July 28, 2007

Sit Up and Take That Gum Out of Your Mouth, Young Man!

Gentle Reader:

Father may chant like an angel, move like he's performing the most timeless ballet ever, have all the rubrics down pat, and be entirely undone by his altar servers.

The altar servers may have the most starched and blindingly white albs or suplices we've ever seen. They may have the most appropriate and well-shined shoes we've ever seen. Their hair may be clean and neat. They may even have dress trousers poking out of the bottom instead of frayed denim.

All the beauty will come to naught as the parishioners watch these same altar servers slouch in their chairs, slough across the floor scuffing their shoes, chew their cud, roll their bovine eyes, sigh heavily about 100 times, yawn loudly about 30 times, act clueless, and look for all the world like they'd rather be in summer school retaking their final trigonometry exam.

If you see this (and, oh boy, I sure have!) kind of behavior, it pays to mention it to Father or whoever at your parish is responsible for altar server training. It's true that people can have an off-day, and if they are we should cut them some slack. But, sometimes, it's SO bad and SO clear that the servers just don't want to be there that, I think, if raising the issue to the appropriate people doesn't help, the altar server needs to be told their services are no longer needed.

I realize that in many instances it's not a youth's desire to serve at the altar, their parents want them to for various reasons. Parents: sometimes you just have to let it go.

The reverence of the Mass is so important: more important, then anyone's ego or social standing in the parish community.

I think we have witnessed not only the erosion of linguistic manners in our society but also physical manners. It seems to me that a lot of people don't know how to sit up straight or that it's not appropriate to talk and crack your gum at the same time. A lot of people don't know what a napkin is for at the dinner table or that you shouldn't lean on the table while people are eating (elbows off!). I'm not suggesting that everyone has to know exactly what every fork on the table is for, and always sit like they have a ramrod up their spine, but even the basics and the situations when you should employ them appear to have just fallen off our social radar. For instance, if you are sitting in front of everyone up on the altar, now is not apropriate time to sit like you would during the latest MN Twins loss (massacre): slouched with your arms crossed and scowling.

In some parishes there is a lack of youth available to be altar servers. I've seen adults perform the altar service just as well. I've also been to Masses where there were no altar servers, Father does it all himself. I don't think we should be settling for less just because there are few willing, or able, to serve.


Blogger Terry Nelson said...

What a providential post - I was going to do one after Mass tonight. The altar girl was quickly trained in by her bermuda short clad dad 5 minutes before Mass tonite. She never knew what the hell she was doing. I wanted to jump out of the pew. I've gotta go back to St. Agnes - I can't take this anymore.

July 28, 2007 8:20 PM  
Anonymous nab said...

The scary thing is, they're supposed to be mirrors for what the congregation is doing. That's one of their "purposes." (I don't mean to reduce them to that, just to point out an important aspect.)

If we're supposed to do what they're doing...well maybe everyone at Mass does make sense! (Just teasing.)

July 28, 2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

nab: LOL!

Terry: I hear ya. I'm in a similar situation.

July 29, 2007 8:18 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

I don't doubt that back in the "olden days", parental pressure was a principal reason why most of us grade school lads became altar boys.

If Dad said "you should be an altar boy", few of us fourth graders would have had the gumption to be able stand up to him and say "I don't wanna!"

But as I recall the circumstances, in my case the pressure was a lot more subtle; and more effective.

I had two cousins, one, two years and the other five years older than me that I would admire as they performed their duties on the altar. And my Dad regularly talked about the fun that he had when he served Mass. Always lots of stories about priests who went through a couple of cruets of church wine at each Mass (this was during Prohibition, you see), the opportunity he had of serving for the Bishop as his parish was the Cathedral, and then, the opportunity to serve at an International Knights of Columbus convention in Duluth with thousands in attendance, including lots of Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and priests.

And most importantly, being an altar boy back then was important. You had something to do.

Today when I observe the motley crews that comprise most servers, disregarding their Mickey Mouse tennis shoes and baggy pants and careless postures, frankly they are that way because there really is nothing important for them to do.

First of all, I doubt that they really understand what the Mass is all about. So they see no need to be reverent.

