A LITTLE boy, in black cassock and tiny surplice, with a look of intense gravity on his chubby face, pressing an incense-boat against his chest in his left hand, and clutching with his right the cassock of the thurifer--here is a possible introduction to a lifetime of service as acolyte and sacristan of a parish church. Almost from his cradle such a child learns that it is the natural office of a lay churchman to minister round the altar of God in any capacity not exclusively belonging to a man in Holy Orders. He quickly learns to be free of self-consciousness; he may even start young enough never to know its paralyzing grip. Then can begin, at this early age, the observance of principles that should by-and-by become fixed habits of mind and action--silence, reverence, recollectedness, attention, dignified carriage, exactness, rising eventually to spiritual vision, and perhaps vocation to the priesthood. After a time, with lengthening of leg and muscular development, the boat-boy may become a cope-bearer. As such he must be convinced, to start with, that his business is to be not merely an ornamental figure, but a person of some practical use. He must learn to walk slightly in advance of the bishop or priest vested in the cope, and hold it out in such a way as to relieve the wearer's arms of its drag and keep it clear of his feet in mounting steps. He must know when to pick it up and when to let it go, how to dispose it behind the stool before its wearer sits down, and to exercise intelligent anticipation of the movements of the said wearer in approaching, incensing, or leaving the altar. Clean hands are requisite in the physical, as in the moral, sense to all who minister in the sanctuary of the Lord, and in the cope-bearer this particular cleanliness is a really important part of his godliness.
In the early centuries of the Church the men who performed the simpler duties of divine worship were called sub-deacons, or acolytes. The sub-deacon prepared the sacred vessels for the celebration of the Eucharist and washed the hands of the priest at the altar, but was not allowed to preach, baptize, or administer Holy Communion as the deacon did. In later times his office was numbered among the major orders, like that of deacon, priest, or bishop. The acolyte then became the first of the minor orders, the others being exorcist, reader, and doorkeeper. The word acolyte means "follower," and indicates that he followed the priest or deacon and ministered to him by manual acts. In practice this meant the lighting, carrying, and extinguishing of torches or candles, the swinging of a censer, the handling of cruets, bells, bowls, or towels. With the general disappearance of the deacon and sub-deacon as permanent ministers and of the minor orders, a layman has become the temporary acolyte who performs many of their functions under the modern title of "server."
As a boy grows older he may be found willing and worthy to be trained to be a server at "low" celebrations of the Eucharist. This is, in practice, the most useful service that can be rendered by a boy "on the altar," and the training for it may be very beneficial to him. Some priests will not allow a boy to fulfil this office: others are ready to do so as soon as the boy is confirmed. The conditions in parishes vary greatly, but if there are not a sufficient number of communicant men ready to assist the priest in his ministration at the altar, it seems legitimate, and may be advantageous, to use confirmed boys in such a capacity.
The proper training for this duty should be deliberate and gradual. One of the first things looked for in the candidate is an ability to get out of bed at the right time. It does an aspirant much good to have to be present at a 7 o'clock Eucharist as a worshipper in the nave on a series of appointed days. When the invitation to qualify as a server is given to a boy, the temptation to allude to the "privilege" should be suppressed. The modern mind is more open, thank God, to an appeal for service than to the call of privilege. Consequently, in any parish where the celebration of the Eucharist has come to be regarded, after years of patient education, as the united showing forth before God and man of the Sacrifice of the Life and Death of the Redeemer, in which every baptized Christian has a rightful place, the serving of the altar is but a proper and natural share in the performance of a common duty. It is primarily a ministration to God on behalf of the lay people, and only incidentally an assistance to the priest.
Every server should be at church at least ten minutes before the service at which he is to minister. He should have no difficulty, if the sacristan is a man of order, and with the power of organization, in finding his cassock and surplice on their proper peg and his sanctuary shoes in their box, if the muddy lanes of the parish make such footwear necessary. But it may be doubted whether slippered noiselessness does not give an air of artificiality to the ministrations of a healthy male under threescore years and ten. The sanctuary of a church should have as little as possible in common with a boudoir. The preparation of the altar should begin with the careful folding-up and removal to a suitable place of the dust-cloth, the setting of candlesticks in mathematically even positions, and the placing of the altar-desk or cushion at the required point. For the lighting of the candles, a taper with the means to kindle it should be available in its allotted spot. The priest or sacristan responsible for the training will be wise to begin at the beginning, which is to see that his own part in the making ready for a service to be performed reverently and without haste is punctiliously carried out. Things must be ready to hand. The lack of matches may have unspiritual effects.
