Saturday, 20 April 2013

Latin Mass Serving Roles: The Boat Bearer AND the Cross Bearer

Latin Mass Serving Roles: The Cross Bearer and the Boat Bearer

Introduction: The Cross Bearer


Brief Statistics

Plays a Role in What Level Masses? High Mass/Missa Cantata and Higher Levels. Possibly Requiem Mass if more than 2 servers. 

How Many? One.

What parts of the Mass? The entrance procession, the exit procession, and any Eucharistic processions.

Relative time to master the role? not much. 

The Cross Bearer Role in Detail

For those of you who are thinking about crossing over to the EF, or about to go to one, this role will seem quite familiar to you, and act in exactly the same capacity as the cross bearer at Novus Ordo Masses. In a nutshell, the Cross bearer processes with the Crucifix (NOT A RESUREFFIX!) in the entrance procession, the exit procession, and Eucharistic processions. While there is not much to the practical parts of the role, I will at least explain the symbolic/historical/theological parts of the role, so at least you appreciate what the Cb does, or as a server, your role is not a wasted effort.

The History of the Crucifix/Cross-Bearer
In his book, Cross and Crucifix, C.E.Pocknee explains some of the history surrounding the development of the Crucifix:

  • Around the mid-fourth century (~ 400AD), Crosses with themes of the Resurrection, and early depictions of the Crucifixion can be present in marble etchings (e.g. sarcographa) and on certain other items (e.g. the door of the Church of Santa Sabina, Rome). (38-39, Cross and Crucifix)
  • The desire to depict the Crucifix continued into the later centuries, and in the middle of the seventh century, about this time crosses with the Agnus Dei in the central motif or medallion in Western Church architecture and depictions. (39)
  • However it is in the East where depiction of the Crucifixion really gains it theological impetus, especially thanks to the 6th oecumenical council in Constantinople in 681. A heresy from Monothelites arose, where the divinity of Christ was emphasized to the exclusion of his humanity. At that 6th council, it was that Monothelitism was condemned and `That instead of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus christ shall be shown hereafter in His human form in the images; so that without forgetting the height from which the Divine Word stooped to us, we shall be led to remember His mortal life, His Passion and His Death, which paid the ransom for mankind. (41)
  • The depiction of Christ on the Cross though, lends itself to early depictions that came out of response to the progenitor for monothelitism, which was monophysitism, agitating Eastern Christendom in the 5th and 6th centuries. To counter it, the Rabula Gospels were written in 586, and the earliest depictions of the Crucifix (corpus on cross) came out of them, as it contained elements of realism that underlined Christ`s sufferings through His human nature. (41). 
  • While other features of depictions of the Crucifixion and crucifix have evolved and come about over time, it is these parts above which seem to have the historical origin for the Crucifix according to Pocknee. 

Crucifix or Processional Cross in Liturgy
Historically, it is possible that the processional cross originated from what is the Roman standard, specifically the Labarum, related to the Emperor Constantine in the Church's history. See here: I found this from a poster at Catholic Answers Forum:

C.E. Pocknee also devotes a chapter to the historical development of processional and altar crosses in Cross and Crucifix:

  • The first reference to the use of a cross in a religious procession, actually comes from reports from a Greek lawyer, Socrates (~439 AD) about St. John Crysostom (YES that St. John, the one who gets attributed the road to hell with Skulls of bishops comment!). To combat hymn-singing Arians who had nocturnal processions, he instituted his own processions, where there were silver crosses with lighted wax tapers, which was carried by an empress. (71, Cross and Crucifix). 
  • This continued in the 5th century where processional crosses were used in Tours on which mounted candles were contained. (71).
  • A special kind of processional cross is carried before bishops and Metropolitans, and can be traced back to the time of St. Gregory the Great (died 604 a.d.) (77). However, this seems like special usage and not mainstream or regular use of processional crosses/crucifixes. 
  • There are other mentions of processions where crosses were used, such as one with St. Augustine in 597, a litany procession in Rome in 750 with a wooden cross and others with lighted candles, and in 1140 when a Feast of Candlemas/purification procession in Rome had a stational cross from the altar kissed by all before being carried in procession before the Holy Father. (71-72).
  • When processional crosses were used in the late medieval and renaissance periods, many had no figure of Christ Crucified upon them. The Crucifix as we know it with corpus, for processional and/or altar crosses, only became de rigueur after 1746 in the Roman Rite. (72). However, in some parts/dioceses of England in the 13th century, processional crosses are essential (though they would have likely been without the corpus of Christ). 

The symbolism of the Cross-Bearer Role
The Cross bearer holds an essential part of the liturgy. A crucifix MUST be part of the Mass in some form, be it a processional crucifix, or an altar crucifix if only a processional cross is used.

Regardless of possible or true history, the crucifix is present in every Mass, be it on the altar or in procession, to remind us that every Mass is a representation of Christ's sacrifice (11, 101 questions about the Mass), by coming down as the Word made flesh to die for our sins, and to give us the opportunity for eternal salvation.

Another symbolism of the Crucifix is that we lift high the cross for all the world to see, and like Christ we carry our own crosses with him as followers of Christ. We are also reminded not just of the Lord's sacrifice, but those of the martyrs of the Church's history, who under the tyranny and oppression of their "cross" of following our Lord, were killed for His sake (Surinder S. Mundra, March 2013).

Scriptural symbolism,
Finally, one should look to the challenge that Christ gave not only to his disciples, but to us for the rest of time in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, with the main focus on the cross repeated exactly verbatim in both:

Matthew 16:24-25 (NRSV-CE): "Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Mark 8:34-35 (NRSV-CE): "And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."

Introduction: The Boat Bearer

(He's the short young man in the middle. The boat is in his hands). 

Brief Statistics

Plays a Role in What Level Masses? High Mass/Missa Cantata and Higher Levels

How Many? One.

What parts of the Mass? The entrance procession, The first incensation of the altar, the incensation of the at the offertory, the incensation of the people, the exit procession, any Eucharistic processions.

Relative time to master the role? not much. 

The Boat Bearer Role in Detail

Unlike the cross bearer role, this role might be unfamiliar to you, as those of you who are about to experience or cross over into the EF, will likely not have ever experienced seeing incense at a Novus Ordo Mass. Therefore, you have never experienced seeing a boat bearer in action before if such is the case. 

Details of Boat Bearer/Symbolism
In a nutshell, the boat bearer, carries a small metal container, which normally looks like a "boat," full of incense grains. He hands it over to the priest in High mass, or the deacon in the Solemn Mass, to have incense blessed and placed into the thurible, held open by the thurifer. Once the incense in placed into the thurible, the boat is given back to the boat bearer, and he retreats from the main altar area in the sanctuary. Also to note, in processing and in seating, you and the thurifer are a pair.

This might be a bit of a shock to you as a server, or even a Novus Ordo attendee who is used to "active" participation at Mass, but the boat bearer is not essential in the actual Mass. In fact, it is an "extra" that is permissible, but not the liturgical norm for High Masses and higher. When I construct the Thurifer post, I will go in much more detail about incense with that role. 

As you could tell from the "Details" part, the boat bearer is not essential to the Liturgy of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. However, it is allowed to be present in the liturgy according to the clergy/instructors of that Mass.The most recent edition of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, by Fortescue, O'Connell, and Reid, states:
  • "In some churches it is usual to employ another server as "boat-bearer." There is no provision for such a server in any official book; nor do the authors of books on ceremonies say anything about him. Now is he in any way useful - often the reverse. If he is employed the boat-bearer will stand or kneel at the thurifer's left, and will always hand him the boat before he approaches the celebrant and he himself will stand aside." (footnote on p.48)
  • However, other rubricians have allowed for a boat-bearer, e.g. On the Caeramoniale Episcoporum, I, xxiii, 1. A rubrician, Merati allows for a boat-bearer. (112, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described).  
Therefore, it will depend on your parish/instructor for Latin Mass serving whether one is allowed. Usually for a Solemn Mass with a plethora of servers, a younger or less experienced server will be assigned this role, to gain experience in higher level Mass serving. This experience can also be specifically used to train for thurifer, as the boat-bearer and thurifer are paired servers, and so the boat-bearer will know when the Thurifer (with him by his side) will be needed.

