On truth and beauty.

From the Catholic Herald:

Catholicism is a visual religion. In Catholicism, you look at things and there is usually plenty to look at. Moreover, Catholicism prepares you for eternal life where you will look at the Beatific Vision forever. So, what you look at here on earth is an encouragement to strive for heaven, and a taste of heaven on earth… the embroidery on a chasuble is the prayer of the person who made it, and its intricacy of design exists to stir up a similar prayer in the heart of the beholder.”

When I was stationed at the US Naval Hospital in Naples, Italy, we had the chance to take tours of churches. Lots of churches. There is a church on every corner, and even the lowliest of them exceeds anything we have here in these United States in terms of beauty and intricacy. I recall the first time I entered one of these places, along with a bunch of other tourists. Standing at the back of the church, and looking forward, my eye was drawn every upwards and forwards: there was just too much to take in. Every nook, cranny, crevice and crack was filled with something: a carving, a painting, a staining; whatever it was, it was something that was the product of all of someone’s skill, patience, undivided attention, time, and, yes, love, love in the truly Catholic sense of willing the best for the other.

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Of course, those thousands of unknown someones who produced each of these tens (hundreds?) of thousands of tiny, intricate little, and often not so little, things, not to mention those someones who integrated all those things as parts of a very great whole, did it for pay. Of course they did it for pay. Most of us – me included – do what we do for a buck.

“But in the end,” to paraphrase Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, the defense lawyer in one of my favorite novels, The Caine Mutiny*, “what is it that you do for a buck?”

Well, for a buck, all of these long dead someones built beautiful churches, put all of their time and attention and skill and intellect and heart and soul into the ten thousand little, and not so little, things, and, in so doing, made beautiful things for God. And they did something else, as well. When you stand at the back of one of these churches, and let your gaze be drawn ever upwards and forwards, trying to take is all in, eventually your gaze comes to rest on a tiny figure barely visible in the far distance, up on the massive altar. The figure is always there, in every church you go into. The figure is always more or less the same, no matter how large, ornate or elaborate the altar and surroundings. The little figure is nearly naked, his head hangs down, his body slumps, suspended by his hands nailed to a cross. And it struck me, standing there at the back of the church, that maybe this is what the long dead someones were trying to say.

“This”, they were saying to me, “this is what we think heaven is like. Or at least it’s as close as we can come.”

“And this”, they seemed to be whispering as my eyes were drawn to the tiny, far away figure, “is how we showed our gratitude.”


Not so long ago, I had the occasion to attend Mass at church I don’t normally go to. It was a little white clapboard church, built in the 19th century, but well preserved. Inside, it was clean, to be sure, and in decent shape. But something was different. Outside, it looked much as it had a century ago. Inside, the sanctuary had been gutted. The altar rails were gone, the various statues were gone, leaving empty alcoves and, most importantly, the high altar was gone. The outline was still there, painted bland white; I imagine it only remained because to remove it would have required the destruction and rebuilding of the entire rear wall. But the altar was gone, only the ghost remained. From the old outline one could guess that the altar had been a work of beauty and love, a visual centerpiece of the masses said there. And, along with the altar and, of course, the altar rail, had gone all the accouterments: candle stands, altar cloths, tabernacle veils and frames, communion vessels, patens, the crucifix, all the stuff that had once been so central to this little church. Who knows where it went. All that remained was the lonely tabernacle, devoid of any coverings, sitting naked on a little pedestal. I felt ashamed that my contemporaries had seen fit to destroy and obliterate the work of beauty and love and sacrifice that generations past – people far poorer than we – had worked to build.

In its place is a “memorial table” (this altar with legs is sometimes and in some circles known as a Cranmer table), and some candle stands that can only be described as “cheap”. Don’t misunderstand, everything is clean, and reasonably well cared for. But the past, the tradition and heritage, the visual reminders of those who had gone before us, and sacrificed for those yet to come in their future – us - had been deliberately obliterated. The Mass itself was a sing-along, c.1983, with guitar accompaniment. Everybody held hands as often as possible, and especially during the guitar strumming Our Father, hands held and raised, slightly waiving. Don’t misunderstand, everyone there was quite sincere, and quite enthusiastic about what they were doing. But visually, to the disinterested unchurched observer, it was not really very different from what the Baptists down the street do. In fact, the Baptists are much better at this sort of thing.

