Serving at the altar can open hearts to the sacred

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

Earlier this week at St. Rita Church in New Orleans, you celebrated Mass and awarded the Altar Server of the Year awards to 79 altar servers from parishes across the archdiocese. Can you talk about the importance of this recognition?
The Serra Clubs of New Orleans have sponsored this recognition of Altar Servers of the Year for decades, and it’s always a delightful and joyful occasion for me. This year, 79 boys and girls received the award after having been selected by their individual church parishes. It’s wonderful to see our youth and young adults dedicate themselves to the ministry of serving at Mass. They make of themselves a great gift to their individual parishes, schools and the Archdiocese of New Orleans at large.

Can you explain more about the Serra Clubs?
These are groups of men and women who come together in various chapters to offer prayers daily for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life as sisters, brothers and priests. The Serra Clubs also work with our seminarians, supporting their vocations and their studies for the priesthood and religious life. The Serra Clubs established the Altar Server of the Year program as a way of recognizing servers for their extraordinary service. They ask priests and others in the parish community to make the selection. The Serrans arrange for the Mass and an awards banquet following the Mass.

What impresses you about altar servers?
As I go around the archdiocese for confirmations and other parish Masses, I’m very impressed by the boys and girls who are involved in altar serving. In many parishes, it’s become more common for them to remain as servers throughout high school and sometimes even in college. It’s impressive that a young person or young adult would feel so dedicated to the celebration of the Mass that he or she would want to continue that service. I’m very pleased that our high schools also select and train students not only as altar servers but also as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and as lectors. I appreciate the work of priests, deacons, religious, parishioners and teachers who train all of our servers. To see the young and young adult church so involved in the celebration of the Eucharist is inspiring to me. This requires a great deal of sacrifice on their part and sometimes on the part of their parents, who have to make sure they get to church for early services.

Can you recall your time as an altar server?
I was a student at St. James Major in Gentilly, and, for me, it was a highlight to be able to get to know the priests and the Mount Carmel sisters really well and to be so active in serving at Mass. I’m glad our young people also see this as a privileged ministry. They not only participate in Mass but also lead others in their participation of the Mass. They lead the opening procession by carrying the crucifix, which calls people to worship. They stand near the priest when he offers the orations or prayers. They help set up the altar. They are there to help the priest wash his hands in preparation for the consecration. They ring the bells during the Eucharistic Prayer to call attention to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They help remove the sacred vessels from the altar after Communion and lead the procession out. We are reminded when we leave church, we don’t simply depart. We are sent to bring the word of God and the love of Christ to others, and they lead us in the recessional. These are all privileged moments. I congratulate everyone who received the recognition this year and in years past.

Does being an altar server sometimes have a lifetime impact on an individual’s faith?
I think it does. It has two effects. First, the altar servers stand at the family table with the priest and are so near to Christ in the Eucharist. Second, they get to know their parish priest in a more personal way. I think sometimes for boys and girls, serving at the altar at least raises the question of whether or not they might be called to the priesthood or consecrated life. Getting to know someone who is a dedicated leader helps awaken that question in a young person’s heart. I’m deeply impressed whenever I go to a parish for confirmation or some other ceremony that our altar servers are very friendly, very attentive and have a great desire to celebrate the liturgy with reverence. Congratulations to them and their parents!

Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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