This page is reproduced and adapted from Ordinations: A Translation and Explanation of the Rite of Ordination by A. Biskupek, S.V.D. Mission Press, 1954
The Acolytate — the 4th and highest of the Minor Orders
The acolytate is the highest of the minor orders. The term is derived from a Greek word which signifies to follow, to accompany. The acolyte’s duty and privilege was and is to assist members of the major orders at the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice and other liturgical functions; he takes care of the light and serves the wine and water at holy Mass.
Light was always extensively used at divine services, even in the Old Testament, because of its deep significance. To the symbolic reasons was added the practical necessity, when services were held at nighttime or, as it frequently happened during the times of persecution, in the catacombs.
For a long time, acolytes performed other very important functions, at least in the Church of Rome. At the Communion of the Mass they received the sacred species in linen bags, hung around their neck, and presented them to the priest or bishop for distribution to the people. As we know from the story of St. Tarsicius, acolytes were employed to bring the Blessed Eucharist to the absent, especially the confessors of the faith detained in prison; they, likewise, carried consecrated particles from the pope’s Mass to the priests, who celebrated the sacred mysteries in the parish churches of Rome; finally, they were the bearers of the blessed bread, eulogia, which bishops exchanged among themselves as a symbol of their communion in the charity of Christ.
In the course of time, however, some of these functions were discontinued, others were taken over by members of the major orders. And, because of the practical difficulty of having ordained acolytes stationed at every church, laymen, especially boys, were admitted to act as Mass servers and torchbearers, and the order of acolyte merely served as a transition to the major orders.
If the acolytate is conferred during Mass, this is done:
Saturday before Passion Sunday: after the Kyrie.
Holy Saturday: after the Gloria.
Saturdays of Ember weeks: after the fourth lesson.
On other days, if the Mass has Gloria: after the Gloria; if the Mass has no Gloria: after the Kyrie.
The Call. The bishop, with miter on sits on the faldstool before the middle of the altar. The archdeacon bids the candidates come forward; the notary reads their names:
Let those come forward who are to be ordained to the office of acolyte: N. N., etc.
Each one answers adsum, goes before the altar and kneels, holding the burning candle in his right hand.
The Instruction. When all are assembled, the bishop addresses them as follows:
Dearly beloved sons, about to receive the office of acolyte, consider what it is that you receive. The duty of the acolyte is to carry the candlestick; to light the lights of the church, to minister wine and water at the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Hence, endeavor to discharge worthily the office received. For you cannot be pleasing to God if in your hands you carry the light for God and in your works are slaves of darkness and thus give to your fellowmen the example of faithlessness.
Rather, as the 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 lights in the world, holding forth the word of life. Therefore, let your loins be girt and burning lamps in your hands, that you may be children of the light. Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.”
What is to be understood by that light on which the Apostle insists so much, he himself explains when he adds: “For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and justice and truth.”
Be fervent, therefore, in all justice and goodness and truth, that you may enlighten yourselves and others and the Church of God. For then you will worthily minister wine and water at the divine Sacrifice when you have offered yourselves as a sacrifice to God by a chaste life and good works. May the Lord in His mercy grant it to you.
Here the candles are laid aside.
The Bestowal of the Office. The bishop now presents to each candidate a candlestick with an unlighted candle. Each one touches both, the candlestick with the thumb, and the candle with the index finger of the right hand, while the bishop says:
Receive the candlestick with the candle, and know that it is your duty to light the lights of the church in the name of the Lord.
The acolyte answers: Amen.
Then an empty cruet is presented to them. They touch it, while the bishop says:
Receive the cruet, to minister wine and water for the Eucharist of the blood of Christ, in the name of the Lord.
The acolyte answers: Amen.
Prayer. The candidates kneel. The bishop rises, with miter on, and, turned toward them, prays:
Dearly beloved brethren, let us humbly beseech God, the Father Almighty, to + bless these His servants in the order of acolyte, that as they carry the material light in their hands, they may also send forth a spiritual light by their conduct, through the help of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with Him and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
The bishop, with his miter off, turns to the altar and says:
Let Us Pray
Let us bend our knees. R. Amen.
Turning again to the candidates kneeling before him, the bishop prays:
Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, Thou hast sent the light of Thy glory into this world through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, and His apostles, and hast willed that, in order to blot out the ancient debt of our death He should be fastened to the most glorious standard of the 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, that they may faithfully serve at Thy holy altars, attend to the lighting of Thy Church, and minister wine and water for the consecration of the blood of Christ, Thy Son, at the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Enkindle, O Lord, their minds and hearts with they love of Thy grace, so that, alight with they splendor of Thy countenance, they may faithfully serve Thee in holy Church. Through the same Christ our Lord. R. Amen.
Let Us Pray
Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, who didst speak to Moses and Aaron that lamps should be lighted in the Tabernacle of the Testimony, bless + these Thy servants, that thy may be acolytes in Thy Church. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.
Let Us Pray
Almighty, everlasting God, Fountain of light and Source of goodness, who has enlightened the world through Jesus Christ Thy Son, the true light, and hast redeemed it through the mystery of His Passion, vouchsafe to + bless these Thy servants whom we ordain to the office of acolyte. We beseech Thee in Thy mercy to illumine their minds with the light of knowledge, and to refresh them with the dew of Thy tender love, that with Thy help they may so fulfill the office assumed as to attain an everlasting reward. Through the same Christ our Lord. R. Amen.