular churches sui iuris in full communion with the Pope in Rome, as part of the worldwide Catholic Church. Headed by patriarchs, metropolitans, and major archbishops, the Eastern Catholic Churches are governed in accordance with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, although each church also has its own canons and laws on top of this, and the preservation of their own traditions is explicitly encouraged. The total membership of the various churches accounts for about 18 million, according to the Annuario Pontificio, thus making up about 1.5 percent of the Catholic Church, with the rest of its more than 1.3 billion members belonging to the Latin Church, also known as the Western Church or the Roman Catholic Church.

Procession organized body of people walking in a formal or ceremonial manner

A procession is an organized body of people walking in a formal or ceremonial manner.

Reader (liturgy) a person who can read aloud the bible during catholic liturgy

In some Christian churches, a reader is responsible for reading aloud excerpts of scripture at a liturgy. In early Christian times the reader was of particular value due to the rarity of literacy.

The functions of an acolyte or taper-bearer are therefore carried out by readers, subdeacons, or by non-tonsured men or boys who are sometimes called "acolytes" informally. Also, the term "altar-boys" is often used to refer to young altar servers. Subdeacons wear their normal vestments consisting of the sticharion and crossed orarion; readers and servers traditionally wear the sticharion alone.

Subdeacon is a title used in various branches of Christianity.

An altar server is a lay assistant to a member of the clergy during a Christian liturgy. An altar server attends to supporting tasks at the altar such as fetching and carrying, ringing the altar bell, among other things. If young, the server is commonly called an altar boy or altar girl. In some Christian denominations, altar servers are known as acolytes.

Sticharion

The sticharion is a liturgical vestment of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, roughly analogous in function to the alb of the Western Church. The sticharion is worn by all classes of ordained ministers in the Constantinopolitan Rite and comes in two forms: one worn by priests and one worn by deacon and other altar servers.

In recent times, however, in many of the North American Greek Orthodox Churches, for the sake of uniformity, readers have been permitted to wear the orarion (The Bishop presents the reader, who is to serve on the altar, with the orarion). Readers do not cross the orarion while wearing it, the uncrossed orarion being intended to slightly distinguish a reader from a subdeacon.

In the Russian tradition, readers wear only the sticharion, and do not wear the orarion unless they have been specially blessed to by their bishop. (This might be done if a reader must occasionally serve in the role of a subdeacon, or for some other reason the bishop believes is fitting.) If a server has not been tonsured, he must remove the sticharion before he can receive Holy Communion.

Western Christianity

Latin Church

Instituted acolytes assisting at the dedication of an altar StMarysWestMelbAltar.jpg
Instituted acolytes assisting at the dedication of an altar

Until 1972, the highest of the four minor orders in the Latin Church was that of acolyte. By his motu proprio Ministeria quaedam of 15 August 1972, Pope Paul VI replaced the term "minor orders" by that of "ministries" and the term "ordination" by "institution". [1] He kept throughout the Latin Church two instituted ministries, those of reader and acolyte. [2] A prescribed interval, as decided by the Holy See and the national episcopal conference, is to be observed between receiving the two. [3] Candidates for diaconate and for priesthood must receive both ministries and exercise them for some time before receiving holy orders. [4] The two instituted ministries are not reserved solely for candidates for holy orders, [5] but can be conferred only on men. [6] Ministries are conferred by the ordinary: either a bishop or the head of a similar territory or, in the case of clerical religious institutes, a major superior. [7] Institutions of acolytes not preparing for holy orders are in fact sometimes carried out. [8]

Minor orders are ranks of church ministry lower than major orders.

Latin Church Automonous particular church making up of most of the Western world Catholics

The Latin Church, also known as the Western Church or the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest particular church of the Catholic Church, employing the Latin liturgical rites. It is one of 24 sui iuris churches, the 23 others forming the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is headed by the bishop of Rome, the pope – traditionally also called the Patriarch of the West – with cathedra in this role at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, Italy. The Latin Church traces its history to the earliest days of Christianity, according to Catholic tradition, through its direct leadership under the Holy See.

In law, motu proprio describes an official act taken without a formal request from another party. Some jurisdictions use the term sua sponte for the same concept.

