|This article forms part of the series|
|Bishop - Priest - Deacon|
|Subdeacon - Reader|
Cantor - Acolyte
|Chorepiscopos - Exorcist|
Doorkeeper - Deaconess
|Pope - Patriarch - Cardinal - Catholicos|
Archbishop - Metropolitan
Auxiliary bishop -
|Archimandrite - Protopresbyter|
Archpriest - Protosyngellos
|Archdeacon - Protodeacon - Hierodeacon|
|Abbot - Igumen|
|Ordination - Vestments|
Presbeia - Honorifics
Clergy awards - Exarch
Proistamenos - Vicar
In many Christian denominations, an acolyte is anyone who performs ceremonial duties such as lighting altar candles. In other Christian Churches, the term is more specifically used for one who wishes to attain clergyhood.
The word acolyte is derived from the Greek word akolouthos, meaning companion, attendant, or helper. The Acolyte ministry has its roots in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, where the prophet Samuel is seen assisting Eli, the Levite priest , and Elisha is seen assisting Elijah the Prophet.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic 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.
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.
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.
In the early church, a taper-bearer was not permitted to enter the sanctuary, only a subdeacon or above was allowed to go in. Nowadays, however, servers are permitted to go in, but they are not permitted either to touch the Holy Table or the Table of Oblation.
In Anglican churches such as the Episcopal Church of the United States or the Church of England, altar servers are called acolytes and can be of either sex and any age (although usually no younger than ten).
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 incense 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 traditional catholic churches acolytes commonly wear cassock and cotta, and in less catholic churches commonly cassock-alb with girdle. A girdle is usually a twisted rope with knots on the ends which is secured round the waist; it may be white or of the liturgical colour. 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.
Methodism and Lutheranism
In the Methodist and Lutheran traditions, acolytes participate in the worship service by carrying a processional cross (these acolytes are called crucifers), lighting the altar candles, 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 is supposed to bow at the altar. 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. Similar to those in the Anglican tradition, acolytes in these traditions wear robes called albs with a cincture. It is also common for Methodist acolytes to wear the traditional cassock and cotta.
Before August 15, 1972 (with the issuing of Pope Paul VI's moto proprio, suppressing the minor orders) the acolyte was the highest of the minor orders, having as duties the lighting of the altar-candles, carrying the candles in procession, assisting the subdeacon and deacon, and the ministering of water and wine to the priest at Mass. Acolytes wore the cassock and surplice. While acolytes did not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, they were considered part of the clergy, and were considered a step on the way to Holy Orders. In the Latin Rite, they still do exist licitly in some capacity in traditional Catholic groups.
Paul's change was intended to replace the antique titles with two which recognized and encouraged the laity in the work of the Church. The Pope's intention was to have laymen thus able to participate more fully in this. The current Code of Canon Law has incorporated this ministry as one open to all baptized laymen. The Pope expressed the wish that these ministries would not be limited to seminarians. At present, though, this is the usual situation.
In modern Catholic churches, the duties of the acolyte are similar to those described above. Similarly, the instituted ministry of acolyte is reserved to men (however, it is not reserved to those pursuing Holy Orders). Nonetheless, the duties of the acolyte may be filled, by temporary assignment, by any lay person (men and women). The term altar server is generally used to refer to these temporarily deputized individuals, to differentiate them from those in the instituted ministry (who are most commonly men who intend on entering Holy Orders).
The presence of female altar servers is a relatively new development, originating from an interpretation found in a responsio ad propositum dubium concerning can. 230, § 2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. In the interpretation, permission was allowed for bishops of each diocese to decide if they wanted to permit the use of altar girls. This permission is granted in a circular letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences on March 15, 1994. This permission did not make their use mandatory, as any pastor could still decline to use them. Further, the letter reaffirmed that altar boys should be encouraged. Currently, one diocese in the United States (Lincoln, NE) does not permit the use of altar girls.
- John N. Wall. A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000.
- Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Acolyte. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.