The Catholic Church is the visible Church. It is visual, audible, tactile. The Sacraments - as well as sacramentals - are real, physical things. This is because we are not angels, we have bodies, and live in the physical world, are moved by, and understand physical things. The past half century has been a time of experimentation with the obliteration of the most publicly visible aspects of the Church’s physical, tangible patrimony: the form of the church building, and the form of the Mass. How has the experiment worked out? From my worm’s eye view, the data is in and the result is incontrovertible to those who have eyes to see: the experiment has not worked worked out, not worked out at all.

Quid est pulchritudo?

Quid est veritas?


* There are lots of quotables from The Caine Mutiny. One of my favorites: “The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots.” Into which of those two groups did I fall? Well, I wasn’t a designer...


A cry of the heart.

It goes like this:

“We urgently need the Church’s clarity and authoritative guidance on issues like abortion, homosexuality, gender dysphoria, the indissolubility of matrimony, the four last things, and the consequences of contraception (moral, anthropological, and abortifacient). My generation has never, or rarely, heard these truths winsomely taught in the parishes. Instead, we hear most forcefully and frequently from our bishops' conference and our dioceses regarding the federal budget, border policy, net neutrality, gun control, and the environment…

… If the Church abandons her traditions of beauty and truth*, she abandons us.”

Thus goes a letter from a young man, married, and the father of three children. He wrote it to Archbishop Charles Chaput, who reproduced it in First Things, here.

A brief personal anecdote: when we still lived in Virginia, and attended St. Benedict's Parish, one of my daughters, around 11 years old at the time, invited a neighbor girl to spend the night. This little girl lived up the street, her parents were in the process of getting divorced, her father was not living at home and her mother had a new boyfriend. I do not know what their religion was, if any. It is possible the little girl had never been inside a church in her life. Nevertheless, she had her mother’s permission to go with us to Mass that Sunday, and she did. And I could tell by the look on her face that, though she wasn’t real sure exactly what was going on, she knew that something was going on, and it was important.


We moved away not too long after. I do not know what became of the little girl.


How we pray – the Church’s visible, public attitude of prayer - is important. It is the most visible aspect of Catholic life to non-Catholics, and says without words more than truckloads of verbiage can ever say about what the Church teaches about who we are, and Who God is. And, it gives foundation to figuring how to address all those other difficulties that come up in this life. If we worship like grownups, there’s a better chance that, just maybe, we might think like grownups.

To me, the silence of many – most - Dioceses, Bishops and priests on the ever-proliferating tough problems, the collapse of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, the emptying of the pews and the closing of churches have, at their root, a loss of Catholic identity, Catholic patrimony, and even a loss of an awareness that there is something known as truth. Catholics have been deprived of their heritage, and have been given Pablum instead. Returning to the traditional Mass won’t magically or instantaneously fix all this (I have been accused, in writing, by prelates, of believing that this is so) but I do believe it is the first step of a thousand and one steps. And, I believe, with all my heart, that it is a necessary step. As we pray, we believe.


* As you may know, there is a confusing discussion going on right now in the blogosphere and beyond regarding “truth”. I refer you to Fr. Gerald Murray’s analysis here, and some follow on commentary from Fr. Zuhlsdorf here. Pilate’s question remains with us always: Quid est veritas?


So you're new to the Latin Mass...

An Una Voce Maine member sent me a couple of articles, and I thought I’d pass them along.

First we have Steve Skojec, manning up to come clean about his little Latin problem. You can feel his pain:

“ …I wanted to tell them. I wanted to get it off my chest. I wanted to scream from the rooftops, “I GO TO THE LATIN MASS AND I DON’T KNOW ANY FREAKING LATIN! DOES THAT MAKE ME LESS OF A PERSON? AM I SINGING THE SALVE REGINA CORRECTLY? DOES GOD EVEN LOVE ME?!?

But I kept my mouth shut. I had a family. A reputation to consider…”

As Tow Mater likes to say, “Yup, that’s funny right there…”

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But Skojec goes on:

“The Church recommends Latin for all. No less a pope than Pope St. John XXIII, who invoked the Second Vatican Council … spoke beautifully of the importance of Latin in the life of the Church in his apostolic constitution, Veterum Sapientia:

‘Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all…’

The pope went on to order the bishops to ensure the study of Latin for those entering the priesthood and teaching theology...

As everyone now knows, his orders were disobeyed…”

Go there and read the whole thing. It’s funny, it is. But it’s also pretty serious.


 Secondly, we have an article at The Liturgy Guy, here. I’ve snipped a bit, but do go and read the entire thing:

“If you are new to the Latin Mass, my recommendation to you is not to worry about how to participate. Put down the booklet all together. Watch and listen in the silence and let your prayer arise... Realize that during this Holy Hour, something magnificent is happening: Jesus Christ, the High Priest, is offering the Holy Sacrifice....

... the modern Roman Rite relies upon the spoken word. On the other hand, the Traditional Roman Rite communicates on various non-linguistic levels, relying heavily on ceremony to communicate what is happening. The spoken words are veiled behind a sacred language, and also veiled in silence because the Canon is prayed in a whisper..."

The priest who wrote the article is Fr. Eric Andersen, pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Portland, OR. The Archbishop of Portland is Alexander Sample, a man known for his orthodoxy, articulate and brave defense of the faith (and especially the “hard teachings”), and an awareness of the importance and centrality of proper worship, as highlighted in his 2017-2019 Pastoral Priorites (a PDF is here).

I’ve snipped a few of Archbishop Sample’s priorities from the PDF:


Initiative A: Improve quality of liturgical music. Provide education & support for liturgical musicians. Train and inspire music ministers.

Initiative B: Increase the knowledge, reverence and effectiveness of all liturgical ministers.

Initiative C: Increase the lay faithful’s knowledge of and appreciation for the Mass.

Initiative D: Promote more consistency in the Mass experience (my emphasis) and ensure that it is in accord with the Church’s faithful celebration of the sacred liturgy. Provide liturgical education and training for the clergy and laity.

Initiative E: Promote a culture of hospitality in our parishes.

St. Stephen’s, by the way, is a church where the EF and the OF exist side by side, no? Check out their website and Mass schedule. I’ve mentioned other such churches in other posts, churches like St. Mary's Church in Norwalk, CT; Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Dunn, NC; St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Front Royal, VA; St. Mary of Pine Bluff, WI; St. Gianna Molla Parish in Northfield, NJ; St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City, NJ. There are lots of others. Maybe I’ll put together a list someday, the point being to refute those who claim that bringing the EF to an existing OF parish is somehow destructive. On the contrary, it enlivens and enriches the parish more than the naysayers would ever have imagined!


Finally, there’s this: One of the first things one comes up against regarding the Extraordinary Form is the problem of what to call it. It goes by many names, although in this blog I tend to use EF (“Extraordinary Form”) for the Vetus ordo – Old order of the Mass, and OF (Ordinary Form) for the Novus ordo – New order. I do this because that’s how Summorum Pontificum refers to them. Simply calling it "the Latin Mass" is, though widely practiced, not truly accurate, as much of the OF is actually supposed to be said in Latin (and in some parishes in other Dioceses, this is done.) But go to "Whaddaya call that Mass anyway", Fr. Z’s post from a few years back to get a detailed, and amusing, overview of the thousand and one names for the Mass of All Time.

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PS: Here’s a new book. Haven’t read it, but I thought I’d pass on the link: Confessions of a Traditional Catholic


On Pew Missals for the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form

“I speak for the trees.” – the Lorax

Truth be told, a shortage of trees isn’t actually one of the major problems facing the Dirigo state. However, as I watch Mount Trashmore* outside of Bangor grow, I think the problem of the accumulation of trash, including paper products, is, well, growing. All of which is a politically correct segue into the topic of – you guessed it! Pew altar missals! 

