Saturday, 12 December 2015

Latin Mass Serving Role: The Acolyte

Latin Mass Serving Role: The Acolytes

Source: The two black arrows are pointing to the acolytes in the exit procession.  

Editor's Disclaimer: As always, what is stated here is not the be all and end all for Latin Mass Serving. In addition, priests or parishes may have some slight variations on what they do for the minutia of the actual Mass. This may include a slightly different vestment setup, what is laid out on the altar, order of `building the Chalice, etc. Always consult the priest/parish instructor for that.

In addition, this guide will cover the role of Acolyte as done for Missa Cantata level Masses and Higher. For information on how to serve as acolyte for low level Masses, please consult my Solo serving guide, and my Low Mass for two servers guide. This guide will NOT cover Eucharistic processions.

Brief Statistics

Plays a Role in What Level Masses? All levels of the Latin Mass. Even in a solo Latin Mass, the server is traditionally termed, the "acolyte."

How Many? In low Mass, there can be up to two acolytes, though there is one most of the time. In the Missa Cantata/High Mass and higher, while all servers are acolytes so to speak, the formal position is given only to two servers.

What parts of the Mass is the acolyte featured? The entrance procession, the foot of the altar (Low Mass), the preparation for the Gospel, the Gospel, the Offertory, possibly certain parts of the Mass of the Canons post-offertory, the Sanctus (if substituting for a torchbearer), the consecrations of the Sacred Species, Communion (receiving and possibly being paten bearers), exit processions.

Relative time to master the role? Sufficient time to master. Regardless whether one starts out with Low Masses, or High/Solemn Masses, it will take time to be proficient in your role. In addition, most groups/parishes will NOT thrust an inexperienced server into this role for their first few Masses, even if server training is done for all roles in a group setting. 

Introduction to the Role of the Acolyte

In the general context of the Church, regardless of the form of the Latin Rite, the altar server is traditionally termed, the "acolyte." While this term has been generally disused in modern Novus Ordo writings and server instruction, due to a desire not to offend female servers, and/or general modernist/feminist tendencies, all altar servers in the Mass are still termed acolytes.

In the context of the Latin Mass/Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the acolytes are designated (or visibly seen) in nearly the same way as they function in the Novus Ordo, via certain actions: They hold their tall candles in processions and at the gospel beside "Christ" (e.g. Crucifix or the Book of the Gospels), they assist the priest at the offertory with the unconsecrated species (wine/water and ciboria with bread,) and water ablutions, and possibly other duties not exclusive to the crucifer, boat-bearer, and thurifer, though they might substitute those servers' duties in certain cases when they are not present, or the master of ceremonies cannot perform such duties.

By the time you, as a server, take on this role in a higher level Mass, you likely have served a number of Masses, whether be they higher level, or the simple Low Mass. Should your parish/group start you with Low Masses, you will gain the requisite skills for this position in higher Masses via the Low Mass. In my personal opinion, one should also be able at this point to say all the Latin responses in the Mass the public/servers are to give. In fact, if you serve the Low Masses, you MUST do it as a server.

A Brief Scriptural Overview of Serving, Relevant to the Position of Acolyte
It is best to start with understanding your role, via examining where in Scripture one can see serving and/or the usage of the symbolism of "light" are present.

We can begin by looking at the word, acolyte. According to Wikipedia, ( the word "acolyte" would have been in Latin acolythus, which is is derived from the Greek word ἀκόλουθος (akolouthos), meaning an attendant. This could also be translated as a follower. When one looks at the Bible in Greek, Ἀκολούθει is used for the command, "Follow!" In serving Christ, we are asked, even commanded, to follow him. Christ does this on numerous occasions, for example, in John 1:43 (DR), he tells Philip to follow him, making him one of the Disciples. So, in essence, one who is an acolyte, follows Christ.   

Service also appears in the Miracle of the Feeding of the 5000. In that miracle, it was a young boy who brought up 5 loaves and 2 fish to the Lord. This example is referred to in the old Latin Mass serving program, the "Knights of the Altar."(see here:
knights-of-the-altar.pdf) One can think of the acolyte(s) bringing the sacred species (bread in ciboria when needed, and the cruets) in retrospect, with which the miracle of "feeding" is performed, though in the miracle it is literal, whereby on the altar is is divine via the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Passover Seder demonstrates some Scriptural References with regard to serving the Lord and helping prepare in the Seder, which Christ instituted the Mass. For example, In Matthew 26: 17-19, the disciples help prepare the Seder for the Lord: "....And on the first day of the Azymes ... Jesus said: Go ye into the city ... the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them: and they prepared the pasch." This is also accounted for in Mark 14, Luke 22 (where it's revealed Simon Peter and John were the two Disciples sent out, interesting as they are key players in the Church's history: John for being at Christ's side the whole time, and Peter for being our first Pope).

Further, the pivotal passage of "servitude" that is exemplified by our Lord, is that of John 13: 4-17, whereby after Christ demonstrates for all of us (Douay-Reims): "14 If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, : you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also. 16 Amen, Amen, I say to you: The servant is not greater than his lord: neither is the apostle greater than he that sent him. 17 If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them."

