Archconfraternity of St. Stephen
For the formation and organization of altar servers, the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen is without peer. This serving guild not only uniquely has the approbation of several popes (starting with St. Pius X), but also over a century's worth of experience throughout the world.
A Brief History of the Guild
The Archconfraternity of St. Stephen is a guild for altar servers begun in May 1905 by Fr. Hamilton MacDonald at Westminster Cathedral in London, England with the permission of Cardinal Francis Bourne.
In November 1905, Pope St. Pius X gave his approval to the Guild (then a confraternity, prima primaria) and his permanent apostolic blessing. In 1906, he raised it to an archconfraternity; this saintly pope also enriched the Guild with many indulgences. The following year, the Guild's first handbook was published.
The Guild spread very quickly throughout Great Britain, but World War I saw the death by military action of many of its members, which nearly caused its extinction.
It survived the Great War though, and afterwards, Fr. MacDonald labored hard to ensure its successful re-establishment. In 1925, Cardinal Francis Bourne established a Central Council for the Archconfraternity, thereby ensuring its continuity.
In 1933, Fr. MacDonald went to his eternal reward. Less than a year later in 1934, Pope Pius XI had extended the Archconfraternity to the entire British Commonwealth; Father had indeed lived to see his idea firmly established.
In 1955, the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen made a Jubilee Pilgrimage to Rome, which included an audience with Pope Pius XII. Only a few short months earlier in 1954, he had canonized St. Pius X, who had done so much to forward the Guild's apostolate. With this fresh in the pontiff's mind, he suggested that the Guild also adopt St. Pius X as a patron, which was agreed to.
How to Obtain Guild Materials
Guild materials such as handbooks, prayer cards, medals and cords may be obtained via the SSPX's Guild National Secretariate.
What's the Guild About?
The Archconfraternity of St. Stephen is profoundly infused with a supernatural spirit that seeks a high standard of serving at the altar of God through which the server may sanctify his soul and obtain salvation.
The following extracts from The Altar Servers' Handbook (1962 edition) admirably demonstrate the underlying spirit of the Guild.
Three Fold Object of the Guild
The object of the Guild is the sanctification of the Altar-Server by teaching him that to serve in the Sanctuary is a great religious privilege, by instructing him the manner of observing the rites and ceremonies of the Church according to the rubrics and decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the interpretations of the most generally accepted authorities, and by encouraging him to understand the meaning and the purpose of the ceremonies in which he takes part.
Paraphrased (for easy memorization) as:
To sanctify the server by instructing him:
That to serve at the altar is a great religious privilege.
How to serve according to the Church.
What the ceremonies mean.
Four Rules of the Guild
To serve at the altar reverently, intelligently and punctually.
To make the short acts of preparation before, and of thanksgiving after, serving Mass.
To observe silence in the sacristy, and great reverence in the sanctuary.
To recite daily the Guild prayer.
I offer myself to God Almighty, to Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and to our Holy Patron, St. Stephen and I promise to do my best to serve reverently, intelligently and punctually, having the glory of God and my own eternal salvation as my object.
Organization of the Guild
The Archconfraternity of St. Stephen consists of individual chapters and a rank system which helps to maintain the high standards of serving:
Junior Acolyte (silver medal and plain red cord)
Senior Acolyte (silver medal and tasseled cord)
Master of Ceremonies (gold medal and tasseled cord)
Leading each chapter is a Chapter Director (a priest) and Chapter President (usually a layman).
The Handbook provides further details about the chapter's organization, rank system and enrollment ceremony.
St. Pius X's approbationThe hand-written note of St. Pius X giving his permission for the Guild's founding
Cardinal BourneThe Archbishop of Westminster, London, England, who first gave permission for the Guild's founding
You can also contact Louis Tofari of Romanitas Press to obtain more information and guidance on how to implement and operate a Guild chapter.
Explanation of the Guild's Medal and Cord
The Guild's medal is oval shaped and double-sided. The front side contains these details:
An ancient monogram for the name of Christ, which combines the Greek letters X and P. It was the symbol of victory that Christ revealed to Constantine: “In hoc signo vinces!” or “In this sign you shall conquer!”
Cui Servire Regnare Est
This is the Guild's motto and is Latin for “To serve Him is to reign” referring to Christ as the words surround the Chi Rho symbol. It is in imitation of Our Lord, Who did not come to be served, but to serve. St. Stephen also served the celebrant (alter Christus) at the altar in his capacity as a deacon. Blessed is he who serves the Lord at His holy altar.
Crown of Martyrdom
One of the symbols attributed to the martyrs. It is the crowning triumph of giving one's life completely to Christ. St. Stephen has the distinction of being the Protomartyr, or the first martyr to shed his blood and die for Christ and His Kingdom.
Twin Set of Palms
The Palm of Martyrdom is another symbol attributed to the martyrs. The palm symbolizes the triumph of the spirit over the flesh in the earthly battle for eternal salvation.
Sancti Stephani Archisodalitas
The back side of the medal simply has the Latin wording for "Archconfraternity of St. Stephen".
The medal is hung from a red cord worn which symbolizes the blood that St. Stephen the Protomartyr shed for Christ.