Prayers & Purificators: The Ladies Altar Society in The Life of a Parish
On the cover of our bulletin this week you’ll notice a brand new set of vessels for the celebration of the Holy Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Maringouin. It was donated by the Ladies’ Altar Society as they conclude their apostolate within the parish.
The Ladies’ Altar Society in our parishes share a rich history of the devotional life within the parish church. While in many places today these societies only have a perfunctory role in preparing and ironing the linens used for Mass, the care of the sacred vessels, and often the care of the vestments used by the clergy, there has traditionally been an important spiritual component to their work.
With each pass of the iron, placement of the paten upon the purificator then placed upon the chalice, with each load of laundry tossed in the dryer or hung on the line, the ladies of the altar society are called to pray for the priests, the servers, the lectors, the ushers, and other ministers of the liturgy. They also then pray for you, the congregation: for those that will enter the threshold of their domain; as they have prepared the church for sacred rites of encounter between God and man, they then also pray that your hearts are prepared for this holy encounter.
It is from the Ladies’ Altar Societies functioning as a spiritual sodality that young women discerned entering religious life as a cloistered nun or a sister in an active order in the world.
Often, we think that if a girl doesn’t act as an altar server, then “there’s nothing for them to do”. This is quite contrary to the timeless practice of the Church. Preparing the vessels and seeing to their care, ensuring as only the feminine genius can, that everything in the sanctuary and within the church is “just so,” and often seeing to the needs of the clergy, is indispensable from the life of the parish and Mother Church!
Very often, the Ladies’ Altar Society has given way to the role of volunteer sacristan. But not so long ago, the Ladies’ Altar Society made up the corps of sacristans forever bustling about the sacristy. Would that it were so in every parish today! Again, the spiritual component is often what binds a group together in a parish. When and if that dissolves, often participation (and even recruitment!) begins to dwindle.
It is my hope to see greater cooperation between the still active Ladies’ Altar Societies in our cluster parishes and even perhaps to see a combined effort within them to coordinate not just sacristy duties and ironing schedules, but also a schedule of prayer together. And maybe, just maybe, the numbers will grow! Thank you, Ladies of the Immaculate Heart Altar Society. We are very grateful for you and your gift!