The three churches in St Richardís care are served by a team of Sacristans.
Even with teams of volunteers, each church has members who most often do the essential preparations, often little known to other parishioners. At St Peterís, Geoffrey and Gill Breeze do most of the work. Geoffrey writes later in this feature about the variety of tasks undertaken. At Our Lady of the Assumption Kevin Jamieson is the sacristan. At St Richardís, with more Masses and services each week, one of the team is the longest serving member, with a remarkable story.
If you come for morning Mass, Madonna Theodore will have been there before you, to open the church and prepare the altar.
Every week, Madonna will wash the linen and iron it, making running repairs as necessary. Albs for the priests, albs for the servers, altar cloths, altar linen. Every day an amice, alb, cincture, stole and chasuble are laid out in the vestry. Hosts and wine are made ready. The readings for the day are opened on the lectern.
Madonna came to Chichester with her daughter in 1979. She made a commitment to serve God in St Richardís church and, in 1996, publicly took vows of poverty and chastity, inspired by Our Lady of Mt Carmel.
Madonnaís record of devoted service was recognised on October 20th 1996 when she was awarded the Papal Medal "Benemerenti", together with a certificate.
These were presented to her by Monsignor Michael Jackson after Mass, followed by a celebration. A proud day also for her daughter, Rachel, who later qualified with HND in Design.
In 2004 Madonna completed 25 yearsí continuous service for the Parish.
St Peterís Parish Church looks to Geoffrey and Gill Breeze to fulfil the responsibilities of sacristans Ė they are backed up by a small team when Geoffrey and Gill are not available.
Geoffrey writes -
The most visible sign of a sacristan in the Church is immediately prior to the celebration of Mass, when the chalice, water and wine, wafers and other essential items needed, are brought to the sanctuary and/or the offertory table. The candles are then lit, the lights and microphones are switched on, the sacristy bell sounds, the priest appears and Mass begins. It sounds very straightforward, but there is a great deal of preparatory work and essential ongoing tasks which need to be performed, many of them unseen, to enable services in the Church to run smoothly.
The sacristy is the area where priests vest before Mass and, in our small church, also includes the working area where most of the preparations for services and other cleaning or maintenance work is carried out. Just prior to the start of Mass, the vestments are always laid out in the sacristy in the appropriate liturgical colour of the day. The sacristan is responsible for all preparations relating to vestments and for ensuring that they are laid out for each Mass in the correct liturgical colour. Holy Week and Easter are particularly busy.
The sanctuary is dressed in the liturgical colour of the day. Generally this means green for ordinary time, white for the seasons of Easter and Christmas, and also for most feast days, purple for the seasons of Lent and Advent, and red for feasts of martyrs and for other special feast days such as Pentecost. The sacristan is responsible for changing the altar frontals and the tabernacle drape, which are in the liturgical colour of the day. At the end of each day, after Mass, these items are changed, where necessary, in anticipation of the following dayís services. The tabernacle is always covered in the appropriate colour. Occasionally, these items are changed to accommodate additional services such as weddings, funerals or other special Masses. In addition, all of the various altar linens are replenished on a regular basis.
On the votive candle stand in use below the statue of Our Lady there is likely to be a substantial number of small candles burning. In fact, over 300 such candles are burnt every month in the Church. Nowadays the more modern flat candles in plastic containers are used as these are generally cleaner and simpler to maintain. It is the sacristanís responsibility to fill up the container and remove the empty shells of burned-out candles. On the sanctuary there are two candlesticks, lit during Mass. In addition, at the right hand side of the sanctuary, there is a red sanctuary candle burning. The sacristan carries out the maintenance and replacement of these candles - all part of the sacristy function.
In addition to the preparations for scheduled Masses in the Church, the sacristan has to prepare for weddings and funerals as arranged, and other special Masses or services, some of which occur only once a year, and many of which are unique with their own special requirements. These descriptions relate to only a selection of the tasks undertaken by the sacristans in the Church.
If everything appears to run smoothly on major occasions, then it is certain that there is a considerable amount of unseen work going on behind the scenes. The role of sacristan in St Peterís Church can itself only be described as unique and of immense interest!