Originally, only young men, perhaps going to enter the priesthood, and seminarians, students in theology, could serve at the altar, and so they were called altar boys. Females were allowed to serve from 1983 due to a change in the Code of Canon Law and the term altar server is now widely used. During 2009 several young people became servers after learning the ropes from the head server.
Servers are required each Sunday at the 08.00 Holy Communion and at the 09.30 Parish and All-age Communion services. This duty is undertaken on a rota basis by a small group of people from the congregation. They play an important role in the life of the church by assisting the priest and are responsible for the smooth running of Holy Communion in a variety of ways, making sure that ceremonies are carried out in a respectful, orderly and devout manner. They facilitate the worship in such a way that the congregation can focus on the celebration of the Eucharist and truly feel themselves to be a worshipping community.
Three servers work together for Parish and All-age Communion services, each with their specially defined duties. The server who carries the processional cross, at the beginning and end of the service, is called a crucifer. The term crucifer comes from the Latin crux (cross) and ferre (to bear, carry) and so literally means 'cross-bearer'. The servers who light and carry the candles at the same time are called acolytes. Some servers (duly robed) receive the offertory and administer the wine at the communion services if they have been licensed by the bishop to do this.
A server carries out a variety of duties, including preparing the sanctuary and altar table for the service, ensuring there are enough communion wafers available and checking that the cruets hold sufficient water and wine.
They open the lectern Bible at the appropriate readings and are sometimes called on to read a lesson. After the service they dismantle the altar and wash the chalices so that they are ready for further use.
At St James's servers usually wear a long white tunic (alb), a stiff decorated collar attached to a rectangular piece of white linen with two long ribbon-like attachments to fasten around the shoulders (amice), and a white cord round the waist (girdle). The amice is worn under the alb to cover other clothes.
Sometimes servers may wear a cotta (shown left) which is a continental version of the fuller English surplice and is worn over a cassock. A cotta may also be worn by members of the clergy or the choir. It is shorter than a surplice with a square yoke, and it is pleated, often with box pleats. The cotta is worn over the top of a black cassock.