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Lessons Learned from Serving at the Altar

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Serving at the altar provides children opportunities to learn from role models and to become role models for little ones in their service to Our Lord and Church.

by Erin Broestl

Watching my son ascend the steps to the altar carrying a flaming torch to honor Our Lord is one of the highlights of my life. It is such a wonderful moment in the Mass, to see the boys follow in the footsteps of our Dominican priests and deacons.

Some parishes like ours are fortunate to have enough boys for an all-male altar server program. These programs are few and far between, but the virtues of serving at the altar are wonderful lessons for boys and girls.

Good Priests, Great Role Models

Boys need role models. In our divorce-ridden society, boys often lack their fathers, or even a good father-figure in their lives to teach them virtue and strength. Now more than ever we need to celebrate the good priests in our parishes and hold them up as role models for our sons.

The wicked priests will have their day in court and face God’s justice, for no one escapes eternal judgement. The good priests, like ours, teach the boys proper etiquette, manners and the finer points of the Mass while the children obey and serve others as they serve the Lord.

Girls also need role models. Serving at the altar can teach our young ladies how to be dignified and reverent daughters of God. When I was an Anglican altar server in high school, I finally got to carry the big, heavy cross all the way up the aisle. I tried not to let it wobble, and I admired the other girls and boys for the sheer strength it took for them to carry it upright.

It was many years later that I learned about St. Joan of Arc, who asked for a crucifix to be raised to the level of her eyes as she stood on her funeral pyre. The role models of the good priests I knew and the young acolytes paved the way for my conversion to Catholicism.

Becoming a Role Model for Others

Boys and girls also need to be role models. When they have worked hard and earned the respect of the priest and adults in charge of the altar server program, it is good for them to be looked up to by the younger children. It takes dedication to be a head altar server.

In our church, the head boys are asked to serve earlier and longer hours, funerals, weddings, processions, etc. But many of the head boys are also in full pursuit of excellence in high school athletics, academics, and helping their parents.

This struggle is not lost on the smaller children. The little ones gain virtue almost by osmosis in an atmosphere that fosters service with encouragement, and above all devotion to Our Lord Jesus.

“My child, from your youth choose discipline; and when you have gray hair you will find wisdom.” (Sir 6:18)

Saints as Servers

There are many good stories about altar boys, from St. Tarcisius, the patron saint of altar servers, to St. Dominic Savio. St. Tarcisius was particularly brave. At only age 12, he helped persecuted Christians receive the Eucharist as they awaited their executions. He was brutally beaten and died during one of these dangerous ventures. 

does not always have to be solemn. At one of my children’s baptisms, the lone altar boy stood for over an hour, did his duty faithfully … and then snuck away behind our large family during the obligatory post-baptism photo shoot. He wound up photo-bombing us unintentionally, and it was hilarious. It was also a reminder that even the most robust of boys have their physical limit. He had had enough for the day.

If you are a fan of Catholic Digest, you will remember the stories from “Patrick’s Corner” by Sean Patrick. He often wrote about his life as an altar boy, growing up with five older brothers. Patrick knew the priests of his parish well, and wrote about their kind generosity and warm humor.

How I wish these tales of altar serving, and the nobility of its history could be passed on to more children!

“Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.” (1Tim 4:12)

Follow Erin Broestl:

Homeschooler and freelance copy editor

Erin Broestl is a wife, mom to eight children and author. She dishes out children’s book reviews and homeschooling anecdotes over on eighthobbits.com.

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