Founded with the blessing of St. Pius X, the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen is a guild that has for its object the formation and sanctification of altar servers.
I offer myself to God Almighty, to Blessed Mary ever Virgin and to our Holy Patron, St. Stephen, and I promise to do my best to serve reverently, intelligently and punctually, having the glory of God and my own eternal salvation as my object."
On the Feast of the Holy Trinity (May 26), these words of oblation echoed in the sanctuary at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Kansas City, Missouri during the High Mass. Spoken by 6 young men, these acolytes were then enrolled into the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen by their pastor and chapter director, Fr. Jean Violette, who had conferred upon them the serving guild's emblem of the Junior Acolyte rank: a blessed silver medal suspended from a red cord.
To the guild members who are privileged to wear this medal and cord, it is not only a sacramental, but also a reminder of their model and patron, St. Stephen, the Protomartyr and one of the Church's first deacons appointed by the Holy Apostles.
The medal is rich in significance, being formed of the chi rho symbol (the sign of victory that Christ revealed to Emperor Constantine) over which rests a crown (Stephen being Greek for "the crowned one"), while arrayed underneath are two palm branches (a symbol of martrydom); surrounding these signs is the Guild's motto: Cui Servire Regnare Est (to serve is to reign), referring to the deacon's role of assisting the celebrant during the sacred liturgy. The red cord of course recalls the blood that St. Stephen shed for Christ.
The Archconfraternity of St. Stephen was founded in London, England in 1905. That same year, St. Pius X bestowed his permanent apostolic blessing on the altar serving guild, while later enriching it with many indulgences and privileges. In 1955, the Archconfraternity paid homage to St. Pius X's solicitude by adopting him as its secondary patron.
The guild was started by Fr. Hamilton MacDonald to raise the standards of altar serving, which were often lacking. But rather than merely concentrate on mere aesthetics, he more importantly desired that the Archconfraternity would infuse its members (boys and men) with a profound supernatural spirit that emphasized the immense religious privilege of serving. To this Fr. MacDonald (+1938) also designed the St. Stephen's Guild as a well-organized structure to form its members to serve intelligently, reverently and punctually.
Part of this structure consists in the pedagogical hierarchy of ranks (Postulant, Junior Acolyte, Senior Acolyte and Master of Ceremonies) which shows the importance of the various positions (e.g., such as an acolyte at Low Mass versus a torchbearer or thurifer at High Mass) while also helping the members to perfect their service. To qualify for the successive ranks, the servers must undergo training for certain positions, are tested on their knowledge and ability, and then promoted accordingly.
Through the adherence to the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen's spirit, object and rules, altar servers not only provide an edifying execution of the sacred liturgy as the Church desires, but also learn what the ceremonies mean while simultaneously having their souls sanctified.