Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Latin Mass Serving 1: Starter Points I - General Disposition

Hello Everyone,

With sufficient progress through the Latin Mass Q and A of every major part, from start to finish, I now will be covering the focus of this blog: Latin Mass Serving.

So without further ado, lets begin. Now that you have a working knowledge of (most of) the parts of the Mass and where they are, we can now discuss specific things with regard to serving.

Starter Points I - General Disposition

What exactly do I mean about "general disposition?" What I mean is the frame of mind and action that a Latin Mass server (though it should be any altar server) should have when they are serving the Latin Mass, be they mentally, in practice, or actually serving. This includes social practices, actual general practices and mentalities. 

This first posting of two on "Starter Points" will focus on the general social practices and mindset a server should have with regards to the Latin Mass. The second part will focus more on specific actions, and if a part three is needed, it will be a further extension of the specific actions. 

Thoughts on Serving? What is so Important about my Serving?

Even before one steps into the parish sacristy, or even thinking about altar serving, what should we keep in mind? 

Christ actually provided the most perfect example of such serving of his Holy Father, when he washed the feet of the disciples prior to the Passover Seder. Instead of thinking about himself and just fulfilling his role of Passover leader, or host, he got down on his feet and washed them of his subordinates. Really??? This was quite revolutionary at the time on a societal level, but more importantly, being the Word of God made Flesh, He himself, sharing the same Divine Nature as our Father, and the Holy Spirit, HE gave us this example perfectly to demonstrate serving Him and His Holy Father. This is the example we must think of when we serve our Lord. We should also be carrying this example out to others whom we interact (though not to the point of extreme passivity and the sacrifice of our Faith). We do unto others as He did unto us, perfectly, while He was with us. 

May this also mean for you that when you serve, this is an outward expression of your heart and souls' desire to honour your Lord, Jesus Christ at the altar, who gave himself Body and Soul to you as a Holy Sacrifice of all time, to afford you the opportunity to be able to obtain eternal life with Him in Heaven. And so you thank him in your actions for that sacrifice, which you are so overjoyed and thankful to participate in, as the Mass is the Re-presentation of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. You should be thankful, even just to hold a candle as a torchbearer, all the way up to the Master of Ceremonies, to have but even a small part in gratitude to our Lord. We do so by aiding the Alter Christus, the Priest, to be able to carry out the highest form of prayer in the world, the highest way we humans can express our gratitude to our Lord.  

We should also think of others when we are serving, in a certain context. You, the altar server, act as an inferior minister without Holy Orders. As a layperson without such Orders, YOU ,are the representative for the laity in the pews in your actions, both men and women, offering the gratitude that I mentioned earlier to our Lord. 

Further, More specific Notes on the General Disposition an Altar Server Should Have

Further to what I have discussed, you likely now have questions about, how should I act? What should I do when I am with the other servers or at the parish? You want more specific questions answered so that you do not feel like a fish out of water. 

With some help from Fr. Charles Carmody and Dom Britt, I'll be glad to answer those questions, albeit many of Fr. Carmody's small points/lessons in his book Learning to Serve will be covered under much larger, general points here:

1. Of his non-mandatory or forced Activities (e.g. school, family duties, career) altar serving must become an essential priority and greatest honour for the server- Yes I realize that we have primary commitments in our lives we cannot simply cast off, that is school for a young boy/man till 16 years of age legally, and work for an adult that provides bread on the table and feeds their family. In fact, for a non-clerical or non-paid person to put altar serving above all other things in life may cause scandal or sin to someone (e.g. a father/mother in the Novus Ordo [Editorial note: not going to discuss this here nor let the post degrade to such a topic] or family member who is being depended upon for their livelihood or medical care chooses unemployment or reductions in needed finances to do altar serving, or gives more time to parish activities than their families). 

However, the rest of the time one has, should include, as the first and foremost activity, the service to the altar. "To be an altar boy is a great honor - the greatest honor that any Catholic boy [or man] can win for himself .... Before you begin, you should know that being an altar boy [or man] is going to demand your interest and a great deal of your time ... For these reasons, not just anyone can be an altar boy, but only those boys who make themselves worthy by prayer, long study, and all-around good behaviour." (5-6, Learning to Serve, A Guide for Altar Boys).

While Carmody goes further to state that altar serving should be the number one priority in a boys' life, the rest of what I have quoted is true. This IS a great honour in one's life, next to being able to be with our Father in Heaven in the Beatific Vision provided we not die in Mortal Sin. You are aiding in allowing to come forth, the greatest form of prayer in our life, that provides a taste of the Eternal, with all the angels and saints, but also being part of the re-presentation of the Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Not everyone, also, chooses or is made an altar server, so you are blessed. But do not think you are better than John or Jason, or even your female friends for altar serving, or even more "holy" or "good" than your friends in your class/life, that's prideful and selfish. However, it is honourable that you are choosing to participate in the manner you do, in the greatest event we have here in our earthly lives. 

