Glossary / A / Acolyte

An acolyte is someone who assists in the ceremonial rituals of a church, particularly in roles that support the main clergy during worship services.

Think of them as the helpers or apprentices in religious ceremonies, where they might carry out tasks like lighting candles, carrying processional crosses, or assisting with the preparation of the altar.

The role of an acolyte can serve as an introductory experience for those learning about or deeply engaging with their faith, often seen in various Christian denominations.

This role not only helps the service run smoothly but also deeply involves individuals in the religious practices and traditions of their community.

Meaning of the word “Acolyte”

The word “Acolyte” come from Greek akolouthos, which means “server,” “companion,” or “follower”.

History of the “Acolyte”

The earliest mention of the acolyte role is traced back to the era of Pope Victor I (circa 189–199 AD), with further and frequent references appearing in Roman ecclesiastical texts from the fourth century onwards.

The “Acolyte” role was also recognized in North Africa, yet remained largely exclusive to Rome and this region until its expansion across the Western Church in the 10th century.

The Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563, aimed to revitalize this ecclesiastical function on a pastoral basis, eventually categorizing it as a minor ecclesiastical role, serving primarily as an initial step towards priesthood.

On January 1, 1973, under the guidance of Pope Paul VI, a significant reform was implemented, redefining the acolyte position not as a minor order but as a ministerial role accessible to lay members of the church.

Contrastingly, the Eastern Church has historically not incorporated the acolyte order into its clerical hierarchy. In Protestant denominations, particularly within Anglican and Lutheran communities, acolytes usually assume the responsibility of lighting candles during worship services, embodying lay participation in liturgical functions.