ASK FATHER: Should I accept an invitation to be installed as an acolyte?

From a reader…


First, thanks. Your blog helped me find my way back into the Church after many years and was very formative for me.

I and several other men I’m close with have been asked by our pastor and parochial vicar to become instituted acolytes as part of a push for liturgical reform at our large suburban parish. Our pastor is excellent and I want to support his efforts which I think will include a TLM at some point but I’m a little uncomfortable at the thought of being an EMHC and of spending less time in the pew with my 3, so far, young children. Perhaps you could speak to these two concerns directly as well as the factors in play generally.

Once again thank you so much for the work you do and be assured of my friends prayers for you.

So many things come to mind.

First, thanks for the kind words at the top.  They help.

In no special order of precedence…

It could be that seeing their father involved will also be formative for your children, provided that mom can handle it all.

Having men as instituted acolytes will help to reduce or get rid of the vocation repressing scourge of women in the sanctuary as EMHCs, servers, etc.  Yes, I wrote “scourge”.  Freak out, libs.  I’m pretty sure that that is also what the pastor of this parish is aiming at.  Good for him.

Do a search on the word “acolyte” and see what dreadful images come up.  The more male installed acolytes the better.

It could be helpful for you to gather the men who have been approached to be installed as acolytes and then negotiate with the pastor the implementation of ad orientem worship and the TLM.

See this as a step toward better days.  Things are not accomplished overnight in parishes.  A brick by brick approach is often needed to bring about long term changes.  You can be part of a solution.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Maximilian75 says:

    This would also allow the questioner to serve as a subdeacon for the EF, which is quite a unique and beautiful opportunity.

  2. mamajen says:

    We went to mass at a cathedral during our summer travels out of state, and there was a female acolyte. I freaked out (internally). It’s not that I haven’t seen “altar girls” before. This woman looked to be in her 50s or 60s and was wearing the traditional black and white garb. As I watched her setting things up for mass, I was panicked, thinking we had mistakenly landed in a protestant church, or worse, a heterodox catholic one with a woman “priest” or “deacon”. I was able to establish that we were, indeed, in a Catholic place, held my breath, and ended up pleasantly surprised by the mass itself (the Prayer to St. Michael was even included at the end!). The “altar woman” kind of quietly did her job and wasn’t the center of attention during mass. Still, such visuals can be confusing and alarming for visitors.

    In this case, I had the impression that they were short on help, at least for the mass we attended. I’ve been in so many churches where they struggle to find boys and men to step up. So, yes, if you can help, please do!

  3. Geoffrey says:

    As an instituted acolyte myself, I would like to encourage the reader to run (not walk) to accept this invitation. It is wonderful that a pastor is working on implementing the instituted ministries in his parish, and I assume he has his bishop’s full support.

    I was always uncomfortable being an EMHC, but institution is Holy Mother Church’s official “blessing” when it comes to being an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. You are not just a liturgical lay minister, but an official minister of the Church… not an ordained minister, but an instituted minister.

    An instituted acolyte should also have the proper sense to be the first to “step aside” when there are enough clergy present, etc…. something many non-instituted liturgical lay ministers seem to balk at!

    I am also a new father, and I rarely ever sit in the pew with my wife and toddler son. We view it as an important work that serves as an example, not only to the congregation, but most importantly to our son, who many in the parish already assume he will one day be an altar server.

    I have always believed that the proper (and long-overdue) implementation of the instituted ministries as envisioned by St Paul VI is an important step in the so-called “reform of the reform”. Instituted acolytes (subdeacons) could also serve at Masses in the extraordinary form as servers, if not as a “straw” subdeacon at solemn Masses.

  4. JabbaPapa says:

    I’m a little uncomfortable at the thought of being an EMHC

    Aren’t Acolytes Ordinary Ministers thereof, and so OMHCs ?

    But I’d be more thankful that your PP considers you as being someone worthy to provide teaching assistance to your parish than anything else … likely your Bishop too.

  5. Amerikaner says:

    To bishops – install acolytes and lectors!

  6. threej says:

    “Aren’t Acolytes Ordinary Ministers thereof, and so OMHCs ?”

    Nope. We’re EMHCs of first preference, but still only “extraordinary.”

    Also, our institution as EMHCs is permanent, whereas other EMHCs are theoretically only temporary.

  7. restoration says:

    I would accept the pastor’s offer, but make it clear that you will not, under any circumstances, distribute Holy Communion. That is solely for the consecrated hands of a priest. Please show your children a good example by maintaining Eucharistic reverence. I would also decline to ever serve alongside women or girls. If he won’t accept these ground rules, I would respectfully decline.

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    Thanks threej.

  9. Discerning Altar Boy says:

    They wouldn’t even be straw subdeacons. There’s no difference nowadays between acolyte and the minor order of the subdiaconate. A man installed as an acolyte is the same as a traditional order’s subdeacon.