Other Passages that refer to Serving include:

  • John 12:26 (Douay-Reims, herein DR:) "If any man minister to me, let him follow me: and where I am, there also shall my minister be. If any man minister to me, him will my Father honour. "
  • Revelations/Apocalypse 7:14-15 (DR): ".... These are they, who are come out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, they are before the throne of God: and they serve him day and night in his temple. And he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell over them ...." 
    • Does this not remind you of something, server? While the language is symbolic of souls and sinning, your vestment prayers you say before donning the surplice and Cassock, allude to such imagery in the prayers of being made a new man in the service of the Lord.

Light in Scripture
Because the main "tool" that identifies the acolyte is his acolyte's candle, he is, in essence, a bearer of light. Thus one should examine some passages of note where in Scripture light is presented to us. Of the many present to us, we should have these in mind when considering the acolyte's position:

Matthew 5:14-16 (DR): "You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." This is part of the rite of investiture of acolytes in the Extraordinary Form.

Revelations/Apocalypse 1:12-13: ``And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks. 13 And in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, one like to the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.`` One can see that in the Mass, Revelation`s reference correlate significantly with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Luke 2:29-32 (DR, The Canticle of Simeon): "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace: 30 Because my eyes have seen thy salvation 31 which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: 32 A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel." This is part of the Feast of Candlemas/Purification, said during the portion whereby the candles are to be distributed and blessed. However, Simeon in this is clearly referring to Christ as the light for all peoples.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, JOHN 8:12 (DR): "... Jesus spoke to them, saying: I am the light of the world. He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life." When one thinks of how the acolyte's candles surround the deacon/priest with the Book of the Gospels at the Gospel, is it not Christ, being the Word Made Flesh, through His Written Word which is Scripture, is giving us that which is the Good News, our salvation?

History of the Position of the Acolyte (including Candles/Light)
While the usage of candles/lights in religious ceremonies can date back to those of ancient cultures, where it comes into play with the position of acolyte can possibly be traced back to Roman and Jewish tradition and/or ritual. Candles were used by the Ancients as a mark of respect to civil functionaries. In the Roman Empire, some officials were accompanied by attendants with tapers. (2, Candles in the Roman Rite). In the Jewish Ritual, there was a lamp of 7 candles that stood before the Holy of Holies in the temple, and each synagogue had a lamp that was never extinguished (2-3, ibid.)

Lights were not part of Christian/Catholic worship for a number of its first few centuries. A possible starting point might have been in the fifth century (400-500 AD) in the Eastern churches as St. Jerome noted that in the East, lights are lit when the Gospel was to be read, giving a visible sign of joy (5, ibid). Where this would eventually slip into Western tradition, leading into the current history of the Roman Rite/Latin Mass, would be in that same century. St. Jerome noted that in his lifetime, lights came into major Sacramental liturgies or parts of them (e.g. Eucharist, Ordinations, Baptism), and the Feast of the Purification (a.k.a. Candlemas) became instituted in the Catholic Church. (6-7 ibid)

As for the position of Acolyte itself, it is generally agreed upon that young men were brought into this position, expected to progress and become ordained clergy of the Church. I currently cannot find out when this practice started to occur. Eventually, it became part of what is the Minor Orders of the Church, those being porter (doorman), exorcist, lector, and acolyte. These orders were given gradually to men who entered into the seminary to become priests. In societies/institutes in the Church with mandate or mission to carry out the Roman Rite in the Extraoridnary Form (e.g. Fraternal Society of St. Peter; Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest ...), these minor orders still exist, including that of acolyte, including formal investiture via a liturgical ceremony.

In today's modern times, while there are still instituted acolytes via the EF priestly orders, there is a Novus Ordo equivalent that when a seminarian progresses through the seminary at a certain point, they obtain this "order" via investiture in a Mass. While this is the 2nd edition of the Roman Missal (70's printing), here is an example of the ordo for that investiture. This process of the Minor Orders was changed by Paul VI in his Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedram. Even rarer, some dioceses have formal institution for lectors and acolytes for the laity, should one follow the instructions of the Motu Proprio, such as seen here with an archdiocese in the United States.

However, in today`s Church, most of the time the "acolyte's roles" are done by youth and adult altar servers and trained internally. These "acolytes" are commissioned, that is NOT formally instituted by the Church, but trained in the functions of the role for the purposes of serving Mass.

Symbolism of the Position of the Acolyte
The symbolism of the position of Acolyte is best discerned from the formal investiture rite used for the minor order, by Extraordinary Form orders/societies. If you have read my other posts, you would have seen this in the Torch Bearer post, as the symbolism of light was gleaned from the rite. This time, we look at the Acolyte specifically, and the rite will be displayed in full.

De Ordinatorium Acolythorum - The Ordination of Acolytes

After the ordination of the Exorcists, the Bishop returns to the Missal and reads the versicle after the 
third lesson; then he reads the fourth prayer and the fourth lesson. He then sits with his mitre on. 

The Acolytes are called by the Archdeacon. 

"Let those who are to be ordained to the office of Acolyte come forward.

