November 10, 2010

Between Slovenliness and Affectation

So I'm finally getting around to reading Fortescue. (Thanks to the kind parishioners of Sacred Heart in Yonkers for all of the Barnes & Noble gift cards!) It's been my fun reading, in the TV room at night or when I otherwise can't make myself read any more of Peter Lombard or Alexander of Hales.

One of my confreres calls me a 'church nerd,' which I guess one has to accept when he reads rubric commentaries for fun.

Last night I arrived at the section on the deportment of altar servers, which made me laugh:

"Considerable tact and good taste are needed in the priest or MC who trains the boys, to find the right mean between slovenliness and affectation."

By "affectation" is meant what Martinucci calls a "too punctilious a uniformity" such that the "sacred functions look theatrical."

As devoted and long-suffering as they were, punctiliousness and uniformity were not an issue for the altar servers with whom I had the privilege of working for part of time at the parish. May God bless them and may they forgive me for not being the kind of priest who had considerable enough tact to find the right mean between slovenliness and affectation.

6 comments:

ben in denver said...

Our boys are trained by a young 20-something who used to be a seminarian, but seems to have found love. He does a wonderful job.

He achieves the balance between slovenliness and affectation by alternating the lessons on rubrics and pronounciation of the Latin, with a game of his own invention called "pillow hockey" on a court he builds out of over-turned tables in the parish hall.

I have to say that I think he gets the balance just right.

He also serves as a staw subdeacon for solemn masses several times a year, so the boys can see the balance in action.

Ad Abolendam said...

Ha! This is one of my pet peeves. As a former altar boy, I've certainly seem the shift to slovenliness. [Entering nostalgia mode]: When I was an altar boy in the late 80s and into the 90s, we wore cassocks and surplices (until altar girls were invented). We had to wear black shoes and socks, and we were actually trained - we knew the names of all the sacred vessels and linens, all the vestments (including, for some reason, the EF vestments). If we screwed up, the Pastor, a gigantic Lithuanian priest, would chastise us.

Fast forward to our wedding day (2005): the altar boy is wearing sneakers and shorts, the latter of which is evident from his too short alb. [Primal scream!]

I often wonder if my current liturgical nitpickiness comes from my experiences as an altar boy. I wouldn't trade those experiences for the world, though, and I wish things were a little more strict nowadays. What a privilege it was to serve at the altar!

Cole Matson said...

This was great. After being newly trained last academic term (and serving only 3 times), this term I was thrust into the role of MC, because our previous MC graduated and the only other two returning servers were both also newly trained. After frantically scrambling to learn everything our previous MC knew (still working on it!), I just trained two brand-new servers last week, and I must say, I think our little 5-person team is doing quite well for a group with only a few months' experience at the upper end. We haven't spilled any wine in weeks (though honestly, I think that was the priest). And as long as we avoid fiascoes (like our previous MC's first serving experience, which involved knocking down an archbishop with a banner, or last week's travesty of forgetting to put out the collection baskets), I call it a success.

All joking aside, though, it is wonderful to have a Jesuit priest in charge who appreciates the formality of the liturgy, but is also very easy-going. He helps us do our best, but also encourages us instead of chastising us if something goes wrong. It actually means things don't go wrong very often, because we're in an environment of love and mutual respect, and not anxiety.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Charles, I have to agree with those who think that the standards for altar servers in most parishes have slipped to the point of almost being scandalous. I attribute it to the general decline in standards of behavior in society, but I am always surprised that kids who attend Catholic schools are not better attired to serve at Mass. For this I assign responsibility to the parents, who should take the time and effort to ensure that their kids who are altar servers wear shoes, not sneakers, long pants, not shorts, and do not have the hoods of sweatshirts outside of their server's alb-like garment!

Are pastors afraid of enforcing standards so as not to offend?

ben in denver said...

The comments here make me wonder what Fortescue would have thought of girls serving. I also wonder what he would have thought of the polyester server-albs that are so common now. I wonder too what her would have thought about the diminished role of the server in the novus ordo.

I expect it is easier for a pastor to insist on black slacks and black shoes when he already has no choice about insisting on the memorization of all of that Latin and the hours worth of lessons that are involved with learning where to stand and when to genuflect and when to ring the bells, etc...

Michael Hallman said...

I began reading the book before novitiate, but haven't had the opportunity to resume it here. It was very good, and even has affected my participation in the assistance of Mass at the novus ordo. I think the book can be misunderstood, in that I think one can see all the attention to such seemingly minute details, but it's amazing how sensible it is when one considers what is really going on in liturgy. It's all quite rational :)