from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Altar boys, among them the future Pope John Paul II (seated, second from left)
Acolyte group

An altar boy (from the Latin ministrare ' to serve') or altar boy is a liturgical service in the Roman Catholic Church . The Codex Iuris Canonici from 1917 still wrote in Can. 813 the presence of an acolyte at the celebration of Holy Mass is mandatory.


Altar bell
Thuriferar with a smoke barrel
Acolytes of St. Thomas Basilica in Chennai

In 2009 there were 436,228 acolytes in Germany; their number has increased by around 43,000 since the last census in 2004. In the Catholic dioceses , the number of acolytes varies greatly and is between 403 in the diocese of Görlitz and 44,645 in the diocese of Münster . In predominantly Catholic Austria, an estimated 50,000 acolytes perform the service at the altar.

The prerequisites for performing the altar server service vary from parish to parish, but the basic rule is usually that an altar boy has already received Holy Communion . Mostly they are children and young people, in some places, especially in episcopal churches , also adults.

The acolytes take on special tasks in the liturgy , most of which serve as assistance to the priest and the deacon . The altar boys wear liturgical robes during services . Often they complete an introduction in which they learn more about the different rites , liturgical colors , signs and symbols and learn when and how they are used in the liturgy. Acolytes often form a permanent community within the community , sometimes they are the largest youth group . Altar servers often meet for group hours, go on excursions together and also help with the organization of church and non-profit celebrations. In some parishes there are senior administrators or high altar servers who are commissioned by the respective pastor or elected by the acolyte group to represent the concerns of the acolytes in the community and to lead the acolyte group.


Acolytes take on various services in church services. The names of the services are partly derived from the earlier lower degrees of ordination of the priesthood . At the celebration of the Eucharist they bring bread, wine and water to the altar and help the priest with the lavabo and hand washing. After Holy Communion, they assist with the purification of the vessels and bring the missal and liturgical vessels back to the sideboard . Where it is customary, altar bells ring the altar bells or strike the gong before the words of change and for elevation . They present liturgical implements to the priest or deacon and have liturgical books ready as a librifer . In some places they collect the collections or are responsible for ringing the bells of change during the prayer . The service of the lecturer can also be performed by an acolyte.

In solemn services, acolytes carry the censer as thuriferar and the boat as naviculars . As Ceroferare they carry candles and candlesticks, as cruciferaries the lecture cross . They carry the holy water vessel with the aspergillus and present it to the priest or deacon ( holy water bearer ). In pontifical offices , as Mitrafer and Baculifer , they hold the bishop's miter and staff as long as he does not need these insignia . In many places acolytes also carry the presentation flags. Experienced acolytes officiate in larger church services as ceremonies .

Acolytes have similar tasks at special services such as in the Triduum Sacrum , on Christmas and Corpus Christi , in pontifical offices, in processions , in solemn prayer and at so-called casuals such as baptism , bridal mass and funeral service .

Services outside the liturgy

Often acolytes also work outside of the liturgy in their congregation. In many communities it is common for them to be represented in large numbers at the carol singers or to roam the streets as rattle boys (or Klabasterjonge, in Bavaria and Austria also ratchet boys or children) during Holy Week . Often the more active acolytes also organize the local church youth work .


Acolytes in a painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio from 1475

As a rule, acolytes wear a black or red gown or, instead of the gown, a skirt and a matching collar. Regionally, the liturgical color of the day is used, so green and purple robes are also used; when the liturgical color of the day is white, a red robe is worn. Over it you always wear the white choir shirt , often not quite properly called Rochett , which is reminiscent of the christening gown . In some places a collar or a mozetta in red, black or the liturgical color of the day is worn over the choir shirt . Instead of a gown and choir shirt, an ankle-length white robe, the alb , can be worn, which makes the relationship to the christening gown particularly clear. In some parishes the altar servers wear a cingulum in the liturgical color. A cross or a badge can also complement the equipment.


The beginnings of the altar service

Acolytes make it clear that the priest does not celebrate the service alone. So already writes Apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians :

“When you come together, everyone contributes: one a psalm , another a doctrine, the third a revelation ; one speaks in tongues , another interprets it. Everything is done in such a way that it builds up. "

- 1 Cor 14.26  EU

Texts from the second and third centuries report of the Sunday gatherings of Christians in which a division of labor was practiced: board During the bishop of the liturgy, saying the prayers, the priests, along with the deacons, the Eucharist or stood around him Agape handed out . Lecturers read the biblical texts and cantors performed their duties as lead singers.

