Acolyte Customary

This customary for the instruction of acolytes is designed for a typical 5:30 evening Eucharist. For special services and major feast days, this customary must be adapted for the use of extra people. These extra acolytes may include a second set of torchbearers and crucifer or for a thurifer and boat boy. The first part of this customary is a general overview of the service, listing how each acolyte moves in relation to others. The second part breaks down the service for each role.

Acolytes are the people primarily responsible for making sure the service runs smoothly and properly. While acolytes are prominent members of the service, the best acolytes often go unnoticed by members of the congregation. It is important that acolytes remain alert so that they may handle situations as they arise during the service. There are two main points that every acolyte should remember when serving. First, do everything with purpose. Even if you do something wrong, most people will not notice as long as you look like you are doing the right thing. Second, do everything with reverence and dignity. While acolytes should not completely blend in with the service, they should not stand out unnecessarily.

Generally, all acolytes should be dressed neatly. While the college service tends to be a little more lenient in dress code, try to wear nice shoes and socks. Black shoes and socks are desired. Since the acolyte robes cover up almost all of the body, dress can be a bit more casual. However, t-shirts with printed designs tend to show through robes and should be avoided.

This service may be adapted for a full, double procession. A second crucifer and two additional torchbearers are required, and other acolytes such as a thurifer may also be added.

Before the Service

Acolytes should show up by 5:00 and report to the choir room in the basement of the church. Vest in white robes located in the right hand vesting room. Robes should be long enough to cover the ankles, but not enough to trip you up. Tie a cincture around your waist with the ends hanging to your right. There are various ways of making the knot, some complicated, some simple; regardless, make it look neat and out of the way.

By 5:25, acolytes should move outside and around to the bell tower. Be sure to remove the Gospel Book from the altar before moving outside, and take it with you to the bell tower. The Cross and torches are in the cupboard on the south side of the bell tower. Matches are usually kept in one of the drawers.

Procession

For normal processions, the crucifer leads. The two torchbearers line up slightly behind the crucifer and in line with one another. Ideally, the torchbearers should always be a step behind the crucifer, although at no time should the torchbearers get in front of the Cross. If possible, the torches themselves should be approximately the same height. This can be done by lining up before the service and picking reference points. The base of the candle, for example, can be aligned with the torchbearer’s nose. The choir lines up behind the torchbearers, and the Gospel Book bearer is behind them, in line with the crucifer. The priests conclude the procession.

To process in, wait for the organ to finish playing the introduction to the processional hymn. Some crucifers hold the Cross fairly high, others hold it at a more natural level. This is a matter of preference, but beware of the candelabra and other obstructions. The Gospel Book bearer should hold the book upright at chest level, with the cross on the front of the book clearly visible. When the congregation starts the first verse, begin to process. The crucifer is responsible for setting the speed. The procession should be rather slow and solemn. Although it takes practice to set a good speed, it is difficult to process too slowly. If there is a wheelchair or other obstruction in the aisle, make as small a disruption to the order as possible. Typically, this can be done with just one torchbearer moving towards the center. The crucifer should not have to move.

The procession ends at the altar rail. The torchbearers move up alongside the crucifer. After a pause of two to four seconds, the crucifer quietly says “break.” Acolytes should not bow when they are holding anything.

The crucifer takes the Cross, places it in its hook between the credence table and the door to the sacristy, and sits in the chair on the other side of the credence table. The two torchbearers turn inward towards the crucifer. Each torchbearer then places the torch in the holder on the front of the choir box, and sits in the seat immediately next to the torch. The Gospel Book bearer places the Gospel Book on the left front corner of the altar, acknowledges the altar with a simple bow, then turns and sits in the chair next to the left torchbearer.

Gospel Procession

The Gospel Procession begins at the start of the Gospel hymn. The Gospel Book bearer moves toward the altar when the hymn begins, reverences it with a simple bow, picks up the Gospel Book, and turns around at the opening of the altar rail to face the congregation. The crucifer and torchbearers move into place as if they are at the end of the procession. The torchbearers should try to move together and time their move toward the altar to arrive in position immediately after the crucifer. The Gospel Book bearer should receive a signal from the priest, either standing in the Rector’s Box or by the altar. The Gospel Book bearer nods to the crucifer, who quietly says “break.” The crucifer turns around, and the torchbearers turn inwards towards the Cross. The crucifer should stop approximately at the second pew from the front and turn towards the altar. The Gospel Book bearer turns around directly in front of the crucifer. The torchbearers turn to stand on either side of the Gospel Book and face inward. After the priest has announced the Gospel, the torches should be lowered inwards to illuminate the book. During the lighter months of the year, this can be a ceremonial move, and should be subtle. However, in winter the priest requires this light to read the Gospel. Shed enough light on the book for the priest to be able to see, but do not let the flames get in the way. Be aware that the priest may motion for the torches to be adjusted or may even grab one torch and move it. The other torchbearer should do the same. Once the Gospel is completed, the Gospel Book bearer steps to one side so the crucifer may pass. The torchbearers turn as the crucifer passes them, and follow as before. The procession concludes in the same manner as the opening procession.

