Back when I was a full-time church member and active member of the altar party (the people who make the service “go”), I wrote out instructions for how to be an acolyte. There probably were instructions written down somewhere. I was never given any. I was given a quick explanation five minutes before the service and away I went, figuring it out on the fly. Sometimes I sat next to the acolyte master, sometimes across from. Either way, there were a lot of directions gotten on the fly, either whispered or pointed. It was a bit nerve-wracking, because things changed from week to week, depending on how many acolytes there were. There never were enough. I wrote out these instructions to myself so I’d have something to look back over during the week as a refresher. I provide them here as some insight on the role of the acolyte, and on how much emphasis the modern church puts on show. Some of this may only make sense if you have been an acolyte.
“First” means the crucifer – the one who holds the big cross. “Second” means the one who holds the smaller cross. There are also (ideally) two torchbearers. Sometimes there are just two acolytes and they end up doing all the roles.
Light the candles 15 minutes before the service begins. Facing the cross, the left-hand altar (gospel) candle is always lit second, and never is left lit alone.
The series of candles behind the altar are lit from the inside to the outside, extinguish opposite.
Light altar, then behind the altar. Enter at front, leave on side. Turn to bow at stairs.
At beginning – take cross or torch and meet in the center front. Left hand on top of cross pole.
Big first, two torches in middle, then second cross. Face the crucifix. Bow. Turn towards the cross. Process to the front to collect priest in foyer.
Come back in. Bow at crucifix (with head – don’t bob the torch or cross)
If two torchbearers, stand on either side of crucifer.
(Dismiss for children’s church – second takes cross and leads kids to the top of the stairs, comes back, puts cross back. Regathers the children at the confession of sins (with cross))
At Gospel reading time, gather torches and cross and meet at the center front as before. Second holds no cross but waits for the priest who raises the gospel, hands it to second.
Turn to the right, process to the seventh pew. Turn, second holds the gospel braced against chest.
When returning, stand to side, crucifix always leads.
Oblations (Priest says “Walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself as an offering and perfect sacrifice for us”). Second rises, gathers alms trays from first, (bows) stands to the left of the entrance. Waits for oblationers, ushers. Gives top two basins to ushers, takes count from ushers and takes it to the altar.
Waits to Gospel side for ushers to return. Takes two alms basins on top of main basin, turns to altar, raising it up, gives to first. Priest blesses the alms.
Rail closing – two together, do it without gloves so you won’t snag. Don’t forget to bow. Done after “the gifts of God for the people of God…” lines.
Keep gloves in belt. (cincture)
Open back when Communion is over, and the cleaning-up happens.
At final hymn, extinguish candles – altar (left -gospel side first) and behind altar-(outside to inside). Enter to extinguish from the front, leave on side). Turn to bow at stairs.
Gather torches and cross, arrange as before, turn right, process out.