QUAERITUR: servers sitting on steps during TLM

From a reader:

Have you any information regarding alter servers sitting on the steps of the sanctuary during a TLM Mass? This is occurring in a local parish during the times when the celebrant sits (while the choir sings the Creed and Gloria) and when he does the readings in English from the pulpit (even during the Gospel when the congregation is standing).

 

I know that servers sit on the steps at certain times during a Pontifical Mass, but I don’t know of other situations.

Perhaps the readers have seen this done.

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to QUAERITUR: servers sitting on steps during TLM

  1. Dan says:

    I think i depends ethnicity of the parish. diffrent customs come form diffrent contries.
    like the priest taking of the Chasuble for the the sermon is a french custom. or the bell at the minor elevation is a german custom. or lighting the altar candles at the oferatory is a spanish custom. the sitting on the steps by the servers is of french origin. though they sholud really stand when the gosple is being proclamed at the ambo.

  2. I saw it for the first time a couple weeks ago. I just figured that the Oratory didn’t have enough chairs for the servers.

  3. Fr Bede Rowe says:

    I recently celebrated a High Mass here in my Church. The acolytes and crucifer sat on the steps of the sanctuary when I sat down. The reason? The altar is difficult to use for a High Mass. The Sacred Ministers were sitting in plano in between the sanctuary and the front pew. Not ideal I suppose – but the High Mass was! I thought I’d read it somewhere… F, O & R?

  4. Nic says:

    I’ve understood the custom of servers sitting on the steps during a priest’s mass to be of medieval English origin. I remember reading (I don’t remember where, maybe an old version of O’Connell) that if this is done, the server may not sit directly in front of the Tabernacle w/his back facing it (as does a bishop at the faldstool). I would say that it is an acceptable practice and that we shouldn’t be too shocked to see such local variations even at an Extraordinary Form Mass.

  5. Ernie says:

    “…server may not sit directly in front of the Tabernacle w/his back facing it (as does a bishop at the faldstool.”

    Technically, isn’t the Blessed Sacrament supposed to be removed from the tabernacle, and its doors opened when a bishop is at the faldstool?

  6. josephus muris saliensis says:

    It is totally different form the sitting on the steps at a pontifical mass, where the assistant are sitting with the Bishop (a bit like sons of peers sitting on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords).

    If there are stools, then they sit there; but if there is not enough space, it is normal for the servers to sit on the side steps, keeps up, together, and hands flat on them.

    This is quite usual in England and France, as noted above, and may sensibly be done anywhere. It is practical, not rubrical. To do so where stools exist would be silly and precious, rather “high anglican” one might say!

    While on this subject, the true horror of the NO in respect of seating, is for servers to sit on chairs with kneeling desks, like so many prelates. Even a priest should not have a kneeling desk if not a prelate. Let them sit on a stool or backless bench, and kneel on the floor. That is roman-rite custom. Among the young (servers, not priests but perhaps them too!) it certainly keeps them still and avoids slouching.

  7. josephus muris saliensis says:

    The Tabernacle. The rubrics and usual custom are rather charmingly literal. You are not sitting with you back to the tabernacle if you sit STRAIGHT on the steps. Your back is to the footspace. The line of respect is an axis directly front-to-back of you, not spreading out like a beam of light. This is why the priest when he turns after the consecration stands slighty to the side, with his back to the missal. Why we come down the steps turned slightly sideways when the Sanctissimum is on the altar (ie the priest at Benedition or the server after lifting the chasuble as Mass). Why the celebrant for the absolutions at a Requiem stands slightly to the side (with his back to the deacons place), not in the centre, so that your front-to-back axis NEVER goes through the Tabernacle, but only that.

    Indeed at a pontifical Mass the Tabernacle is empty, as there are too many people to ensure that this due reverence is maintained, and thus the Bishop can sit right in the middle of the footpace to preach the homily.

  8. Damian says:

    When I was an altar server at the OF Mass in the 90s we used to recline on the steps of the sanctuary towards the centre. It was quite dignified. Now they just sit in the front pews. Not as dignified.

  9. Damian says:

    Sorry, meant to mention the custom of reclining in the parish was certainly a carry over from the posture of the servers before the Council

  10. I attend an Oratory of the ICKSP in St. Louis. The servers sit on the steps leading up to the High Altar during the sermon and during times when the priest(s) are sitting. This pertains to High Masses, be they “standard”, Solemn or Pontifical.

  11. Ernie says:

    I was a server in the early-mid 1980s at a parish in Brooklyn, NY that was fairly traditional for it’s time, although still very much NO.

    On the most solemn occasions (Holy Week, Easter, Midnight Mass, 40 Hours) we had 15-18 servers! The routine seating provided for servers was 5 seats…2 heavy wooden chairs on each side of the sanctuary (the celebrant sat on the elevated predella)and 3 along the rear wall.

    We added 6 stools along the inside of the communion rail for the torchbearers, and others along both the gospel and epistle side walls of the sanctuary. However, the two “escorts” sat on tiny wooden stolls on the middle step of each side of the predella…their backs were facing the tabernacle, but not in the direct line. (The celebrant’s chair, back then, was up there as well, but off center so the tabernacle was always in view…it’s now off to the side, flanked by 2 nondescript chairs for the nondescript servers in nondescript albs and sneakers. Sigh.)

  12. Gravitas says:

    Why not just have them stand on either side of the priest if there are no chairs???

    Seems just a tab bit more reverent than sitting on steps.

  13. Maureen says:

    “Why not just have them stand on either side of the priest if there are no chairs???

    “Seems just a tad bit more reverent than sitting on steps.”

    Standing was something you did to show respect when things weren’t going to take very long. Very early on, it became the custom (just as it was custom among students of philosophers) to have the congregation sit down if something lengthy was happening.

    If the congregation is sitting down, and the servers aren’t actually doing anything, it’s a lot more dignified to have them sit down somewhere than to have them fidgeting, trying not to fidget, locking their knees, passing out…. You know, all the fun stuff.

  14. Andrew says:

    \”Why we come down the steps turned slightly sideways when the Sanctissimum is on the altar (ie the priest at Benedition or the server after lifting the chasuble as Mass)….\” I have seen this described but I don\’t know what this means. Can someone provide a detailed description and/or a photograph?

  15. John P says:

    Fortescue, O’Connell, Reid says, (p. 114), “… they (the acolytes) may set on the steps of the altar ….)”, citing SRC 2515 para 5.
    I’ve seen it done lots of times.

    John P

  16. Gravitas says:

    “it’s a lot more dignified to have them sit down somewhere than to have them fidgeting, trying not to fidget, locking their knees, passing out…. You know, all the fun stuff.”

    If kids are so out of shape that they can’t stand through the second half of a three-minute sung Credo or Gloria, there is seriously something wrong.

    Sitting on steps should be kept to the front porch, not to the altar of the Lord.

  17. GOR says:

    Echoing Damian, in the 1950s Irish altar boys reclined on the altar steps during the Sermon – which was frequently longer than today’s Homily…!

    Additionally, as there were 8-9 altar boys, even at Low Masses, there was nowhere else to sit. It didn’t seem undignified or out of place – just a practical custom.

  18. Dubya-aye See says:

    It’s only seems undignified to those whose sense of dignity is so formed by the American/Victorian/WASP idea of politeness that every “thing” requires a “proper” tool with which to do it. If you sit, it must be on a chair, if you dine, it must be in a room which is reserved for dining, etc.. It’s that sort of thinking which gave us such stupidities as the fish fork and the bidet.

    While I appreciate specialization in the functionality of things, I find the rigidity of those who go all agog over differentiations therein to be absolutely precious.