“I shall go onto the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth.” This opening line to what previously were the “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar” were very much in my mind yesterday (Sunday) as over 400 altar serves from most of the parishes and missions throughout the diocese gathered at St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral for the annual Altar Server Appreciation Mass. Twenty-seven pastors and associates, six deacons, and scores of parents, altar server trainers, etc. also joined as one server (well almost one, some parishes choose one server from their English community and one from their Spanish community) from each parish was called forth to receive the “Altar Server of the Year Award.”
Organized by our diocesan Vocations Office, Father Carl Melchior, part of our diocesan recruitment team preached the homily. Since it was “Good Shepherd Sunday” and also Worldwide Day of Prayer for Vocations, it was a good time to gather and thank those who give of their time and talent to serve at the altar. They did not offer this in the forties and early fifties when I was serving and had they it would have been an all-male moment as young women were not allowed to serve at the altar (Thank You, Blessed Pope John Paul II).
It really is such a privilege to be able to serve at Mass. Short of ordination, hardly anyone gets closer than servers. And as was pointed out several times, when they are really good at serving, they assist the priest by giving him peace of mind that the sacred action will proceed smoothly and what happens in the sanctuary away from the altar is one less thing for him to have to worry about.
Many of the older servers, male and female, in this diocese are outstanding at what they are able to do and in some parishes they get promoted to serve as “Masters of Ceremonies.” At the Cathedral we have what is called the “Bishop’s Corp” and these young women and men are just terrific – there for me on every occasion including some dreadfully dull situations, but always smiling and serving. Many remain long after they graduate from high school which I believe to be a great blessing to many.
One young man from St. Catherine’s parish, Ben Keiler, had just competed in the Florida High School Athletic Associations State Finals Track Meet in Jacksonville. After the ceremony, he said to me that he considered the award a special honor though the medal he gained from his placement in the high jump must surely have cost more money and will weather the test of aging far better.
Going up to the altar of God still gives joy to our youth and I was privileged as I always am to be present and preside at a Mass which thanks them for their service.