D. Trenton: Guardians of the Altar

Watch the libs have a spittle-flecked nutty about this one!

I see that at the Cathedral of the Diocese of Trenton, where Bp. David O’Connell reigns, there is a group called the “Guardians of the Altar”.  This, according to the diocesan newspaper’s site The Monitor.

Guardians of the Altar welcomes new members

As the Mother Church of the diocese, St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, is where special Masses and liturgies such as ordinations of priests and deacons, the Chrism Mass and Rite of Election, [Which are indeed special, are usually well-publicized and frequented.] are celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Given the nature of such celebrations, it is only fitting that a special group of altar servers are commissioned to assist in such celebrations and services.

In 2011, Msgr. Joseph Roldan, cathedral rector, and Julio Alvarez, parish director of religious education and formation, formed the Guardians of the Altar program to train high school-aged boys to serve during Masses celebrated by the Bishop and other special services in the cathedral. [Okay, so they are a cadre of well-trained altar servers… too.]

“They are, what we call, the elite of the servers,” said Alvarez, who coordinates the Guardians.

The initial class of Guardians consisted of five young men, followed by an additional three who were installed in 2012. The most recent cohort, installed in December, had seven young men, bringing the size of the entire group to 15.

Different from the traditional altar servers of the parish, [Whoa! I hope these guys are also trained in the Extraordinary Form.  If not why not? How “elite” are they?] Guardians are trained to assist during celebrations with Bishop O’Connell, which can have varying traditions and rituals as well as a significant number of priests and deacons who are joining the bishop at the altar.

“The group is specifically (trained) to serve the bishop when he is here for Mass in the cathedral and any (other) special Mass in the cathedral,” said Alvarez.

Members of the order, who have previously served as traditional altar servers before joining, participate in quarterly trainings, as well as periodical retreats. [During which they read liturgical publications, right?] The members are also involved in the parish youth group, Alvarez said.

Beyond the practical training involved in helping them to assist during special celebrations in the cathedral, the order has a spiritual formation component as well.

“The group is geared towards vocations as well, so we try to talk to them about that,” said Alvarez.


Read the rest there.

Fr Z Kudos to Msgr. Roldan.

Young men like and need this sort of thing.  They. Just. Do.

However, I would suggest another dimension.

Serving at the altar is of great importance.  Making sure that nothing else but worship is done at the altar during Mass is also important.

From time to time some loonyburger disturbs religious services.  For those of you who are off your meds and contemplating such a thing, remember: in most places it’s illegal and you can be prosecuted.  I digress.  You may recall that recently a mostly naked idiot jumped up onto the altar of Cologne Cathedral during Christmas Mass.  Class act.

I have opined that bishops and priests ought to be thinking about how to handle these situations because – mark my words – they are going to be more common.  They will probably also get more violent.  Satan is on the prowl, friends.

When these incidents ooze up out of the filthy mud of diabolical activity or the sad mire of mental disturbance, the suggestion has been raised on this blog that a corps of men ought to be engaged to keep an eye on what’s going on in church.  They can assist if something goes amiss.

They could be off-duty LEOs and former military.  Some could (and probably should) be armed.  Perhaps some training in, I dunno, Judo? Aikido? Dare I suggest … Kendo?  I digress.

We read of horrible, sometimes heartbreaking, stories about someone shooting up a church.  Assailants are far less likely to attack a place wherein they know that someone is likely to be armed and ready for a problem.

I never want – never again – to hear of any sort of attack on people or on the sacred mysteries in a church.

Mai più. Never again!  More Guardians of the Altar!

In the meantime, here are two POLLS I posted some time ago:

Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood? (Revisited)

View Results

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Does female service at the altar harm or suppress vocations to the priesthood?

View Results

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The spittle-flecked nutties have commenced!  Über-liberal US Catholic has a froth underway.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, Fr. Z KUDOS, Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, Semper Paratus, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices, The Last Acceptable Prejudice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Wiktor says:

    Altar girls are super distracting! MAYBE if they wore something like nun habits… but they are not, their vestments are usually designed to be “pretty”. And pretty young girls are among the last things I wanna see at the altar.

  2. Nathan says:

    This just seems to beg for the reinvigoration of the ancient minor order of porter, does it not?

    In Christ,

  3. Darren says:

    Good things are happening in Trenton. We have a good bishop who loves tradition and the Traditional Latin Mass. Last summer I came upon this Monitor article, which confirmed what I overheard people talking about when I went to the Pontifical High Mass in Trenton in November 2012:


    The cathedral is undergoing a transformation. I only imagine that more will be done… they left a small space behind the new high altar so I am sure more will be added. For some “before” pictures see some of my photos of the cathedral taken several years ago: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dajamist/sets/72157603271773068/

    Pray for Bishop O’Connell who is now in Rome with a number of priests of the diocese (including Fr. Brian Patrick Woodrow, the priest spearheading the effort to help spread the TLM in the diocese – who I hope to be meeting with shortly after his return). Bishop O’Connell is supposed to be having a meeting with Pope Francis tomorrow.

    Good things are happening in the Diocese of Trenton.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Kendo is a good idea, because it doesn’t look violent, isn’t intended to be violent, but basically gives you no choice but to come along. (Albeit the weird pagan purple mist vision of kendo’s founder is unintentionally hilarious.) But there are a lot of other fighting/wrestling systems that utilize similar principles; indeed, kendo itself is a synthesis martial art, not sui generis.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    …. I meant “aikido.” Kendo is with a sword.

    Argh, must download more coffee.

    [Let me help.]

  6. Andrew says:

    The most recent cohort, installed in December, had seven young men …

    Cohort! Good choice of a word. It reminds me of the “Cohors Helvetica” – the Swiss Guard.

  7. glennbcnu says:

    @Fr. Z,

    “Different from the traditional altar servers of the parish, [Whoa! I hope these guys are also trained in the Extraordinary Form. If not why not? How “elite” are they?]”

    I would suggest that perhaps what “traditional” means in this context is the “tradition” (very small “t”) of the past 50 years [I know what they meant.] or so with female altar servers, potato-sack albs instead of cassocks and cottas, EMHC’s (Extraneous Ministers of Holy Communion), “everyone-gather-’round-the-table” type of serving. That is how I read what was written anyways…just my nickle’s worth… (Canada has done away with the penny….)

  8. Giuseppe says:

    I like the idea that priests and deacons will also be altar servers in this cohort. The biggest drawback of concelebration (in my opinion) is the overt message that a priest’s role as an acolyte, serving at the altar where his brother priest is celebrating, is not valued.

    Re. the all-male sanctuary. In my recollection over the past 2 decades, I think female altar servers are the inevitable result of female EMHCs. (At least in our diocese, we had female EMHCs prior to female altar servers.)

    Overheard yesterday in NYC: “Looks like hell IS freezing over.” Maybe not in Trenton.

  9. Suburbanbanshee:
    Actually, I think you’re onto something. Staff fighting would be a most valuable skill for Guardians of the Altar to possess, and I’m sure they would very much enjoy developing it together. In an emergency, a processional cross or torch would make a formidable weapon. One blow to the back of the knees would have taken that “Femen” she-devil in Cologne right out.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [Although every precaution must be taken lest Morris dance groups form thereafter.]

  10. midwestmom says:

    I held out as long as I could. Raised four girls and they all knew upfront they would never be altar servers. However, belong to a very small parish where the population of boys is drying up so, out of sheer necessity, our youngest daughter just started serving. Our parish owns surplices and cassocks for servers; our former vicar said the girls should not be wearing those.

  11. jthatley says:

    RE: Defending the sanctity of the altar against future incursions, like what recently occurred in Cologne…The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem may be able to help. Each Knight and Lady takes an oath to protect the Christians in the Holy Land, as well as the Protection of the Holy Places. The Lieutenancies in North America might be interested in protecting OUR Holy Places, as well. For your consideration…

  12. yatzer says:

    As of right now, we have no EMHCs and well over a dozen altar boys, maybe over 2 dozen. I haven’t counted that closely.

  13. Theodore says:

    According to legend, Musashi Miyamoto – the most famous swordsman in the history of Japan, was fought to a draw by Mus? Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi, using a jo or short staff. As a kendo and iaido yudansha I’d recommend jodo trained assistants.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Members of the order, who have previously served as traditional altar servers before joining, participate in quarterly trainings, as well as periodical retreats. [During which they read liturgical publications, right?]”

    Actually, I think they help the newspapers and magazines in the church racks to flee. There must be some unspoken bias against paper-based products at the Cathedral. Perhaps, the U. S. Forestry Service should be alerted.

