I am one happy Catholic Mom! Both my college boys are home so we have a full house again. They each attend school some 1500 miles away from home so having them return is a treat. Today my husband and I had all of our children in the pew with us. My heart just sings when they are all in the pew or all at the dinner table.
Every Friday evening, my parish holds a Eucharistic Holy Hour. Confessions begin thirty minutes prior to the Holy Hour and continue until the lines are done. Usually we have one or two priests hearing confessions. This past Friday we had three priests and their lines were long. It took over an hour for the priests to finish.
My youngest son was one of the altar servers for this Holy Hour. My college boys came along since they had not yet been to confession during Advent. As I observed the lines, I noticed that my boys were not the only young men waiting to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There were probably at least fifteen young men ranging from late high school age to college age. How uplifting it is to see young men choosing to spend a Friday evening adoring Our Lord and receiving the sacramental grace of Confession. No doubt some of this was the result of a little parental prodding. But I still think we are very blessed that the parish provides the environment that such behavior is not extraordinary. It is very normal.
How did our parish cultivate this culture of faith among our young men? I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question. There are many factors that have come into play. Strong faith filled families and a supportive youth ministry are certainly significant influences. I wonder if having only male altar servers also contributes to the strengthening of the Catholic identity in these young men. We have two servers at each of two daily Masses and six altar servers at each of five weekend Masses. We also have two servers at the weekly Holy Hour. We have a corps of at least 125 servers. They vie for the privilege of serving at the Altar of Our Lord. Our priests provide catechesis to the altar servers at every opportunity and even hear their confessions after they have served at Mass. It creates a strong Catholic bond among our young men. They may be foes on the soccer field on Saturday afternoon, but on Sunday morning they are serving at the altar together.
I know that an all male altar server corps is not the norm around the country. Before I moved the Diocese of Arlington, I would have argued hard that it is only fair that girls get to be altar servers too. However, now that I have seen chivalrous, faithful culture that is created by having only young men serve at the altar, I have become a strong supporter of the all-male altar server policy. The Arlington Diocese recently relaxed its rules and allowed each pastor the discretion to allow girls to serve. I am very grateful that neither our past pastor nor our present pastor has changed our parish policy to allow female altar servers.
Lest you worry that the young ladies of our parish are ignored, we have created an organization known as Fiat for the girls. You can read a little about both our altar server program and Fiat here. We are so blessed to have such energetic priests who support these youth formation programs. I believe we will see the fruits of these efforts in the form of vocations for several generations. Certainly these programs foster the consideration of religious vocations by the current participants, but I also think such strong faith formation will greatly benefit the marital vocations as well. Strong faith filled marriages build strong faith filled families. From these families will come our future priests and consecrated religious.