07 Dec 2014 Q&A Comments (5)

Can a divorced person without a Church annulment participate in the sacraments?

Full Question Can a divorced person without a Church annulment participate in the sacraments? Answer A divorced person is generally not required …

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26 Oct 2014 Vatican Comments (1)

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Vatican City, Oct 26, 2014 / 12:52 pm .- In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has…

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17 Sep 2014 Vatican No comments

Cardinal Turkson: World Is Hungry for Catholic Social Teaching

Here is the full text of Cardinal Peter Turkson's address at the conference "Giving Europe a Soul - European Unification in reconciled Diversity - Foundation of…

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01 May 2016 Americas News USA Vatican No comments

US Vice President appreciate the Holy Father's Compassion on his Family

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02 Jun 2015 Articles Q&A Comments (1)

Apostle Creed: Did Christ actually descend to this hell of eternal damnation, or is this another sense in which the…

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03 Nov 2016 News No comments

Jesus’s tomb exposed for the first time in centuries

A team of fifty experts working at the site as part of restoration project The marble slab on which it is believed Jesus lay after his crucifixion is being stu…

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13 Oct 2015 News Vatican Comments (1)

Pope Francis establishes new dorm for Rome's homeless men

Pope Francis and his brother Jesuits in Rome have converted an old travel agency building into a new homeless shelter for men, just in time for the cold winter …

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25 Oct 2016 News Comments (1)

Papal liturgist says divisions over worship ‘distort the Mass’

Mgr Guido Marini said it can be better to wait rather than provoking more conflict The papal liturgist has said that Catholics should “never fight" over liturg…

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04 Dec 2014 Q&A No comments

Did people understand John the Baptist saying "repent and be baptized"?

Full Question Did people understand what John the Baptist was talking about when he told them to "repent and be baptized"? Is there a precedent for baptism…

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Is there a distinction between acolytes and altar servers? If so, please explain.

Full Question

Is there a distinction between acolytes and altar servers? If so, please explain.


There is a distinction between the two, and the office of acolyte is reserved to men alone. Canon 230 §1 says: “Lay men whose age and talents meet the requirements prescribed by decree of the bishops’ conference can be given the stable ministry of lector and of acolyte, through the prescribed liturgical rite . . . ”

The office of altar server was created around a thousand years ago so there would be a group of people who could stand in for acolytes when none were available. Today that is the case in most parishes, and therefore the position of altar server has come to predominate at most Masses.

However, because the position of altar server was created by the Church, the issue of who can serve as its occupants is determined by the Church. The office is not sacramental and so need not be reserved to males. Currently, the Church allows the use of female altar servers: “Where the needs of the Church require and ministers are not available, lay people, even though they are not lectors or acolytes, can supply certain of their functions, that is, exercise the ministry of the word, preside over liturgical prayers” (CIC 230 §3).

The position of altar server involves much less responsibility than the position of acolyte. Acolytes had many duties that have now been broken up and distributed to different people—for example, carrying the cross during the opening processional used to be performed by the acolyte, but now the crucifer fulfills that role. Today, nearly all that remains for altar servers is to hand the priests the unconsecrated elements and the cruets and to help him wash his hands.

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