My daughters, 12 and 15, have been alter servers for several years. They are wonderful girls, have servant hearts, and are as enthusiastically Catholic as my husband and I (we are Evangelical converts). I have many health problems (cancer and more cancer) and often don’t make it to Mass but since later in the day is easier for me, we attend the Saturday evening Mass. My dilemma is this: nearly every single Mass my girls attend, Saturday evening, holy days of obligation, etc they are asked to serve. There are other servers signed up and often by adding my daughters there are the full four alter servers. Last week, my youngest said she didn’t want to go to Mass–which is a first. I asked her if it was because she’s always asked to serve and she answered in the affirmative. What do I do? I have raised my girls to be faithful, helpful, independent, able to set boundaries, and I have (age appropriately) encouraged them to make their own decisions. Because of my health and extremely limited energy/wellness, I have learned (it took a long while, people pleaser that I am!) to set and maintain boundaries. I’ve taught this to my daughters as well, being that they have the same cancer disease and may also need to be protective of their time. I am conflicted here, because the girls should probably serve if there is a need. But what constitutes a true need versus the coordinator wanting a whole set of servers differ, in my opinion. Are my girls obligated every time? They have declined before, but without giving a reason it is hard for them when being pressured. That my youngest expressed not wanting to attend Mass to avoid this situation has made me realize the burden and difficult position the girls find themselves in.
Not wanting to serve every single time you go to Mass is not unreasonable. Explain your situation (and your daughters’) to the person in charge of altar servers. It’s one thing if there are no servers available; but if there are servers already in place and they’re just being asked to be extras, that’s another.
Like you, I’m a pleaser. Sounds like your girls are too. Being that way has its blessings but also its challenges. I learned an important lesson about 20 years ago…I had to give myself permission to say no to some things I was asked to do. It was hard at first but in the end, very liberating and very necessary. I used to say yes to everything and quite frankly did a poor job at many things I was not cut out to do or didn’t want to do. Now I feel like when I say yes, I will do a better job and have far less stress. Sounds like you learned that same lesson and passed it along to your daughters. This is one of those times when you have to give yourself permission to say no.
@NevermoreLenore just want you to know I prayed for you during mass yesterday
Simple …I would like our family together at mass. They will be taking time off from serving at mass.
And prayers for you as you and your dear family carry this heroic cross.
no problem at all God is with you always xx
Once you said that you attended Mass on Saturday evening, I knew.
Our parish has a problem finding servers for Saturday evening Mass. The average age of someone in the pew on Saturday night, at our parish, is 65. So we sometimes have to use adult servers.
When Father finds someone that is willing to serve on Saturday night, he seems to always ask them.
Why? Because they are the only ones that he can ask.
I have no greater wisdom to add than what Glennon_P already said. I’ll just reiterate that it’s okay to say no, even for helping out at the parish. Of course, it’s good to help when one can and not to say no for selfish reasons. But that definitely doesn’t seem to be the case in your situation.
This is speaking as one who works in a parish and has to ask people to do things quite regularly. People tell me no all the time.
As the coordinator for my parish:
I put the altar servers on teams based on their Mass preference.
I work up a three month schedule and rotate the teams through the schedule. The only time I have to draft volunteers is if someone doesn’t show up.
Four servers is optimal, It also works with three, and depending on the experience of the servers, I can make do with two or even one.
Exactly the same here- except we may even be a little bit older. I’m an acolyte in my last year of the Diaconate and the only time I ever have a server with me on Saturday night is when my 12 year old daughter decides to come so she can sleep in on Sunday mornings…
You don’t ever want your children to resent serving at Mass. But I’d also share with them that every time they do serve they receive special blessings. It is an honor to serve Our Lord at the altar.
This is very true. This past weekend we had only one server at Mass and it was fine. I think most times there are more only for the servers’ experiential benefit, not because they are truly needed.
Perhaps another way to look at it is that when serving to realize just how close to God they literally are! So in heaven there are angels and Saints who are closest to the throne of God (personally I’d be very happy just to ‘sit down the back’, so to speak,) - so serving during Mass allows them to be physically closest to God compared to the congregation. Hopefully seeing serving in that light may lift your daughter up when choosing to serve.
I agree with other posters - if needed then serve at the Altar, if there are already two servers there and your daughter is not up to it, then to ‘sit that time out’ so to speak. There is no obligation. But to serve at the Altar is a honour and a privilege - not all are asked.
God bless you and your family.
I used to fulfill some role at every Mass I was present for … server, lector, EMHC, choir, you name it. It is a blessing, but so is sitting in the pew some days. Make sure your girls know it’s perfectly ok to say, “Not this week; I would like a break.” They can always resume later, because that need likely isn’t going away soon.
