GIRM 187-193: The Functions of the Acolyte

Seven sections cover the duties of the acolyte. This one GIRM role folds in the duties covered by three ministries in most American parishes, those of the sacristan, lay Communion minister, and altar server.

First we read that when it comes to people involved in these duties, the Church suggests that fewer is not better:

187. The functions that the acolyte may carry out are of various kinds and several may occur at the same moment. Hence, it is desirable that these duties be suitably distributed among several acolytes. If, in fact, only one acolyte is present, he should perform the more important duties while the rest are to be distributed among several ministers.

Duties during the Introductory Rites:

188. In the procession to the altar, the acolyte may carry the cross, walking between two ministers with lighted candles. Upon reaching the altar, however, the acolyte places the cross upright near the altar so that it may serve as the altar cross; otherwise, he puts it away in a dignified place. Then he takes his place in the sanctuary.

189. Through the entire celebration, it is for the acolyte to approach the Priest or the Deacon, whenever necessary, in order to present the book to them and to assist them in any other way required. Thus it is appropriate that, in so far as possible, the acolyte should occupy a place from which he can easily carry out his ministry either at the chair or at the altar.

These duties are very familiar to us; they are usually performed by altar servers, often one or more youths. One item of discussion in some parishes is the last sentence in GIRM 189: where to seat the acolytes? At the priest’s chair in the sanctuary? With the assembly in the front row? Somewhere in between? That largely depends on the practicalities generated by an individual church’s architecture. How is it in your parish?

Regarding the Liturgy of the Eucharist …

190. In the absence of a Deacon, after the Universal Prayer and while the Priest remains at the chair, the acolyte places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar. Then, if necessary, the acolyte assists the Priest in receiving the gifts of the people and, if appropriate, brings the bread and wine to the altar and hands them to the Priest. If incense is being used, the acolyte presents the thurible to the Priest and assists him while he incenses the offerings, the cross, and the altar. Then the acolyte incenses the Priest and the people.

191. A duly instituted acolyte, as an extraordinary minister, may, if necessary, assist the Priest in distributing Communion to the people.[Ministeria quaedam 6] If Communion is given under both kinds, in the absence of a Deacon, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction.

192. Likewise, after the distribution of Communion is complete, a duly instituted acolyte helps the Priest or Deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. In the absence of a Deacon, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies them, wipes them, and arranges them as usual.

193. After the celebration of Mass, the acolyte and other ministers return together with the Deacon and the Priest in procession to the sacristy, in the same manner and in the same order in which they entered.

About what you expected? Remember that these duties as listed above are for parish-designated acolytes–servers, sacristans, Communion ministers. There is a formally installed office for these ministries. Ready to implement it in your own parish or diocese?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in GIRM, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

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