Parker Clemens’ classmates watched as she looped a cincture around her waist with finesse.
“Watch, I can do this with my eyes closed,” she boasted to her friends as she tied the perfect knot with the thick, braided rope, her eyes squeezed shut.
The rising fourth grader at Assumption School in O’Fallon just two days before had learned how to tie a cincture, which is what she and her friends will wear over an alb — a long-sleeved white liturgical vestment — when they serve at Mass for the first time this summer.
Parker and 30 other students in fourth through eighth grades participated in a server camp at Assumption May 23-26, led by senior associate pastor Msgr. William McCumber. The camp included hands-on activities and games to help them learn the ropes of serving at Mass. Students also learned specific responsibilities for wedding and funeral Masses. A second camp will be held in early June for students in the Parish School of Religion.
Msgr. McCumber, who served as director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship from 2001-14, started the camp at Assumption two years ago as an immersion experience to help young people become more comfortable with the responsibilities of serving. He offered a training camp for servers at a previous parish, the former Mary Queen of the Universe, and for years helped organize a liturgy camp for students across the archdiocese.
“The role of the server at Mass should not be easily disregarded nor taken lightly, because you have a very important role to play as you assist the priests, the deacons and your fellow parishioners to celebrate the Mass prayerfully and respectfully,” Msgr. McCumber wrote in a guidebook he created for campers.
Camp was also meant to be a fun experience, with hands-on learning activities such as ringing the bells during the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ, learning the proper technique for lighting candles at the altar and ambo, and handling a thurible, a metal censer used to burn incense at Mass.
“Now don’t go home and just tell your parents you played with fire,” Msgr. McCumber joked with the campers. “Tell them what you actually did — you were lighting the candles at the altar.”
Nicholas Yates learned the proper way to use the brass candle snuffer to light and extinguish the candles. Msgr. McCumber explained the trick to handling the wick is to retract it after lighting the candles and then expose a small piece of it so the hot wax doesn’t stick to the inside of the brass tubing.
Nicholas, a rising sixth-grader who began serving after attending camp last year, said he enjoys being able to assist the priests at Mass. “When you serve, you’re serving God and the priests” he said. His classmate Aiden Markelz agreed: “It’s a way to give back to the parish. And it’s better than sitting in the pews.”
Rising fourth-grader Anden Todd received a flyer for camp at school and brought it home to his parents, eager to attend. Trying on an alb for the first time, lighting the candles and helping prepare the altar for Mass — along with hanging out with his friends — were some of the highlights of his first camp.
But the experience ultimately has helped him to grow in his faith, he said. “Learning about everything like this and being part of the Mass helps me grow closer to God,” Anden said.
Addison Markelz was inspired by seeing some of her older friends serving at Mass and attended camp for the first time last year. The skills she’s learned have been a great benefit to her, helping not only with Masses at Assumption but also a funeral Mass for her great-grandmother at a church in Illinois earlier this year.
Of the Mass, she said she thinks about how Jesus might have felt at the Last Supper, with the institution of the Eucharist. “I like the second part of the Mass (the Liturgy of the Eucharist),” she said. “There’s a lot of action, and it makes me feel good that I am helping out.”
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy describes the Mass as such: “Through the means of signs, symbols and words, through the action of the liturgy, the mystery of God’s saving work in Christ is made present. It is the actualization of His saving mysteries for the life of the people of God.”
Campers are learning more deeply of their service to God at the Mass and being part of that mystery, Msgr. McCumber said. But he also hopes that the experience develops their leadership skills. “We give them more responsibility, helping with setting up everything before Mass and cleaning up afterward. The adult sacristans have become mentors to them.”
But what happens at Mass shouldn’t stay at Mass, Msgr. McCumber explained to campers.
“At Mass, we give glory to God and are strengthened by the Word and by holy Communion,” he said. “But the intention is we don’t want you to stay here. We want you to go forth, and what you have listened to and learned in the Word, what you have experienced in receiving the Eucharist, we want you to take that with you and evangelize the world.”
“Do you know what that word evangelize means?” he asked.
“To spread the Good News,” a camper replied.
“Yes, it’s to spread the Kingdom,” Msgr. McCumber said. “And the best way you can do that is by living holy lives.”