The moderate pace
Louis J. Tofari
Published originally in the Winter 2013 issue of The Acolyte magazine for the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen.
In the Gospel of St. Mark, the perfection of Christ’s humanity is described with the phrase “He hath done all things well.” Many spiritual writers, particularly monastic ones, elaborate on the Evangelist’s praise of Our Savior and give many examples of how we can imitate Him in this aspect in our daily lives—even how one closes a door!
Of course, doing things well is also of the greatest importance at the altar of God and to this end the Guild’s handbook has this to say:
Remember that whether you hold the office of Master of Ceremonies, or the more humble one of Torch Bearer, that you are in the service of the King of Kings and are always on parade. The success and rhythm of a parade is secured by the attention given by each member to the minutest detail. So pay the greatest attention to every small detail.
This attention to detail consists of following specific rules (called rubrics)—not merely for the sake of rules, but because of why they exist: to ensure a decorous and proper rendering of the Holy Mother Church’s sacred rites for the worship of God.
Every server knows that the celebrant has to follow certain rules when celebrating Mass, from where he stands at the altar for the various prayers, to how he must hold his hands at different times. Or even that the priest must keep his thumbs and index fingers joined after the Consecration until they are purified at the Ablutions.
This strict attention to detail is actually a form of spiritual discipline for the celebrant, thus a means for the priest’s personal sanctification—conformity to these rules also edifies the faithful (and hopefully the attentive servers too!) thus increasing their devotion in the sacred mysteries. The servers also have a set of rules they must adhere to, the most basic being they should perform all of their actions at a moderate pace.
The phrase “at a moderate pace” actually has many applications, but in general it means to act deliberately and solemnly, but in a natural manner—thus neither lazily, nor in an unnatural stiff and militaristic way, or even with a fake pietistic air. In fact, the latter is actually a form of pride, but the moderate pace exemplifies modesty and humility and helps to remind us of our unworthiness to partake in the immense privilege of serving the sacred liturgy. This is because when one acts at a moderate pace, one neither goes too fast, nor too slow—which can be contrary to our own habit, or will.
Hence, learning to conform all of one’s actions to a moderate pace (that is, paying attention to details and thus serving intelligently and reverently) involves not only being attentive but also working on one’s faults—that is, to perfect oneself as Christ Himself. Everyone has different weaknesses, so some servers may need to work on how fast they walk or turn, others in making the Latin responses as prayers, or even the sign of the cross with faith instead of absent-mindedly like swatting flies!
Concerning the importance of acting at a moderate pace the Guild’s handbook states at the beginning of the “General Directions” section:
All actions should be done deliberately, thoroughly and without hurry, but not slowly. All the words should be spoken audibly, each syllable articulated, every sentence reverently pronounced.
In adhering to this admonition, one’s natural actions are elevated to sanctifying ones, thus becoming a small prayer in itself. This results not only in a beautiful fulfillment of our duty in the liturgical act of religion (which we owe to God in justice), but also in the individual sanctification of the altar server—the first part of the Guild’s three-fold Object.
So when you respond “Et introibo ad altare Dei,” remember to go forth moderately in all you do in serving the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
1 Mark 7:37.
2 Cardinal Bernard Griffin’s Preface on p. i.
3 P. 8.