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In some Christian churches, an acolyte is one who wishes to attain clergyhood.

Roman Catholicism

The term acolyte is now commonly applied to lay attendants upon the clergy, such as mass-servers; but it was, until the Second Vatican Council, considered the highest of the minor orders, having as duties the lighting of the altar-candles, carrying the candles in procession and the ministering of water and wine to the priest at Mass.

An altar boy is a boy who assists a priest or minister during a religious service. He attends to supporting tasks at the altar such as fetching and carrying, ringing a bell etc. Catholic and Anglican church services both use altar boys. An altar boy usually has no formal training and holds no formal religious position. He is not a member of the clergy.

Altar servers, formerly called altar boys, are usually young people who carry the cross and processional candles, hold the book for the priest celebrant when he is not at the altar, (for example, carrying the Bible in front of the priest into the congregation for the Gospel reading), carry the incense and censer, present the bread, wine, and water to the priest during the preparation of the gifts or assist him when he receives the gifts from the people, wash the hands of the priest, assist the priest celebrant and deacon as necessary.

One reason why the phrase altar boy has ceased to be standard is that recently girls have also serve in this capacity. In the Roman Catholic church, an altar server, often studying to become a priest, is called an acolyte. An acolyte may supervise children who are altar servers.


In Episcopal churches, all who serve in the above positions are called "Acolytes" and can be of any gender or age (usually 10 and up). The acolytes wear robes that differentiate them from the clergy, the deacon(s), the lay Eucharistic ministers or the choir, although they may appear quite similarly dressed. These robes can be called "albs" or "surplices" or "cassocks" or "cotters" or a combination of those items. The robe belt worn by many is called a cincture, and frequently reflects the color of the Liturgical season...red for feast days (Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, etc., purple for penetential seasons like Advent or Lent, green for the "ordinary" season between Pentecost and Advent or just plain white. It is generally a twisted rope with knots on the ends and is secured around the waist. Wearing crosses or other special pins or symbols is the perogative of the individual church. Usually the Acolytes are ranked as they develop their abilities to serve - Trainees, Junior Acolytes, Senior Acolytes and Acolyte of Merit.

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