In the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of posts about the different lay led liturgical roles, as we work on involving more and more people in our worship. Each post will end with an opportunity for you to step into the particular role that I have written about.
From the beginning, priests have needed helpers. When Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to worship God and receive the Law, Joshua went with him. Samuel was helping the priest Eli when he heard a voice calling to him in the night. Even Jesus had someone to help hand around the plates and distribute the wine at the Last Supper. Any act of public worship seems to require both a leader and those who assist that leader. It’s as if God is asking us to admit that we need help, and that part of our purpose in life is to provide help to one another.
The Greek word akolouthos means attendant, companion, helper. The word acolyte is derived from it and, I believe, contains all of these meanings. Acolytes help the priest, but they also attend to the needs of the whole worshipping community, and help everyone worship God with both passion and dignity. Throughout its history, the church has named acolytes the most important of the “minor orders,” which included, at various times, exorcists, doorkeepers, lectors, cantors, and tomb diggers. People were ordained by a bishop to fulfill these roles. Since the reformation, we no longer require bishops to ordain acolytes, lectors, or cantors, but that doesn’t mean that we think they’re any less important. Good worship requires good order, good storytelling, good art. Priests and deacons still require help in making our liturgy prayerful and worshipful.
The roles of an acolyte in worship are many. Acolytes join the procession as torch bearers or crucifer (the person who carries the cross). When the deacon reads the Gospel from the center of the sanctuary, acolytes carry torches whose light reiterates that Jesus is the Light of the World. It isn’t uncommon for an acolyte to hold the Gospel Book for the deacon, especially when we’re using incense. At the eucharist, acolytes help the deacon set the table. After the eucharist, they take the sanctified bread and wine to the tabernacle. At the end of the service, they lead the procession, symbolically taking our beliefs and our ethics beyond our worship and out into the world. Plus, they get to wear fun robes!
Anyone of any age can be an acolyte. If you are interested in becoming an acolyte at St. Stephen’s, send me an email and I will arrange to train you and add you to the schedule. As part of your training, you will receive a book of specific rubrics that will help guide you in this ministry.