Acolyte Guide


 St Rita Catholic Church, Dade City, Florida


General Information:


To be an alter server is a great honor and responsibility.  Your role is crucial in helping the priest and deacon during the celebration of the Mass.  You are expected not only to help the priest during the Mass, but also participate through singing, and prayer.  Remember, as you are in front of the congregation, many people are watching you for an example.  This means you need to listen attentively with hands folded in your lap, and not play with your clothing, hair, and wave to your friends and family in the congregation.  If you need to communicate with each other, or the priest, remember to whisper.  Also, use the bathroom before the Mass.  You should only leave the sanctuary only if it is an emergency.  Keep in mind what you wear to serve in.  The albs are thin, and your clothing can be seen through it.  Wear appropriate church attire when possible.


Before Mass Duties:


  1. Please arrive at least 15 minutes prior to Mass.
  2. Go to the sacristy, and find a clean alb, cincture and cross to be worn.  Make sure that all albs and cincture fit properly.  The bottom of the alb should come to your ankles, and the cincture should be tied and hang on the left side.  The cross should be worn on the outside of the alb.
  3. Once dressed, find the priest celebrating the Mass, and ask for any special instructions for that Mass.
  4. Make sure that everything needed for the Mass is on the credence table.  They include:
    1. corporal
    2. at least two chalices and purificators
    3. Sacramentary or Roman Missal, and it is marked with a ribbon to the correct page for the celebration
    4. Small cruet of water
    5. Washbowl, water and finger towel
  1. Ensure that Processional Cross is on the small Chapel and the stand is beside the credence table.
  2. Make sure the book stand for the Gospel is set up, centered on the front of the altar.
  3. Other items that might be used during a special Mass are a thurible or censer, boat and aspergillum.  Ask the celebrating priest if they are needed.
  4. At 7 minutes before Mass, light all candles in the sanctuary with the candle snuffer and return it to its proper place
  5. At 5 minutes before Mass, all alter servers should meet in the small Chapel for prayer before Mass with the other ministers.


Entrance Procession:


  1. Alter servers walk up the center aisle.  The cross bearer will be in front, followed by the other alter servers, the lector, and finally the priest.  The cross bearer will set the pace for the procession, and should not go too fast.
  2. The cross bearer will bow at the altar and continue up to the stand next to the credence table.  This alter server will place the processional cross in the stand, and face it out to the congregation.  If there is more than one alter server, the other servers will go to either side of the cross bearer, and all acolytes will bow in unison, and then continue to their seats.


Introductory Rites:


After the start of the Mass and the Gloria has been sung, the priest will begin the Opening Prayer by saying “Let Us Pray.”  At this, one alter server will bring the Sacramentary to the priest.

    1. Walk in front of the altar and bow with reverence.
    2. Open the book to the marked page (with the ribbon) and hold it for the priest.
    3. Return to a seat when complete, not forgetting to bow in front of the altar.


Liturgy of the Word:


1.      As the readings are occurring, sit attentively, pray and sing when necessary.  Remember, people are watching and other children are looking to you as examples.

2.      When the Gospel is being proclaimed by the priest or deacon, two alter servers should stand on either side of the ambo or lectern.  The alter servers should approach the ambo when the priest or deacon steps up to it.  The acolytes should be standing facing the priest (or deacon) and facing each other, not the congregation.  They should be standing straight, with hands in “prayer” position or holding candles (if being used).


Preparation of the Gifts:


Once the Intercession prayers have been prayed, it is time for the alter servers to prepare for communion.


            Preparation of the altar:


            The corporal, at least 2 chalices with purificators, a paten with the bread, and the Sacramentary are needed.


1.      Unfold the corporal with the red cross nearest the priest and center of the alter (line it up with the doors or the lines of the floor).  Notice that the folds divide the corporal into 9 squares.

2.      Place the 2 chalices onto the center outside squares of the corporal, with purificators bottom outside squares.

3.      The paten with the bread should be placed in the center square

4.      Put the Sacramentary to the left of the corporal on the altar.


Presentation of the Gifts:


1.      If there is more than one alter server, one server should take the processional cross, not forgetting to bow at the altar, and meet those parishioners who will be taking up the gifts.  This alter server should lead the procession of the gifts, again bowing at the altar, and returning the cross to the stand next to the credence table, facing the congregation.

