The term "acolyte" derives from the Greek word akoloutheo, which means to follow, to imitate, to accompany. The noun akolouthos which means the servant, the companion. An Acolyte is therefore, one who accompanies the priest or the deacon in order to help them during the Eucharistic celebration. As such we can rightly call him also "SPECIAL MINISTER OF THE EUCHARIST", or in the diocese of Thunder Bay, they are more commonly called “Eucharistic Ministers" (EM). The word “communion helper" is not a good name to designate this ministry. It limits it too much to the function of assisting only in the distribution of communion. An acolyte has many more duties than to facilitate the distribution of the Eucharistic gifts.
Functions of the Acolyte or the Special Minister of the Eucharist
The functions can be gathered from three documents: the Sacramentary, "Minsteria Quaedam" and the Rite of Institution.
It mentions the following tasks of the acolyte:
This apostolic letter lists some duties of the acolyte which are not mentioned in the Sacramentary.
The Instruction mentions that the acolyte may bring communion to the sick. This includes also the solemn rite of bringing the viaticum, the solemn last communion for those in danger of death. "If no priest is available, viaticum may be brought to the sick by a deacon or by another of the faithful either a man or a woman, who has been appointed by the bishop to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful".