Our parish is deeply grateful for your acceptance and commitment to be altar servers. Your service and dedication are important parts of our parish life. The place of the altar server in liturgical celebrations remains one of prominence and distinction.
As you are destined in a special way for the service of the altar, you should learn all matters concerning liturgical worship and strive to grasp their inner spiritual meaning. The altar server retains a genuine and vital role in the liturgical assembly.
Your role, through your actions and conduct, is to bring the assembly to a fuller understanding of the liturgy and a greater love for God. You have a place of honor at Mass, because you assist the priest in many ways. Your behavior and accomplishments are signs of your faith and your love for God and God’s people. Altar servers are chosen from the faithful who display a desire to participate in a more intimate way during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It is an extreme privilege to kneel so close to the altar as our loving Savior, Jesus Christ, becomes truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity. In the presence of Our King it is both wise and necessary for you to perform all assigned duties with attention, dignity and reverence.
The Role of the Servers
Servers have a number of significant liturgical responsibilities. You may serve on your own during daily Mass; more frequently, you’ll be a part of a team during Sunday Mass or other special rites such as Confirmation, weddings or funerals. Depending upon the nature of the celebration, the team could number as few as two or three, or as many as seven – or even more! “If there are several persons present who are able to exercise the same ministry, nothing forbids their distributing among themselves, and performing different parts of the same ministry or duty.”
When assigning responsibilities, liturgical coordinators need to keep in mind that servers cannot perform two distinctive functions at the same time. When a team serves together on a regular basis, it can be easy to get into a rut. Vary the tasks as much as possible from week to week so that everyone can learn to do the various tasks.
Preparing for Mass
When arriving at church, be sure to check in with the coordinator of your ministry. This will vary from parish to parish, but it could be the celebrant, liturgical coordinator, pastoral associate or the sacristan. Some parishes have a check-in sheet in the sacristy for you to check off your name when you arrive. Please be sure to do so. Always remember: if you can’t make a scheduled liturgy, try to find a replacement or call ahead.
Verify your responsibilities (cross-bearer, candle-bearer, book-bearer, altar assistant, thurifer) with the coordinator of your ministry. You will probably be assigned to perform one or more of these duties. It may be necessary for the scheduled altar servers to determine amongst themselves who will do which task.
Get vested. Depending upon your diocese or parish community, servers wear either an alb or a cassock and surplice. Sometimes the alb is bound at the waist with a cincture, which is something like a belt. Make sure your alb or cassock is neither too short nor too long. Ankle-length is usually just about right. The cross cincture color should coincide with the liturgical color of that particular day. A calendar is posted to guide you in this.
Servers can often help with other preparations as well. While the sacristan will take care of most of the Mass preparations, it is always good for servers to check in and see if help is needed, especially with putting vessels and linens on the credence table and offertory table and the lighting of candles. (Be sure to wash your hands before handling the vessels and linens at Mass.) When setting up for Mass (or other rites and services), remember to be reverent and quiet, walking slowly and deliberately, so as not to disrupt the prayer and meditation of the assembly. The candles at the altar should be lit 10 -15 minutes before the Mass begins. Do so slowly, reverently and quietly, genuflecting before the tabernacle. Don’t use a match – or worse yet, a cigarette lighter in the presence of the assembly. It’s best to use the brass candlelighter. If incense is used, it should also be lit about 1—15 minutes before the Entrance Procession.
The sacristan or priest usually prepares the Book of the Gospels, Lectionary and the Roman Missal before Mass begins. The deacon (or when there is no deacon, a lector) carries the Book of the Gospels in the Entrance procession. The Lectionary is placed at the ambo before Mass. The Roman Missal and any ritual texts to be used by the celebrant are usually placed near the presidential chair or on the credence table, close to the server who will present them to the celebrant.
You should be in place for the Entrance Procession about ten minutes before the Mass begins. This allows plenty of time for final preparations (preparing the cross, lighting coals for incense, readying the procession candles, etc.). Be sure that you are lined up in proper processional order. During this time, you can also assist the ushers and greeters while people come into the church. Greet them with a welcoming smile and a hello.
How do you know when the procession starts? In large church buildings, where the main doors are quite far from the music ministers, it works well to have the ministers remain out of sight, in the vestibule, until the entire procession is lined up and ready. That way, the entrance of the cross into the body of the church is a visible sign that the entire procession is ready. Be familiar with the “signal” in your own parish. At St James the procession begins when the cantor starts to sing the entrance hymn.
Order of procession:
1st Lector with the Book of the Gospels
Things to Remember
- Your ministry as a server begins even before Mass does
- Arrive early
- Check in with whomever coordinates your ministry (sacristan)
- Find your alb
- Know your responsibilities, having discussed who does what with the other servers
- Know where everything is kept that you will need as you serve (candles, cross, thurible if it is to be used, vessels, vestments, linens and matches)
- Be prepared!
- And, of course, pause for prayer
Seating order beginning from cantor stand:
Prayer Before Serving
Father in heaven,
Your Son, Jesus Christ,
Showed his love for you
by serving his needy brothers and sisters.
I now ask you to give me your help
as I serve you and your people.
Open my mouth to praise you
in word and song.
Open my ears to hear your Word.
Open my hands to do your work well.
Take from my heart all evil and distracting thoughts.
Help me know what I should and do it well.
Help me to serve reverently
at your holy altar,
and so give you praise and glory
now and forever. Amen.
Prayer After Serving
Lord Jesus Christ,
you are the eternal High Priest.
You lead all your saints in heaven
and your people on earth
in praising God, our Father.
Thank you, Lord Jesus,
for letting me come before your altar,
so that, with your help,
I can praise my Father in heaven as his server.
Help me find joy in serving at your altar.
Help me find gladness in knowing and doing
your will in all things.
Glory to you, Lord Jesus,
and to the Father and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now and will be forever. Amen.
For more information on becoming an altar server, call the church office at 863-465-3215.