Secrets of a sacristan

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Preparing for the Mass is more complicated than one might think.

“Your average Catholic — if you never served as a sacristan before — would walk into Mass and be like, ‘Oh everything’s set up, and there’s a priest, and there you go!’” said Karen Bless, assistant to the chaplain and rector. 

“I think sometimes we as Catholics take for granted all of the effort and the work it takes to make the liturgy happen.”

As the person who sets up and puts away the vessels and books, the sacristan witnesses the events of the Mass and therefore, has a more intimate understanding and appreciation for the Mass that many Catholics lack.

However, there are very few sacristans at the University of Dallas. Senior theology major Kate Vicknair became a sacristan for this very reason. “They really needed help,” she says. “I didn’t want to do it just because it looked like a big responsibility, and I was afraid of messing up … But I decided to learn and I’m so glad that I did. It’s been such a gift.”

Vicknair taught me everything I know as a sacristan.  I signed up as a freshman, so I was intimidated by what seemed to be a daunting task. But over time and with support from everyone else in the sacristy, I became confident in my work and increased my understanding of the Mass.

Junior English major and copy editor for The University News Mary Grace Urbanczyk commented: “It’s a good way to learn about the Mass because before I was a sacristan I didn’t know [the names of all the vessels]. I knew what the chalice was, right? But I didn’t know the names of any of the other pieces that are used, how the lectionary looks, [and] how the Roman Missal is set up.”

Furthermore, setting up the Mass as a sacristan can be fun. Conversations inside the sacristy are unlike any other. Vicknair shared a story of what Father Joseph Paul Albin, O.P., the  chaplain, said one day in conversation: “[He] says a lot of ridiculous things. He kind of makes fun of me, and it’s great …”  

Moments like these make being a sacristan worthwhile. The job becomes easier as you learn, and the priests are regular people with quirks too. In my experience, each priest becomes less intimidating the more you get to know them by serving Mass together.  

In fact, the help of the sacristan is vital to the priest who says the Mass. Father Kevin Wilwert said, “Since the sacristans volunteer to set things up, my role and preparation can be a lot more prayerful rather than kind of logistical … I can use the time in the sacristy quietly to pray and prepare for Mass.”  Any student, no matter their level of experience, is welcome to be a sacristan! If you want to help out with the Mass either as a sacristan or in another ministry, contact Karen Bless at kbless@udallas.edu. From a sacristan herself, the experience is worth it!

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