  10. Geoffrey says:


    Instituted acolytes are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion by right of institution. It is part of our ministry, always giving way to ordained ministers when there are plenty to be had. Instituted acolytes are capable of giving the example of Eucharistic reverence. And from the sounds of it, this pastor could be “phasing out” women in the sanctuary by seeking instituted acolytes.

    Step by step.

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  12. Imrahil says:

    And besides, an installed acolyte is among other things an installed lector, which will make it much easier to have a decent TLM Easter Vigil some time in the future.

  13. restoration says:


    My point is that the very notion of an EMHC is an artificial deformation of the liturgy. It was a Freemasonic trojan horse from the start to destroy belief in the Real Presence and diminish the sacred character of the priesthood. It worked.

    The priest has an intimacy with the Eucharist that is akin to a man with his wife. You have no right to touch the sacred species just as you don’t have an “extraordinary” right to touch another man’s wife in an intimate way.

    The article above by Fr. McLucas is the best on the topic and it changed my entire view.

    I applaud men of good will who want to restore the masculine nature of the sanctuary, but we can’t get there by Eucharistic sacrilege to include non-ordained men touching the Sacrament, women touching the Sacrament, standing for communion and communion in the hand. Laymen and women need to help Father by refusing to play along with these novelties anymore.

  14. Geoffrey says:


    I have never once heard of such an analogy as you describe. As an instituted acolyte (subdeacon), I indeed have no right to touch the Blessed Sacrament; Holy Mother Church has given me permission by virtue of institution. I did not make the rules.

    For good or ill, Mother Church has permitted the existence of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion for decades now. It is abused in places? Certainly. But we have to deal with hard realities and practicalities: extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are here to stay for the foreseeable future. What can we do? How do we counter this?

    The long-overdue implementation of the instituted ministries is a start, followed by the proper formation of other EMHCs… and always prayer for vocations to the priesthood and diaconate, so that the use of EMHCs, whether instituted or commissioned, may be “safe, legal, and rare”.

  15. Fr. Kelly says:

    You are making a stronger claim here the Church does — or ever did.

    Consider St. Tarcisius.

    There are actual situations in which someone other than the priest is allowed to handle the Most Blessed Sacrament. (One such case is the Instituted Acolyte who is permitted by Church law to assist the priest in the distribution of Holy Communion when there are not sufficient priests available.)

    St. Tarcisius, Pray for us.

  16. Geoffrey says:

    @Discerning Altar Boy:

    I think the difference would be that an instituted acolyte / subdeacon would not use the biretta or maniple, as these belong to the clergy. He would only wear the tunic / tunicle.

  17. Shonkin says:

    In my parish, the “adult acolytes” program was started a few months ago. All of them are EMHCs, and about half are women.
    What do they do? They do some of the things our single solitary permanent deacon would do if he were at Mass. They set up the 4 extra chalices, unlock the tabernacle (!!), remove the ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament, and do other things the celebrant (IMHO) ought to be doing.
    They (men and women) wear albs and some sort of yellow stole. One of them is an 18 year old girl who just entered college this fall and who also still serves as an altar girl some of the time.
    Why do we need this “adult acolyte” business anyway? Whose idea was this and what is the purpose? Is it just to stuff more people into the sanctuary and make them feel useful? Or is it to degrade and de-emphasize the uniqueness and dignity of a real ordained priest?
    I even wonder why there is a permanent deacon at some Masses to read the Gospel, set up and arrange the bread and wine for consecration, say some of the prayers (the Kyrie, the Ite Missa Est, etc.) and sometimes to preach the homily.
    Maybe our new bishop will end this practice once he is ordained, but I somehow doubt it.

  18. Fr. Kelly says:

    Whatever your parish means by “adult acolytes” from your description, it is not what the Church means.

    Acolytes bear a part of the priestly ministry and so are only men.
    Before St. Paul VI’s document Ministeria quaedam, there were 4 Minor orders preparatory to the reception of the subdiaconate, diaconate and priesthood.
    With that document, he suppressed the subdiaconate, reduced the 4 Minor orders to two – lector and acolyte, (which were thenceforth to be called ministries) and opened the possibility of men being admitted to lector, acolyte and diaconate on a stable basis.
    The former orders of porter, exorcist and subdeacon are rolled into Lector and acolyte and entry into these ministries is called institution instead of ordination. But in no way can they be open to women.
    Your parish’s use of that name is wrong and confusing.

  19. Hidden One says:


    Instituted acolytes have not always been first instituted as lectors. I know that the logic of it all is that they should be, but that does not in fact always occur. Furthermore, the fact of being installed an acolyte does not grant one the rights, privileges, and duties possessed by the instituted lector.

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