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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