A Rubrical Guide For Altar Servers
By Louis J. Tofari
Crossbearer At High Mass (Missa Cantata)
Though the position of Crossbearer (Cb) is probably the simplest
position to serve, nevertheless it is ranked higher than that of the
Acolytes, as seen during a Pontifical Mass (said by a bishop )
when it is exercised by a Subdeacon vested in alb, cincture and
tunicle. The reason for this is simply that the Cb has the privilege of carrying the
figure of Our Lord.
Cb should be in the sacristy fifteen minutes before Mass begins.
Within the first five minutes of his arrival in the sacristy, Cb needs to:
- Be vested after having said the vesting prayers,
- Have a stool on the proper side of the sanctuary, against the wall  (it is assumed here that Cb sits on the Epistle-side),
- Have the stand for the cross in its proper position (see ff. 2),
- Have the processional cross ready in the sacristy,
- And ensure the Communion rail gate is fully opened.
General rules for Cb:
- When carrying the cross, Cb never bows or genuflects, as he is carrying the figure of Our Lord .
- When not carrying the cross, Cb follows the same rules that governs the other servers (i.e., genuflecting when crossing the center of the altar, etc.).
- Cb must be careful not to hit low-hanging objects (lights, etc.)
with the cross. To avoid this, hold the cross at a forty-five degree angle when
walking through areas that have either a low ceiling or objects that
the cross will not clear in passing. Familiarizing oneself with the
route of the Procession will help to prevent hitting any possible low-hanging obstacles.
- Once there is enough clearance, Cb should hold the cross in this manner:
- The right hand is held above the left hand, with the left about one
foot below the right hand; this enables one to hold the cross balanced
without tipping over.
- The cross should be held straight, with the figure of Our Lord facing the front.
- The cross should not be held too close to the body, but rather a little in front of it.
- The figure of Our Lord on the staff should be about two to three feet above Cb’s head when being carried.
- When with the Acolytes, Cb is between them. Whenever there is a lack of
space for all three to walk shoulder to shoulder, the Acolytes always allow
Cb to go in front of them, as Cb carries the cross, which is higher in
rank than the candles.
- Processing is always done solemnly, at a moderate pace, with a distance of at least four pews between each group of server(s).
The Procession :
- When C has finished vesting, the MC will signal, and the other
servers (except Cb and Acolytes) bow towards the cross. The MC will say at
the same time, "Procedamus in pace," and Cb with the servers will reply: "In nomine Christi, Amen."
- Cb follows the rules for carrying the cross during the Procession.
- When Cb reaches the Foot of the altar 
with the Acolytes, he turns inward (to his right) in unison with the Acolytes, meeting
Ac1 on his left, while allowing Ac2 to meet him on his right while
proceeds shoulder to shoulder with the Acolytes to the credence, and places the
cross in the stand (or against the wall), with the figure of Our Lord
facing the congregation .
- Cb responds, stands, sits, kneels, turns and bows towards the altar in unison with the other servers .
During the Gospel :
- When the Missal has been switched to the Gospel side of the altar, Cb turns and faces the Missal for the reading of the Gospel. This is done out of reverence for the Word of God, Jesus Christ. After the reading of the Gospel, Cb turns to face across the sanctuary as usual.
During C’s Communion and Communion of the Faithful :
- Cb turns towards the altar and makes a simple bow when C consumes the Sacred Host.
- When C removes the pall from the chalice, Cb proceeds to the center
of the Foot, taking his position between the Acolytes. Cb genuflects
and kneels in unison with the servers on MC’s signal.
- Cb makes a simple bow when C consumes the Precious Blood in the chalice.
- Then with the other servers, Cb immediately makes a moderate bow with servers and recites the Second Confiteor. Cb signs himself with the cross as usual at the Indulgentiam.
- Cb stands, genuflects, ascends to the predella and kneels in unison with the other servers at the MC’s signals.
- Cb strikes his breast at each Domine non sum dignus.
- After all servers have received Holy Communion, Th will signal all
to stand, Cb turns right, descends to the floor and genuflects on Th’s
- Then Cb returns with Th and Acolytes to his normal position in single file. Cb kneels on Th’s signal.
At the Last Gospel :
- When C announces the Last Gospel, Cb signs himself,
retrieves the cross from the stand, and takes position just in front of
the credence facing the congregation. Cb should ensure that the figure
of Our Lord is facing the front.
- When the Acolytes have picked up their candles from the credence, they
turn inwards, switch sides behind Cb and then meet him shoulder to
shoulder in front of the credence.