Every year, parishes all over this good land purchase the disposable pew missals by the truckload. They cost heaven only knows how much. They are incomplete: some don’t have weekday readings, antiphons and prayers. Some don’t have useful items like private prayers for before and after Mass, confession, Holy Communion, and so forth. Many have lots of that dreadful music (matter of opinion, I know, but that’s my opinion). They cost heaven knows how much (did I say that already?) and, when the end of the Liturgical Year rolls around, the truck backs up to the door to cart the old ones off to Mount Trashmore, while the other truck is backed up to the other door and the new ones are unloaded. It’s the cycle of life. Can we do better?

Yes, we can!! 

The answer to this environmental and budgetary catastrophe is permanent pew missals. Permanent, meaning, they don’t get replaced every year, but stay in the pew, sort of like hymnals (at least, this used to be the case for hymnals). After all, the Mass doesn’t change from year to year, the readings, prayers, and what have you stay the same year over year (or, 3 year cycle over 3 year cycle in the Ordinary Form), so a beautiful, bound, permanent pew missal seems just the thing that can help parishes have a positive impact on their budgets, as well as being good stewards of our planet and her resources, just as both the current Pope and his immediate predecessor have requested.

I happen to have a few suggestions for your consideration, or your pastor’s were he to be so inclined. There may be other decent permanent Pew Missals out there besides these. We’ll begin with pew missals for the Ordinary Form.


For the Ordinary Form we have two for your perusal. First, from Corpus Christi Watershed (a fascinating and rather eclectic group of individuals with the common desire for beauty and reverence in the liturgy and sacred music) we have the St. Isaac Jogues Pew Lectionary for the Ordinary Form (including Complete Missal and Gradual Texts).

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From the website:

Members of Corpus Christi Watershed were honored to assist the JP2 Institute in creating a book fulfilling “the true liturgical vision of the Vatican II fathers.” The official title is SAINT ISAAC JOGUES ILLUMINATED MISSAL, LECTIONARY, & GRADUAL, but it’s usually referred to as “The Jogues Missal.” This book is intended for the pews wherever Ordinary Form Masses are offered…

This missal is actually a part of a larger project for resources for the OF, including a hymnal due out sometime in 2018.

The second pew missal for the Ordinary Form is the Lumen Christi Missal.

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This is brought to you by Illuminare Publications and, if you click on the link, you’ll see that they actually have an entire  series of pew-friendly products. From the website:

The Lumen Christi Series helps parishes worship beautifully. It contains a variety of resources for the liturgical assembly, cantor, choir, and accompanist, and is aimed at assisting parishes in the work of gradually renewing and deepening their liturgical prayer…

With the Lumen Christi Series your parish can gradually renew its liturgical prayer and be empowered to go forth and transfigure the world with the Light of Christ.

Individually, the missals are currently priced at $28.95, bulk goes down to as low as $18.95.

A few years back, I purchased one of these missals and gave it as a gift to the priest who was my pastor at the time. The point was to give the gift, but also to illustrate what was out there in terms of beautiful and cost effective solutions to the “annual missal buy” problem (not to be confused with the “annual missile buy” problem, which is more of a Pentagon issue). At the time, pricing data indicated that any of these permanent missals would pay for themselves fairly quickly, usually within a year or two, depending, obviously, on volume purchased and the number of disposable missals no longer purchased. Be that as it may, either of these missals puts something in the pews that is reverent, accurate, and contributes to authentic liturgical renewal by bringing truly timeless beauty to the Mass. They are also, in and of themselves, a form of catechesis, and are just pretty to look at.


For the Extraordinary Form, the same folks at Corpus Christi Watershed who brought you the Jogues Missal for the Ordinary Form, we have the St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass.


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From the website:

The Campion Missal & Hymnal (992 pages long) is the first of its kind. It is a pew book providing the faithful with everything they require to properly assist at the Traditional Latin Mass.

