The Ministry of Acolyte

January 5, 2022

Saint John’s Seminary is a house of formation where men are conformed to Christ in order to be sent out for the sacred ministry of the Catholic priesthood. If you visit our main chapel, you marvel at the detail and richness of its architecture. Each ornament carries a meaning, related either to the history of the Church, to Scriptural inspiration, or to apostolic foundation, or to the minor orders (ministries) essentially related to the priesthood. Located at the top of the wall on each of the chapel’s sides in stained glass, these ministry symbols express the gradualness of priestly formation. Approaching the altar, you will see, above the Apostles’ paintings on both sides, the symbols of ministries that a seminarian will receive along his way toward the priesthood. At the top of the right-side wall very close to the altar, there is a rounded stained glass window of two cruets of wine and water, symbolizing the ministry of Acolyte, which is instituted at the very last stage of a man’s priestly formation, right before diaconate and presbyterate.

“Acolyte” derives from a Greek term, akolouthos, which means “server,” “companion,” or “follower.” In the Roman Catholic Church, a person is installed in the ministry of Acolyte in order to assist the deacon and the priest in liturgical celebrations, especially the Eucharistic Liturgy. Besides the deacon and the priest, the acolyte is the one closest to the altar. In order to be instituted an Acolyte, a seminarian first has to be a candidate and a lector, which means he has to be at least five years in formation. This tradition indicates the significance of the Acolyte’s ministry, which is linked closely to the sacred ministry of the priesthood.

The acolyte plays an essential role in the celebration of the Holy Mass. The General Instructions of the Roman Missal clearly indicates his duties (no. 178-193). Two of them that are of special significance: setting up the altar and distributing Holy Communion. Both St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine speak of the angels surrounding the altar and helping the priest when he is celebrating Holy Mass. As an acolyte, I have the honor to be there among the heavenly hosts and to join them in their praise and thanksgiving to God. Together with the angels of the Lord, I prepare the altar where the Lord becomes the High Priest offering Himself as the perfect Sacrifice and on which He becomes the Bread from Heaven to feed His sheep. St. John Chrysostom also cries out, “Behold the royal table. The angels serve at it. The Lord Himself is present.”

As an acolyte, I may also distribute Holy Communion to God’s people. I imagine the angels will step aside in humility to make way for me. With reverence, I will place the Blessed Host before each communicant and say, “The Body of Christ.” Waiting for their “Amen,” I will remind myself of my own “Amen” in silence: Do I simply look at the veil of the bread or fix my eyes on the hidden reality, Who is my God?; Do I truly believe that I am holding Christ, my Lord, in my hands?; Do I hold my Lord with proportional appreciation?; Do I believe that this bread can save and transform human hearts? Though these questions may not be answered well and fully each time, they deserve constant contemplation. The mystery of the Real Presence of the Lord, who is transcendent yet exists in the form of bread, is always the endless inspiration for men of all ages, and particularly for me as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

Recalling the prayer of the Acolyte Institution, “Make your life worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and of His Church,” I am fully aware of the fact that I could never be or make my life worthy to be there with my own effort alone. And yet, everything becomes possible with the One I serve. Please pray for my classmates and myself in this service, so that we may become more worthy by God’s grace to be present at the Altar and the Table of the Lord.

Article by:
Mr. Nguyen Dinh
Third Theology

The Acolyte Installation Mass took place on Sunday, November 21 on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Bishop Robert Reed, of the Archdiocese of Boston, celebrated the Mass which is held annually for candidates to the priesthood as a step toward Holy Orders (Canon 1035).