What is an Acolyte?

Dear Maggie,

What is an acolyte?

Anxiously Attending
Dear Attending,

Thank ye for yer question.  Acolytes are those critical ministers in our worship who do so much but can often go unnoticed.  Acolytes are literally table servants, their name being derived from the Greek for “attendant.”  Their responsibilities are to light the candles on the altar, hold the torches for the Gospel procession, and process the cross in and out if there is a processional.  Acolytes also help the deacon with the preparation of the table. 

Originally Acolytes were considered clergy and were ordained by the bishop.  The primary sign of their ordination was the gift of a candle for it is their job to keep the light of the spirit present in worship.  The first we know of their office comes from a letter of Pope Cornelius written in 251 in which a list of the liturgical officers of Rome is noted as forty-six priests, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolytes, and fifty-two exorcists, lectors, and doorkeepers.  The early church historian Eusebius mentions that acolytes were present and helped with worship at the Council of Nicaea in 325.  Their office is indeed an ancient and honorable one!

Originally acolytes were ordained around the age of twenty, but now acolytes are welcomed into liturgical service from a wide range of ages from six to sixty and beyond!  Up until 1980 acolytes had to be male, but (thank God!) now both boys and girls, men and women can serve at God’s table.

I hope that helps you out Attending!  Yer name means you’d be a perfect match for this ancient role in Christ’s church.  I hope you’ll join in to this wonderful ministry!

Peace be with ya!