As to the symbolism of the boat bearer? The boat bearer has two main symbol-isms in his role, in the item that he carries, and the incense contained within.

  • The Boat: The container that you hold the incense grains is, is normally shaped like a boat. The boat is symbolic in the Catholic Faith, as one of the titles of the Catholic Church is the "Barque/ark of Peter." (
    • In addition, one other possible symbolism of the boat bearer is, that bearing incense, you bring up gifts in procession to the altar, like the Wisemen who brought up among their gifts frankencense. The gift of frankencense is also part of burial, and was part of the burial of Jesus after he was taken down from the Cross. (Surinder S. Mundra, March 2013).  
  • The Incense. Only a short explanation will be given here. In short, when the incense in the boat is burnt in the censer, it represents the prayers of the faithful and the clergy going up to the Saints, Angels, and the Trinity in Heaven. Also historically, the Jews used incense in their worship rituals as well, another "historical nod" to the Jewish Faith. In addition, as with many of the elements of the Catholic Mass, it owes its Scriptural origins to the Book of Revelation/Apocalypse: 
    • SCRIPTURAL: Revelation/Apocalypse 5:8: "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incensewhich are the prayers of the saints; ...."

The ``What`s of the Role``

So, here are the items that you will use as a Cross Bearer or Boat Bearer:

Processional Cross/Crucifix
Some standard types of Processional Crosses from and The 2nd one also shows the base, which you put the processional Cross on. 

Ahhh, now this is more like it! Needless to say parishes will vary in whether you use this kind of ornate and beautiful processional crucifix, or a simpler one as above. 

Incense Boats - This is a Traditional Incense Boat. Notice the resemblence to the Hull or main body of a boat?

From Broughton's Church Supply. A simple boat. This is more common to parishes and likely what you will have to work with if you don't bring your own thurible/boat set. Notice also featured is the little spoon which is used by the priest/deacon to put incense into the thurible. 

To do the roles of Cross/Boat bearer, all you need is your serving role and these items. The only things to keep in mind are these:
  • Remember your rules for carrying an object in your hand. Always keep it in your right, and your left hand is flat across your chest. 
  • You will perform Solita oscula (kissing of the item) only if necessary during the High Mass, when you are giving the item directly to the Celebrant (e.g. if no MC is present for the High Mass due to lack of servers). You do not perform this with the deacon in a Solemn Mass, even if he is a priest.
  • The Cross bearer is carrying an object with two hands, He does not genuflect at those times or bows his head when other servers must do so.

Doing the Roles of the Cross Bearer and Boat Bearer in the High and Solemn Masses

There are not very many parts here in doing the Cross and Boat Bearer Roles in the Mass. As for cues and verbal responses, please see "Starter points 2 part III" of my series or the Torch Bearer role posting for cues for the 1st half of the Mass. I'll just bring up what is necessary and mention when each role needs to do something. 

Prior to Mass
The usual actions occur for the servers. They assist where needed, they say their Vesting Prayers before they don each of their serving robes (See Starter points 2 part III for those prayers), and they ensure that they have their items. In addition for the boat bearer, he should check his boat is filled with incense and there is a spoon in it. They line up as usual before the Crucifix, or their priest, and the priest will say the entrance procession prayer before exiting the sacristy with the servers in procession. 

Should there be an Asperges ceremony before the Mass, then the procession is as follows in a High Mass/Missa Cantata:
2nd Acolyte        Cross Bearer       1st/primary Acolyte
Torch bearers in pairs
[Clergy in Choir Walking in Pairs]
Thurifer     Priest in Cope     M.C.

As for the Solemn Mass, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Describes this for the Solemn Mass: "... if the celebrant [wears] the cope, then the ministers walk on either side of him, the deacon at his right, the subdeacon at his left, holding the cope. The sacred ministers are covered; those in choir carry their biretta when inside the church." (Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, 109). 

For the purposes of your roles, Cross and Boat Bearers only need to know where they are in their procession, and to do below as they would do in a non-Asperges Mass. The Asperges will be covered more in depth in the Thurifer and MC posts in future.  