    The Chicken

  15. The Astronomer says:

    My wife & I are fortunate enough to belong to St Catherine Parish in North Middletown, N.J., more than ably led by the mighty Father Dan Hesko. We are blessed that we have the 1962 EF rite at 9AM every Sunday & Holy Days of Obligation as well. Father’s sermon’s are always rock-solid and we always leave Mass thinking that we’ve been blessed to spend part of our Sunday in the presence of Our Lord and what a parish SHOULD be.

    Fr. Hesko was kindly enough to accept our dinner invitation, where he brought along his blessed salt, holy water and holy oils to perform a blessing of our home & property. He actually educated us on the fact that post-Vatican II, there is a difference between blessed water and holy water (which I was unaware of). Thank God for this good and holy priest.

  16. slainewe says:

    To midwestmom:

    But if your daughter serves, the men are off the hook!

    We forget that the Mass is THE SACRIFICE! Women must stand with Our Lady UNDER the Cross in the spirit of co-redemption, but we are not called to DRIVE IN THE NAILS! Fathers should be ashamed to make their daughters do so.

  17. vandalia says:

    This is certainly a worthy goal and project. However, it begs the question, Where are the Seminarians?

    Of course, Seminarians studying at the PNAC are basically unavailable for events such as the Triduum. However, I am not aware of any diocese that has every seminarian studying in Rome.

    It should be ovbious (at least to these readers) that instituted Acolytes should have “priority in service” for any liturgy at the Cathedral. Also, I believed it is a well established liturgical custom – if not law – that Seminarians are next in line to fulfill the role of “altar server” at any Mass.

    As I said this is an admirable concept, and certainly such students would be welcome at Cathedral liturgies that may happen to occur during the normal school year. However, for major events such as the Chrism Mass, Triduum, and ordinations, there should be enough Seminarians (ideally instituted Acolytes) to fulfill any needed roles.

  18. Riddley says:

    This may win the fretting-too-much award, but this post has reminded me of something I’ve been mulling over. Namely, to what extent are Catholics free to learn Eastern-style martial arts? Aikido and kendo look great, but how does all that chi malarkey sit with the Church? [Pay no attention to the chi malarky, as you so aptly put it, and have at.]

  19. RJHighland says:

    Strong altar societies are the core to increased vocations especially those young men that train in the Traditional Rite and in the St. Stephen’s Society. It is designed for a men’s mentality of achievement and advancement. Both my boys are members of the St. Stephen’s Society and servered at their first Midnight Mass this season. It was quite the event, Dad up in the schola Mom and the rest of the family in the nave were very proud, my boys made it through with-out collapsing or falling asleep they are 11 and 13 years of age.

  20. tzard says:

    My boy is on the Wrestling team in High School – he likes to show off how he can take down anyone coming at him. I’m thinking that would be a good skill for these guardians.

    Karate comes to mind also – and traditional karate uses weapons originating from farming tools which were handy to the average peasant. I can imagine a thurible with a lead center – swung around could be a formidable deterrent and provide a smoke screen to boot.

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  22. New Sister says:

    @ RomeontheRange – indeed! but I recall the scene in “Beckett” where Brother John [Saxon] falls inches short of his dream to take out a Norman Lord with the processional Crucifix.

  23. fatherrob says:

    The spittle-flecked nutty has commenced.

    Over at the Pray Tell blog, they have picked up on the “Guardians of the Altar” group:


    As you might guess, they don’t much like it.

  24. Charivari Rob says:


    If it’s good enough to send Moriarity to the bottom of Reichenbach, it’s good enough for…

    Vendalia, I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think Trenton currently has their own seminary (unfortunately). Any priests I know or ordinations I’ve read about in recent years refer to formation in places in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Newarrk (or PNAC, as you said). They do have an excellent residential discernment/formation program headquartered in one of the parishes toward the Trenton end of the diocese.

    One other thought regarding groups and readiness – Do the Knights of Columbus have something similar to the Knights of St. Peter Claver – namely, the charge to support their parish, priest and bishop?

  25. Mike says:

    This is under “good news” but relevant: I had a wonderful surprise last Sunday going to a TLM and seeing one of my freshman students serving the Mass, and doing it very well!

