From time to time, questions are raised about the standard of behaviour at Holy Mass - the lack of real reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, immodest or over-casual dress, and sloppy behaviour by lay persons assisting the priest. Paul MacLeod very rightly points this out in his thought-provoking article ("The Elephant in the Sanctuary," June AD2000).
In the modern context, the shortage of priests dictates that lay persons have to assist in the celebration of Mass as altar servers, readers (lectors) and in distributing Holy Communion, but there doesn't seem to be any standard of discipline involved. As the article indicates, sloppiness in dress and/or behaviour by these assistants diminishes "the sense of the ... sacred" in the minds of the congregation. I would also take issue with noisy, over-exuberant, pop-music-style presentation of rather pathetic modern "hymns", many of which really do not belong in Church hymnals.
I have sometimes wondered whether it would help if the Church hierarchy introduced a third-order category of sub-deacons to assist at Mass, particularly when some distributing the Blessed Sacrament appear at the altar in casual, and even immodest, clothes. They should have to wear a standard white surplice to add to the dignity of their service and have some level of training, religious standing (regular confession, for instance) and consecration. Much the same applies to readers – they, too, should wear a simple vestment, and be trained to read the prayers and Biblical texts properly. Too often, a person with a soft voice takes the stand, and mumbles his or her way through, reading too fast.
This does not imply a restriction on devout Catholics who wish to volunteer to assist at Mass, but they must be able to serve properly. I may be accused of being a hypocritical prude in making these suggestions, but I do believe that giving lay assistants training and semi-official status will heighten their sense of holiness and responsibility, and add to the glory of the Mass for all who attend.
Mt Warren, Qld