Is it Prayer? #1
Gradually, gradually here we are making our liturgy more prayerful, the advantage we have over others here is a church that is slowly becoming more beautiful as we restore it. The environment helps a great deal.
The congregation here is quite transient, most people live in pre-Edwardian houses converted into flats, so there aren't many families here, after the first child couples tend to move away, hence there are not vast numbers of children. In a different parish I might do things differently but here we do not have trillions of children serving. Indeed I am not keen on children of either sex serving. It seems absurd to have a man, doing the most important thing a man can do, surrounded by small boys or small girls. Nowadays, with the scandals, it has also just become a bad sign and tends to trivialise the Liturgy. Though I was very impressed by a contribution of a six year old on Fr Tim's blog.
In the Eastern Churches the servers are ordained to the Minor Orders, which presumes some knowledge and some understanding of the sacred function of their role, it presumes they pray and have an active spiritual life within the Church rather than just being "Father's little helper". It also presumes they are as necessary as the priest within the Liturgy. Post Vatican II liturgy can be celebrated just as well without servers, I know a couple of older priests who generally celebrate without servers.
Here, we generally only have men serving, most can serve the Usus Antiquior as well as the Usus Recentior. They know what they are doing, they have a love of the liturgy, they understand that they are there to assist at the sublime sacrifice, that their own own prayerfulness assists the congregation in prayer.
We are fortunate with our Master of Ceremonies, he knows the Liturgical Law as well as me and being a lawyer can argue his case a little better than me. He also has an Oxford degree in theology, both his Latin and Greek are better than mine. That means that unlike most priests I do not have to worry about being the MC as well as Celebrant during the Liturgy, which means I am free to pray to focus my own attention on God, which is incredibly liberating. As with Clare who runs our choir, Andrew knows his stuff, or rather the Church's stuff, so as far as the Liturgy is concerned it is possible to implement a vision of "collaborative ministry".
Pope Benedict's idea of ars celebrandi seems to suggest the priest is recollected and absorbed by the Sacred Liturgy itself, it is only then that he diminish and the Lord increases, gradually members of the congregation are catching on, people are beginning to come from surrounding parishes and I think there is an atmosphere of prayer at our Masses.
Because our servers are familiar with both forms of the Roman Rite the two forms do tend to influence one another. At least at our main Sunday Mass, our servers are beginning to arrive early enough to pray before Mass, they vest, prepare the sanctuary, light candles reverently, they chatter less in the sancristy. Recently we have started to pray the prayers at the foot of the altar before Mass in the sacristy, I started doing it in the vernacular, the servers asked for it in the Church's own tongue.
They are of course free to receive Holy Communion as they want to but they choose to receive it according to the norms of the Church kneeling and on the tongue, which seems to help the congregation to receive reverently. On occassion some choose not to receive which in itself is teaching, and I am quite pleased by.
They might be criticised for being a little too drilled or formal but they know clearly what to do. They themselves seem to be praying and have acquired the ars celebrandi which is as importantant to servers as it is to clergy.
We men are actually are comfortable if we know what is expected of us; when to genuflect, when to bow, how to walk, how to sit, how to stand. During the Triduum it was good to have people commenting on the "choreography" of the serving, I think they meant simply they knew what they were doing.