Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Church Offices
Church Offices QUESTION from Mike Mallinger on December 19, 2002 What is the difference between an acolyte and an eucharistic minister? Where can I find a detailed explanation of the duties and responsibilites of the office of eucharistic minister? Why the necessity for two such similar offices in the Church?
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on December 25, 2002 Dear Mr. Mallinger,
I think that the best distinction between the two is that the acolyte is instituted and so an office of the church. Think of the acolyte as an official altar server, instituted by a bishop, who assists the priests and deacons at Mass. The particular duties are explain in the General Instruction, which is found in the Sacramentary. In short, the duties include preparing the altar before and during Mass, carrying the book and candles, receiving the gifts of bread and wine, and assisting with incense. Most sources that explain the role of the acolyte will also state that their role is to purify vessels, but this has been changed with the new instruction. Now, only ordained ministers may do this.
The role of the acolyte is ancient, up until the Second Vatican Council it was a minor order, received among the other three (lector, exorcist and porter) by those who were to be ordained priests.
Now, the minor orders have been suppressed, but lector and acolyte have been retained as instituted ministries available to men. They are still usually received by candidates to the priesthood, and in rare cases also by laymen. Since acolytes are so rare, their duties are normally delegated to altar servers.
The term Eucharistic Minister should only be applied to ordinary eucharistic ministers, who are deacons and priests. I believe that you are asking about extraordinary eucharistic ministers, who can be lay. Their duty is simply to distribute Holy Communion when there is an insufficient supply of ordinary ministers. This is ALL that they should do.
As the role of the EME developed over the years, their duties were explained in several documents. Try Immensae Caritatis and Inaestimabile Donum as official sources. Beware of unofficial sources, which may tend to exaggerate the role.
Oh, and also... the role of EME is to be considered as open to women as it is to men. The earlier document does not say this, but later ones do. Acolyte is reserved to men.
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