The Order of Acolyte

The Acolytate -- the 4th and highest of the Minor Orders

The acolytate is the highest of the minor orders. The term is derived from a Greek word which signifies to follow, to accompany. The acolyte's duty and privilege was and is to assist members of the major orders at the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice and other liturgical functions; he takes care of the light and serves the wine and water at holy Mass. 

Light was always extensively used at divine services, even in the Old Testament, because of its deep significance. To the symbolic reasons was added the practical necessity, when services were held at nighttime or, as it frequently happened during the times of persecution, in the catacombs. 

For a long time, acolytes performed other very important functions, at least in the Church of Rome. At the Communion of the Mass they received the sacred species in linen bags, hung around their neck, and presented them to the priest or bishop for distribution to the people. As we know from the story of St. Tarsicius, acolytes were employed to bring the Blessed Eucharist to the absent, especially the confessors of the faith detained in prison; they, likewise, carried consecrated particles from the pope's Mass to the priests, who celebrated the sacred mysteries in the parish churches of Rome; finally, they were the bearers of the blessed bread, eulogia, which bishops exchanged among themselves as a symbol of their communion in the charity of Christ. 

In the course of time, however, some of these functions were discontinued, others were taken over by members of the major orders. And, because of the practical difficulty of having ordained acolytes stationed at every church, laymen, especially boys, were admitted to act as Mass servers and torchbearers, and the order of acolyte merely served as a transition to the major orders. 

If the acolytate is conferred during Mass, this is done: 
Saturday before Passion Sunday: after the Kyrie. 
Holy Saturday: after the Gloria. 
Saturdays of Ember weeks: after the fourth lesson. 
On other days, if the Mass has Gloria: after the Gloria; if the Mass has no Gloria: after the Kyrie. 


The Rite

The Call. The bishop, with miter on sits on the faldstool before the middle of the altar. The archdeacon bids the candidates come forward; the notary reads their names:  Each one answers adsum, goes before the altar and kneels, holding the burning candle in his right hand. 

The Instruction. When all are assembled, the bishop addresses them as follows: 

Here the candles are laid aside. 

The Bestowal of the Office. The bishop now presents to each candidate a candlestick with an unlighted candle. Each one touches both, the candlestick with the thumb, and the candle with the index finger of the right hand, while the bishop says: 

Then an empty cruet is presented to them. They touch it, while the bishop says:  Prayer. The candidates kneel. The bishop rises, with miter on, and, turned toward them, prays:  The bishop, with his miter off, turns to the altar and says:  Turning again to the candidates kneeling before him, the bishop prays: