Pope Benedict XVI met with 42,000
pilgrims during his general audience on Aug. 2. It was his first general
audience after his month-long summer vacation in the
Donning a scarf that the altar servers were wearing and that they had presented to him, the Holy Father jokingly thanked them for allowing him to join their ranks as an altar server once again. “More than 70 years ago, in 1935, I started out as an altar server, which then turned into a long journey on this path,” he noted. He told them that he intended to resume his series of teachings on the Twelve Apostles that he began at the beginning of summer, but explained that all of the apostles shared something in common: “In short, we can say that they were Jesus’ ‘friends.’ He himself referred to them as such during the Last Supper when he said to them: ‘I no longer call you slaves. … I have called you friends.’”
Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that this friendship in available to each and every person today and that altar servers share in this personal relationship with Jesus. “Because you know him and because you know him as a friend, you are able to give witness to him and bring him to other people,” he said. “You will able to be, each in your own way, his disciples and apostles.”
“The way to friendship with Jesus has its source and its culminating point in the Eucharist,” the Holy Father continued. “You are very close to Jesus in the Eucharist and this is the greatest sign of his friendship for each one of us. Don’t forget this.”
Pope Benedict XVI encouraged altar servers to be on guard so that their service in the Church does not become merely an automatic habit. “Rediscover every day that something great is happening, that the living God is in our midst, and that you can be close to him and help others so that his mystery is celebrated and gathers people together.” He concluded his address with the following appeal: “Always be friends and apostles of Jesus Christ!”
Dear Altar Servers,
I am happy that my first audience
after my vacation in the
I would like to do so by referring to the topic of my catechesis of these past few months. As some of you perhaps know, I have been discussing the personalities of the Apostles during my Wednesday general audiences, starting with Simon — to whom the Lord gave the name Peter — and his brother Andrew, followed by two other brothers, St. James, referred to as “the Greater,” who was the first martyr among the apostles and St. John, the theologian and evangelist, and finally James, called “the Less.” During future audiences, I plan to continue a presentation on each individual apostle through whom, we might say, the Church becomes something very personal. However, let us reflect today on a common theme: the type of person the apostles were. In short, we can say that they were Jesus’ “friends.” He himself referred to them as such during the Last Supper when he said to them: “I no longer call you slaves. … I have called you friends.” (John 15:15).
They became — and were able to be — apostles and witnesses to Christ because they were his friends, because they knew him thanks to this friendship, and because they were close to him. They were joined together by a bond of love to which the Holy Spirit gave life. From this perspective, we are able to understand the theme of your pilgrimage: Spiritus vivificate (The Spirit Enlivens). It is the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who gives live. He is the one who gives life to our relationship with Jesus in a way that it is not simply an exterior act — “We know that he lived and that he is present in the Sacrament” — but he changes this relationship into a deep, intimate relationship of friendship that is truly personal and capable of giving meaning to the life of each one of you. Because you know him and because you know him as a friend, you are able to give witness to him and bring him to other people. Seeing you here before me today in St. Peter’s Square, I am reminded of the apostles and I hear Jesus’ voice saying to you: “I no longer call you slaves but friends: Remain in my love and you will bear fruit” (John 15:9-16).
I invite you to listen to this voice! Christ did not say it only 2000 years ago; he is alive and he is saying it to you now. Listen to this voice with great openness; he has something to say to each one of you. Perhaps he will tell some of you, “I want you to serve me in a special way as a priest, becoming my witness in this way, by being my friend and introducing others to this friendship.” Therefore, listen to Jesus’ voice with faith. Each person has a different vocation, but Christ wishes to have a friendship with everyone, just as he did with Simon whom he called Peter, and with Andrew, James, John and the other apostles. He has given you his word and will continue to do so you can know the truth, so you can truly know man’s condition, and so you can know how to live righteously and how to face life so that it becomes genuine. You will able to be, each in his own way, his disciples and apostles.
Reverence and Devotion
My beloved altar servers, you are already Jesus’ apostles! When you take part in the liturgy by carrying out your service at the altar, you are offering a witness to everyone. May your reverence and your devotion, which flow from your heart and are expressed in your gestures, singing and responses, be done in a way that is fitting and in no way a distraction, so that your witness is a witness that touches people. The way to friendship with Jesus has its source and its culminating point in the Eucharist. You are very close to Jesus in the Eucharist and this is the greatest sign of his friendship for each one of us. Don’t forget this. It is for this reason that I say to you: Don’t grow too accustomed to this gift so that it becomes a kind of habit, something that you do automatically, but rediscover every day that something great is happening, that the living God is in our midst, and that you can be close to him and help others so that his mystery is celebrated and gathers people together.
If you do not give into habit and if you let your service flow out of your most intimate being, then you will truly be his apostles and you will bear the fruit of goodness and service in every area of your life: your family, your school, and your free time. Share the love that you receive in the liturgy with everyone, especially wherever you notice that love is lacking and that people are not experiencing goodness and are suffering and alone. With the strength of the Holy Spirit, try to bring Jesus to those people who are isolated and unloved, to those people who have problems. This is where you can bring Jesus through the strength of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the Bread that you see broken upon the altar will be divided and multiplied and you, like the Twelve Apostles, will help Jesus distribute it among the people of this age and in different situations in life. Thus, my last words to you, my beloved altar servers, are these: Always be friends and apostles of Jesus Christ!