Monday, January 21, 2013

Preparing the Manger and the Upper Room

Blessed be God!

I apologize for my long absence in blogging; life has been crazy, what with Christmas break, hanging out with Jacob in Wichita, and coming to Austria! But here, on a lazy-ish Monday afternoon (I only have 1 class for Monday morning) I wish to place a few thoughts that were bouncing around in my head and heart the other day at Mass.

At orientation for the semester, they had notice of different jobs that are available to students, as well as various volunteer ministry positions. I got super excited when I heard there were both sacristan jobs as well as a job ironing altar linens, and at first opportunity, I went running up to the TOR sister in charge of sacristan work. Within a couple minutes of talking with her, she was asking me if I wanted to be student head of sacristans for the semester. While it's not that huge of a commitment (since there are only 151 students here, and most people travel on weekends), I wanted to pray about it first, and make sure that I would have the extra time to give to that position. So at Mass that day, I really began meditating on what it means to be a sacristan, and how my role as a sacristan has changed and developed with my spiritual life over the years.

In short, being a sacristan is preparing the manger in Bethlehem. Preparing the very place where the Word made Flesh will enter Earth. Amid all of the craziness and chaos in Bethlehem with the census, Joseph and Mary gave of themselves to find a place for Our Lord to enter the world. Yes, they were tired, and maybe Joseph was exasperated. But they both took the time to find the cave to spend the night. Once in the cave, picture Mary and Joseph, preparing for Jesus to be born. Working to create an environment for a little child to come into the world; then, wrapping the baby in swaddling clothes. Their work was hidden from the outside world, but it was important.

Sacristans are hidden from the world. While the sacristan himself is visible, much of what the sacristan does is unseen to the congregation: preparing the credence table tray in the sacristy, ironing the altar linens, setting the ribbons in the Missal, and placing the items in their proper places in the sanctuary long before Mass begins. It is a hidden work, but so important for Mass to be celebrated in an environment worthy of  the King of Kings. It is also very humbling work. Sacristans prepare the sanctuary for the Mass, many times unknown to others. Though if something is prepared incorrectly (say, if there is no big Host for the priest to consecrate--I have been guilty of this many times--and the priest stands there motioning to the back of the church for a Host) many people glance sideways at the sacristan, knowing that he or she the one with the oversight.

I have been a sacristan ever since high school; when I was a freshman, I joined my school's "Liturgy Club" for multiple reasons: I wanted to meet good Catholics, I wanted to meet guys who were chivalrous and would treat me right as their sister, I wanted to grow in love of God, and I wanted to serve God. And, honestly, a huge underlying factor was FUN! Because it was super fun, and I greatly cherish my memories of times had in the school's Liturgy Club. When I was a sophomore, I began training in the sacristy, to set up the cart for the credence table. I also had been ironing altar linens, so I was working closely with some of the finer-detailed aspects. I began to value more the sacredness of the Liturgy, and the great gift that God makes of Himself through His sacrifice. Each year, my devotion grew, and the interior disposition I had towards the Liturgy became more reverent (at least, I tried). 

When I was a Junior, I was also given the great privilege to become a sacristan at a weekend Mass at my parish, which I did for the remainder of my high school experience (then I passed the role onto my awesome younger brother). Through parish sacristan work, I became much more acquainted with all of the parishioners in Liturgical ministries, and began to feel much more a part of a quite large parish. At college, I continued my work, and I am happily busy preparing for the sacrifice of Cross. As I have come to a greater understanding of the ministry, I have begun to see that I am not just preparing the manger for Our Lord; the Mass is His sacrifice on the Cross--so I am preparing the Upper Room, preparing the way for the Passion of Jesus Christ to take place. 

Sacristan work is a ministry of love, of offering one's body, soul, time, attention--offering all of one's self--to God. It is a school of humility, for all that sacristans do directs towards God and His Sacrifice of the Mass. It follows the paths of Mary and St. Joseph, as they prepared for Our Lord humbly in the stable. Like St. John the Baptist, the sacristan prepares the way for the Lord. 

*The patron saint of sacristans is St. Guy of Anderlecht, a man born near Brussels, Belgium in the 10th century. He had a tremendous amount of devotion and zeal for his work as a sacristan and caring for and cleaning the church.*

**other saintly sacristans include St. Bernadette and St. Therese of the Child Jesus**