The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster celebrated the National Mass for Altar Servers at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 9 March 2013.
The annual Mass is organised by the Archconfraternity of St Stephen. More than 1000 Altar Servers came from the Dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Brentwood, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Plymouth, Southwark, Hexham as well as East Anglia and Westminster,
In his homily the Archbishop suggested that the letters of the word ‘altar’ stand for adore, love, thank, ask and receive – which lie at the heart of serving at mass. He went on to ask the servers to pray for the Cardinals in Rome who begin the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI who may “guide and shepherd his flock throughout the world”.
The full text of the homily is below:
“’Lord, let me see your face, know your heart and experience your love in my life. Strengthen in me the precious gift of faith. I believe Lord, help my unbelief. Amen.’ This prayer in the Year of Faith could well have been said by St. Stephen because he had been given a glimpse of the face of God – the glory of heaven. He knew the love of God in his life, he wanted his faith to be strong, yet he faced great testing in the moments of his martyrdom. Those words can be our prayer too as we go day by day about our daily life and also as we prepare once a week, maybe more often, to fulfill the role of serving at the altar.
It is lovely to see this great Cathedral with so many altar servers, and dressed in the part. I thank you all for coming, thank you all for coming in this Year of Faith and in this very special time in the history of the Church. Today you renew your dedication to serving at the altar and I would just like to suggest something to you that you might take away from the Cathedral this afternoon and think of every time you begin the task of serving at the altar. I just like to look at the word altar and see what it suggests to me. Beginning with the letter A, it suggests that the most important part of the mass and thus of serving at the altar is that we are serving and adoring God. And that should always lead the way, shape our hearts and our behavior. Secondly is the letter L – we are there at Mass, we offer to serve, people come to Mass because they love the Lord, because they know the Lord’s love in their lives and because they want to show that love in generosity. Then comes the letter T – which stands for thanksgiving. As we partake at the Mass, especially as we serve at the Mass we are thanking God for the death of Christ on the Cross through which we are lifted from our failings and our sins. The mass is the great act of thanksgiving. And that too shapes our willingness to do things to the best of our ability because we want to show our thanks to God as clearly as possible. We have two more letters to go. The second A stands for asking. When we come to mass and when we realise the immensity of God’s love for us and of his gift, then we ask him for all we need and we do it confidently because we have seen the wonder of God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus, and as we are reminded, God gives us himself in Christ then will he not also give all good things that we need. Finally the R at the end of the word altar, stands for receive - at Mass we receive the greatest of gifts which is that blessing and God’s presence of Christ in the Holy Communion. The letters of altar remind us of what lies at the heart of our action and what it is to prepare our hearts to do – to adore, to love, to thank, to ask and to receive.
Now at this Mass today, there is one particular thing that we are going to ask for, and that corresponds to this very remarkable moment in the life of the Church when we gather and we do not have a Holy Father, a Pope in Rome. When it comes to that part of the Mass, when we normally mention the name of the Holy Father there is silence today, because we are waiting for the successor of Pope Benedict to be chosen. As you know that task falls to the Cardinals of the Church who on Tuesday morning enter a conclave until they chose a successor to Pope Benedict and today during this Mass we pray that God will guide them, that God will use them, that God will give us through them a Holy Father that he wants us to have. One way to think about this is to think what happens every time you pick up a pen to write. You can’t write without a pen, but nor does the pen do the writing on its own. It is your mind, your arm, your hand that forms the words that the pen writes. And in some ways, the Cardinals who gather in the conclave on Tuesday are like a pen in the hand of God. And we pray that what they write will come from the mind and the will of the Lord who will use them to write the name of our new Holy Father. So during this Mass that is our prayer, that the Lord will give us a Pope in succession of Benedict XVI who will guide and shepherd his flock throughout the world. So let’s say the prayer again: “Lord let me see your face, know your heart and experience your love in my life. Strengthen in me the precious gift of faith. I believe Lord, help my unbelief. Amen.’”