Th (and Bb) has left the Foot and taken position, Cb and Acolytes
proceed to the center of the Foot, then turn inwards (Cb to his right),
and then proceed to stand between Th and the Foot (about a distance of
four pews from Th and leaving enough room in front for Tbs, MC and C:
about fifteen feet) .
The Recessional :
- When MC signals a genuflection, Cb and Acolytes wait for other servers
(Th, Bb, Tbs, MC and C) to genuflect, then Cb and Acolytes turn inwards (Cb
turns right), and process out shoulder to shoulder.
Servers’ blessing in the sacristy:
- Upon arriving in the sacristy, Cb and Acolytes take the same positions as they had before the Processional.
- Cb remains standing while C blesses the servers and does not make the sign of the cross, nor does he bow.
- Cb says the Guild’s prayers with the servers and then follows the After Mass Duties Sheet as prescribed.
Communion Rail Gate Option:
It may be conducive to have Cb open and close the gate at these times in place of Th:
During the Asperges :
- When C says, "Oremus," for the Asperges prayer, Cb
proceeds to the center of the Foot and stands directly behind C. When
MC signals, Cb genuflects in unison with C, MC and Th, then turns
right, proceeds to gate, closes it (it is not necessary to lock it at
this time), returns to the Foot, genuflects and then returns to his
- If there is no Asperges, Cb may do this after the Preparatory Prayers.
If there are Torchbearers (Tbs):
- After Th has incensed Cb, Cb meets Th at center of Foot, genuflects
in unison with him, then turns right, proceeds to the gate, opens gate
fully, then takes position slightly in front of the gate (inside
sanctuary) on the left side, standing inside the Tbs. After Th incenses
congregation, Cb will meet Th on his left, genuflect on Th’s signal,
and then return to his position.
- After Communion, when the tabernacle has been closed (MC’s
signal), Cb stands, and meets Th at the Foot, genuflects on Th’s signal
and then goes to open the gate fully. He then meets Th on his left,
genuflects on his signal, and returns to his position.
While technically the privilege of having a Cb in a Procession
belongs to a Prelate, nevertheless it is allowed where it is custom, as it is in the United States (cf. J.B. O’Connell, The Celebration of Mass
, 1962; pg. 462).
 J. B. O’Connell (pg. 462) directs the cross to be placed "in a stand or against the wall near the credence."
This implies that Cb should sit on the Epistle side of the sanctuary as
well. However, depending on space limitations, it is permissible to
have the Cb sit on the Gospel side and to have the cross with its stand
positioned there too. If Cb sits on the Epistle side, he usually sits
near, or to the left of Ac2. If Cb sits on the Gospel side, he sits
near or to the right of Tb1 (nearest the altar). If your chapel does
not have a stand, a portion of the sanctuary wall, preferably the far
corner of the Epistle side and in a place where the cross will not be
accidentally kicked, should be designated for the cross to placed
J. B. O’Connell, pg. 462; this is a general principle of ceremonies:
anyone carrying or accompanying one who is actually carrying Our Lord,
or an image of Our Lord (i.e., the Subdeacon during the office of the Gospel,
the Christ Child, etc.) does not make any form of reverence. There is
one exception to this rule: during a Pontifical Mass, while the
Metropolitan gives the Last Blessing from the throne, Cb kneels holding the cross in front of him. Cf. Stehle, Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies, 1961, pg. 114.
 Cb and the Acolytes should stop just in front of the first altar step (the Foot).
This inward turning action should resemble the opening of a door; it
must be executed smoothly and with precision, and with some practice
it is quite easy to do. Coordination is the key to performing this
 If Cb is sitting on the Gospel side, upon reaching the Foot with the Acolytes, he allows Ac2 to go behind him first, then Cb turns left and proceeds to his position on the Gospel side.
It may be useful to have Cb open and close the Gate during the various
times of the Mass for admittance of Tbs, rather than have Th do this
with a Thurible in his hand. Cf. Communion Rail Gate options.
If Cb is sitting on the Gospel side, he turns left, which is the
direction in which he will proceed to his position after genuflecting.
He will also allow Ac2 to pass first, then return and kneel in his
normal position in unison with the servers across the sanctuary on the
 If Cb is sitting on the Gospel side, after the Cb signs himself at the Last Gospel,
he retrieves the cross, and stands in front of his stool, facing
across the sanctuary. When Th has left the Foot, Cb proceeds to the
center of the Foot at the same time with the Acolytes (who are approaching
from the Epistle side) and meets them in the center, just in front of
the first altar step. Then Cb and Acolytes turn inwards (Cb to
his right) and proceed to the point that is between Th and the Foot as
Copyright © 2007. Louis J. Tofari. All rights reserved.