General Information| Posture| Dress| Genuflection & Bowing | Duties Before Mass| Duties During Mass
Duties After Mass


    This Altar Server Guide is intended as a general guide. Your pastor may require different procedures.

    Although institution into the ministry of acolyte is reserved to lay men, the diocesan bishop may permit the liturgical functions of the instituted acolyte to be carried out by altar servers, men and women, boys and girls. The determination that women and girls may function as servers in the liturgy should be made by the bishop on the diocesan level so that there might be a uniform diocesan policy.

    No distinction should be made between the functions carried out in the sanctuary by men and boys and those carried out by women and girls. The term "altar boys" should be replaced by "servers". The term "server" should be used for those who carry out the functions of the instituted acolyte.

    Altar servers perform most of the functions of the former "minor order" of ordained clerics known as acolytes from the Greek word akolouthos or 'attendant'. Church writings from the second and third centuries discuss the role of acolytes, giving the office great importance and honor in the history of the Church. Altar servers today are not ordained, but are 'commissioned' by their parish priest.

    The primary role of the altar server is to assist the priest in the celebration of the liturgy during Mass. This is done through specific actions and by setting an example to the congregation by active participation in the liturgy (hymns, responses, etc.), by looking alert and sitting or standing at the appropriate times.

    Servers carry the cross, the processional candle(s), hold the book for the priest celebrant when he is not at the altar, carry the incense and censer, present the bread, wine, and water to the priest during the preparation of the gifts or assist him when he receives the gifts from the people, wash the hands of the priest, assist the priest celebrant and deacon as necessary.

    Servers should be seated in a place from which they can easily assist the priest celebrant and deacon. The place next to the priest is normally reserved for the deacon.

    Servers may not distribute holy communion unless they have been mandated for this function by the bishop.

    Altar servers must attend every Mass that they have been scheduled. When a server cannot be present they must arrange for a replacement.

    Altar servers are on duty from the time they enter the sanctuary at the start of Mass until they finish cleanup after the end of Mass. During the Mass their duty station is the sanctuary and a server may not leave the sanctuary except as directed by a priest, deacon or bodily necessity.

    Altar servers must have received first confession and Holy Communion.


    The three primary positions during the mass are standing, sitting and kneeling. In any of these positions they should maintain a straight formal posture. In the standing and kneeling positions their hands should be held in the praying position. When sitting the hands should be held on the lap or at the sides.


    Whatever you wear underneath an alb will show through. Servers should wear white or solid colors.

    Dress shoes should be worn whenever possible.


    The Catholic Catechism allows for bowing in consideration for the Eastern Rites which perform a profound bow instead of genuflection.

    Servers should genuflect whenever entering a church pew, the sanctuary or crosses in front of the tabernacle, they should face the tabernacle and genuflect/bow. The exception is when carrying things like crosses, sacred vessels, books or candles they do not genuflect.

    When the tabernacle is closed and Jesus is not present on the Altar after the consecration or exposed for Eucharistic Adoration genuflect on the right knee. The right knee touches the floor pause and bow your head to Jesus.

    When the Body of Jesus is present on the Altar or Jesus is exposed in the monstrance during Eucharistic Adoration and a server or anyone is entering or leaving the church double genuflect. Both knees touching the floor, the right knee first. Pause with knees on the floor and bow your head to Jesus.


    Upon arrival the server should dress in the alb and cincture or cassock and surplice.

    The cruets to be used at the service must be rinsed with clean water before filling.

    Fill one cruet with wine from the altar wine supply. Fill the other cruet with cold fresh water from the tap.

    Place the prepared chalice, ciborium if required, filled cruets, washing bowl, towels and any extra chalices required on the credence table.

    Some parishes that have a procession may wish the wine and ciborium or filled paten to be placed on a table at the entrance of the church for use in the offertory procession.

    Five minutes to mass time a server should light all appropriate candles.


    In a procession the cross-bearers will lead the procession into and from the sanctuary. After entering the sanctuary the cross-bearer will bow to the tabernacle (altar if tabernacle is at a side altar) and then proceed to place the cross in its stand, normally facing the priest as the people can all see the central crucifix behind the altar. Never genuflect when carrying anything, including the procession cross.

