Rubrical Guide For Altar Servers By Louis J. Tofari
Boatbearer At High Mass
While the position
of Boatbearer (Bb) is not mentioned in the
Church’s liturgical books, it is allowed by such rubrical authors as
Fortescue and Merati .
A postulant server is often scheduled for this position, not only to
acquaint him with serving High Mass, but also to add solemnity to the
sacred ceremonies. The object that Bb holds, the Boat, is so called
because the older forms were often shaped in the image of a Boat, and
in the Latin rubrics it is called a navicula.
Bb should be in the Sacristy at
least 15 minutes before Mass.
must complete these tasks within the first five minutes:
- Should be vested having said the Vesting Prayers.
Should have a stool on the Epistle side of the Sanctuary, to the left
of Th’s , for the Sermon,
- Looks on the liturgical calendar and
determines what class of
incense should be used, fills the Boat three-quarters full (not all the
way to the
top; room must be provided for the Spoon and for C to scoop out
incense) and puts the Spoon into the Boat on top of the
incense (not buried in it) with the handle partially
sticking out under the lid (or in the notch) at about at a twenty
- If necessary, Bb assists with any
of Th’s duties. Bb should not
stand near the charcoal preparation area while he has his Surplice on.
- Bb holds the Boat all during Mass, except during Communion.
- Bb always carries the Boat in his right hand and
holds it at sternum level, slightly in front of him, 
in this manner: the stem is held between the index and middle fingers,
which enables one to hold the bowl partially in the palm, and the thumb
is placed on the lid. Bb’s left hand is held flat, with fingers
extended and held together against his breast.
When Bb does not carry the Boat, he folds his hands as usual.
When Bb is carrying the Boat, he does not make the sign of the cross,
nor strike his breast, but he does bow.
- Bb is
usually to the left of Th.
- When Bb is with Th,
he genuflects, kneels, sits, turns and bows in unison with Th.
When walking with Th, Bb does so shoulder to shoulder.
In the Sacristy to the Procession :
- When Bb has completed his duties, and after saying
the Before Mass Prayers, he proceeds with the Boat
to the Sacristy and takes position to the left of Th.
If incense is imposed for the Procession , once C
has finished vesting, Bb steps up to C with Th, Bb presents the Boat
(with lid closed) to the MC  and then steps back slightly
while incense is imposed.
- When the MC closes the
lid, and holds out the Boat, Bb steps
forward, receives the Boat and then goes with Th to their position in
the Sacristy for the Procession.
When the MC signals, Bb turns towards the Processional Cross  and bows while the MC says,
"Procedamus in pace," then with C and all of the
servers, he replies: "In nomine Christi, Amen."
Bb turns inwards with Th, switches behind Th to
Th’s left side and processes out of the Sacristy, walking shoulder to
shoulder with Th.
- Upon arrival in the Sanctuary,
Bb genuflects in unison with Th:
- If Th
is carrying the Aspersory, Bb goes around Th and proceeds to his normal
position on the Epistle side of the Sanctuary, usually in front of, or
inside the Sacristy doorway.
If Th is carrying the Thurible, Bb turns inwards with Th and then
proceeds shoulder to shoulder with Th to his normal position, switching
back to the left side of Th upon arriving there.
If there is an Asperges :
- On the MC’s signal (when C kneels), Bb kneels.
On the MC’s signal (when MC and Th stand), Bb stands. When C
sprinkles Bb, he makes a simple bow towards C and then signs himself
with the cross.
- Bb turns towards the Altar and
makes a simple bow for the Gloria Patri, and for Oremus.
- During the Preparatory Prayers,
Bb remains standing with Th; he does not sign nor strike himself during
At the First Incensation of the Altar :
- After the Preparatory Prayers are
completed, Bb accompanies
Th to the Epistle side of the Foot. Just before arriving there, Bb
steps slightly behind Th (who meets the MC shoulder to shoulder at the
Foot), and then presents the Boat to the MC with the lid closed.
- When the MC and Th have ascended to the Predella, Bb moves to
MC’s former position, while Ac1 goes to the right of Bb, Th’s former
position: Bb and Ac1 are standing shoulder to shoulder, just in front
of the Foot.
- When C has finished imposing incense, the MC closes the lid
holds the Boat out towards Bb. Bb and Ac1 then ascend to the Predella together
, Bb takes the Boat from the MC, turns
right, meets Ac1 with the Missal, both descend together
to the floor and then Bb returns to his normal position.
the Gloria, the Epistle,
Gradual, Alleluia, etc., Bb remains
standing with Th.
