Altar servers are much more than “simple helpers of the parish priest,” John Paul II Aug. 1 at his 1,000th general audience.
“Above all, you are servers of Jesus Christ, of the eternal High Priest,” the Holy Father told 22,000 altar servers from around Europe who gathered in St. Peter's Square for the highlight event of their pilgrimage to Rome.
“You altar servers are called in particular to be young friends of Jesus,” the Pope said. “Be determined to go deeper and to cultivate this friendship with him. You will discover that in Jesus you have found a true friend for life.”
Dear young people!
Today St. Peter's Square is the square of youth. Here, about a year ago, at the heart of the Great Jubilee 2000, young people from all over the world were warmly welcomed for the celebration of World Youth Day. Today this Square is the setting for the 1,000th general audience since Divine Providence called me to be a successor of the Apostle Peter. And today it receives the thousands of boys and girls who have come on pilgrimage from all over Europe to the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.
Dear altar servers! Yesterday you crossed St. Peter's Square in a long procession to the basilica's Altar of Confession. By doing this, you continued, in a way, the journey that the young people of the world began during the Holy Year. The motto of your pilgrimage to the Eternal City — “Toward the New World” — is a sign of your willingness to take your Christian vocation seriously. …
Put on Christ
Your commitment to the altar is not only a duty but a great honor — a genuine holy service. In connection with this service, I wish to offer you a few reflections.
The clothing that the altar server wears is very special. It recalls the garment that everyone puts on when they are welcomed into the community in Jesus Christ. I am referring to baptismal clothes, whose deep meaning St. Paul explained: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
Dear altar servers, even though you can no longer fit into your baptismal gowns, you have put on the clothing of those who serve at the altar. Yes, baptism is the point of departure of your “authentic liturgical service” which places you next to your bishops, priests, and deacons (see Sacrosanctum Concilium, 29).
Encounter with Jesus
The altar server holds a special place in the liturgical celebration. Whoever serves at Mass presents himself before a community. He experiences up close that Jesus Christ is present and at work in every liturgical act. Jesus is present when the community comes together to pray and give praise to God. Jesus is present in the Word of Sacred Scripture. Jesus is present above all in the Eucharist under the signs of bread and wine. He acts through the priest, who celebrates holy Mass and administers the sacraments in the person of Christ.
Therefore in the liturgy, you are much more than just helpers of the parish priest. Above all, you are servants of Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest. This means that you altar servers are called in a special way to be young friends of Jesus. Commit yourselves to deepening and cultivating this friendship with him. You will discover that in Jesus you have found a true friend for life.
The Light of Christ
The altar server often holds a candle. It is impossible not to recall what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Your serving must not be confined to the inside of a church. It must shine out in everyday life — in school, in your family, and in different areas of society — because anyone who wants to serve Jesus Christ inside a church must be his witness everywhere.
Dear young people, others your age are waiting for the true “light of the world” (John 1:9). Don't carry your candlestick only inside the church! Carry the torch of the Gospel to all those who are in darkness and are going through a hard time in their lives.
Answer the Call
I have spoken about friendship with Jesus. How happy I would be if something more were to spring from this friendship! How beautiful it would be if some of you were to discover a vocation to the priest-hood! Jesus Christ urgently needs young people who will generously and wholeheartedly put themselves at his disposal. And couldn't the Lord also be calling some of you girls to embrace consecrated life in order to serve the Church and your brothers and sisters? Also, for those of you who will wish to be united in marriage, being an altar server teaches that a genuine union must always include a readiness for mutual and freely offered service.
(Translation by Zenit and Register)