Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Altar Boys vs Altar Girls

On Sunday I served two Masses (neither of which were my usual) because I had to visit my Grandparents during my usual and we had three new servers at the evening Mass with no experienced servers turning up.

At the early morning Mass were three girls, two relatively new and the third in the Guild. I have never seen such atrocious serving in my 18 years as an Altar Boy. They sat chatting during the Homily and Communion, the book bearer couldn't hold the book still, one of the acolytes during the Gospel held the candle with one hand and picked wax with the other, there was no respect for the MC - at one point I had a fight over the Baptism Oil with one of them because she would give it to me when I asked her to. All that with wandering aimlessly around the Sanctuary I wondered what they get up to when there's no adult with them. I had to give them a quick training session after Mass.

At the evening Mass three boys came to the Sacristy asking to serve as they had received their First Holy Communion a couple of weeks before. They were as good as gold, perfect, angels!!

Is this because of their gender? Is it just because the boys were so new? What is the secret behind the whole Boys v Girls on the sanctuary thing?


·!¦[· keelia ·]¦!· said...

You are a sexist pig.

·!¦[· keelia ·]¦!· said...

Yes, a sexist pig, and a horrible human being.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea, but you can understand now why I get very exasperated with the situation in our Parish. Children servers--most good, but some fidgety. Anyway, then I asked Father about serving, and he said no adult servers, which really doesn't make sense (especially when we have an adult acolyte, and he has no servers for Tuesday evening Masses, and I did it before, albeit in an Anglican Church)...

Anonymous said...

P.S. Whoops! Sorry for moaning! :)

karen h. -- san diego said...

It's good you were there. Perhaps I can help a bit in my observations. (I've trained both boys and girls over the years.)

I recently trained two kids who were both "fidgety during Mass in the pew" types to serve mass nicely. One boy, one girl. They both still make an occasional mistake, but they've come leaps and bounds in both understanding the Mass and their personal deportment.

The VERY first discussion I have with them is on DEPORTMENT. Ask them if any of them have ever been in a school play or other similar event. chances are some of them have, or can relate. You tell them that the priest is in general the focus of where their attention to be, since everyone at mass should be looking at the priest. When they do something unexpected from where or what they should do, they are "drawing focus" to themselves.
Yes, people will "see them" but won't "notice them" if they're not looking around or picking their nose or whatnot. i.e. They should consider themselves "wallpaper." Be very concrete with your examples.

At this session, they are also given practical advice. "what to do in case you have to throw up, or really, really need the bathroom?"
[sudden diarrhea attack] We of course, tell them to leave right away, and we'll understand. Also cover "the giggles" should the need arise. I.e. rivet your attention on father and what he's doing. If doing that would cause you to have to be in a direction facing the people a bit, then in that case look away and cast your eyes down to the floor so you can compose yourself. doesn't happen often, but you should cover it. Sometimes someone in the congregation will let out a particularly loud "ha-CHHOO" to shake the rafters or some little one will blurt out something...your servers need to know "what if."

I give them practical advice as to how to go up and down steps in their alb, how to hold it up just slightly as they ascend/descend steps (the boys especially need this one) and if kneeling to watch the bottom of the alb doesn't get stuck over their heels. Tell them what happens if they DON'T take care!

We talk about symetrical movement, and the fact that they should look like bookends and pace off each other, and whose lead to follow.
It makes a prettier picture. Have them sit in the pew while you and someone else demonstrate what NOT to do...then what TO do ...then they can see the difference themselves. all those things where they turn and bow at the same time.

Impress on them that if it's a sung Gloria, they are to wait to sit down only AFTER Fr. has planted himself firmly in the chair. ditto the first reading. These are things that we older folks take for granted. Kids "see" them too....but they really don't know them until it is brought to their attention.

Teach them how to sit properly ... AND how to discretely stretch something if they have to during the sermon without drawing attention to themselves. (we have 22 minute sermons on average, so believe me this part of the instruction is necessary!)