Communion

Generally, all four acolytes have a role during the Eucharist. This is the climax of the service, so it is crucial to make sure everything runs smoothly. Know what each acolyte needs to do during this portion of the service and be ready to step in if something does not happen. Before the service, decide who will do each role listed below.

Servers

Two acolytes are needed as servers. The first is responsible for taking collection plates to the ushers. This role is almost always done by the crucifer. At the offertory, wait for the priests to enter the sanctuary, then stand up, take the collection plates from the credence table, and move to the edge of the step between the fronts of the choir stalls. The ushers will move forward to the altar once you stand up. Always hold the plates in the large receiving basin. The ushers will take the collection plates from the basin and begin the collection. The ushers should also give the attendance for the service, which must be communicated to the other server so that the priests know how many wafers to consecrate. Return to your seat. Once the doxology begins, again take the receiving basin to the top of the step. Once the ushers have given the collection plates back, take the receiving basin to the altar. If two priests are present, one will take the plates at the gate, but if only one priest is at the service, enter the sanctuary and hand the plates to the priest. In either case, step off to the side during the blessing. Return the basin and plates to the credence table. Note that this role is almost always done by the crucifer, so the ushers expect to see the crucifer stand up. If this will not be the case, communicate with the ushers so they know whom to watch.

The other designated server is responsible for passing everything from the credence table to the priests. Generally, everything moves from right to left when taking elements from the credence table. Elements on the right are unconsecrated, while elements on the left have already been consecrated. If this is not the case, a member of the Liturgy Committee should alert the designated server. Start by removing the lid from the bread box and handing it to the priest. The lid should be left on the credence table. Next, give the wine and water cruets to the priest, holding the handles towards you. Next, hand the priest the second chalice, the consecrated bread, and the consecrated wine. For the consecrated bread, briefly remove the lid when handing it to the priest to allow the priest to estimate the number of consecrated wafers. The priest will likely hand things back to be replaced on the credence table. Keep the water cruet on the altar and prepare for the ablution. Take the lavabo towel and place it over the wrist of the non-dominant hand, then pick up the lavabo bowl in the same hand. When the celebrant returns the water cruet, pour water over the celebrant’s fingers and into the lavabo bowl. When this is complete, the celebrant will take the lavabo towel. Return the lavabo bowl and water cruet to the credence shelf and replace the stopper in the water cruet. Make sure that the other server communicates the attendance for the service. Let the priest know the attendance so the proper number of wafers may be consecrated. Once communion is completed, be prepared to take elements from the priests and return them to the credence table.

If only one priest is present, a third acolyte should enter the sanctuary and assist the priest. The acolyte will take elements from the server and hand them to the priest. In this situation, the server inside the altar rail should hand the cruets with the handles facing the priest. If in doubt as to whether this is needed, ask the priest before the service.

Assistant Ushers

For lack of a better phrase, the two acolytes who are not chalice bearers act as assistants to the ushers. Bruton Parish Church was not designed with a large-scale weekly communion in mind, so communion is often somewhat confusing. The assistant ushers make this part of the service as clear and easy as possible, especially for tourists and other visitors. Once the chalice bearers have secured the altar rail gate, these two acolytes should immediately take communion and stand at the top of the step between the fronts of the choir stalls. The assistant ushers should position themselves in accordance with the number of priests at the service. Usually there are two, so the assistant ushers should stand back-to-back and direct congregants to open places on the altar rail. The rail should be filled from both ends working towards the center. The assistant ushers should stand with enough space in between them to allow for congregants to return to their seats through the center. If there is only one priest, the assistant ushers should stand facing each other and direct people to the rail, moving from right to left. Watch for anyone needing assistance getting up and down the step, and help when necessary.

