So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pope Francis meets altar servers. Missed opportunity?

Pope Francis | altar servers | AP, Vatican Radio

Vatican Radio has a report. Read the transcript (click) HERE.
Dear altar boys and altar girls, the closer you are to the altar, the more you will remember to speak with Jesus in daily prayer; the more you will be nourished by the Word and the Body of the Lord, the better able you will be to go out to others, bringing them the gift that you have received, giving in turn with enthusiasm the joy you have received.
Thank you for serving at the Lord’s altar and for making of this service a real school of learning the faith, and charity toward your neighbour. Thank you also for having begun to respond to the Lord, like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me” (Is 6:8).
Nowhere in his remarks does the Holy Father make reference to the connection between serving at the altar and the vocation to the priesthood. Perhaps in this instant he is tilling the ground in preparation for additional catechesis. A good gardener knows he must prepare the soil by first removing the weeds. A good gardener knows he must be vigilant, for weeds have a tendency of making repeat appearances. Weeds steal nutrients and water from the good seeds, the good plants.

The seed of vocations.

The use of the term 'altar server' tends to hamstring the formation of boys and young men. It is a neutral term often used deliberately to avoid suggesting that altar service might be restricted to males. If one focusses on altar boys to an apparent exclusion of altar girls, then one is accused of marginalizing females. In reality, when gender politics enters the sanctuary, males tend to be marginalized and the continuity between the role of male altar server and the male priesthood is lost. A specific or distinct rapport with (Christ in) the Liturgy is lost.

Nature vs nurture.

This past Sunday, a cadre of two female and three male altar servers served in the Mass at a local parish. The dynamic between the males and the females was rather awkward and service inefficient at times. The girls giggled and preened themselves; the boys, who were only a tad more sober, fidgeted as boys do.

Ten-hut!

The postures of the servers indicated they had been taught to observe a certain degree of decorum. Well done on the part of their trainer! An attempt to enhance that decorum was achieved to a minor degree by placing the females on the opposite side of the sanctuary from the boys. However, that decorum was broken every time the boys came into proximity with the girls. Joking around ensued and the servers lost focus. There is still work to be done to encourage these young people in the art of decreasing so that Christ might increase, of drawing attention to Christ (not themselves) in the Mass.

Priests must be models of selfless service and exemplars at drawing attention to Christ in the Liturgy.

Esprit de corps

The Mass is, among many sublime reasons, a training ground for vocations to the priesthood. Parishes should focus on boys-only server guilds. If pastoral sensitivity requires a slow transition to that model, then separate cadres of boys-only and girls-only teams might be a way to provide a measure of peace for those harbouring a politicized sense of liturgical service.

If we hope to nurture vocations to the male priesthood, the obvious connection must be reinforced, practiced, honoured and celebrated. There are ways other than serving at the altar in which females may serve in and/or around the Liturgy: reader, cantor, sacristan, parish council member, catechist, etc.

Priests must necessarily foster the orthodox foundation of the nexus between altar service and the priesthood by means of:
  1. informed homilies;
  2. including prayers in the Mass (i.e., during the Universal Prayer) for servers, for their increase, support and well being.
  3. parish bulletin articles that laud servers as exemplars of Christian witness;
  4. greeting families before and after Mass and inviting parents to contact the appropriate liturgical coordinator;
  5. enlisting current altar boys to invite other males to serve with them;
  6. forming server teams and appointing server-captains to coordinate and train less experienced members;
  7. providing real substance to which servers can commit and feel accomplishment—e.g., induct servers into a guild; teach servers proper posture, timing, movement, require appropriate attire; provide decent server vestments; pray with servers before and after Mass (Pre-&-Post Mass prayers—click HEREServer's Vesting Prayers—click HERE)
  8. celebrating service as an altar boy by hosting "training receptions" (e.g., liturgical training session, pizza, video) with servers and their parents prior to major seasonal events—e.g., Holy Week; Christmas; patronal feast days; Corpus Christi procession; etc.;
  9. celebrating service and encouraging excellence by recommending outstanding servers for diocesan recognition;
  10. establishing scholarships or bursaries for those who have offered long and/or outstanding service;
  11. forming catechists to engage males in liturgical service;
  12. guiding parish councils to assist in the formation of families.
The family is the forum wherein vocations begin. Parents must assist the spiritual maturation of their children by involving them in a distinct model of faithful service in the Church. Imagine if altar service was valued as much as soccer, baseball or some other character building pursuit. If mom and dad could habitually praise their children's participation in Mass as they do their children's involvement in a favoured sport, imagine the thriving culture of faith, service and leadership that would develop in a community. Imagine the potential for evangelization if such enthusiasm was placed in service to the Holy Gospel!

As the Holy Father reminds us:
Isaiah was astonished to discover that it was God who made the first move; do not forget this! It is always God who makes the first move in our life. God is the one drawing close. He noticed that God’s actions were not impeded by his imperfections; it was God’s goodness alone that enabled him to take up the mission, transforming him into a totally new person and therefore one able to respond to the call of the Lord, saying, “Here I am! Send me” (Is 6:8).
You are more fortunate today than the prophet Isaiah. In the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, you experience the intimate closeness of Jesus, the sweetness and power of his presence. You do not encounter Jesus placed on an inaccessibly high throne, but in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. His word does not shake the doorposts, but rather caresses the strings of the heart. Like Isaiah, each of you sees that God, although making himself close to us in Jesus and bending down towards you with love, remains always immeasurably greater, beyond our ability to understand him in his deepest being. Like Isaiah, you too have experienced that it is always God who takes the lead, because it is he who created you and willed you into being. It is he who, in your baptism, has made you into a new creation; he is always patiently waiting for your response to his initiative, offering forgiveness to whoever asks him in humility.

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