The next few sessions, I break down for them "who does what job" -- if you assign these tasks carefully, they won't be fighting "how come you always get to ring the bell" issues. In a two server mass, I have them break it down as follows - all they have to do is remember this sentence: Go aCROSS the WATER and [get the 2nd collection. (if there is one)]

In other words the same kid carries the cross and Always handles the water cruet all three times. The other one handles the wine and the finger towel (in this case, also the bowl because both servers in question have hands too small to risk holding the bowl in one without dropping.) The second server also holds the book.

They both have the task of taking things from the altar after the communion after the priest sets the items aside. and both know that they are to help with receiving the gifts from the congregation.

If there is to be a renewal of baptismal promises or sprinkling of palms "water" also carries the bucket for the priest. (before the mass if a youngster hasn't done it before, practice a little so you can show them how far and where behind the priest to stand and how to hold the bucket convieniently for him so he can use the aspergillum with ease.

Have them trade off jobs. One do one job one week, and the other tasks the next week.

Oh, and if the parish is one that the charismatics infected with hand holding at communion, instruct them NOT to hold hands. You're just asking for trouble, because there will be a strong temptation for them to try and indian wrestle.

If you remember what temptations YOU had as a kid, try and apply it, and give them some practical remedies.

Regards holding the're a grown man, so you forget how unwhieldly that can be! As they face the priest with the book, make sure they know that they can slightly cheat and balance the top of the spin of the book on their foreheads, it takes the weight off, and the congregation doesn't really notice this from the position they are in. Make sure they hold their hands out flat with fingers extended at the bottom of the book, in case father has to turn pages. Practise that in the sacristy and don't just assume they know how to do it. If you tell them WHY they are doing something and the practical reason, it sinks in.

Don't have brand new kids serve their first masses with each other.
Have them serve mass with an older and more practiced server, until you feel the new kid can serve mass on his/her own if need be. Have them do each assignment a few times in a row so they get that pat...then have them take the other job for a few weeks. This way it impresses it upon them what goes with what. i.e. have them do water/cross a few times, then have them do the wine/other tasks. then they can start switching back and forth from week to week.

At any rate, working with kids is a joy, because you will get to pass on to them your love of the mass. And it's often a good time to slip into them them bits and pieces about "why do we do this" "what does this mean" over time. i.e. "Why do we make three little crosses just before the gospel is read?" And some practical things:
"Why is the priest putting the pall over the chalice." I noticed both our new servers had a slight smile on their faces when father did that the other week. Back when they were in the pews they had no idea that sometimes the priest put the pall over the chalice because a small fruit fly might get in! Detail, detail.

Lastly, it's important to impress on them that they are so lucky, that all over the world people are FORBIDDEN to even attend Mass, and risk life and limb and jail for doing so. they are standing in for all those people who can't be there. And best of all they get to be so very near when the miracle of the transformation of mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. They get to see a miracle every week, and partake.

Basically, you teach them to fall in love with the Mass. And if they make little mistakes here and there, gently correct them after mass and tell them why. And never yell at a kid if he/she does get flustered and drops something in the sacristy. Just pick it up and go on and try not to do the same thing again. Tell them the priest doesn't bite and he was most likely a young server himself one time.

And remember, the younger they are, the shorter the attention span. I usually will have about 3 1/2 hour sessions with them (sometimes 4) before they are let to serve their 1st mass. and realize different kids learn at different paces.

But it's a joy to see kids who were slouching in the pews and who had a hard time focusing before ... can now be trusted a mere few months later to ring the bells at the proper time and in an aesthetically pleasing way at Mass.

Consider yourself blessed for having the honor of teaching them.

The Bookworm said...

I think the secret might be in the training. My daughter is an altar server, and the MC would shoot her if she behaved the way your girls did!

Orthfully Catholic said...


Thank you very much for your advice, I was thinking of suggesting to the Parish MC that he organise a training day for all servers and if I am not at seminary I will take your advice on board for that.

Orthfully Catholic said...


Having just looked at your blog I can see why you have said that. This isn't really the place for you is it dear?

Augustinus said...


I've looked at your blog. It's clear that you do not understand Catholicism. You clearly came to this site by mistake.

Good luck with your studies, but try to see a wider perspective in God's world than is evidenced by a casual glance at your site and your silly rant at Orthfully Catholic.

karen h. -- san diego said...