If they don’t want to serve they shouldn’t have to. Especially if they are not needed. Anyway they are getting to the age where they probably aren’t as enthusiastic to be serving and there is nothing wrong with that.
I’d rather them be happy and not dread mass. Even if you think serving is a noble thing, I wouldn’t try to convince them to do it because it might make them feel guilty. Ask them if they want to stop serving altogether or just do it less often and listen to what they want.
Completely agree, recently we had 3 instituted acolytes and 6 altar servers at a mass. Two of the acolytes and two of the altar servers essentially played “liturgical flowerpot” (e.g. sit here and look pretty) as we didn’t really have specific functions for them.
While it’s nice to have a full complement of acolytes and servers, but it is very different to recruit extra servers if you absolutely need them versus making do with one or two servers.
We quite regularly have one, maybe two, server (s) for Saturday evening Mass.
Two is plenty. Four means that two just sit there. Literally. That is the instruction. For every Mass. If you are the 3rd or 4th to sign in, you process in and recess out. Otherwise, you are a person in the pew.
I’ve been an altar server scheduler, and we had to be very studious about asking the server families if they felt they were on the schedule too often. When we asked if they would mind filling in at the last minute, we had to be very careful they knew it was not a command performance? Why? Because the most dedicated ones didn’t want to let on that sometimes they weren’t up to it or didn’t want to do it or that the frequency had gotten to be too much. They didn’t want to let us down. I will be blunt: I had to be very studious to avoid letting the parents pressure their children to serve when they didn’t want to serve. We as a parish did NOT want that, but parents were sometimes hard to convince. It is fine to insist on children fulfilling religious duties and to honor commitments, but forcing spiritual sacrifices on someone else is another matter. Not cool.
We usually scheduled four servers just because the younger ones learned from the older. Everyone had duties, but the truth is that even though two experienced servers could do all the duties by themselves, it would be too much to throw two inexperienced servers in to that. Besides, if one of four fails to show, it isn’t a problem; people sometimes don’t even notice it. If one of two fails to show? Problem. Both of two fail to show? Bigger problem.
Even without your health issue, it is perfectly normal for servers to vary in how often they want to serve from one year to the next or even based on how busy their lives were during particular seasons of the year. With your health issue, however, it would be pretty hard-hearted for an altar serving program to fail to understand that your family isn’t up to being available as you once where. There is no reason to drag your health into this if you don’t want to, however. If the reason is that you think the girls are getting burned out and you would hate to see that happen, that is good enough.
I’d say this is a matter for you (or your husband), the parent, to take the initiative to talk to whoever is in charge of scheduling the servers. Tell them that your girls want to keep serving, but you need to have them on the schedule less often because you don’t want them to get burned out. Make it clear that it is your decision and that it will not be reversed by talking to the girls themselves.
If your girls do not want to be asked to serve at the last minute, make that clear. It is their decision, but it really ought to be you setting the boundary with other adults who have authority over them. If you don’t want to be scheduled for Holy Days or you want to be asked if some Holy Day or other works for you, say that, too. Usually, when a parent calls this is a very matter-of-fact kind of “heads up” conversation and there is no problem about it. If anything, we would have been apologetic that we had assumed that two servers we thought wanted to serve every chance they got would really rather not serve so often.
I think an adult to adult conversation will be necessary at some point. The idea of altar servers even being needed is a stretch. A priest is needed. Everything else is extra. I have seen one, four and none. Mass still goes on.
If they are being drafted too often, then there is a systemic problem of other adults not be responsible. That too might have to be addressed.
Well, Mass can “still go on” under a lot of conditions, but altar serving is imporant. As the USCCB put it: “Since the role of server is integral to the normal celebration of the Mass, at least one server should assist the priest. On Sundays and other more important occasions, two or more servers should be employed to carry out the various functions normally entrusted to these ministers.”
Even from a practical standpoint, however, the sacristan usually has to set up differently when there are servers than when there are no servers. If the gifts are brought up, it is handled differently when there are no servers than when there are servers. If there is a last-minute and unexpected change, things don’t run as smoothly.
Yes, in a well-run program the altar servers are serving according to a schedule that is reasonable for them, they have access to substitutes they can call if they cannot serve for some reason, and there is a way for the sacristan to be made aware well in advance of a situation in which there will unfortunately be no altar servers. True “no shows” are going to happen but they ought to be rare. Having said that, servers aren’t an “add on.” As the bishops wrote, altar servers are “integral to the normal celebration of the Mass.”
If four servers are going to be scheduled, they ought to all have duties, even if those are duties that two could handle alone if there were only two. Yes, for a very important Mass there might be a large cast with many who simply sit in choir dress and look splendidly reverent, but most of the time all servers ought to be given at least something to do.