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Carmelite Friar Instituted in the Ministry of Acolyte
29 August 2012

On Tuesday 28th August, during the British Province of Carmelites pilgrimage to Lourdes, Brother Gerard Walsh, O.Carm., received the ministry of acolyte.

Brother Ged (35) has been in formation as a Carmelite friar for a number of years, and in October hopes to make his Solemn Profession of Vows. He is also training to be a priest, and being made an acolyte is a stage in this process

The Prior Provincial of the British Province of Carmelites, Fr. Wilfrid McGreal, O.Carm., presided at the Mass and preached about the centrality of the Eucharist in the Christian life. He explained that the ministry of acolyte is an invitation for Ged to share more fully in the ministry of the Church, serving the Body of Christ both at the altar during worship and in Christ's Mystical Body, God's holy people.

Fr. Wilfrid blessing Br. Ged for his service as an acolyte.

Fr. Tony Lester giving Fr. Wilfrid the paten and chalice to present to Br. Ged.

Br. Ged was given the vessels containing bread and wine to be consecrated during the celebration of the Eucharist.

Part of the role of an acolyte is to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion.

According to the Rite of Institution, Br. Ged now has the responsibility 'to assist priests and deacons in carrying out their ministry, and as a special minister to give Holy Communion to the faithful at the liturgy, and to the sick'.

Brother Ged has been serving the sick and disabled in Lourdes for many years, and was delighted that his institution as an acolyte could happen there. Words addressed to the acolyte in the Rite of Institution make a strong link between the sick and the Eucharist: "In performing your ministry bear in mind that, as you share the one bread with your brothers and sisters, so you form one body with them. Show a sincere love for Christ's Mystical Body, God's holy people, and especially for the weak and the sick."

The word acolyte is derived from the Greek acolytos meaning companion, attendant, or helper. Today the term is often used to refer to an altar server, but a formally ‘instituted acolyte’ is someone who has been specially called to serve at the altar.

The acolyte ministry has its roots in the Old Testament, where the prophet Samuel is seen assisting the Levite priest Eli, and Elisha is seen assisting the prophet Elijah. Elijah is specially important in Carmelite spirituality, and the first reading at the Mass in Lourdes told how Elijah received care from an angelic acolyte.

In the medieval Church the role of acolyte was the last of various ‘minor orders’ or roles within the Christian community which included porter, reader, and exorcist. Over time these functions came to be considered as preparatory stages for those receiving the ‘major orders’ of subdiaconate, diaconate and presbyterate.

Following the Second Vatican Council, in 1972 Pope Paul VI revised this system, retaining only two offices which are connected to the ministries of God’s word (reader or ‘lector’) and God’s altar (acolyte). By these ministries duties of a liturgical and charitable nature are entrusted to the candidate. These ministries can be committed by the Church to any male lay Christian. They are not a form of ordination, but are stages required by the Church for those men proceeding to ordination as deacons and priests, to better dispose them for the future service of God’s word and altar. These ancient ministries have been established by the Church for the purpose of suitably giving worship to God and for offering service to God’s people.

Some years ago Ged was formally instituted as a reader, whose task is to proclaim the word of God in the liturgical assembly, to lead prayers and music, and instruct the faithful for the reception of the sacraments. Today Ged was instituted as an acolyte. It is the acolyte’s particular duty to attend to the service of the altar, aiding deacon and priests especially in the celebration of Mass, aiding with the distribution of Holy Communion where appropriate, and exposing the Blessed Sacrament for adoration. The acolyte continues to instruct the people in the faith, and is called upon to serve the weak and the sick.

To read more about the Province pilgrimage to Lourdes, click here.