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Danny DeVito – an Altar Boy

Danny DeVito – an Altar Boy –

An altar boy or server is a lay assistant to a member of the clergy during a Christian religious service. An altar server attends to supporting tasks at the altar such as fetching and carrying, ringing the altar bell and so on.

While ordained and instituted ministers must wear an alb (with cincture and amice unless the form of the alb makes these unnecessary), albs or any other appropriate attire, such as a cassock and surplice, may be worn by servers. Black and red are the most common colours for a server’s cassock, if used.

If a bishop celebrates Mass solemnly, two servers, wearing vimpas, hold the mitre and the crosier, and present them at the appropriate times. Servers may also be needed to carry a processional canopy (baldachin) during a procession with the Blessed Sacrament outside, as on the feast of Corpus Christi.

Formerly, only men and boys could serve at the altar, but canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983 allowed local ordinaries to permit girls and women to do so. In the United States, the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska has not granted permission. Even where the bishop grants permission, the priest in charge of a church is not obliged to avail of it. Traditionalist Catholic groups such as the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King and some individual priests do not.

The term “acolyte” is sometimes applied to altar servers, but in the proper sense means someone who has been received the ministry of that name, usually reserved for those who are to be promoted to the permanent or transitory diaconate. These must receive the ministry of acolyte, which historically was classified as a minor order, at least six months before being ordained as deacons.

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