In addition, yes it will take work! You can`t slack off as a server or take it haphazardly. Yes, some people learn certain skills faster than others, but some work is absolutely required to learn a skill! When you altar serve, you must attend practices (unless there is good reason for missing a practice), learn your rubrics/responses and continually read up on the subject matter required for mastery of your position. AND THIS WILL LIKELY INTERFERE WITH YOUR OTHER COMMITMENTS  For a young boy/teen, you might be faced with soccer, band practice, martial arts, or playing video games with your bro-skies every weekend. With adults, work can be somewhat draining, but other extra-work commitments and your family might be placed in front of you. If you cannot sever other commitments to do altar serving, or must attend to your primary non-disposable commitments, THEN DO NOT SERVE. This is not a half-commitment. If your serving society/group/parish does have some leeway or allowance for acceptable absence from the odd practice, then fine work within that boundary. If not, you will have to make that choice. Allow for others to take your stead in your place, or re-arrange for other servers to serve in your place. But if you cannot choose to commit, or cannot avail yourself of more important and vital priorities the majority of the time, then allow others who can to become servers. You still actively participate in the Mass when you pray with the priest, and through your missals/propers handouts. You don't need to be "doing" actions in the sanctuary to qualify as active participation (a sadly misunderstood concept thanks to the "Spirit of Vatican II").  

2a. The Altar Server must be serious about his duties in attitude and mind, including prior to serving, actually serving the Mass, and after serving the Mass. If you come in with an attitude of laxity, not caring much about your duties, then you will disrespect our Lord and the Holy Mass, especially the Extraordinary Form. This lack of caring includes boys rough-housing and joking around in the sacristy, casually going to the wash room during mass when it is not an emergency, not listening to MCs, priests, when training for Masses, etc.

Unfortunately, this is poorly exemplified in our Novus Ordo serving programs, as you might have experienced if you are "crossing the gap", or have witnessed servers on the altar. There are not many Masses where one can clearly see the Novus Ordo servers on the altar demonstrating reverence for our Lord, order, seriousness, etc. Many a time, one witnesses boredom, tiredness, fidgeting, etc. While I have sympathy for those who are starting out and are nervous, experiencing performance anxiety on the altar, I am referring to general, laxity in behaviour and attitude. However, this is not only contained to the Novus Ordo. Servers do this too in the EF, especially if they are young. The majority of the time though, this is visible in the Novus Ordo.

In fact, I sadly had to witness in the week of creating this post, a young adult altar server at a Novus Ordo mass in the city, serving with a goofy smile for the duration I was present, which made the Mass irreverant and a joke. This is not just a "Mass", or even a weekday Mass. Every time you do the Mass you should realize you are serving in what is the Re-presentation and Re-experience of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord on the Cross!!! Do you think it is funny that he was whipped in a courtyard (watch this scene in Mel Gibson's Passion movie, I dare you), had a crown of pointed thorns on his head, nails driven through his hands, and experienced pain only imaginable to our minds? Maybe the Roman soldiers thought so, but we aren't brutish thugs like them, are we? NO! Every Mass should be approached in all seriousness at what you are aiding in. THIS IS NO JOKE!

In summary, if you are not mature enough or still in that goofy phase, please do not serve and make a mockery of the mass and your fellow altar servers. Spare those of us who are serious about honouring our Lord to do that work. We'll do the job properly while you go have fun at that jolly football game with your school-yard friends. But ask yourself when you want to act goofy and tackle your buddies, what, or who, is really honouring our Lord when Mass time comes?

2b. In all seriousness about his duties, the altar server should be FOCUSED in his carrying out and training for, the duty of altar serving. THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST. Focus is essential in the altar server`s duty in carrying out the Mass.

Before the Mass is to be served:, you must be paying attention to your priest or instructor when they are telling you how to serve the mass (if what they are saying is rational, logical, and direct and not out-there crazy) because these are your actions in the assistance in the Holy Sacrifice in the Mass. While doing your practices, ask as many questions as possible, after you have gone over the Ordo/order of the EF liturgy, so you know what to do at what part.

