Altar Server Guidelines

St. Philip the Apostle

2015 Altar Server Guidelines

Preparation for Mass

All servers should be dressed appropriately. When you cross the nave (central aisle), you should always bow your head to the tabernacle (that is the gold box located behind the altar where the Eucharist is reserved).

Servers enter the sacristy (the room located to the left of the sanctuary) from the door by the statue of the Blessed Mother.You should arrive 15 minutes before the beginning of Mass to prepare. If there is a priest or other adults in the sacristy, remember to greet them. After greeting everyone, you should hang your coat or jacket on the coat rack. Next, sign in on the minister sign in sheet located in the center of the sacristy. After you sign in, go to the closet and select your alb.All albs are hangingin size order.Cinctures (the rope cord) are also located in that closet. Next select a crucifix from the beam in the center of the sacristy. If you need help with vesting ask for help.

After you’ve fully vested in your alb, cross, and cincture, jobs will be assigned by the senior server; usually one cross bearer, two candle bearers, and acolytes (servers who prepare the altar).There are usually four servers scheduled for a Mass, but for the major Masses there will be more servers and more complicated jobs, such as a thurifer (incense bearer).

After jobs have been assigned, final preparations must be made for Mass. A server should light the candles on the altar and any other candles in the sanctuary with the candle lighter/snuffer.Processional candles should also be lit at this time in the sacristy.Processional candles are only used when there are two servers to carry them.  Now is also the time to light incense if the priest asks for it.  When all is prepared, the servers with the priest go to the narthex (the vestibule of the church) to process into church.

Entrance Procession

Altar servers should line up in a specific order.First comes the cross bearer, followed by the two candle bearers who stand side by side. Behind the candles are the acolytes.You should keep a full pew of space between you and the person in front of you.When incense is used, the thurifer (server assigned to incense) comes first with the boat (bowl with incense in it) and the thurible (the actual incense with the chain) followed by the cross and candles.

The procession should begin once everyone is lined up and the singing begins. The procession should be not too fast but not too slow.Once the procession comes to the edge of the sanctuary, the cross bearer, candles and incense person go to the left toward the ambo (sacristy side). The book server goes to the right (presider’s chair side). The deacon, lector and minister will stand in a line. When the priest reverences the altar, all will bow or genuflect. If you are carrying anything, do not bow or genuflect.The cross bearer goes directly into the sanctuary and places the cross in the stand.The candle bearers move directly into the sacristy and extinguish the candles.The cross bearer and candle bearers go to their seats, remain standing and pick up a hymnal and sing.If there is incense, the thurifer goes right up into the sanctuary and stands behind the altar waiting for the celebrant (priest).The book bearer goes to the chair with the book on it.The book bearer should go directly to the priest with the book while the music is still playing.The book bearer stands to the right of the microphone in front of the priest. If there is a deacon, the book bearer needs to move in front of him so that he can read the Penitential Rite (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy) at the appropriate time.

Liturgy of the Word (Readings)

Following the Collect (opening prayer), all sit for the first reading, responsorial psalm, and second reading. At the beginning of the "Alleluia" for the Proclamation of the Gospel, the servers should stand when the priest stands.

If the priest asked for incense with the Gospel, as soon as the second reading ends, the thurifer goes immediately to the priest. If incense is to be used at the Gospel, the procedure will be rehearsed prior to the beginning of Mass.

At the conclusion of the Gospel, servers should sit for the homily and listen.After the priest returns to his seat and sits briefly, he will then stand and begin to recite the Creed. Servers stand with the priest and recite the Creed.If incense is used, an extra charcoal should be placed in thurible at the end of the homily.

Preparation of the Altar

Following the Creed, the collection will occur. During the collection, the cross bearer should take the cross from the stand, walk down the side aisle to the back of the church and stand where the entrance procession began waiting to accompany the gifts. While the cross bearer walks to the back, the servers in the sanctuary assist the priest/deacon in preparing the altar.  All of the needed items should be on the credence table. The items include ciboria, four chalices, the priest’s chalice with the corporal (white cloth), five purificators (cloth to wipe the chalice), two pitchers of water, a towel, a bowl, and a large red book called the Roman Missal on a bookstand. Bring items up to the altar in this order:

  • The Roman Missal on the bookstand
  • The priest’s chalice with the corporal
  • Any ciboria with hosts in them
  • Four chalices and the five purificators

If the ciboria are empty, they remain on the credence table until the Communion Rite.Take your time.

In the event that everything is not on the credence table, the priest will ask you to obtain it from the sacristy (the room that you dressed in and is located to the left of the sanctuary). You should enter the sacristy during Mass if instructed to do so. All closets and drawers are labeled. 

Reception of the Gifts

When the altar is set up, the priest will walk to the edge of the sanctuary. Two servers go with the priest to retrieve the gifts of bread and wine.If there is a deacon, only one server goes with the priest and deacon.Another server is waiting by the altar with water.The priest will hand the ciborium filled with hosts to one server.That server is to bring the ciborium directly to the altar and hand it to the deacon or priest.The priest will hand the flagon (pitcher) of wine to the other server (or deacon).If given to a server, the server brings the wine to the altar and waits by the altar with the other server with the water.The priest/deacon will take one pitcher at a time, so both servers should stay together although one server might not have a pitcher anymore. Both servers should wait until their respective pitchers have been returned. When that is complete, both servers will bow to the priest/deacon and turn inwards and proceed to the credence table to place their emptied pitchers.