They process in with Father, hand him the Missal at the beginning of Mass, then move off to the side and don't have anything at all to do until after the Creed and the Prayers of the Faithful.

Then they might help bring the gifts to the altar after the presentation by some family from the congregation.

They might present Father with the small cruets of water and wine for the Offertory and with water for the Lavabo (ritual hand washing)

The probably kneel for the Consecration and then sit down again.

Most don't have anything to do during the Communion, and then since most priests don't seem to purify the vessels at the altar these days, they just have to hand the Missal to Father again for the final prayers and then grab the processional crucifix and get ready to leave.

All this takes an hour of their valuable computer time at home.

In the old days, a father couldn't give his child five minutes of instruction prior to Mass.

Those of us who decided to be altar boys (probably half or better) would stay after class one day a week for special instructions from one of the nuns.

We didn't have to learn the meaning of the Latin, but we had to learn how to pronounce it and then to memorize it. We were the congregation in those days in terms of responding to the priest's prayers.

After we had mastered the Latin, then we had instructions in the "rubrics", the choreography of the Mass, again after our normal class time.

Once we had survived that, we would begin to be assigned to the High Masses as the third and fourth altar boys who didn't have specific assignments such as bell ringing, missal moving, cruet serving, or, the most desired of all, thurible (censer) and boat (incense container) duty.

And there was a lot of choreography between those duties with assigned moves such as bowing, genuflecting, moving to different positions on the altar, all accompanying our fluent Latin pronunciations of the Mass prayers.

The only sitting would be for the sermon. No homilies in those days.

The creme de la creme of altar boy duties was when you were assigned to a Saturday morning Mass and it happened to coincide with a wedding. $$$$$! Generally the best man would pop up with five bucks or more for each of us.

Another good duty would be funerals. Generally no money, but lots of extra things to do.

Of course being assigned to Midnight Mass for Christmas and the principal Masses at Holy Week would be kind of like the Medal of Honor ceremony for altar boys. The nuns had approved of the way we had performed our duties, properly and reverently, and thus could be entrusted with those sacred responsibilities.

July 29, 2007 8:19 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ray: I always enjoy your historical commentary. I also see how you cleaned up as an altar boy. I can see you lobbying for those wedding Masses.

July 29, 2007 12:04 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

Five bucks was a lot in those days.

Now and then before payday, it still is a lot.

July 29, 2007 2:00 PM  
Blogger Histor the Wise said...

Where I am, there's usually 25 altar boys at any big event, so $5 a boy would be.....expensive.

I serve myself, and I'll just say that most of my fellows are reverent during Mass. Father keeps the 5 tallest boys busy, and the others are just there to look holy.


July 29, 2007 6:13 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

The Basilica of St Mary in Mpls that does not have a school, uses only adults for the servers. And they have a great crew.

St Agnes and St Anthony for their Saturday morning Latin Masses use adults for the servers.

St Agnes uses a battalion of servers for their bigger events, some as young as second grade who are there in a learning capacity. But they have to know their moves. And they get to watch the other servers.

July 29, 2007 6:48 PM  
Blogger Ma Beck said...

As a plug for our altar boys:
They move with military precision, they never slouch, they always genuflect, and they look straight ahead, always.
They are beautiful children, yet they are not super-holy (well, maybe, I don't know) or super-intelligent. But they HAVE been super-trained, and told that they can't serve if they can't do it correctly.
It's a JOB, not a game.
There was a time, I'm sure, when all altar boys took their jobs seriously.
Now, they're distracted by the pretty "altar girl" and God knows what else. They know that it's not an honor set aside just for them to help them discern a possible vocation to the priesthood. It's open to anyone - hell, just look at Britnee and Ashley up there.
[Self-imposed rant cutoff, before I get too ranty.]

July 30, 2007 8:33 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Histor: "just there to look holy" Good. It's a start. I wish I looked holy. LOL!

Ma: I love it when you are feisty.

July 30, 2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger swissmiss said...

I look forward to the day my son can be an altar boy. I will be a proud mom. But, I would also pull him off that altar so fast if he didn't show the proper knowledge of or disposition toward what he was doing. I would also never force him to do it just to make myself happy, but I do pray that he will someday have the honor of serving.

July 30, 2007 2:16 PM  

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