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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Altar server program provides grounds to foster vocations"

From The Colorado Catholic Herald
By Patty O'Connell

COLORADO SPRINGS. One more way of fostering vocations has been established in the diocese in the form of a server/acolyte program at Corpus Christi Parish. The system allows young servers to work toward the acolyte-in-training level, which Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan said he believes can encourage boys and young men to have a greater awareness of their calling from God.

Under the guidance of Father Mark Zacker, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, the program emphasizes liturgical reverence and teaches servers to value their presence on the altar. Participants achieve various ranks by taking written and oral tests and accepting more responsibilities on the altar. Although servers include both boys and girls, only boys may achieve the rank of acolyte-in-training and are distinguished by the wearing of black-and-white cassocks and surplices.

The term "acolyte server" should not be confused with the liturgical term which refers to seminarians installed as "acolytes" in a diocese. This official acolyte role is reserved strictly for men in the seminary. However, according to church guidelines, altar servers may attain the rank of acolyte server.

Corpus Christi recently held a celebration for their acolytes-in-training, which was attended by Bishop Sheridan. The bishop wanted to encourage the boys in their service at the altar, and urge them to continue to the highest ranks. He said he appreciates this program because it encourages more children to serve.

"This is a response to what the Holy See is asking for. This is not just a matter of rote training. We teach them about the altar and Mass, and it may be the beginning of a vocation," Bishop Sheridan said. "It has been proven that priests come from the ranks of servers."

This, in fact, was the case for Father Zacker, who was an altar server from third grade through part of his high school years.

"I’ve had nothing but positive comments about this program," he said. "I wanted to raise the bar for the servers. They’ve accepted these responsibilities."

Mark Smith, a junior at Coronado High School, is an acolyte-in-training and is currently achieving the requirements to become a full acolyte server after which Bishop Sheridan will conduct an installation ceremony.

"I like being involved with younger kids in the parish and train them," Smith said. "I meet more people of the parish because I’m working with their kids and the parents come to me and talk to me. It makes me more attentive to what’s going on in the Mass.

"I think it unifies the community. It’s fun to see other people excited for their faith. I can see the younger kids striving to become acolytes-in-training."

After he is installed as a full acolyte server, Smith can serve Father Zacker as Master of Ceremonies for special Masses.

According to the 2004 document "Redemptionis Sacrementum" from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: "It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed "servers," provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension" (No. 47).

At Corpus Christi, Father Zacker said he wanted the best of the best to be accepted into this program, which incorporates the patens during holy Communion, swinging processional torches, the ringing of bells during consecration, and on special occasions, incense. There is a strict dress code, and servers must come to each Mass dressed appropriately, whether they are scheduled to serve or not, just in case they are needed. They are interviewed and tested at various levels and are expected to take their responsibilities seriously. Acolytes-in-Training can also be named as captains of a team.

"I like being one of the people in charge," said Tommy Ambuul, 12, an Acolyte-in-Training and team captain. "I find serving makes me closer to God."

Ed Wilmes is the father of 11-year-old Mark Wilmes, who is a pre-aclolyte, and 13-year-old Justin Wilmes, who is an acolyte-in-training. Wilmes believes this program has called attention to the sacredness of the liturgy.

"I think the program is excellent because it brings reverence to the Mass which is what the Mass deserves," he said. "The congregation is more apt to follow in that reverence. The kids are learning about the Mass. Serving in this way becomes a seed for the priesthood."

This summer, Father Zacker took all of the servers to a Colorado Springs Sky Sox baseball game as an appreciation for their dedication and service to this rigorous program.

"Before this program, I was begging for servers at every Mass," said Father Zacker. "Now we have plenty."

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