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Altar servers celebrated at annual picnic in Reston

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Trading their albs for T-shirts and shorts on the first sunny day in a week, diocesan altar servers attended the annual altar server picnic at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston July 26. The event was sponsored by the Office of Vocations. 

Throughout the park, priests pitched in pick-up games of baseball while frisbee, cornhole, soccer and other games kept everyone entertained before and after lunch.  


Members of the Cathedral Council of the Knights of Columbus cooked up hamburgers and hot dogs, while the seminarians helped everyone fill their plates with food.

Knight Larry Cerruti said he’s been coordinating the picnic for about 25 years. “It is a privilege to serve the servers,” he said. “They don’t get thanked enough. They do a lot of work behind the scenes that people don’t see, spending a lot of time at church when they could be doing something else.” 

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge asked the altar servers to pray for the seminarians. He then asked the youths to do him a favor. “Just keep your hearts open for the possibility that God may call you one day to be a priest or a sister,” he said. “That is really a possibility and make sure you have a joyful ‘Yes’ for the Lord.”  

After lunch, Bishop Burbidge picked names from a jar for door prizes provided by the Knights, as the kids crouched closer and closer to the tent, screaming out in excitement — then disappointment — when the numbers didn't match their tickets. Bishop Burbidge called out celebrity "autographs" the youths might see on the signed basketball or football prizes, each autograph garnering cheers or boos depending on the athlete. 

The grand prize, a $100 Visa gift card, went to Michael Williams, an altar server at St. James Church in Falls Church. 

The altar servers appreciated having the opportunity to meet others who serve across the diocese. Luke Schwartz has been an altar server for five years and hopes to serve at least through high school. “I always enjoyed it when I was younger, and I like serving the parish,” he said. One of his most memorable Masses was serving at a confirmation with Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde. 

Sigrid Embert said it is inspiring to see her son, Cristian Jimenez-Embert, as an altar server at St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal. “It means that he’s involved in his faith in a living way,” she said. “It is not something he does as a check mark.”

Many of the seminarians and priests said being altar servers in their youth influenced their vocations. 

Father Christopher P. Christensen, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington was an altar server. His role took away some of the mystique of the Mass, but also broke down some of the barriers, and he got to know the priests he served.

He said altar servers can add a particular sense of reverence. “They are striving to focus on the service to Our Lord,” he said. “It forms in them a sense of devotion which is really important, and it helps them to enter into the Mass.”

Seminarian Tim Courtney said being an altar server at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton helped him understand and even fall in love with the Mass. “It also helped being comfortable being up on the altar and appreciating what the priest does,” said Courtney.  “It’s good to appreciate altar servers. They do a lot and it’s often unnoticed.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018