Chalice Bearers

For most services, two acolytes must be designated as chalice bearers. If three priests are at the altar during the Eucharist, however, only one chalice bearer is needed. Chalice bearers are licensed by the diocese, although very few students here have been licensed. Instructions here are limited, as this customary assumes some level of training. While it would be preferable to have two licensed chalice bearers, others may take this role if needed. At the cue “The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them…,” walk forward to the altar rail, reverence the altar with a simple bow, and place the kneeler over the center section of the altar rail. Move inside and close the gate. The gate has a very stubborn pin lock, which must be secured. Lifting up on the rail often makes locking the gate easier. Even if this part takes a while, make sure the gate is locked. Lean on it to ensure nobody will fall through during communion. Walk to the north side of the altar to receive the Eucharist. After receiving, the priest will hand you the chalice. If there is only one priest at the service, both chalice bearers should start on the south side of the altar rail with the priest and take turns. If there are two priests, one chalice bearer should start on either end of the altar rail nearest to the east wall and move towards the center. Be prepared for almost anything; due to the number of tourists at these services, people will often have their own expectations or will simply not know what to do. After all communicants have left the altar rail, one chalice bearer will likely go with a priest to administer communion to those who cannot make it to the altar. The other should put the chalice on the credence table and sit down.

Final Procession

The recessional begins with the start of the closing hymn. The Gospel Book bearer moves to the altar at the start of the hymn, reverences it with a simple bow, and retrieves the candlesnuffer. Altar candles should be extinguished from left to right. To remember this, the altar book should be on the right side of the altar, so extinguish this side last. Locate the Gospel Book, which could be in a number of places. If it has been moved to the credence table, the crucifer should hand the book across the altar rail to the Gospel Book bearer. Otherwise, the book will likely be on the shelves behind the altar. The Gospel Book bearer then stands at the break in the altar rail, while the crucifer and torchbearers fall into place as in the Gospel procession. One of the priests should give the crucifer a cue to start the recession; the crucifer says “break” and turns around. The torchbearers turn inwards with the Cross and follow. The crucifer should pause briefly at the intersection with the side aisles to allow the choir to enter the procession. Keep in mind the size of the choir: four people will not require much time, but twenty will.

After the Service

Wait for the dismissal from the priests. Extinguish the torches and place them, along with the Cross, in the south side cupboard in the bell tower. Return to the choir room and remove robes. Place the robes on their correct hangers and secure the top button. Stay out of the sacristy unless passing through, as this is a small space that must be occupied by many people directly after the service.

Detailed Responsibilities of the Crucifer

Retrieve the Cross from the south side cupboard in the bell tower. Line up at the doorway between the church and the bell tower. When the congregation begins to sing the processional hymn, slowly lead the procession into the church. Upon reaching the altar rail, pause to let everyone catch up, and then quietly say “break.” Place the Cross in its holder by the credence table. Stand at the seat on the other side of the credence table and wait for the service to begin.

At the start of the Gospel Hymn, retrieve the Cross and move to face the altar for the Gospel procession. The Gospel Book bearer will nod to signal the start of the procession. Quietly say “break” and turn to process. Stop at the second pew and face the altar.

For communion, the crucifer is generally responsible for taking the collection plates to the ushers. See the corresponding section above. If this will not be the case, communicate with the ushers and other acolytes so everyone knows who will be responsible for the collection plates. The crucifer should fulfill any other duties required during communion, as either chalice bearer or assisting acolyte.

The recessional is approximately the same as the Gospel procession. If the Gospel Book is sitting on the credence table, pass it to the Gospel Book bearer before retrieving the Cross. Once in position at the altar, however, look at the priests and wait for the cue to start the final procession. Quietly say “break,” recess to the bell tower, and wait for the dismissal. During the final procession, pause at the crossing between the nave and the side transepts in order to allow the choir to enter. At the completion, return the Cross to its place in the cupboard.

Detailed Responsibilities of the Gospel Book Bearer

Retrieve the Gospel Book from the altar well before the service. Line up for the procession between the choir and the priests. When the procession begins, hold the book upright at chest level, with the cross on the front of the book visible. Once the crucifer and torchbearers have returned to their seats at the end of the procession, place the Gospel Book on the left front corner of the altar, acknowledge the altar with a simple bow, then turn and stand in front of the chair next to the left torchbearer.

At the start of the Gospel Hymn, get up and walk to the altar. Reverence it with a simple bow and pick up the Gospel Book. Turn to face the congregation. Watch the priests – either at the Rector’s Box or by the altar – for the cue to start the procession, and then nod to the crucifer. After the crucifer processes and turns towards the altar, turn to stand in front of the Cross. Hold the book so that the priest can proclaim the Gospel. When the Gospel is finished, stand out of the way to let the crucifer through, then process back to the altar behind the Cross. The procession back to the altar is the same as the opening procession.

Be prepared to do any job during communion. While it is most convenient to be the server, this is not always the case. Follow the instructions above for each communion role.

The recessional is approximately the same as the Gospel procession. Before retrieving the Gospel Book, however, extinguish the candles on the altar with the candlesnuffer, moving from left to right. Then line up for the final procession while holding the book as before. Since the priests will now be behind at the altar, the crucifer will receive the signal to start. Once the final procession and dismissal is completed, return the Gospel Book to the sacristy.

