Ministries of Lector and Acolyte

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: Must the ministries of lector and acolyte always be conferred in that order, at least for those preparing for priesthood? I realize that this is the usual and, in a sense, logical order — the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But in a particular case — if a seminarian transferred seminaries, say, or was away on pastoral work or for compassionate reasons when his colleagues were made lectors — could a bishop confer the ministry of acolyte on him first, with the rest of his class, and lector six months later, say, for reasons of convenience? — M.W., Boroko, Papua New Guinea

A: In 1973 Pope Paul VI issued the apostolic letter Ministeria Quaedam, establishing the lay ministries of lector and acolyte which were to be given to all candidates for orders. In order to confer them, the following conditions should be met:

«8. The following are requirements for admission to the ministries:

«a) the presentation of a petition that has been freely made out and signed by the aspirant to the Ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) who has the right to accept the petition;

«b) a suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the conference of bishops;

«c) a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people.

«9. The ministries are conferred by the Ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) through the liturgical rite De institutione lectoris and De institutione acolythi as revised by the Apostolic See.

«10. An interval, determined by the Holy See or the conferences of bishops, shall be observed between the conferring of the ministries of reader and acolyte whenever more than one ministry is conferred on the same person.

«11. Unless they have already done so, candidates for ordination as deacons and priests are to receive the ministries of reader and acolyte and are to exercise them for a suitable time, in order to be better disposed for the future service of the word and of the altar. Dispensation from receiving these ministries on the part of such candidates is reserved to the Holy See.

«12. The conferring of ministries does not bring with it the right to support or remuneration from the Church.

«13. The rite of institution of readers and acolytes will soon be published by the competent department of the Roman Curia.»

The essential norms of this document were later incorporated into canons 230 and 1035 of the Code of Canon Law.

«Canon 230 §1. Lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.

«Nevertheless, the conferral of these ministries does not grant them the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.»

A man can thus be instituted lector without necessarily aspiring to become an acolyte, but it does not appear that one may become an acolyte without passing through lectorate. It must be admitted, however, that for many practical reasons these ministries are almost exclusively conferred upon candidates for the priesthood and diaconate.

Canon 1035 says the following:

Ǥ1. Before anyone is promoted to the permanent or transitional diaconate, he is required to have received the ministries of lector and acolyte and to have exercised them for a suitable period of time.

«§2. There is to be an interval of at least six months between the conferral of the ministry of acolyte and the diaconate.»

This would certainly imply that the ministry of acolyte should precede diaconate. No mention is made of the time in which the ministry of lector is exercised, and so it can be logically inferred to necessarily come before. Nor is there any mention of the time between the conferral of lector and acolyte.

This is further underlined in some other documents such as the basic norms issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 1998 regarding the formation of permanent deacons. No. 59 of this document says:

«It is appropriate that a certain period of time elapse between the conferring of lectorate and acolyte in such a way that the candidate may exercise the ministry he has received. ‘Between the conferring of the ministry of acolyte and the diaconate there is to be an interval of at least six months.'»

Therefore there does not seem to be much leeway to allow for the legitimate conferral of the ministry of lector after that of acolyte. If this were to happen due to a technical oversight (and I have experience of it happening on one occasion), then it would not affect either the legitimacy of both ministries or the subsequent ordination.

If an ordinary has a particular situation to resolve, such as in the examples given by our reader, he has the necessary authority to act while still remaining within the law and respect the order of the ministries. He can abbreviate the time between the conferral of the ministries of lector and acolyte. He can perform one of the ministries in a relatively private ceremony. In a case of urgent necessity, he may even confer both ministries on the same person within a single celebration, thus eliminating the period of exercise of the ministry of lector.

It is never allowed, however, to confer the ministry of acolyte in the same celebration as ordination to the diaconate.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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