by Fr. Phillippe Angelo Garcia
Serving for the highest form of prayer, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, makes the Ministry of Altar Servers noble and great!
Liturgical celebrations, formation, and social action activities add even more to the greatness of this ministry.
Allow me to share 3 detailed reasons why being an Altar Server is great and meaningful for all of us Catholics.
1. AN ALTAR SERVER WEARS VESTMENTS TO BE A VISIBLE SIGN OF GOD
I remember one priest who said, "Dumodoble ang kagwapuhan ng isang sakristan kapag siya ay nakasutana na. Kaya kayo bilang mga sakristan, kapag may nainlove sa inyo lalo na dahil sa pagseserve ninyo sa altar, hindi talaga sila in-love sa inyo. Ang totoo, in love sila sa inyong pinaglilingkuran na si Hesus." (A sacristan becomes doubly handsome when he wears his vestments so, sacristans, remember that if someone falls in love with you while you are serving, it is not you they are in love with but the fact that you are serving Christ.)
This view made me reflect on how an altar server serves “in persona Christi”.
When an altar server wears his vestment to serve, he is making the image of Jesus Christ present. That is why his liturgical vestments are white: because this gives us the image of the purity of Christ which we received in the sacrament of baptism. The white vestment reminds us of our promises to renounce Satan and to believe faithfully in God.
Many altar servers take care of their vestments too much. But the point of that white vestment is not that they must be pristine at all times; when the situation calls for it, they must be also used for utmost service which may mean making it dirty or unpleasant.
St. Paul VI called altar servers “little priests.” Just like ordained ministers, altar servers are privileged to wear liturgical vestments. Usually, these are the cassock (soutane) and surplice or alb.
Just like a priest whom the church refers to as an ALTER CHRISTUS, an altar server as a little priest may also be referred as a “LITTLE ALTER CHRISTUS,” a little "another Christ".
A VISIBLE SIGN: Altar Servers wear their color white cassock and surplice which remind us of our baptismal promises to deny Satan and to be faithful to God.
2. AN ALTAR SERVER IS DISCIPLINED, A LOVER OF ONE’S NEIGHBORS
The day I was asked by my parish priest to take an entrance exam for the admissions at the minor seminary was the day I was “punished” by my mama because while many parents would highly recommend their children to be altar servers as they want their children to wear vestments and be visible at the altar at liturgical celebrations, it is also true that some parents make their children join the ministry of altar servers for the discipline they will learn from their formation.
I was shocked by the different formation modules of altar servers, particularly for the aspirants. Some of them are tedious and long! However, they make our altar servers better Catholics. God is wise: even in those instances, the voice of God is present.
As an altar server, you join the early morning holy hour benediction and the holy mass. Formation also orients altar servers to love their neighbor as an expression for their love towards God.
This formation is also ongoing. This means it is a continuous process and journey to know God and His church more.
Our Altar Servers of San Roque Cathedral together with Fr. Phillippe pose for a picture as they are on their annual pilgrimage as part of their on going formation.
The dedication of the senior altar servers - the "kuyas" (elder brothers) - of the ministry is highly commendable for their guidance creates an atmosphere of discipline. The simple preparations for liturgical celebrations, the practice of gestures and movements, the time when to ring the bell or to bow at the altar deepen the Christian character of an altar server. This gives them the discipline to love their neighbor more.
These formations make people expect a well-disciplined attitude from altar servers. That is why when an altar server commits a mistake the common comment is “Sakristan ka pa man din, tapos ganyan ka”. (You are a sacristan, how can you be like that?) Well, altar servers are imperfect. As St. Therese of the Child Jesus would say, we are all sinners struggling to be saints.
As a former altar server, I have learned to give my wholehearted YES to God by way of serving. I remember, when I was still a seminarian, a pontifical server, many times we were asked to serve at the altar for liturgical celebrations outside the seminary. The problem was that I also had urgent matters like a whole week of exams and other concerns. But despite these concerns, I prioritized serving at the altar.
Through the mercy of God, when Pope Francis presided over the Holy Eucharist at the Manila Cathedral last January 2015, I was assigned to be one of the pontifical servers. My consequent Yes to God brought me to the successor of St. Peter. This made me believe that God appreciates our wholehearted YES to him. In God’s time, a server will experience a “share in his master’s joy”.
Remember, an altar server’s “yes” to God is seen in his discipline and love for his neighbor.
THROWBACK: Fr. Phillippe’s investiture to wear cassock way back July 2010. Msgr. Ding Coronel, the San Carlos Seminary rector then, shared in his homily that when there is a necessity, we should always be ready to remove this cassock and be utilized by the poor particularly the unclothed. This is an act of sacrifice.
3. AN ALTAR SERVER IS A TRUE LOVER IN ACTION
The pandemic may have given desolation for many but there are also many consolations. One of the consolations is that altar servers minister beyond the altar. They serve at the altar of God but they also serve the table of the poor.
Most altar servers especially responded to the needs of the Church during the pandemic. Some altar servers became volunteers of the Social Communications Ministry for the livestreaming liturgical celebrations. Some became active in rendering service to the poor by delivering ayuda (help), gift cheques, and assisting at community pantries.
ASPIRING TRUE LOVER: our altar server Joshua Malonzo serves at the altar of God and to the needy by feeding the hungry.
As I have shared in my previous article entitled Four Marks of A Good Altar Server, for an altar server to be good, one must be able to serve where there is a need. This is a form of charity - love in action.
This is also an embodiment of the words of Christ in the Eucharistic Prayer:
"Take this, all of you, and eat of it ... Drink of it ... This is my body ... This is my blood ... For you and for all ... Do this in memory of me."
If an altar server serves at the altar alone, he is a minimal altar server. But if an altar server ministers where there is a need, then this altar server is a true lover of Christ. He is a good altar server. He offers to God by way of charity, not just through mere words but also through concrete actions.
ASPIRING TRUE LOVER: our altar server Rafael Reyes serves at the altar of God and to the needy by their outreach
Table of the Poor
My commendation will always be for altar servers faithfully serving both at the altar of God and at the table of the poor.
It is great to be an altar server because being an altar server calls us to love truly like Christ.
AN ALTAR SERVER SHOULD ALWAYS BE A TRUE LOVER LIKE CHRIST.
Altar Servers and Lectors of San Bartolome Parish with Fr. Phillippe
As we celebrate this month of Altar Servers, let us thank God for the gift of serving at the altar. It is a gift and we are GIFTED TO GIVE.
When the time comes that we are called to serve in whatever way, may we all respond, SERVIAM. I WILL SERVE.
Here I am Lord. I come to do your will. Amen!