Pope John Paul II Speaks to Altar Servers
On August 12, 2001 Pope John Paul II spoke to more than two thousand young men and women altar servers gathered in Rome. His remarks have been slightly edited for use here.
Dear altar servers! Yesterday you crossed St. Peter’s square in a long procession to be near the basilica’s altar of Confession (over the tomb of St. Peter). By so doing, you prolonged in some way the path that the youth of the world began in the Holy Year. The motto of your pilgrimage to the Eternal City, “Toward a New World”, is a sign of your willingness to take your Christian vocation seriously.
I greet you affectionately, dear young people, and I am happy that this meeting has taken place.
Your commitment to the altar is not only a duty, but also a great honor, a genuine holy service. In connection with this service, I wish to propose some reflections to you.
The altar server’s clothing is a very special. It recalls the garment that each one puts on when he is welcomed in .Jesus Christ in the community. I am referring to the baptismal gown, where
with profound meaning St. Paul clarifies: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27)
Even if you, dear altar servers, can no longer fit into your baptismal gown, you have put on (the clothing) of altar servers. Yes, baptism is the point of departure of your “authentic liturgical service,” which places you next to your bishops, priests and deacons.
The altar server occupies a privileged place in the liturgical celebration. The altar server presents himself to a community and experiences firsthand that Jesus Christ is present and active in every liturgical act. Jesus is present when the community comes together to pray and render 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, in the person of Christ, celebrates the holy Mass and administers the sacraments.
Therefore, in the liturgy, you are much more than a simple “helper of the parish priest.” Above all, you are servers of Jesus Christ, of the eternal High Priest. Thus, you, altar servers are called in particular to be young friends of Jesus. 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.
The altar server often has a candlestick in his hand. How can one not think of that which Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). Your service cannot he limited to the inside of a church. It must shine in everyday life; in school, in the family and in different realms of society. Because, whoever wishes to serve Jesus Christ inside a church must be his witness everywhere.
Dear young people! Your contemporaries wait for the real “light of the world” (see John 1:9). Do not hold your candlestick only inside a church, but carry the light of the Gospel to all those who are in darkness and are living through a difficult time in their life.
I have spoken of friendship with Jesus. How happy I would he if something more sprang from this friendship! How beautiful it would be if some of you were to discover a vocation to the priesthood! Jesus Christ has urgent need of youths who will be at his disposition with generosity and no reservations. Moreover, might not the Lord also call one or two of you girls to embrace the consecrated life to serve the Church and the brothers and sisters? Even for those who wish to be united in marriage, the service of altar servers teaches that a real union must always include readiness for reciprocal and free service.