success stories

Posted December 30, 2003

An Often Overlooked Tool For Attracting Vocations to the Religious Life

Role of altar servers has diminished,
say survey respondents

By Brandon Evans
Catholic News Service

INDIANAPOLIS -- Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general of the Indianapolis Archdiocese and pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, describes altar serving as a lost art and an underused tool in promoting vocations.

"I think there's been neglect of the ministry of server," the priest said. "In other words, the attitude is kind of like, well, we don't really need them."

Msgr. Schaedel was one of more than 100 respondents to an informal survey on altar servers sent this year to 150 parishes in the archdiocese by the archdiocesan newspaper, The Criterion.

He noted that the role of altar servers has possibly been minimalized because many of their duties have been made optional. He also thinks servers need to be well-trained or the parish is missing something.

"I think kids appreciate being taught how to do something correctly," he said. "I think they appreciate doing it and feeling good about it."

Shirley Dreyer of the Serra Club of Indianapolis said that serving gives young people "a feeling of real responsibility and (being) part of the liturgy."

That feeling of responsibility, if fostered, can translate into something larger, many respondents said.

Father Anthony Volz, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, said past servers "are people who are very active in parishes today."

"It's a training ground for ministry, not just religious, but all ministry," said Mary Jo Lowe, a member of the liturgy committee at St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville.

The experience can also lead young people to think about a religious vocation. Several priests who responded to The Criterion's survey noted that their experience as altar servers prompted them to consider their vocation.

"I think serving helps you see the Mass from a different point of view," said James Vincent, a recent graduate of Jennings County High School and member of St. Anne Parish in Jennings County. He said being an altar server helped him to know his parish priest better and to see him as a role model.

Father Rick Eldred, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville, said that he thinks that altar serving is "a great builder for vocations."

And that doesn't just mean vocations for young men.

Dreyer said that girls who serve will be drawn more deeply into the liturgy and feel more involved. She said anything that brings them closer to worship "will certainly awaken in these girls a spiritual attitude."

In 1994, the Vatican decreed that an authentic interpretation of the Code of Canon Law meant that both boys and girls could be altar servers. Final decisions were left up to each bishop.

In the Indianapolis Archdiocese, 53 percent of servers are male and 47 percent are female. Even in the smaller parishes in the archdiocese, most of them rural, girls still make up about 40 percent of servers.

The amount of attention paid to servers varies from parish to parish.

Each year the Serra Club in the Indianapolis Archdiocese gives outstanding server awards to an altar server from each parish.

But when parishes were asked if they did anything special for their altar servers, such as a pizza party or a trip to an amusement park, one in four parishes said they did.

"I think that's a real poverty for any ministry," said Father Joseph Moriarty, vocations director. He added that even on a basic level children can be inspired to sign up for serving consistently if they know that they will have a fun event planned for them at the end of the year.

He and Msgr. Schaedel also thought young people should be given more opportunities to serve, particularly at daily Mass.

While some parishes may feel having adult servers is an option, especially for daily Mass, Msgr. Schaedel cautioned that children should be given the first priority.

"It is one of the few roles during the liturgy that children can do and do well," he said. "I think in encouraging vocations, and just from the standpoint of getting them involved in some kind of liturgical role, this is something that children can do, and if we don't offer them the opportunity as often as possible I think we're missing the boat."