Last updated
A sacristan The Spaniards 66-El Sacristan.jpg
A sacristan

A sacristan is an officer charged with care of the sacristy, the church, and their contents.

Sacristy part of a church

A sacristy is a room for keeping vestments and other church furnishings, sacred vessels, and parish records. In some countries, it is known as the vestry.

Church (building) Building used for Christian religious activities

A church building or church house, often simply called a church, is a building used for Christian religious activities, particularly for Christian worship services. The term is often used by Christians to refer to the physical buildings where they worship, but it is sometimes used to refer to buildings of other religions. In traditional Christian architecture, a church interior is often structured in the shape of a Christian cross. When viewed from plan view the vertical beam of the cross is represented by the center aisle and seating while the horizontal beam and junction of the cross is formed by the bema and altar.


In ancient times, many duties of the sacrist were performed by the doorkeepers (ostiarii), and later by the treasurers and mansionarii. [1] The Decretals of Gregory IX [2] speak of the sacristan as if he had an honourable office attached to a certain benefice, and say that his duty was to care for the sacred vessels, vestments, lights, etc. Nowadays the sacristan is elected or appointed. The Cæremoniale Episcoporum prescribed that in cathedral and collegiate churches the sacristan should be a priest, and describes his duties in regard to the sacristy, the Blessed Eucharist, the baptismal font, the holy oils, the sacred relics, the decoration of the church for the different seasons and feasts, the preparation of what is necessary for the various ceremonies, the pregustation in pontifical Mass, the ringing of the church bells, the preservation of order in the church, and the distribution of Masses; finally it suggests that one or two canons be appointed each year to supervise the work of the sacrist and his assistants.

An ostiarius, a Latin word sometimes anglicized as ostiary but often literally translated as porter or doorman, originally was a servant or guard posted at the entrance of a building. See also gatekeeper.

Decretals are letters of a pope that formulate decisions in ecclesiastical law of the Catholic Church.

A benefice or living is a reward received in exchange for services rendered and as a retainer for future services. The Roman Empire used the Latin term beneficium as a benefit to an individual from the Empire for services rendered. Its use was adopted by the Western Church in the Carolingian Era as a benefit bestowed by the crown or church officials. A benefice specifically from a church is called a precaria such as a stipend and one from a monarch or nobleman is usually called a fief. A benefice is distinct from an allod, in that an allod is property owned outright, not bestowed by a higher authority.

In the Old Testament, the office and duties of the sacristan are assigned to the Levites. 1 Chronicles 23-26 describes how David assigned them duties such as temple doorkeepers, guardians, singers and musicians.

Old Testament First part of Christian Bibles based on the Hebrew Bible

The Old Testament is the first part of the Christian biblical canon, based upon the Greek Old Testament which is based primarily upon the twenty-four books of the Jewish Bible, a collection of ancient religious Hebrew writings by the Israelites believed by most Christians and religious Jews to be the sacred Word of God. The second part of Christian Bibles is the New Testament, originally written in the Koine Greek language.

A Levite is a Jewish male descended patrilineally from the Tribe of Levi. The Tribe of Levi descended from Levi, the third son of Jacob and Leah. The surname Halevi, which consists of the Hebrew definite article "ה" Ha- ("the") plus Levi (Levite) is not conclusive regarding being a Levite; a titular use of HaLevi indicates being a Levite. The daughter of a Levite is a "Bat Levi".

Books of Chronicles the final books of the Jewish bible

The Book of Chronicles is a Hebrew prose work constituting part of Jewish and Christian scripture. It contains a genealogy from the first human being, Adam, and a narrative of the history of ancient Judah and Israel until the proclamation of King Cyrus the Great.


