Holy Innocents Catholic Church
I was an altar server in the Anglican Church from a very young age. I started when I was about 8, long before I was confirmed, and I continued until the day that I completed high school.
I would, like many other young men at my parish did, have continued being an altar server in the parish after I matriculated, if I had not left for another parish and another role in the Anglican Church. It was quite normal back then for adult men to be altar servers.
They did of course take on the more senior altar server roles, like MC or Thurifer, but an altar server was definitely not seen as a role that was reserved for only the young men or boys who were still at school.
I don’t know what happens in the Anglican Church today because I converted to Catholicism about 26 years ago.
In the Catholic Church I do however today get the distinct impression that the altar server role is very definitely seen as the domain of only schoolboys. Why is this I wonder? Or maybe it is just my experience in the few Catholic parishes that I have visited? Maybe I need to widen my experience of parishes?
Anyway, I have already digressed completely from the reason for me writing this post.
As an altar server one of the first lessons that I had to learn, because back then one went to training for a few weeks before one even got to think about serving at the altar, was when one had to bow and when one had to genuflect. We were taught that there were effectively two ways of bowing: a simple bow and a profound bow.
A simple bow - just tilting the head forward - was and is still used whenever one is carrying anything as an altar server, such as the processional cross or the processional candles. One does not bow deeply or genuflect when carrying these.
However my first lesson about when to use the simple bow had no bearing whatsoever on these situations. Not at all! I was only taught about these other uses for the simple bow after I had been first taught about the primary use of the simple bow.
I was taught the simple bow so that I would know, as a little 8-year-old boy, exactly what I had to do whenever I read, said or heard the name of Jesus at anytime during Mass, Benediction, Vespers or anywhere else for that matter.
This simple bow, we were carefully taught, was not only for use when we were actually performing our role as an altar server. We were taught that, out of a mark of profound respect and reverence, in all situations where we read, said or heard the name of Jesus, we should use the simple bow.
This habit remains with me to this day. Whether it is at Mass or just reading at home on my own, I find myself inclining my head slightly out of reverence for the name of Jesus.
Having just come through Holy Week, where we meditated attentively on what our Lord endured for us on Good Friday and what he achieved for us through His resurrection, this may be a good time to again begin, if we ever lost it, the practice of a simple bow of our heads whenever we read, say or hear the name of Jesus.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal still contains these words as far as I am aware: “A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honour Mass is being celebrated.”
There is of course no reason that we should use the simple bow only during Mass in accordance with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Sacred Scripture does after all contain these well known words: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”