Traditionally, are those that volunteer to be sacrastan's male or female?

I am a cradle Catholic who is trying to catch up on my education. Our priests made a plea for help. I would be honored to be the servant behind the scenes in preparing for the Holy Eucharist, but I want to stick to tradition.

Traditionally, the job was originally reserved to seminarians, however in most parishes the function is usually done by women although altar linens are generally farmed out to a cleaning service because they are a pain and the services who service churches have been trained in the proper method of cleaning them. In my anglican days, I was the only male one the altar guild and enjoyed breaking that stereotype. As a former sacristan, it is an interesting job which can be quite a bit of work depending on your parish. Probably the most interesting job was having to climb the back of the high altar to remove poinsettias after Christmas and dust the statuary and adjoining niches at least 20 feet off the ground with little or nothing to hold on to!:eek:

In my parish we hire HS boys to be the sacristans. We have about 5 of them and they work on rotation on Saturdays and Sundays.

I’ve never knowingly met a female sacristan.

I’ve met dozens of sacristans. My dad was one, until his ordination.

Most of the sacristan’s duties, however, can be done by male or female without much difference; the Altar Guild often takes over some of them.

There is a difference between the sacristan and the altar guild, although what the exact duties of each are does vary from parish to parish. The duties of caring for the flowers and altar linens are often done by the altar guild. Things like putting up a Christmas tree or the extensive decorations for Easter may be done by a special group that comes together just for that occasion. The preparation for Mass --putting out the elements, making sure all the correct vessels are ready, taking care of the candles, etc – are usually the duties of the sacristan. In my parish the priests do that themselves with the altar boys to assist them. There are probably many other behind-the-scenes jobs that I am completely unaware of.

fundamentally, the sacristan’s job is:
[list=1]]To prepare the altar in proper dress (altar-cloths and candles, crucifix)
*]to prepare the vessels to be used for the liturgy **
*]to prepare the gifts for the liturgy **
]to clean and maintain the linens required for the liturgy (Roman: corporal, purificator, pall, opt. chalice and patton veils. Byz: purificator, veils, optionally, the cloth atop the antimension)
*]to stock the gifts to be used for the liturgy
]to maintain the sanctuary in good repair
]to maintain the sacred vestments of the parish in good repair
]to maintain the sacred vessels in good repair
*]to assist the priests and deacons with vesting if needed[/list]

  • often falls to the altar guild.
    ** often falls to the deacon or celebrant.

Thanks to all who reponded.

In Christ-Ann :slight_smile:

In our parish the sacristan’s ministry has been done by women for the last 25 years.

As I recall, in the small rural parish where I grew up, those duties were part and parcel of the priest’s housekeeper’s job.

I should have said ‘several of those duties’, since there was an old man who did things like unlock the church and do the maintenance of the sanctuary.

Our sacristan is an older gentleman with some physical disabilities. His responsibilities include unlocking the church before Mass and locking it when Mass is over. He says he turns on the lights and checks the thermostats. Then he makes sure that everything is ready for Mass - the chalice, water/wine, etc. He assists at funerals. He is a sometime altar server. He says this position has changed his life.

To the OP, if your priest is putting out a cry for help and you feel a call to answer it, by all means - LISTEN!

I just recently became the full-time sacristan at my church, and nothing has had more of an impact on my life. In fact, the term “full-time” doesn’t even begin to describe what is necessary to do this job AT THE LEVEL IT DESERVES. I put in from 20-25 hours per week, and my duties include:

  • Setting up for Mass (includes ordering supplies when they run low)
  • Setting up for Baptisms, and assisting if required
  • Setting up for weddings, and assisting if required
  • Setting up for funerals, and assisting if required
  • Standing in for altar servers, lectors or ministers of Holy Communion who don’t show up.
  • Laundering and ironing the servers’ albs (or getting it done)
  • Seeing to it that all vestments are taken to the cleaners when required
  • Correct altar servers as needed
  • Ordering bread, wine, candles, etc. as needed

And when I say set up for Mass, that includes all Masses of the week (except for my day off). That amounts to 8 Masses per week, not including funerals and weddings.

