Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Altar Server Mass
Cathedral Basilica SS. Peter and Paul
Sunday, February 5, 2006
Dear Priests and Deacons,
Dear Altar Servers,
Praised be Jesus Christ!
My dear young people, WELCOME! Welcome here to this Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Today, it is a great joy for me to welcome you here, to celebrate this Mass with you and to recognize your service to the Church in your role as altar servers.
You gather here today with people from over 50 parishes in our Archdiocese. You gather here today with fellow altar servers, friends and family. You gather here today with many priests, deacons and religious. And all of us are here today worshipping God together at this Altar. It is indeed good for us to be here!
Every year at this time, we celebrate this special Mass at the Cathedral so that we can all join together in praise of our heavenly Father. At a celebration like this, when we are all gathered together, we can see just how large our Church in Philadelphia is. In fact, our Archdiocese is so large that we need to split into sections those who attend this Mass! We simply cannot fit all the altar servers in Philadelphia into this Cathedral. Today, we welcome here all of you, the servers from the Philadelphia South Vicariate, as well as the Delaware and Chester County Vicariates. Over 800 altars servers are present here!
Friends, we have just listened to God’s holy word proclaimed in the Scriptures. And in today’s readings, we have heard several different stories. Each different but each containing something for us to think about and to ponder.
In the first reading, we heard about a man named Job. Job’s name is spelled, J-O-B, the same way we spell our name for work, the word "job". And if you have ever had a difficult job to do, you can appreciate Job’s entire life. Job was a man who not only had a difficult job, but he had a difficult life. I am sure that some of you even at your young age can relate to this man named Job. I am sure that at times you have experienced hard days at school, hard days at home, or you have had some hard things to do. That is what Job’s life was like. And we hear him today saying, "Life is a drudgery." "I feel like a slave, a hired hand." Job certainly was having difficulties. In many ways, Job’s heart was broken. He was not happy. Perhaps some of you too know what that is like: times when everything seems to be broken, times when you are just not happy.
It was only 6 weeks ago that we celebrated the beautiful feast of Christmas. I am sure all of you here today received some new gifts at Christmas time. I wonder if any of those things you received might be broken today. Or if the batteries have worn out or if the pieces are missing. When that happens, we need to do something to fix it. We have to take it back to the store, get new batteries or get someone to repair it. We have all experienced that. But it is different when it is your heart that is broken, when you are feeling sad. What are we to do then? Who can fix a broken heart? Who can help us when we are sad?
Our responsorial psalm today gives us the answer. "Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted!"
And in the Gospel we see that it is our Lord Jesus Christ who is doing just that. Jesus today is healing sick people, people not only with broken bodies but with sad and broken hearts. Isn’t that wonderful! For we see today Jesus doing what no one else can do. Only Jesus can heal the brokenhearted. No one else can fix a broken heart, only Jesus can and we see that He wants to do just that today.
Why does Jesus do this? He does this because He loves his people and He wants everyone to know His love. In His ministry in today’s Gospel, Jesus remains not just in one spot; He moves around and He wants those whom He has healed to tell others about the gift they have received. To share with others, to serve others with the love they have received from Him.
Friends, there are so many altar servers in this Church today. But what does it mean to be an altar server? Part of it means that you help the priest at Mass, that you are responsible and report for your duties on time and are respectfully dressed. For some of you it even means that you need to wake up extra early in the morning to serve early Masses! This is all part of being an alar server.
But being an altar server means something much more than that. It means that you are someone very special. You are a friend of Jesus. It means that you are a special friend of Jesus. It means that He knows who you are, He knows your name and He is happy that you have chosen to serve him at His altar.
Being an altar server also means that you are connected. And today, we see that connection in a powerful way. We see it first in the albs or robes you are wearing. These show that you are a child of God, that you have put on Christ Jesus. And so, through Him and with Him you are all connected, you are all one with each other and with the whole Church.
We see today the connection in the tasks you do as altar servers. Yes, you come from different churches, from different parish communities. But every Mass, no matter where it is celebrated, is the same. And no matter where you are, the task of the altar server is the same: to bring over water and wine, to wash the priest’s hands, to help him at the altar. This is done at every Mass by every altar server in the world! And this shows that you are connected not only in what you wear but in what you do, serving Jesus at Mass, where Jesus heals the world through His Eucharistic love.
Finally, we see the connection in the call that you all share: the call to serve Jesus. Jesus came on earth to bring His healing to the world, a world that was filled with people who had broken hearts.
We hear about that healing in the Gospel today. But we see that healing in the Eucharist. We see His healing presence as Jesus is made present on the altar.
And so, the work of Jesus continues. And here in service to Jesus at the altar, all of you are indeed connected with Him in His wonderful work of healing the world. It is a work that you are privileged to share as you serve Jesus at the altar.
Dear servers, this is the job that we all have. The task all of us have together as Christians is to live our connection with the Lord. We must live the love of Jesus in our lives.
Young people, when you live that connection with Jesus, when you live the love of Jesus by praying, keeping His commandments and serving others, your life becomes different. You are truly blessed. You find peace and happiness and you become a blessing to others. God begins to use you in a powerful way and His love begins to grow in your hearts. It grows not only within you but it reaches out to others.
This is your job as Christians. Not merely to serve Jesus at the altar but to serve Him by living His love. What a wonderful job, what a wonderful privilege it is, to live the love of Jesus!
Dear servers, this is what our world needs today. Jesus needs you. He needs young people committed to living His love and serving him. And He calls you to do that with generous hearts. In fact, I have no doubt at all that Jesus is even calling many of you young men here today in this Church to serve him as His priests, to serve Him in this special way at the altar. Furthermore, I have no doubt at all that Jesus is calling many of you young women to serve Him as religious sisters, to serve and teach the love of God as Mary did. What a beautiful gift to experience God’s call to be His priest or a religious. Do not be afraid to answer that particular call if it is meant for you.
Finally, as we move on now to celebrate this Eucharistic Sacrifice, I want to thank you for taking the time to come here today, on this Super Bowl Sunday. Thank you for being young people in service to Jesus. And may God’s blessing descend upon you and your families today and forever. Amen.