Acolytes (Altar Servers)

Guidelines for the Altar Server/Acolytes

Altar Servers should arrive 20 minutes before Mass begins. 

They need to make sure that:

            The candles are lit

            Bread and Wine are on the Gift table at the back of the church

            Book of the Gospel holder is on the altar in the appropriate place

            Get any “special” instructions from the Celebrant

            Sign in on the sheet in the Sacristy

The Altar Server should dress in the appropriate vestments/alb in the Priest Sacristy. 

Once they are dressed they should make sure that they have a Missalette available for their use during Mass so they can fully participate in the Mass.  They may carry it in during the procession and if they are carrying something in procession, they should go and place a book on the chair they will be sitting on at Mass. 

At the entrance procession one Altar Server will carry in the processional cross.  The second altar server will walk directly before the Celebrant (priest) and after the Lector. The Altar Server should sing the opening song with the congregation as they process in.

Altar Servers who are not carrying anything make a profound bow to the altar when all who are processing in get to the base of the altar as the Celebrant bows.

Servers should go to their designated places.

As soon as the priest takes his place at his chair, one server is ready to approach him with the Sacramentary.  The Server holds the book while standing slightly to the side of the priest.

If the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling of Water is to be used, the Server stands ready to assist the priest as needed.  This may require the Altar Server to accompany the Celebrant through the congregation.

If incense will be used again in the liturgy, the server is responsible for keeping the coals in the censer burning.  This is usually the job of an adult server

The servers listen attentively to the proclamation of God’s word and join in the singing of the responsorial psalm.

If the incense is used at the Gospel, the Server with the censer and incense brings them to the priest as soon as the Gospel Acclamation begins.  The priest puts incense in the censer.  If the Book of the Gospel is on the altar, the priest goes in procession with the Book from the altar to the ambo.  After the priest says “A reading from the Holy Gospel…” and signs himself, the Server gives the censer to the priest who incenses the Book of the GospelAfter the Gospel, the Servers return the censer to their place.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

When the presider sits down for the Offertory Hymn the Servers take the book holder off of the altar and place it on the lower shelf of the credence table.  The Servers place the purificator, the chalice, the communion wine cups and the Sacramentary on the altar. Once this is done they can go back to their chairs until they are ready to receive the gifts from the parishioners with the Presider.  They assist the priest in receiving the gifts of the people.  They may bring the bread and wine to the altar.  The collection basket is placed in the front of the altar.  The Bread and the Wine are placed on altar for the priest.

The Servers assist the Priest in the washing of his hands.  They bring the water, bowl and towel to priest that he may wash his hands.

The servers are attentive during the Eucharistic Prayer through their posture and by joining in the singing of the Eucharistic Acclamations.  They will kneel in the designated place.


During the Lamb of God the servers will stand at their designated spot.  When they go up to the altar they need to take the purificators (white clothes) to the altar and places them by each communion wine cup.  The servers, after they and everyone at the altar received communion, will take the priest chalice back to the wooden tray and can take the Sacramentary back with them to the chair.  After Communion, a server holds the Sacramentary at the priest’s chair for the Prayer after Communion

The Concluding Rites

If a more solemn blessing or the prayer over the people is used, a server continues to hold the Sacramentary at the priest’s chair.

After the dismissal, the Servers (with censer, cross and candles if used) gather in the usual place before the altar.  If they are not carrying anything, they make a profound bow to the altar with the priest.

All depart in the order in which they entered

After Mass   

After Mass, the servers extinguish the candles, properly dispose of lighted coals, assist with other clean up as needed, and carefully hang up their vestments.

Additional Reflections for Altar Servers

Servers regularly attend Mass, even when they are not scheduled to serve.  This way they keep current of the expectations of the Server and reinforced the established guidelines.

Servers know the flow and movement of the liturgy well enough to anticipate the needs to the priest and other ministers.  They do not need to be invited to perform their normal duties

Attentive servers therefore are always alert to unanticipated events during Mass (i.e. a forgotten Sacramentary, a blown out candle, a dropped cruet).   Well-trained and experienced Servers learn to deal with such incidents calmly and quietly.

Altar Servers move in a deliberate and graceful manner.  Rushed movements and gestures take attention away from the central action of the priest and other ministers.  Servers carry, present and use liturgical objects with dignity; this usually means carrying and holding items with two hands

In order to participate more fully in the Mass and to model appropriate prayer for others in the assembly, it is desirable that Servers know Mass prayers such as the Confiteor, the Gloria, the Profession of Faith, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Servers should also be able to gracefully make the various gestures used at Mass (e.g. The Sign of the Cross, the triple signing at the Gospel, and a profound bow)

Attention to personal grooming is expected of an excellent server.  Hair should be dry, clean, and neatly combed.  Ideally, dress shoes should be worn.  Hands and fingernails should be clean and neatly manicured.

