Why Do We Need Altar Servers?

by Family, Mass

When I was growing up, there were no “altar servers,” only altar boys. Having been raised in a Catholic religious household, my three older brothers all served as altar boys. When they attended Mass and the priest walked out with no altar boy, one or two of my brothers would immediately go up to the altar to assist the celebrant. He was grateful, and my parents were proud. Whenever I attend Mass now and there is no altar server to assist the priest, I almost feel sad that the priest is alone.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrates what is occurring in heaven. Altar servers reflect the heavenly Mass in an earthly manner, which gives focus and meaning to all the promptness and reverence that altar servers give. Altar servers reflect the service of the angels and saints in heaven to Christ at the altar. The altar server reflects the true reality that is already occurring, which gives deeper meaning and understanding to why the altar server is reverent. They receive special training to understand the reality of the Mass and become familiar with the names of the objects on the altar.

According to the CARA report on the Ordination Class of 2023, 72% of prospective priests have been altar servers, while about half served as lectors and 40% served as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.

CARA

What Does An Altar Server Do?

Altar servers lead the way for the priest to go up to the altar to begin Mass. They hold the Bible and lectionary open so that the priest can recite the daily prayers out loud. They receive the gifts of the altar from the priest before the offertory begins. They ring the bells during the holiest part of the Mass, the consecration. The takeaway is that this unique experience — to sit on the altar, not with the congregants — elevates the role being performed. Altar servers benefit from the bird’s-eye view, so to speak, of singularly witnessing the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ up close by the side of the priest. Altar servers also participate when the sacraments are being celebrated. They assist the celebrant at baptisms, funerals, first holy communions, confirmations, and weddings. Altar servers fulfill a special role in the church. It is a place of honor. They need to display quietness, attention, support, and reverence.

Assistance at the altar by servers represents a long liturgical tradition. These servers enhance the quality of the celebration for the whole gathered assembly by taking part in processions and by ensuring that all items required for the celebration are available at the appropriate moments.

Introduction to the Order of Mass, #22

One of my favorite Christmas songs is called “Little Altar Boy,” by Howlett Peter Smith. It is a reverent tribute to how powerful the prayers of the altar servers are. It seems that God has a special place for them and listens to them with extra attention. Even though the lyrics of this song carry an idealistic holiness about them, the fact that it was written in 1961 and is still popularly heard today proves its timeless quality and an admiring recognition of their place in the Church.

We need altar servers to carry out their significant duties with reverence and promptness. Even their cassock reminds everyone of their unique position in the Mass and the church. We need altar servers to enrich the Mass experience and deepen its significance. The ultimate hope is that altar servers discern a call to the priesthood or religious life so that they may support and carry on the traditions of the Catholic Church for generations to come.

This article is a guest post written by Rosemary Vaccari.

Why Should You Be An Altar Server?

There are many, many graces that come to those who assist at Mass.

  1. The Mass is Calvary continued.
  2. Every Mass is worth as much as the sacrifice of Our Lord’s life, sufferings and death.
  3. Holy Mass is the most powerful atonement for your sins.
  4. At the hour of death the Masses you have heard will be your greatest consolement.
  5. Every Mass will go with you to judgement and plead for pardon.
  6. At Mass you can diminish more or less temporal punishment due to your sins, according to your fervor.
  7. Assisting devoutly at Holy Mass you render to the humanity of Our Lord the greates homage.
  8. He supplies for many of your negligences and omissions.
  9. He forgives the venial sins which you have not confessed. The power of Satan over you is diminished.
  10. You afford the souls in Purgatory the greates possible relief.
  11. One Mass heard during life will be of more benefit to you than many heard for you after your death.
  12. You are preserved from dangers and misfortunes which otherwise might have befallen you. You shorten your Purgatory.
  13. Every Mass wins you a higher degree of glory in Heaven.
  14. You receive the Priest’s blessing which Our Lord ratifies in Heaven.
  15. You kneel amidst a multitude of Holy Angels, who are present at the adorable Sacrifice with reverential awe.
  16. You are blessed in your temporal goods and affairs.
Pieta Prayer Book

Words Of Wisdom From Popes To Altar Servers

As one set aside in a special way for the service of the altar, the acolyte should learn all matters concerning public divine worship and strive to grasp their inner spiritual meaning: in that way he will be able each day to offer himself entirely to God, be an example to all by his gravity and reverence in church, and have a sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, especially for the weak and the sick.”

– Pope Paul VI

“Your commitment to the altar is not only a duty, but a great honor, a genuine holy service… The Altar Server occupies a privileged place in the liturgical celebration… Therefore, in the liturgy, you are much more than simple ‘helpers of the parish priest.’ Above all, you are servers of Jesus Christ, of the eternal High Priest. Thus, you, Altar Servers, are called in particular to be young friends of Jesus.” 

– St. John Paul II

I am addressing those of you who are present here and, through you, all the altar servers of the world! Serve Jesus present in the Eucharist generously. It is an important task that enables you to be particularly close to the Lord and to grow in true and profound friendship with him. Guard this friendship in your hearts jealously, like St Tarcisius, ready to commit yourselves, to fight and to give your lives so that Jesus may reach all peoples. May you too communicate to your peers the gift of this friendship with joy, with enthusiasm, without fear, so that they may feel that you know this Mystery, that is true and that you love it! Every time that you approach the altar, you have the good fortune to assist in God’s great loving gesture as he continues to want to give himself to each one of us, to be close to us, to help us, to give us strength to live in the right way. With consecration, as you know, that little piece of bread becomes Christ’s Body, that wine becomes Christ’s Blood. You are lucky to be able to live this indescribable Mystery from close at hand! Do your task as altar servers with love, devotion and faithfulness; do not enter a church for the celebration with superficiality but rather, prepare yourselves inwardly for Holy Mass! Assisting your priests in service at the altar helps to make Jesus closer, so that people can understand, can realize better: he is here. You collaborate to make him more present in the world, in every day life, in the Church and everywhere. Dear friends! You lend Jesus your hands, your thoughts, your time. He will not fail to reward you, giving you true joy and enabling you to feel where the fullest happiness is. St Tarcisius has shown us that love can even bring us to give our life for an authentic good, for the true good, for the Lord.

– Pope Benedict XVI

“How beautiful it is to discover that faith brings us out of ourselves, out of our isolation. Precisely because we are filled with the joy of being friends with Jesus Christ, faith draws us towards others, making us natural missionaries! Missionary altar servers: this is how Jesus wants you to be!

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 your 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 faith and charity toward your neighbour. Thank you also for having begun to respond to the Lord, like the prophet Isaiah, ‘Here am I! Send me’ (Is 6:8).”

– Pope Francis

ALTAR SERVER’S PRAYER (BEFORE MASS)

Oh Jesus, my King and Lord, by the grace of the heavenly Father and the power
of the Holy Spirit, guide me in all righteousness, s I serve You today at the
Altar, so that I may be always worthy of Your presence. If I happen to make an
error, may it be a lesson so that my service will be perfect tomorrow. Jesus, I
love you with all my heart. Amen.

More Resources for Altar Servers


A Training Manual For Altar Servers

Fr. Dwight’s Wisdom For Altar Servers

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