Today, I was instituted to the ministry of acolyte for the Catholic Church.
Almost everyone to whom I’ve told that has responded with something to the effect of, “That’s great! What is it?” So, with that in mind, let me offer some explanation. Since ancient times, there have been waypoints on the path to priesthood. For a very long time, these took the form of four minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte) followed by the three major orders that were actually clerics, properly speaking (subdeacon, deacon, priest). Pope Paul VI suppressed the minor orders and replaced them with two instituted ministries, lector and acolyte. The lector has the job of reading in the liturgy. The acolyte is basically what you would normally see as an altar server. These differ slightly from what you see every Sunday at Mass because they are universal institutions. In reality, when you see a member of the lay faithful reading at Mass or serving at the altar, they are standing in for people who are actually instituted to that role by the Church; I think it is a handy correlation to look at them kinda like extraordinary ministers of the word and the altar just like laypeople distributing communion are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (bishops, priests, and deacons are the ordinary ministers). Unless you have had a seminarian in your parish, you have probably never encountered someone instituted to these ministries.
Right, so. Dry history/ministry lesson over.
This is important because this is my last real formal step toward ordination. Next year, I will petition for candidacy, but that one isn’t really a step on the way; it can be done at any time through the course of seminary. These ministries have to be done in order. The next real step is diaconate, so this one is starting to make me face what I’ve gotten myself into. This afternoon, a successor of the apostles handed me a ciborium and admonished me:
Take this vessel with bread
for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Make your life worthy of your service
at the table of the Lord and of his Church.
Sure. No big deal. No problem. Wait. What? Worthy? Me? HA! No.
Seriously, there are responsibilities that come with this. And I’m expected to be worthy of them? I have to look in the mirror and see, as I have told altar servers for years when I train them or talk to them, “a page in the court of the King of Kings.” Perhaps, at my age and state, I should see more a squire in that court, but the image stands. I am no longer filling a role among the faithful; I am filling a role that the Church has formally asked and instituted me to fill. I was reflecting on this during the readings and the homily before the actual institution took place. I’m asking for something big here; the Church is asking me for something big. There is nothing I could possibly do to be worthy of what Christ and His Church is asking of me, a fact that will be even more true when I ask my bishop to ordain me. However, I am willing to stand up and, with His constant help, try.
Perhaps it is small, but it is one step closer to the Church entrusting me with her liturgies and the shepherding of her people.
But I’m eager to face the challenge with God at my side.