The tasks from which the service of the altar boys later emerged were taken over by acolytes in the Roman Church . They brought the gifts to the altar and helped the priest or bishop during the celebration of the Eucharist.

Since the advent of private masses in Franconian times, altar boys have taken over the community's answers to the priest's acclamations .

Acolytes in the medieval liturgy

From the 8th century onwards, altar service was essential at Holy Mass, as it became customary for priests to celebrate Holy Mass every day. Because this was hardly possible anymore as a celebration with the community due to the growing number of priests, private masses ( missa privata ) were introduced, in which the priest alone “read mass”. The council of Mainz in 813 decreed that at least two other believers had to be present at the celebration of a mass, the council of Paris in 829 called this ministri , and the council of Trier decreed in 1227 that no priest was allowed to celebrate mass without their presence another cleric who gave the answers. This created difficulties especially for rural communities where there was only one priest.

At the clerical convent of St. Stephan in Weißenburg / Alsace , sponsored boys are first mentioned in 1247 in the foundation of Canon Gotebert. At that time, “the weekly priest of the early mass had to hold Matutin and the second Vespers with the assistance of the Knabenpfründner (assistentibus sibi pueris prebendariis) ”. The boys were entitled to two pfennigs for this service. Her duties included the office of the altar boy, the chanting of the verses and the responsories at the Liturgy of the Hours, and the chanting of the first three readings on feasts with nine readings. Probably at the end of the 14th century it was temporarily determined that the penultimate boy in the liturgy should act as Dyaconus and the eighth as Subdyaconus .

Acolytes have been a step on the way to priesthood for centuries. That did not change with the reorganization of the liturgical services by the Council of Trent (1545–1563).

Acolytes as a preliminary stage to priestly service

The altar boy , painting by Franz Meyerheim , 1874

Special training was required for the duties of the altar boys as representatives of the community in the sanctuary. Since the beginning of the Middle Ages, boys have been admitted to choral schools, where they were prepared for their service in Mass.

These choirboys were seen as potential priests. So it was that altar boys early in the status of clerics to subdiaconate were taken. The ideal image of the altar server from the Middle Ages to the modern age was that of the "clerical minister", who was preparing for ordination as a child or adolescent , was introduced to the liturgy and learned Latin.

The Council of Trent in the middle of the sixteenth century dealt with this issue when it reorganized the services in the liturgy. Finally, in 1585 , the Synod of Aix stipulated that written permission from the bishop was required for lay people to minister at the altar. The uncertainty about how to deal with acolytes who did not belong to the clergy persisted into the 19th century, even if the directive of the Synod of Aix was far from being adopted everywhere. In 1947 Pope Pius XII spoke . in his encyclical Mediator Dei with reference to the CIC for the first time by acolytes :

“If it is clear from what has just been said that the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered in the name of Christ and the Church, and that it does not lose its social fruits, even if it were celebrated by the priest without an altar servant, then we want to and emphasize We nonetheless - which, incidentally, the Mother Church has always prescribed - that no priest should come to the altar without an acolyte to serve and answer him, according to Canon 813. "

This laid the foundation for today's form of altar service, to which basically every suitable Catholic can be admitted.

From this year the altar server service developed into its current form. However, a distinction was still made between the ministri , the consecrated servants, and the ministries. The Second Vatican Council stated that acolytes performed “a truly liturgical service” ( Vere ministerium liturgicum ). Within the altar server service, a distinction is made according to tasks: Ceroferar, Akolyth, Thurifer, Kruzifer. The ceroferar carries candles or candlesticks, the acolyte performs the altar service, the Thurifer carries the censer in the solemn mass and processions, the crucifer the cross.

Even after the Second Vatican Council, there is a special church commission in liturgical form for the service of adult men as acolytes. The reorganization of these earlier "lower orders" is in the Apostolic Letter Ministeria quaedam Pope Paul VI. executed. In Germany, the appointment as lecturer and acolyte is usually only granted in the context of preparation for ordination as a priest. Otherwise these services are carried out by other lay people .