Oh, and orthfully.... forgot to add:
If you have a mass or service that is a little bit (or a lot) out of the ordinary, always go over with them what's "different" before the Mass. If it's a parish where someone "in the know" isn't always around, it's not a bad idea to have a "how to" book firmly in place in the sacristy. Use a three ring binder, and place the pages in plastic covering and threaten to kill anyone who removes it from the sacristy. ;-D

i.e. funeral mass, Holy thursday, Easter Vigil, Wedding mass, baptismal mass, palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Vigil. Sometimes there are just a few things different. Midnight Mass at Christmas. Now sometimes there are just small differences, but kids like to be reassured what happens. i.e. "For Palm sunday, we have the blessing of palms almost right away, so "water" you be ready with the bucket to come right over when father gives you "that look"]

Or on Holy Thursday "we ring the bells all through the gloria, then just use the wooden clacker when we would normally use the like this." [and demonstrate]

Extra instruction is needed with any Mass or service involving incense.. use the older kids for this one...though a nice break in for a younger server is to be there with the boat. Teach your thurifers the trick of lighting the coals ... i.e. hold the coal in tongs in the sacristy upside down and then apply the flame to the concave portion, and blow on it slightly...this catches really quick...then put the charcoal in the thurible.

Also go over the neat little trick of handling cruets/bowl finger towel if they have to serve mass alone. i.e. put water in left hand first, handle out...then with left hand use pinkie to hook hand of wine cruet and place in right hand.
Then to "unload" use pinkie. This is especially useful for kids with small hands. Have them practice a few time in sacristy. And tell them to pick up towel and place on left arm first, then pick up finger bowl. A lot of kids will pick up bowl and cruet first, then panic, because they can't figure out how to get the towel too, and "father is waiting..." Instruct them to hold the arm out a bit because "yes, you are the towel rack" and remember they have to be told that father's sign to stop pouring is when he lifts the chalice a little. We take these things for granted, the kids don't. They also need to be explictly told that the MC is the "traffic cop." [There's very seldom an MC here, but you might need to make that explicit.]

BTW, I don't know what was "up" with your unholy three without some investigation....but sometimes if the Mass being done was a little complicated (was there a baptism or something? we normally never see any holy oil at our Masses] instead of "chatting" the two younger servers may have been asking the older server "anything out of the ordinary going to happen next? "
A lot of that can be alleviated if you go over them BEFORE mass "what's different" and "when." Though you betcha I'd have taken them to task for when they were "chatting."

Do yourself a favor too. Where the server's gear is, place a sign:
"Please hang up your alb/cassock [whatever]after Mass - your mother does not work here." Gets the point across in a non-yelling way.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Karen,

Great comments! Have you considered writing them up into a book, or something?

karen H. -- San Diego said...

Hi Mark -- well, I did get around last year to writing out a 12 page funny missive for "how to cover Fr. S's 5:15 Sunday mass" [from start to finish] -- as it turned out all of usual servers and I and the head usher were going to be out of town that I wrote down every little detail for a few of the people that were to fill in. I wrote up everything from opening up the church hall including which funky way the hall door key worked to locking up at night...and in between. Including a "how to serve mass" primer in case the intended fill in server couldn't show up due to scheduling conflict at work.

I never thought of formally writing a book, as there are any number of books written up on the subject...and there are enough minor little things in each parish -- but come to think of it, I never saw any go into the "deportment" bit much per se...and the "why" of things.

Also, you'd write different things for say, young kids under 12 than you would for the older ones to get through to them. Little kids do best if you give them very concrete examples.

And as our priest, though he's said mass there for about 30 years is a supply priest, I included the bits about how to check the ordo to make sure you have the right readings marked in the priest's missal and in the lectionary. Father gets there kind of last minute, as a rule, so everything is always laid out and ready to go for him. He brings his own pall, but other than that everything is all set out. Sometimes if he's early we might even set out his own chasuable and stole on the vesting bench with style...but he's usually a last minute bunny. Must be from all those years of teaching and knowing the clock "just on."

John said...

Keelia sounds friendly.

I've been reading Roderick Strange's "The Risk of Discipleship," and this reminds me of his accounts of religious people being assaulted out of context...