The Catholic Defender: The Call of the Altar Server

Posted by John Benko - November 8th, 2010

Today at our Parish, we conducted an Investiture Ceremony during the Mass commissioning ten “Observer” Servers as Apprentice Servers.

There was a ceremonial dressing with the Surplice, conferring of the appropriate cross for the apprentice level of service.

As we conducted this ceremony, I couldn’t help remembering that I was once an Altar Boy beginning in the early to middle 1960′s.

I can remember our responses at the time was Latin, we used the Paten for Communion, and there was the Communion rail. The following picture would be more what my group picture would have looked like.

All of my Children served as Altar Servers and that is very special to me. To be able to serve Christ and His Church at Mass is a great opportunity to grow in the Covenant. To serve Christ in a recognized capacity.

In recent times there have been a growing desire for female Altar Servers.

The following question is answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: What is the Church’s position on the use of female altar servers? May all of the servers be female, or must at least one be male? Do you feel that the use of female altar servers detracts from the building of vocations among young males? — M.C.S.N., Catonsville, Maryland

A: Female altar servers are permitted in all but two U.S. dioceses. They are also common in most English-speaking countries, and in Western Europe. The situation is patchier in the rest of the world, going from total absence to the occasional diocese that allows them.

From the point of view of liturgical law, an official interpretation of Canon 230, Paragraph 2, of the Code of Canon law on the possibility of delegating certain liturgical offices led to a 1994 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments clarifying that girls may serve at the altar. But bishops are not bound to permit them to do so, nor could the episcopal conference limit the bishop’s faculty to decide for himself.

A further clarifying letter published in 2001 said priests are not compelled to have girls serve at the altar, even when their bishops grant permission.

The 1994 letter states: “It will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.”

The letter also recommends to bishops to consider “among other things the sensibilities of the faithful, the reasons which would motivate such permission and the different liturgical settings and congregations which gather for the Holy Mass.”

Therefore the Holy See’s recommendation is to retain as far as possible the custom of having only boys as servers. But it leaves to the bishop the choice of permitting women and girls for a good reason and to the pastor of each parish the decision as to whether to act on the bishop’s permission.

From Immaculate Mary’s Hermitage Report:

In earlier times, only ordained acolytes, that is, clerics in the fourth minor order conferred upon candidates to the priesthood, were permitted to serve at Mass. The vestments now worn by servers (the cassock and the surplice) are actually clerical vestments that those specially-selected lay men and boys assisting at the altar are permitted by custom to wear.

The Archconfraternity of Saint Stephen is the only recognized world-wide altar servers’ guild in the Church. Its Altar Server Manual is noteworthy for its insistence on high standards on serving correctly. The Confraternity was first established at Westminister Cathedral in London, England, in 1905.

This picture is more what is seen today in most Diocese in English speaking Countries. The position of Altar Server is a great way to develop the value of volunteer service to the Church.

I don’t know of any study conducted about Altar Servers who grow up and remain practicing Catholics. I have met a hand full of people who had once served as an Altar Boy but today is not a practicing Catholic.

For those who have abandoned the faith, hopefully their foundation at this level will help make them subject to return. The Bible teaches that if you train a child in the way of righteousness, they would not depart from it.

I know that I value greatly the opportunity I’ve had to serve at Mass. When I was stationed in Saudi Arabia (1990), Korea (1998), and Iraq (2006-2010), I had the chance to serve Mass as an adult Soldier.

Today, when you see the epic of Harry Potter whose story is surrounded in witchcraft, an Altar Boy has a chance that is far greater than fictional magic, we have the greatest gift God has ever given all mankind.

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The Catholic Defender: The Divine Altar Call

Posted by John Benko - November 1st, 2010

Have you ever heard of the “Altar Call” associated with going up to the front of a church to accept Christ?

I was just thinking about this and I couldn’t help but think that the Catholic Church practices an “Altar Call” every Mass!

For Catholics, this act is not a one time experience, but a way of life. I remember making my first Holy Communion in 1963 at Blue Springs Missouri St. John La Lande Catholic School.

I remember Father Miller, our Pastor of the School. I remember serving Mass as an Altar boy those early years there for him. What a heritage!

Mom, Dad, there are not many better foundations you can give your children. I really do treasure this gift. When I was in College, our Basketball Coach shared with me that when he grew up, what he treasured the most growing up was his family getting together praying the rosary. Mother Mary leads people to her divine Son!

I also remember carrying my Children to the Altar when they were but infants. They too would be brought up in the Catholic Faith given this great wonderous foundation. When you take a look at the Catholic “Altar Call”, it gets deep very quick! It is based on a “New and everlasting Covenant”! It becomes the means to renew this Covenant with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. The bodies of the animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp bearing the reproach that he bore. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come” (Hebrews 13:9-14).

Our Altar call is “outside the gate” as we follow Christ outside the gate. The sacrifice we share is more than the blood of animals given as a sin offering for God’s people.

We have the Bread of life that is offered for us once and for all through a perpetual sacrifice.

St. John writes, “There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, ‘It is finished”.

What was finished? The perpetual passover is transformed into a “New Covenant”! As the hyssop branch was used to mark blood from spotless lambs on the houses of the Isrealites, the hyssop branch was used to mark the blood of the new and everlasting covenant by the spotless Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. “Happy are they who are called to his supper”.

As the Passover feast was made a “memorial feast” for the Israelites, the Last Supper established the transformation that by receiving the “Lamb” we are made whole.

St. Paul states, “Therefore, my beloved, avoid idolatry. I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is is not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:14-17).

The Lord speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34) said, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord. But this covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the Lord. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more”.

Luke 22:20 Jesus fulfills this prophecy as Jesus says, “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you”.

Matthew 26:28 also adds, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins”.

Jesus is definitely connecting with Jeremiah’s prophecy, that God will “remember their sin no more”. Jesus initiates the covenant giving us the opportunity to renew this covenant with him. This is why the Mass is so important.

Every Mass we are invited by the Lord through His Church to come forward and receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

He is present body, blood, soul, and divinity totally and completely. He offers himself to the Father on our behalf so that after receiving him, the Father sees Jesus in us.

We are adopted Son’s and Daughter’s of God. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54). What a promise, what an “Altar Call”!

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