The names are then called by the Notary. When they are on their knees before him, the Bishop 
admonishes them saying: 

"Dearly beloved children who are about to receive the office of Acolyte, weigh well what you take upon yourselves. For it is the duty of the Acolyte to carry the candlestick, to light the lights of the church, and to minister wine and water for the Eucharist. Strive, therefore, worthily to fulfill the office once you have received it. For you shall not be able to please God, if, carrying in your hands a light before him, you serve the works of darkness, and thereby set an example of faithfulness to others. 

But as Truth says: ``Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven.`` And as the Apostle Paul says: ``In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation shine as light in the world, holding forth the word of life.`` ``Therefore let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands, that you may be children of the light.`` ``Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.`` ``For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.`` 

What that light is upon which the Apostle so much insists, he himself points out, adding: ``for the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth.`` Be, therefore, solicitous, in all justice and goodness and truth, to enlighten yourselves and others and the Church of God. For then will you worthily supply wine and water in the Divine Sacrifice, when, by a chaste life, and good works, you shall have offered yourselves as a sacrifice to God. Which may the Lord grant you through His mercy.

After this the Bishop takes a candlestick with an unlighted candle and presents it to all, each in turn touching it with his right hand, while the Bishop says:
"Receive the candlestick with the candle and know that you are bound to the lighting of the lights of the church, in the name of the Lord. R. Amen.

Then he takes an empty cruet and presents it to them, which likewise they touch, while he says to all: 

"RECEIVE the cruet for ministering wine and water for the Eucharist of the Blood of Christ, in the name of the Lord." R. Amen. 

Afterwards, they remain kneeling and the Bishop standing, with his mitre on, turns towards them and says:

Dearly beloved brethen, let us humbly beseech God the Father Almighty, to vouchsafe to bless + these His servants for the Order of Acolyte, so that bearing before themselves a visible light in their hands, they may also show forth in their conduct a spiritual light. We beg this through the assistance of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with Him and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth God, world without end. R. Amen.

Then the Bishop turning towards the altar and stand-ing with his mitre off, says : "Let us pray."

And the ministers : "Let us bend our knees."

R. Arise.

Then the Bishop turning towards those who, have been ordained, who are still kneeling, says:

O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, Who, through Jesus Christ Thy Son, our Lord and His Apostles didst send the light of Thy glory into this world, and Who, in order to blot out the
ancient handwriting of our death, didst will that He should be nailed to the standard of the most glorious cross, and that blood and water should flow from His side for the salvation of the human race, vouchsafe to bless + these Thy servants for the office of Acolyte, so that in lighting 
the lights of Thy Church, and in presenting the wine and water for the consecration of the Blood of Christ in the Eucharistic oblation they may faithfully minister at Thy holy altars. Inflame, O Lord, their minds and hearts with the love of Thy grace, so that, illumined by the sight of Thy splendor, they may faithfully serve Thee in Holy Church. Through the same Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

Let us pray. O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, Who didst speak to Moses and Aaron, and tell them to light the lamps in the tabernacle of the Testimony, vouchsafe to bless + these Thy servants, that they may be Acolytes in Thy Church. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen. 

Let us pray. O almighty, Eternal God, Fountain of light and Source of goodness, Who through Jesus Christ Thy Son, the true Light, didst illumine, and, by the mystery of His Passion, didst redeem the world, vouchsafe to bless + these Thy servants, whom we consecrate for the office of Acolyte, beseeching Thy clemency to illumine their minds with the light of knowledge, and water them with the dew of Thy piety, that, with Thine aid they may so fulfill the ministry which they have received as to deserve to attain to an everlasting reward. Through the same Christ our Lord. R. Amen. 

After this, by direction of the Archdeacon, those who have been ordained return to their places. 

(23-27, Ritus Ordinandi)

Hence, what we have here from the rite of instituted acolyte, a number of symbol-isms of the role, aside from the physical tasks of holding candles and bringing up gifts:

  • In the first paragraph/the bishop's admonishment, 
    • It is clear that the acolytes are not just servants, they are leaders, as they set the example in their servitude to the Lord, how one must conduct themselves with our Lord. Do not forget that lay servers represent the people when they are on the altar.
    • Their "actions" on the altar, represent YOUR actions both physically and spiritually, with which you should conduct yourself, that your good works glorify our Heavenly Father.
    • In their service, representing the people, you are demonstrating a turning away from the  sinful acts of self, to those acts of the Lord and being made anew in his Light. 

  • After handing the candidates the empty candle and cruet, as plain as can be seen,
    • you ``... bearing before [yourselves] a visible light in [your] hands, ... show forth in [your] conduct a spiritual light.]
    • Further on, the bishop mentions that Christ send HIS light into the world. that blotted out the penalty of our death (thanks to Adam, a penalty of Original Sin). More light symbolism.
  • Once he speaks to the kneeling instituted acolytes
    • The water and wine is mentioned. That which you carry up to the altar, represents the water and blood which was shed from his side during his crucifixion. This blood and water flowed from his as part of Him saving the human race from their spiritual punishment and opening the gates to Heaven
    • More light symbolism related to your candles:  "... Jesus Christ Thy Son, the true Light, didst illumine, and, by the mystery of His Passion, didst redeem the world," 
    • Also, he prays that Christ, for these acolytes, will "... illumine their minds with the light of knowledge, and water them with the dew of Thy piety," In representing the laity, it is also the hope that Christ illumines the faithful with the knowledge of Faith, and watered with piety. 

