Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Mass Etiquette – Part II: the Server

December 15th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

Part I – the Congregation

Here begins pars secunda of the Mass Etiquette posts. Again, do not take offense at these observations. They’re there to remind us what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s just plain stupid.

This post will detail the actions of the server at Mass. There is nothing worse than a bad altar server. He/she is supposed to be a guardian of the sacred, representing the angels of Heaven gathered around the throne of God. If he/she is not properly disposed to serve, he/she ought not to.

Thou shalt not:

  • Yawn. If you yawn at Mass (and I mean, really yawn, not some passive “I’ve been up since midnight” yawn) you clearly aren’t comprehending the sacredness of what you’re doing. You are witnessing the unbloody immolation of God on your church’s altar – kind of important, that.
  • Sleep. If you fall asleep at Mass . . . God help you. I have no tolerance for altar servers who fall asleep, literally, during Mass. If you are an altar server, you should consider yourself blessed beyond measure! If you’re falling asleep during the celebration of the sacred mysteries, it looks like you need to rouse yourself to some kind of fervor for the faith you’re seeing manifested before your eyes. Parents – make sure your kids are actually motivated to serve Mass. If they don’t want to, don’t force them.
  • Twirl your cincture. You’re not in the sanctuary to amuse yourself. You’re there to serve your Creator. Twiddling your thumbs, twirling your cincture, grooming yourself . . . all of these things have no place in the Lord’s sanctuary.
  • Embrace a casual sense of the liturgy. If you serve, you must seek to be graceful and exacting in every movement, every nod, every gesture of your hands. Nothing should seem unnatural or “forced,” and you should always act like you know precisely what you’re doing. If you fall on your face, make it look like it’s in the rubrics. If you drop a cruet, make it look planned and purposeful.
  • Talk to your friends or family members. Your focus should be on God, not yourself or your schoolmates/brothers/sisters/etc. Of course, a gentle reminder “get the book” or “don’t do that” is fine, presuming you do so subtlely, but don’t carry on a conversation about going to see Harry Potter or ordering pizza that night.
  • Feign piety. You can tell when an altar server is “play acting” at his or her duties. The posture may be perfect, the hands held properly in place, the eyes cast down at a 20 degree angle (as they should be), but a single insincere movement can betray the sentiments of a server. There is a clear difference between being in the sanctuary for your glory and being there for God’s. Avoid the former, embrace the latter.

Thou shalt:

  • Make symmetry your best friend. Everything you do, do it symmetrically (presuming there is more than one server in the sanctuary). It is truly beautiful when the liturgy is blessed by servers who mirror each-other perfectly, reflecting pious intent and Godly attentiveness.
  • Dress with pride. Wear decent clothing underneath your alb or cassock. Just because no one can see your Transofrmers T-shirt and your torn blue-jeans doesn’t mean God can’t see them. Optimal dress is a dress shirt and dress pants – dress like you’re going to an upscale dinner.
  • Take pride in your appearance as a server. If you’re wearing a cassock and surplice, make sure that your cassock is fully buttoned, from bottom to top. Make sure your surplice is ironed and straight, not leaning to one side. If you’re wearing an alb, make sure it’s clean. A spot of candle-wax on your sleeve is most unappealing.
  • Actively participate in the Mass. Be prayerful. Respond to the priest’s “the Lord be with you.” Don’t be afraid to join in the singing of hymns, the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.), or anything else you know. Angel’s aren’t depressed in the presence of God, so you shouldn’t be either!

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13 Responses to “Mass Etiquette – Part II: the Server”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I must respectfully disagree with the “eyes must be lowered at a 20 degree angle” rubric. The server’s eyes should always be on what is happening at the Mass not cast downward. Pope St. Pius X encouraged the laity to participate in the Mass and to follow along with what was occurring in the sanctuary. This cannot be done when one’s eyes are cast down. It is the same with casting one’s eyes down at the elevation. The priest elevates Our Lord after the consecration so that the people may adore Christ, may LOOK at Him. The “eyes down” stance is false piety, that passes for piety. I’m sure I’ll find many who will disagree with me on that point, but Jesus wants us to look at Him during Mass, to see Him and not, be like St. Peter who said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful Man.” He should have said, “Stay with me, Lord, and heal me.” Even in Revelation when St. John prostrates himself before Christ (and this is in a liturgical context) Jesus raises him up to look at Him. Just a note for some discussion.
    Fr. Frank Fusare, CPM

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a nice way to correct someone whether you are right or wrong.

  3. Matt says:

    Thou Shalt Not:

    Be Female

  4. Ink says:

    THANK YOU for the twirling-cincture note. And the fidgeting. Remember, servers–all eyes are upon you and the priest.

    Another Thou Shalt Not for the NO servers: Cross in front of the priest. If you need to get around him, go behind him.

