One hears a lot hanging out in sacristies. Over the years the #1 complaint which I have overheard from clergy, and some parishioners too comes after the Dismissal. As the organist prepares to launch into an inspiring postlude-does your altar guild team dash up to the altar and credence table to juggle the metalware, snatch the flower vases for shut-in delivery and clack in high heels across the chancel on the way to the sacristy? If “mea culpa“s the answer, it is not too late to reform! Generally understood in most parishes is that the service has ended and exiting may commence when the acolytes have extinguished the altar candles-in some cases it is more than the two Eucharistic candles and this may take some time if done properly, carefully, and with some decorum. The altar is then covered with the fair linen protector (if not done before putting out the candles), the acolytes step back, genuflect or bow from the waist, and leave the chancel. After a few bars of the postlude, parishioners begin to rise from the pews or chairs and head back down the nave to where the rector is often waiting to greet the flock at the end of the aisle. When the congregation has transferred its attention from the chancel to leaving the sanctuary, it is then timely for the altar guild to exit the sacristy to begin the important business of clearing the credence table, checking for stains or spots, trimming candlewicks, etc.
I have found that an attractive silver tray with side handles, lined with a white linen doily or towel the perfect way to convey all vessels with some gracefulness and safety from the chancel back to the sacristy. In some churches acolytes bring the vessels back to the sacristy, but I would not recommend this for young acolytes as costly metalware is frequently dropped or “juggled” precariously as they attempt to take everything in one trip. Many is the breadbox I have seen with numerous dings in the side or lid or a crooked lid cross. This is an expensive damage to repair.
Changing of the frontal or any major work to be done should be accomplished when all have exited the church. Sometimes one must forfeit the coffee hour treats when duty calls.
I am mourning the demise of the red and black cassocks and white cottas shown in the photo above. Nothing was lovelier than seeing that cheery red cassock on Christmas morning, and the black cassock was always a reminder of Advent and Lent. Altar servers, if young, wore the square-necked short cotta, the Master of Ceremonies a snowy longer surplice, and the adult acolytes a square-necked surplice while the choir wore round-necked surplices over black cassocks. I am not sure how the new altar server white alb came about or if it is mandatory. Apparently it has caught on and is popular in most churches in New England. I am always pleased to visit a church and see the “old-fashioned” style still in use-as is the case still in some Rhode Island parishes. I am not a fan of the white server alb which looks somewhat monastic, is difficult to keep clean, and the cincture ropes are a temptation for knot-tying, fiddling, and such during the service.
The catalogue companies must be rejoicing though-and the number one article I receive for relocation is a red or black acolyte cassock- by the trunkful.