Bishop John Sherrington encourages altar servers ‘to stand up for your faith’
(left: Bishop John Sherrington)
Bishop John Sherrington, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, celebrated the National Mass for Altar Servers at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 29 September 2012. The annual Mass is organised by the Archconfraternity of St Stephen. Speaking to altar servers who had come from the Dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Middlesborough, Leeds, Nottingham, Plymouth and Hexham & Newcastle as well as East Anglia and Westminster, Bishop Sherrington said:“Being a server also means facing opposition; sometimes others making fun of you because you go to Mass and serve. This is unfair but requires courage to stand up for what you know is right and good. I encourage you to be faithful to serving and to persevere, especially when it is difficult. It will make you courageous and ready to stand up for your faith. So be confident. Remember always to ask Saint Stephen to help you; we can always say: Saint Stephen, pray for me.”
The full text of the homily is below:
“I would like to welcome you to Westminster Cathedral this afternoon as we celebrate the National Mass for Altar Servers. Welcome to those of you from the diocese and to those of you who have travelled considerable distances to be here today.Welcome to our beautiful Cathedral which has witnessed such wonderful events in our Catholic history such as the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982 and the visit of Her Majesty the Queen in 1995. Today you sit in seats which are well-worn because of the millions who have visited this Cathedral and prayed here over the years and continue to do so each day.
As you look around, and I hope you will have time to look around, you will see mosaics and pictures of saints and martyrs. You can identify the saints who have loved Jesus and become holy through their lives of heroic witness. Here you will see the remains of the body of Saint John Southworth, our own saint, who was a priest and served the poor and the plague victims of London and who was martyred for his faith in 1654. These saints around you lived their lives loving and serving Christ and by serving others. They were all men and women of great courage. They did not live for a gold medal, they did for the gift of eternal life, to be with God for ever in heaven and to praise him – this was their medal, a crown of glory in heaven. They did not run on the athletics track or cycle in the Velodrome but they lived their whole lives in friendship of Jesus, loving God and their neighbour. As Pope Benedict reminded us when he was in England, you too are called to become holy, to become a saint, and to use your gifts for the good of others in love and service. This has begun in your service at the altar.
It is very good to gather as altar servers today to celebrate the important ministry in which you serve Christ, help the priest and people to pray and to celebrate the Mass. When we serve with dignity, care and love then we help others to pray. We are inspired by the life and death of Saint Stephen, the first martyr and patron of altar servers. In the first reading we heard of his life and death. He was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. He spoke and preached about Jesus, his message of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. He won many arguments and spoke the truth about life because he was helped by the Holy Spirit. His life and witness to Jesus and the truth infuriated many of his listeners who ground their teeth at him and stoned him to death. In all this Stephen trusted in the Lord and praised God. We look forward to the day when the mosaic of St Stephen, which is being planned and prepared, will be completed in the Cathedral.
One of the people who was watching the death of Stephen and who was pleased with what happened was Saul. You will remember that later Saul was knocked from his horse on the road to Damascus, brought to conversion and became Saint Paul. I often wonder if at that moment when he fell from the horse and hit the ground, he remembered the peacefulness with which Saint Stephen went to his death. Perhaps the good life of Stephen made Saul wonder about his own life?
It is not always easy to be an altar server. It means getting up early in the morning and making sacrifices in order to be faithful. I remember that as a child, I became an altar server after my first holy communion and was assigned to Thursday morning 7 o’clock Mass every week. The two boys who served that Mass are now priests – me, a bishop here in Westminster, the other a priest in Nottingham. The mysteries of God’s plan! Being a server also means facing opposition; sometimes others making fun of you because you go to Mass and serve. This is unfair but requires courage to stand up for what you know is right and good. I encourage you to be faithful to serving and to persevere, especially when it is difficult. It will make you courageous and ready to stand up for your faith. So be confident. Remember always to ask Saint Stephen to help you; we can always say: Saint Stephen, pray for me.
I invite you to look at medal which shows that you are a member of the Guild of Saint Stephen. The words read, CUI SERVIRE REGNARE EST – TO SERVE IS TO REIGN. This reminds us that serving at the altar is serving Christ and that the reward of one who serves will reign in the Kingdom of heaven and be with him. The CHI- RO symbol as you know are the first two letters in Greek of the word for CHRIST. This relationship with Jesus Christ began at your baptism, has been deepened through confirmation and in deepened every time you serve and receive Holy Communion. This relationship is most precious so be faithful in your daily prayers and persevere in serving Christ through your ministry at the altar. I encourage you and thank you. I also thank your parents who ensure you get to Mass on time and are generous in helping you to serve and be faithful. I also thank all those adults who help our younger servers to grow in reverence and holiness.
May God bless each one of you.
St. Stephen, pray for us.
Bishop John Sherrington
29 September 2012