Acolyte Manual, 2012

A Manual for Acolytes

St Peter’s Episcopal Church

Port Royal, VA




To be an acolyte is to serve God by serving as an assistant to the celebrant of the Eucharist at God’s altar.  This ministry is a blessing for both the celebrant and also for the congregation.  A good server attends to specific details in the service in such a way that the priest is helped in carrying out his or her ministries, and the congregation is helped to worship with confidence that the service will run smoothly.

The patron saint of acolytes is Vincent.  Vincent was the earliest Spanish martyr.  He was tortured and killed after speaking passionately before the governor on behalf of his Bishop, who was on trial.  The prayer for St Vincent asks that we, like Vincent, be strengthened “to endure all adversity with invincible and steadfast faith…” (Lesser Feasts and Fasts).

As servers at the altar, we too pray for strength and faith to carry out our duties, even in adversity, with our focus always on God, who so richly blesses our worship together. 

The crucifer is the server who carries the cross and leads the processional into the church and then leads the recessional at the end of the service.  The crucifer is also responsible for lighting the candles before the service and extinguishing them before the recessional procession.  The crucifer also serves at the altar. 

The gospel bearer is responsible for carrying the gospel book in the processional and recessional.  


General Instructions

VestingWhat do the servers wear?

At St Peter’s, the servers wear cassocks and surplices. 

The cassock is the long garment that we put on first.  Historically, it comes from the long tunic that Romans wore underneath their togas.  Greeks wore chitons underneath their himations.  We wear these garments today to remind us that our worship has developed over a long period of time.  Many Christians in Roman times died as martyrs and suffered for their faith.  They helped the Christian faith grow in spite of persecutions.  When we put on our cassocks, we remember those who have come before us and all that they gave so that we are free to worship God in our day. 

The surplice has full sleeves and we wear it over our cassocks.  The surplice symbolizes the white garment that early Christians received at their baptisms. 

Please wear dark shoes, preferably not sandals, when you serve. 

Please be vested at least ten minutes before the service is to begin if you are the gospel bearer, and fifteen minutes before the service if you are the server.


Standing—stand straight and tall.

Bowing—The solemn bow is from the waist.  The simple bow is made only with the head, with the shoulders slightly inclined.

Sitting—Sit straight in your chair, with your knees and feet together. 

Hands—When you are standing, hands should always be folded and held above your waist if you are not holding or carrying something.  When you are sitting, fold your hands in your lap, or you can rest them on your knees. 

Eyes—Since you are serving, your attention and your eyes should be focused on the action taking place in the service.  Therefore, you should look at the reader, at the preacher, and at the altar.  If you don’t know where to look, keep your eyes lowered. 

Duties of the acolyte at the celebration of the Eucharist

Lighting the candles

Part of lighting and extinguishing the candles includes “reverencing the altar” with a simple bow.  Why do we do this?  We bow to remind ourselves that we are offering this service of light and extinguishing candles to God, and to God’s glory. 

After vesting, the server lights the candles approximately ten minutes before the service begins. 

At St Peter’s, we keep the taper with the offering plates on the credence shelf to the right of the front of the altar.  Light the taper, and proceed to the center front of the altar.

During the Great Fifty Days of the Easter season, light the paschal candle first, and then proceed to the center of the altar.

During Advent, if an Advent wreath is used, traditionally the Advent wreath candles are lit before the candles on the altar.  The Advent candles may also be lit as a special part of the service. 

During the remaining seasons of the church season, proceed to the front center of the altar. 

Reverence the altar with a simple bow.

Light the candle to your right first.

Then reverence the altar with another simple bow.

Then light the candle on the left. 

If there are six or more candles on the altar (for a wedding or special service), start on the right, with the candle nearest to the center, and light all of the candles to your right.  Then go back to the center, reverence the altar with a simple bow, and light the candles on your left, beginning with the candle nearest the center. 

As soon as you are through lighting the candles, extinguish the taper.  Do this by pushing the little pole on the taper.  As soon as the flame is out, push the wick back up again so the taper is visible.  This way melted wax will not clog the taper.

When you have finished lighting the candles and extinguishing the taper, reverence the altar with another simple bow, return the taper to its place.

After the candles are lit, the person serving as the crucifer should then take the cross from its holder and go into the sacristy for the prayer of preparation for worship. 

After vesting, the gospel bearer will make sure to have the gospel book in hand. The gospel book will be in the sacristy.    Then the gospel bearer will join with the other server and with the clergy in the sacristy for the prayer of preparation. 

