Altar Boy Program at Holy Family

By returning to more demanding altar server practices, two men were able to increase participation in the alatr boy program at Holy Family from 10 to more than 80.

"Altar serving at Holy Family allows boys to be more fully integrated into the Mass and gives them a chance to experience Christ's sacrifice up close. Holy Family provides an environment that makes them feel welcome and necessary and is an excellent experience".   Carson Lind, 19 year old, 7 year veteran.

Bob Spinharney and Mark Rode, members of Holy Family, wanted to see more boys actively involved in the Mass. They felt that being an altar server could help boys participate more fully and possibly discern a priestly vocation. In 2000 Bob and Mark approached Father Dufner and shared with him their vision.

Both men had served in all-boy altar server programs as boys and remembered the experience with fondness. They wanted to share this experience with the boys at Holy Family.

Bob and Mark proposed making the program for boys only. They believed this change would make this program more attractive to boys and increase their participation in the program. Father Dufner agreed. Next, they worked on creating a more reverent atmosphere by using cassocks and surpluses and by buying uniform footwear. Finally, Bob and Mark trained the boys in the traditional roles of altar servers. They instituted titles and a system of ranks, which made the program more appealing to the young boys. With these stricter guidelines, the program has seen great growth.

Since the program began 10 years ago, it has grown from 10 participants to more than 80. There is a wide range of ages involved, giving older boys the chance to mentor younger ones.

Key elements of the program
Bob and Mark believe that several key elements have helped the program grow. The boys at the parish have responded well to the all-boy atmosphere. It has allowed them to spend time with Father Dufner, both during training and outside of Mass at numerous program activities such as bowling, fishing and hunting. The boys have also been motivated by the hierarchy of ranks, along with the program's high standards of order and discipline. Boys may start in the program at age 10.

System of Ranks

The first rank includes LEAD and TORCH.

  • A LEAD processes in and out with the Priest and Servers and has no other function during Mass.
  • A TORCH processes in and out as well.  In addition, during Mass two Torches stand in front of the ambo (pulpit) while Father reads the Gospel. At the Consecration and through communion, all Torches kneel before the altar. They wear plain white surplices over the cassock (either red or black depending on the feast). We generally have up to six Torches at each Mass.

The second rank includes BOOK and CROSS (usually 11-12 years old).

  • The BOOK holds the Lectionary for Father as he reads the opening and closing prayers for Mass and processes in and out of Mass with the Lectionary.
  • The CROSS carries the Cross and leads the procession in and out of Mass. He wears a white surplices with lace trim.

The third rank is MAIN (usually 12-14 years old).

  • There are two MAINS that assist Father during Mass. At appropriate times during the Mass they are given a place of prominence by being seated on each side of Father. They assist him at the Offeratory with the gifts and washing of hands. During the Consecration they kneel on each side of the Altar and ring the bells. They hold the patens as the Priests distribute Holy Communion at the Altar. They wear white surplices with red trim.

The fourth rank is THURIFER (is usually 14-16 years old) and BOAT (age can vary).

  • The THURIFER carries the Thurible (incense burner) as he leads the procession into Mass. The BOAT walks in with the Thurifer and carries the Boat containing the incense. The THURIFER assists Father at the Gospel with censing the Word of God. Unless an MC is present, he assists Father as he censes the gifts on the Altar at the Offeratory, and the Thurifer censes the Priests, altar boys, Eucharistic Ministers, lector and the faithful. At the Consecration he censes the Body and Blood. In addition, he serves as the 5th paten during Communion. The Thurifer and Boat wear white surplices with gold trim.

The fith and highest rank is the Master of Ceremonies (MC) (usually 16 or older).

  • The MC sets up the servers before Mass, determining which role will be performed by whom. He assists the THURIFER and Father at the Offeratory by censing the Priests, altar boys, Eucharistic Ministers, lector and the faithful. The MC wears a special surplice that is designated only for him.

 If you would like to implement this program in your parish you may contact Bob Spinharney.


Read the "Boys Will Be Altar Boys" in the January 25-31, 2009 issue of the National Catholic Register in which Holy Family's program was featured.