by Fr. Phillippe Angelo Garcia
My vocation to become a priest was enriched when I became an altar server at St. Mary’s Academy of Caloocan City. I was a fourth grade student when I became an altar server. Since my mom serves as the Worship Commission head at our parish, she volunteered myself to become an altar server of our parish to which my parish priest accepted. My parish priest then at Sacred Heart of Jesus Morning Breeze, Caloocan City was Fr. Gigi Yabut. He was my mentor as a sakristan, as a seminarian, and until as an ordained minister, a deacon, at the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of San Jose de Navotas.
I’ve been an altar server since then and my memories of serving at the altar are treasured within my heart. I’d like to share four marks of a good altar server. These are fruits of my reflections as an alumnus of the Ministry of Altar Servers of our Parish, a former pontifical server of San Carlos Seminary, and now, an ordained priest presiding the liturgy at the altar.
First, a good altar server is willing to learn.
I wouldn’t say that a good altar server is someone who knows how to use all the sacred vessels. You may know it all but you are not good if you are not willing to learn. That is why in the ministry of altar servers there are meetings, practices, and formations. An altar server who does not attend these is not good at all. They should not be serving if they are not present in these events.
To serve at the altar also means knowing Jesus whom we serve. Therefore, an altar server should be active in his ongoing formation on the Catholic Faith and Liturgy.
That is why, recently, when I was asked by an altar server seeking advice from my Tiktok account, I shared to them two things, First, "Hindi kayo kurtina. You are not a mere display. Second, it is because you are there to serve. If you will be serving, you should be prepared in knowing what to do."
A good altar server may not come by age. It doesn’t mean that when you are the priest’s favorite, you are a good one. It doesn’t also mean that when you are the one asked to serve when the Bishop is around, you are already the good one. You may be a skilled server but if you are not active in your ministry’s formation, practices, and meetings, you are not a good altar server.
A good altar server is willing to learn. He is open. He desires to serve more as he recognizes that an ongoing formation is needed on the teachings of the Church and the liturgy. A good altar server attends practices before serving.
Martin Panlaque, an altar server of San Roque Cathedral Parish, serves not just at liturgical celebrations but also to those who are in need. Martin is the founder of Padyak Klasrum, a youth group whose mission is to teach children and aid the poorest of the poor.
Second, a good altar server maintains the atmosphere of prayer.
Maintaining the atmosphere of prayer consists in having a proper decorum. Proper Decorum means maintaining a dignified external appearance. One needs not to be extravagant in attaining this. One needs to appear clean because as the saying goes, cleanliness is next to godliness. This simply means that when an altar server serves, he must have the proper haircut, not necessarily the fad or uso haircut. His fingernails must be well trimmed. His cassock and surplice must be washed well and ironed well. His face should at least be presentable – not appearing bagong gising or beautified by facial cosmetics (Simbang Gabi weakness of Altar Servers).
A sakristan must stand dignified while he is serving. He must recognize that he moves within the atmosphere of prayer. A tendency of an altar server is to treat his service as a mere dance step. They count to attain the “perfect movement”. They wait for signs and even words from the prayers or songs to do this and that. But in reality, these movements are not dance steps. They are movements of prayer.
Therefore, the best preparation is not just to do it with counts and steps. The best preparation is to pray. A movement in harmony is not just through our unified steps, a movement in harmony is a grace from the Holy Spirit.
Ruskin Matthew Tan, an altar server of San Roque Cathedral Parish, serves beyond the altar of liturgy. He is a member of Team Saint Pedro Calungsod, a group of young people whose mission is to serve the poorest of the poor in the urban and rural areas.
Third, a good altar server spends time with Jesus.
It is not enough to serve at the altar, a good altar server must also encounter God through his prayers. This pandemic has given our parish, San Roque Cathedral Parish, a chance to start a SERVING AT HOME program for our young altar servers who are not yet permitted to serve within the parish due to quarantine restrictions. This means they are called to serve as prayer leaders within their families. As Pope Paul VI would say, they are invited to be little priests in their families.
The reason of an altar server why he serves should not be the following:
to be a source of attraction by people,
to be recognized by his crush,
to be famous with his peers and to look more holy than them, and
to have a special place at the altar.
The reason why he serves must be his relationship with God, his prayer life. The ministry of altar server is present for young men to develop their relationship with God but an altar server must be able to go an extra mile in spending time, praying alone with God. A good altar server should always be ready to lead a prayer.
Maverick De Vera is also an altar server who desires to translate the Holy Eucharist in his life through social action activities. Maverick is a member of Caritas Mariae, a youth group whose charism is to aid the poorest of the poor. This is their expression of their love to Mama Mary.
Fourth, a good altar server is willing to serve beyond the liturgical celebrations.
The Holy Eucharist calls us to love like Jesus. This means offering up one’s life. The Eucharistic Prayer states This is my body which will be given up for you… This is my blood… which will be shed for you… These words are meant to be translated into action by serving beyond the liturgical celebrations.
I admire many altar servers who responded to the necessity of their parishes as we face this pandemic. Some turned out to be frontliners of the Church in distributing ayuda to the poor and helping out in the Social Action Initiatives of their respective parishes. Some heeded the call to volunteer for the Social Communications Ministry to livestream our liturgical celebrations. Senior Altar servers heeded the call as well to become eucharistic ministers. Others turned out to be Catechists, teaching Children the basics of faith in the online sphere. And many more forms of serving beyond the altar.
A good altar server must recognize that the Holy Mass should be translated into action as a way of offering up our lives in real life.
A good altar server must be sensitive to the necessities of their parish, wherever there is a need. If they are capable, a good altar server first studies it and volunteers later in such endeavors.
Do you aspire to become an Altar Server? Contact your parish priest. Perhaps God is calling you to serve at the Altar. It is a great gift to God as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines.
Are you an Altar Server? Do you have all or some of these marks?
Begin praying so you may serve God more and be closer to him. It is my prayer for you to seek holiness in life as you serve at the Altar and beyond the Altar.