Ministries of Lector and Acolyte

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Ministries of Lector and Acolyte

ROME, 3 MAY 2016 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I’m a seminarian, and I am interested in the liturgy of lector and acolyte minor orders. Can you please help with me with a short introduction for this liturgy? The objective is to give people some information on what the minor order is about and its significance. — L.L., Mumbai, India

A: I might be too late to help this particular seminarian, as it is likely that he has already received these ministries. However, the information may benefit others.

The lay ministries (they are no longer called minor orders) of lector and acolyte were established by Pope Paul VI in 1973 with the apostolic letter “Ministeria Quaedam.” They are to be given to all candidates for orders. These ministries are also open to male laity not aspiring to sacred orders, but in reality few dioceses have made effective use of this possibility.

In order to confer them, the following conditions should be met:

“8. The following are requirements for admission to the ministries:

“a) the presentation of a petition that has been freely made out and signed by the aspirant to the Ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) who has the right to accept the petition;

“b) a suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the conference of bishops;

“c) a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people.

“9. The ministries are conferred by the Ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) through the liturgical rite De institutione lectoris and De institutione acolythi as revised by the Apostolic See.

“10. An interval, determined by the Holy See or the conferences of bishops, shall be observed between the conferring of the ministries of reader and acolyte whenever more than one ministry is conferred on the same person.

“11. Unless they have already done so, candidates for ordination as deacons and priests are to receive the ministries of reader and acolyte and are to exercise them for a suitable time, in order to be better disposed for the future service of the word and of the altar. Dispensation from receiving these ministries on the part of such candidates is reserved to the Holy See. 

“12. The conferring of ministries does not bring with it the right to support or remuneration from the Church.

“13. The rite of institution of readers and acolytes will soon be published by the competent department of the Roman Curia.”

The essential norms of this document were later incorporated into canons 230 and 1035 of the Code of Canon Law.

“Canon 230 §1. Lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.

“Nevertheless, the conferral of these ministries does not grant them the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.”

A man can thus be instituted lector without necessarily aspiring to become an acolyte, but it does not appear that one may become an acolyte without passing through lectorate. For many practical reasons these ministries are almost exclusively conferred upon candidates for the priesthood and diaconate.

Canon 1035 says the following:

“§1. Before anyone is promoted to the permanent or transitional diaconate, he is required to have received the ministries of lector and acolyte and to have exercised them for a suitable period of time. 

“§2. There is to be an interval of at least six months between the conferral of the ministry of acolyte and the diaconate.”

With respect to the functions of the ministry the General Introduction to the Roman Missal has this to say: 

“C. The duties of the acolyte

“187. The duties that the acolyte may carry out are of various kinds and several may coincide. Hence, it is desirable that these duties be suitably distributed among several acolytes. If, however, only one acolyte is present, he should perform the more important duties while the rest are to be distributed among several ministers.

“The Introductory Rites

“188. In the procession to the altar, the acolyte may carry the cross, walking between two ministers with lighted candles. Upon reaching the altar, the acolyte places the cross upright near the altar so that it may serve as the altar cross; otherwise, he puts it in a worthy place. Then he takes his place in the sanctuary.

“189. Through the entire celebration, the acolyte is to approach the priest or the deacon, whenever necessary, in order to present the book to them and to assist them in any other way required. Thus it is appropriate, insofar as possible, that the acolyte occupy a place from which he can conveniently carry out his ministry either at the chair or at the altar. 

“The Liturgy of the Eucharist

“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.

“193. After the celebration of Mass, the acolyte and other ministers return in procession to the sacristy, together with the deacon and the priest in the same way and order in which they entered.

“D. The duties of the lector

“Introductory Rites

“194. In coming to the altar, when no deacon is present, the lector, wearing approved attire, may carry the Book of the Gospels, which is to be slightly elevated. In that case, the lector walks in front of the priest but otherwise along with the other ministers.

“195. Upon reaching the altar, the lector makes a profound bow with the others. If he is carrying the Book of the Gospels, he approaches the altar and places the Book of the Gospels upon it. Then the lector takes his own place in the sanctuary with the other ministers.

“The Liturgy of the Word 

“196. The lector reads from the ambo the readings that precede the Gospel. If there is no psalmist, the lector may also proclaim the responsorial Psalm after the first reading. 

“197. When no deacon is present, the lector, after the introduction by the priest, may announce from the ambo the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful.

“198. If there is no singing at the Entrance or at Communion and the antiphons in the Missal are not recited by the faithful, the lector may read them at the appropriate time (cf. above, nos. 48, 87).”

Perhaps the best presentation of these ministries comes from the discourse that the bishop delivers before conferring the ministry that is found in the rite itself.

Before conferring the ministry of lector: 

“Dear sons in Christ: Through his Son, who became man for us, God the Father has revealed the mystery of salvation and brought it to fulfillment. Jesus Christ made all things known to us and then entrusted his Church with the mission of preaching the Gospel to the whole world. 

“As readers and bearers of God’s word, you will assist in this mission, and so take on a special office within the Christian community; you will be given a responsibility in the service of the faith, which is rooted in the word of God. You will proclaim that word in the liturgical assembly, instruct children and adults in the faith and prepare them to receive the sacraments worthily. You will bring the message of salvation to those who have not yet received it. Thus with your help men and women will come to know God our Father and his Son Jesus Christ, whom he sent, and so be able to reach eternal life. 

“In proclaiming God’s word to others, accept it yourselves in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Meditate on it constantly, so that each day you will have a deeper love of the Scriptures, and in all you say and do show forth to the world our Savior, Jesus Christ.” 

Before conferring the ministry of acolyte:

“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.’”

* * *

Follow-up: Ministries of Lector and Acolyte [5-24-2016]

In the wake of our May 3 piece on ministries a Nebraska reader asked: “If an acolyte is reposing the Blessed Sacrament after a time of exposition, can he say the invocation and prayer normally done by the priest or deacon (i.e., everything except the Benediction itself), or should he only do the parts normally done by all, the hymn and Divine Praises?”

The prayers and songs that are used during exposition are not strictly liturgical, but are rather acts of popular piety. Therefore any layperson, and not just an instituted acolyte, may use them.

It is true that in some places it is customary for the priest or deacon to recite some prayers or litanies immediately before intoning the “Tantum Ergo” before Benediction. But in fact such prayers and litanies can be used at any moment of the exposition and can be directed or guided by anyone.

In consequence, wherever this custom exists, it is possible to recite these prayers before reserving the Blessed Sacrament.

It would not be correct, however, to sing the “Tantum Ergo” and its accompanying prayer as this is tied up with the rite of incensing before Benediction and its use could cause confusion.

Some other Eucharistic hymn, or the recitation or singing of the Divine Praises, may accompany the simple reservation.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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