Sacristans and Servers

I wonder how many people arriving for Mass on Sundays ever think about the effort that goes into preparing the worship environment and the vessels, vestments, books and other items needed for the celebration.
It is the role of sacristans and servers to ensure that everything is in place before the liturgy commences and to assist the work of other liturgical ministers during the celebration.
The ‘behind the scenes’ ministry of sacristans is an essential service to the worshipping assembly. Someone has to take responsibility for opening up the church, turning on lights and microphones, putting out the sacramentary and lectionary (marked at the right place of course!) and setting out chalices, plates, cruets, bread and wine, before Mass can be celebrated.
The fundamental contribution of sacristans and servers is to facilitate a smooth liturgy by anticipating the needs of the presider and other members of the assembly. The community can then participate free of minor distractions and annoyances.
It is important that the servers be neatly attired and move with confidence and grace in order to contribute to the prayerful atmosphere of the liturgy. How the server carries a candle or genuflects, for example, can make a difference. If it is done well, everyone will sense the importance of this ritual moment.
It is also essential for servers, wherever possible, to join in the singing, praying and listening, not only because they are members of the assembly, but also to set an example for the rest of the community to follow.
The highest compliment that can be paid to servers is for people to comment that they were quite unaware of their presence. The role of the server is a little bit like that of a guide dog – to steer the ministers and the assembly through the liturgy, leading the way where necessary, yet rarely being noticed themselves. To make oneself invisible requires self-discipline and forethought so that unnecessary movement can be avoided.
It is important also to establish patterns so that servers know the things they are required to do, how to do them, where people need to be located, where vessels and books will be and how to move with poise. This will ensure that servers can meet a variety of situations, including visiting priests and unexpected accidents, with decorum. Special liturgies such as the Easter Vigil will run smoothly when good patterns are established for the year-round functioning of sacristans and servers.
Celebrations such as baptisms, weddings and funerals often offer a challenge to liturgical ministers because of the emotion associated with such occasions. The first rule is to remain calm at all times. A testy sacristan or server will not be conducive to elegant, prayerful liturgy. When visitors are present, the most important ministry is to offer basic Christian hospitality.
Sacristans and servers need to appreciate that the liturgy is the praise and thanksgiving of the whole Church, understand the liturgy so that their actions will contribute to the sense of the sacred, and be willing to put themselves at the service of the community and its worship. In this way they help the liturgy become truly an act of worship and thanksgiving for all.


Elizabeth Harrington