Homily of the Bishop, given at the annual Mass for altar servers (September 2018)
On Saturday, the 22nd of September, the Bishop welcomed altar servers from all over the Diocese and their families to the Cathedral church of S. Barnabas for the Annual Guild of S. Stephen Mass. The music at Mass was provided by the choir from the English Martyrs Catholic Academy, from Leicester. A photo-set from this event can be seen by clicking here. The following is the homily given by the Bishop to his servers.
"My dear altar servers, I would like to invite you to think a little about the Mass as a meeting place, as a place of real encounter with Christ Jesus. Here Jesus invites each of us to really encounter him, to have a heart to heart with him; for when we all gather for Mass, and you prepare yourself to serve at Mass, Christ is present to us in several ways: he is present in all of us whom he gathers together here as his family, he is present in his word in the sacred scriptures, in the priest or the bishop whom he has called to preside at our celebration of Mass, and he is present, above all, when we receive him in Holy Communion
"So while we all join in making together the responses to the various parts of the Mass, which, if we’re honest as altar servers we can sometimes do on auto pilot, without any real thought or personal engagement with the words we say, because we know the responses by heart. Instead Christ invites us all of us here in Mass to open our hearts to him – to be present to Him just as he is present to us. Why? Because Christ loves each of us, and is deeply interested in all that is going in our lives. So while much of your serving happens here around the altar, Mass is not just about what happens at the altar, most important though that is. Your involvement in the celebration of Mass is also very much about what is happening in our own hearts, in our own sometimes sometimes confused hearts, and pressurised lives. Here in Mass we remember and celebrate what Christ Jesus has done for us; the giving of his life for love of us as a sacrifice upon the cross and his Father raising Him from the dead; the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church to help us to be Christ’s disciples; and we celebrate that Jesus gave us himself to be for us the Bread of Life, so that he could feed us spiritually and so bring us his strength, comfort and healing forgiveness to help us face the challenges and difficulties of life that, whatever our age, we all experience; so that we would know that we are never on our own and that Jesus who loves us never gives up on us. He is truly present here at Mass, and here at Mass he wishes to meet us, just as we are at this moment in our lives, so that this Mass can be a true encounter between Christ and each of us.
"So what’s asked of us? Simply this, to bring to Christ in Mass today all that is going on in your life, in your heart: the good stuff, the people who make you happy and care for you, your hopes and desires, and also your troubles, the things that make you anxious and the ways in which you’ve messed up. Is there anything we can’t bring to Christ? Nothing! The Lord is interested in and cares about all that we each face in our daily lives, for He loves you so much and He wants each of you to be his friends and to grow in friendship with Him. So be honest with Christ as you encounter him. Let Mass be a real heart to heart between yourself and Christ and, my dear altar servers, I assure you that you will find yourself more and more caught up in the rich and wonderful experience of Mass. When you serve, you are much more than simply helping the priest to celebrate Mass well, by assisting him as you do. When you serve at Mass, and in the liturgy in general, you are serving Christ Jesus himself! What a great privilege and honour! So try to develop your personal friendship with Christ Jesus at Mass, and in your own daily prayer so that in Jesus you discover you have found a true friend for life.
"How happy I would be if something more sprang from your friendship with Christ Jesus. How wonderful it would be if some of you were to discover that Christ is calling you to serve Him as a priest or religious; or if some of you girls or young women were to find that the Lord is calling you to the consecrated life. So also, the call from the Lord to the sacrament of marriage, which some of you older servers have heard and responded to, also includes, does it not, a life of generous self-giving and service. The call from Christ to be an altar server can help you to discover what the Lord may be asking of you as you grow up.
"My dear altar servers, that’s my cue to thank your parents who ensure that you get to Mass on time and who are generous in helping you to serve and to be faithful to your altar serving and service of Christ himself. I also thank all those older altar services who show good example and so help our younger servers to grow in reverence and holiness. Thank you all for being altar servers in your parishes, schools and chaplaincies. Always serve with reverence, care and love, and then you will help others at Mass to pray and to encounter Christ and to be filled with his love. May God bless each of you. St Stephen, pray for us."