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What is an altar server?
Just as the name tells us, an altar server is an person who '"serves" or helps the priest who is at the altar. This serving or helping, is usually done at the Divine Liturgy. Therefore it is very important to understand what Divine Liturgy is.
The word "Liturgy" comes from the Greek word "litourgia" which means "work" . Divine Liturgy is a very holy work of the people of God led by the priest. Here is an outline of the holy "work" that happens in the Divine Liturgy.
a.) The people of God gather in the church building. They have come to worship God, to praise Him, to hear His Word, and to be spiritually nourished (fed), so that when they leave they can live a good Christian life, united with Christ and with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
b.) The priest prepares the bread and wine which will become the Holy Eucharist - Holy Communion (the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ) which will be given to the faithful.
c.) LITURGY OF THE WORD:
In the first part of the Divine Liturgy, there are hymns, petitions, chanting of psalms from the Old Testament, reading of the epistle and Gospel, and preaching of the Word. Some of this work is done by the people and some by the priest. Everybody is praying together and listening to what God is telling them on that Sunday. This helps to prepare everyone to receive Holy Communion.
d) LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST (HOLY COMMUNION):
In the second part, the bread and wine are brought forth and consecrated - changed by the Holy Spirit to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, even though they still look like bread and wine. This is a very great holy mystery. It means that we believe that Jesus Christ is really and truly there at the altar, in the chalice, waiting to be received by the faithful. After the faithful have received Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, they give thanks to God and are dismissed.
What does an altar server do?
How holy and important is the work of the Divine Liturgy! As with any important work, there are many things to do. The priest can do everything by himself, if he has to, but it is much easier when there are helpers. Sometimes, there is a deacon who helps the priest. Sometimes there is an "elder" who helps to light the charcoal for the censer and changes the candles. But the best help around the altar during the Divine Liturgy comes from the young altar servers. There are many things they can do.
1. Altar servers can carry candles and lead all processions in the liturgy. They also hold candles for the reading of the Gospel. A lit candle reminds us of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. It is very important to hold the candle up in such a way that the light is above the head.
2. An altar server can pass the censer to the priest when he needs it, and then put it back on its stand.
3. An altar server can ring the altar bells at special times. The bells make a joyful sound and remind the people that something important is going on.
4. An altar server can assist the priest at Holy Communion time by holding a special cloth or plate below the chin of each person that comes to Communion. This is because the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is so holy and precious that we would not want even the slightest drop or crumb to fall to the floor
5. Whenever there is an anointing and distribution of blessed bread (usually on a great feast day), an altar server can hold the oil vial, or the plate of bread, or pass out holy cards.
6. An altar server can help to light candles and put them out after the service.
What is expected of the altar server?
With such a holy work as this, it is not surprising that the altar server must be prepared in mind and heart before serving. Here are the most important things that are expected of the altar server.
a. The altar server must regularly attend Sunday Divine Liturgy, even when not scheduled to serve. The altar server stands as an example to everyone of a good faithful Christian. If an altar server comes to church only once in a long while and then comes to the altar, this is a very bad example to the people of God.
b. The altar server must regularly receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) - at least before the great feasts of the year - Christmas, Easter, and Praznyk, but more often is even better. This is to help the altar server to be pure of heart when serving in the presence of the Lord. God understands that everyone sins sometimes, but God is also overjoyed when the sinner is sorry for his sins and asks forgiveness.
c. The altar server must be clean and neat when coming to serve at the altar. Hands must be washed.
d. The altar server must make a habit of prayer. Praying in the morning and in the evening and often during the day on a regular basis, helps the altar server to be better prepared to serve at the altar during the most holy prayer of all - the Divine Liturgy.
e. The altar server must follow the rules of proper behaviour in the church, and most especially at the altar. There should be no talking, giggling, gum chewing, fidgeting, or slouching around the altar. If an altar server concentrates on the "work" then there should be no problem with these things. An altar server should always keep in mind that it is a great honour to serve at the altar and that an altar server is greatly respected and appreciated by the parish. Young children look up to the altar servers, thinking of the day when they too may serve.