Sacristans and Servers, Ministers of the Liturgical Environment

Sacristans and Servers

Many people arriving for Mass on Sundays would be unaware of the effort that goes into preparing the worship environment and the items needed for the celebration. The ‘behind the scenes’ ministry of sacristans is an essential service to the worshipping assembly.

Sacristans take responsibility for opening up the church, turning on lights and microphones, putting out the Roman Missal (prayer book) and Lectionary (book of scripture readings) - both marked at the right place of course! - and setting out chalices, plates, cruets, bread and wine, so that Mass can be celebrated.

The fundamental contribution of servers is to facilitate a smooth liturgy by anticipating the needs of the presider and other members of the assembly. 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.  This requires self-discipline and forethought so that unnecessary movement can be avoided. 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.

Sacristans and servers learn about the order and flow of the liturgy and about the sacred vestments and vessels used in liturgy so that their actions will contribute to the sense of the sacred. They put themselves at the service of the community and its worship and so help the liturgy become truly an act of worship and thanksgiving for all.

Ministers of the Liturgical Environment

Another group of ‘behind-the scenes’ liturgical ministers are those known as Ministers of the Liturgical Environment. The role of these people is to decorate the worship space and make it attractive, but it goes much deeper than that. By providing places for worship that are appealing and worthy, they open up the possibility of God touching people through the experience of beauty.

Ministers of the Liturgical Environment understand that all art and environment must serve the liturgy. In practice, this means that:

Visual objects such as flowers, banners and statues never draw attention away from the sacred action of the assembly.
The primary liturgical symbols of altar, font and lectern are noble and worthy pieces of art and they do not need to be decorated because they are central symbols in their own right.
Special care is taken to decorate appropriately the approaches to the church, the gathering spaces and the area where the assembly is seated for worship to highlight the fact that it is the entire assembly that celebrates the liturgy, not just the presider.

Ministers of the Liturgical Environment are aware that, when people worship in a liturgical environment that enhances the ritual actions and primary symbols of the liturgy, they are brought into 'full, conscious and active participation' and experience the beauty of the transcendent.


Elizabeth Harrington