I found this at Fr. Z, and thought it was worth a share. It’s a very reverent look at the role of the “altar boy” (in this case, not a boy but a man), what he needs to bring to his job, and what he does for the mass itself. The focus is pretty clearly on the extraordinary form, but the observations apply to the NO as well.
I worked in the church, in various capacities, for all of my teenage years, and my first role was as an altar boy. I’d like to say that I consistently approached my task with veneration and piety, but we were young boys, and messed around like you’d expect young boys to do: steeling sips of wine, trying to trip each other up, and playing pranks in the sacristy.
The thing is, I do remember periods of grace and transcendence that I experienced while serving, even when I was little more than a bored, easily distracted little punk. I had undeniable mystical experiences even at a young age, which I only began to understand much later.
I also got to know priests quite well. Most of them were grand men who enriched my life. A couple were petty bullies. (And, no, in all the many years I worked and served, there was never a hint of a whisper about abuse.) The severing of the relationship between boys and priests is one of the sad peripheral casualties of the scandals. (Admit it: when I said the once-benign phrase “boys and priests,” your first image was of sexual abuse, not of a mentoring relationship.) I don’t think it can be mended, and a great deal was lost not due to the actions of the priests (the abusers were a tiny minority) but by the episcopacy that failed to handle issues when they happened. Coupled with the introduction of girls into this male realm, the system that allowed priests to nurture vocations and mentor young men is gone. (See also: “Vocations crisis: reasons for…”)
And that’s a shame, because there was an element of calling to the job. We may not have always been worthy of that call, but I hope I became somewhat more worthy in time, and I’m certainly a better man for having served.