Altar Servers

Just recently my parish has changed where the altar servers sit and how they perform their function. For as many years as I remember the altar servers sat beside Father with one being on each side during the appropriate time. Now they sit way off to the side, out of the sanctuary area when not active in their duties. The other thing that happens now is the servers are never to pass between the altar and the tabernacle. Because where they sit is on the opposite side of the altar from where they serve, when they are needed they cross in front of the altar (stopping to bow in front of the altar) and then proceed on. It’s almost military like. They step in time with each other. When they complete their duties they cross in front of the altar again in the same fashion and when they sit they attempt to do so at the exact same moment, once again in a military fashion. In years past there would be one altar server kneeling on either side of the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer but now they kneel in their place outside the sanctuary. Are these things some of those requirements that have been ignored up until now? I’ve been a member of this parish all my life and have never seen altar servers do their tasks like this.

Thanks in advance.

No. What you are describing sounds like the preferences of the local priest.

Deacon Ed

The 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal basically says: genuflecting to the tabernacle during Mass is out, bowing to the altar is in. Some quotes from it:
“274. … If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.”
“275 … b. A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar;”

The 1984 Ceremonial of Bishops has: “72 A deep bow is made to the altar by all who enter the sanctuary (chancel), leave it, or pass before the altar.” (Ceremonial of Bishops, Liturgical Press, 1989, ISBN 0-8146-1818-9, page 37.)

It also talks about bowing to the bishop, and has on page 38: “77. … out of reverence for both, ministers should, as far as possible, avoid passing between the bishop and the altar.” It don’t think it has the same “avoid passing between the tabernacle and the altar” but it seems like a good idea.

Regarding seating, the GIRM has: “310. … The seat for the deacon should be placed near that of the celebrant. Seats for the other ministers are to be arranged so that they are clearly distinguishable from those for the clergy and so that the ministers are easily able to fulfill the function entrusted to them.”

But they should be in the sanctuary, from the GIRM:
“294. … The priest celebrant, the deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary. Seats for concelebrants should also be prepared there. If, however, their number is great, seats should be arranged in another part of the church, but near the altar.”

“188. In the procession to the altar, the acolyte may carry the cross, walking between two ministers with lighted candles. Upon reaching the altar, the acolyte places the cross upright near the altar so that it may serve as the altar cross; otherwise, he puts it in a worthy place. Then he takes his place in the sanctuary.” And in 195, about the beginning of Mass: “Then the lector takes his own place in the sanctuary with the other ministers.”


As I read your post I had visions of my daughter as an altar server in one of our former parishes. They did things in a way similar to what you describe and with military precision. The kids, military brats all, seemed to relish the routine but I, as a person in the pew, found it extremely distracting. That particular pastor required two servers to always move together, even if only one were needed for a specific action. They came from opposite sides of the sanctuary, met in front of the altar, bowed and then proceeded to perform whatever duty they were at at the time, then met again in front of the altar, bowed and resumed their place.

I too, find it a bit distracting. It seems like they are putting on a demonstration more than serving, but that’s just my opinion.

I see you are from Canada. Our pastor’s previous assignment was in Canada. You don’t suppose it’s the same priest? Our pastor is originally from Sri Lanka. Was yours?


I can only dream of having altar servers do their duties with precision and reverence. It is all most priests can do to keep them from chatting or losing concentration during the Mass. Sitting next to the priest or somewhere else is more of a logistical question than anything else: what arrangement works best for the shape of your sanctuary to minimize distractions?

Nope, Poland.

It is clearly the personal preference of the Priest. I am an Altar Server, and I sit quite near the tabernacle. I would find it weird if I was asked to sit outside the sanctuary as a clear part of my role as an alter server is to protect the tabernacle and to stop unauthorized people from coming up onto the sancturary(which oft occurs in my church) especially during mass. This is one of the primary functions of the role to me.

Altar Servers should preferrably sit on the sancturary, near the tabernacle, perhaps off to the side a little.

Please explain. I’ve never heard of alter servers defending the tabernacle from unauthorized access. I too was an alter server, (back in the day we were called alter boys). The pastor drilled in us the reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament, proper posture during Mass, and the meaning behind every action the priest and alter servers do. (He basically taught us the Mass) Never did tell us our function was to defend the sanctuary or tabernacle. We couldn’t, we were in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. The only thing we could defend was our dessert.

Please explain your circumstance.

Well, you wear a little sword,and should anyone approach, you (after genuflecting, of course) stand at the gates of the sanctuary like the angel in the path of Balaam son of Beor, and call out “Halt! Approach no further. Enter not the sanctuary of God!” If they are wise, they turn away. If they happen to be riding an animal, the animal would probably turn away. If they aren’t, you salute the tabernacle, and the priest (genuflect, if there’s a bishop) and, after due warning, run them through like Phinehas, son of Eleazar.

Like Hobbits against the Wraiths!

Actually, there was one time I was serving for the grade school students when this fellow came walking down the isle with a bat in hand. The pastor, who was very protective of the kids, confronted him halfway. I heard later he was a little disturbed; he was looking for a baseball game. I remember I froze in place in the sanctuary while our pastor handled the man. He left without further problems. Of course after Mass, we all were talking about how we could have handled the man, like seasoned warriors.:rolleyes:

For a few years now, our altar servers have sat outside the main sanctuary. We recently changed where they knelt during the Eucharistic prayer. They had been at the foot of the sanctuary in front of their seats, but now they are fanned out across the front of our sanctuary. This is done with the idea they are leading the rest of us in our responses and movements.


My Parish is in our CBD, we have mature age altar servers, and we do get alot of people who come up onto the sancturary unauthorised, at least once a week in my opinion. This is probally for the sole reason that we are a City parish, the smallest one(ours is the size of an average suburban church, but still get a large turnout every week) and the only City parish that is a Charismatic parish. We get people like you described every few mass services, we are use to them. we get alot of homeless, poor people with issues. We also get alot of backpackers every week, and alot of people struggling with other spritual and mental issues.

It is indeed a function of altar servers to do this, but it is only really nessecery when the Priest cannot handle it alone. In our parish this is the case.


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