The acolyte typically works in a pair, and is responsible for carrying the processional candles and for assisting the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon during Communion, largely in moving objects between the altar and the credence.
Carrying a Candle
In procession, the acolytes carry silver candlesticks rather than the wooden-handled torches (these are carried by the torchbearers). Carry the candle with the interior hand (the one facing away from the pew and toward the crucifer) on the base, and the exterior hand (the one nearest the pews and facing away from the crucifer) on the stem of the candlestick near the center. Hold the candle straight up and down; avoid tilting it or holding it at an angle. Prior to the service, acolytes should coordinate to determine a comfortable carrying position that will ensure that the candles are held at the same height. If there is a height disparity between acolytes, the taller partner should accommodate the shorter by carrying his or her candle lower. Hold the candle at a comfortable distance out in front of you.
Responsibilities and Conduct
The acolyte is expected to arrive no later than 30 minutes prior to his or her assigned service. Repeated tardiness will result in probationary status and possible dismissal from the Guild.
Upon arriving, the acolyte should vest in cassock (and rope cincture, where appropriate) and surplice.
Checking the Processional Candles
It is the responsibility of the acolyte to check the processional candles to ensure they are clean and in good repair. When necessary, ask a member of the Altar Guild for a cleaning cloth to dust the candles. If a candle is excessively tarnished, please notify the Acolyte Warden, who will make arrangements to have the candle polished. Unlike the torches, the processional candles are stored in the sacristy and must remain there at all times when not being used in the service. These candles are valuable and should not be left unattended.
Lighting and Extinguishing the Altar Tapers
When there are no torchbearers serving, acolytes are responsible for lighting the altar tapers prior to the start of the service. Tapers should be lit no later than 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the service. See “Order for Lighting Altar Candles” for more information.
The acolytes flank the crucifer on the left and right, leading the procession behind the verger (if there is one present). Upon reaching the sanctuary, the crucifer and acolytes pause to acknowledge the altar with a slight bow of the head, and then the acolytes move to the credence and place the processional candles upon it. Once the candles are in place, the acolytes move to the foot of the altar steps, facing toward the cathedra.
Liturgy of the Word
The acolytes remain standing for the opening salutation, Collect for Purity, Summary of the Law, Kyrie (when used) and Gloria, observing reverences as outlined above at the appropriate time. The acolytes sit at the Old Testament and New Testament readings, moving to the benches on the gospel side of the sanctuary as necessary. When moving to the opposite side of the sanctuary, acolytes should move as a pair, pausing to reverence the altar together when passing in front of it.
At the cue from the minister of ceremonies during the sequence hymn, acolytes retrieve the processional candles from the credence and meet the crucifer at the foot of the sanctuary, outside of the altar rail and facing the altar, for the gospel procession. When returning from the gospel procession, the acolytes place the the processional candles back on the credence and then proceed to the bench on the gospel side of the sanctuary, where they are seated for the sermon. For greater detail on the gospel procession, see “Gospel Procession” in the “Processions” section of this customary.
Following the cues of the minister of ceremonies, stand for the Nicene Creed and Intercessions, and kneel for the Confession of Sin.
During the Peace, the acolytes take up position near the credence. When the subdeacon receives the veiled chalice from the minister of ceremonies, the acolytes move side by side to the steps near the epistle horn of the altar, with the acolyte closest to the altar carrying the water cruet which he or she has retrieved from the credence. This acolyte hands the cruet to the subdeacon, waiting to receive it back, and then returns it to the credence. One of the acolytes also receives the folded veil from the subdeacon, placing it on the credence. Once the offerings are presented, the acolyte furthest from the altar receives the alms bason, handing it to the minister of ceremonies.
After the gifts have been received and after the altar has been censed, the acolytes take the water cruet, dish, and towel and wash the celebrant’s hands, the first acolyte holding the lavabo and the second acolyte holding the cruet and dish. The acolytes bow to the the celebrant before and after. The acolytes replace the lavabo, cruet, and dish on the credence and move to the foot of the altar steps in front of their kneeling cushions.
Canon of the Mass
As mentioned above, the acolytes take up positions standing at the foot of the altar on the epistle side, facing the altar. After the Sanctus and Benedictus, and at the cue from the minister of ceremonies, the acolytes should kneel. At the beginning of the Agnus Dei, the acolytes move to their positions at the credence. The acolyte closest to the altar takes the additional chalices from the credence and places them on the altar to the right of the corporal, and returns to the credence.
The acolytes should stand to receive Communion with the rest of the altar party, and upon receiving Communion should move to their positions at the credence to await instructions or requests from the sacred ministers.
As Communion is concluding, the acolytes ascend the steps on the epistle side of the altar and await the cleaned vessels from the minister of ceremonies. The first acolyte receives the cleaned chalices, while the second acolyte receives the ciborium and flagon. Together, they move to the credence to place the objects there. The first acolyte then returns to the altar to receive the veiled chalice, and returns to the credence with it.
Post-Communion Prayer and Retiring Procession
The acolytes should kneel on the bottom-most step of the altar during the Post-Communion Prayer and Blessing. Immediately after the blessing, the acolytes move to retrieve the processional candles from the credence, and move to the altar rail, facing the altar, to join the crucifer. Once in place, all nod to reverence the altar, and turn to lead the retiring procession. Upon reaching the narthex, the acolytes turn with the crucifer to face the oncoming procession and remain in place until the dismissal has concluded.
After the dismissal, the acolytes return the processional candles to the sacristy before returning to the vesting area.