"It may not be inappropriate to add a few words of admonition to Lay Sacristans. They occupy a rank in the Church which is next only to that of the Clergy themselves. Hence, where such an arrangement is practicable, and where the Church has her will and her way without drawback, the Sacristan is a Priest, or at least in Orders. The Pope’s Sacristan is a Bishop - a fact which may be taken as an indication of the importance which the Church attaches to this office. A little thought will show the reasonableness of this estimate of the Sacristan’s duties. In the course of his labours he is brought constantly, and closely, near the Altar of God and the Holy of Holies. He is almost necessitated to touch the sacred vessels and linen ; wherefore, if he have not the right ex ordine, he usually receives it ex officio. The privileges, of which this is but a specimen, are very great and very serious. No one can live in the midst of them and remain the man he was when he entered upon them. No man can be near God without a blessing or a curse. The familiarity with sacred things is, of all habits, the most dangerous where it is not duly appreciated, and its temptations constantly foreseen and counteracted. It is commonly said by Priests, that Altar-boys end in being either angels or the reverse. Now, the first duty of a Sacristan is to weigh the importance of his duties; and it is hoped that even so trifling an effort as the present may lead to this result, by pointing out the necessity of care and cleanliness in all that relates to the Church, and that hence, by the blessing of God, it may indirectly further the ends of personal sanctification."
This passage expresses very well a number of the key principles of the SST. Altar servers - as much as sacristans - are occupying a function that properly belongs to the clergy. There is a minor order in the church of Acolytes, who are clerics, usually on the way to the priesthood, who are specifically instituted by the church to serve on the altar. When laymen serve, we are taking the place which by right belongs to clergy, and we must ensure that we occupy it worthily. The privileges are, indeed, "very great and very serious."
The insight that altar boys end up in being angels or the reverse provides us with a warning. Altar servers approach the Christian sanctuary, attend on the altar of the Lord, and handle consecrated items. If we do this without beseeching God's grace to make us worthy of this office, and doing our human best to correspond with this grace, then we are in danger of falling under the condemnation of the Apostle, of "eating and drinking to our own damnation."
Even carrying out the smallest actions on the altar, but doing them with care and devotion, is a great service to the Lord. We are exhorted to care and cleanliness, to methodical and attentive observance of the Rubrics. By such things as these altar servers fulfil the duties of their office, and work out their own sanctification.
These duties are even more urgent for those of us who serve the Holy Tridentine Mass. Men call it 'Extraordinary' - and so it is, though not only for the reasons that are commonly given. We serve at a liturgy 'not made with hands', which is the work of the Holy Ghost acting through so many saints through the ages. By accepting God's invitation to witness to his holiness through service at the traditional mass, we are setting aside all liturgy which is casual, irreverent, or unworthy of Him. If we participate in a way that manifestly falls short of that required, we run the danger of giving scandal to our neighbour. But if we try our utmost to participate worthily, we contribute to our own sanctification and to that of others.
"Grant O Lord, that what we cannot achieve through our own merits, we may obtain through the intercession of Thy blessed martyr Tarcisius. Amen."