September 10, 2017
What is a Verger and does St. Francis have one?
Whew! Back to liturgy questions.
A verger is simply a master of ceremonies or a liturgical assistant who ceremonially guides the various participants to the places where they perform their ministries. It is a great ministry, especially if someone likes the idea of bossing around the clergy during the service. It is also useful because the Verger assists the readers, acolytes, and clergy in being in the right place at the right time, and in having the items they need to carry out their assignments.
Vergers (or Virgers) are known for the Verge, or mace (from Latin for stick), they carry in the service. In medieval times, Vergers led processions through the city streets and used their mace to keep animals away, to keep order among unruly crowds, and to keep control of unruly choristers (a function that would help choir masters even today). This Order of minister is further identified by the wearing of a black cassock, which may bear the coat of arms of the parish or Cathedral where the Verger works.
The function of Vergers grew up in Britain from the functions of minor orders in the cumulative and successive ordinations of the Latin Church, from first to last those Orders are: porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte, the minor orders, and deacon, priest, and bishop, the major orders. Minor orders were reclassified by the Roman Catholic Church as ministries in 1972.
From the early days, the verger's responsibilities were the order and upkeep of the houses of worship; including the care of the buildings, the furnishings, and sacred relics; the preparation for worship; conduct of the laity; and grave digging.
Now Vergers usually work only in the sacred space marking books, checking up on the Altar Guild, guiding the lay ministers to lecterns and altars, and keeping the Clergy on task during the liturgy (that is the part about bossing the clergy around, a key side benefit to be a Verger).
The Episcopal Church still maintain a Guild of Vergers who have meetings, a website, and training. If someone wishes to know what the Guild is up to, the web address is www.vergers.org.
This is an Order that I have been reviewing for use at St. Francis. It is a role that lends itself to being best when it is noticed least and I think that at St. Francis we would not want a person who needs to be at the center of things, but one who serves best by serving from the side and from a respect for the integrity of the Book of Common Prayer, as applied locally at St. Francis, Great Falls.
The Rev. David Lucey