Many French boys have served as altar boys. It is a considerable honor for a boy to be chosen to assist the priests with the mass. Boys for this duty are costumed like the priests. The altar boy seen here wears an alb in two pieces and a skullcap ( calotte ). This was the fashion until the early 20th. A HBC reader who was an altar boy in the 1950s reports wearing an all white without a skullcap. In the past, there were two grades of altar boy: 1) Enfant de Choeur and 2) Enfant de Choeur cérémoniaire. This system was still in use during the 1950s. The altar boy ( cérémoniaire in France and Ministrant in Austria ) was a boy with a thorough understanding of the mass. He need to be able to recite by heart several prayers in Latin; to be able to sing the ordinary mass; and familiar with the ceremonies involved. In the past such altar boy wore a red scullcap with his white alb, like the boy in the image here (figure 1). By the early 1960s this was changed, except for certain special ceremonies. A HBC reader writes, "I have not forgotten the Latin chant.
Quite often at home, I enjoy singing holly chant! I am still able to sing on two scales, with contre-alto voice. My brother had extensive piano lessons, begun by mother."
We are not sure who the artist that painted the work show here was or when he painted it (figure 1). We suspect it may be French, but altar boys were dressed similarly in many different countries. The vestments were determined by the Vatcan. So it is difficult to be sure. It looks to be some time in the late 19th century. A French reader tells us that this is not a procession. He tells us, "Either the priest and altar boys going toward the "Holly hotel" to celebrate the mass or they are returning to the sacrity after this mass. The priest is holding in his hands the chalice ( in French : le calice , coved with le caporal, la patène and la pale ). In the country, it was quite current to celebrate the mass outside the church for different Saint's day. On this image the priest is not holding a consecrated host." One interesting detail in the film is the wooden shoes that some of the individuals are wearing. A French reader writes, "The wooden shoes seems to me a bit strange. Might be a mass celebrated in the high mountain?" Another reader writes, "I am not sure that this painting is Frnch. Remember that the altar boy costumes were determined by the Vatican and not just worn in France. It seems to be very cold in this image, it could be Austria, Belgium, Germany, or another country."
Many French boys have served as altar boys. It is a considerable honor for a boy to be chosen to assist the priests with the mass.
A French chorister assisting HBC tells us, "Although I have mentioned many rules we have in our choir, altar boys have a lot more rules. Although life as an altar boy now is better than in history, there are many restrictions. New altar boys especially have to take orders from not only the administration, but also to the altar boys from higher grades."
Altar boys will kneel on the steps of the altar, one boy on the left and one boy on the right of the priest. During a procession, they will stand up to do a task and after, they will return to the steps and kneel.
Altar servers wear vestments similar to those worn by the priest serving the Mass.
Boys for this duty are costumed like the priests. The altar boys seen here in the panting wears a three piece costume: a skullcap ( calotte ), red alb, and white serplice. This was the fashion until the early 20th century. A HBC reader who was an altar boy in the 1950s reports wearing an all white outfit, a white alb and serplice without a skullcap. The color for the altar boy's garment were the white lace trimmed cotta with a red alb or also the white cassock since the 1950s. A HBC reader writes, "I have worn the two different costumes, perhaps more the white cassock. The red scull was not compulsory, so it was very rarely worn. I never wore the scullcap in the 1950s. In past times, the altar boys wore black cassoks for funeral ceremonies. The garments for altar boys are defined by the Vatican.
The colors of these vestments of course have symbolic meaning. a French reader has provided us some information about the use of color in the Church. The white vestments symbolize innocence and purety symbol. It is also the color of the Virgin. White can be worn for Baptism, altar boy service, First Communion, and for certain Holy days. Red is the color of the blood and fire. Red is worn to celebrate the Pentecost , Palm Sunnday and the Martyrs. A French reaader tells us, "About the red symbol, it had become the color of the royalty and other high dignitaries who served the church. By extention it came to be used by thouhose who served the church." Green appears to symbolize ordinary times. Blackcan symbolize the dead, but is also worn without any symbolic mening. A French reader tells us that today black has been rplaced by purple. All of the rules have been developed from Biblical references. The priest respects these colors by wearing a
chasube and stole ad hoc during his office. In refrence to altar boys, the white alb symbolizes purety and the white cord belt symolizes chastity. An altar boy's white and red vestments thus symbolize purity, service to the church, and chastity.
The same term, Prise d'Aube, is used for both altar servers and choristers, although the ceremonies presumably differ somewhat. And some of the boys also serve as altar boys. This may show the historic relationship between altar boys and choir boys. We believe in the medieval church boys served as both altar servers and choristers. A reader writes, "I see that you wrote this ceremony is also for altar boys. Is the ceremony exactly the same as the ceremony for choir? I know in some churches, the choir boys are also the altar boys, for exemple a few choir boys will be given the duty of altar boys." I am not sure about the altar boy ceremony having grown up in a Protestant environment. Hopefully some of our Catholic readers can provide some insights here. A French reader writes, "Thank you for the information on prise d'aube for altar boys. This is interesing. I was chorister myself as a boy. Many of my friends were altar boys when they were younger, but they did not receive their alb in the same way as we did as choristers." Another reader writes, "I know a boy will usually sign up as an altar boy (usually his parent's wishes). He will go through a period of training, and after he receives Communion, he will begin wearing the alb/cassock/surplice." Just to prevent confusion, regarding altar boys, it is not always choirboys who srve as altar boys. Some altar boys do not sing, and some choir boys do not serve the priest. So it depends on the arrangement between the choir and the church as well as the parents and boys interestes and commitment.