Furthermore, since we have an elementary school (PK-8), their functions are included in my job. These functions include such things as May Crowning, 1st Communion, Confirmation and Graduation.

Also, any extra items needed for the Holy Saturday RCIA rituals are included.

When I took the job, my priest emphasized over and over that, first and foremost, I work for God and then for him. I had no idea just how pregnant with truth this statement would prove to be.

Since most people haven’t the first clue what goes on behind the scenes to make the Mass run smoothly, most won’t appreciate you. If you’re going into this to be appreciated, DON’T GO INTO IT.

Like one responded already advised, if you hear the call – listen. Don’t assume anything. Talk to your priest.

I was born to be a Sacristan, and hope that you’ll find the same fulfillment that I have.


I would advise you first to find out what are the duties of a sacristan at your parish. It varies.

This function has been filled by men and women (especially women religious) for centuries. Don’t worry about that. Altar servers were male (and still are in the TLM) until recently, but not so for sacristans. If you are called to do this, do it. If your priest is OK with you doing this, you shouldn’t worry further.

I’m a daily Mass sacristan, and also serve as sacristan for special Masses. I open the Cathedral six days a week and prepare for the morning Mass. This means setting out the readings, preparing the sanctuary, preparing the sacristy, preparing the Missal for the priest according to the ordo, preparing the sacred vessels, scheduling altar servers and readers and EMHCs (being a Cathedral, we have altar servers at every Mass), and being prepared to sub, cleaning up after Mass, helping the priest or deacon with vestments as required. It also means turning the lights on, thermostat setting, opening all the gates, encouraging the homeless people who sleep on the steps to find a shelter, cleaning beer bottles out of the parking lot, and sometimes calling the police when Mass is disrupted. I’ve also been sacristan for Easter Vigil, Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, and other special Masses for which a normal sacristan isn’t scheduled, and Masses for the bishop. I also set up for baptisms, funerals, and weddings that are scheduled for later in the morning after my Mass.

You may do more or less than this; find out before plunging in. For example, our altar guild takes care of all of the linens (purificators, corporals, altar cloths) but I have to put out a new altar cloth every once in a while. We have a special group of volunteers that changes liturgical colors (on the ambo and altar, etc.) or puts up seasonal decorations and flowers.

We have volunteers that serve as sacristan for their one Sunday Mass each week. I fill in for them on occasion also. I’m also sacristan for TLMs, which we have once per month and sometimes more. That’s a totally different setup and the difference from behind the scenes is quite amazing.

The treasure received (for my work as sacristan) is all in heaven.


In many parishes it’s a position of control/power and it’s controlled by special interest groups.

I am not sure that I recall correctly, but I believe Saint Therese of Lisieux was the sacristan at her convent.

Why would cleaning be a position of power? It seems to me to be the lowliest work for our Lord. Of course it is important work, but I can’t see how it puts a person in a position of power. Just the opposite. It ties a person down and obligates them–again, this is good work and good for the soul.

I just don’t get this. In our parish, the sacristans are male and female, and they are probably the least visible of all the servants in the parish. No one sees them doing their important work, but we all benefit from it.

I agree with you, Cat. In our parish we have a large team, both men and women, to cover all of the weekday and Sunday Masses, and a ‘Please volunteer’ sheet when it comes near to Easter, and for weddings/baptisms.

It certainly isn’t a position of power, unless counting out hymn-books for each row of benches can be considered empire-building!
What it definintely can be is a pain, especially if a wedding runs over time and leaves a lot of mess, and it can be taxing to bear the brunt of a priest’s irritation at something not your fault. I love it, but have made myself unavailable for a week or two a couple of times after a priest has taken something out on me.

Power? Hardly.

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