The first part in the actual training of a server is to teach him to read and speak. How often a young man who has been serving for years with real devotion has never learned that the making of responses in a reverent but audible tone is the chief duty of his office! The trainer was no doubt laudably solicitous concerning the making of the sacred sign, the bows and the genuflexions, but his pupil's ability to read, pronounce and lift up his voice in a large building was taken for granted! A sort of " solitary mass " is the result, and if the celebrant himself is afflicted with vocal paralysis, the service, on its manward side, is reduced to a dumb and dark ceremony.
Having deposited the box containing breads, the cruets and the lavabo dish and towel on the shelf of the piscina or the credence table, the server will light the candles. Even in this small duty care is needed. The tops of the candles are often above a server's head, and if the shoulder of the candle is melted by the flame of the taper, that candle will, should there be a draught from the window above, drip and gutter throughout the service. In wintertime a current of cold air is constantly generated inside a window of any size, so the protection of the altar candles with side curtains is useful economically and aesthetically. Similarly, the putting out of candles is a small art in itself. Flicking the wicks with the rim of a brass extinguisher is most reprehensible. It shortens the wicks, makes the next lighting difficult, scatters hot wax over the candlestick, causes the extinguisher to drip, and eventually plasters the fair linen and the sanctuary carpet with dabs of grease that quickly turn black, to the annoyance of the sacristan and the indignant despair of the church cleaners.
To put out a candle, poise the extinguisher over the top of the flame, lower it gently, pressing it lightly, if necessary, on to the candle, and holding it there long enough to extinguish the flame at a single attempt. Then raise it slowly that no half-molten wax may adhere to the brass.
It is customary for the server to be vested for these simple preparations in his surplice or cotta. This is intended to remind him that they are something more than merely utilitarian. Haste and the appearance of it are to be avoided. The dignity of the sanctuary calls for gentleness of movement, uprightness of walk, careful use of feet, and even the holding together of empty hands.
The server should now stand in the sacristy with the altar-book at hand, ready to join in a short prayer with the celebrant. In making reverence to the altar he should leave room in the centre of the sanctuary for the priest, that both may bow together. The altar-book should be placed on its stand or cushion back upwards and closed. It is best to leave the celebrant to open it himself and arrange markers as he requires them. The server should kneel at the spot at which he will join in the preparatory prayers. The 1927 Prayer Book provides an authorized devotion for this preparation. In the making of responses there is a certain art. The server who is acting as lay clerk should say his "Amen" or make his proper response in a clear decided voice, but not so sharply after the priest as to make responses from the congregation sound late or redundant, and so discourage the practice of responding. It cannot be denied that many worshippers are diffident or lazy. Hence in times past came the " parson and clerk duet." There have been substituted for it the "precentor and choir" and the "priest and server" duets, which have come into use since surpliced choristers and the abolition of church rates extinguished the parish clerk. Congregations need much tender encouragement to get them to respond above a whisper or a grunt, and an intelligent altar server can help his fellow-worshippers much as the prompter a company of actors " fluffy " in their parts.
Manner is important to the good performance of a server's duties. Reverence and modesty are its primary constituents. Unction is out of place, but prayerfulness, if not emphasized in look or action, will bring to the fulfilment of the office the touch of recollectedness that preserves the spirit of worship without sacrificing the watchfulness required. After all, it is for the prompt carrying out of humble but necessary service that the server exists, and he must never allow himself to be so absorbed in devotion as to forget his duty for a moment. Exact readiness is not incompatible with spirituality. The sanctuary is the earthly court of the Most High, and as Aaron and Hur stayed up the hands of Moses, so the earnest and attentive server can reinforce the concentration of the celebrating priest. What is known as "low mass" or a "plain celebration" is but a comparatively modern and exclusively Western substitute for the ancient solemn Eucharist by priest, deacon, and sub-deacon. The single server, therefore, in an Anglican church combines in his solitary person all the various functions of the rather numerous ministers at a fully rendered Eucharistic Liturgy. Let him bear this in mind at the simplest and most sparsely attended celebration, and reflect that for the moment he stands as the representative of the whole laity of the Catholic Church, whose co-operation with the priest is essential to the proper fulfilment of the Divine Mysteries.
