Last week, my brother formation classmates and I each received letters from our Bishop in response to our recent letters to him.
Mine read, “I have received your letter… petitioning to be instituted in the Ministry of Acolyte and confirming your intention to continue formation for the permanent diaconate. I have also received the letter from your wife, Suzanne, endorsing your petition… After receiving the endorsement of your petition by those entrusted with your formation, I am happy to inform you of my intention to institute you in the Ministry of Acolyte on September 12, 2020.”
We’re excited for this next step in our formation, the formal rite by which we will be instituted as acolytes in service of the church. This is the third and final “minor order” to receive prior to diaconate ordination (the other two minor orders are the Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders and the Institution of Lector, both of which we have already received.)
What is an Acolyte?
Here’s some relevant information from the Ceremonial of Bishops:
27. In the ministry of the altar acolytes have their own proper functions and should exercise these even though ministers of a higher rank may be present.
28. Acolytes receive institution so that they may help the deacon and minister to the priest. Their proper ministry is to look after the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and priest in liturgical services, especially the celebration of the Mass. In addition, acolytes may serve as special ministers of the eucharist, giving holy communion in accord with the norms of the law.
When necessary, acolytes should instruct those who serve as ministers in liturgical rites by carrying the book, the cross, candles, or the censer or by performing other similar duties. But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that all such ministerial functions be carried out by formally instituted acolytes, and if a number are present, they should divide the ministries accordingly.
29. So they may fulfill their responsibilities more worthily, acolytes should take part in the celebration of the eucharist with ever increasing devotion, as the source of their spiritual life and the object of an ever-deeper appreciation. They should seek to acquire an interior and spiritual sense of their ministry so that each day they may offer themselves wholly to God and grow in sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, and especially for the members who are weak and infirm.
From the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM):
Additional responsibility at the altar, including purification of the sacred vessels is a key added responsibility as an acolyte.
190. If no deacon is present, after the Prayer of the Faithful is concluded 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 used, the acolyte presents the thurible to the priest and assists him while he incenses the gifts, 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 giving Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, when no deacon is present, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction.
192. Likewise, when the distribution of Communion is completed, a duly instituted acolyte helps the priest or deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. When no deacon is present, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes, and arranges them in the usual way.
279. The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then drunk by whoever does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator.
Text for the Institution, from the Roman Pontifical:
Bishop: Dear sons in Christ, as people chosen for the ministry of acolyte, you will have a special role in the Church’s ministry. The summit and source of the Church’s life is the Eucharist, which builds up the Christian community and makes it grow. It is your responsibility to assist Priests and Deacons in carrying out their ministry, and as special ministers to give Holy Communion to the faithful at the liturgy and to the sick. Because you are specially called to this ministry, you should strive to live more fully by the Lord’s Sacrifice and to be molded more perfectly in its likeness. You should seek to understand the deep spiritual meaning of what you do, so that you may offer yourselves daily to God as spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Jesus Christ. In performing your ministry bear in mind that, as you share the one bread with your brothers and sisters, so you form one Body with them. Show a sincere love for Christ’s Mystical Body, God’s holy people, and especially for the weak and the sick. Be obedient to the commandment which the Lord gave to his Apostles at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I also have loved you.”
Brothers and Sisters, let us pray to the Lord for those chosen by him to serve in the ministry of acolyte. Let us ask him to fill them with his blessing and strengthen them for faithful service in his Church.
God of mercy,
Through your only Son
you entrusted the bread of life to your Church.
Bless + our brothers
who have been chosen for the ministry of acolyte.
Grant that they may be faithful
in the service of your altar
and in giving to others the Bread of Life;
may they grow always in faith and love,
and so build up your Church.
Through Christ our Lord.
Each candidate goes to the Bishop, who gives him a vessel with the bread or wine to be consecrated saying:
Take this vessel with bread (wine)
for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Make your life worthy of your service
at the table of the Lord and of his Church.
In your charity, please continue to pray for my brother classmates and me as we enter this final year of formation, and increase our ministry and service.