If incense is to be used, the thurifer takes the thurible and the boat, and waits at the bottom step of the altar for the priest. When the priest is ready, the thurifer walks up and the priest will add incense to the thurible and incense the altar. If there is no deacon, the incense is returned to the thurifer, who bows to the priest and incenses him, with three sets of two swings. The thurifer then bows to the priest.The thurifer will than proceed to the edge of the sanctuary. The thurifer will then make a subtle hand gesture for the congregation to rise followed by a bow. After the bow an incense blessing of 3 sets of one swing of the thurible (center, left, right). The thurifer then bows and proceeds back to the thurible stand (located between the altar step and the credence table).If there is a deacon, he will incense the priest and the congregation.

Lastly, an available server by the credence table will have the bowl in their left hand and a pitcher of water in their right, while another server holds the towel. The towel holder will stand on the left of the bowl and pitcher holder as they wait at the step to the altar. When the priest turns to them, they should walk up and wash his hands. After the priest dries his hands and gives back the towel, both servers should bow, turn inward and proceed to place their items back on the credence table. At this moment all servers should be back by their seats standing.

***Whenever standing in the sanctuary during Mass, hands should be in prayer pose.***

Eucharistic Prayer

At the conclusion of the "Holy, Holy", servers standing at their seats should go to the steps of the altar to kneel. The servers on the left should get as close to the wall as possible.

Learn the priest’s preference, some may or may not want bells rung. If they do, at the elevation of the Body, the server closest to the bells (should be chosen beforehand) should ring the bells gently three times…three individual rings separated by a brief pause.The same should be done for the elevation of the Blood.

Servers should stand at the invitation to recite the Our Father. After the sign of peace is shared between the servers and the priest, servers take remaining ciboria from the credence table and bring them up to the priest/deacon, do not place them on the altar.

Communion

After ciboria are brought up, servers remain standing.If there are more than three servers, make two rows, one behind the other to as not to block the flow of traffic to and from the altar.Communion should be received reverently and giving God as much respect as possible. There is also the option of receiving the Precious Blood.  If you do not wish to receive the Precious Blood, cross your arms in an ‘X’ across your chest and bow your head.

After all the priests and eucharistic ministers leave the sanctuary,servers return to their seats. One server should have the water cruet ready in hand so that when the celebrant returns to the altar he can purify his chalice immediately.If candles are being used they should be lit during communion in the sacristy for the recession.

Concluding Rite & Recessional

When the priest stands the book bearer should bring the binder to the right of the microphone in front of the priest.  After prayer, the server returns to his seat.As the recessional hymn is being announced, the cross bearer will move towards the cross stand and withdraw the cross. Servers take candles or incense with them in the exit procession.All servers without anything should have a hymnal open to the hymn. When the music begins to play, servers should get into formation in the aisle.

The cross bearer should process first, to about the third pew from the front. The candles are behind him.The rest of the servers should be paired, and in the event of an odd number of servers, one stands in alone at the end of the procession.At this point, all servers should be facing the altar. When the priest(s) [and deacon] reverence the altar, they will then proceed to line up at the edge of the sanctuary. They will genuflect or bow, which should be imitated by all servers at the same time, except those carrying objects.The exit procession should be as gradual as the entrance procession. It shouldn’t be too fast or too slow.

After Mass

At the conclusion of Mass, servers should walk up the left aisle to the sacristy. Be mindful of other people.When back in the sacristy, one server needs to take the candle snuffer  to extinguish the candles. After this is complete, everyone should un-vest, placing their crosses and cinctures back. Albs should be zipped up and placed back in the closet according to size.If albs are on the floor of the closet please pick them up.  If you used incense, leave it hanging in the church sanctuary.

Glossary of Items

Alb- Outer garment used to cover street clothes
Ambo – The podium from which the readings are proclaimed
Boat- The vessel used for containing incense
Body & Blood- The species of Holy Communion after the gifts of bread and wine have been transubstantiated
Chalice- The cup-vessel that contains the Blood
Ciboria- More than one Ciborium
Ciborium- The plate-vessel that contains the Body
Cincture- The rope-belt that is tied around one’s waist when wearing an alb
Corporal- The cloth placed on the altar under the chalices and ciboria
Credence Table- The table that holds all necessary items for mass in preparation for the Liturgyof the Eucharist
Cruet- A glass pitcher that can contain water, wine or oil
Monstrance- A structured used for the transfer/exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as blessings
Nave- The main aisle used in entrance and exit processions
Purificator- A cloth used by an Extraordinary Minister, deacon or priest to wipe a chalice after someone has received the blood
Roman Missal- A large red book that contains liturgical prayers
Tabernacle- A containing chamber that houses the Body of Christ in the church
Thurible- The vessel that holds the coals and incense
Thurifer- An individual who bears the thurible