In the past, there were two grades of altar boy: 1) Enfant de Choeur and 2) Enfant de Choeur cérémoniaire. This system was still in use during the 1950s. The altar boy ( cérémoniaire in France and Ministrant in Austria ) was a boy with a thorough understanding of the mass. He need to be able to recite by heart several prayers in Latin; to be able to sing the ordinary mass; and familiar with the ceremonies involved. In the past such altar boy wore a red scullcap with his white alb, like the boys in the image here (figure 1). By the early 1960s this was changed, except for certain special ceremonies.
A HBC reader writes, "I have not forgotten the Latin chant. Quite often at home, I enjoy singing holly chant! I am still able to sing on two scales, with contre-alto voice. My brother had extensive piano lessons, begun by mother."
We have images of a charming traditional three-piece alatarboy costume, showing the various garments in considerable detail. This is a traditional, probably early 20th century, altar boy ensemble. It comes from southern France. The ensemable consists of a short lace-trimmed cotta, a red boy's wool cassock with 10 red fabric buttons along the front, and a matching red skullcap. Ensemble's like this were traditionally worn by altar boy in France during mass and and during processions (fugure 1). The red garment measures about 35 inches long. The cotta measures about 28 inches from the shoulder to the hem. We estimate that this set would fit a child 7-10 years old, but as any parent knows it all depends.
A French reader tells us that today altar boys wear only the white alb. He also reportds, "Since 1994 girls have begun serving along with boys. This is not yet common in France, much less common than in the United States and only if they are also boys serving. I have never seen girls assisting the priest without boys also participating.
There is a fine difference between altar boys and choiristers which is a little complicated. Historically the boys taken in by the monastaries both served as choristers and altar boys. But vocal abilities varied. Thusnot all of the boys could play an importantv role as choristers. As Europe developed, the focus of the Church shifted from the monastaies to the churches and and cathedrals. Thus the two traditions developed differently. Many modern altar boys today also sing as choristers in their church. The boy choir tradition decclined, especially during the Revolution. The boy choir tradition was revib\ved in the early 20th century and thus some modern French boys may be both altar servers and choristers. A French reader tells us, "I think almost all modern altar boys will sing. But not all choirboys will serve as altar boys. There is aot to learn to be a server and it is a futherc commitmentb of time. And there are some secular choirs which have nothing to do with the Church. Even Catholic choirs may not require their boys to be Catholics. I think that the thoughtis that the experience may draw the boys to the Church." There is a fine difference between altar boys and choirboys. Usually altar boys are described as wear vêtements, and choirboys wear the aube. Occassionaly when choristers serving as altar boys assist the priest, they may wear their choir aubes rather than the vêtements they usually wear when assisting with the Mass.
A French reader tells us, "I can speak about my experience as an altar boy in the 1950s. Regulary every Thursday for 2-3 hours we had to go to the church and learn Latin Holly chants, mass service, and others ceremonies. This day was also the catechism day in morning. In the afternoon, most of the children have to return for other activities such
games, cinema, lectures, or scouting. We didn't mix much with the girls at the time.
I was not authorised to come home by myself, so my nanny came for me even when I wa1 0 years old. Only at age 12 could I come home by myself like my brother in Paris. Sunday I had to go to serve the mass and very often in the afternoon I had to return to Church for baptisms. Church weddings took place on Saturday when boys were in school. So these ceremlonies were normally conducted without altarboys, except during the hollydays. Dispite that, in Nice I served as an altar boy at several important Church weddings. At this time, I was not atending public school. It was my first year as altar boy and I loved it. During the wedding mass , the Veni Creator spiritus, mendes tuorum visita, Imple superna gratia quae tu creasti péctora. A part could be sung by the altar boy and other small parts by the priest. This mass was short without sermon. During the Baptism there were only rites and prayers. After Baptism and marriage ceremony, it was a tradition that the family gave the altar boys a sugar almond cornet with a little money. Our vestments were in the sacristy. We came to Church in our regular clothes. We put our vestments on in the Sacristy. They were kept on a coat rack. They were regulary replaced by a new cleaned one. These experiences were very similar for Austrian altar boys where I also lived for a year. I had a very good friend there who wa an altar boy with me. I recall in 1952 when I was about 10 years old that while traveling in France and in a city I was invited to sing with several other boys during the Mass. It was an important Mass and several local officials were present. After the Mass, some people and children wanted to see me. This was because I was the only child accompanying the Government delegation. I recall the day well because of all the attetion I got. During my boyhood, several times I traveled in France. One time we visited a former institution where deplaced children from World War II. It was a home run by nuns. For these trips, I was normally dressed formally, always in short pants suits, even during the winter. These short years when I was altar boy had a considerable
impact on life. They were much more important to me than my peace-time military obligation.
I began to be an altar boy when I was about 8 years old and ended when I reached 14-15 years old. Most of the priests were very kind with me. The first months of my arrival in Vienna, I was a bit sad and the priests help me to be happy again. I remember, in contrast that my school teacher were rather quite severe."
A French reader writes, "I read the page and the individual experiences. It is a bit surprising because I've heard many other experiences from people who did not enjoy the experience, especially in the 1950s. It is good that some boys had aositive experience.
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