Friday, February 20, 2009

Liturgical Formation, Training and Re-Enchantment: Do Not Forget Your Altar Boys


ear brother priests, I would ask you, among other initiatives, to show special care for altar servers, who represent a kind of “garden” of priestly vocations. The group of altar servers, under your guidance as part of the parish community, can be given a valuable experience of Christian education and become a kind of pre-seminary. Help the parish, as a family made up of families, to look upon the altar servers as their own children, like “olive shoots around the table” of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life (cf. Ps. 127:3)." (Source: Letter to Priests, Holy Thursday 2004, John Paul II)

Often in pursuing the reform of the reform, we tend to think primarily of what the priest and the choir need to accomplish, but we should never forget the importance of properly trained altar servers either. They not only lend to (or distract from) the sacred mysteries, it is also a "garden of vocations" as John Paul II put it, and more generally, it is a school for learning to love the sacred liturgy. In all these regards then, it is an area that we should not overlook -- particularly as we build for the future.

While it has been a number of years since I last saw it, one of the best guidebooks for training altar servers "in continuity" in relation to the modern Roman liturgy is Ministry at the Altar: A Manual for Servers, Acolytes, Clergy, Sacristans, Teachers, Masters of Ceremonies, and all involved in the Ceremonies of the Church, by (then) Msgr. Peter C. Elliott. (The book may be purchased from the Australian site of the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen for 7.50 AUD.)

(Update: Thanks to Fr. Scott Haynes for pointing out that the original edition for the usus antiquior is also available.)

Of course, these considerations of the importance of serving at the altar (and serving well) apply also to the usus antiquior. In view of both forms, and as one part of this formation of servers, may I offer for your consideration again this piece: Reclaiming the Sacristy as a Place of Prayer and Preparation (Nov. 8, 2008).

Let us begin then, at a young age, to inculcate a sense of awe, reverence and love for the sacred liturgy in all its aspects and details, and in so doing, help to give that valuable Christian education in the very source and summit of our Faith. This builds a strong foundation in so many regards, including a foundation for our future priests.

Photo credit: Detail from photograph by Dott Kellerman

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