Saturday, March 9, 2013

Altar Boy Resources

Serving Mass Activates Spiritual Manhood and Introduces a Deep Understanding of Male Responsibility

I recall in the 3rd grade after our large group of young men graduated from altar boy training, we were each vested in our own surplus and given a ring to wear with the words 'altar boy' and a small cross inscribed.  The sense of dignity was felt by everyone.  It wasn't just the ring we now wore on our finger, but knowing that we had just crossed a threshold of spiritual manhood and entered a new phase of male responsibility that gave us a newfound sense of Christian pride, purpose, and masculine motivation.  An awaking of the image of God within.  An activation of manhood that points to a path of honor and virtue.  

Being part of such holy service with other young men embarks a boy on  a supernatural trajectory in life apart from the world.  It sets a boy apart from mere primitive male identification and it unveils the spiritual man of God.  It unveils that image of God that man was created to follow.  Serving mass was, and should still be, a rite of passage and a thing of Christian pride in young men.

Mass Serving Dispositions

When it comes to serving mass, no amount of resources can replace good training, a pursuit of holiness, and good catechesis.  Patience, genuine love for God and His Holy Church, reverence, attention to detail, and a good prayerful grasp of divine worship are important.  Below you will find resources that I have either used or have heard are valuable in the training of altar boys and in maintaining their skills.  Qualified altar boys need periodic refreshing of their skills and these resources would provide some of that.

One can't start serving unless he is self-disciplined.  Young children can learn discipline early and are capable of being trained properly.  There is no reason for them to wait until their teens or until they are confirmed.  Our 2 sons began serving when they were 5 years old.  They were completely ready to serve on their own after a few weeks.  A trainer must have the will to succeed in training even young children to the highest serving expectations and to the minutest detail.  Children see right through a lackluster attempt.  They also respond with amazing ability when the highest serving standards are expected.  It can be done.  

A trainer should acknowledge who he is working with and explain concepts with clarity and detail.  Children understand detail when it is expected of them.  Sometimes a parent thinks that children are just going to be too restless, untrainable, and the worst outcome will follow - that is, the parents will be embarrassed.  Parents need to remember that it's not about them.  An altar boy trainer must therefore remain patient with the trainee and with himself and in time, the child will be molded into a reverent altar boy.  

Children should also understand Who they are serving.  Children will notice how important their role is when a trainer takes the time to point out each detailed action the server must perform and why they are doing it.   Serving is a manly action and can be likened to the ceremonial changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier.  At the changing of the guard the soldiers' actions are deliberate and precise.  They are done this way out of reverence for the fallen soldier in the tomb.  Much more so should the altar boy be trained to perform his actions deliberately and precisely in reverence to the Almighty Whom they are serving and Who is going to make Himself present at the altar of Sacrifice.

The server should dress reverently: black shoes and black pants, regardless of what he wears to serve.  They should be encouraged to wear the cassock and surplice.  These are the classic Roman Catholic serving attire and if the parish does not have them, their pastors should be encouraged to provide them or, like where I grew up, parents can offer to purchase their own for their kids and donate them to the Church after the altar boys have outgrown them.  The altar boy should well groomed: hair combed nicely, fingernails cut and clean, and hands washed before arriving to church.

The following video can be viewed by altar boys, their parents, and trainers to understand the importance of the server's role and  to receive some helpful reminders:

A prayerful disposition should be expected from each server.  In fact, it is a prerequisite.  His entire day must be a prayer as St. Paul reminds us, "pray without ceasing." The server, like a priest (and all of us), must desire holiness as his priority in life.  Everything the server candidate does, should be centered on his role as God's holy servant.  Serving God at the altar is the most important task he will ever do at his young state in life.  Football players make football their life.  On game day, they carry with them a football and wear their jersey all day so their performance at game time is enhanced by their familiarity with the objects of the game.  The server doesn't have to carry a ciborium with him all day, but he must carry with him the light of Christ at all times so that at mass time, he is ready to shine for God at the altar with joy, love, and devotion. 

These are the essential predispositions a server should either possess or work to attain.  Without these, the server will find himself being drug through the mass, where instead, he should have a mastery of himself and the task before him:

  • Self-discipline
  • Obedience and humility
  • Love for God and His Holy Church
  • Desire for sanctity
  • Dedication to fulfilling his baptismal and/or his confirmation promises (it is a good idea to periodically gather the altar boys together to repeat their baptismal promises as a group)

The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite

In July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, in which he stated that the Latin Mass must be allowed by Bishops, and may be celebrated by any Catholic priest in any parish, especially when a desire for the Latin Mass has been expressed by the faithful of the local parish. Since that time it has become of greater importance to understand the role, not only of priests, but of the altar server in the Extraordinary Use of of the Latin Rite.

I am not a regular Latin Mass worshiper so I can only present the limited exposure to the resources that I have had. There are many out there that I haven't explored, but here are the ones that I have found work best for training my children and studying for my own use.

Instruction Manuals
The manual (HERE) that I personally use fits into your pocket.  I don't serve the Latin Mass often and need the book as a guide during mass.  It contains all the latin responses and provides diagrams showing the movements and positions of the server.  Especially good for beginners, by Rev. William A. O'Brien, M.A.

Another manual (HERE), originally published in 1934, is updated with photos from St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago.  It's a little large to fit into your pocket so it should be studied and used for training, not for actually serving.  Photos illustrate specific actions, and diagrams show the sanctuary positions of acolytes, thurifer, master of ceremonies, etc. Also included are the Latin responses at Mass. 