Le bedeau de Kerlaz, patining by Jules Breton (1868) 083 Jules Breton Le bedeau de Kerlaz.jpg
Le bedeau de Kerlaz , patining by Jules Breton (1868)

The under-sacristan is also mentioned in the Decretals. [3] He was the assistant of the sacristan, was subject to the archdeacon and discharged duties very similar to those of the sacristan. By the early twentieth century, the office was hardly ever attached to a benefice and so usually a salaried position. The Council of Trent desired that according to the old canons, clerics should hold such offices; but in most churches, on account of the difficulty or impossibility of obtaining clerics, laymen perform many of the duties of the sacristan and under-sacristan.

An archdeacon is a senior clergy position in the Syriac Orthodox Church, Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, St Thomas Christians, Eastern Orthodox churches and some other Christian denominations, above that of most clergy and below a bishop. In the High Middle Ages it was the most senior diocesan position below a bishop in the Catholic Church. An archdeacon is often responsible for administration within an archdeaconry, which is the principal subdivision of the diocese. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church has defined an archdeacon as "A cleric having a defined administrative authority delegated to him by the bishop in the whole or part of the diocese." The office has often been described metaphorically as that of oculus episcopi, the "bishop's eye".

Council of Trent 19th Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church

The Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563 in Trent, was the 19th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, it has been described as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.

In some European medieval contexts, a custos was given the more important roles of keeping the safety of the church, its relics, its treasure, and its archives, but was also responsible for the perception of capitationes, symbolic head-taxes that associated freemen with a religious institution. [4]

Altar societies

Altar societies were once commonly organised within most Catholic parish churches. Member duties vary according to circumstances, and in some instances include tasks that ordinarily fall within the sacristan's province, such as the vestments and altar vessels, making ready for the priest's Mass. In general, they consist of the payment of yearly dues into a fund for maintenance and repair of accessories used in Church ceremonies, and usually also include a certain amount of labour for this purpose. Altar societies differ from tabernacle societies in that they work for the benefit of the church they are attached to while tabernacle societies work for the benefit of many different poor churches.

Eastern Churches

In the Eastern Churches, the sacristan is known as the ecclesiarch, particularly in monasteries. In large monasteries he may be assigned an assistant known as the paraecclesiarch. An analogous office is that of the skeuophylax . In parishes, however, the sacristan is called sexton. In addition to the tasks and responsibilities mentioned above, if an individual has a message for the priest while serving in the sanctuary, it is given to the sexton to give to the priest or deacon.


Many Christian faith schools appoint sacristans as members of their prefect bodies, particularly in British public schools and institutions founded on the British model. For instance, The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, an Episcopal University, hosts a student Sacristan's Guild. Sacristans aid the school's chaplain in day-to-day running of the chapel and promotion of a Christian ethos in the school. In terms of seniority, they are often regarded as second only to the school captains.

See also

Related Research Articles

A parish is a territorial entity in many Christian denominations, constituting a division within a diocese. A parish is under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of a parish priest, who might be assisted by one or more curates, and who operates from a parish church. Historically, a parish often covered the same geographical area as a manor. Its association with the parish church remains paramount.

Altar structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes

An altar is a structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are found at shrines, temples, churches and other places of worship. They are used particularly in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Modern Paganism. Many historical faiths also made use of them, including Roman, Greek and Norse religion.

Subdeacon is a title used in various branches of Christianity.

Curate person who is invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish

A curate is a person who is invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish. In this sense, "curate" correctly means a parish priest; but in English-speaking countries the term curate is commonly used to describe clergy who are assistants to the parish priest. The duties or office of a curate are called a curacy.

Surplice loose, white vestments with long, full sleeves worn over a cassock by clergy and lay persons

A surplice is a liturgical vestment of the Western Christian Church. The surplice is in the form of a tunic of white linen or cotton fabric, reaching to the knees, with wide or moderately wide sleeves.

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.

Altar server profession

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.

The term coadjutor is a title qualifier indicating that the holder shares the office with another person, with powers equal to the other in all but formal order of precedence.

