“A vital part of worship, they blend into the background helping our liturgies flow smoothly. Whether you are a young person, an adult, or one who oversees the training of acolytes, it is a privilege to serve at God’s altar.”
Acolytes in Church History
The word acolyte is derived from the Greek word akolouthos, meaning companion, attendant, or helper. The ministry of acolytes has its roots in the Old Testament, where the prophet Samuel is seen assisting Eli, the Levite priest, and Elisha is seen assisting Elijah, the prophet.
The highest of the four Minor Orders of the ancient Church, being an acolyte is a service of honor to God and to the worshiping community. The primary purpose of the order was to prepare young men for the priesthood. Their duties included lighting and extinguishing candles, carrying candles in procession, taking charge of the alms basin (offering bowl), helping the priest prepare for the Eucharist, and generally fetching and carrying. References in early texts also reveal that some acolytes carried consecrated (or blessed) bread to other churches, took Communion to the sick and imprisoned, and helped prepare and examine candidates for Baptism or Confirmation.
Between the fifth and ninth centuries, in a series of ancient directions to the clergy known as the Ordines Romani, acolyte duties are described and include the information that acolytes led and organized processions preceding the Pope. In the same time period, we also see the predecessor of modern gospel processions as two acolytes carried candles to accompany the reader and ensure that he had enough light to see the text.
The patron of those who serve at the altar is Vincent, Deacon and Martyr. He lived in the late third century, was martyred in the year 304, and is commemorated on the calendar on January 22. Vincent is remembered for his love of God, his faithfulness to his bishop, and his unswerving loyalty to his responsibilities.
Today we see acolytes (male and female) dressed in robes of red or white, quietly carrying torches, crosses, thuribles, alms basins and cruets. A vital part of worship, they blend into the background helping our liturgies flow smoothly. Whether you are a young person, an adult, or one who oversees the training of acolytes, it is a privilege to serve at God’s altar.
A Commissioning Service of Acolytes
The exact speakers are not specified, and you can therefore adapt the following for your context.
Sponsor: I present to you these persons to be admitted to the ministry of Acolyte in this congregation.
Antiphon: Do no be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to God, and to be God’s minister.
Versicle: I will go to the altar of God;
Response: To the God of my joy and gladness.
Let us pray: O God, bless the acolytes of your Church that they may so serve before your earthly altar in reverence and holiness, that they may attain, with all your saints and angels, the joy of serving you and worshiping you before your Heavenly Altar; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Leader: In the Name of God and of this congregation, I commission you N. as Acolyte in this Church, (and give you this __________ as a token of your ministry).
-Taken from “A Manual for Acolytes: The Duties of the Server at Liturgical Celebrations” by Dennis G. Michno (1981: Morehouse).
Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, soon-to-be-grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.
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