  26. An American Mother says:

    Just f.y.i. . . .
    I happen to have experience with just such a group. Back when we were Episcopalians — and the whole business went down with homosexual “marriage” and the bishop leaving his wife and two little girls to live in sin with a man — there was a lot of protesting and so forth by the usual suspects. My husband was Head Usher at the choral service, which is where the usual suspects usually showed up to make trouble.
    He organized a very effective group of bouncers, cleverly disguised as ushers. He is a 4th kyu aikidoka and had some MP training in the Army – his team included an ex Navy MP, a black belt in karate and a couple of good old-fashioned redneck bar bouncers. They also were big muscular guys with an attitude (except the black belt guy, who was a little skinny guy with an attitude).
    They had some pretty detailed plans regarding (1) spotting trouble and (2) dealing with it.
    Our host is absolutely correct that the existence of the plan is preventive. “The b’hoys” were so effective that we never HAD any trouble – they usually had a ‘friendly’ talk with the protesters and persuaded them to sit down or leave.
    The Church could do a lot worse than imitate that plan (could do worse than imitate the music, too, but I digress . . . )

  27. An American Mother says:

    And aikido is perfectly suited for this sort of duty, since it turns the aggressor’s own force against him in neat and very innocent-appearing ways. Although we (I am still a lowly white belt but I did pay attention) did practice some strikes and blows, those were primarily for the purpose of giving ones partner something to work with.
    People DID learn not to oblige when my husband said cheerily, “Here! Grab my arm!” (after awhile, they backed away slowly with their hands behind their backs.)

  28. BLB Oregon says:

    In a parish where the lectors and the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist include women, it is almost a moot point whether or not the servers include females. In spite of that, it is what the men do that influences the boys the most. Are the clergy men that the boys will want to imitate? Do they live their state with the dignity and devotion it deserves without treating laypeople as somehow beneath them? Do they value being men but also give women their own dignity? Are the other men in the parish devout and do they treat religion as a masculine virtue? Do the women believe that being a layperson is not a “second class” position in the Church, but that Our Lady obviously proves that it is fidelity and not the clerical state that is the greatest evidence of God’s favor? Do the parishioners believe that sanctity is for everyone, that the sacraments are the source of that sanctity, and that sacraments require holy priests? If a parish does not have praiseworthy men, and especially praiseworthy priests, if it does not recognize differing roles or does so only as if the clergy are at the top of some kind of “caste system”, and especially if it does not have devout families who truly value the idea that it would be a blessing if one of their boys were to be called to the priesthood, then a male-only altar server group is not going to make up for that. I’m not saying it is without value to restrict altar-serving to boys, but how the grown men regard their religious duties and integrate them into their lives and whether the laity as a whole have a good and healthy idea of their position relative to the clergy is even more important.

    IOW, if you aren’t in a parish that restricts altar-serving to males, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to promote good vocations to the priesthood and religious life. That is one thing, yes, but it is only one thing, and it is one thing that most of us can’t control. Certainly boys ought to be encouraged to serve at the altar as a way to increase their devotion to the Eucharist, even if girls are allowed to do it, too.

  29. Maxiemom says:

    I won’t comment on the altar boy/altar server debate. My opinions on this matter are way too liberal for this blog.

    That being said, I must comment on the incident of the woman jumping on the altar. Your suggestions of martial arts are commendable, but I was expecting you to suggest a pistol mounted under the altar – ala the private detective in “The Firm.” With your recent practice, you should be able to handle any like incident. [Depending on the point during Mass when the attack ensued, the powder traces from the use the liturgical Beretta could require an additional ablution.]

  30. “[Although every precaution must be taken lest Morris dance groups form thereafter.]”

    On the other hand, Morris dancers were traditionally always male.

  31. vandalia says:

    In response to a previous reply, the fact that Trenton does (might) not have a seminary is not really relevant. Most – although not all – seminaries close down for Holy Week so that seminarians can return to their own diocese for the Holy Week liturgies. In some diocese, this means they return to their home (or adopted home) parish. In others, this means that they return to the Cathedral and serve the Bishop at his liturgies. I support the later. For ordinations, every seminarian absent an extraordinary circumstance should be present anyway.

    So I would support the use of such a corps for events like Ash Wednesday, Rite of Election, Annunciation, etc. However, I feel very strongly that seminarians should be present and serve (at least according to their ministry) at major liturgies such as Christmas, Chrism Mass, and the Triduum. This is to benefit the diocese since the Cathedral should (don’t laugh) have the highest quality of liturgy. If this is true, it should benefit the seminarians by seeing (hopefully) “the way it should be done.” There is also the very practical benefit that this provides one or the rare occasions for the Bishop (especially in a larger diocese) to meet and spend at least a minimum amount of time with his seminarians.

