Several years ago, while helping at another’s parish Penance Service, I noticed a long line of cubbyholes filled with black shoes. These shoes were for altar-servers at the parish, so that when serving on the altar they would all look alike. The servers at this parish also wore white gloves. And instead of simple albs like the servers here wear, they all wore black cassocks with while surplices, just like I wore as an altar boy in pre-historic times. I must admit the result of this uniformity in appearance was quite striking. I believe that many people in that parish believe the uniform appearance adds to the dignity and solemnity of the liturgy. And they are surely correct.
But any discerning observer of the liturgical style at St. Austin parish will quickly note that not only do our servers wear a simple alb, but that we also have a great diversity of footwear present on the altar as well. You are likely to see loafers, sandals, sneakers, dress shoes, cowboy boots, ballet slippers, and even flip-flops. Everything but high heels.
While this diverse assortment of footwear could be ascribed to a certain liturgical nonchalance or even lazy sloppiness about the liturgy, I prefer to see it as a wonderful, pragmatic sign of catholic diversity.
St. Paul, for whom the Paulists have a well-founded fondness, spoke quite movingly about unity. For St. Paul, unity among the members of the Body of Christ was of the utmost importance. Unity was the gift of the Spirit and essential to being the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, St. Paul also greatly valued diversity. Indeed, in St. Paul’s understanding, unity could not exist without diversity. In his famous passage to the Corinthians about unity in diversity, St Paul states “Now the body is not a single part, but many.” And this multiplicity is necessary for the body to be a whole. St Paul asks “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” And he concludes: “But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” A diversity is necessary for true unity.
And so, all the feet of the servers are engaged in the one project of assisting at the liturgy. The differences in their footwear, their heights, their hair or skin color, their gender, the ZIP codes they live in, the schools they attend, all these differences and more - to my mind - add to the beauty of their unity in diversity. And that is how we do it at St. Austin.