LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Sunday, 27 December 2009


Sorry : nothing yesterday about S. Stephen; and then apparently nothing today about the Holy Family . . . am I slipping ? Well, yes, probably; possibly at least partly due to crowded liturgical commitments - but during Vespers this afternoon, I did start thinking about something which slipped into my mind this morning in the context of both those Feasts : serving.

In the notices on today’s Weekly sheet at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, Fr Tim Finigan mentions a forthcoming ‘Servers’ Mass’, and asks all regular servers who have not yet joined the Guild of S. Stephen to let him know so that their admission can be arranged for that date.

Fr Tim clearly takes serving seriously; and it is apparent that the men and boys of Blackfen do as well. Regular readers of his blog will be aware that his servers are of a high standard who have collected many compliments, and this morning was no exception; Missa Cantata (EF), with no less than six torchbearers (age range, at a guess, 7 – 57), and beautifully done – even the bell falling apart during the Canon was dealt with smoothly and unobtrusively !

I don’t know how many servers they have in total (there were ten there today); but they are well trained, and very clearly regard serving on the Sanctuary as a great privilege – which, of course, it is.

I don’t know, because I’ve never been there during the week; but I rather suspect that there’s rarely a Mass at Blackfen without a vested server – and I am sure that it because the men and boys of that parish understand what a tremendous privilege it is to be allowed to serve Holy Mass. I’m also sure, from looking around the congregation, that the wives and mothers and sisters all understand that too.

Whilst I don’t want to suggest that Blackfen is alone in this – I’m sure it’s not - what worries me is how many masses, nowadays, one does see without a server; even at Westminster Cathedral, or the London Oratory, there are many Low Masses (and not only ‘private’ ones) said without a server – and yet there are almost always men and boys in the congregation who could serve.

I’m quite sure that it’s not that the priests don’t want a server; so presumably it’s because those men and boys just don’t see it as something they could – still less should – do : and yet, if serving is a great privilege then surely every Catholic man or boy ought to be able to serve – even if it’s only Low Mass in the Ordinary Form in English – and ought to want to do so whenever he is permitted to.

There’s a satirical song about a rather strange parish which contains a telling verse :

‘We’ve started a sodality of John of San Fagondez
Consisting of the five young men who serve High Mass on Sundays;
And though they simply will not come to weekday Mass at seven,
They turn up looking wonderful on Sundays at eleven !’

Maybe I’m wrong; maybe in fact it’s a phenomenon of the big churches which I seem to go to most often that whilst there are plenty of servers for the ‘big events’ you don’t seem to see them serving the ‘ordinary’ Low Masses, and maybe most parishes are like Blackfen, with lots of keen servers of all ages, where Masses without servers are few and far between : I don’t know.

What I’d like to know, though, is why it should be true anywhere; and I wonder whether this is at least partly another casualty of the Novus Ordo, with its more ‘casual’ approach to liturgy than was usual in the Extraordinary Form;

Maybe it’s that that men and boys don’t think that serving the very ‘informal’ Mass which we have seen so often over the last forty years is important; or that it’s a privilege; or that it’s worth getting up early to go and serve early Mass before work or school . . . but perhaps it’s also a bit to do with the changes in family life which we hear so much about nowadays.

I say this because despite the fact that I am certain that a family’s appreciation of this privilege is a very effective force in keeping the family appreciating one another – and thus in keeping the family together (something we should have been praying for today) – as far as I can see Catholic families simply don’t encourage their sons to learn to serve, and to want to serve, the way they obviously used to : and I say that because, if they do still encourage them, it is difficult to understand why some churches seem to have such a problem.

OK; there’s a lot I’m not sure of in all of this; but what I am sure of is that serving Mass is a great privilege, and that every Catholic boy ought to want to serve Mass, and ought to be able to, and ought to be willing to put himself to some trouble to do so . . . and then every parish, big or small, would be like Blackfen, with lots of dedicated servers, and lots of committed families.

Let us pray for all Catholic boys to want to serve; and in this Year for Priests, let us remember how many holy Priests first felt their vocation stirring as they knelt in the Sanctuary serving Holy Mass, and pray for a great growth in vocations too.


  1. The Mass for servers is actually on Tuesday - Saturday is the Missa Cantata sung by our visiting schola (they come once a month).

    Sadly, there are Masses at Blackfen where there are no servers... usually weekday Masses (they are at the rather awkward time of 10am) and almost always the Novus Ordo (though occasionally the EF Mass has suffered when EVERY server has been going to somewhere like Westminster for a big event, and the boys have gotten their wires crossed... this is rare!)

    The vast majority of servers at the NO Masses are, sadly, female. The boys don't want to serve alongside the girls. Although the paucity of the rubrics for serving may have had some effect in reducing the number of boys who want to serve, the presence of girls on the sanctuary has done the most damage.

  2. Mea Culpa ! Sorry for that confusion; it just proves how dangerous it is to rely on memory . . .

    I can imagine that 10:00 on a weekday might prove a problem; but that doesn't entirely surprise me, and I would think it is probably true everywhere.

    Your comments about the boys not wanting to serve alongside the girls are interesting, though; clearly this needs some investigation !

    Nonetheless, I remain mightily impressed by the serving - and the servers - at Blackfen.

  3. Frankly, the girls are more mature and better organised than the boys of the same age, and so they naturally "take over" when serving, especially as serving the OF Mass is so much about reading the priest's body language to see what happens next, and what he might want, so to speak. The EF Mass is more regimented, in role and in movements around the sanctuary (almost like parade-ground drill) so everyone knows beforehand exactly what they need to do, and therefore it is more attractive to little boys.

  4. That's very interesting; I'd never thought of it like that before - but, of course, you're quite right that boys (particularly small ones) enjoy 'patterned' behaviour more than girls seem to, whilst girls seem to be more instinctive than boys, so that obviously makes sense.