How to Serve in the Role of the Acolyte

Prior to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Equipment for the Role of the Acolyte
Unlike some of the other roles, the Acolyte deals mainly with his vestments, and the candles he holds, as well as those on the altar. All he pretty much needs to fulfill his role are the following:
  • Basic Surplice and Cassock
  • Altar Server Candles

Source unknown. 

Here's what a "traditional" Acolyte candle looks like. It it NOT the same as the torch bearer's torches (although, as will be said below, acolytes can substitute for torch bearers at times ...)
  • Source of fire, preferably a long lighter OR a Taper with wick
  • Cruets for Water and Wine
  • Ablution bowl
  • Ablution Towel

Preparations for the Holy Mass
As acolytes, you will come ahead of time to the sacristy, after brief reflection and prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. You should arrive at least 20 minutes prior to Mass, or whenever you are asked to by your priest/instructor/MC. You will need time to do certain tasks.

Unless assigned to a different server or taken by another, either of you will be responsible for lighting the candles on the altar. Remember that for High/Solemn Masses that you are to light the 6 main altar candles. To jot your memory, from my highest rated posting from my "toolkit" series, here's a refresher on lighting the candles in the right order:
Figure 1: The Order of Lighting Candles in the EF. (12, How to Serve ...). 

You light the candles in the order of the numbers, starting at the closest candle to the tabernacle on the Gospel side, going outward. Also, remember to genuflect when you cross the center going to the other side!  

When the clergy arrive to start preparing for the Mass in the sacristy, the second acolyte is ``paired`` to the sub-deacon, and the first acolyte is ``paired`` to the deacon. In essence, think of the analogy, fittingly so, is that you are that clergy member`s personal servant. Think of it as quite the honour to be serving an alter christus in the Mass, or one in formation to be so. You might help them place their dalmatics and/or stole  over their person, or help to tie their albs/amices. Once the celebrant is vested, each acolyte hands the maniples to the deacon/subdeacon to kiss, and then put on the left arm of each cleric. (115, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described). Be forewarned, however, that the clerics possibly may not need your help. That's fine too. Just don't forget to say your vesting prayers and don your cassock and surplice before Mass begins.

 The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass 

The Mass of the Catechumens

Entrance Procession

Regardless whether there is an Asperges ritual or not, your place in procession will remain the same going to the Altar. Using my common diagram for the procession to the altar for the Solemn Mass, your places are as follows: 

Figure 2: Order of Procession in Solemn Latin Mass with guide below:

Arrow - Direction of the procession train.
BB - Boat Bearer (if present)
Th - Thurifer with censer/thurible
Ac - Acolyte 1 and 2 (arbitrary numbers were jotted in my notebook only. "2nd" acolyte is to the left, "primary/1st" acolyte is to the right of Cb)
Cb - Cross Bearer
bb - boat bearer (scratched out for that Mass)
Tb - Torch Bearers (in groups of two)
MC - Master of Ceremonies
SD - Sub deacon
D - Deacon
P - Priest/Celebrant

1a) The Asperges Takes Place (109-111 The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described; 8, 11, Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated with Pictures.)

In the event that there is an Asperges, the acolytes play no significant role in this part of the liturgy. They approach the altar with the cross-bearer (if present), genuflect upon reaching the foot of the altar, and place their candles at the credence tables. They then retreat to their designated seating area either in the sanctuary, or behind the clergy members. The acolytes will kneel from the Asperges Me prayer on, until the Priest has finished sprinkling the altar, and any other clergy if the Mass is Solemn. They will then be sprinkled with blessed holy water, and remain staining as the rest of the ritual is carried out. 

After the priests and accompanying clergy (or servers in a High mass,) return to the sanctuary, and the clergy member(s) return(s) to the sediliae, the acolytes might, or will be needed, to help the clergy vest for Mass.

  • High Mass: Acolyte 1, helps the priest remove his cope, and places it in the sanctuary. or an appropriate location in the meantime. Afterwards, both acolytes at the priest`s sides, help him don the chausable. They will then, with the MC, come to the foot of the altar and make the proper reverences.  
  • Solemn Latin Mass: Unless otherwise instructed not to by your clergy, MC, or instructors, You will be helping the clergy. When the Priest returns to the sanctuary with the other clergy, the priest will take off his cope to be handed off to a server. The MC usually will do this, or acolyte 1 might take this away, as per the High Mass. While the MC will attend to the celebrant to help him don his maniple and chausable, Acolyte 1 will do the same with the deacon`s maniple, and Acolyte 2 with the subdeacon`s maniple. The acolytes will then remain in their designated place to kneel upon the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. 