2.      The other acolytes should stand behind the priest to receive the offertory gifts.  The basket should be placed at the base and to the one side of the altar.  The priest will hand the flagon of wine and the ciborium of bread to the alter servers.  The flagon of wine should be placed at the credence table, with the cruet of water.  Place the ciborium of unconsecrated bread to the right of corporal.

3.      As the priest completes the preparation for communion, he will wash his hands.  Alter servers will present the bowl, pitcher of water and finger towel, folded over the left arm of a server, to the priest.   One server will pour the pitcher of water over the bowl, as the priest cleans his hands.  Once the priest dries his hands, all will bow to the priest in unison.


Consecration of the Eucharist:


1.      As all in the congregation are kneeling, alter servers are expected to kneel properly and have hands in the “prayer” position.

2.      As the priest elevates the Body and Blood of Christ, and acolyte is to ring the bells.  Continue to ring the bells as long as the Body and Blood are elevated.  Once the priest starts to lower it, return the bells to the pillow.  When both the Body and Blood have been raised, return the bells and pillow to under the chair.




1.      Generally, alter servers will receive communion after the congregation.  We do this so that the line at the chalice flows smoothly, and the fact that we are there to serve the people.

2.      Once communion is complete, finish clearing the altar, and return all to the credence table. 

3.      All servers should return to their seats.


Closing Prayer:


1.      Once the priest stands and begins the Final Blessing with “Let Us Pray,” all alter servers should stand and one brings the Sacramentary to the priest, bowing at the altar.

2.      When the priest has completed the prayer, the acolyte returns to the seat, bowing at the altar again.


Closing Procession:


1.      Once the sending forth music has begun, the cross bearer should take the processional cross and stand at the 3rd pew and face the sanctuary.

2.      The remaining servers should proceed to the aisle, and stand at the 2nd pew.  All acolytes should wait, facing the sanctuary, for the priest, deacon and lector.

3.      All will bow together, turn around, and process down the aisle toward the rear entrance at a moderate pace.


After Mass Duties:


1.      Return the processional cross to the small chapel

2.      Extinguish all appropriate candles that were lit for the Mass with the candle snuffer.

3.      Help take any items to the credence table for the next Mass, or take them back to the sacristy.

4.      Return your alb, cincture, and cross to the closet in the sacristy.  Hang the alb on a hanger, and place the cincture and cross on the appropriate hooks.

5.      See the priest for any other additional duties before leaving.



Always keep in mind that the focus of the Mass is the Word, the Altar, and the People of God.




Alb:                             white linen garment worn by acolytes, deacons, and priests

Altar:                           the table in the sanctuary in which the consecration of the Eucharist takes place.

Ambo or lectern:         an elevated desk or pulpit where the lector stands to read the Scriptures and the priest proclaims the Gospel

Aspergillum:                an instrument used to sprinkle holy water during a Mass

Boat:                            a small vessel containing incense.  It is to be used with a thurible.

Chalice:                       a cup that will hold the wine, which will be turned to the Blood of Christ

Ciboruim:                    a cup that holds the bread or the Body of Christ.  It will have a lid, and can sometimes be in the                                             Tabernacle if it contains consecrated hosts.

Cincture:                     a rope worn around the waist, to act as a belt

Corporal:                     a small white cloth (with a small red cross at St Rita’s) that is laid out on the altar where the Body and                          Blood of Christ are placed during the Mass.

Credence Table:         the small table next to the acolyte’s seats where all of the items used in the Mass are stored.

Cruet:                          a small decanter of water which is used during the mass

Finger towel:               a small towel that the priest uses to dry his hands (ours is green at St Rita’s)

Flagon:                        a larger decanter that holds the wine, which will be turned into the Blood of Christ

Paten:                          a small plate or bowl which holds the bread that will be used during the Mass

Purificators:                 small white towels that are used with Chalices to clean after each offering of the Blood of Christ

Sacramentary:             also called a Roman Missal, it is a book used by priests, which contains all the words said and sung                           during the Mass

Sacristy:                       a room in the church behind the altar where all the vessels, garments, and other items are stored used                               in the Mass.

Sanctuary:                   the consecrated area surrounding the altar and tabernacle

Thurible:                     a metal container that is suspended from chains, that is used to burn incense during Mass.