Prior to this motu proprio the only purpose of the order of acolyte or lector in the Catholic Church that I knew of was to prepare permanent deacons for ordination.

So, if the purpose is expanded to all lay people, what function will acolytes perform in the future? Will we be expecting itinerant acolytes going from parish to parish helping at masses? Will we be wowed by one superior lector?

  • the acolyte or lector may have been largely a stepping stone for the diaconate but they still had particular roles and responsibilities which have largely remained unchanged
    – eques
    Jan 11, 2021 at 14:41
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    Never known to have permanent acolytes or lectors in the Church.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 11, 2021 at 15:20
  • In one sense you question is too soon. Episcopal conferences need time to evaluate the subject matter.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 11, 2021 at 15:21
  • Some speculation on acolytes: People who have done the most important task of an acolyte, distribute holy communion, will have the official ministry of an acolyte too (mainly a name change, but this expresses respect). This might espacially apply to people in special positions, e.g. the de facto leader of a small community without priest present. In this sense I heard the request of this change from a member of the Amazonas Synod.
    – K-HB
    Jan 11, 2021 at 15:43
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    @PeterTurner The question is interesting, but I think it is off-topic. As it is worded, it asks about speculation for the situation in a few years. This cannot be objectivly answered.
    – K-HB
    Jan 11, 2021 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


What is the function of instituted acolytes and lectors in the Catholic Church?

The following applies to instituted acolytes and lectors. These offices historically are looked on as steppingstones towards ordination and thus are not permanent in nature.


A ministry to which a person is specially appointed by the Church to assist the deacon and to minister to the priest. His duty is to attend to the service of the altar and to assist as needed in the celebration of the Mass. He may also distribute Holy Communion as an auxiliary minister at the Eucharistic liturgy and to the sick. An acolyte may be entrusted with publicly exposing the Blessed Sacrament for adoration but not with giving benediction. He may also, to the extent needed, take care of instructing other faithful who by appointment assist the priest or deacon by carrying the missal, cross, candles, and similar functions. The ministry of acolyte is reserved to men and conferred by the bishop of the diocese or, in clerical institutes of religious, by the major superior, according to liturgical rites composed for the purpose by the Church. Women may be delegated to perform some of the functions of an acolyte.


One of the ministries adapted to present day needs in the Latin Church, otherwise known as reader. He functions partially as the subdeacon did previously. He is appointed to read the word of God in the liturgical assembly. Accordingly he reads the lesson from Sacred Scripture, except the Gospel, in the Mass and in other sacred celebrations; recites the psalms between the readings in absence of the psalmist; presents the intentions for general intercessions when the deacon or cantor is absent; and may also direct the congregation in the singing. If necessary he also assumes the responsibility of instructing any of the faithful called upon to read the Scriptures in any liturgical celebration.

Pope Francis’s new document seems to say the offices may be permanent, even though he allows them to be permanently instituted as such, the episcopal conferences may have to decide on this.

Since the motu proprio was dated January 10, 2021, it is still too early to see the actual decisions of how this is implemented.

  • Ad "permanent": Technically these ministries are thought as permanent: "ad ministeria lectoris et acolythi stabiliter assumi possunt" (can. 230 § 2 CIC). This is the distinction to the others doing the taks of a lector in can. 230 § 2 CIC which can be woman since years: "Laici ex temporanea deputatione in actionibus liturgicis munus lectoris implere possunt" - Practically it is only done for one or a few years before ordination.
    – K-HB
    Jan 11, 2021 at 16:44
  • I will not add ”permanent” to my answer! “According to the ancient discipline of the Roman Church the order of acolyte was conferred as the candidate approached adolescence, about the age of twenty, as the decree of Pope Siricius (385) to Himerius, Bishop of Tarragona, in Spain, was interpreted (P.L., XIII, 1142). Five years were to elapse before an acolyte could receive subdeaconship. Pope Zosimus reduced (418) this term to four years. The Council of Trent leaves to the judgment of bishops to determine what space should elapse between the conferring of the acolythate and subdeaconship.”
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 12, 2021 at 2:37
  • @KenGraham your counterpoint doesn't exclude permanence, especially when you are referring to the ancient/traditional order of acolyte not the ministry of acolytes, which are not, regrettably equivalent.
    – eques
    Feb 12, 2021 at 13:51

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