Friday, October 21, 2016

Lessons on plainchant from "Hamilton"

Later today, I'll be assisting at a sung Vespers for the feast of Blessed Karl of Austria on this 105th anniversary of his wedding to Princess Zita; an event which I'm pleased to say has been listed on the official Blessed Karl League of Prayer website's calendar. The program will rely mostly on the singing of the psalms and canticles to basic Gregorian tones, unaccompanied. I sincerely hope it catches on with the attendees!

On a less important and entirely unrelated note, this evening PBS will be premiering Hamilton's America, a documentary about the making of the hit Broadway musical. Our first Secretary of the Treasury admittedly has nothing to do with the theme of medievalism (other than perhaps that his plan for the Constitution, if adopted, would have been more parliamentary than what we now have), but since I always admire plucky young men who rise from obscurity to accomplish great deeds, Alexander Hamilton ranks among my favorite historical figures. He began life with what seemed like a losing hand: a bastard from an obscure island in the Caribbean, orphaned at age 12, who raised money to send himself to the mainland for an education. By 20, Hamilton was a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and aide-de-camp to George Washington. After the war, he passed the bar exam merely by reading law books on his own, soon winning landmark cases that continue to influence the interpretation of the law to this day. Of course, his role in shaping the Constitution and the Federal Reserve (regardless of how one feels about those things) needs no commentary. His life was cut short by the infamous duel with Aaron Burr, but the man had done more in 47 years than most of us could hope to achieve even if we were miraculously blessed with two centuries of good health.

Hamilton's incredible story has sadly been neglected in most classrooms to the point that the average American probably assumes he was just another in a long line of early Presidents by virtue of appearing on the 10-dollar bill! Thankfully, with the smashing success of Lin-Manuel Miranda's production, Hamilton stands a chance of finally entering our cultural mythos alongside Franklin's kite and Washington's cherry tree. Considering that tickets are still going for $500 and up, I haven't seen it yet, but I've listened to the soundtrack on YouTube several times now and can say with confidence that even the most fervent rap-haters can't deny the brilliance of each song's lyrics. There's no need for me to add to all the platitudes already floating out there on the Internet (here's a solid review if you need one), but I want to draw attention to one small detail...

Many of the raps are interspersed with short sung phrases. This is hardly unique to Hamilton, but in any case, it's not something that anti-rap folks (by this, I mean people who dislike rap as a form; not the culture of violence and misogyny that's often packaged with it) take into much account. These phrases oddly remind me of, believe it not, the Gregorian chants to which I spend a lot of my free time practicing. You see, the tradition of plainchant includes not only those melodious Mass propers and hymns that took the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos to the top of the charts, and which can take my schola many hours to rehearse. The bulk of chant in a fully sung Mass, though, is really made up of the ministers singing Scriptures and prayers to a simple tone with a particular cadence and inflections: the Epistle tone, Gospel tone, Preface tone, Collect tone, and so on. At certain times of the year, we get to roll out special tones like those for the Passion or the Exsultet. The ability to sing any number of lines on a page to a simple melody was once a core part of a Catholic priest's training, but is now nearly extinct save in traditionally-minded communities and the Eastern rites.

I suspect the average Latin Rite priest finds the idea of singing the Mass parts eccentric and fussy, or at best, a respectable idea in theory but too difficult for them to personally bother trying. They can learn a thing or two from the only people in pop culture who've retained the skill of recitative singing in the modern age: rappers. The art is mostly spoken, of course, but it's often given a flourish by singing some lines in a straightforward way--purposefully simple, as otherwise I suppose they would be R&B singers. In chant terms, this might be called syllabic chant; the kind where every syllable gets only one note and is sung in a recitative manner. The main difference between "sung rap" and liturgical chant, as far as this goes, is that the former is set to a beat while the latter is freeflowing.

Example of an accentus or syllabic/recitative chant in the Gregorian tradition, from the Gospel of Easter Sunday ("At that time: Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought sweet spices, that coming they might anoint Jesus...") The deacon sings the note mostly on la, but has a little variation at the incipit (beginning) and ends every sentence on sol.
An early experiment of mine using Gregorio, a score editor for square chant notation. Lyrics from the opening title song of Hamilton. I only started learning to use it for this blog post, so I'm sure it doesn't look quite right yet. The lesson here is how the verse is sustained on a single note until the end, which chanters might call an inflection.

