Brother Bede Instituted as Acolyte

A few weeks ago, on the Feast of St Scholastica, Brother Bede was instituted as an Acolyte. As with his earlier institution as Reader, this is one of the stages on the path to the ordained ministries of Deacon and Priest. Brother Bede, if it is God’s will, will be ordained to the Diaconate later this year.

Abbot Dominic reading to Brother Bede about the role of an Acolyte

What is an Acolyte?

As with the ministry of Reader, the ministry of Acolyte was previously one of the minor orders through which men had to progress on the path to priesthood. Since 1972, men have still have to progress through Reader and Acolyte before Diaconal ordination. (A Priest has to be ordained as a Deacon before he is ordained as a Priest. Famously, in December 374, St Ambrose of Milan was baptised and ordained Deacon, Priest, and Bishop all within a week! These days, such rapid progression is not permitted.)

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal ‘The Acolyte is 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’ (GIRM 98). Among other duties, the Acolyte prepares the altar for the Eucharist, assists the Priest with incensing the altar, gifts, and cross, and, if neeed be, purifies the vessels after communion (GIRM 187-193). Many (but not all) of these duties are also carried out by altar servers.

Since the Acolyte is for the service of the altar he ‘should learn all matters concerning public divine worship and strive to grasp their inner spiritual meaning: in that way he will be able each day to offer himself entirely to God, be an example to all by his gravity and reverence in church, and have a sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, especially for the weak and the sick’ (Pope Paul VI, Ministeria Quaedam, 1972).

What is the Ceremony for the Institution of Acolytes?

Although a Reader can be instituted outside Mass, the institution of an Acolyte must take place in the Mass. As with most ceremonies, it takes place between the Gospel and the Offertory. When a monk is instituted, the presider is the Abbot, whereas in parishes it is the Bishop. The ceremony itself is, like that for the Reader, very simple.

Abbot Dominic passes the host to Brother Bede at Bede's institution as an Acolyte.

After the Gospel the candidate sits in front of the Abbot. The Abbot then speaks about the duties of the Acolyte and the requirements of the person. Following prayers for the Acolyte, the Abbot presents the Acolyte with the bread for the Offertory. After the ceremony, Mass continues with the Offertory, and the newly-instituted Acolyte hands the bread for the Offertory to the Priest.

What Happened to Minor Orders?

The minor orders were Porter, Reader, Exorcist, and Acolyte. Originally, they were open to most members of the Church but over time they were restricted to those on the path to the priesthood. After minor orders the person would usually progress to the major orders of Subdeacon, Deacon, and Priest. Now Reader and Acolyte are again open to most members of the Church, while Porter is no longer an official title, and Exorcist is included in the functions of the ordained clergy.

At the same time as minor orders were replaced, the major order of Subdeacon was also merged into the order of Deacon.

You can read more about the minor orders here. This is from the Catholic Encyclopaedia of the early 20th century.

Can Women be Lectors or Acolytes?

In a word, Yes. The Second Vatican Council stated, ‘The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14). The opening up of the ministries of Lector and Acolyte to people not on the path to the priesthood was originally restricted to men. However, in 2021 Pope Francis recognised that charisms are given to the faithful, whether male or female. In answer to a call from bishops in the Pan-Amazon region he recognised that the ministries are suitable for men and women. It is, however, still rare for these ministries to be given to anyone not on the path to priesthood.