A sacristan is an officer who is charged with the care of the sacristy
A sacristy is a room for keeping vestments and other church furnishings, sacred vessels, and parish records.The sacristy is usually located inside the church, but in some cases it is an annex or separate building...

, the church, and their contents.

In ancient times many duties of the sacristan were performed by the doorkeepers (ostiarii
An ostiarius, a Latin word sometimes anglicized as Ostiary but often literally translated as porter or doorman, originally was a servant or guard posted at the entrance of a building. See also gatekeeper....

), later by the treasurers and mansionarii. The Decretals of Gregory IX speak of the sacristan as if he had an honourable office attached to a certain benefice, and say that his duty was to care for the sacred vessels, vestments, lights, etc. Nowadays the sacristan is elected or appointed. The Cæremoniale episcoporum
Cæremoniale Episcoporum
The Cæremoniale Episcoporum is a book that describes the Church services to be performed by Bishops of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church....

prescribed that in cathedral
A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop...

 and collegiate churches the sacristan should be a priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

, and describes his duties in regard to the sacristy, the Blessed Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

, the baptismal font
Baptismal font
A baptismal font is an article of church furniture or a fixture used for the baptism of children and adults.-Aspersion and affusion fonts:...

, the holy oils, the sacred relics, the decoration of the church for the different seasons and feasts, the preparation of what is necessary for the various ceremonies, the pregustation in pontifical Mass
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...

, the ringing of the church bells, the preservation of order in the church, and the distribution of Masses; and finally it suggests that one or two canons be appointed each year to supervise the work of the sacristan and his assistants.


The under-sacristan (custos) is also mentioned in the Decretals. He was the assistant of the sacristan, was subject to the archdeacon
An archdeacon is a senior clergy position in Anglicanism, Syrian Malabar Nasrani, Chaldean Catholic, and some other Christian denominations, above that of most clergy and below a bishop. In the High Middle Ages it was the most senior diocesan position below a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church...

, and discharged duties very similar to those of the sacristan. By the early twentieth century the office was hardly ever attached to a benefice and so usually a salaried position. The Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

 desired that, according to the old canons, clerics should hold such offices; but in most churches, on account of the difficulty or impossibility of obtaining clerics, laymen perform many of the duties of the sacristan and under-sacristan.

Altar Societies

Altar societies used to be commonly organised within most Catholic parish churches. The duties of members vary according to circumstances, in some instances including those which ordinarily fall within the sacristan's province, such as the vestments and altar vessels, making ready for the priest's Mass, and so on. In general they consist of the payment of yearly dues into a fund for the maintenance and repair of the accessories used in the ceremonies of the Church and usually also include a certain amount of labour for this purpose. Altar societies differ from tabernacle societies
Tabernacle Societies
The Tabernacle Societies were lay Eucharistic Adorative associations within Roman Catholic parishes, principally in America and Australia, forming part of the ArchiAssociation of the Eucharist under the guidance of the Association of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.-Ecclesiastical...

 in that altar societies work for the benefit of the church to which they are attached and tabernacle societies work for the benefit of many different poor churches.

Eastern Churches

In the Eastern Churches, the sacristan is known as the ecclesiarch, particularly in monasteries
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

. In large monasteries he may be assigned an assistant known as the paraecclesiarch. In parishes, however, the sacristan is called church sexton
Sexton may refer to:*Sexton , a self-propelled artillery vehicle of World War II*Sexton , a church or synagogue officer charged with the maintenance of the church buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard; and ringing of the church bells...

. In addition to the tasks and responsibilities mentioned above, if an individual has a message for the priest while serving in the sanctuary, it is given to the sexton to give to the priest or deacon.


Many Christian faith schools appoint sacristans as members of their prefect
Prefect is a magisterial title of varying definition....

 bodies, particularly in British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 public school
Public School (UK)
A public school, in common British usage, is a school that is neither administered nor financed by the state or from taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees and charitable contributions, usually existing as a non profit-making charitable trust...

s and institutions founded on the British model. Sacristans will have responsibility of aiding the school’s chaplain in the day-to-day running of the chapel, as well as the promotion of a Christian ethos within the school. In terms of seniority, they are often regarded as second only to the school captains
School Captain
School Captain is a student appointed or elected to represent the school.This student, usually in the senior year, in their final year of attending that school...

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