My Son is an Altar Boy… here are my thoughts.

(Fall, 2006)

by Mandy Drabick

A Catholic mother’s life holds many joys, and without a doubt, one of the greatest is watching her son serve at the altar of God. A priest once told me that a mother could recognize her life to be a success when her children say, “I love you, Mom,” and are also able to add, “and I love God.” What greater reward can a mother receive than to watch her son reverently serve at the foot of the Cross? Garbed in the black cassock and white surplice, he kneels with profound reverence, his hand on his heart and his head bent humbly before the Divine Savior, while the words flow softly from his lips: “…ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam…” — “to God who giveth joy to my youth.”

For a mother it is hard to describe the pride and love that she feels; it makes her so happy that she glows! For the last 15 years now, I have been truly blessed to watch my son reverently serve at the altar of God, his Lord and Master. The very thought of this causes my heart to leap for joy! It brings to mind the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation. Imagine the intense fluttering of joy and maternal pride that would have overwhelmed Elizabeth at the salutation of Mary when the babe in her womb leapt for joy in the presence of the Messiah! The connection between mother, son and Savior —how glorious! Just as Elizabeth could partake in the joy of her beloved child serving and loving the Redeemer of the world, what a tremendous reward mothers are given when they encourage their sons to become Knights of the Altar. Few earthly joys or connections can compare with that between a mother and her son.

Marjory Collins, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I remember the first time this little boy of seven squirmed into a cassock to hold the candle during the Easter Vigil; he was so young! I was so nervous! He was finally old enough to serve, but my heart was anxious. It was very late and he would have to stand a long time. Would he be able to do it? I spent the whole Mass calling down angels and asking them to hold him up. He fidgeted slightly and occasionally swayed, but he had an important duty before him, and in his heart, he would not let God down. Tonight was the beginning — the beginning of a journey that would take a rough and ready little boy and turn him into a gallant Knight of his Lord.

So began the classes, the teaching and the preparation. It was one thing to know where to stand and what to do, but now he had to get his little tongue to speak Latin, and this from a boy who could barely manage the English language! Now he had to learn something that made no sense to him at all. But Father was there — in fact, many priests were there. In these trying days when the Mass is scattered far and wide, the bishop gently juggles his priests to meet the needs of the faithful in pockets all around the world. From this variety of religious men comes the formation and training that is to transform this boy, not only into a man, but into a true knight — a knight who will understand what it means to not only embrace the Cross, but to pick up his sword and prepare to offer his life in the service to his Lord.

Of course, boys will be boys, and so this transformation was not always an easy or a smooth one. The twinkle of mischief begins to develop in the eyes of the two young altar boys. The mother kneeling in the pew has one eye devoted to her Lord, but the other is busy casting a serious look in the direction of her son — a sort of panic mixed with anger. She begins to plead with their guardian angels, “Please give them a shake and get them into line quickly!” Brewing behind those mischievous eyes is a fit of giggles or something that resembles mischief being suppressed. Then somehow, miraculously, Mass is over and the possibilities of disaster have been diverted for yet another week.

Yet, little by little, my little son embraced this duty with all the professionalism of the most important job on earth. He truly enjoys serving Mass and feels that he can use his talents for God. Mass seems so much more meaningful up close and everything seems to go by so quickly when he is at the altar. So the years go on — Christmas to Easter, Sunday after Sunday, Holy Days, Baptisms, weddings, funerals, processions, the Stations of the Cross and, of course, Confirmations. Yes, the bishop is coming — the moment of truth. Everything gets polished from the floors to the candelabra, straight to the altar boys. There is practice and more practice and then practice again.

Slowly, little by little, year after year, a transformation begins to take place. Seemingly overnight, this small boy has suddenly developed into a handsome young man. Thinking himself now of a mature age, he questions why he must still serve as an altar boy; he has most certainly done his duty as a young boy and it is time for the next set of lads to take over. It is very easy to see in this what Jesus meant when He said, “Unless you become as little children you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Little boys — so full of mischief and most unruly at times — hasten to the altar, and if given a badge would proudly proclaim to the whole world, “Yes, I am an altar boy!” They give so lovingly and freely to God, without question.

But with age comes a tendency for many boys to separate themselves from the altar. When they were little, a call from Father was answered with an eager, “Yes! Father needs ME!” But as they grow older, the call is answered more to the tone of, “When will I be too old to serve?” Little by little, he manages to remove himself to the pew where he sits contentedly, Sunday after Sunday, when only occasionally he is called upon to help with Benediction. At such times, he dutifully dons the cassock with all the grace and elegance of a seasoned professional. Approaching the altar, he stands erect and solemn before God. Back in the pews, a mother’s heart leaps with joy: “Yes, that is my son.”

Something special takes place, too, when a grown man puts on a cassock to serve God. Recently my son began to bring a girl he was interested in to Mass. She is a non-Catholic, so she has not seen the Mass and the sacred liturgy before. On one particular Sunday, Benediction took place after Mass and my son left his pew to go about the business at hand. Kneeling reverently before the Divine Savior, he was in his element; silently, with controlled hand gestures and eye movement, he began to direct the younger boys. When a younger server lifted his head as if to say, “What do I do now?, a slight nod of the head or wave of a finger told the boy exactly what he needed to do.

Afterwards, anxious to know what his friend thought, I casually asked, “What did you think of that?” I am not really sure what I expected her to say, but she said, “I liked it a lot!” Yes, she was in awe of what she had just witnessed this young man doing.

It was then that I realized there was so much more than the simple pride of a mother who has taught her son to love God and do his duty. Yes, this is something universal — something that steps out of the bounds of our little church. This is what awaits every man around the world who puts on the cassock and serves God at the foot of His altar. There is not one solitary act that is more inspiring or more impressive than a man who humbles himself before God. To a child it is natural; to a woman it comes easily because she was made to love and to serve. Religious dedicate their entire life to the service of God. The priest wears a Roman collar to tell the world that he serves God. But a man — who was born to lead, whose natural instinct is to be boss — at no other moment is he greater than when he humbles himself before God.

Every action that Christ performed while on earth was an example to us. During the Last Supper when Jesus humbled himself before His Apostles and washed their feet, He gave them an example to follow. Who could not be moved by this? But Peter was shocked and humbled and protested against Jesus washing his feet. But Christ continued, “Unless I do this, Peter, you will have no part with Me.” The Son of God humbles Himself to serve those who serve Him.

What a contrast to many men today who crave worldly pomp and glory — men who desperately want to be seen as great, eagerly following the deceits of Satan. They are led to believe that greatness is found in power, strength and control.

On Holy Thursday, Jesus told us exactly where to find true greatness and how easily it is achieved. A man need not be a king like St. Edward or a soldier like St. George, or a defender of truth like St Thomas More. These great men will be forever written in the pages of history. God, in His goodness, offers true greatness to all men and nowhere is this more apparent than in the heart of the altar boy, the Knight of the Altar, whether he be seven or eighty-seven. Yes, true greatness is found at the foot of the Cross.

–Taken from the Reign of Mary Quarterly Magazine, Issue 124

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