Development of the current form of the altar server service

The Second Vatican Council paved the way for fundamental changes in the divine service: Holy Mass could be celebrated in the respective national language, and the priest often stands at the so-called "popular altar " during the celebration . The aim of this renewal was the “active participation” ( participatio actuosa ) of everyone in the service. Everyone should understand and understand what was being celebrated.

In the liturgy, altar servers also take on certain tasks on behalf of the congregation. When acolytes bring bread, wine, and water to the altar for the preparation of gifts, it indicates that the congregation as a whole is bringing their offerings to the altar along with their concerns, requests, thanks, and joy. During processions , altar boys make it clear that the church is on its way to its Lord Jesus Christ as a “pilgrim people of God”. In all duties, altar boys help underline the importance of worship as an act of the church .

Service of female acolytes

With the development of the altar server service in connection with clerical training, the service was reserved for male Catholics until the 1970s. Since that time, however, women and girls have also been admitted to the service in many congregations in the western world, without this having first been expressly permitted by the Holy See ; on the other hand, it was not sanctioned either.

According to an authentic interpretation of canon, confirmed by Pope John Paul II in July 1992 . 230 Paragraph 2 of the CIC recognized the circular from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Order of the Sacraments of March 15, 1994 to the national bishops' conferences, granting all bishops the right to admit women and girls to serve at the altar in their dioceses . A declaration dated July 27, 2001 stated that men and boys should not be excluded under any circumstances. Also, no priest should be forced to seek help from female acolytes. In an instruction of the Holy See dated April 23, 2004, the admission of girls and women to this service was confirmed again “according to the judgment of the diocesan bishop and in compliance with the established norms”.

The change in the centuries-old practice, which of course does not fall within the scope of ius divinum , i.e. divine law, and can therefore be regulated by the competent ecclesiastical authorities, was justified by the Congregation with "pastoral prudence". In addition, at the time of the sanctioning there were many local churches in which this was done. The Second Vatican Council had already made it clear that the service of the altar servers is a liturgical service which, in the sense of active participation in mass, all baptized persons are entitled to. There was therefore no theological reason to exclude women and girls from the altar service.

The service of acolytes is now firmly established and valued in many countries in Western Europe; congregations in which only boys serve are an exception. On the other hand, there are countries in which female acolytes are rarely found, including Poland and Lithuania , with the exception of the Archdiocese of Vilnius . In Germany in 2003/2004 the proportion of female acolytes was 50.44%. During the visits of Pope Benedict XVI. in England in 2010 and in Germany in 2011 women also ministered in London, Berlin and Freiburg.


In the community

There are various forms of organizing acolyte work in the community. Usually an adult takes the lead. This can be the parish priest or the youth representative, a deacon or a person authorized to do so by the parish, e.g. B. be the sexton , community officer or chief administrator. In parishes with few altar servers, the pastor is the sole contact. However, many acolyte groups are organized today, such as the associations of Catholic youth work. Pastoral ministry is seen in many parishes and pastoral care areas as a focus of church youth work .


Often there is a joint acolyte work in a pastoral care area of ​​neighboring parishes or in a deanery . They organize joint excursions, pilgrimages , acolytes days or sporting tournaments.

In most dioceses there are bishopric-wide training opportunities and events. In some cases the diocese also supports the acolyte work in the dean's office by providing resources, staff or accommodation.

The minister pastoral department of the Office for Youth Pastoral Care of the German Bishops' Conference in Düsseldorf is responsible for the supra-diocesan coordination of the pastoral ministry of the German-speaking dioceses.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium (CIM) is responsible for coordinating the pastoral work of the acolytes in the Church as a whole and regularly organizes international acolyte pilgrimages to Rome . There are also centers for acolytes on Catholic and World Youth Days .