The motu proprio assigned to the instituted acolyte the functions previously reserved for the subdeacon, and declared national episcopal conferences free to use the term "subdeacon" in place of that of "acolyte". [9] The functions of the instituted acolyte are specified in the motu proprio, [10] and have been indicated also in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 98, which under the heading, "The Ministry of the Instituted Acolyte and Lector", says: "The acolyte is instituted to serve at the altar and to assist the priest and deacon. In particular, it is his responsibility to prepare the altar and the sacred vessels and, if it is necessary, as an extraordinary minister, to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful. In the ministry of the altar, the acolyte has his own functions (cf. nos. 187-193), which he must perform personally." [11]

An episcopal conference, sometimes called a conference of bishops, is an official assembly of the bishops of the Catholic Church in a given territory. Episcopal conferences have long existed as informal entities. The first assembly of bishops to meet regularly, with its own legal structure and ecclesial leadership function, is the Swiss Bishops' Conference, which was founded in 1863. More than forty episcopal conferences existed before the Second Vatican Council. Their status was confirmed by the Second Vatican Council and further defined by Pope Paul VI's 1966 motu proprio, Ecclesiae sanctae.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM)—in the Latin original, Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (IGMR)—is the detailed document governing the celebration of Mass of the Roman Rite in what since 1969 is its normal form. Originally published in 1969 as a separate document, it is printed at the start of editions of the Roman Missal since 1970.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal adds: "In the absence of an instituted acolyte, lay ministers may be deputed to serve at the altar and assist the priest and the deacon; they may carry the cross, the candles, the thurible, the bread, the wine, and the water, and they may also be deputed to distribute Holy Communion as extraordinary ministers." [12] However, some functions, in particular that of cleansing the Eucharistic vessels, are reserved for an instituted acolyte and are not entrusted to those deputed to assist in that way. [13]

As in other churches, in the Latin Church the term "acolyte" is also used of altar servers on whom no ordination or institution has been conferred. [14] [15] Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Saint Tarcisius as "presumably an acolyte, that is, an altar server". [16]

Anglicanism

An Episcopal acolyte lighting an altar candle AltarCandleLight.jpg
An Episcopal acolyte lighting an altar candle

In Anglican churches – such as the Church of England, the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church – altar servers are often called acolytes and can be of either sex and age.

An acolyte can assist in worship by carrying a processional cross, lighting candles, holding the Gospel book, holding candles or "torches", assisting a deacon or priest set up and clean up at the altar, swinging a censer or thurible [17] or carrying the incense boat, handing the offering plates to ushers, and many other tasks as seen fit by the priest or acolyte warden.

In Anglo-Catholic churches acolytes commonly wear cassock and cotta, and in less Anglo-Catholic churches commonly cassock-alb with girdle or cincture. Both cincture and girdle can be usually a twisted rope with knots on the ends which is secured round the waist; it may be white or of the liturgical colour. A cincture may also be a band of cloth worn across the waist. Wearing crosses or other special pins or symbols is the prerogative of the individual church.

In some more 'traditional' parishes, the acolytes are ranked as they develop their abilities to serve: Trainees, Junior Acolytes, Senior Acolytes, and Acolytes of Merit. In others, the functions of acolytes are performed without vestments, and without significant formal training by persons available in the parish.

In other parishes, Acolytes are referred to according to the roles they perform. E.g. Master of Ceremonies, Crucifer and Thurifer, together with the 1st and 2nd Acolytes.

Methodism and Lutheranism

In the Methodist and Lutheran traditions, acolytes participate in the worship service by carrying a processional cross or crucifix (these acolytes are called crucifers), lighting and extinguishing the altar candles, and ringing the church bell to call the congregation to worship. In these traditions, the lighting of the altar candles in the worship service is a symbol of Jesus’ coming into the presence of the worshiping community. Before lighting the candles the acolyte may bow at the altar out of respect. Before the extinguishing of the last altar candles, the acolytes relight their "candle lighter" and then process out into the narthex. This symbolizes that Jesus Christ is for all people everywhere. It also symbolizes the light of Jesus Christ going out into the world where believers are called to serve. [18] Similar to those in the Anglican tradition, acolytes in these traditions wear robes called albs, sometimes with a cincture. It is also common for Methodist acolytes to wear the traditional cassock and cotta.

Related Research Articles

Deacon ministry in the Christian Church

A deacon is a member of the diaconate, an office in Christian churches that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. Major Christian churches, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican church, view the diaconate as part of the clerical state.

Tridentine Mass Type of mass in the Roman Catholic Church

The Tridentine Mass, also known as Traditional Latin Mass, or Usus Antiquior, is the Roman Rite Mass which appears in typical editions of the Roman Missal published from 1570 to 1962. The most widely used Mass liturgy in the world from its issuance in 1570 until the introduction of the Mass of Paul VI in 1969, it is celebrated in ecclesiastical Latin.

Cassock ankle-length garment worn as Christian clerical clothing

The cassock or soutane is an item of Christian clerical clothing used by the clergy of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed churches, among others. "Ankle-length garment" is the literal meaning of the corresponding Latin term, vestis talaris. It is related to the habit, which is traditionally worn by nuns, monks, and friars.

Vestment clothing prescribed for Christian clergy performing specific roles

Vestments are liturgical garments and articles associated primarily with the Christian religion, especially among the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Many other groups also make use of liturgical garments; this was a point of controversy in the Protestant Reformation and sometimes since, in particular during the Ritualist controversies in England in the 19th century.

