My deacon prefers to sit in the pew during Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Why? It's less busy. There are no strict rubrics for the congregation. He can thus pray his Office quietly. When he assists as the deacon in the Ordinary Form, he often feels as if he's always moving from one thing to the next, and it becomes a busy, obnoxious routine (my adjectives, not his).
I thought about the role of the server the other day during Sunday Mass. Saint Martin's severs do a very beautiful job. But, it's often as if we do our role and that's it. The thurifer handles the incense, the book boy the Missal, and so forth.
Only a few of us have learned the chants of the Ordinary: some through school, and others through interest. We sing the Missa de Angelis for virtually every Sunday and Holy Day Mass now, so it's not like we are two weeks into the new seasonal chant from the Kyriale. And, I don't say this to be mean towards my brother servers. They simply don't know better! Why? Well, guess what's missing?? Prayer!
I agree with that last sentence. But the problem is, it's in the wrong place. It needs to start the paragraph! It's all about what the server does.Servers assist the priest at Mass through various responsibilities which include carrying the cross and the candles, handling the thurible, and by presenting the bread, the wine, and the water. Altar servers also assist the priest in setting the altar, receiving the gifts at the Offertory, and incensing the priest and the people. “Servers should be mature enough to understand their responsibilities and to carry them out well and with appropriate reverence” (Guidelines for Altar Servers) [a now-dead link to the USCCB]. Altar servers must posses a spirit of humble service and be precise in their duties in the sanctuary as not to be a distraction to the priest or the people.
In contrast, it's at the top of my list for "Tips for Servers" provided by the TLM serving coordinator for the area.
And, speaking of the TLM: it begins with prayer! Yes, there is a true procession to start the Missa Cantata. But, every single liturgy begins, "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritui Sancti. Introibo ad altare Dei..."
An ongoing issue in the Novus Ordo is the option to celebrants to introduce themselves, a concelebrant, or talk about the Mass e.g. on a special occasion. It is not a good way to enter into prayer, as one stops praying the minute the priest opens his mouth and doesn't recite the introductory prayer to the Penitential Rite. On the other hand, the recitation of Psalm 42 Judica Me is a beautiful way to enter the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
And, I am in full-favor of singing a Missa Cantata, even one with two servers following otherwise the rubrics for Low Mass. That has never been the custom in the Anglophone world as far as I know. This also means-as Pope St. Pius X reminded us- that people should sing the parts that are for them i.e. the Ordinary of the Mass! But, I think assisting the priest in all of his prayers is what a server is there for. The two modes of participation for servers and other lay faithful can co-exist. For example, the server responds during the preparatory prayers and the Kyrie, and then the choir sings the Kyrie with the people (and that doesn't have to be the way it is, but it is commendable. Low Mass was virtually unheard (hah! spot the liturgy pun!) of in Southern Europe, at least on Sundays.).
And, in the TLM, the server must respond to cues in order to pray. At the conclusion of the Epistle, the priest traditionally places his left hand on the altar (both having been resting on the Missal) to indicate that it is finished. The responses at the end of the proper and Last Gospels are made when the priest kisses the Missal and turns around, respectively. (In those places that still use it...) the second Confiteor is made after the servers ascend the altar steps, following the priest's consumption of the Precious Blood. Nothing is said verbally by the priest.
Another reason that the TLM promotes a superior vision of prayer and sacrifice is in the way the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priests handles approaching the altar. The priest never goes to it alone, not even to get a host for a sick person (and as an aside, EMHCs requesting Sacred Hosts after a TLM is kinda interesting...). Their idea is that Jesus Christ didn't go to the Cross alone. St. John and Our Blessed Mother were there as well. Imitation of St. John at the foot of the Cross really shapes my thoughts about serving; I wrote about this just after Easter, I believe.
By the way, I really like that the two newest servers genuflect in tandem! One is learning to serve the TLM, and his brother attends with the rest of the family! Brick-by-brick. This is appropriate reverence to the altar of God. And as to whether it's the incense and duty-fulfilling that attracts to the altar...I'll just say this: It was always my desire to wear a cassock and surplice, after what I saw at St. Michael's in Annandale, VA. Yes, it looks better, and yes, it's cool. But, one is more prayerful, I think, in a cassock. Romans (Italians...) call servers chierichetti or "little clerics." Clerics are people of prayer...