1b) No Asperges
When there is no Asperges, the acolytes will still be aligned with the cross-bearer. They may either genuflect with the cross-bearer at the foot of the altar, and then proceed to their spots while setting their candles at the corners of the credence table, OR they will assume positions like in Figure 3 below, genuflect all at once with the clergy at the foot of the altar, and then go to the credence table to deposit their candles. Regardless, after depositing their candles at the credence, they go to their spots near the credence table, or behind the clergy they are paired up with (Acolyte 1 = Deacon, Acolyte 2 = Subdeacon).

The Foot of the Altar to Preparation for the Gospels
During these parts of the Mass, the acolytes play no primary roles in the liturgy. They remain seated near the credence table, and stand, kneel, etc. at the various parts of the Mass. As a reminder of when to do what action, the acolytes do the following:

  • Prayers at the F.O.A. - Servers are kneeling
  • Incensation of the Altar - Servers not assisting P or other roles, are still kneeling. This will usually apply to the acolytes. 
  • * Gloria - Servers stand, as clergy recite the Gloria. Once the clergy return to the sediliae, and sit, so do you as well. As the choir sings the Gloria, whenever the priests take off their biretta you will do a head bow. 
  • Collect - Servers are standing
  • Epistle - Servers are sitting
  • Gradual/Alleluia - Severs will remain sitting, until the Alleluia (or solely the gradual) is sung. 

* Note, though, that should a Gloria be present, you as an acolyte behind your "paired" minister, unless otherwise instructed not to by your clergy, MC, or instructors, will assist the ministers in sitting down. Both will go to the sediliae of their paired clergy member to get their biretta. Missa Cantata: 
Missa Solemnis: Acolyte 1 will hand the deacon his biretta, while Acolyte 2 hands the deacon his biretta. After handing their birettas, they will help their clergy member sit down by gently lifting their dalmatics and tunicle, over the sediliae.

Preparation for the Gospel
Once the thurifer (Th) approaches the altar and allows the celebrant to put incense into the thurible, this is the cue for the acolytes to gather their candles from the credence table. They will wait at the epistle side corner of the altar, until Th comes down from the altar, and Th starts to turn and process to the center.

Missa Cantata/Sung Mass (Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures. 27-31; Ceremonial for the Missa Cantata, 38-44)
What occurs during this part of the Latin Mass is highly similar, and attached with, the role of the thurifer, as they process and stay together as a group for this portion.

While Th is standing at the side of the predella and doing the incensation preparation, AC1 and 2 come to the center below the predella in front of the tabernacle, genuflect, and go and get their candles from the credence table. They return to the center of the sancutary and create a space in the middle for the Th.

Th will now go to the spot in between the acolytes after stepping away from the predella. The MC retrieves the missal, and does a shorter "V" pattern transfer, stopping midway in front of you, behind P. All the servers below the predella genuflect at once. Here's the Formation:

Figure 3: Positions in the Missa Cantata including Thurifer in Preparation for the Gospel.

MC then completes the missal transfer while ACs and Th proceed to the Gospel side of the altar, but the "long way" around, not the short way/"V" like the MC. You should end up like this:

Figure 3: Positions after Missal transfer of main servers.

Once all servers are in place, the MC walks down the steps of the Altar on the Gospel side and comes to the Th. You and Th bow to the MC, and Th gives MC the thurible. MC will then take the censer to the right of P for the incensation of the Gospel.

Once the gospel is being read, the MC will give Th back the thurible, and they bow to each other. The Th will remain in place with the acolytes until the end of the Gospel.

Missa Solemnis/Solemn Mass

The Acolytes (Ac's) walk with Th to assume the standard 6-person formation before the Gospel:

Figure 3: Solemn High Mass positions for Gospel. (How to Serve ..., 77). Ac2 is to the left but behind Th, with Ac1 to Ac2's right, behind the Master of Ceremonies. 

Once in the position, wait for your cue from the MC at the appropriate time, do a single genuflection, then turn inward 180 degrees to start processing down the altar, and then to the "left side" to be in the formation for the Gospel.

What your left side will be, will depend on the Church. The ``IDEAL Standard,`` would be that the party of 6 does their formation inside the sanctuary. However, in smaller churches or ones without altar rails, this might be done on the floor of the body of the church, just before the sanctuary, on the Church's left side. If brave and determined, one can do the full Gospel formation in small, gated sanctuaries. It's a tight fit though.

Regardless, small, large, rails and gates or not, you will be the first to process to the designated spot. When you and your fellow acolyte arrive, you will turn inward 90 degrees, and face each other until the subdeacon (SD) arrives with the Evangelarium between you. Once the  SD is between you, you will either stay in position, or you might turn another 90 degrees to face towards the D (with Th and MC by his sides). Your final positions should look like this:

Figure 5: Solemn High Mass positions at Reading of Gospel

The Gospel (including returning to the Sanctuary)
Missa Cantata/Sung Mass

After, You and Th go back to you places at the center as before the Gospel in Figure 3, and genuflect with the P and MC. You then retreat with Th back to the credence area/epistle side, put your candles back on the stand, and take your seat.

