Help Wanted: Servers/acolytes for weekend Masses. No experience necessary. On-the-job-training.
This plea for Mass servers was listed recently in the weekly bulletin at my parish, St. Roman, Milwaukee.
At subsequent Saturday evening and Sunday morning Masses, Fr. Brian Holbus, pastor, and Fr. Norberto Sandoval, associate pastor, reiterated the invitation to all in attendance. Teen boys and girls, couples, father and son/daughter, mother and daughter/son are welcome to assist the priest at the table of the Lord.
A priest shortage is understandable. But a server shortage?
Over the years at St. Roman, school children served at weekly, all-school Masses and the weekend liturgies. It seems, however, that now some children prefer to serve only at Mass with schoolmates.
Also, eighth grade servers who recently graduated would rather join adult laity as lectors and extraordinary ministers of the eucharist.
I don’t understand children’s reluctance to participate as weekend servers.
Recalling my youth in the 1940s, when only boys were allowed to be acolytes, there was no server shortage. Eagerly joining classmates and schoolmates, I became a Mass server as a fifth/sixth grader at St. Frederick Elementary School, Cudahy. Now, as a longtime member of St. Roman Parish, I still willingly serve at weekday, weekend and funeral Masses. It was then and still is an honor and privilege to assist the celebrant as a server/acolyte.
Reflecting on the transition, there’s no comparison serving Mass 75 years ago and in 2016. My, oh my, how times have changed!
So, let’s put this 1940s vs. 2016 Mass-server situation into perspective.
Pre-Vatican II vs. post-Vatican II.
Mass prayers and readings in Latin vs. Mass in vernacular.
Boys only vs. male and female servers.
Learning prayers and responses in Latin vs. no new language.
Weeks of instruction, coaching and practice with Sr. Mary Acolyte vs. minimal or no training.
When I say minimal, I believe it should take no more than an hour for anyone to learn to be a server. Even spontaneous or instant participation is possible. Volunteering alongside a server or merely observing a server’s duties are forms of self-instruction.
At St. Roman, for any first-time server, a printed, easy-to-follow list of procedures is available at the server’s assigned seat.
Basically, the routine involves:
• Joining the priest in procession to the altar
and taking the assigned seat.
• Holding the book of prayers (Roman Missal) for the celebrant.
• Preparing the altar with the chalice, cups, water/wine cruets for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
• Assisting the priest with reception of eucharistic gifts from worshippers.
• Pouring water for washing of hands.
• Holding the Roman Missal for closing prayers.
• Joining the priest in the recessional.
By comparison, serving Mass in the 1940s was much more complicated and detailed: Sr. Mary Acolyte patiently spent many hours of training and practice with all boys who expressed an interest in serving at Mass.
Mass prayers were in Latin and so were servers’ responses.
The priest faced the altar, occasionally turning to worshippers for a familiar “Dominus vobiscum” (The Lord be with you) to which the server so unforgettably responded “Et cum Spiritu tuo” (And with your Spirit). The priest, with his back to the people, read the Epistle and Gospel in English. (There were no lay lectors.)
To the priest’s “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti” (In the name of the Father …) the server responded “Introibo ad altare Dei” (I will go unto the altar of God).
Servers memorized the Confiteor – “Confiteor Deo omnipotenti” (I confess to Almighty God….)
Servers learned when to ring hand bells at the Offertory, Consecration and prior to Communion. To receive Communion, all were required to fast from midnight … and there was no reception in the hand.
Communicants knelt at a railing surrounding the sanctuary as the priest placed the Host on the recipient’s tongue, repeating, “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen. ” (The body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul until life everlasting. Amen.)
A server followed the priest holding a paten under the communicant’s chin to catch the Host if it slipped or dropped. The priest continued back and forth along the rail until all received. (There was no distribution of the Precious Blood.)
After communion, the priest re-covered the chalice and paten, offered closing prayers, returned to the sacristy and left through a back door. Mass-goers exited in silence.
The simplicity of serving Mass in 2016 should be inviting to any interested parishioner.
All it takes is a few dedicated, ready-willing-and-able volunteers to convert the “Help Wanted – Servers” listing to “Positions Filled.”
(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)