The servers and the celebrant begin with a prayer of preparation in the sacristy and then proceed to the front of the church approximately five minutes before the service is to begin. 

The entrance procession

At St Peter’s, the order of the procession is as follows:  crucifer, gospel bearer, celebrant. 

Walk slowly and with dignity. 

When passing in front of the altar, turn to face altar, pause briefly, and then continue. 

The crucifer and the gospel bearer do not bow at the altar when they pause in front of it, because they are carrying the cross and the gospel book. 

The celebrant reverences the altar with a solemn bow. 

The crucifer places the processional cross in its stand.  The gospel bearer places the gospel book at the center of the altar, and reverences the altar with a simple bow.  Crucifer and gospel bearer go to their seats in the back pew next to the seat of the celebrant.  If there is no deacon, the acolyte who will serve at the altar sits next to the celebrant. 

At the Offertory

The server then receives the bread from the member of the congregation who brings it forward. Please stand at the center of the altar rail. The server then returns to the center of the altar and presents the bread to the celebrant or deacon. Server then returns to the center of the altar rail and receives the wine and water from the member of the congregation who brings it forward.  Server presents the wine and water to the celebrant or deacon. 

Server goes to center of the altar rail and receives the offerings of the congregation.  Server hands the offering plates to the celebrant, who lifts the offering plates. Server goes to the left side (facing the congregation)  of the altar, receives the offering plates from the celebrant, and places  them on the credence shelf, and then returns to the left side of the altar. 

At this point, the deacon or the celebrant will prepare the table.  Server stands to the left of the altar, and receives the bread box from the celebrant, then the wine and water.  Bread box, wine and water are placed on the altar to the left of the chalice, paten and the book stand. 

After receiving communion, server remains standing beside the small table until the congregation has received communion.  Server leaves the altar area with the celebrant at the end of communion.

At the recessional

Extinguishing the candles

Hold the extinguisher over the flame to block the flow of oxygen.  Turn the snuffer up after extinguishing each candle to keep wax from dripping.  If for some reason you have to blow out the candle, place your hand behind the flame to keep the wax from getting on the altar linens. 

Extinguish the candles while you are still vested.

Go to the center of the altar and reverence with a simple bow. 

Extinguish the candles in the reverse order from the order in which they were lighted.

Begin with the candles on the altar. 

Extinguish the candle to your left first.

Reverence the altar with a simple bow. 

Extinguish the candle to your right. 

If there are six or more candles on the altar, start with the one on the left farthest from the center. 

Reverence the altar with a simple bow.

Then start with the candle farthest to the right and work toward the center.

Reverence the altar with a simple bow. 

During the Great Fifty Days, the Paschal candle is extinguished last.  During Advent, the Advent wreath candles are extinguished last. 

When all of the candles have been extinguished, return to the center of the altar and reverence it with a simple bow. 

The recessional procession

Crucifer takes the cross and leads the recessional procession to the back of the church.  Crucifer is followed by the Gospel bearer, who takes gospel book out in the recessional procession and carries it back around the church back into the sacristy.  Deacon and celebrant follow Gospel bearer, and they reverence the altar with solemn bows when they pass in front of it. 

Duties of the acolyte for service of Morning or Evening Prayer

We do not have a gospel bearer at the Morning Prayer service.

The server lights the candles as usual. 

The server then serves as crucifer and precedes the Officiant into the service during the processional.

Server receives the offering and presents it to the Officiant, who offers it and then returns it to the server, who places the offering on the credence shelf. 

At the recessional, the extinguishing of the candles and the recessional follow the usual pattern, except that we do not have a gospel bearer serving at this service.   

Duties of the Acolyte at Holy Baptism

At the Thanksgiving over the Water, acolyte will hold the celebrant’s prayer book so that the celebrant can have hands free to pour the water into the baptismal font and for the baptism itself. 


1 thought on “Acolyte Manual, 2012

  1. Thank you for this acolyte_manual, I am a member of Grace Episcopal Church, Brunswick, Maryland. Reverend Edie has been asking for people to step forward to help with the service and other duties. I decided that since way back in 1963 trough 1968, I served as an Acolyte at St. Faiths in Cutler Bay, Florida.

    This last Sunday was my first service as an Acolyte and luckily received great training from the church’s former Acolyte who is now moving to college.

    We also have a you tube live broadcast each Sunday.

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