Standard Entrance Procession
The cross bearer and the boat bearer will be in procession as follows:

Figure 1: Order of Procession in High/Solemn Latin Mass with guide from my Religious Notebook #1

Arrow - Direction of the procession train.
BB - Boat Bearer (if present)
Th - Thurifer with censer/thurible
Ac - Acolyte 1 and 2 (arbitrary numbers were jotted in my notebook only. "2nd" acolyte is to the left, "primary/1st" acolyte is to the right of Cb)
Cb - Cross Bearer
Tb - Torch Bearers (in groups of two) 
MC - Master of Ceremonies
SD - Sub deacon
D - Deacon
P - Priest/Celebrant

The deacon and sub-deacon are not present in the procession for the High Mass. The boat bearer will be at the front of the procession alongside the thurifer. Consider yourself his "left-hand man." Your role closely aligns with the thurifer. The cross bearer or crucifer is next in procession, with the acolytes at his left and right side, with him in the center.

When the boat bearer and thurifer reach the steps to the sanctuary, they do a single genuflection in unison, and then proceed to their positions in choir, often the right (Epistle) side.

When the cross bearer with acolytes approach the steps before the altar, he does not genuflect or bow with his head when his acolytes do so. This is due to the fact he is carrying an object with two hands, which is heavy. Once the acolytes have genuflected, he will proceed to the stand to place the cross on it, with the corpus (Christ) facing the laity. His seat is most likely on the left side of the sanctuary (the Gospel side) next to the stand for the processional cross. He might also sit in the choir pews on the Gospel side of the altar.

The Mass of the Catechumens
Throughout the duration of the first part of the Mass, the Cross bearer plays no additional role in the liturgy. He is to follow the mass, stand, sit, and kneel when appropriate, does the proper genuflections and bows when needed as the other servers do or in accordance to the priests, and may follow along with his missal/the Propers and Ordo of the Mass should he have them with him on the altar (if permitted by his priest/organization).

As for the boat bearer, he is to do the same as the Cross bearer, however he will be needed at the following parts during the Mass of the Catechumens, jointly with the thurifer.

The Incensation of the Altar at High or Solemn Mass
Upon ascending the predella of the Altar and saying aufer a nobis, etc., the celebrant kisses the middle of the altar, and turns to the right with the deacon. After this, the priest will need to incense the altar. His approach to the altar is your primary visual cue to get your boat as boat bearer. Keep your eye on the Master of Ceremonies, as he might give you the cue to get your items and/or approach the altar at a specific time. Together, the thurifer and the boat bearer, working as a pair, will come toward the lowest step of the predella with thurible and the boat.

In a High Mass, the boat bearer will present the boat to the M.C. If there is no M.C. present at the Mass, then you will present this to the priest directly, kissing the boat at the spoon, then the Celebrant`s hand,  before presenting the open boat to the Celebrant (Review Solita Oscula in Starter Points 2 part I). In the Solemn Mass the boat is presented to the deacon.

The priest will have the boat opened with the spoon facing him. He places the incense into the thurible, which was opened and presented to waist height by the thurifer. After the priest has placed incense into the thurible and blessed the incense, the thurifer closes the thurible. Together, the thurifer and boat bearer bow to the priest (with MC). The boat bearer then descends the predella of the altar (without turning his back to the tabernacle!) and then proceeds back to his designated spot, as well as placing the boat back onto the credence table, or the thurible stand if there is a place to put the boat on it.

The Preparations for the Gospel
After the Celebrant has finished reading the gradual and other prayers, this will be the time for the duo of Th and BB to get their items again. The priest will move to the center while the subdeacon is moving the missal and the deacon lays the evangelaruim on the altar. There will be another incensing in the Mass. You will do as you did the first time the Th and BB were needed to provide incense and the thurible. As always, look to your MC for a cue. Again, Th and the BB, working as a pair, will come toward the lowest step of the predella with thurible and the boat. You will do the same procedure as before, the BB handing the boat to the deacon. Once the incensing is complete, you and the thurifer will bow with the deacon, and BB will retreat back to his position. The Th will not retreat with you as he will enter into formation with the MC, SD and D, as well as the ACs, to go to the area left of the sanctuary for the proclamation of the Gospel.

