Altar Boys and Girls make tons of the mistakes. The secret is to not let anyone know that this happens by making your mistakes small and not so huge that the entire church ends of staring at you.

Most of the time, “mistakes” are really accidents. Like the time the processional cross slipped out of my hands in the sacristy and banged onto the sink not only eliciting a loud crash but also sliding the corpus of Jesus from an upright to sideways position! (Fortunately, we were able to slide it back to the upright position).

Or the time when Timmy Robinson’s shoe got caught in the church carpeting and he flew off of the altar down the center aisle. (Think curling rock in a surplice and cassock).

For those of us who were little when we started…I had to carry the cross which was way too heavy for me, but I did it. Only then, I wasn’t able to place it into it’s holder which was a pin raised off the ground nearly at my waist, that the hollow end of the cross would slide into. I would try and stumble backwards, losing my balance and nearly crashing into the nearby altar. Finally, Michael Margiotta came to my aid and helped me save at least some dignity.

One of the most bizarre stories…
Alphonse DiLello was one of the older Altar Boys (probably late high school) was quite confused when people started screaming at him during a Holy Thursday mass when he was lighting high candles on a side altar. People were screaming, “It’s on fire!” There were curtains next to the tabernacle and he thought that was what was burning and looking upwards he couldn’t see anything that was on fire at all.

And that is because what was on fire was him. His surplice actually caught fire while lighting candles by the tabernacle. He wacked it out with one firm blow of his left hand, luckily. He escaped with just a burned left pinky. As a sign of a good liturgist, Al, as he was known simply went into the sacristy, ran cold water on his hand, took off the burned surplice and returned with a fresh one as if nothing had even happened. This all happened during the communion procession and our pastor restored order rather quickly with a “OK, he’s fine. It’s all over now. Quiet down please.”

Lastly, two of my all time favorites was when during a funeral, Fr Dominc Russo was presiding and the pascal candle was behind him. One of the servers hit it and it tumbled right down bonking Fr. Russo in the noggin. He didn’t get burned fortunately, but hot wax was everywhere, in his hair, over his glasses, on his vestments. A mess, to be sure, but hysterical mess.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the garb that the younger altar boys had to wear. A white hooded alb with a pectoral cross hanging around the neck and a white cincture. We went out for an evening procession on the streets of Yonkers and I saw at least 5 African-American people start to run. They thought we were the Klan and we were actually all very upset about this. We were trying to be signs of Jesus in the world and we ended up being mistaken for a sign of hatred. Sad.

What crazy stories do you have about serving mass? Post them here or send the more lengthy ones to me at

0 thoughts on “Tales from the Sacristy: Gaffs and Blunders”
  1. Too many to count here! There was the time I kicked the pole when carrying a torch and did the hot-wax-on-cotta-face-hair-everywhere thing. I just slipped behind the reredos and out to clean up.

    I was an acolyte with the processional crucifix and something clanked on the marble floor as we ascended the chancel. No idea what it was, but the service (evensong and benediction) went on as if nothing had happened. Later, we figured out that the bottom finial had fallen off the crucifix. I’m constantly amazed how the mass does not stop is so ingrained that no one batted an eye at the giant, unknown thud.

    Of course, there are the constants, like walking up the inside of one’s cassock on the stairs, or not closing the thurible completely…

    1. True. There’s always the boy who trips over his alb on the stairs. The girls naturally don’t do this as often as they are used to their own dresses, but I’ve seen many an altar boy take quite a tumble,

  2. When I was in 9th grade I remember reading at Mass one time–I don’t remember the reading itself, but the word was “Shiite.”

    Of course I pronounced it “Sheeeit.”

    I think Fr. Dan snorted. Sr. Ellen told me afterward it was pronounced Shechem.

  3. I think those things happen to keep us humble. Had I a dollar for every time one happened (and we won’t go there about how I almost started a nice fire on Pentecost), I’d be able to pay off my student loans.

  4. My first Mass solo turn as an altar server was back in the mid-fifties. You had to prove yourself as a candle-bearer etc for a few weeks before you were allowed to serve at a weekday Mass on your own.
    Come the long awaited day, I headed to the Church early one chilly morning. My father had offered to drive me down, I declined since I didn’t want him there should I make any howlers.
    On entering the sacristy I began to panic, the priest vesting for Mass was not the PP but a visitor, and he had on “strange clothes” – it was a Dominican habit, as the PP informed me when he arrived. He also noticed that I was carrying an altar servers handbook that my own father had used – a very venerable tome that by the time it came to me had already helped three previous generations learn to serve Mass. In the back was an appendix covering Masses for Dominicans and a couple of other Orders who had their own liturgies. A quick run through the variant parts with the PP and off we went. I fumbled my way through, only to be mortified at one point to notice my father in the congregation.
    Nearly 20 years later when I celebrated my First Mass, my father was of course there, and commented afterward, “Well, at least you didn’t have to struggle with the Latin this time, and today and on that day over twenty years ago, I was very proud of you.”
    Since ordination, while he was still alive, when I said Mass at the local Church, while home on leave from Japan where I work, he often either did the reading or served. And one of the last Masses I celebrated with him present was, in my Silver Jubilee year, the year 2000, in his own home parish in Cork, Ireland. That day I was proud to be his son and thanked him before all of them for his support all through the years.
    My other siblings have all been active serving or reading etc, and passed that tradition on to their children, leading one day to one of my nephews proudly introducing me to his fellow servers after Mass. We agreed they didn’t need to know who I was till afterwards, but as leader that day he made sure everything went very smoothly.
    Sorry, no howlers for now, just memories remembered in thanks, particularly for the PP in the parish, where I first served Mass. He tossed me out of the altar servers group for laughing etc. on at least three occasions, but still wrote the letter of recommendation when I applied for minor seminary, and was an honoured guest at my ordination.

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