The Armchair Liturgist: How Many Altar Servers Are Enough?

armchair.jpgBack at our old parish Saturday night, the young miss commented that she missed being an altar server. It’s been three-and-a-half years, and she’s still thinking about that? Some of my readers here know my current parish does not have altar servers. Some duties are covered by the sacristan. And most often, the presider holds his own Roman Missal for the prayers.

I asked a friend what was up with the six servers at an otherwise ordinary Saturday night Mass. Six chairs were clustered around the presider’s: one on his left, two on his right, and three behind.

My own sense is that more is not necessarily merrier. Two competent altar servers are usually able to handle most anything thrown their way at an ordinary Sunday Mass. For a kid who has one-third of that job, I’d wonder about her or him staying sharp for the whole Mass. Deacon Greg reported fifty or more servers at his parish’s Midnight Mass. Count me a skeptic on that. New Year’s Eve, our hosts put out those delicious cocoa-dusted almonds. I confess I ate about a dozen, but really: wouldn’t two or three have served me just as well?

Sit in the purple chair and assign altar servers, if you will. Are big numbers a matter of inclusion, participation, pomp, or gluttony?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: How Many Altar Servers Are Enough?

  1. Liam says:

    I am thinking he was exaggerating.

  2. We generally assign 3 servers per Mass: one who’s also the Cross bearer and two carry candles in the procession.

    I know some parishes will include virtually their whole corps of servers at Midnight Mass and on Holy Thursday.

    My general rule is that only they are assigned to serve who have a ministry to carry out in a particular celebration.

  3. I wasn’t exaggerating. I may have been understating it, in fact.

    We have a total of 100 altar servers, male and female, and most are pressed into service for the Midnight Mass and Easter Vigil. It’s quite a spectacle. And, if I may say so, beautifully done. In a church that seats close to a thousand people, and in fact is larger than our diocesan cathedral, it doesn’t really feel overdone.

    We typically have four to six altar servers at Sunday Mass — more at the 11:30, which is our “high” Mass, complete with incense and choir.

    Stop by some time and visit! You won’t be disappointed :-)

    Deacon Greg Kandra
    “The Deacon’s Bench”

    • Liam says:

      Am I to gather that they are “pressed into service” as lucifers, i.e., torchbearers? Else I can’t figure out what other reason to have so many.

      • Yes, torchbearers. Candle bearers, too. We begin the service with the lights dimmed, and a long processional. They line the main center aisle, with candles and torches, while the clergy process in, the pastor bringing up the rear, carrying the infant Jesus, which he places in the creche. We typically have two thurifers for large liturgies, as well.

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