Post-Gospel, the boat-bearer and thurifer will not be needed in the liturgy. However, should the thurifer decide to re-stock the thurible with coals and/or need assistance, you might need to follow and help him. You should. You guys are partnered for the liturgy, remember?

The Mass of the Canons
The Offertory
As always, your role as BB is tied to the Th. Once the acolytes go up to the predella with the cruets, this is your cue with Th to go and get your boat, and Th the thurible (which should be charged with new hot coals at this point). You do the same as the previous two times. Once the incensing is complete and you receive the boat back, bow with the deacon, and retreat back to your spot. The Th will not retreat with you, as he will now be doing his incensations after the deacon incenses certain clergy and servers.

It is as this point that the BB has completed his role in the liturgy. He is needed no more. You are not to simply do the appropriate actions like bowing, genuflections, kneeling, etc. with the other servers. If there are specific actions you'll do needing mentioning they are below. Otherwise, there is nothing else necessary to your role in the liturgy.

Incensation of altar servers and the people
When the Th comes to you, you bow at the same time he does. He will incense the servers lower than MC rank as a group of servers usually with a single swing, or can do as an alternate swing according to rubrics, a center, right, then left swing for a group of servers. You bow with the Th after.

Communion with the Altar Servers  (taken from my Torch Bearer Post)

There are two possible spots I have encountered/marked in my notes where the torches will switch their position on the altar or steps, in order to make way for servers who will be lining up for communion. 

1) After the ``Nobis quoque peccatoribus`` prayer (of which those exact words are said aloud), the priest will uncover the chalice and make 5 signs of the cross. After, he says ``Per omnia saecula saeculorim`` which you will reply, ``Amen.`` OR

2) After the priest consumes the Sacred Eucharist, and then says the "Sanguis Domini nostri ..." prayer and consumes the Precious Blood. This is the most commonly agreed upon time for servers to form the communion line, in most serving guides

At this point, whatever it is, the other servers will get up to line for communion. Where you line up will depend on what your MC/instructor suggests, though usually you will be paired, as always with the Thurifer. he will have come back by this point in the liturgy. You will say the (2nd) Confiteor with the other servers and also the "Domine non sum dignus." Memorize these two prayers since you will not have the benefit of the missal/prayer card/Ordo in front of you.

Exit Procession
The CB's second and final role in the liturgy will occur here, and of course the other servers are involved here.

During the Last Gospel, at the cue of your MC or a designated line, the servers will gather their necessary materials (e.g. acolyte candles, boat, thurible ...) including the Cross bearer and his cross, and will process down the center aisle a number of steps. If this cue is after the "et incarnatus est ..." then you will genuflect in your choir pews/spots first, then gather your items. If this is quite earlier, you will genuflect on the floor area, center aisle, if you are NOT the Cb.

Boat and Th are to go first ahead of everyone else, followed by acolytes with Cb in the middle, then the torches. After the process a certain number of steps, they stop and then turn around and face the altar. Once the Celebrant has concluded the Last Gospel, the Celebrant, MC, and other clergy if in a Solemn Mass, proceed down from the sanctuary, and they will turn and genuflect to the altar. The servers genuflect with them as well, save the Cb. Everyone turns around and processes back to the sacristy.

EST FINIS. 2013/06/18 version 2.0. Next Position to Cover: The Thurifer. 

Works Cited
Thy Kingdom Come. 101 Questions about the Mass. Online. 2007. <>. Retrieved Apr 17, 2013.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Altar Servers Manual. Alexandria, VA, USA. Online. 2010. <
20Server%20Training%20Manual.pdf>. Retrieved Apr 17, 2013.

Fortescue, A., O'Connell, J.B., and Reid, A. The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. Fifteenth Edition. Burn & Oates: London, U.K. 2009.

Surinder S. Mundra. Personal communication, March 2013.

Pocknee, C.E., Cross and Crucifix in christian Worship and Devotion. A.R. Mowbray & Co.: Oxford, United Kingdom. 1962.

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