The customary ejaculations "Glory be to Thee, O Lord" before, and "Praise be to Thee, O Christ" after, the Gospel should be clearly made, as not all congregations are familiar with them.
The Credo, Sanctus, and Gloria in Excelsis should, of course, be recited, but not too audibly, as at these points it is the priest who should lead the people, and a loud voice close to his ear may easily drown the murmur from the seats. At the offertory an observant server will be able, when presenting the breads-dish to the celebrant, to tell him approximately the number of persons present. The wine and water cruets ought to be offered to him in the right hand, with their handles towards him and their covers up.
The General Confession may quite properly be led by the server, who is, in the language of the rubric, "one of the ministers," but it is an orison that demands care in the saying, and private rehearsal. A strong deliberate voice is required, with syllabic pronunciation, and the tone in which the sentences are spoken should be appropriate to their sense. This cannot be very easily accomplished in a large church without lowering the voice too much.
As the Consecration draws near the server has the opportunity to contribute much, by his stillness of body and expectation of mind, to the tense concentration of the whole congregation. If he has to ring a handbell or a sacring-bell in the steeple or bellcote, his action should be as unobtrusive as possible, and every effort should be used to ring the bell rather than shake it jerkily or clumsily. The test of its being well rung is that it give a not uncertain sound rather than make as much noise as possible. It is easy to make a sacring-bell strike a jarring note. While the boom of a heavy bell sounded outside the church is valuable and welcome to those unable to be present within it, the use of a small handbell at the altar seems unnecessary and trivial at the recital of the Words of Institution. Rather should the injunction of the Liturgy of St. James be observed:
"Let all mortal flesh keep silence and with fear and trembling stand,
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to command."
It ought not to be an unwritten law that the server must necessarily receive Holy Communion whenever he serves. He may quite properly prefer to do so at a time when he can give his mind uninterruptedly to prayer and devotion. In either case he must not stare at the communicants kneeling at the altar rail. These minutes offer excellent opportunity for adoration and intercession, for which the use of a book is very desirable.
In ministering wine and water at the ablutions, care is needed not to use the former too freely. Enough to cover the bottom of the chalice at the first ablution, and a few drops over the tips of the priest's joined fingers and thumbs at the second are quite sufficient, but a much larger quantity of water is needed. Care should be taken with both wine and water to keep drops from trickling. If a ciborium has been used, both wine and water will be required for its cleansing.
After the Eucharist is finished, there should be no hurry to get away. The alms must be taken to the sacristy, the lights extinguished, the book-desk removed to its resting-place, the altar covered with its dust-cloth, the vessels on the credence returned to the sacristy. Gas or electric lights should not be left burning. Conversation with the priest both before and after the service is best kept down to the minimum. Silence is golden in the choir vestry, but a jewel--alas! rare--in the sacristy.
Last but not least comes the private and personal thanksgiving. On his knees in a corner of the church the true server will present, with diffidence and humility, perhaps with penitence, his completed service, asking pardon for lack of reverence or wandering thoughts, and praying for rc-collectedness throughout the day that he has been with Jesus.
When singers are available, though there may be no-one in Holy Orders to act as deacon or sub-deacon, it is the common practice to have the Eucharistic Liturgy sung, except, of course, those parts of it which are addressed by the celebrant to the congregation. Such a celebration is often called a "Missa cantata," especially in churches where the word "mass" is taboo, and "cantata" is used to describe a musical offering of a non-liturgical character.
In these circumstances, two acolytes usually officiate, dividing between them the duties of the single server at a said Eucharist, and perhaps adding the holding of torches on each side of the altar-book at the singing of the Gospel.
If a procession precedes such a sung Eucharist, these two acolytes will carry their torches immediately before or on cither side of the cross-bearer.
But a "Missa cantata" is, after all, only a substitute, imposed by sad necessity, for the solemn rendering of the Eucharistic Liturgy, with deacon and sub-deacon, which should on all Sundays and holy days form the principal service in every cathedral, collegiate, monastic and parish church if possible.
At solemn celebrations of the Eucharist two servers will be required to fulfil the duties of acolytes. Their office will entail little more than carrying torches at the singing of the Gospel, which is the most primitive use of lights in the Christian service, elevating them at the Consecration, perhaps ringing a handbell at the communion of the priest and, it may be, at other points in the service according to local custom, and handing cruets to the sub-deacon at the offertory. They should practise uniformity of step and action, bowing, kneeling, and rising simultaneously, and, because their duties are rather intermittent, have special need to be watchful against inattention. The behaviour of two recollected acolytes can do much to maintain that smoothness in the ceremonial which promotes the dignity of the sanctuary and helps to concentrate the devotions of the congregation.
In churches where incense is used, the kindler of the charcoal and bearer of the thurible, or censer, is known as the thurifer. Strictly, he has but little actual censing to do, as, properly, the use of incense belongs only to the solemn celebration of the Eucharist, at which, according to ancient custom, the deacon incenses the celebrant, any clerics who may be in choir, the singers, and the sub-deacon. The duty of the thurifer begins with the kindling the charcoal (usually done over a gas-jet), the preparation of the censer and incense-boat, and the maintenance of the glow in the embers after they have been cast into the censer. This last little point is important, and is ensured by pulling up the cover slightly by means of its chain, grasping all four chains just beneath the disc which unites them, and keeping the censer very gently swinging until it is required. The thurifer walks before the acolytes in the progress to the sanctuary and kneels or stands on the epistle side. When the incense is to be put in by the celebrant, the thurifer raises the cover further, lowers it on to the censer after the three spoonfuls have been blessed, presses down the ring on the top of the cover, and hands the censer to the deacon. He then goes to lift the stand or cushion which carries the altar-book off the altar while the celebrant incenses it. After receiving back the censer from the deacon he retires to the sacristy, raises again the cover of the censer, and returns to the sanctuary. It is advisable to have a metal needle with which to stir the charcoal should unconsumed gum tend to cake it. He must bring back the censer in good time for the singing of the Gospel, and again for the offertory, and at the latter point he accompanies the deacon for his part of the incensing, after which he must cense the deacon with two double swings, the other acolytes with one for each, and coming to the entrance of the choir cense the congregation with three double swings. He then retires to the sacristy with his thurible, returning, of course, to the sanctuary.
The burning of incense in divine worship has for its motive the beauty of a symbol of sacrifice and prayer, though originally, no doubt, its use was found valuable on hygienic grounds. The incensing of persons and things is done with the idea of purporting to imbue them with the merits of Christ that they may be made worthy of service in the Divine Mysteries. This is a humble and spiritual thought. In some churches there is a modern custom of incensing the Holy Sacrament at the time of consecration, with, of course, the purpose of further honouring our Lord Jesus Christ. This last incensing, if performed, is done by the ceremoniarius or the thurifer.
When incense is used in processions, the thurible is swung by the thurifer at the head of the procession, or immediately behind the crucifcr. He swings it at the full length of its chains, and the art of doing this gracefully and without mishap needs considerable practice and great care. Fancy methods of swinging a censer are to be avoided.
The use of incense in churches has a practical as well as an aesthetic value. It acts as a preservative of wood, and the ravages of the death-watch beetle, so destructive to the roofs of our priceless old churches, would probably have been unknown if the regular burning of frankincense had been maintained in them.
A common duty of servers is the carrying of the processional cross and banners. The crucifer's is obviously a most honourable post, and the server entrusted with it will inevitably be a marked man in the parish. His public life must be above reproach. The First Cross-bearer is the King and Judge of all mankind. The recollection of the solemnity of this duty should be instant in the crucifer's mind as he performs it.
Banners may be carried at intervals in a procession. Physical strength is necessary for this duty. It is always painful to see a bearer struggling to keep his banner aloft and steady. Some elaborately embroidered banners have much weight and are very liable to be top-heavy if carried, as they should be, not quite vertical but slightly inclined forward. The use of a strap round the neck carrying a socket in which to rest the butt of the pole is often advisable. Banners, if not tawdry or trivial, add dignity to a procession, but care is needed to sec that they do not come into collision with hanging lamps, candelabra, or other obstructions. The practice of grouping them before the altar at the close of a procession or for a Te Deum is not to be commended, as their back view en masse is usually the reverse of artistic. When not in use they should be held up by hooks or clips, and inclined slightly forward, or the pole will infallibly injure their shape and spoil their fall.
The ceremoniarius must be a man with a clear head and presence of mind. He should be perfectly familiar with the details of the duties of everybody taking part in the service of which he is in charge, from the celebrant to the boat boy, and must be on good terms with the choir-master and the organist. If there is to be a procession, he must be in absolute control of it. All will admit that some ceremonial in the public worship of God is necessary, but too much is worse than too little. Every bit that is not well done is a bit too much. Therefore, all that is to be done must be studied and rehearsed. The heralds who arrange a royal state occasion set an excellent example of conscientious preparation of every detail, from the sounding of a fanfare down to the opening and shutting of carriage doors. They have the advantage over the ceremoniarius of being allowed to speak aloud. The latter must never forget the nature and purpose of his ceremony, to glorify God and edify man. Therefore superhuman patience and complete self-control must be his, and even recollection of his acolytes' souls.
The spacing of the figures in a procession is a matter that he should not neglect. Many a procession is spoilt by crowding. The hand of a ceremoniarius can be as effective over his body of acolytes as the baton of the choirmaster over the singers, and much less obtrusive.
In a corner of the churchyard in many an English village can often be seen a bewhiskered official in hobnailed boots and clay-bespattered trousers tied up under the knee, shouldering a crowbar, a pick, and a shovel. Who would suspect him of being the "sacristan" of that stately church? Yet that is what he was in days of yore, as the title of his office, "sexton," still testifies. Doubtless he "doubled the part" with that of gravedigger in ancient times, and, as the Reformation diminished the need for him in church, and the growth of population improved his opportunities of employment outside it, mother earth gradually reasserted her sway over her son. Pick and shovel displaced bell, book, and candle as the insignia of his calling, and a comparatively modern official, the parish clerk, took over what remained of his original duties.
But, in process of time, the Nonconformist conscience, by objecting to the payment of church rates, starved out this latter officer in most places, and so the sacristan, as a volunteer amateur, has come back to his own. He is found, on perhaps three hundred and fifty evenings in the year, moving about sacristy and sanctuary with loving devotion, laying out vestments, replacing candles, filling cruets, and changing linen, that the Divine Mysteries may be celebrated with cleanliness and godly fear on the morrow.
Of course, the sacristan is often a woman, in some few churches a nun. In the discharge of the duties of the office there is equality of the sexes. A man can conveniently double the office of sacristan and ceremoniarius, but he will often need a woman's help in the former. Vestments wear and tear, linen splits and frays, there is much washing to be done, and everything--basins, cruets, bowls, pyxes, chalices, and patens--needs frequent cleansing. Probably no mere man, except he be a lay brother of a monastery, will do the whole work satisfactorily, whereas a woman can do nearly all of it quite well, relying, in cases of necessity, on a chivalrous verger for the rest.
Many of our churches are still in Anglo-Saxon simplicity as regards the possession of sacristies. In some, the aumbry, which once contained the vessels, cruets, and vestments belonging to a neighbouring altar, gapes pathetically, minus its door, at the worshipper. In other cases, the surpliced choir, unknown there till the second half of the nineteenth century, has stolen the old sacristy, and the mean paraphernalia of the altar is housed in odd corners, the solitary chalice and paten sharing the only place of safe-keeping with the fusty parish registers. If half the money that was poured out so liberally last century on lacquered brass, branch candlesticks, and pitch-pine had been expended on the provision of spacious sacristies the worship of the Most High would be better rendered materially and spiritually. Overcrowding often exists in, at any rate, one corner of the House of God. Therefore a sacristan needs the education of residence in a three-ton yacht to qualify him or her for the charge of the circumscribed chamber provided for the accommodation of the articles required.
