What if the Priest says no?

Katrina Fernandez…aka The Crescat has re-emerged at Aleteia. Her purpose in her post is answering a distraught mother’s letter asking how to make her teenage son more reverant at Mass. Before I even clicked I knew the answer–make him become an altar server. Boom. Mic Drop.

But what if the priest says no?

I know what you’re all thinking, no priest would ever discourage a possible young altar server, especially a male one. I thought that too until a few years ago when an older friend with many kids attempted to do just that in her small town with only one parish and her priest said no.

His reason: it is a job for those who want to serve not those who do not.

It has become quite the internet discussion lately about how young men serving at the altar is the awakening of a vocation.  It has usually surrounded the debate about girls serving at the altar. And while the question of vocation swirls around this being a job for boys and not girls the idea of this being the birth of a vocation can be used just as persuasively for some boys not to serve.

The meat of this priest’s argument was that it is not true service if one is forced into it. It is an argument also used by parents regarding “mandatory community service projects” for Confirmation or even graduation. Sure, sometimes a kid finds they like feeding the homeless or working with disabled children but more often than not, they go back to life and maybe volunteer around the holidays. I’ve had all but one kid to volunteer in various programs leave when the work was done and never be heard from again.

This priest interviewed each boy who “applied” (we’ll get to that in a minute) to serve and then allowed those he chose to proceed into training. He explained to the mother that no, he didn’t believe every boy who was trained was necessarily priest material or had a burgeoning vocation, but each of those boys wanted to be there. They wanted to serve. His first question was “what makes you want to be an altar server” and an answer of “my parents are making me” typically did land the young man “out of service” but the priest did have many follow-up questions so it wasn’t always automatic.

So when this mom found herself hearing “thanks but no thanks.” She was, understandably, upset. She didn’t have the option of driving over 100 miles each way tothe next closest parish to force her son to serve so she did what she could and complained to the Bishop. The Bishop backed the priest up.

In this case, there was more than just the priest’s original argument though. Remember I said boys had to “apply?” Well, at this particular parish there were a surplus of boys who actually wanted to serve. So many, in fact, that even all the trained young men sometimes would only get to serve once every six to eight weeks. It’s a problem I think most of our parishes would welcome.

When she told the story years ago, I also got the impression that this priest also felt like he was a pawn in a parenting agenda. “I want my kid to be more pious, so I’ll dump him on Father.” It seemed like the priest had been there and didn’t appreciate that particular method of parenting even when it wasn’t necessarily intended that way on the parent’s part.

We want holy priests who are answering the call of their vocation, not whose mom’s made them do it. I can understand how a priest may feel similarly with those serving at the altar with him during Mass.

I think Katrina is on to something as boys tend to be “doers,” but the fact remains, it might not be entirely up to us or as simple as contacting the person in charge of the ministry and dropping them off for training.

This is what my friend did when the priest said no and the Bishop backed him up:

  1. Kept making him go to Mass and tied everything “important” to him (sports, etc) to his attendance and his participation.
  2. Forced him to keep going to Catechism. Pope Francis has said in his new children’s book that we go to Catechism “to meet Jesus.” He’s right. The more we know, the more likely we are to feel engaged to meet Jesus through sacred Scripture and the Eucharist and other sacraments.
  3. Go to Eucharistic Adoration. They went as often as they could and made the kids come along. Friar Gabriel has a powerful story of how this actually solidified his vocation.
  4. Pray often with and for your child. Ask for St Monica’s intercession. She knows a thing or two about rebellious kids and faith, that’s for sure.

The great thing about what my friend did that she readily tells people, it can all be done for girls as well. Someone has in fact asked that question in one of the places I saw, what about girls? A few years later when this same friend had a daughter in a similar predicament, she didn’t have anything like altar serving to plug her into. This experience ended up being fruitful for her in a very unexpected way.

I do think it’s a great idea to get son’s involved in the Mass at the altar, but if that doesn’t work out, as it might not, take heart, all is not lost for nothing ever is with God.