Published August 19, 2010
Altar servers have recently been in the Catholic news when for the first time girl servers outnumbered the boys at a celebration at the Vatican.
That spurred some recollection of my own when I served as a ‘Knight of the Altar,’ as we were called.
My first thought was: how cool a ministry name is that? Nothing namby pampy about seeing yourself as a knight for a grade school kid.
In truth, a highlight of my service is a story that makes me chuckle.
I’ll set the stage. It would have been early 1980s. I was either in third or fourth grade. Our church – St. Sebastian Church, in Frankfurt, Germany –hosted Cardinal Terrence Cooke, archbishop of New York. He was touring Catholic facilities used by U.S. military families as part of his duties as military vicar.
Time has erased most of my memory of the visit, except when he celebrated Mass.
The small sanctuary was naturally jammed with priests. A cardinal coming through was not a usual occurrence. The one familiar face in the crowd was ‘Father Joe,’ who was either the pastor or a parochial vicar of our parish.
Somehow during the liturgy of the Eucharist, I was assigned the all-important task to ring the bells during the consecration. At the appointed time, I swear the one face I recognized – Fr. Joe – smiled at me and I took it as the signal to ring those bells. I rang them so hard that it was like a heavenly court of angels were present. You’d have been hard pressed to find an altar server ringing bells with more zeal.
Pause. A few moments later, again, ringing those bells like never before.
Later I realized I rung the bells at the wrong time! I used the hand bell during the Eucharistic Prayer leading to the consecration of the bread and wine. During the proper bell ringing moment – when the cardinal would have held up the body and blood of Christ – silence. Not a chime escaped from the bells.
I can only imagine what the cardinal was thinking. A “prince of the church” and he couldn’t have an altar boy who knew when to ring the bells correctly.
You may be thinking that surely brought my service to an end. But you’d be wrong. I continued to serve at the altar for years after. As I followed my brother in this service to the church, I was followed by my younger sister who fainted while serving Midnight Mass. But that’s her story to tell.
–Andrew, Staff Writer