Missa Solemnis/Solemn Mass

Once there, Deacon (D) will incense the Gospel. Th hands the thurible behind D's back to the MC, who will hand it to D. D incenses the gospel, and then Th receives the thurible back from the MC behind D's back. After the Gospel is finished, there are two variations of proceedings:
  1. You, the MC, and subdeacon will go back to their places on the altar. The ACs will be at the sides of MC and SD, will genuflect together, and retreat back up to the altar. This is the proceeding that has been done with masses I have served.  
  2. As per Fortescue 117-118 in Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, The MC and AC's lead the deacon to the foot of the altar, while SD goes ahead and back onto the altar near P. All will genuflect with D when he does so. D will incense the celebrant from the foot of the altar (or just outside the sanctuary in the middle) after Th gives the thurible to him, At a signal from the MC, all genuflect and retreat to their positions on the altar. 

Post Gospel to the Offertory
You will remain seated for the homily in your designated spots.

During the Credo, if not excused from doing so for the Mass by your priest/MC/instructor, you will repeat your duties as per when a Gloria is sung, that is attending to your clerical "partner" when it comes to the biretta and lifting up the dalmatic and tunicle for sitting down. (see: The Foot ... Gospel.)

The Offertory
1a) Normal Proceedings

High Mass (Cantata): If it is customary of your parish/organization, etc. to do so, upon the priest preparing to offer the Host, the acolytes may rise and come to the center of the sanctuary before beginning their primary duties, genuflect, and then return to the credence table (Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures, 35.) Ac1 OR Ac2 might be responsible for bringing up the chalice veil and leaving it on the right side of the altar. Offering of the water and wine may be done in two ways:

  • Ac1 brings up the water and wine on the cruet tray, and leaves it on the right side of the altar. He waits patiently, in plano, until the water and wine has been poured into the chalice. Once the cruets are not in use anymore, he takes the cruets on their tray, gives a head bow to the Priest, and returns with the items to the credence table. (The Altar Server`s Handbook, 46)
  • Ac1 takes the wine cruet and Ac2 takes the water cruet. They wait in plano away from the epistle side predellae. As the priest comes to the Epistle corner with the chalice, together, the Ac`s approach the predella on the epistle side and go up to the lowest steps. (Technical note: please have the handle of the cruet facing the priest, away from you. It`s easier for P to handle the cruet that way.) Ac1 kisses the wine cruet and gives it with his right hand to P. Ac1 kisses the hand of the priest, receives the cruet wit his left hand from P, and then kisses it. Ac2 repeats the exact way in which Ac1 handed over and received his cruet with P, except that after kissing the water cruet, P will bless the water, then take it for the offertory. Both Ac`s then do a slight to P in unison, turn towards one another and descend the altar steps, back to the credence table. (Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures, 35-36).
Solemn Mass (Solemnis): After the ``Oremus``, SD will go to the credence table area to be donned with the humeral veil, and to retrieve the chalice. If the MC does not assist the sub-deacon with donning the humeral veil, it will be Acolyte 2 who will assist. While being donned with the humeral veil, Ac1 folds up the chalice veil if handed to him and places it on the upper right corner of the altar, while Ac2 puts on SD`s veil. Once those tasks are carried out, Ac1 will carry out offering the cruets with their tray, as per the first option above in the Cantata.  

BOTH Cantata & Solemnis: After presenting the cruets for the offerings of water and wine, at the credence table, Th, and BB if present, will do their actions for the incensing of the altar. While incensing of the altar is taking place, one of Ac1, Ac2, or the MC, will remove the altar missal, already at the Gospel side, from the altar, prior to incensing the epistle side of the altar: 
  • In most altar serving books and guides, the action of removing the missal in the Cantata is usually cited as being performed by Ac1. In the Solemnis, the MC is usually cited to be the one to remove the altar missal. Be advised that at your P`s/MC's/instructor's request, Ac1, Ac2, or the MC could do this, if P does not desire the accompaniment of Th and MC at his sides for incensing the altar. This is at their discretion AND does not invalidate the sacred liturgy. 
The person removing the missal will come the long way to to the center of the sanctuary below the steps, genuflect, and go to the Gospel side of the altar, next to the Missal. That person will be up at the altar just before the Priest with accompaniment (MC+Th or SD and D), bows in the center of the altar during the incensing, and have the missal in their hands. The person with the missal does a head bow when the priest genuflects, and goes down the steps. He waits in plano until the incensing of the Gospel side of the altar is done, and then places the altar missal back, returning the long way to their spot. They will genuflect if they must cross the center of the sanctuary back to their position.

Now, the acolytes will get ready for the ablutions while the MC or SD in the Solemnis, is incensing P. Normally, Ac1 becomes responsible for the ablution towel, and Ac2 will take the water cruet and the ablution bowl. However it is possible that these roles might be reversed. If reversed, this does not invalidate the liturgy.

Regardless, the server with the towel MUST be at the right side of whomever has the bowl.

The acolyte with the finger towel can hold it one of two ways:

  1. You drape your towel over your right arm, like a butler, and then put your left hand on your chest, flat palm and fingers together.  
  2. The towel goes over the fingers of your hands, while they are in the "prayer" position. Your fingers together form "the rack" for the towel. 
Continuing on in this guide, assume that Ac2, as usually cited, has the water and ablution bowl, and Ac1 has the finger towel.