Stole (vestment) long narrow cloth band worn around the neck and falling from the shoulders as part of ecclesiastical dress

The stole is a liturgical vestment of various Christian denominations. It consists of a band of colored cloth, formerly usually of silk, about seven and a half to nine feet long and three to four inches wide, whose ends may be straight or may broaden out. The center of the stole is worn around the back of the neck and the two ends hang down parallel to each other in front, either attached to each other or hanging loose. The stole is almost always decorated in some way, usually with a cross or some other significant religious design. It is often decorated with contrasting galloons and fringe is usually applied to the ends of the stole following Numbers 15:38-39. A piece of white linen or lace may be stitched onto the back of the collar as a sweat guard, which can be replaced more cheaply than the stole itself.

Major orders

The term major orders or greater orders was for some centuries applied in the Roman Catholic Church to distinguish what the Council of Trent also called holy orders from what at that time were termed "minor orders" or "lesser orders". The Catechism of the Council of Trent spoke of the "several distinct orders of ministers, intended by their office to serve the priesthood, and so disposed, as that, beginning with the clerical tonsure, they may ascend gradually through the lesser to the greater orders", and stated:

Crucifer

A crucifer or cross-bearer is, in some Christian churches, a person appointed to carry the church's processional cross, a cross or crucifix with a long staff, during processions at the beginning and end of the service.

Orarion long, narrow stole decorated with crosses worn by deacons and subdeacons of the Eastern Orthodox church

The Orarion is the distinguishing vestment of the deacon and subdeacon in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches and Eastern Catholic Churches. It is a narrow stole, usually four to five inches (127 mm) wide and of various lengths, made of brocade, often decorated with crosses embroidered or appliquéd along its length. It is usually trimmed with decorative banding around the edges and fringe at the two ends.

Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion

An extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in the Catholic Church is, under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, "an acolyte, or another of Christ's faithful deputed", in certain circumstances, to distribute Holy Communion. The term "extraordinary" distinguishes such a person from the ordinary minister of Holy Communion, namely a bishop, priest or deacon.

Solemn Mass Full ceremonial form of the Tridentine Mass

Solemn Mass is the full ceremonial form of the Tridentine Mass, celebrated by a priest with a deacon and a subdeacon, requiring most of the parts of the Mass to be sung, and the use of incense. It is also called High Mass or Solemn High Mass. However, in the United States the term "High Mass" is also used to describe the less elaborate Missa Cantata, which lacks deacon and subdeacon and some of the ceremonies connected with them.

A Eucharistic minister, also known as a communion steward, is an individual that assists in the distribution of Holy Communion to the congregation of a Christian church.

Vesting Prayers are prayers which are spoken while a cleric puts on vestments as part of a liturgy, in both the Eastern and Western churches. They feature as part of the liturgy in question itself, and take place either before or after a liturgical procession or entrance to the sanctuary, as depends on the particular liturgical rite or use which is being observed.

Pontifical vestments, also referred to as episcopal vestments or pontificals, are the liturgical vestments worn by bishops in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, in addition to the usual priestly vestments for the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments. The pontifical vestments are only worn when celebrating or presiding over liturgical functions. As such, the garments should not be confused with choir dress, which are worn when attending liturgical functions but not celebrating or presiding.

In the Catholic Church the term minister enjoys a variety of usages. It most commonly refers to the person, whether lay or ordained, who is commissioned to perform some act on behalf of the Church. It is not a particular office or rank of clergy, as is the case in some other churches, but minister may be used as a collective term for vocational or professional pastoral leaders including clergy and non-clergy. It is also used in reference to the canonical and liturgical administration of sacraments, as part of some offices, and with reference to the exercise of the lay apostolate.

Catholic laity

Catholic laity are the ordinary members of the Catholic Church who are neither clergy nor recipients of Holy Orders or vowed to life in a religious order or congregation. The laity forms the majority of the estimated over one billion Catholics in the world.

References

  1. "Ministeria quaedam, II".
  2. Ministeria quaedam, IV
  3. Ministeria quaedam, X
  4. Ministeria quaedam, XI
  5. Ministeria quaedam, III
  6. Ministeria quaedam, VII
  7. Ministeria quaedam, IX
  8. Six lay men installed as acolytes in Spokane (Catholic News Service, 14 December 2018)
  9. Ministeria quaedam, IV
  10. Ministeria quaedam, VI
  11. General Instruction of the Roman Missal
  12. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 100
  13. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 192
  14. David Philippart, Serve God with Gladness: A Manual for Servers (Liturgy Training Publications 1998), p. 106
  15. St. Peter Server Training Glossary
  16. Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 4 August 2010
  17. "Patrick Morrisroe, "Censer" in Catholic Encyclopedia 1908".
  18. The Woodlands United Methodist Church: What is an Acolyte? Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine