One of the unfortunate fallouts of COVID-19 is lowered church attendance. However, lower attendance doesn’t just mean fewer people in the pews. It also means fewer volunteers.
I began noticing a problem at my parish when I would arrive at the 9 AM Mass to find people milling around on the front porch. The door was locked because there was no sacristan to unlock it. We had to wait for Father to arrive. After the third or fourth Sunday of this happening, righteous indignation led me to, essentially, break into my own church. (Don’t worry, nothing was actually broken. There was a way in if you ignored the CAUTION tape and warning signs.)
At the end of Mass that Sunday, the deacon announced they were in desperate need of a variety of volunteers. These are positions mostly filled by retirees, who are now too afraid of contracting COVID to be sacristans, ushers, or money counters. The thought came to me (most likely by the Holy Spirit), “Why not be a part of the solution?”
It didn’t take long for me to realize that a good sacristan is very much like a good hostess. A good hostess makes sure there is enough food, the linens are clean, the proper utensils are set out, and the atmosphere is comfortable and inviting. A sacristan’s duties are not that much different, only it’s Jesus, angels, and saints in attendance, as well as fellow parishioners.
The first thing I do is turn on the lights and adjust the air conditioning (the latter being absolutely vital in the South during summer). I check to make sure there are plenty of orders of worship, disposable masks, and hand sanitizer. Unfortunately, there is no holy water in our fonts, or I would make sure those were full.
In the sacristy, I set out the chalice, paten, veil, and burse. The large host Father will use is placed on the paten. I leave these items on the counter because our priest scores the host with the paten in order to make it easier to break during the Fraction Rite. (Does anyone else shiver a little during that part of Mass?) I fill the decanters with water and wine, get the tabernacle key, and go back to the sanctuary.
There are several things I do and check up there but the part I want to focus on is the tabernacle. To me, this is the most daunting and sacred moment of my pre-Mass duties. Our priest likes to keep plenty of consecrated hosts, in the event he has to be quarantined or falls ill. Therefore, if there is no deacon to tell me, I need to check the tabernacle to make sure it is full.
Ciboriums containing consecrated hosts are all I see with my physical eyes. But in my heart, I feel as if I’m peeking into a throne room to see if the King is at home. A sense of utter unworthiness to even touch the tabernacle fills me. I shouldn’t be merely genuflecting but throwing myself face down onto the ground. This is God’s mountain.
After all my duties are complete (and there are a lot more I’m not going into because they’re boring), I sit in a back pew with my husband. There is a certain sense of happiness when things go smoothly and there is enough to feed everyone who approaches. Our Lord is worshiped and, for a brief while, we visit again Calvary.
At the end of Mass, I take down and put away. Orders of worship and bulletins left behind are trashed. Father doesn’t like it that it’s just me and my husband sanitizing but I really don’t mind. A good hostess cleans up after the guests are gone. I don’t know if the next Mass has a sacristan, so I do some of the setup work before leaving.
I would have never discovered how wonderful it is to be a sacristan if I hadn’t responded to the need in my parish. I wouldn’t have gotten to handle the sacred vessels (respectfully) or gained a closer relationship with our priest. I wouldn’t have gotten to be hostess to Our Lord and His Court.
Our parishes need us now more than ever. They need not only our tithe but also our time. Those that were once central to running things, doing all of the nondescript background work that keeps a parish going, are now locked away in their homes. Those of us who are strong, healthy, and unafraid need to step up. I’m sure as you read the first paragraphs, you thought of situations at your parish where things didn’t go as smoothly as they once did.
Therefore, I ask you, dear reader, how are you going to be a part of the solution?