So you see? The basic principles of recitative chant are so easy, even those "no-talent rap hacks" can get it!

From there, you can take what you've learned and apply it to more musically complex lyrics:

Another adventure in Gregorio, this time with a more lyrical phrase from "Guns and Ships". In this part of the song, Washington writes a letter to Hamilton, enticing him to return to the fight prior to the Battle of Yorktown with an offer of a command. It's not quite recitative like the other two examples, perhaps more resembling a sequence like the Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass. The final word is embellished with five notes. In chant, when a single syllable of a word is sung with three or more different notes in succession, it's called a melisma.

I hope you dear readers enjoyed today's whimsical excursion. Here's a trailer for the documentary, Hamilton's America, which premieres tonight (Oct. 21, 2016) on PBS at 9pm eastern time.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Magna opera Domini: a reflection on the institution of acolytes

(Unless excepted, photos are courtesy of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter)
Magna opera Domini: "great are the works of the Lord". This is the motto on the coat of arms of Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, who explained its meaning in his first remarks after being raised to the order of bishop here. This past Sunday, on the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham (transferred), I was very privileged to be a part of that motto brought to life when I was instituted as an acolyte by Bishop Lopes alongside a fellow parishioner and 50 other men nominated by their pastors across the Ordinariate in the US and Canada. Some were new additions to the ranks of our Cathedral's clerks, but most of those who traveled to our cathedral in Houston, Texas with me, even as far as Nova Scotia, are lay leaders of their respective parishes in and out of the liturgy.

As some of you may know, I've written here and elsewhere extensively about the minor orders and the role that they once played at the parish level in the medieval Church to carry out the work of divine worship; indeed, how these orders was once required for admittance to the choir or altar service. Even after the Church of England abolished the minor orders, the lay "parish clerk" continued to feature in Anglican life as an invaluable assistant to the priest, and has thankfully been re-introduced into the post-conciliar Catholic Church through the Ordinariate.

To be sure, some of the 52 men instituted last Sunday were chosen for their encyclopedic knowledge of ceremony. The cathedral rector said to us that the parish clerk is often the man to whom the priest can turn when he stares blankly into an unfamiliar page in the Missal and whispers, "explain to me what I'm supposed to do here!" Others were called not so much for that, but to expand upon their many years of dedicated service to their parishes in general, now in an established manner. When I learned that one of my fellow candidates to be installed was a papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, I felt in some sense that I was standing among giants.

Shortly before the principal Mass and rite of institution. After this, we all recited the Prayers of Preparation with Bishop Lopes before processing into the cathedral.
The training during the weekend of institution, which arose particularly in response to the desire among various parishes to offer solemn high Mass with the classical three-fold ministry of the altar (priest, deacon, and subdeacon), numbers among the most grace-filled experiences I've ever had. We prayed morning and evening hours of the Divine Office in common, shared stories of growth and struggle amongst our communities, and partook of the richness of beauty in worship offered by the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham. I especially enjoyed how, during the principal Mass, there was a vested schola for plainchant in the north transept, in addition to the cathedral choir. The schola chanted the Introit, Offertory, and Communion antiphons out of the Plainchant Gradual (in sacral English but with the ancient Gregorian melodies). A schola chorister sang the first reading in the Prophecy tone, and the acolyte acting as subdeacon sang the second reading in the Epistle tone. I came away with the sense that it was the supreme model for sung vernacular liturgy in the Latin Rite today.