  5. I agree with the no twirling of the cincture comment and other actions that detract from the sacred liturgy of the mass. Quite a few years ago, at a church which is presently closed, the pastoral associate wanted to give a boy who was mentally challenged a chance to be an altar server. This boy tended to display unusual behavior in general, (in addition to being mentally handicapped), due to problems with being focused. Despite being given a lot of direction and some repeated chances, the boy looked out of place on the altar and stood there twirling his cincture among other inattentive actions. The boy was too distracting on the altar and the decision was made to not have him serve. Although the parishioners witnessed the problems with having him on the altar, they commended the pastoral associate for giving him a chance.

  6. Gen says:

    Fr. Fusare – I forgot to mention that the 20 degree rule should be observed when processing and/or walking about the sanctuary. You’re absolutely right.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The servers at my church don’t twirl their cinctures. They destroy them. We got some new ones a few weeks ago and the tassels- well, they ended up as shreds.

  8. Nerina says:

    Fr. Fusare,

    FANTASTIC homily at last week’s TLM in Rochester. It was the first time attending the TLM for most of my family and my boys definitely took note. My oldest child said, “that priest actually believes in something.”

  9. Sfomo says:

    I would like to add the following to our altar girls:
    Please refrain from adjusting your pony tail and fluffing your hair.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Fr. Inquisitive is back again asking honestly where the 20 degree eye level downward rule comes from? When the servers are in procession carrying the processional crucifix and candles and incense, I should think they’d want to be looking straight ahead so as to see where they’re going and so as not to bump into the persons in front of them.
    I can see that perhaps someone may have thought it better to cast the eyes down so that the servers would not be looking at the people around them. That’s easily fixed when they are told to look straight ahead — and I’m sure you’ll remind the congregation not to look for “son Johnny” in the procession so that they can wave at him — and ignore everyone, but the One they serve.
    So often people forget that when we step into a church, we step outside time, as it were, and into eternity; into the timelessness of heaven which the church building is supposed to represent. Walking in a procession at St. Stanislaus certainly conveys this perfectly, and so instead of having one’s eyes cast downward in the procession, one would do the same thing one would do in heaven and that is to have one’s eyes fully ready to gaze upon God, where the Scriptures tell us we will see Him, “Face to face.” When one sees a statue in the church or gazes on the tabernacle, one can be thrilled and be led to a meditation while in procession, or Jesus in the tabernacle upon making eye contact with the one in procession can choose to have a necessary conversation with that person. However, with eyes cast down, this sight of the tabernacle will be missed and so will the conversation Jesus meant to have. It seems to me that this idea comes from the Jansenist ideas that crept into some circles, including religious congregations, and have lingered until today. Let the servers look straight up for practical purposes, as mentioned above, but so that they may take advantage of being where heaven literally meees earth and prepare for their meeting with Christ Face to face — and not with heads bowed 20 degrees down — and with the saints whose images are represented in that beautiful church of St. Stanislaus. The priest says in the Mass, “Sursum corda,”‘ and I would add that in lifting up our hearts, we must in necessity lift up our eyes because the eyes are the windows to the soul and the heart.

    By the way, to the family who attended the TLM for the first time and enjoyed the homily, I say thank you for your compliment and ask you to give thanks to God Who was behind it. Without the Holy Spirit speaking through me that day, I’d have been a “bag of hot air,” but He gave His grace to touch the hearts of His children. And to the son in the family, yes, I do believe with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength all the Church teaches, by the grace of God.
    Fr. Frank Fusare

  11. Gen says:

    Further clarification: head level, *eyes* cast 20 degrees down – that way the server can see clearly where he is going without looking social or overly-intent. This is how the men at Cantius are trained (and the way I was, way back in the day).

  12. Anonymous says:

    I don’t understand how looking straight ahead while walking would make a man look socially or overly-intent. Please explain. I’m not asking to be rude, but I’m asking in order to understand better the origins, the meaning, the logic, the everything behind the 20 degrees. With the proper education as to what the procession is and why the servers are there, those young — and older — men can walk down the aisle with as much dignity and love in their hearts for God as any priest would want. It’s in the education of the server, not the degree at which his head rests when he’s walking, that makes for a dignified procession that glorifies God and not those in the procession. It’s in the education of the server that makes him fit to be in the sanctuary and to understand what he’s doing and why, and helps him to genuflect with genuine love for Jesus and not sloppily or robotically. I know that my parents and older siblings will tell me things that they recall about the Mass when they were younger and all I ask is “Why?” and no one can give me a reason. So I’m asking you, Gen, since you studied with The Society of St. John Cantius, why the 20 degree head inclination is required? I want to learn from someone who can actually me why. Thank you and God bless you.
    Fr. Frank Fusare, CPM

  13. Gen says:

    It’s ultimately a matter of taste, Fr. I’m sure every altar boy has been trained differently. I believe the FSSP follows the same general guideline.

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