Different names for the non-priest folks who give out communion

Altar Servers
Altar Boys
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

I’m new to Catholicism, and confused by this. Have heard all of these mentioned. Have been to both traditional and modern churches and seen differences of practice, from one where everyone at the altar wears some kind of vestment to one where lay people including women give out communion.

Is there a difference between these 5 groups of people?

Is it just a difference of terminology between traditionalists and modernists? Is there more to it than that?

What can each of these groups of people do, what is their role? It seems they all assist the priest in giving out communion. In the traditional church I’ve been to though, this role is just to hold the plate (paten?) that catches the crumbs from the host as people receive on the tongue.

I understand there used to be something called minor orders too, where there were Sub-Deacons who also assisted in some way.

Are these people under vows, or are they simply approved volunteers? Can they quit without incurring guilt? Do they have a ‘job’ like the woman who does the flowers in church, or do they have a ‘calling’ like the priest?

On the names you listed above

Sacristan - a person who sets out the necessary vessels prior to Mass

Altar Servers - a ‘catch all’ name for those who assist the priest at Mass.

Acolyte - an instituted ministry open only to males. These are the primary lay assistants at Mass, but few diocese offer this role to any other than those studying to the priesthood or the diaconate. This used to be the role of the Sub-deacon (see below)

Altar boys - the term used for male Altar server. This is the traditional sex for altar service. A priest has the authority to refuse the use of girls in this role.

EMHC - An un-ordained person who assists in the distrution of Holy Communion. A priest or deacon is an Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion, an Acolyte is next, and then any other lay person or un-ordained religious.

Sub-Deacon. Prior to 1972, the Roman Church had men in “minor orders”. These men were clerics, not laypeople, but had not recieved the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The Sub Deacon was ‘highest’ among those. It was the Sub-Deacon’s responsibility to read the Readings at Mass

Pope Paul supressed the minor orders in 1972 with his Apostolic Letter Ministeria quædam. The Eastern Catholic Churches still retain the minor orders. ( In fact, my parish has a Chaldean Sub-Deacon who now attends our Latin Rite parish)

Personally…I think calling them the “non-Priest folk” covers things quite nicely.

A Deacon is a “non-Priest folk” but he would not be an EMHC either :wink:

My husband and I have our own nomeclature for them, although “non-priest” folk is really a good one:

Altar servers, altar boys- “Those kids!” It is either meant as, “Oh, look how good those kids are behaving” or “Those kids! Don’t they realize where they are!”

Sacristans- “Those old folks who set up and clean.” Not a sacristan in our parish is under 70 or male. You can find them before Mass making sure “thos ekids” set up the credence tbale properly, and on Fridays, even during Adoration, with brooms and vacuum cleaners- always respectful of the Blessed Sacrament, but giving the Lord’s House the good cleaning it deserves!

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion- “The Eucharistic Herd”. This is because, while they do **not **cluster about the altar during the consecration, and they do **not **do anything inappropriate in their service as EMHC; the whole herd of them processes at the beginning of the Sunday Masses, behind “those kids” and ahead of the reader bearing the Gospel Book (no lectors here). It doesn’t matter if the individual EMHC isn’t needed, they all do this if they are at a Sunday (Saturday vigil, too) Mass.

The instituted acolyte does not take vows. But he requests the ministry in writing to his bishop. Parts of the ceremony of institution are like vows. For example, the bishop’s prayers include:
“5. … Let us ask him to fill them with his blessing and strengthen them for faithful service in his Church.”
“6. … Grant that they may be faithful in the service of your altar and in giving to others the bread of life; may they grow always in faith and love, and so build up your Church.”
“7. … Make your life worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and of his Church.”
(The Rites Volume Two, Liturgical Press, 1991, ISBN: 0-8146-6037-1, pages 108-109).

The ceremony of institution is one of the sacramentals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses these in n. 1672.
“1672 Certain blessings have a lasting importance because they consecrate persons to God, or reserve objects and places for liturgical use. Among those blessings which are intended for persons - not to be confused with sacramental ordination - are the blessing of the abbot or abbess of a monastery, the consecration of virgins and widows, the rite of religious profession and the blessing of certain ministries of the Church (readers, acolytes, catechists, etc.)”
(From vatican.va/archive/catechism/p2s2c4a1.htm ).

So it is not a job like doing the flowers or mowing the lawn. In some sense the man has been consecrated to God through the ceremony. So he cannot quit without incurring guilt. He is not instituted for three years (for example) but is making a lifelong commitment.

For Extraordinary Ministers the appointment can be for one Mass or a period of time. This is explained in the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum:
“[155.] In addition to the ordinary ministers there is the formally instituted acolyte, who by virtue of his institution is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion even outside the celebration of Mass. If, moreover, reasons of real necessity prompt it, another lay member of Christ’s faithful may also be delegated by the diocesan Bishop, in accordance with the norm of law, [footnote 256: Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 230 § 3.] for one occasion or for a specified time, and an appropriate formula of blessing may be used for the occasion. This act of appointment, however, does not necessarily take a liturgical form, nor, if it does take a liturgical form, should it resemble sacred Ordination in any way. Finally, in special cases of an unforeseen nature, permission can be given for a single occasion by the Priest who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist.[footnote 257:
Cf. S. Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction, Immensae caritatis, prooemium: AAS 65 (1973) p. 264;
Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio), Ministeria quaedam, 15 August 1972: AAS 64 (1972) p. 532;
Missale Romanum, Appendix III: Ritus ad deputandum ministrum sacrae Communionis ad actum distribuendae, p. 1253;
Congregation for the Clergy et al., Instruction, Ecclesiae de mysterio, Practical Provisions, art. 8 § 1: AAS 89 (1997) p. 871.]”

From the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) approved for the USA, which can be accessed from romanrite.com/girm.html :
“107. The liturgical duties that are not proper to the priest or the deacon and are listed above (cf. nos. 100-106) may also be entrusted by a liturgical blessing or a temporary deputation to suitable lay persons chosen by the pastor or rector of the church.”

This does not include the instituted acolyte, who is described in n. 98. It is not up to the priest to choose him. The priest does select the altar servers, who are described in n. 100:
“100. In the absence of an instituted acolyte, lay ministers may be deputed to serve at the altar and assist the priest and the deacon; they may carry the cross, the candles, the thurible, the bread, the wine, and the water, and they may also be deputed to distribute Holy Communion as extraordinary ministers.”

The lay people who assist with the distribution of Holy Communion do not have a title unless they are instituted Acolytes. The name of their liturgical function is extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. That is not a title for the person. They are simply lay people who perform a liturgical function at Mass.

Instituted Acolytes hold the title of Acolyte, and one of their functions is to serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. However, they are still lay people serving this function.

I look at this way: :extrahappy: :dancing: :extrahappy: :dancing: At least they are not liturgically dancing in the procession…But I think it calls too much attention to them. i think they use too many of them, as well. Six-ten people plus the priest are not necessary for 200-300 communicants.

Couldn’t agree more - at most we only ever have two or maybe three, and that’s only because the powers that be have decided to offer the chalice at all the Sunday masses.

No “old folks” at my parish in this role. I am just beyond my late 20’s and have been one for 3+ years. The others are in the late 40’s to early 60’s. I set up and take down/clean up, often with EM duties (scheduled or often not scheduled) at the same mass.