Is it lawful to kick the server if he fall asleep at Mass? This question long ago arose in Dormitionist circles. While the rubrics of their Missal are clear on this point, the niceties of the issue were debated among the later scholastics, and their conclusions may be found among the myriad beguiling articles of the Summa Triviæ:
Is it lawful to kick the server if he fall asleep at Mass?
Objection 1. It would seem it is never lawful to kick the server at Mass, whether or not he have fallen asleep, and this for three reasons.
First, on the part of the agent: it is forbidden for a cleric to shed blood, who ought rather confer spiritual life than death; and for this reason the law of the Church doth forbid clerics to wield swords and such weapons when in battle, much less to kill a man at any time. But to kick is to inflict injury, even to draw blood, even to slay, “so passing from deep sleep to death” (Judges iv, 21); and so a priest may never kick his server.
And likewise on the part of the recipient: it is against the law of the Church to strike a clerk in holy orders or a religious bound by vows, who is a holy person; and as it is an evil thing to put forth one’s hand against the Lord’s anointed (I Kings xxiv), how much more so would it be to thrust one’s foot out against such. Therefore, no server may be kicked (unless he be but a layman only).
Still less is it opportune to kick anyone in the holy of holies, before the very altar of God, lest the hallowed place be defiled.
Objection 2. Rather than kicking him, the celebrant ought attempt to wake him by some other method, as by smiting or striking him. For when Saul, that is, the Apostle Paul, displeased Ananias the high priest, Ananias gave command that Saul should be struck (Acts xxiii, 2); and when Our Lord at the time of His Passion gave a reply to the high priest that scandalized the Jews, one of the servants standing by dared strike Him (S. John xviii, 22); therefore, how much more justly should a slumbering server be corrected by a blow.
Therefore, “that servant who knew the will of his lord, and prepared not himself, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (S. Luke xii, 47.)
Objection 3. Again, if the server have fallen asleep while in the Lord’s service, the priest ought rather rouse him to wakefulness by gently calling him, as the Lord did call unto the child Samuel as he lay sleeping in the temple of the Lord (I Kings iii, 1-10).
To the contrary, it is written “suffer thy foot to be moved: neither let him slumber that keepeth thee” (Ps. cxx, 3) and again, “let all things be done decently, and according to order.” (I Cor. xiv, 40.) Therefore it is lawful to kick the server in order to wake him.
I respond, saying, a distinction must be made between kicking to hurt and kicking to help. Wilfully to injure another would be to break the Lord’s New Commandment of love; but to provide a kindly prod with the foot is to fulfil the commandment, and to grow in charity, as it is written “The beloved grew fat,” – which may be glossed as “in charity” – “and kicked” (Deut. xxxii, 15). Thus, to kick a server out of love for Christ, that he awake to perform his duties, is to act decently and according to order, granting a blessing not a curse, while imparting a due and salutary admonition. For as the Apostle teacheth, “that which is less, is blessed by the better,” (Heb. vii, 7) and “if you be without chastisement, then are you bastards, and not sons.” (Heb. xii, 8)
God hath “ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight” (Wis. xi, 21), and likewise it appertaineth to His ministers, “the priests,” to “have the charge… of every weight and measure.” (I Paralip. xxiii, 29) But to adjudge the right pressure to be applied, that it hurt not, nor harm, but rather assist and bless, is indeed the art of arts: for the direction of souls is the art of arts; and such is the especial office of priests. Therefore it belongeth to the priest to kick. And the Apostle was told this by the Lord, when He said twice over, “It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.” (Acts ix, 5 & xxvi, 14) For the incompetent slumbering server, a “wicked and slothful servant” (S. Matt. xxv, 26). may be regarded as a goad, as a sting in the flesh, even an angel of Satan; from such as these priests oft pray for deliverance – as did the Apostle, yet his prayer was not heard (II Cor. xii, 7). Such deserveth a good kick.
Reply to Objection 1. If a priest so kick his server that he wound him, shed his blood, or slay him, his action would indeed be a deadly sin and contrary to his office as a dispenser of saving grace; but if he do so for his spiritual good and that of all the people, that he awake to assist him at holy Mass, his action would be supremely lawful, for “the salvation of the people is the supreme law”. In any case, kicking doth not directly shed blood, and so is permissible to the priest, just as the priest or bishop may wield a mace in battle (as did Odo of Bayeux at the Battle of Hastings).
And likewise, even if the server be a religious or a cleric, while harshly to kick him out of cruelty would be to pile sin on sin, to administer a helpful prod with the foot would be no violation of one set apart for the Lord alone, but rather a bestowal of godly discipline. Indeed, so far from being a cause of offence, such a wake-up is as it were a knock at the door of the cell of one’s body, to which such a one should mystically reply “Thanks be to God”; as is the custom in divers houses of those in holy religion.
And so far from being improper at the holy altar, did not the angels of God scourge Heliodorus within the very Temple, that he be corrected (II Mach. iii, 26)? Moreover, first “there appeared to them a horse with a terrible rider upon him: and he ran fiercely and struck Heliodorus with his fore feet.” (II Mach. iii, 25) Thus even to kick the server in the sanctuary at Mass is permissible by analogy with that manifestation of divine wrath, so long as it be done with Christian charity.
Reply to Objection 2. It is evident that neither St Paul nor our blessed Lord deserved the blows meted out to them; hence the comparison faileth. Furthermore, in neither case did the high priest himself smite either; and it is therefore likewise evident that, if to strike one serving at the altar is ever right, it ought only thus be done at Pontifical, or at least High Mass, when the celebrant – whether the bishop, that is, the high priest, or at least the priest, as the bishop’s delegate – is accompanied by many ministers, both greater and lesser; and then the greater would more fitly discipline the lesser, as noted above, even by blows (as the M.C. may direct).
It is also clear that the priest’s feet, as baser instruments, are left free to prod the server, while both his hands, as nobler instruments, are occupied with the things of God. (Just so the tale is told of the Irish priest who, having no server, elevated the Host with his hands while ringing the bell by kicking it all the while.) For as Holy Church commandeth, the priest at the altar may not alter the posture of his hands, now joined, now extended, now with conjoined digits, and so may not himself slap, hit or punch; but the rubrics say nothing of the posture of his legs, aside from the occasional command to genuflect. Indeed, he could the more easily kick while genuflecting, and to do so would be simpler – as the proverb saith, to kill two birds with one stone.
Reply to Objection 3. The priest at God’s altar may not utter his own words, but only those placed on his lips by Holy Mother Church; and while he may speak as the Spirit move him when declaiming his sermon, it is clear that sermons rather move men to sleep than keep them awake, as even the example of the Apostle doth prove, when he preached so long that one of his hearers, the young man Eutychus, fell out of the window dead (Acts xx, 9). Therefore it is both unlawful and most vain to attempt to gain the attention of servers by softly calling unto them, as all men know (even M.C.’s).