The Guild of St Stephen is an international organisation of altar servers founded in England in 1904 by Father Hamilton McDonald when he formed a Society of Altar Servers at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in London. In 1905, Pope Pius X gave his approbation to the Canonical establishment of the Guild at Westminster Cathedral and in 1906, the Sacred Congregation of Rites made the Guild an Archconfraternity prima primaria enabling all the parish branches to be linked with it. The Guild spread, and in 1934, Pope Pius XI enabled all Guilds of Altar Servers throughout the British Commonwealth to be affiliated with the Archconfraternity at Westminster.
The threefold object of the Gild which is Sanctification of the Altar Server through:
- Giving the server to understand the great privilege the Church allows by letting him serve in the Church ceremonies
- Instructing him on how to observe the rites and ceremonies of the Catholic Church
- Encouraging the server to understand the significance and purpose of the ceremonies in which he serves
Membership of the Guild is open to any server, without any limit of age, who can serve Mass, and who has shown proof of a desire to conform to the object of the Guild. It is recommended that a server after admission to the Sanctuary serve at least six months before being admitted to membership of the Guild. The local Director of the church decides whether a candidate is eligible, and is empowered to perform the ceremony of enrolment according to the form prescribed by the Archconfraternity and to invest the server with the Guild medal.
Every member on enrollment promises to observe the following rules:
- 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 avoiding doing anything which might distract the attention of the people.
- To recite daily the Guild prayer. Postulants and members are recommended to receive Holy Communion as often as possible, particularly when serving Mass.
- Enrolled members should always wear the Guild medal when serving. Unless taking part in the ceremonies, members are recommended always to use a missal when assisting at Mass.
Saint Stephen: patron of the Guild
Stephen’s name means, “crown”, and he was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr’s crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church. The Apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of the widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons, and Stephen is the most famous of these.
God worked many miracles through Stephen and he spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. The enemies of the Church of Jesus were furious to see how successful Stephen’s preaching was. At last, they laid a plot for him. They could not answer his wise argument, so they got men to lie about him, saying that he had spoken sinfully against God. Stephen faced that great assembly of enemies without fear. In fact, the Holy Bible says that his face looked like the face of an angel. Stephen spoke about Jesus, showing that He is the Saviour, God had promised to send. He scolded his enemies for not having believed in Jesus.
At that, they rose up in great anger and shouted at him. But Stephen looked up to Heaven and said that he saw the heavens opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. His hearers plugged their ears and refused to listen to another word. They dragged Stephen outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him. After such an expression of love, the holy martyr went to his heavenly reward.
St Stephen’s feast day is on 26 December.
The server in the sacristy
All servers should take a pride in punctuality, personal cleanliness and good behaviour, and while serving strictly avoid staring about them. The service in which they assist is no common service but sacred and solemn, and the place is most holy, therefore must the server constantly remind himself of the presence of God and His holy angels if he would serve well. The Sacristy is the antechamber of the sanctuary and within the precincts of God’s house; therefore the server will regulate his conduct and behave well there, after the example of the Holy Child and His saints. As a member of the Guild of St. Stephen he will place himself under the protection of that faithful deacon and brave martyr, invoke his intercession and follow his example.
The server at the altar
The first thing that every server at Low Mass should be careful about is the correct pronunciation of the Latin. Those servers who have never learnt Latin, and they are the majority, should invariably use a book or a card when serving. It is so easy to make mistakes without realising it, and these mistakes tend to increase until in the course of time the answers will no longer be Latin at all but merely a succession of sounds somewhat resembling that language. He should follow the Mass. His duty is SERVE the priest. He must, therefore, attend to what the priest is saying and doing, so as to be ready to answer at the correct time, and be rather beforehand than behindhand with his ministrations. It is for the priest and not the server to set the pace.
The Guild Prayer
(To be recited daily)
O God, Who dost graciously accept the ministry of Thy servants and allow us to share in the service of Thine Altar: grant that, whilst in serving Thee we follow the example of our Patron, Saint Stephen, the first Martyr, we may, like him, come to see Thy Son standing at the right hand of Thy Majesty, and so enter into the Kingdom of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The Guild Promise
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.
The Guild Medal
In the centre the letters XP are the first two letters of the name ‘Christ’ in Greek. At the top is the crown of victory given by God to everyone who overcomes evil, especially those who die for him. At the bottom are the palm branches, traditional signs of martyrs who died for Christ. Around the edge are the Latin words of the Guild motto: CVI SERVIRE REGNARE EST, which means: TO SERVE IS TO REIGN. On the back around the edge are the Latin words SANCTI STEPHANI ARCHISOLDALITAS which means ARCHCONFRATERNITY OF ST STEPHEN.
The medal means two things:
- The parish priest, or local director of the Guild, has decided this particular server is eligible and worth to be admitted to the Guild.
- The server accepts and wears the medal as a sign of commitment to serve regularly. A commitment is a serious promise, and this promise is a serious one because it is made to God and the Church.