Sacristans and Servers


Most people who attend weekend Masses probably never give a thought to how much work has gone into preparing the vessels, vestments, books and other items needed for the celebration and who carries out this important role.
The ‘behind the scenes’ ministry of sacristans who ensure that everything is in place before the liturgy commences is an essential service to the worshipping assembly. It is they who take responsibility for opening up the church, turning on lights and microphones, putting out the Sacramentary and Lectionary (marked at the right place!) and setting out chalices, plates, cruets, bread and wine, before Mass can be celebrated.
Servers assist with some of these tasks as well as carrying the processional cross, candles and thurible, holding the book, and performing other duties at Mass and other liturgical rites. Servers assist the priest during processions, rituals, gestures, at the chair and at the altar.
It is important that 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 convey to all present that this is an important ritual moment.
Because servers are such visible members of the assembly it is essential that they participate fully in the liturgy by joining in the singing, praying and listening. When servers, young or old, are seen to be profoundly engaged in the celebration they serve us as role models: their example will be something that members of the assembly are encouraged to follow.
It is important 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.
The highest compliment that can be paid to servers is for people to comment that they were quite unaware of their presence. To make oneself invisible requires self-discipline and forethought so that unnecessary movement can be avoided.
Training altar servers can be a challenge for most parishes but, presented in a way that offers friendship, fun and some learning, young people will respond positively. The resource “PowerfulPoints for Liturgical Ministry” published by the Liturgical Commission ( has three sessions for training altar servers, one of which is specifically for junior servers. The material includes PowerPoint slides & presenter’s notes as well as handouts.
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.
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