At the Gospel:
- When C is almost ready to impose incense, Bb accompanies Th
Foot again as above, gives the Boat to the MC, and moves to the MC’s
former position (Ac1 is at the Credence this time, retrieving his
- When the MC holds out the Boat, Bb
ascends to the Predella, takes the Boat, turns right and returns to his
- When C moves to the Missal, Bb turns
towards the Missal for the reading of the Gospel.
After the Gospel is finished being read, Bb faces
across the Sanctuary as usual.
At the Offertory
Incensation of the Altar :
- Bb repeats the same steps as at the First
this time Ac1 will go to Gospel side of the Foot to remove the Missal.
Bb and Ac1 will be facing each other across the Sanctuary.
- When the MC holds out the Boat, Bb and
Ac1 ascend at the same time to
the Predella from opposite sides. Bb will take the Boat from the MC,
wait until Ac1 is ready with the Missal, then Bb and Ac1 will turn
outwards (Bb turns right), descend at the same time
and Bb will return to his position.
- After C is incensed, Th will incense Bb,
who makes a simple bow to Th before and after being incensed.
At the Hanc Igitur :
- When the bell has been rung for the Hanc Igitur,
the Boat and imposes one spoonful of incense into the Thurible, which
Th holds open [the incense should be spread among the charcoals, and
not just dumped on one charcoal; this enables the incense to burn
- Then still holding the Boat, Bb kneels
at the MC’s signal for the Consecration. Bb makes
a moderate bow for each genuflection C makes during the Consecration; Bb must make sure that his thumb is holding down the lid;
also Bb should not tilt the Boat while bowing!
- After C says the triple Domine non sum dignus,
Bb places the Boat on the Credence, in a place where it will not be
tipped over accidentally.
- When Th has picked up the Communion
Plate, Bb accompanies Th on his left side to the front of the Foot for Communion.
There he genuflects, kneels, stands, genuflects, ascends with, kneels,
strikes and signs himself in unison with the other servers and on the
- After receiving Holy Communion, on Th’s
signal, Bb rises, turns left, descends to the
Foot, genuflects on Th’s signal, returns single file with Th to his
position and then kneels on Th’s signal.
- When the Tabernacle door is closed, and after
the Acolytes have left the Credence
with their cruets, Bb retrieves the Boat from the Credence.
The Last Gospel
to the Recessional:
- Bb does not sign himself with the triple
cross for the Last Gospel. Once the Last
Gospel has been started, Bb accompanies Th to their staging
position for the Recessional:
- If incense was imposed for the Processional, Th and Bb remain at their position until the Acolytes have
left the Credence with their Candles, and then Th and
Bb go to the Epistle side of the Sanctuary, near the Foot. When C descends from the Predella, Bb gives the
Boat to MC and receives it back as usual [go to step below].
- Th and Bb immediately go to the center
of the Foot, shoulder to shoulder, genuflect, turn inwards, Bb switches behind Th to his left, and then both
proceed to the head of the servers’ formation for the Recessional; usually directly in front of the Communion Rail
Gate [inside the Sanctuary].
- Th and Bb genuflect for "Et
Verbum caro factum est."
- On MC’s signal, Th and Bb genuflect,
turn inwards, Bb switches sides behind Th and then both recess out
shoulder to shoulder.
Servers’ Blessing in the
- Upon arrival in the Sacristy, Th and Bb
take the same position as they had before the Processional.
Both bow to the Processional Cross and then kneel for the blessing, but
do not sign themselves.
- Bb says the Guild prayers with the
servers, and then follows the After Mass Duties Sheet
 Fortescue, 1962; pg. 101 and ff.
3 (Gavanti-Merati, Pars II, tit. ii, § 21 ed. cit., vol.
I, p. 107).
 If, due to space limitations, Th
does not place a stool out for himself, then neither does Bb. Often
during the Sermon,
Th and Bb place their stools inside the Epistle side Sacristy doorway,
or even just inside the Sacristy itself and sit there. After the Sermon
they remove their stools.
 It should not be held against
one’s Surplice as unlacquered brass can blacken it.
The rubrical authors usually assume that Bb will give the Boat to Th,
who will then give the Boat to the MC, but this is not really
 Or the Sacristy Cross if there is
not a Crossbearer.
They should ascend to stand
actually on the Predella, and not just on the second
2007. Louis J. Tofari. All rights reserved.