Detailed Responsibilities of the Torchbearers

Retrieve the torches from the south cupboard in the bell tower and light them. Line up about a step behind the crucifer. Hold the torches at approximately the same height. At the end of the procession, stand at either side of the crucifer and wait for the signal to move to the chairs. Place the torch in its holder, stand in front of the chair closest to the torch and wait for the service to begin.

At the Gospel procession, wait for the crucifer to move to the altar, then retrieve the torches and stand on either side of the Cross. When the crucifer says “break,” turn inwards towards the Cross and begin to process. When the crucifer stops and turns to face the altar, stand on either side of the Gospel Book facing inward. After the priest has announced the Gospel, the torches should be lowered inwards to light the book. During the lighter months of the year, this can be mostly a ceremonial move, and should be subtle. However, in winter, the priest requires this light to read the Gospel. At the end of the Gospel, follow the crucifer. The procession back to the altar follows in the same manner as the opening procession.

Be prepared to do any job during communion. Follow the instructions above for each communion role.

The recessional is approximately the same as the Gospel procession. Line up for the final procession while holding the torches as before, and wait for the crucifer to say “break.” Once the final procession and dismissal is completed, return the torches to their places in the cupboard.

Responsibilities of the Thurifer

The thurifer will prepare the thurible by heating four charcoals. This may be done over a candle, by using a lighter, or using another source of flame such as a fire basket at the Easter Vigil. The easiest method is to use a lit candle, holding each charcoal over the flame with tongs until the entire outside is gray. Always keep water available outside in case of fire.

Just before the opening procession, the priest charges the thurible. This is done by handing the priest the boat, then raising the top half of the thurible only about half a foot, then holding it up for the priest to add incense. Now and throughout the service, ensure the center ring is secure around the top of the thurible so it does not fly open when swung.

Lead the procession to the altar. Pause, and without bowing move to the left (north) side of the altar. Prepare to hand the thurible to the priest to cense the altar immediately.

Retrieve the thurible from the priest after the altar has been censed. Stand at the designated seat, usually the chair between the sacristy and credence table. Caution: Always keep the thurible moving! Also, when seated, ensure the chains do not become tangled.

Stand at the start of the Gradual Hymn. Wait for the priest to approach the altar, and then charge the thurible as described before. Move behind the crucifer so to lead the procession. Stand to the side – right when facing away to the altar – and wait for the rest of the procession to line up. Hand the thurible to the priest to cense the Gospel book and then steps back several feet and faces the priest. At the end of the reading, step aside and allow the participants to pass, and return to the altar.

At the sermon, break one or two charcoals into quarters and add them to the thurible to provide extra fuel. Do this as discreetly as possible, such as just after the sermon is finished and the preacher is descending from the pulpit. Also, ensure the pieces of charcoal ignite. Also, in case of trouble, the thurifer may retreat through the sacristy and outside between the Gospel and the Peace to care for the thurible. Take notice of the smoke detector in the sacristy and move quickly. Only leave if it is necessary; a properly prepared thurible should last the service.

After the altar has been prepared, hand the boat to the priest and charge the thurible as described before. Retrieve the boat, and hand the closed thurible to the priest. The priest will then cense the altar. While this is happening, set down the boat in an out of the way place. Return to the side of the altar and be ready to retrieve the thurible; once the priest has finished censing the altar, take the thurible. Move to the front of the choir, turn to face the altar and bow, and cense the chancel with three sets of two swings – one to the center, one to the left, and one to the right. Bow, then, turn around, step to the transept crossing, bow, and cense the congregation with three long swings – again, one to the center, one to the left, and one to the right. Bow again and return to the chancel. In some places, the thurifer kneels during the Eucharistic Prayer in the center of the chancel and censes at the mention of the bread and wine and the minor and major elevations using three sets of three swings.

After the Eucharistic Prayer, remain at the designated seat, or return if knelt in the chancel, and allow the other acolytes to receive communion. When it is convenient, hand off the thurible to a trusted acolyte and receive communion. Take care to keep smoke to a minimum so as to not choke the congregants at the altar rail.

When the recessional hymn begins, charge the thurible as described above if necessary. Line up behind the crucifer. If a boat boy is used, the boat boy should line up between the crucifer and the thurifer. When the time is appropriate, lead the procession out of the church. Use only normal swings, except for major festive feast days such as Christmas, Easter, Trinity Sunday, and the like.

Customary Navigation: Liturgy Committee Customary Introduction Usher Customary Acolyte Customary Reader Customary
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