Right before serving: Carry out your duties with reverence and quiet in setting up the sanctuary for the Holy Mass. Do not make awkward noise, nor too much with the liturgical items you are handling. Get assistance from older or fellow servers if you are not tall enough or strong enough to do it on your own. While in the Sacristy, NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO ROUGH-HOUSE WITH THOMAS FROM SCHOOL OR HAVE LONG WINDED CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

Figure 1. Boys! This is exactly what NOT to do!!!! (95, Learning to Serve A Guide for Altar Boys)

Prior to Mass time, think that you are going to be re-experiencing and assisting in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of your Lord, the highest form of prayer in the world and way we can thank our Lord for his Sacrifice, which gave us the ability to enter into Heaven with him, provided we are not in Mortal Sin. Say your vesting prayers with reverence and solemnity. Think of this as the higher form of an athlete doing his/her "rituals" before performing in the big game. Maybe Tim Tebow actually prays before his football games, but do you understand my analogy? It isn't just a pre-game ritual. That is what athletes do. YOU DO BETTER. It is preparing your frame of mind to serve the Priest (and other clergy) and our Lord and carry out your duties respectfully.

During the Mass: "The server should pay strict attention to the Mass he is serving, and no attention whatever to anything else that is going on ... Attention also implies that the server unite himself in thought and action as closely as possible to the priest whose Mass he is serving. When the priest makes the sign of the cross on himself [at various parts of the Mass] ... the server also signs himself. Nor should he neglect to bow his head when he hears the Holy Name of Jesus read or sung ...." (2, How to Serve) Always be concentrating on the fellow actions of your priest, clergy, MC, and fellow altar servers, as many a time, a specific Latin sentence, or a visual cue, might be a signal to do the same, or do your part. If you are unfocused, you will miss your part, and cranky pants liturgical sticklers will notice, and possibly insult you and your priest or server program (WHICH THEY SHOULD NOT BE DOING! IF YOU ARE NOT SERVING, BE SILENT AND ENJOY THE MASS! Allow the MC/priest/head server to fraternally correct other servers of the program you are not involved in or are leading).

In addition to what Dom. Britt says, do not be fidgeting, outwardly nervous, and stuttering or pausing on the altar. If you do make a mistake, at least correct it reverently, as if nothing catastrophic happened, for as they say, "the show must go on", and other servers and/or your MC might help in guiding you on correcting the mistake or do what you failed to do for you. Most importantly, and this I realize is quite challenging, is to keep your mind focused on everything in front of you, and not on your other activities or letting your imagination run wild. You WILL have to work on this skill, and you should be praying to the Lord to give you the graces and aid to increase the proficiency of your ability to focus.

After Mass: The same as before applies. Take down the sanctuary reverently, with zero, additional noise as possible. Also remember, just because the priest has said his final prayer to you in the sacristy, that does not mean you are free to shed your identity as an altar server. You are an altar server, from the very moment you sign up, to the very moment you retire, and even then, the dispositions, skills, and maturity you gain from serving, should stay with you for life and be externally present, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week..

3. An altar server knows his rubrics. Fr. Carmody: "Part of your job as an altar boy will be to learn the rubrics or rules for serving Mass and other services ... get this straight from the start .... you are supposed to serve according to the rubrics." (18, Learning to Serve, A Guide for Altar Boys). This means, you should know the general structure of the Ordo inside out. You should know at what part you are to do X when you are Tb, Th, Ac, MC, etc. You should even know the tail end of the priest's parts before your actions as whatever role so that your timing is concise and orderly, befitting the maximal devotion and respect to our Lord in his Holy Sacrifice on the Altar. This is where that preparation must come in. This may require you to devote an hour or two, outside of your normal duties and/or school subjects, to study such materials. It's not easy to learn a language that no one speaks as a vernacular, further to know more actions that are sadly not done in the Novus Ordo. This will take time. make sure to attend all the practices you can, serve when you can, study whatever materials you can grab, and if you can afford it, buy your own study materials. If you can't afford the materials, speak to your MC, priest, etc. and perhaps they can get you free materials or photocopy/print serving guides or let you borrow books to study up. And you should know this stuff well enough after a time, because it will come in handy with regard to my next point ...

4. Punctuality and "Being a Mintue-Man" - Punctuality is important. If you don't get to the Church at a certain time, you will be leaving a frustrated and angry sacristan/priest to set up the Mass for the EF. That's not fair that you are souring the priest's disposition in preparation for the Mass. Further, if you don't show up in time, the mass will start without you, and they will be a server short, have to make amends, or worse, if you are the only Low Mass server that day, Fr. gets the displeasure of serving alone on the altar. The priest serving alone is not the ideal situationSO SHOW UP ON TIME, OR EARLY! In fact you might need to, in order to have last-minute questions and the like answered if you aren't confident in your serving.

