In ancient times, many duties of the sacrist were performed by the doorkeepers (ostiarii), and 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 prescribed that in cathedral and collegiate churches the sacristan should be a priest, and describes his duties in regard to the sacristy, the Blessed Eucharist, the baptismal font, 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, the ringing of the church bells, the preservation of order in the church, and the distribution of Masses; finally it suggests that one or two canons be appointed each year to supervise the work of the sacrist and his assistants.
In the Old Testament, the office and duties of the sacristan are assigned to the Levites. 1 Chronicles 23-26 describes how David assigned them duties such as temple doorkeepers, guardians, singers and musicians.