Archconfraternity of St. Stephen elevates importance of serving at Mass
Call it a guild, or call it by its much longer, formal name, archconfraternity. Either way, the Guild of St. Stephen has served as a decades-old tradition that has elevated the important work of altar servers.
And for the first time, the British-founded organization for servers has made its way to St. Louis. Twelve young men who serve at the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine in west St. Louis County were inducted into the guild during a special ceremony after Mass July 22. The oratory, administered by the Benedictine monks of St. Louis Abbey, offers the traditional Latin Mass.
Archbishop Francis Bourne of Westminster started the Guild of St. Stephen in 1905 as a way to promote and support the "highest standards of altar serving" in the Catholic Church in Britain according to its website. He was inspired by Father Hamilton MacDonald, chaplain of the Sacred Heart Convent in Hammersmith, West London, who wanted to raise the standards associated with serving Mass. Father MacDonald began by offering regular classes for altar servers. Archbishop Bourne named Father MacDonald first vice president and director of the guild.
The guild initially was open to males only, but in the 1990s it began to include females as a result of a Vatican decision to allow female servers.
Father Bede Price, rector of Sts. Gregory and Augustine, said that the process of bringing the guild to the oratory started almost two years ago. The priest was inspired by his Benedictine community's connection to Cardinal Basil Hume, who once served as abbot of the Benedictine Monastery in Ampleforth, England, and later went on become archbishop of Westminster. The Guild of St. Stephen is based at Westminster Cathedral in London, which is the mother church of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
"This was in the back of my mind as we started this," said Father Price.
After seeking permission from Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, the oratory received a special hardbound register, which will be used to inscribe the names of all those who are inducted into the guild. "Should the oratory ever close, the register would be sent back to London," explained Father Price. "They are considered members for life."
The guild has three patrons: St. Pius the X, St. Thomas More and St. Stephen, who is considered the primary patron of the guild and the first disciple to receive the martyr's crown. Upon their induction, each member is presented with a certificate and a medal that is hung from a thick red cord symbolizing the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The medal itself includes the letters "XP," for the first two letters of the name Christ in Greek. The top of the medal features a crown of victory, given by God to everyone who overcomes evil. At the bottom are palm branches, a traditional symbol of the martyrs who died for Christ. The edges of the medal include the Latin motto, "Cui servire regnare est," which in English means "to serve Christ is to reign." Each server also is presented with a guild prayer, and they are encouraged to pray it every day.
Various medals are given for years of service in the guild.
Father Price said tongue-in-cheek that the guild is a natural fit for his young servers, who relish a healthy sense of competition. It also "gives them a sense of structure. It seemed like a really good thing to do."
A guide for servers
According to "St. Stephen's Handbook for Altar Servers," (written by Edward Matthew, with the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen, Gracewing) serving at mass means teamwork — working with the priest and other servers. It provides these guidelines for how servers should carry themselves during Mass:
• Move quietly, act calmly, do not call attention to yourself. In other words, serve reverently
• Hands are to be held together, in front of the chest, when standing, walking, kneeling, and there is nothing to carry. Ideally, a server should hold hands palm to palm and at right angles to each other, but with the fingers curled around the other hand;
• When one hand is used to hold something, the other should be laid flat on the chest;
• Eyes should always be on the priest or the reader, when he/she is reading, and the senior server. Never stare at people in the church or gaze around.
• Walking in procession or across the sanctuary is always to be calm and dignified.
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