Some parishes buy many copies and put them in the pews or otherwise make them available for Mass, as is more or less the intent. However, many “Latin mass communities” are rather small, and exist as appendages to the parish. In these instances, what has happened is that the priest (or someone else) makes this information available to those interested, and the individual goes out and buys one for herself. Now, the pew missal is a little different from the usual daily missal folks purchase for themselves. The pew missal is much larger, thinner, and doesn’t have as much “backstory” about the liturgical year, feast days, necessary private prayers, and whatnot as you find in the personal missal. On the other hand, the pew missal is less expensive by roughly half. And, it does have everything you need plus all those great hymns. Prices and purchasing information are, of course, available from the website, but I have linked them for your convenience here. Please feel free to add this Missal to the list of Resources for Items for the Extraordinary Form.

So, there it is. For either the OF or the EF, bring beauty and elegant catechesis to your pews, help the budgetary bottom line, and keep the Lorax happy. What’s not to like?


*Noto bene: There really is a Mount Trashmore. It’s in Virginia Beach, VA, not too far from where we once lived. You can go sledding on it in winter, if it snows (it does down there, sometimes).


The Mass III: Necessary Items

Resources for Items for the Extraordinary Form

So: your parish is going to offer a Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Congratulations!! And, a hearty thank you directly to your priest!! Your priest has learned/is learning/plans to learn the EF, and he, and you, are excited, no, absolutely pumped about re-introducing to the parish a form of the Mass which would be recognizable to all those millions of Catholics from all around the world who came before us. It will, in addition to giving glory to God, help us relearn our Catholic heritage, help catechize us, and help tie us to those who came before us. All that, and it’s a beautiful weekly retreat away from the increasingly raucous and dreary world into the quiet, contemplative presence of God.

Well, maybe that happy little imagined scene isn’t happening every day (or week or year or..) here in the Diocese of good ole’ Portland, Maine, but it has happened, and it will happen again. I’m sure of it. So, be of good cheer. One day it might really be your parish, your priest getting ready to unleash the power of the Extraordinary Form. And you’ll be there, ready to help him with a particular problem which will come up right away: It’s been almost fifty years since the usus antiquor - old use – Rite has been said in your church building. All the sanctuary items: altar Missal, altar cards, all kinds of things, were long ago loaded into the U-Haul truck along with the altar rails and parts of (or, all of) the high altar, and taken to that guv’mint warehouse you saw at the very end of the first Indiana Jones movie. What to do?

Lucky for us, there are some great resources out there. Although this little post is by no means a complete list, it is offered as a place to begin. So, let’s begin:

Treasure and Tradition: the Ultimate Guide to the Latin Mass. Recommended for priests, laity, anyone who wants an introduction to the Mass. Offered through St. Augustine Academy Press with a hat tip to Fr. Zuhlsdorf. Of interest, the question which prompted the post was from a parishioner whose priest didn’t want to learn the OF (not yet, anyway), but wanted to learn about   it. Kudos to that priest who is willing to learn, and it is also a comment on our time that there are priests (I personally know several) for who the EF is completely alien, so weird and different that they can’t even imagine it. What a change 48 years has wrought. Anyway...

Biretta Books is the store for Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago. If you go to the BB homepage, you’ll see links to tons of stuff. For example,

The Traditional Latin Mass link has a bunch of tabs. "For the Priest" takes you to three full pages of pretty much everything you can think of: Altar Cards; Mass "Cheat Sheet" card (yes, that’s what they call it – “An invaluable assistance to priests learning the 1962 Missale Romanum.” What’s not to like?); "Mastering the Rubrics of the 1962 Missal" (their “most popular booklet ever – intended for seminarians and priests”); Rite of Confession (Handy Business Card Size), and laminated, to boot; and a bunch of other things too numerous to mention.

If laity are involved in the effort to get the EF off the ground, a nice, thoughtful gift for Father (who is, after all, the one who is willing to say the Mass) – as well as a great way to say “Thank you!” might be the Missal Romanum 1962 - Classic Size (there’s a handy "Travel Size" version as well) and maybe, maybe even a biretta (if he doesn’t already own one).

Noto bene: Some of this stuff, particularly the altar cards, “cheat sheets, and birettas, make great gifts for any seminarians you may know!

