This year’s Annual Pilgrimage to Pluscarden Abbey saw approximately 640 people attending, including 30 altar servers representing a good number of parishes within the geographically widespread Diocese of Aberdeen. The theme this year chosen by Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB, was ‘Celebrating Altar Servers’. While the occasion was not graced with fine weather, that did not deter those attending from having an enjoyable, prayerful experience. As altar servers are encouraged to become members of the Guild of St. Stephen, once they have completed a satisfactory period of training for service at the altar, it was appropriate to invite the Honorary National Lay President of the Archconfraternity in Westminster, Mr Paul Briers, to come up for the occasion. He was given the opportunity to speak immediately before the Pilgrimage Mass commenced.
In his address, Paul reminded those present that St. Stephen was chosen by the Apostles for service to the poor, widows and homeless people in Jerusalem, to distribute food and provide aid to them in their need. Serving others then should transform us. It should not be something we just do, going through the motions, but something that has a deep and personal impact on us, drawing us closer into a relationship with Jesus. When we go home or into school or the workplace our serving continues, helping others, doing our work well, the little sacrifices along the way. Once a server, always a server, for the ministry of serving is a lifelong vocation. It becomes part of who we are. You may find you yearn for more, and you may be called upon to take on other tasks in your parish, and so we joyfully respond, offering ourselves. You may discover the tender shoots of a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. You may sense that God is at work in a profound way in your life, for He can and does work through each of us, forming us to be disciples and to make disciples through our witness and acts of service. We are all called to be saints, and we are to stand up for Jesus, to take Jesus to others, to be Jesus to others. So, as we celebrate this wonderful ministry today and every day, let your light shine as you serve.
Another very short address was given by Aidan Matheson, who is a seminarian studying at the Scots College in Rome. He spoke about his earlier experiences and the honour and privilege of being an altar server. He was conscious that being so close to the celebration of the Eucharist, there were moments when he felt the reality of what’s happening at the altar, which all had a direct influence in his chosen vocation in life.
Bishop Hugh in his homily, reminded the altar servers that, “When you serve, you are taking on, here on earth, the role the angels perform in the liturgy of heaven, before the throne of God. You are enabling the dignified, reverent and prayerful celebration of the Eucharist. You are witnesses to the blood and water that flow in the church from Christ’s side. You are making it possible for the clergy to celebrate with peace of mind, and the whole congregation to focus on the essentials. We are very grateful to you. You are growing attitudes that will shape your whole life.” After the homily, Bishop Hugh enrolled six altar servers into the Guild of St. Stephen: Hugo Dixon, John Greenhalgh, Vincent Greenhalgh, Areena Matthew, Arpith Matthew and Vincent Paluga.
The Guild of St Stephen is an International Organisation of Altar Servers founded in England in 1904 by Father Hamilton McDonald when he formed a Society of Altar Servers at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in London.
The Objectives of the Guild of St. Stephen are.
- To encourage, positively and practically, the highest standards of serving at the Church’s liturgy and so contribute to the whole community’s participation in a more fruitful worship of God.
- To provide altar servers with a greater understanding of what they are doing so that they may serve with increasing reverence and prayerfulness and thereby be led to a deepening response to their vocation in life.
- To unite servers of different parishes and dioceses for their mutual support and encouragement.
In 2019, the Archdiocese of St. Andrew’s & Edinburgh, established and introduced the new Guild of St. Cuthbert for altar servers who serve in parishes throughout the Archdiocese, which includes the Diocese of Aberdeen. Servers of both Guilds were present at the Abbey for the Pilgrimage.