Acolytes Association

There is no supra-diocesan association of altar servers that, like other Catholic youth associations, is a member of the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ) . At the deanery level there are various projects in Germany in which altar servers organize themselves in associations and help shape the work of the altar boys. In the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising , a first diocesan acolyte association was founded in September 2017 as a youth association for acolytes that encompasses the entire archdiocese. In the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart , altar boys' representatives at diocesan level ("diocesan chief administrators") have been elected by the chief administrators of the deanship;


Tarzisius statue, until 2010 in front of the basilica in Echternach , now in front of the Calixtus catacomb in Rome

See also



  • Thomas Arzner, Patrik Höring, Andreas Schöllmann u. a .: mini course 1-3. 3 volumes each with CD-Rom. Group lessons for 9 to 11 year olds ( ISBN 3-7761-0156-3 ), 11 to 14 year olds ( ISBN 3-7666-0814-2 ) and 14 to 18 year olds ( ISBN 978-3-7761-0191-1 ), Kevelaer / Düsseldorf 2005–2007.
  • Andreas Büsch: Handbook of the pastoral ministries . Verlag Haus Altenberg, Düsseldorf. Verlag Butzon and Bercker, Kevelaer 1999, ISBN 3-7666-0201-2 .
  • Guido Erbrich: Basic course altar boys , 3 volumes: sacraments, liturgy and church space ( ISBN 3-7462-2143-9 ), church year ( ISBN 978-3-7462-2284-4 ), prayer ( ISBN 978-3-7462-2763- 4 ). St. Benno, Leipzig 2006, 2008
  • Hariolf Ettensperger: The altar boy book . A handbook for sacred service following the Schott missal books . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1938. [Describes the altar service in front of Vatican II].
  • Peter Kokschal: The acolyte pocket dictionary . St. Benno, Leipzig 2004, ISBN 3-7462-1752-0 .
    (Recommended for altar servers who want to find out more about their ministry)
  • Michael Kunzler : Service at the altar of Christ. An altar boy school for adults . Bonifatius-Verlag, Paderborn 2005, ISBN 978-3-89710-319-1 .
  • Michael Kunzler: The liturgy of the church . Bonifatius-Verlag, Paderborn 1995, ISBN 3-89710-216-1 .
  • Werner Pohl: The altar boy. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1979, ISBN 3-451-18508-3 .
  • Markus Tomberg: If in doubt, a squat . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2004, ISBN 3-451-28479-0 .
    (Short brochure for novice altar servers or people who want to find out more about the service of acolytes)

Experience reports

Individual evidence

  1. a b Press release from the Office for Youth Pastoral Care of the German Bishops' Conference (afj): The number of altar boys in Germany has risen again ( Memento from December 2, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) (2009).
  2. Basic Order of the Roman Missal , 2007, No. 100.
  3. ^ Basic Order of the Roman Missal , 2007, No. 133.
  4. ^ Basic Order of the Roman Missal , 2007, No. 120 b, 133, 188.
  5. Martin Conrad, in Liturgia et unitas , Martin Klöckener and Arnaud Join-Lambert (eds.), Univ.-Verlag, Freiburg, 2001, p. 388.
  6. Archives Departementales Bas-Rhin = ABDR 12 J 1677, p. 17.
  7. ^ Anton Doll with the support of Hans Ammerich : The land dean of Weißenburg (with St. Peter monastery in Weißenburg). (= Palatia sacra. Description of churches and benefices of the Palatinate in pre-Reformation times, Vol. 2) Mainz 1999, ISBN 3-929135-29-9 , p. 286.
  8. ADBR 12 J 1677, p. 35 '.
  9. Basic Order of the Roman Missal, 2007, No. 120 b.
  10. Notitiae 30 [1994], pp. 333-335.
  11. Notitiae 37 [2001], pp. 397-399.
  12. Holy See - Congregation for Divine Worship and the Order of the Sacraments: Instruction Redemptionis sacramentum , Chapter II / 2. / 47.
  13. ↑ Altar servers in Germany - background, information, etc. Statistics of the German Bishops' Conference (counted every five years). (No longer available online.) July 27, 2006, archived from the original on September 27, 2007 ; Retrieved August 16, 2012 .
  14. ^ KMV deanery association Heidelberg-Weinheim. Website of the Catholic Altar Server Association, Deanery Heidelberg-Weinheim. Retrieved December 10, 2017 .
  15. Germany's first diocesan altar server association founded. Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. Retrieved December 12, 2017 .
  16. Specialized Service for Altar servers.

Web links

Commons : Altar server  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Altar server  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 31, 2005 .