Altar Servers


The following guidelines were prepared by the Committee on the Liturgy and presented to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for discussion at the June 1994 Special Assembly on Thursday, June 16, 1994. The suggested guidelines have been slightly revised according to the third edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. They may be used as a basis for developing diocesan guidelines.

Although institution into the ministry of acolyte is reserved to lay men, the diocesan bishop may permit the liturgical functions of the instituted acolyte to be carried out by altar servers, men and women, boys and girls. Such persons may carry out all the functions listed in no. 100 (with the exception of the distribution of Holy Communion) and nos. 187 – 190 and no. 193 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

The determination that women and girls may function as servers in the liturgy should be made by the bishop on the diocesan level so that there might be a uniform diocesan policy.

No distinction should be made between the functions carried out in the sanctuary by men and boys and those carried out by women and girls. The term “altar boys” should be replaced by “servers”. The term “server” should be used for those who carry out the functions of the instituted acolyte.

Servers should be mature enough to understand their responsibilities and to carry them out well and with appropriate reverence. They should have already received holy communion for the first time and normally receive the eucharist whenever they participate in the liturgy.

Servers should receive proper formation before they begin to function. The formation should include instruction on the Mass and its parts and their meaning, the various objects used in the liturgy (their names and use), and the various functions of the server during the Mass and other liturgical celebrations. Servers should also receive appropriate guidance on maintaining proper decorum and attire when serving Mass and other functions.

Since the role of server is integral to the normal celebration of the Mass, at least one server should assist the priest. On Sundays and other more important occasions, two or more servers should be employed to carry out the various functions normally entrusted to these ministers.

Acolytes, altar servers, readers, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other suitable vesture or other appropriate or dignified clothing. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no.339) All servers should wear the same liturgical vesture.

Servers carry the cross, the processional candles, hold the book for the priest celebrant when he is not at the altar, carry the incense and censer, present the bread, wine, and water to the priest during the preparation of the gifts or assist him when he receives the gifts from the people, wash the hands of the priest, assist the priest celebrant and deacon as necessary.

Servers respond to the prayers and dialogues of the priest along with the congregation. They also join in singing the hymns and other chants of the liturgy.

Servers should be seated in a place from which they can easily assist the priest celebrant and deacon. The place next to the priest is normally reserved for the deacon.

Servers may not distribute holy communion unless they have been mandated for this function by the bishop.

The Order for the Blessing of Altar Servers, Sacristans, Musicians, and Ushers (Book of Blessings, nos. 1847-1870) may be used before servers first begin to function in this ministry.

May the Lord be in our hearts and on our lips
so we might live the holy gospel of Jesus Christ
and proclaim it to all the world!

“The Word of the Lord.” These five words tell us a lot about the ministry of the lector. Whether you are simply interested in liturgical ministry, are thinking about becoming a lector, or have been serving in this ministry for a long time, think for a moment about the words, ‘The Word of the Lord.” When the proclaimer at the lectern finishes the reading, looks up at the assembly and says, “The Word of the Lord.” something wonderful has happened. The mystery of God’s interaction with us has been recalled, revived and renewed. That is, we have once again heard God reveal the divine intention to love, redeem and reclaim us. The promise, the covenant, that God has made with us has been written on our hearts again…The unfathomable love God has for us, the love that God is for us, has been made flesh again.

The lector does what any good minister does: comforts us in our suffering, rouses us from our lethargy, confirms us in our faith, encourages us in our discouragement. All ministry is the noble and unselfish impulse to tell the good news of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ…”When the scriptures are read in the church, it is Christ himself who speaks” So says the church in teaching us about liturgical prayer. All Christians are, by definition, proclaimers of the good news. Because we were baptized into Christ’s life, mission, death, resurrection and ascension, we announce to the world by our very existence that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”…Each time the Eucharist is celebrated, we hear Jesus say, “Do this in memory of me.” At Mass we are doing something – not talking about something, not simply remembering something, not merely speaking words. We are speaking deeds – deeds that are accomplished at the moment they are spoken. God’s word is an event, a happening, an accomplishment, a fulfilled promise, an act of love. And at its fullest expression, God’s word is a person – Jesus, Word made flesh. So it is with the proclamation of the word. It is far more than a telling, a relating, a recounting; it is God’s Word becoming flesh in our midst in order to achieve the purpose for which it was sent – to redeem us in love. Can there be any more compelling reason to proclaim the word effectively?

“The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue, that I may speak to the weary a word that will rouse them” – Isaiah 50:4

(Excerpts from the “Guide for Lectors – Aelred Rosser, OSB)