Our weekend began with Evening Prayer of Ember Friday
Instituted acolytes are authorized to serve Mass in both the Ordinariate's unique Missal; Divine Worship; as well as the Extraordinary Form (traditional or "Tridentine" Latin Mass), in the ancient role of subdeacon, clad in colored vestments, chanting the Scriptures, and standing at the priest's left hand or behind the deacon at the foot of the altar. In the Ordinary Form, they may be asked to purify the sacred vessels. In the absence of a priest or deacon, they may also lead hours of the Divine Office, deliver holy Communion to the sick, or prepare a monstrance for Eucharistic Adoration (but not give Benediction). Bishop Lopes, who personally delivered instruction to us despite having just returned from a visit with other American bishops to the Pope himself in Rome, made it clear that we were to be instituted not just for the Ordinariate, but for the entire Church. He encouraged us to engage and give service (in and out of liturgy) at our neighboring diocesan parishes, including for solemn celebrations of the Extraordinary Form.

In return, we pledged to intensify our prayer lives, frequency of confession, and particularly grow in devotion to the holy Eucharist through regular Adoration. We were asked even to take into account our public witness of Christ, remembering that we extend the ministry of the priest and deacon in places they can't reach. The subdiaconal ministry was compared to a Wifi signal in a large house. If the router is in a closet at one end of the house and you're trying to get a connection from the living room on the other side, your reception will be poor and slow; so to remedy, you might think to install a repeater to boost the signal. Likewise, in the places in and out of the church where neither the priest nor deacon can reach, the acolyte is there extend their ministry. It doesn't advance the kingdom of God for an acolyte to insult a parishioner in a Facebook comment one day and present themselves in a tunicle the next, so we're called to be the face of Christ as far as we can.

The cathedral rector, Fr. Hough (in cassock), teaching a practicum on the subdiaconal role in the Divine Worship Missal (photo by my friend Armando, one of our Ordinariate seminarians)

Another of my photos. This one models the acolyte holding the Gospel-book for the deacon, using the common "in the midst" method of singing the Gospel. In this style, the procession enters partly into the aisle of the nave. Though seldom used in the Extraordinary Form, it's also permitted there. I've also seen it done in Eastern Divine Liturgies with the congregation flocking in to surround the ministers.
It was an arduous journey which began with a train ride well before the crack of dawn, but I'm glad my wife and children were able to make the journey from Philadelphia to Houston with me and partake of the worship at the Cathedral; especially solemn choral Evensong at the end of the weekend, directed by Mr. Edmund Murray, whom I sang Gregorian chant with for many years. That Evensong, a form of Vespers which preserves some of the finest choral works of the Anglican tradition, such as four-part psalmody and even splendid compositions from 20th century masters like Sir John Tavener, was recorded and may be watched or listened to here or below. It was well attended by lay faithful, local diocesan clergy and seminarians, and Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta.

In the rite of institution, we approached the bishop two at a time as he presented a ciborium filled with unconsecrated bread. We held the base with our right hands as he said, "Take this vessel with bread for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Make your life worthy of your service at the Table of the Lord and of his Church."

As I finish this entry, the following verse from the Psalms comes to mind:
“What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.”

More photos from the weekend can be found here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

More than boys; why men are needed to serve the altar

"To serve at the altar, as to sing in the choir, is next to the priesthood the highest privilege which a human can enjoy. He represents the faithful and takes a most intimate part in the rich treasures of the church's liturgy and ceremonial. Those sacred ceremonies should be carried out with devotion, dignity and attention to detail." 
--Bernard Cardinal Griffin, Archbishop of Westminster, in the preface to the Altar Server's Handbook for the Archconfraternity of Saint Stephen

Those of us who are devoted to restoring the fullness of tradition in our worship generally agree that no good has come out of permitting girls or women to serve the altar at Mass. Even Pope Paul VI, of all men, affirmed such in his instruction for carrying out Vatican II's liturgical reforms, Liturgicae Instaurationes (1970):
"In conformity with norms traditional in the Church, women (single, married, religious), whether in churches, homes, convents, schools, or institutions for women, are barred from serving the priest at the altar."
Beyond this, and without any disrespect to female altar servers themselves or questioning their good intentions, I'm happy to leave the reasons for why the practice of admitting women to altar service should be eschewed to other authors. There's a plethora of solid articles out there, such as this recent one posted by Regina Magazine entitled Bring Back the Lowly Altar Boy. Any additions I have to that argument would be merely preaching to the choir.