The following resource is something you can print right now and be on your way.  A section at the end with prayers after mass and a short latin pronunciation guide are a nice addition: Correct Mass-Serving Made Easy
by Rev. H.E. Calnan, D.D.
Fifth Edition by Widdowson's, 1948

(from St. Joseph's

Which is also captured in a different format HERE by Sancta Missa.

Sancta Missa has superb and concise instructional links HERE, actions of the server are in RED.

Instructional Videos
I have used this excellent DVD that instructs how to serve Low Mass HERE.  It can be used to learn serving with one server or two.  The video is made during mass and follows each server's actions where the film is paused and a narrator explains the actions.  Excellent video and highly recommended.

Also offered at a lower price by the FSSP HERE.  Part of the proceeds of this video will go to support the Parish of St. Peter, an apostolate of the Fraternity of St. Peter located in Tulsa.  Support the Fraternity of St. Peter.

The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite
There's fewer resources available for the Ordinary Form because each parish seems to have their own way of doing things.  The same principles for proper dispositions of the altar server described above, however still apply.  The following recommendation is a great source for serving the new mass with reverence, attention to detail,  and understanding of the great responsibility and privilege of serving God at the altar.

Recommended by Father Z, here is a well done video on serving the Novus Ordo Missae, explained with great detail and reverence.

Lastly, I strongly advocate commissioning altar serving for boys alone. Serving mass is the fertile ground for planting the seeds of the priesthood. This is why it should be reserved for boys. It is a rite of passage for Catholic boys and more often than not, the single most contributor to fostering vocations to the sacred priesthood. Whenever girls serve the mass, they are occupying space that would be otherwise filled by a prospective priest.  If you know of people who are having a problem with this position refer them to the Magisterium's declarations on the priesthood being reserved for men (HERE) which confirms:
In his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”  This definitive statement leaves no “wiggle room” for those who would like to continue debating the question. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made clear in 1995, the statement that the Church has no authority to ordain women as priests, is not merely a matter of Church discipline (which can be changed), but belongs to the deposit of faith (which cannot). “This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Concerning the Teaching Contained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis).

and adds:

However, lest it seem that God has honored men above women, we should recall that of all created beings, including the hierarchy of Angels, God raised a Woman to the highest place, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though she was not an Apostle, she was made Queen of the Apostles, Queen of Angels, Queen of the universe, and the Mother of her own Creator. 

The priesthood will forever be reserved for men, period.  Not convinced?  Let our past popes and the Dominican Order of Preachers try to explain:

In 1970 Pope Paul VI said in Liturgicae Instaurationes, “In conformity with norms traditional in the Church, women (single, married, religious), whether in churches, homes, convents, schools, or institutions for women, are barred from serving the priest at the altar.” And in 1980 Pope John Paul II stated in Inaestimabile Donum, “There are, of course, various roles that women can perform in the liturgical assembly: these include reading of the Word of God and proclaiming the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. Women are not, however, permitted to act as altar servers.” - The Southern Rennaissance Vol.4 No.7 July 2003

If there is a shortage of servers, boys will rise to the occasion.  It will happen. If people are thinking, the Church permits girls to serve therefore they should, they should stop for a moment and consider that just because the Church is being extremely pastoral in this regard and allowing girls to serve - that just because they CAN serve, doesn't mean they SHOULD.  It's a question of fittingness.  It is more fitting for boys to serve than girls.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Prior to moving here our boys were trained to serve by a very Traditional Priest and were really educated in the way in which you describe. Fast forward to our current parish (after a cross country move) where the training is nothing like that even though the trainers are wonderful people, the reverence is not taught as much as a discipline to following the schedule of servers and everyone gets a turn. I'm so glad we learned at St. John's in Front Royal, Va first.
I plan to use this to help our younger boys understand better what their older brothers are trying to impart to them.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Thank you! This is a wonderful resource! Your time in preparing all of this is much appreciated. - Genevieve

Elizabeth Carreon said...

Wonderful resources!
We too came from a more traditional parish, where our son was part of a group called "The Guardians of the Altar" (GOTA). The training you described is exactly what our son experienced. Our new parish isn't so traditional and the girls out number the boys serving. Something that has made our son uncomfortable; in addition too the sloppiness in dress.
Fortunately, the pastor is very open to the suggestions made to bring the, boys only, GOTA to the parish. We see this pastor slowly moving his flock too a more reverent place. Please keep him and the other priests in your prayers.

Michelle said...

Thank you, thank you. Our son serves the Novus Ordo Missae and we have been unable to find any appropriate videos, thank you for providing one. He was blessed with a good example from an older man who had been searching at church, but it is nice to review at home every now and then. If you find more resources for Novus Ordo Missae, please continue to post. Your family and all that you share on your site and your wife's sites have been such a blessing to us and we train up our children. Thanks again and God bless you and your beautiful family.

Salve, sancta parens! said...

You are very welcome. There are other resources out there, but it would take a monumental effort to gather. These are just scratching the surface. I strongly recommend the FSSP video. I cannot stress enough how important serving mass is for young boys. It is probably the single most important rite of passage in a young man's life. Every boy should be given the opportunity to serve . . . and to serve well. Leave the sloppiness for the gay bishop Episcopalians. Disciplined and reverent mass serving belongs to the Roman Catholics, we own it, and as such we have the obligation to do it right.