  32. Matt R says:

    I was under the impression Madison has a pontifical serving group as well.

  33. Not only can we expect to see more of these Cologne-type incidents; the time will eventually come when the authorities will take no interest in arresting and prosecuting such.

    As for altar girls, I have long maintained that their true purpose is to be pawns in the war for women’s ordination.

  34. DavidR says:

    ” [Depending on the point during Mass when the attack ensued, the powder traces from the use the liturgical Beretta could require an additional ablution.]”

    I don’t care who you are; that right there’s funny!

    Sic ’em, Fr.; Z.

  35. Maxiemom says:

    “Depending on the point during Mass when the attack ensued, the powder traces from the use the liturgical Beretta could require an additional ablution.”

    Ha, Ha. I think an additional ablution might be the least of your worries!

    FYI – I live in the Trenton diocese. For many of us, the jury is still out on our Bishop. As the former president of Catholic U, I thought he might be more pro-Catholic education. Based on my husband’s experiences with the diocese as the chairman of the board of trustees of a diocesan high school, I’m not sure.

  36. Kennedy says:

    Fr. Z,

    I wish you had a like button on this site as some of these comments are brilliant and deserve praise. About 40 years ago, I was serving the Sunday evening Mass when a drunk decided to storm the altar and interrupt. I went down to restrain him. Then the Parish Priest, a man who was still playing rugby in his fifties, came down and persuaded the fellow to return to his pew. I escorted him. After Mass I then had to act as a bodyguard for Fr. Malachy as the women present were furious at Father giving Communion to the man. Fr. Malachy argued that as the man had decided to come to Mass, even in his drunken state, then he was hungry for God. I wouldn’t be sure of the rights and wrongs of that, but those were interesting days.

  37. JonPatrick says:

    Regarding seminarians, I noticed in the recent newsletter of the FSSP that during their recent ordinations they ordained seminarians in the minor orders of Porter, Acolyte, Excorcist, and Subdeacon. Very interesting, as I was not aware that restoring the pre-1962 practices in Summorum Pontificum also extended to the minor orders.

  38. Darren says:

    It seems that most priests in the Diocese of Trenton went to Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia is also an option as well as, I believe, one in Rome.

  39. slainewe says:

    Miss Moore said: “As for altar girls, I have long maintained that their true purpose is to be pawns in the war for women’s ordination.”

    Yes, along with the elimination of the Minor Orders.

    When girls were first introduced in my parish, they had to wear their hair back because flowing hair magnified the scandal for most of the devout in the pews at the time. I speculate this is because (as Saint Paul teaches) a woman’s long hair is a sign that she is made FOR man. So a woman with long hair in the Sanctuary COMPETING with men is a contradiction. Appearing as though with a “shaved head” makes it more palatable.

  40. slainewe says: they had to wear their hair back

    Last week someone told me that, at a nearby parish during Sunday Mass, a girl-altar-boy’s hair ignited from the thurible. She wasn’t hurt, but it was pretty dreadful.

  41. The spittle-flecked nutties have commenced! Über-liberal US Catholic has a froth underway.

  42. Kennedy says:

    An article from the Irish Examiner shows the importance of this:


    Just to add to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s comment: Years back, while serving as an acolyte I got too close to the candle and the fire started on my fringe and I spent a couple of minutes carrying on without realising that my hair was on fire. I must have been the Arthur Brown of altar servers. (This is not really suitable for a Catholic audience, but this was the kind of stuff us young people were exposed to in those days – http://youtu.be/en1uwIzI3SE). That put me off the hippy look for ever. I was and still am a male, but we used to have long hair in the sixties and early seventies.

  43. MarkG says:

    Pope St. Pius X approved of the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen which recognized the training and efforts of altar boys.
    Pope St. Pius X approved altar boys to wear these medals on top of the surplice while serving Mass.
    Since it has Papal approval, it would probably be best for churches which wish to reward altar boys with ranks and medals they can wear at Mass to use this.
    Here is the website, although its standards are revised for the new Mass.
    The SSPX has their own guild that uses the old standards geared towards the TLM

  44. slainewe says:

    “I was and still am a male, but we used to have long hair in the sixties and early seventies.”

    That’s right. I forgot that one of the precursors of girl-altar-boys was girlie-altar-boys.” ;-)

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