Those columns, however, are only tackling half of the problem; and some of them even argue from faulty, if innocent, premises. If we want to dig down to the root of the trouble and diagnose just why altar service has devolved into a trivial activity fit only for children, we must look beyond the gender wars of the 1980's and 1990's. In truth, the admission of altar girls was merely the logical conclusion of bad habits long in the making.

What is an altar server, really?

An altar server is what we call a layman who stands in for the role of the ordained (or, in post-1972 rites, "instituted") acolyte. As I explained in my previous article on deaconesses, the ordained acolyte was one of the minor orders: ministries created by the Church around the 3rd century so that the deacon (not the priest) could delegate some of his lesser responsibilities and add greater solemnity to the liturgical offices. In the traditional rite of ordination to the acolytate, the bishop presented the acolyte with the symbols of his office: a candle and an empty cruet. Together, these illustrate the essence of his duties, which are to carry the candlesticks in procession (to and from the altar, and for the Gospel procession) and to bring the cruets of wine and water to the altar during the Offertory. Of course, they often take on other duties, such as carrying the thurible or moving the Missal, but the foundation of the acolyte's service rests in the candles and cruets.

The Mass of Saint Martin of Tours, 1490. Saint Martin is attended by a torchbearing acolyte.

What is an altar server not?

Many traditional Catholics may assume that the acolyte's most important role is in answering the priest at Mass. This is, unfortunately, an effect of "low Mass culture". The responses (particularly at the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar) are really proper to the deacon and subdeacon; hence why the priest turns from side to side and confesses et vobis, fratres ("and to you, brothers") to the deacon and subdeacon on his left and right during the Confiteor. It's merely a matter of form that the priest still refers to the mere acolyte as "brother" during low Mass; the prayer was not certainly not composed with little altar boys in mind, but rather, the acolyte simply supplies the responses in the deacon's and subdeacon's absence. Hence, the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on "Acolyte" states,
"We may therefore regard the ministry of the subdeacon and acolyte as a development of that of the deacon."
Acolytes are not junior priests, nor was altar service ever meant to be seen chiefly in terms of grooming boys to be priests. As seen above, if they must be seen to derive from anything, they are really substitutes for the deacon, or else, the deacon's minions! But it is better to treat the role of acolyte as an order, or ministry, that stands on its own. Well into the High Middle Ages, the acolytate and other minor orders were not merely stepping stones to the priesthood, but orders that stood in their own, permanently held by men at the parish level; even married. For many centuries, ordination was a requirement before a man could serve at the altar. Since it was forbidden all the way up until the 20th century for a priest to celebrate Mass without a server except by papal indult, this meant that a great many men in society were actually clerics. Hence, when you come across a statistic that reads something like, "in the 10th century, the First Estate (the clerical caste) was as large as 1/10th of the population", that doesn't mean one out of every ten people was a priest or even studying for priesthood. Rather, it means a very large segment of the population was formally pledged in service to the Church. Beyond all the ordained acolytes for the parish, virtually everyone who ever went to university also received a minor order. Administrative officials from the royal courts down to local manors also were likely to be "clerks". Though they may have been ordained as acolytes as young as thirteen or fourteen, most ordained acolytes in the medieval Church were adult men; often in very respectable professions or high ranks in society.

Saint Giles's acolyte appears to be just as old as Giles himself in this 15th century painting.

How did the minor orders fade away from everyday life?

This is an aspect of Church history that receives very little attention. To be honest, I don't know exactly why myself, nor when this transition definitively took place. What I can say for sure is that by the 1500's, it seems the minor orders were usually reserved only for students on a track for priesthood (I don't say "seminarians" because seminaries hadn't been invented yet). My best educated guess is that the minor orders disappeared from the parish level and replaced by substitute lay servers because of legal battles between the Church and state, such as the famous feud between Saint Thomas Becket and King Henry II. In these ages, any cleric, no matter how humble, enjoyed numerous privileges in society such as the benefit of clergy: the right to be tried for a crime in the local bishop's ecclesiastical court, rather than by the officers of the king. The notion that a cleric ought to be protected from secular prosecution obviously seems ripe for injustices of the worst sort today, but in the medieval world's rougher and, shall we say, more expedited form of justice, it offended popular piety to see a holy man or learned scholar dragged in chains before the local magistrate like a common criminal. 