For Altar Servers (we’re still with Biretta Books) there are Server's Mass Response Cards . You should have several of these, at least as many as you have servers. How to Serve Low Mass you should have several of, as well. Back when we were in a parish that regularly trained altar boys, the parish was willing to loan them out. Then there’s How to Serve at the Altar, which is another booklet, more expensive but that’s because it comes with an audio CD and server altar cards. It is quite common for older boys and men to be servers; for these there are the Missa in Cantu & Missa Lecta Audio CDs and Workbook Set. Again, this is more expensive, but the parish could own one or two and lend out as necessary.

There’re several other tabs at BB: "For the Sacristan", "For the Choir", "For the Faithful". In particular, the Latin-English Booklet Missal is the little red book generally found in the pews in parishes offering the EF.

There’s lots of other stuff at BB, click through the various tabs. Before we leave the good people at St. John Cantius, though, let me mention one more item of interest: Workshops for Priests, Deacons and Lay faithful.  If you can’t get to the workshop, there’s Sancta Missa (also St. John Cantius) with an On Line Tutorial for Priests including a video. ‘Nuff said.

Leaving the Canons Regular, next up we have Coalition Ecclesia Dei. Like the Canons regular, they have all the necessary items to get you going in terms of Altar Cards, instructional DVDs, the Latin-English pew Missals (the little red books) and so forth. They also have Directories of Latin Masses, and demographic data. There’s some overlap with the Canons Regular, but CR has vestments and sanctuary items which C.E.D. doesn’t have.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) has some items as well. Fraternity Publications has a Training Material tab on the left hand side. As at the other sites, there’s lot of material, with some overlap with the other sites I’ve mentioned. But they do offer a Complete Kit (with a FREE GIFT!) and The Essentials Kit, both of which seem to be pretty good values (lots of stuff for not a lot of dollars). The FSSP trains seminarians and has parishes, of course, and that’s how most of us think of them. But they also have a mission, like the Canons Regular, of helping already ordained priests and seminarians in “Novus ordo” (for lack of a better term) seminaries learn the Extraordinary Form. Thus, the FSSP, like the Canons, offer a Training Workshop

Since Latin can be the biggest hurdle for both the priest and the altar server, there’re lots of pronunciation guides, many associated with the training items I’ve already listed. But there’s another item offered through Fraternity Publications: Let's Read Latin. I have no experience with this, but it looks good. And, if you really want to learn Latin, awhile back I put up a post with several resources for learning Latin. There are many more resources to learn Latin out there besides those I’ve listed. (By the way, for those of us of an age where the brain is beginning to disintegrate, I find that learning Latin, besides just being sort of fun in an occasionally self-flagellating sort of way, seems to help slow down the mental crumbling…)

Other resources: New Liturgical Movement. They don’t sell anything, but they have a lot of information and commentary on the EF. Published last summer on The Liturgy Guy is One Priest's View on the Vocations Crisis. I believe there’s a lot to this. In addition to these, there’s other interesting links on the Una voce Links page.

Last, and locally, there’s Una voce Maine. Awhile back, I did a little post on Service at the Altar, based mostly on my own experiences over the years, in different settings, which is relevant to any parish that wants serious, well trained altar servers, whether EF or OF.

So, let’s get this beautiful Rite out of the warehouse!!

Curate, ut valeatis. (Take care, that you may be well.)

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The Mass I: On Service at the Altar

Prescinding for a moment from the vexatious topic of altar girls (on which I will comment only briefly down below), I wish to discuss altar boys or, more precisely, what it takes to make an altar boy. 

I was never an altar boy. Indeed, I wasn’t even a Catholic until well into adulthood; prior to this I had only the vaguest notion of the existence of something called the Catholic Church, and no awareness whatsoever of altar boys. Even after entering the Church I was only dimly aware of such creatures; it wasn’t until I and my family began attending the EF in a serious – meaning weekly – way that I came to realize that (1) altar boys exist, (2) they are important, (3) serving at the altar takes training, practice, and effort on the parts of all involved (including the priest(s)), and (4) service at the altar has been, and still is, the place where many young men first consider the priesthood.