So what if the other servers you serve with don't show up, and you get to church early? That's where this "minute-man" thing comes up. In Carmody's Learning to Serve, it comes from the 1776 war in the USA where men dropped what they were doing and picked up muskets to defend the colonists from the British when Paul Revere spread the news (61). Ok, I get that we are Canadians, and what does this have to do with altar serving? Well simple. Say you knew you aren't on this week, and Dave, Johnny, Bartholomew, and Sylvester are the non-MC servers. You know they have to be in the sacristy by 10:30 for their 11am Solemn TLM. You get there at 10:20am with your family, and you see only 3 of your compatriots show up. 1030 arrives, no Johnny. Well, you could just have a nice solemn TLM with your family, but why just do that? Could you not be doing more to serve the Lord and really be a team player for your fellow servers? That's where you should be a "minute-man", tell your family you'll see if they need help, ask the priest to substitute for your late/absent colleague, and go serve the greatest thing on earth! The Lord will surely see how you "came to bat" for him when you were not required to! Not to mention your colleagues (well most of them) and your parish clergy will be thankful you supported them. Furthermore, this will gain you social credit. When people see you are a team player, they'll be much more likely to substitute for you should you need an absolute favour/replacement in the future, or forgive you for your honest mistakes. Obviously if you are brand new and not skilled enough, it would be imprudent to do so, but after a while if you can even do the torch bearer or boat bearer position, or even be allowed in choir on the altar (to observe), do offer.

5. The altar server will keep his robes intact. Basically, keep your robes clean. Try your best not to get wax dripping from your candles on them. If your robes are not in good condition, and they are from a parish closet/stockpile, ensure to notify the priest or administrative staff (e.g. secretaries, lay sacristan) when they are in need of cleaning. Likely, the parish has a dry/cleaning or laundering procedure of a sort for ALL the robes in the parish, including the priests'. If they are YOUR own robes, make sure every once in a while they are dry cleaned or laundered, especially if they have wax or stains on it (e.g. charcoal). If they just smell of incense, I'd probably wait till a month or so of serving to get them dry-cleaned/laundered. It's not cheap doing it every week, unless your parents make a good living/have a career in business or a job where suits are the daily uniform.

6. An altar server must enjoy what he is doing, and be doing it for the right reasons. Obviously if you are just serving to gain community service hours for Confirmation/High school, or to make your parents proud or gain attention, those are terrible reasons to do the Latin Mass serving. The Lord is not stupid. He will see that is your true motivation in your heart, and will not be pleased at such. Your actions may even be held against you in your final judgement upon death. Judgement is one of the Four Last Things, by the way, and didn't get thrown out at Vatican II. He does not like liars.

Also, if you are not happy when you serve, then clearly something is wrong, be it due to politics, personal conflict, home issues, etc. Why should you come to the Lord with such a disposition? That is unfair to yourself, your server friends, the clergy, and your family, who are investing time and money for you. You should truly do what honours the Lord best. If you are able to produce beautiful art without vulgarity, honouring the talents your Lord gave you, and yet here you are serving when you aren't motivated to do so and are unhappy, then why aren't you honouring the Lord through your talents! Remember, EF serving is not for everyone and must be taken seriously. If this is not how the Lord calls you to honour him in action, then find and seek the best means to do so via your parents (if they are truly Catholic, and not just being "c"atholics who want you up there to make them proud), your priests, spiritual counsellors, wise and noble teachers, etc. Do altar serving because you feel called to serve the Lord and desire to do so through those means, or it allows you to pray and participate more effectively in the Liturgy of the Mass. If not, allow others who have that gift, calling, desire, etc. to do so. Do not feel it is your only respectable option to serve Him in action.

IN SUMMARY ... An Altar Server's General Disposition, When Serving the EF (and even the OF for that Matter) Includes:

1. Of his non-mandatory or forced Activities (e.g. school, family duties, career) altar serving must become an essential priority and greatest honour for the server.

2a. The Altar Server must be serious about his duties in attitude and mind, including prior to serving, actually serving the Mass, and after serving the Mass.
  • 2b. In all seriousness about his duties, the altar server should be FOCUSED in his carrying out and training for, the duty of altar serving.
3. An Altar server knows his rubrics.

4. Punctuality and "being a Mintue-Man."

5. The altar server will keep his robes intact.

6. An altar server must enjoy what he is doing, and be doing it for the right reasons. 

I hope that this gives you an idea of how altar serving should be approached. It isn't just a normal Men's/Old Boy's social club. It is one of the greatest ways a young man (and/or woman in the OF, but this blog is about the EF) can honour our Lord, as he showed us how to, literally, serve Him and one another. 

Next time: Starter Points II - General Actions Servers Will Do (1 of 2(?) )

Pax Tibi Christi. Julian Barkin

Works Cited
1. Britt, Dom. Matthew. How to Serve in Simple, Solemn, and Pontifical Functions. 3rd ed. Tan Books and Publishers: U.S.A. 2008.

2. Carmody, Fr. Charles J. Learning to Serve A Guide for Altar Boys. Roman Catholic Books: Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.A. 1961.

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