    The candle-bearers follow the cross-bearer in procession and bow to the tabernacle (altar if tabernacle is at a side altar).

    All servers will then proceed to their assigned locations genuflect/bow facing the tabernacle from their assigned positions with the priest and the deacon. If the tabernacle is on a side altar face the tabernacle when genuflecting/bowing.

    During the Glory to God in the Highest (Lord have mercy . . . during lent), the appointed server will pick up the small sacramentary and wait for the priest to say, Let us pray. When the priest says, Let us pray, server will proceed directly in front of the priest and open the book to the pre-marked position. Hold the book open so the priest can read the prayer. Keep the pages flat, your fingers out of the text and do not move about while the priest is reading. When the priest is finished, close the sacramentary and return it to its place. Sit down in your assigned position for the readings.

    All servers sit with the people during the collection. When the ushers are 3/4 of the way down the middle aisle during the last collection the candle-bearers stand up, genuflect to the tabernacle and walk to procession candles. Genuflect to the tabernacle, pick up your candles and turn toward the people. Walk to the back of the church and wait for the rest of the gift procession. When the ushers have the procession ready turn toward the altar and lead the gift procession to the priest.

    The candle-bearers should walk slowly together starting on their left foot toward the sanctuary. When walking hold the candle underneath with your inside hand and grasp the candle stick with your outside hand, holding your elbow out toward the people. Never carry anything but your candle! When you reach the sanctuary pass around the priest and deacon and proceed to the front of the altar. Set down your candles and genuflect to the tabernacle if it is behind the altar, bow to the altar if the tabernacle is on a side altar. Proceed to your positions at the credence table or assist the priest in accepting the gifts if no other server is available.

    The cross-bearer and remaining servers should stand when the priest and deacon stand and follow them to the assigned positions. Servers should be positioned at the left side and behind the priest. If a deacon is not present one server should take the water and wine cruets from the priest and place them on the credence table. Another server should take anything else brought up in the procession and place it on the credence table.

    Remove the tops from the wine and water cruets and hand the deacon or priest the wine or water as he directs. Stand until the deacon or priest is finished. If it is the priest who you hand to or pour the water and wine, bow to the priest (do not bow to the deacon) and then return to the credence table and recap the wine cruet and place it on the credence table. The reason we bow to the priest is because he acts in the person of Christ during the consecration of the Mass.

    After the offering:

    If a single server - Unfold the wash towel and place it over your least used arm. With your good arm hold the water cruet. Pick up the washing bowel and hold it with your towel arm. Approach the Altar and pour the water over the priest's hands collecting the water in the bowl. Let the priest take the towel and when he has placed the towel back on your arm bow to him and return to the credence table. Neatly arrange the cruets, towel, and bowl on the table.

    BELL RINGING - (optional):

    Three times is done in some parishes in honor of the Trinity; bells rung three distinct times for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. . .

    Because the elevation of the Body and Blood of Jesus are solemn times, (the bread and wine we offered has now become the real BODY and BLOOD of our God, Jesus Christ) it is proper to look at the elevated Jesus and say to yourself "My Lord and my God." following the example of Thomas the Apostle.

    Closing Prayers:

    All sit until the priest says: "Let us pray." If a server is assigned to hold the prayer book, the server will proceed directly in front of the priest and open the prayer book to the proper page, hold the book for the priest as with the opening prayer. When the priest is finished, close the sacramentary and return it to its stand.

    All servers should then be standing in their assigned positions and follow along with the people.

    Exit Procession:

    Cross-bearer should pick up the processional cross. All servers then turn and proceed quickly to their procession positions. All processions are always in order of rank. Cross bearer first, then candle bearers, other servers, lector, extra-ordinary ministers, deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals, the pope.


    Extinguish the candles by using the proper tool. Do not smash the wicks. Do not blow out the candles.

    Remove your liturgical clothing and hang it neatly in its proper place.

    Clean up any messes you made on the credence and preparation tables.

    Remove all notes and papers from the sanctuary and pulpit and place them where directed.