Once P has been incensed, and Th departs from the epistle side of the altar, the AC's approach the epistle side of the altar. The Ac's do a head bow.

Ac2 pours water over the fingers of P. Ac1 extends his arm out with the towel to P. P then takes the ablution towel from Ac1's arm and dries his fingers. Once dry, Ac's bow, turn inward, and return to the credence to put back their items. They return to their spots. They are to then pay attention to the Th, because they will be incensed. When Th looks their direction to incense them, they are to stand, do a head bow with Th before being incensed, be incensed, then bow in unison with Th.

Ac's may then proceed in unison to the center of the sanctuary, genuflect, separate to the corners of the predellae of the altar closest to their side. They might come to the predellae before the consecration at a later point in the mass as well, remaining at their spots until then. If they do come after incensing, the bell should be with Ac1 on the right side, having been placed there before Mass begins. 

Once the Th starts to incense all the other servers, he will eventually come to incense the acolytes. Both will bow with Th before he censes them. Either each acolyte receives a single "ping" of the thurible, or the acolytes be incensed in a group of servers (including possibly the boat bearer and/or torches.) After being censered, you bow with Th.

1b) When the Acolytes Substitute for the Torchbearers
In the instance that there are not enough servers for torchbearers, and your priest/instructor/MC has deemed it necessary, after you assist with the offertory duties above in 1a, you will go retrieve your candles from the credence table, genuflect in the center together, and then split slightly apart to both sides, to become "pseudo-torchbearers" You might flank the corners of the predella steps, OR in the sanctuary, where the altar rails come to the center on both sides.

You will be assisted by other servers and/or the clergy when you are to receive communion. They will take your torch if needed, to allow you to receive communion in your places.

You remain as torch bearer until either a) after the tabernacle is closed, if communion is distributed to the faithful, or b) until after the elevation of the Precious Blood in the case communion is NOT distributed. When they are finished their role, Ac's get up, go to the center of the sanctuary, genuflect, and return their candles to the credence table.

As for your "normal" duties during the Canon of the Mass until you return your candles/torches to their place, do not worry. These duties will be taken up by other servers in the mass. such as the MC.

Post-Offertory to Pre-communion Under Normal Proceedings

BOTH Cantata & Solemnis: Once the offertory is finished, you will remain at your place in the sanctuary, following the cues of the priests. When it comes time for the consecration, one of the acolytes will be responsible for ringing the bells. This task usually is assigned to Acolyte 1. Acolyte 1 will ring the bells at the following instances:

  • The Sanctus: Ac rings the bell once, at each "Sanctus" 
  • The Hanc Igitur: The priest spreads his hands flat over the Chalice.
  • The Consecration (major elevation) of the Body of Christ: Ring once when P genuflects, 3 times 2-3 rings, ring once when P genuflects after elevation. 
  • The Consecration (major elevation) of the Blood of Christ: Ring once when P genuflects, 3 times 2-3 rings, ring once when P genuflects after elevation. 
  • The minor elevation: Ac rings the bell one time. 
  • Optional: When the priest consumes the precious blood, the bell receives a minor ring. This is up to your priest/instructor/MC.
When the Deacon kneels at the consecration, that is when the acolytes kneel as well.

Missa Cantata: 
The servers will remain in their place, kneeling, sitting, and/or standing at the appropriate times.

Missa Solemnis:
At the Pater Noster, when P says "Dimitte Nobis," Usually Ac1 takes the humeral veil from the SD (at the epistle side of the altar,) then genuflects with SD before returning the veil to the sacristy, and returning to their seat. Of course, at the instruction of P or your MC/instructor, this role may be delegated to AC2. 

  • Optional: Ac's and Crucifer might receive the "Pax," and then kneel once again. This is not mandatory for the Ac's to participate in this part of the liturgy, and is at the discretion of the P/MC/instructor. 

Communion of the Servers and Laity
After the celebrant received the precious blood (Ac1 might ring bell at this point if asked,) the servers will follow the MC to the front of the altar to prepare to received communion. However, the last server to come out from the right should take the communion paten from the credence table, with them to the lineup.

They will line up, genuflect together, then kneel together. When the SD and D receive communion, rise on signal from the MC, and ascend the predellae to the 3rd or 2nd closest step to the altar. Knell on signal from the MC.

In addition, if your community/parish allows it, you are allowed to say the "2nd" Confiteor as a group with the clergy.

You will say the Domine, non sum dignus 3x. It is HERE you will pat your chest each time and say the lines. This is the Latin for what we currently say in the revised Novus Ordo Mass responses (Lord, I am not worthy that thou should enter under my roof ...)

Your communion will be distributed from left to right. After you have received, you will in orderly fashion, return to your places in the pews to pray in reflection of the great gift of the Lord you have received. If one of the Ac's is the last server to receive communion, and has the paten, he will likely be asked to assist the priest/D/SD with the communion of the laity. I put all three positions, because in a Mass where your clergy consist of members with major orders, another of those clergy might be a second priest handing out communion to the laity. The MC or the 3rd clergy member would go with P and use the actual paten with the Chalice.