As the centuries passed, the popes and ecumenical councils had to gradually concede one clerical privilege after another as the kings of Europe grew in authority. The first to hit the chopping block were inevitably the larger mass of married minor clerics, but even then, the popes could not totally concede their legal status to the state without serious ramifications for the clergy as a whole. It is, perhaps, as a result of these feuds that the bishops decided it would be better to not ordain anyone at all unless they were going to eventually become priests.

In the Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath's fifth husband is the clerk, Jankin. Someone like Jankin would have lost some of his legal privileges after marrying a widow like Alisoun (as opposed to a virgin), but not his clerical status or ability to carry out the minor orders.

The Church desires the minor orders to be restored

Although, by an accident of history, the minor orders have faded from parish life up to the present (except in a few dioceses such as Lincoln, where the bishop regularly institutes acolytes and lectors for parishes), this was not part of the Church's plan for the re-invigoration of the priesthood! On the contrary, the disappearance of the minor orders from the parishes was deplored by the Council of Trent, and the decrees of the Council's 23rd session, along with dogmatically defining the priesthood and issuing provisions for the establishment of a new system for training priests (called "seminaries"), at the same time issued a decree to re-establish the minor orders as permanently held ranks:
In what manner the exercise of the minor orders is to be restored.

That the functions of holy orders, from the deacon to the janitor,-which functions have been laudably received in the Church from the times of the apostles, and which have been for some time interrupted in very many places,-may be again brought into use in accordance with the sacred canons; and that they may not be traduced by heretics as useless; the holy Synod, burning with the desire of restoring the pristine usage, ordains that, for the future, such functions shall not be exercised but by those who are actually in the said orders; and It exhorts in the Lord all and each of the prelates of the churches, and commands them, that it be their care to restore the said functions, as far as it can be conveniently done, in the cathedral, collegiate, and parochial churches of their dioceses, where the number of the people and the revenues of the church can support it; and, to those who exercise those functions, they shall assign salaries out of some part of the revenues of any simple benefices, or those of the fabric of the church,-if the funds allow of it,-or out of the revenues of both together, of which stipends they may, if negligent, be mulcted in a part, or be wholly deprived thereof, according to the judgment of the Ordinary. And if there should not be unmarried clerics at hand to exercise the functions of the four minor orders, their place may be supplied by married clerics of approved life; provided they have not been twice married, be competent to discharge the said duties, and wear the tonsure and the clerical dress in church."
The composer Franz Liszt in his cassock. Liszt was a rare example of a permanent ordained acolyte in the "Tridentine" era of the Church.


What does this old history with the minor orders have to do the age of altar boys today?

Trent's decree to restore the minor orders, like Vatican II's giving "pride of place" to Gregorian chant, was a dead letter; but the principles behind it are no less true today. Furthermore, Session 23 tells us what kind of men ought to be acolytes. First, there is the tonsure:
"None shall be initiated by the first tonsure, who have not received the sacrament of Confirmation; and who have not been taught the rudiments of the faith; and who do not know how to read and write; and in whose regard there is not a probable conjecture, that they have chosen this manner of life, that they may render unto God a faithful service, and not that they may fraudulently withdraw themselves from Secular jurisdiction."
And then, for the receiving of minor orders:
"Those who are to be promoted to minor orders shall have a good testimonial from their parish priest; and from the master of the school in which they are educated."
While it certainly doesn't exclude teenagers, this also could hardly describe a boy who has just received his first Communion and depends on rote memorization to make the responses of Mass! A better model might instead be that great scholar and martyr (not to mention my confirmation saint), Sir Thomas More. 

After years of service to crown and country, King Henry VIII appointed More to replace Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor of the Realm. Even when More held the highest office in England below the King himself, he was still known to throw on his surplice and serve daily Mass or sing in the choir stalls at his home parish of Saint Chelsea. His biography by Peter Ackroyd recounts the story that the Duke of Norfolk came calling to More's house one day and found him at the church, serving the parish priest at the altar. The Duke questioned Sir Thomas for publicly humbling himself in such a way that could be taken as an offense to the king's dignity. Sir Thomas said, "My master the King cannot be displeased at the service I pay to his master, God."