The parish registers being, of course, kept in a safe, another, with shelves, should be provided for the sacred vessels, and they ought to be kept in it. These need cleansing, and the sacristan, though a layman or a woman, should be allowed to wash and polish them, as the clergy today, if priests, have more than enough to do. But unnecessary-washing and rubbing is to be avoided. The first thing required to keep a chalice clean is that it should be used properly--that is, pressed to the lips only at the spot on its rim which is indicated by the mark on the foot, and that spot dried each time by the thumb or lip of the priest before the pall is replaced upon it. A tactful sacristan can do much to assist an over-worked priest, and his reverent influence may effect reform, where it is needed, from top to bottom of the sacristy. In particular, there is often room for reconsideration of the wine in use. It should be natural wine, either red or white, not of high alcoholic constituency, but strong enough to keep well without that addition of sugar common in liquid manufactured for the altar. Each chalice and paten should be kept in its own case, the proper protection from dust. Sacred vessels ornamented with jewels should be washed as seldom as need be, and closely scrutinized before the water is thrown, as it should be, down the piscina, or straight into the earth.
If leavened bread is in use, the sacristan should ensure that it is made from wheat flour only, without the addition of potato or any chemical substance, is neither too new nor too stale when supplied, and is cut just before the service, and then not too thin.
The flagon, ciborium, and cruets need frequent cleansing on the inside. This is most important, whether the material be metal or glass. It is well to see that cruets are not quite filled. If the wafers are put into the ciborium before the service, it is a good plan to place a small card stating their exact number under its foot for the guidance of the server and celebrant.
The slab of the altar, whether it be of wood or of stone, is best covered with a wax-cloth. Over this will be a linen cloth, to which the superfrontal may be attached, and over again the fair linen which should hang down almost to the ground at the north and south ends. On the top will lie a dust covering of coarse linen, Holland, or american cloth, to be removed, of course, before the altar is used and replaced immediately after the service. The frontals, suspended from a wooden lath, can be hung by hooks, and so easily put on or removed.
Nearly all altar crosses are too large. Wherever there is a rood over the entrance of the chancel, or a picture or sculpture of the Crucifixion on the reredos or the wall above the altar, or even a representation thereof in the centre of an east window, an effort should be made to keep the altar cross, or crucifix, small and low, to avoid a double focus. Cross, candlesticks, and vases, if used, may all stand on the altar, if it be of proper width, or behind it if there be a convenient shelf or sill. No sham gradine to carry them should be laid upon the altar. The use of a burse is now almost universal. It is most convenient without gussets, and should contain nothing but the corporal, folded into nine squares. This line linen cloth should be quite plain, save for a small mark in one corner, or in the middle of one side, to enable the celebrant to use the same square, the middle one of the three nearest himself, on which to consecrate the element of bread. The sacristan should ensure that the priest understands the purpose of this mark, and turns the three squares nearest himself inwards first, when folding up the corporal. The paten is meant to be placed on the top of the chalice after use, and no veil other than the pall, which should be stiff, is necessary or desirable. No lace should be attached to anything used in connection with the sacred vessels. A stained pall must be burnt entire. But a watchful celebrant will never replace a pall on a chalice till the rim of the latter is quite dry.
Vestments are best kept in a wooden press, as wide and long as possible, and containing numerous drawers. They should be laid out flat. Keeping light vestments, of Latin shape, if not heavily embroidered, in a cupboard on wooden or wire hangers may do them no harm, but large or heavy Gothic chasubles so stored will lose their good shape and go into a point at each shoulder. It is obviously most convenient to keep each vestment, whether consisting of five or ten pieces, in a separate drawer, if possible. [A "vestment " includes burse and veil.] Protection from dust is needed, even in the drawer of a press. When vestments are laid out, perhaps overnight in the dusk, in anticipation of an early morning service, care should he taken to ensure that they do not lie on a dusty surface, and are covered with a cloth. Frequent washing of hands in a sacristan is a solemn duty. Beautiful silk vestments, neatly and perhaps elaborately embroidered, are a very real offering on the part of their makers, for such work is the produce of very slowly acquired skill of finger, a steady capital expenditure of eyesight, and the patience of a guardian angel. The elimination of all avoidable handling will prolong the life of a set, and how long that life may be can be known from examination of some of the dainty medieval relics of vestments to be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in a fair number of our parish churches. Two points should be a sacristan's constant care: first, to provide against the presence of a moth in the press by vigilant watchfulness and the cautious use of disinfectant; and second, to remember that nine belated stitches can never make up for one in time, because every stitch in a fresh place is an unnecessary penetration of delicate material.
Among the rarer "curiosities" which do so much for the education of that excellent person, the charabanc tourist, is the cope-chest. It is a magnificent and reverend relic, that has in some places never lost its proper use. Even if still void it bears witness to our ancestors' care that copes should not be folded. Many parish churches today are rich in copes, and the sacristans of such churches might well feel a call to make a private subscription for the provision of a cope-chest with five or six drawers in it.
Wax-droppings on silk need the greatest care for their removal. A box-iron, no hotter than is absolutely necessary, passed over clean white blotting paper lying on the spot affected, is probably the safest instrument to employ.
The systematic sacristan will never run out of supplies. St. Paul knew the spiritual value of system. "Upon the first day of the week . . . Paul preached unto them," wrote St. Luke, and the Apostle's injunction to the Corinthian Christians: "Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store," might well be the motto of some future worshipful company of sacristans. At the conclusion of the service which is proper to Sunday morning, let a general inspection be made, and exact note be taken of all that will need replenishment that day four weeks, the number of unopened bottles of wine, and of wafer-breads, of cans of oil and boxes of floating wicks. With regard to candles, four weeks is not sufficiently long to have them in store. New wax melts like butter before the sun, and is therefore both uneconomical, dirty, and smoky. Four months is better than four weeks as a storing period. Needless to say, every bit of candle-end and unconsumed wax should be saved up in a vessel kept for this purpose and returned to the candle-manufacturer, who will allow for it by weight. The sorts and sizes of candles required should be exactly known for each candlestick, socket, and stock. It is easy to sneer at the use of wooden stocks for the taller candles, but they are, in practice, cleaner and more economical than whole candles above a certain length. The joining points should not be hidden by a shield bearing a sacred monogram. Vegetable wax should not be used for altar candles.
A choir vestry should have at least one heavenly characteristic--order. Musical people are highly endowed with the artistic temperament, and nature has curious laws of compensation. Boys, of course, will be boys, and choir-masters have to be tactful with volunteer choristers. The net, or rather gross, result on a Sunday night, especially after a lengthy sermon, is a sight that sears the soul of the long-suffering sacristan, who reflects with thankfulness that it is not unorthodox to believe in a purgatory in this life. For the nth time he rearranges the debris, and once more leaves every numbered cassock and surplice on its correspondingly numbered hook, shielded by the curtain provided as a dust-cover. Perhaps he is lucky enough to have a lady assistant, who on Monday morning will examine every article of the ecclesiastical wardrobe, and see that every cassock is complete as to buttons and as hanging loop, every surplice or cotta is darned and passably clean, and that every choirman, boy, acolyte, and banner-bearer will find on the following Sunday his particular habiliments in their allotted place. This is the ideal, and it is well worth while to strive to maintain it, for its preservation will add much to the dignity of worship and the local reputation of the church, to say nothing of its educative effect on the minds of its subjects.
Every well-equipped place of Catholic worship will have a number of articles in only occasional use. Banners should not, of course, hang permanently in the chancel, but be detached from their poles and stored in a cupboard. They lose not only their beauty, but also their stimulating effect if always in evidence. Censers, torches, incense-boats, paschal and funeral candlesticks, and similar ornaments, especially if of metal, should be kept in baize covers. The figures of the Christmas crib need to be packed up carefully as fragile goods. Each one of those articles must have its proper place. Some will need cleaning fairly often. It is the sacristan's office to see that this is done. The sanctuary and all those fittings and parts of the church which are devoted or accessory to the performance of rites and ceremonies are his special charge, and the dishonour of God's House in the parish that results from indifference to cleanliness lies at his door. There are corners of the earth where this is forgotten. "Fancy callin' thim few spots of blist candlegrace dirrt!" exclaims Mrs. Darcy, the chapel woman, in Sheehan's delightful "My New Curate." But those spots are not all found in Ireland.
There is no temple in the New Jerusalem. But "the street of the City was pure gold, as it were transparent glass." The eye of the sacristan needs to be that of the symbol of St. John.