As a convert, I’ve always been drawn to the Mass—its rituals, its words and its mystery. When my oldest turned ten, the parish sent us an invitation and encouraged us to attend altar server training. To be honest, I hadn’t really given it much thought until then. But, the idea of him participating in something as intimate as the Mass preparation intrigued me. We signed him up, and his response?
“Give it a year. After that, you never have to serve again.”
That was three years ago and he’s still happily participating in the altar server ministry much to my surprise and joy. Here’s why I think every kid, including yours, should be an altar server.
- It’s one less kid in the pew. Hey, I’m nothing if not practical. We have five children, so when our oldest serves it cuts down on the crazy factor and gives all of us the opportunity to more fully participate in Mass.
- You’re fostering a future vocation. According to a recent study, 75% of the 2012 class of Ordinands (seminarians) were altar servers. It’s no coincidence that when your children fall in love with the Mass, they fall deeper in love with God. Whether your children choose a religious vocation or one of married life, the affect of experiencing the Mass in a personal way can only help to further their faith life in the very best of ways. The Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the USCCB commissions an annual report, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). You can read the entire report.
- Community with peers. It’s become something of the “cool” factor among my son and his friends. They enjoy serving together. My son often drops by the altar server room before Mass just to see if they need an extra set of hands. He’s gotten to be friends with other boys and girls outside his peer group, our parish’s seminarian serving his pastoral year and our priests and deacons. We are called to live in community and I can’t think of a more positive bunch than that one.
- Respect and understanding of the Mass. In the early days, we struggled just to keep our son quiet in the pew. As he grew into a school-aged child, he was present but still very unaware and uninterested in the Mass. We tried it all—MagnifiKid subscription, books about Mass, pointing out key moments during the liturgy—all with mild success. It wasn’t until he began serving that we saw almost an immediate shift in his approach to the Mass. Just a few weeks ago, after the priest’s homily, my son turned to me and said, “Is it me or are Fr. Ron’s homilies getting better and better every week?” One, I was impressed that he was actually listening and two, even more impressed that he cared enough to share that sentiment. I have no doubt his observation was a direct result of his time spent on the altar.
- An opportunity for leadership. When our son first began serving, he started by shadowing other altar servers. You could see his anxious nerves! Our priest was so kind and patient as he learned the ropes. Now, I see my son mentoring younger servers. I see him taking pride in making sure the Mass goes smoothly. I see him smiling on the altar as the priest gives him a word of encouragement. I see a fine young man learning to be a leader by example.
Lest you think we’re all piety and service over here, I’d like to share this parting story about our altar server experience. Just a few weeks into serving, my son came up to me and said, “Mom, I really love serving. It’s awesome.” That’s about the time I started to feel super proud of my parenting skills. After all, it was at the suggestion of his dad and I that he participate in the ministry. When I asked him why he loved it so much, I prepared myself to hear how wonderful the Mass now was for him. How humbling it was to hear this:
“It’s so much quieter up on the altar. There’s no one to fight with up there.”
I suppose that might just be reason #6.