How did boys come to replace men as altar servers?

This appears to have been a combination of two factors:

1.) The effect of the Industrial Revolution on society. While rural peasant life was hard, it did not demand regular 12-hour shifts. Men had time to pop into the chapel or parish church for the daily Mass and Offices. As working men moved to the factories, time became a cruel mistress, as many of us still find today. Further, when the Napoleonic wars (and, later, the World Wars) brought about mass conscription, entire villages could find themselves totally vacant of able-bodied men for weeks or months at a time. In such conditions, only boys were left to serve Mass.

Altar boys as ornaments.
2.)  The overall decline of religiosity among men. It's often observed that, in Europe, the men tend to stay in the back of the church (if they bother to come at all) and chatter amongst themselves about sports or other trivialities while the women and children sit up front. Accounts of the 19th and early 20th centuries tell the same story, particularly amongst certain ethnic groups, such as Italians, where religion had become something deemed highly personal or worse, feminine. It's hard to blame them: my office has a framed photograph of a class of altar boys taken in the late 1940's from my boss's neighborhood parish in south Philadelphia (an old Italian-American community), where he grew up and was eventually ordained priest. No boy appears above the age of 12. All are clad with white gloves, ridiculous bows around their necks, and (judging by the shade in this black-and-white photo) red cassocks. One can easily imagine they were all fawned over by their mothers and grandmothers, pinching their cheeks and exclaiming how much their chierichetti ("little priests") looked like cardinals in miniature. And one can imagine just as well how boys accustomed to treating the Catholic faith as an exercise in "cuteness" were all too happy to shed the cassock and surplice once they were deemed too old and impure to continue serving the altar.

These sorts of photos, which form a certain type of "like-bait" on certain Facebook groups, don't actually do anything for vocations.
Even then, this trend of boy servers didn't dominate the entire Church. The book Peregrinus Gasolinus: Peregrinus Goes Abroad has a little dialogue on the use of boy servers. This work was written by Father Michael Andrew Chapman around the 1920's to discuss small matters of liturgy in a humorous way through the disputes between two liturgist-priests of differing schools of thought (one called the Antiquary, the other the Liturgiologist) as they go on road trips across the United States.
 “But why, in the name of Martinucci, must a Mass Server always be a sniveling little brat with his wrists bursting out of his cassock far too short for him, a very imperfect knowledge of the responses he has to say, and a generally rowdy and unedifying appearance—”

Pere, Pere,” remonstrated the Antiquary.

“Well, maybe not so bad as that. We have some good pious kids, I’ll admit. But the older lads are really edifying, at least not distracting. Years of experience have taught them their business, they serve well, answer promptly and intelligibly, and at High Mass they put things through in a really distinguished and thoroughly correct manner which is a joy to behold.”

“After all,” remarked the Antiquary, “the Altar Boy, qua boy,[5] is a modern institution. And in quantities, almost, one might say, an American institution.”[6]

“Imported from France,” cut in the Liturgiologist.

“Like most of our ceremonial practice,” went on the Antiquary. “But even in France, the serving of Mass is not restricted to children. One sees grown men, often stepping up from the congregation, serving at Low Mass constantly, and so everywhere on the continent. For more elaborate ceremonies the younger lads are used, but the important positions in the ceremonies are usually taken by older boys who have been carefully drilled. It seems only to be here in America that a positive prejudice exists against the presence of older boys and young men in the sanctuary."

(The rest of the chapter in context may be read on Romanitas Press's site here.)

The depiction of altar service as child's play was practically a cottage industry in the saccharine world of 19th century French religious art.


How the juvenalizing of altar service has destroyed the ministry altogether

Once boys came to predominate altar service, then came the trend of stuffing the sanctuary to no purpose but ornamentation. American parishes before the Council were rife with low Masses assisted by four servers when the rubrics admit no more than two; eight torchbearers when two or four were enough for an ordinary Sunday; and, of course, the aforementioned dressing up of boys as mini-prelates, complete with shoulder-capes, lace rochets, and even birettas in some places. 

