Want to nurture young Catholics? Here. Try this.

We installed new altar servers at my parish this morning: 38 kids, the largest class ever. This brings the grand total of servers to something close to 150 (not sure the exact number…it might be 140.)  The picture here shows the new recruits lined up in the main foyer of the rectory, waiting for the cue to process in for the 11:30 Mass.

The kids range in age from about the fifth grade all the way up to college, and even beyond. It’s not uncommon for the older kids to train and mentor the younger ones. A handful of the older ones also serve in the “Prelates Guild,” assisting the pastor (an auxiliary bishop) at his Masses by handling the miter and crossier.

The group is evenly divided between boys and girls. All wear cassocks and surplices. And to say they love what they do would be an understatement. These kids show up for everything. Everybody wants to be there for the Triduum, for Midnight Mass, for various processions. Often, you don’t need to schedule them. During Lent, we ask for three or four kids to carry torches and the cross for the Stations of the Cross; we routinely get 12 or 15. And this, on a Friday night in the winter.

I’m not sure what the secret is. David James, the grad student and young husband (soon to be young father) who runs the servers, brings enthusiasm and passion to it, and I know that’s infectious. And there’s something else: the kids feel a part of something good. At a time when so many kids are being pulled into factions and gangs, tempted by every distraction imaginable (and a few that aren’t), the altar server society at my parish is a good gang—a place where kids feel happy and helpful. They have a chance to be a part of something extraordinary and beautiful.

The benefits are immeasurable. Very often, because the kids have to be at church, that draws the parents, too. People who might not otherwise have made church a habit are finding themselves in the pews on Sunday, beaming proudly as their son or daughter leads the procession for Mass. And after the seed is planted, it grows. I’ve lost count of the number of altar servers who have gone on to ministry as lectors, EMHCs or choir members. At a time when it’s not uncommon for kids to lose interest in church after confirmation, the boys and girls in the altar server society stick with it. Church and liturgy are part of their upbringing, and something they love being a part of.

God bless ’em all.  I couldn’t be more proud.

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