Choir dress a traditional costume of clerics, seminarians and religious of Christian churches

Choir dress is the traditional vesture of the clerics, seminarians and religious of Christian churches worn for public prayer and the administration of the sacraments except when celebrating or concelebrating the Eucharist. It differs from the vestments worn by the celebrants of the Eucharist, being normally made of fabrics such as wool, cotton or silk, as opposed to the fine brocades used in vestments. It may also be worn by lay assistants such as acolytes and choirs. It was abandoned by most of the Churches which originated in the sixteenth-century Reformation.

In English ecclesiastical law, the term incumbent refers to the holder of a Church of England parochial charge or benefice. The term "benefice" originally denoted a grant of land for life in return for services. In church law, the duties were spiritual ("spiritualities") and some form of assets to generate revenue were permanently linked to the duties to ensure the support of the office holder. Historically, once in possession of the benefice, the holder had lifelong tenure unless he failed to provide the required minimum of spiritual services or committed a moral offence. With the passing of the Pastoral Measure 1968 and subsequent legislation, this no longer applies, and many ancient benefices have been joined together into a single new one.

Directa Decretal

The Directa decretal was written by Pope Siricius in February AD 385. It took the form of a long letter to Spanish bishop Himerius of Tarragona replying to the bishop’s requests for directa on various subjects sent several months earlier to Pope Damasus I. It became the first of a series of documents published by the Magisterium that claimed apostolic origin for clerical celibacy and reminded ministers of the altar of the perpetual continence required of them.

The Minor Canons of St Paul's Cathedral, London, whose origins predate the Norman conquest of England, unusually were independent of the senior canons and, as priests, of higher status than the lay vicars choral. Medieval Hereford furnishes the only other example of such a structure. There were three full-time clergy at St Paul's who were part of its ministry and mission team but not members of the cathedral chapter. Notwithstanding the abolition of their College, there remain two Minor Canons who take part in and organise services in the cathedral, with particular areas of specialist responsibility including ceremony, music, liturgy and daily services. The chaplain is responsible for the pastoral care of the cathedral, under the oversight of the canon pastor. The role of chaplain is not that of a minor canon but is in the newly established category of "priest vicar".

Altar in the Catholic Church structure upon which the Eucharist is celebrated in a Catholic church

In a Catholic church, the altar is the structure upon which the Eucharist is celebrated.

The under-sacristan or custos was a Roman Catholic office.

Catholic Church of St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith

The Catholic Church of St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith is located on Liverpool Road in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Greater Manchester, England.

An altar society or altar guild is a group of laypersons in a parish church who maintain the ceremonial objects used in worship. Traditionally, membership was limited to women and their most common functions are making floral arrangements for the sanctuary, caring for linens, and holding fundraisers to purchase items for the sanctuary, including vestments and altar vessels.

A rector is, in an ecclesiastical sense, a cleric who functions as an administrative leader in some Christian denominations. In contrast, a vicar is also a cleric but functions as an assistant and representative of an administrative leader.

Edward Nason West (1909–1990) was an Episcopal priest and fixture at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York where he served for many years as canon sacrist and sub dean. He is also a theologian, an author, an internationally known iconographer and an expert in the design of church furnishings. He was the inspiration for Canon Tallis in Madeleine L'Engle's young adult novels and was Madeleine's spiritual mentor. He was a graduate of Boston University and the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. He was an Officer of the Order of the British Empire; an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau; a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor; and a Knight Commander of the Royal Order of St. Sava.



  1. Epitome to Canon XIX, Council of Chalcedon, Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  2. lib. I, tit. xxvi, "De officio sacristæ"
  3. lib. I, tit. xxvii, "De Officio custodis"
  4. Kupper, Jean-Louis (2017). "Du chevage et de la ministérialité en Hesbaye". In Dierkens, Alain; Schroeder, Nicolas; Wilkin, Alexis (eds.). Penser la paysannerie médiévale, un défi impossible ? (in French). Editions de la Sorbonne. pp. 278, 280 & 302. ISBN   979-10-351-0017-9.