Following Vatican II, priests suffered a violent reaction against this fussiness, even as the new rite of Mass drove the final nail in the coffin of traditional altar service. The server's duties for the new Mass were so simplified that to even have one seemed more a luxury, or a mere activity to give the boys something to do and be shown off for their parents, than a necessity. Indeed, the former prohibitions against a priest serving Mass without a server were lifted. Today, it's commonplace for a priest to celebrate Mass without a server even if it's in a cathedral attended by hundreds, just because it's on a weekday. There may be dozens of men qualified to serve in the congregation, but the server's role is so trivial that it would seem beneath a grown man's dignity for a priest to walk up to one and ask him to throw on a surplice (or alb, more commonly) and assist in such a menial way.

When the serving of Mass is too trivial for a grown man with the responsibilities of the world on his shoulders, is it any surprise that, with our distorted view of femininity, we've now reached the conclusion that altar service is so easy that "even a girl can do it"?

An unfortunate sight all too common in churches today: Father and a gaggle of kids. The natural conclusion of a century or more of juvenalizing altar service. Even though this is a school Mass and one would expect more children present, there is apparently no room for teachers to serve.

Wouldn't adult servers get in the way of allowing boys to discern a priestly vocation?

First, this is beside the point since we already established that the order of acolyte stands on its own, and is not merely a stepping stone to priesthood; nor were altar servers instituted to give boys a "foretaste" of priestly life. But even if this were true, it's even more important that boys see the serving of God's altar as a firmly masculine duty. This is not the picture you communicate when Father and his harem of boys are sauntering up to the sanctuary; then you only have "Catholic boy scouts" at best, or something rather more lascivious at worst.

We need another Saint Thomas More approaching the altar of God. We need fathers and sons serving together. We need men of solemn reverence handling the cruets and thurible. Indeed, we need lawyers, managers, foremen, and other such men of consequence whom the world would assume far too busy or important to play "altar boy" on Sundays to show boys that the Lord is supreme even to men of high station.
Father Adrian Fortescue and his retinue of mostly adult servers at the church of Saint Hugh, Letchworth (England), around 1910. Fortescue was the author of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, the standard manual for priests learning the traditional Latin Mass today.

What exactly do you propose?

Quite simply, I'm calling upon men who care about restoring the beauty and fullness of worship to get off their armchairs and make it a reality in the sanctuaries of their own churches. If the essence of masculinity is in taking action, then what's the manlier course: complaining about your parish's sloppy practices at Mass on an Internet forum, or signing up as an altar server to personally see right reverence given to God

This need not displace boys or teenagers from serving Mass entirely, but they should, as a general rule, fill the simpler roles while adult men serve as crucifer, thurifer, and master of ceremonies; or, more often than not, the sole acolyte of low Mass. In the traditional Latin rite, these divisions are already built-in and quite natural. In the Ordinary Form, it will probably take a little more ingenuity for most. You will probably have to endure a much-diminished form of service until you find yourself in a position to gradually add on other traditional duties, or reintroduce the positions of thurifer and MC which are absent from most ordinary parishes today for various reasons, namely apathy.

In truth, the boys need not give up their cassocks and surplices at all. A better place for them would be to learn to sit "in choir"; not only filling seats like the over-dressed boys of old, but actually learning to read square notation and sing the short responses and sacred plainchants of the Mass as an auxiliary to the men's schola cantorum, all vested in their traditional place not in the organ loft, but in the sanctuary or choir stalls. In this way, we can slowly but surely restore the traditional choirs of men and boys that reigned supreme in the more glorious ages of Christendom. But this will take much greater efforts, and shall be the subject of a future article.

For now, it's enough to make our sanctuaries a fitting place for the divine services, where the "devotion, dignity and attention to detail" spoken of by Cardinal Griffin in the manual I first quoted are not ideals aspired to by young boys, but daily seen by them from the careful hands of the leading men of the parish. 

Men and boys enrolling together in the Archconfraternity of Saint Stephen in Philadelphia.

Unsurpassed dignity: the procession for a solemn Mass at Merton College Chapel, Oxford.

The servers of all ages at our nuptial Mass, to whom I'm forever grateful, receiving Communion.