Upon completing handing out communion to the faithful, you will give the paten to the clergy member to be taken up to the altar for cleaning, ensuring that no particle of the Body of Christ is wasted. Return to your seat until it is time for your individual duty as Ac1 or Ac2.

Post Communion Ablutions
Cantata - Both Acs- Both acolytes will be part of the ablutions. Ac1 gets the wine cruet and Ac2 gets the water cruet. they wait in plano at the epistle side of the altar. When P holds out the chalice, that is the cue for Ac1 to approach P at the altar. Ac1 pours wine into the chalice. P might indicate by raising the chalice slightly for you to stop pouring wine in. If so, stop, and go back to the top step of the predella. Once P comes to the side and holds out the chalice with his finvers over it, that is your cue for both Ac's to approach P. Ac1 pours wine over his fingers, and the signal to stop is like before. He will then want Ac2 to pour water over his fingers, with the same stopping signal. Bow to the altar, and go back to the credence table with your cruets.

Be warned, however, that if P/MC/instructor requests it, you might just be handing your cruets over to the MC first, who will do the actions of the pourings for you, and hand you the cruets back.
(Crumly. "Serving at Missa Cantata (The Acolytes at Missa Cantata)")

Solemnis - Ac1: Once the Priest places the consecrated Body of Christ back in the tabernacle, this is the cue for Acolyte 1, to go and retrieve the water and wine cruets on their tray again from the credence table. He will then wait in plano at the sides of the predellae for .... Ac1 then places the cruets on the table, and waits in plano for the time to retrieve them. Once finished, Ac1 will take the cruet tray with cruets off the altar, returns the set to the credence table, and then takes his seat.

Post Communion Altar "Clean-up"
Missa Cantata - Ac2: 
Ac2 will NOT be responsible for taking the chalice veil from the right corner of the altar. He might, however, have to move the missal from the Gospel side to the epistle side, if the MC does not do the duty.

Missa Solemnis - Ac2: 
Ac2 will be responsible for taking the chalice veil from the right corner of the altar, and waits at the right side of the MC, or slightly off to the side, ready to enter the center of the sanctuary, in front of the altar. Ideally, When D removes the Missal from the gospel side and descends, Ac2 crosses behind the MC, genuflecting behind the SD, who is in line with D. A figure of the movements pre-formation, and at formation are provided.
Figure 6: Position of Ac2 with Chalice Veil prior to Crossover

Figure 7: Ac2 and Sacred Ministers at Crossover

However, Ac2 might simply be alone in taking the long way, genuflecting in the center, and not lining up with the D. Ac2 then goes to the Gospel side of the altar to deliver the chalice veil, going around the bottom step to get there. He will help the priest "build the chalice" by giving him the veil. Once the chalice is "built," Ac2 proceeds to the credence table with the SD, genuflecting behind the SD when crossing the front of the altar.

Dismissal and Last Gospel, and Final Blessings inside the Sacristy
The Ac's do the usual cues that are expected of the faithful at this point. They remain in their places. During the Last Gospel, they will kneel at "In facto Caro est ...." Once this is complete, they will arise, get their acolyte candles, to process down the centre aisle with the crucifer between them. Th and BB should go first, followed by crucifer and Ac's, then torchbearers. They go until the are a short length away from the sanctuary, a length that gives enough room for the MC and clergy to complete the formation. Once they have reached this point, the whole party stops and turns to face the altar from their positions.

Figure 8: Exit Procession Positions Facing the Altar

When the Last Gospel is finished, and the last genuflection in the sanctuary has been done, the MC will come down with the clergy. All will genuflect at a given command except the crucifer (who does a slight head bow), and then everyone turns inward to face the entrance of the church and process out, and back to the sacristy in their formation.

Inside, they are to remain in position facing the crucifix, until P arrives to give a final prayer and blessing. After, you are finished, and can perform your clean up duties of the altar. 

Works Cited
"Acolyte." Wikipedia. Retrieved Feb 2014. <>

Britt, Dom. Matthew. How to Serve in Simple, Solemn, and Pontifical Functions. 3rd ed. Tan Books and Publishers: U.S.A. 2008.

Crumly, Arthur. Serving at MISSA CANATA (The Acolytes at Missa Cantata. Retrieved Nov 2015: <>

Fortescue, A., O'Connell, J.B., and Reid, A. The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. Fifteenth Edition. Burn & Oates: London, U.K. 2009.

Haynes, Scott A. Traditional Latin High Mass Illustrated by Pictures. Biretta Books: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. 2009.

"Knights of the altar Handbook." Retrieved 27 Mar 2015.

Lynch, J.S.M. The Rite of Ordination According to The Roman Pontifical. 2nd Ed. The Cathedral Library Assocaition: New York, N.Y, USA. 1892. Retrieved Feb 2014: <>.

Ryan, E. Candles in the Roman Rite. Romanitas Press: Kansas City, Missouri, USA. 2009.

The Archcofraternity of Saint Stephen. The Altar Server`s Handbook. Biretta Books: Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Version 1.0. Completed December 12, 2015. 

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