|The ceremony performed by a deacon at solemn Mass.|
The historical evolution of the ceremony is an important consideration in understanding the "Why?" of the practice, but it should not be the only, or most important, consideration in our understanding, especially in debates on whether certain customs should be retained. Studying the prayers and actions of the Mass becomes a sterile and spiritually void exercise if all that is considered is the organic development and history of the liturgy. Like all the elements of Catholic ritual, this particular ceremony, of course, goes back to practical considerations. Conical vestments worn in the past (think of something very similar to a Byzantine vestment) would hang down and cover the arms. At the elevations the priest would have to bunch the vestment up on the shoulder, and the deacon or other minister would lift some of the weight of the chasuble. A similar problem occurred with heavy Roman vestments during the Tridentine Reformation. But practicality is never an entirely thorough element in our understanding of this ceremony.
|Elevation without the ceremony of lifting the chasuble.|
The rubrics do not call for the altar boys to lift the chasuble.
It is important to keep in mind that not only was it practical, but also heavily invested by symbolism. This symbolism remains today, even though the practical purpose for its evolution in history may not apply in modern times. The lifting of the chasuble, part of the rubrics for the deacon at solemn Masses, has unique symbolic meaning for us today, and it is this symbolic meaning that is hardly ever discussed or even known, even in traditional Catholic circles.
There are two clues to the symbolic meaning of this ceremony. One comes from the ordination Mass wherein the chasuble is said to signify charity. The second comes from the vesting prayer the priest recites when he puts on the chasuble before Mass wherein the chasuble is referred to as the "yoke of Christ".
In the ordination Mass, when the bishop bestows the chasuble upon the priest he says: "Receive the priestly vestment, which is signified by charity." The chasuble, therefore, is a symbol of charity.
At the moment of the elevations, all are called to adore the God-Man, really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. As those assisting at Mass adore the Blessed Sacrament, a minister at the altar lifts the rim of the chasuble, symbolically signifying that from which all charity flows, namely the God Who dwells among us, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
|Altar boys performing the ceremony at low Mass.|
These more important symbolic reasons for the ceremony can bear much meditative fruit for those assisting at Mass. For this reason, even though the rubrics do not call for the altar boy to perform the ceremony at low Masses, it is a good and upright custom for the faithful. Because of the rarity of solemn Masses today, if it were not for the custom of the altar boy imitating the ceremony at low Masses the faithful would needlessly be denied the ceremony and the symbolic significance attached to it.
1. The people expect it. While continuing the ceremony will not disturb, stopping it suddenly when it is expected will.
2. When altar boys imitate the ceremonies of an ordained minister it is both an inspiration to consider a possible calling to ordained ministry, and preparation for ordination.
3. The ceremony has its own unique and aesthetic mystique, which contributes to the faithful's adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
A note on how to properly lift the chasuble:
At the moment of each elevation the rim of the chasuble is lifted vertically, not outward or away from the priest. The chasuble should only be lifted four or five inches, and no more. The chasuble should not be tugged or pulled. The altar boy should make no other gesture (sign of the cross, striking the breast, bowing or nodding, etc.). The chasuble is gently released the moment the Host or Chalice is replaced on the altar. The gesture should never be dramatic. Less is more. If the priest knows the chasuble has been lifted, then the altar boy has done it incorrectly.
If there is one server, he should kneel to the right of the priest on the edge of the platform. After the first genuflection the altar boy should take hold of the chasuble at the middle of the lower rim with his left hand, and ring the altar bells with his right hand. If there are two altar boys, they should kneel on either side of the priest and both should hold the lower rim of the chasuble, one with his right, the other with his left hand. Care should be taken that both altar boys hold the chasuble at the same height.