Definition of Terms:

Altar Server/Acolyte - person who assists in the celebration of Mass.

Alb - a long, white garment that can be used by all liturgical ministers; it is a reminder of the baptismal garment worn when the new Christian "puts on Christ."

Brazier - a metal pan used to hold incense.

Celebrant - the person who presides over the assembly and consecrates the Eucharist.

Censer: - The covered incense burner swung on a chain as part of a religious ritual

Chalice (CHAL-is) - the large cup used to hold the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ.

Ciborium (si-BORE-ee-um) - a vessel used to hold the Hosts which will be used for communion; some are cup-like and others are bowl/plate like; they are also used to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

Cincture (SINGK-sure) - a long cord used for fastening some albs at the waist; it holds the loose-fitting type of alb in place and is used to adjust it to the proper length; it is usually white, although the liturgical color of the day may be used.

Communion Cups - chalice-like vessels used at communion when the people receive from the cup; they are kept on the Credence Table and brought to the Altar at communion time.

Concelebrants - the priests and bishops who join the celebrant in celebrating the Mass.

Corporal: - From the Latin word “corpus, corporis” which means “body”, the corporal is the white cloth that folds easily and is placed on the altar to catch particles of the Eucharist (The Body of Christ) which may fall during the breaking of the bread.

Credence Table: a table near the altar on which is found the vessels and objects that will be needed for the mass.  It is located near the place where the servers sit in the sanctuary.

Decanter or Flagon (FLAG-un) - the bottle- or pitcher-like vessel used to hold the wine which will be consecrated at Mass for the communion of the people; it is brought forth with the gifts.

Eucharistic Prayer - the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. It is the center of the celebration. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the Church believes that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ

Gloria - ancient hymn of praise in which the Church glorifies God. It is used on all Sundays, except for those during Advent and Lent, and at solemn celebrations. The text originates from the Christmas narrative in the Gospel of Luke (2:14 - "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.")

Homily - a reflection by the celebrant or other minister on the Scripture readings and on the application of the texts in the daily lives of the assembled community.

Hymnal/Missalette - contains all parts of the Mass for a specific season in the liturgical year, including instructions on when to stand, sit, or kneel.

Incense – Material (usually certain barks or other plant products) used to produce a pleasant and odorous smoke when burned.  Incense used at Mass to symbolize our prayers rising to God.

Lavabo Dish – The small glass dish used to wash the celebrant’s hands during Mass

Lectionary - contains the scripture readings for Mass.

Liturgy of the Word - the occasion during Mass when readings from the Scriptures are proclaimed and reflected upon. On Sundays and major feasts, there are three readings:  (First reading - from the Old Testament, Second reading - from the Epistles & the Gospel)

Liturgy of the Eucharist - the section of the celebration when the gifts of bread and wine are prepared and the Eucharistic Prayer is proclaimed by the celebrant, and the Blessed Sacrament is distributed to the assembly.

Lord's Prayer (Our Father) - the prayer of petition for both daily food (which means the Eucharistic bread for Christians) and the forgiveness of sins.

Mass - the common name for the Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic Church. Also referred to as Eucharist, Celebration of the Liturgy, Eucharistic celebration, Sacrifice of the Mass, Lord's Supper.

Pall – The large white cloth, symbolic of the white baptismal garment, which is placed over the casket at a funeral.

Paten (PAT-en) - a saucer-like disk that holds the bread that becomes the Body of Christ.

Penitential Rite - a general acknowledgement of sinfulness by the entire assembly, accompanied by requests for God's mercy and forgiveness.

Profession of Faith - the assembly joins to recall and proclaim the fundamental teachings of the Roman Catholic faith. The Profession of Faith is also called the Creed.

Pulpit – Also known as the lectern or ambo, this is the tall bookstand from which the Word of God is proclaimed at Mass.

Purificator - a white clothe used to cleanse the chalice.

Responsorial Psalm - the psalm that is spoken or sung between the first and second readings. The response is repeated after each verse.

Sacramentary - contains the opening prayer, prayer over the gifts, prayer after communion, and solemn blessings, Eucharistic prayers and prefaces for all of the Masses, including special occasions.

Sacristy – The sacristy is the room where the celebrants and altar servers/acolytes prepare for Mass

Sanctuary - the part of the church where the altar is located.

Sanctuary Lamp – This candle burns at all times near the tabernacle to remind us that Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament

Tabernacle – The metal structure in the sanctuary in which the Blessed Sacrament (the Holy Eucharist) is reserved after communion. You should always Bow as you pass the Tabernacle.

Washing of Hands - an expression of the desire for inward purification. The celebrant washes his hands in symbolic cleansing to prepare himself just as the gifts have been prepared