John Lilburne's journal discussing the 27 July 2001 letter on altar servers from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Concerns are raised about the lack of attention to instituted acolytes.



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Pope Paul VI's 1972 Motu Proprio Ministeria quaedam





1129 L Sat 16 Mar 2002

I am concerned about parts of the letter on female alter servers published last year. (Notitiae 2001, pages 397-399, the letter is dated 27 July 2001 and signed by Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez and Monsignor Mario Marini).

I think it is worth trying to clarify the laws regarding instituted acolytes.

A part that concerns me is in bold:

With respect to whether the practice of women serving at the altar would be truly be of pastoral benefit, it is perhaps helpful to recall that the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors (cf. Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, March 15, 1994, n. 4, cf. also can 228.1, Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio, August 15, 1997, no. 4 ...

An instituted acolyte is one of the non-ordained faithful. He has the right and duty of service at the altar. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Ministeria quaedam:

VI. The acolyte is appointed in order to aid the deacon and to minister to the priest. It is his duty therefore to attend to the service of the altar ...

It is true that according to Canon 228.1

Lay people who are found to be suitable are capable of being admitted by the sacred Pastors to those ecclesiastical offices and functions which, in accordance with the provisions of law, they can discharge.

However once admitted to the Office of Acolyte, they then have rights and duties that go with that office.

The reference to Ecclesiae de mysterio, no. 4, does not seem applicable in this case:

... The Code, having referred to the rights and duties of all the faithful, in the subsequent title devoted to the rights and duties of the lay faithful, treats not only of those which are theirs in virtue of their secular condition, but also of those tasks and functions which are not exclusively theirs. Some of these latter refer to any any member of the faithful, whether ordained or not, while others are considered along the lines of collaboration with the sacred ministry of cleric. With regard to these last mentioned areas or functions, the non-ordained faithful do not enjoy a right to such tasks and functions. Rather, they are 'capable of being admitted by the sacred Pastors ... to those functions which, in accordance with the provisions of law, they can discharge' or where 'ministers are not available ... they can supply certain of their functions ... in accordance with the provisions of law'. ...

Service at the altar is not the ministry of a cleric, it is the ministry of an instituted acolyte. So it is not "collaboration with the sacred ministry of cleric" or "collaboration in ... pastoral ministry" it is the acolyte's ministry. In the case of altar servers "when ministers are not available" means "when instituted acolytes are not available."

I thought the 2000 Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani covered this well:

98. The acolyte is instituted to serve at the altar ...

100. In the absence of an instituted acolyte, lay ministers may be designation for service at the altar ...

107. The liturgical functions which are not proper to the priest or the deacon, and which are listed above (nos. 100-106), may be entrusted to suitable laity chosen by the pastor or rector of the church through a liturgical blessing or a temporary deputation.

Another concern I have with the letter is that is seems to give preference to using boys rather than men. The conference of bishops determines the age at which a man can be instituted as an acolyte (Ministeria quaedam, VIII b). However they are men, rather than boys. So I think the letter undermines the ministry of acolyte with things like:

... such an authorization may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar ...

"it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar"

... the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain ...

The impression given is "use boys rather than men". The message bishops are likely to receive is: "Do not institute acolytes." This is contary to the message "use acolytes, not boys" in (to name a few Church documents) Ministeria quaedam, CIC 230, the 1975 Roman Missal, the 2000 IGMR, and CCC 903. Rather than providing clarification, I am worried that the letter will cause confusion.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 16 March 2002.


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