So, what does it take to make an altar boy? Let’s start with some examples; there’s lots, here’s a few: St. Benedict's Parish in Chesapeake, VA (which I discussed here) has a very well organized and intensive training program, Knights of the Altar. My oldest son served there back in the day. St. Mary's Church in Norwalk, CT, has an active training program run by the Deacon. St. John Cantius Parish of Chicago has the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen, where not just boys but men are encouraged to participate. Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Dunn, NC has a longstanding altar boy training program; this church offers the OF, the EF with an English homily, and the EF with a Spanish homily (there’s lots of “seasonal” workers in the Dunn area). St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Front Royal, VA has an active training program discussed in some of the Bulletins, this one, for example. Front Royal is also the home of, among other things, Christendom College, Human Life International, and Seton Home Study School. (PS: Front Royal isn’t all that large; I’ve been there. Must be something in the water.) St. Mary of Pine Bluff, WI reveals the fruits of their attention to service at the altar in many photos. Note well: with the exception of St. Benedict’s which is FSSP, in all of these thriving parishes the OF and the EF co-exist side by side. But that is grist for another post.

What do these parishes have common? 

First and foremost, the parish priest makes the training of altar servers a priority. The parochial vicar, a deacon, or someone else may actually oversee training. But it is important to the parish priest, and he sees that it is done, and done properly.

Secondly, there are expectations. The youngsters are expected to come to the training sessions. They are expected to “do their homework” - there’s lots of learning aids such as CDs and videos out there. A child (or a parent, for that matter) is not expected to learn do this on his own. But he is expected to try. The youngsters are expected to show up on time, and on the days they are scheduled to serve, and to dress appropriately. The parents are expected to help in these things. None of these expectations is hard; indeed, they are all pretty basic. But they all convey to the youngster that the adults take this seriously, and he should, too.

Thirdly, there are “role models.” It may be the parish priest, parochial vicar, or deacon, but it is a man with defined authority. There often are other men involved: high school and college age experienced servers, also adult men who serve. This also teaches the youngsters that service at the altar is not just “kid stuff”, it’s something that adults take seriously and in which the youngsters are invited to participate.

Finally, the training is organized. Serving at the altar takes effort to do well, this is true in the EF and in the OF, especially if there are “smells and bells” in the OF. St. Benedict’s had quarterly training sessions, Saturday morning, with pizza for lunch. Not every boy had to go to every session, sessions were sometimes tailored by role: for thurifers, for MCs, neophytes and younger boys; or by upcoming special events: Easter, Good Friday, Christmas, whatever.  Other churches have other schedules, but the point is that the training is regular and predictable.

It’s also important to notice what these parishes do not have in common: size. St. John Cantius is big. Sacred heart in NC is little. The others are in between. I know that many (Most? All?) of the parishes in Maine are “cluster parishes”: several formerly separate parishes now combined into one uber-parish with many church buildings. The priests are busy. I get that, for I am busy too. But the priests have help – deacons, paid staff, and many volunteers. There would be men willing to step forward and take an active role in developing altar boy training programs, as well as participate themselves in service at the altar. But it needs to be piloted by the parish priest.

Finally, two last things: 

(1) These considerations apply to both the EF and the OF. Every church benefits from well trained, on the ball, engaged altar servers, regardless of the form of the Rite. It says huge amounts about the church, the pastor, and the congregations. 

(2) I promised to return briefly to altar girls. The youngest of my three daughters, age 8, wants to be an altar server. She is quite serious about wanting to learn, and do it well, as has been the case with many of the young ladies I have seen who have been, and are, altar girls. What to do? Well, altar girls are a fact of life in this Diocese. It is also the case that currently there are very, very few altar boys (or girls, for that matter) in my parish; they need servers. So, she is learning to serve. I am supporting her, and helping her, and encouraging her and am, in fact, proud of how seriously she is taking it. She wants to do something nice for God, and He knows she’s heard me lecture that to the boys time and time again. I am not endorsing altar girls in principle: I think it was a remarkably unfortunate and confusing Papal decision, well beyond the scope of this little post. But I live in the real world, and as a father of a young girl who truly wants to serve God in the Diocese of Portland, Maine, and for whom there is no other venue of service more appropriate to her sex, there is nothing else I can do.