All who are Altar Servers should be proud to have St Stephen for their Patron. The great St Augustine of Hippo once preached a wonderful sermon on St Stephen, and at the conclusion of it he exhorted his people in the following words : " Let us so desire to obtain temporal blessings by his intercession, that we may merit, in imitating him, those which are eternal." We cannot do better than follow this grand advice. Like St Stephen we should'" be proud to do all we can to serve our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. How better can we do this than by following the example of our Saint, who was never happier than when he was serving the first Priests of Christ's Church who were the Apostles. There is also this other little point which we would do well to remember. In everything that St Stephen did he prayed continuously. So we, who serve Holy Mass, ought also to make sure that we too pray with devotion and care all the time we are serving. We might adopt as our slogan : " Serve by Praying." If we do this we shall most certainly serve better than ever before, and great graces will come to us from Our Lord at Holy Mass.
The name of Stephen has a special meaning too. It means the " One who is crowned," and when he died we all know what a glorious crown his Divine King placed upon his head. " Thou hast placed upon his head a crown of most precious jewels." To serve God is a sure guarantee that one day we too shall receive a crown, and so the motto of those who are privileged to serve God on the Altar is, " Cui Servire Regnare Est," which can mean for us : " He who serves shall reign." If we all strive to serve devoutly and lovingly, we one day will share the glory of Stephen, who, as the first of all the Martyrs, now reigns gloriously in the heavenly court of the King of Kings.
SAINT STEPHEN'S GUILD
After you have read about St Stephen and all the wonderful things he did for the love of Our Lord, you will be anxious, I am sure, to learn about his special Guild for Altar Servers. As you know, the saints of God are unlike the rest of mankind, especially in this, that when they die they really begin the work God wished them to do. You have often heard the phrase : " The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," and this means that the work of a martyr or any other saint has a tremendous influence on many millions of people over a long period of history. Every saint, too, has some special work to do, and throughout the ages you will find people whose whole lives have been affected by the example of some particular saint. St Francis of Assisi, for example, died many centuries ago, but his wonderful life has been an inspiration to many people right down to this present day, and churches are still being dedicated to him all over the world. Sometimes a saint has been sent by God for a particular work at a particular time in history, to bring men back to God when they were straying or were being led away by some false doctrine. There are a great number of these saints in every age, among whom we can pick out St Dominic, who preached devotion to Our Blessed Lady, and taught us how to say the Rosary. Almost in our own times we have St Bernadette, the little Shepherdess of Lourdes, and we all know how the great events there brought many, many souls back to God. Thus God has a special purpose with all His saints and we should study their lives to see what benefit we can gain from their example.
Churches are Dedicated to him
Where, you may ask, does our St Stephen come in all this ? We have already seen what a glorious and unflinching sacrifice he made all those long years ago, and the really perfect way in which he followed in the footsteps of Our Divine Lord. We know, also, what great good he did to the early Christians in showing them that they must be prepared to sacrifice all rather than lose the love of Christ. That the people responded to this we have no doubt at all when we see how many of them, men, women, and even young children, cheerfully followed St Stephen's lead and gave their lives to Christ. All over the world, too, we will find churches dedicated to St Stephen, but somehow or other we cannot deny that in great measure he has been forgotten by many of us. After reading his life you will agree with me that this is a very great pity. What inspiration our young men could get from his life and how perfect an example he gives to all of us of what it really means to be a " Soldier of Jesus Christ." While we may feel quite sad about the way we have neglected our Saint, we must never forget that the Church always pays him very great honour when twice each year she keeps his feast-days and insists that his office be recited by thousands of priests and religious all over the world. It remains only for us to follow this lead given us by the Church, and I am sure we can do it well if we try hard enough. You may be sure that St Stephen will not forget you if only you will remember him.
The New Movement
Now, here is some good news for all of us. There is a movement which brings the knowledge of all that St Stephen did into the hearts of thousands, and especially into the hearts and lives of young men and boys. You will agree and say this is just as it should be, and you will be very glad therefore to read about it. Here, then, is a brief story of what has been done and what will be accomplished still more in the future. It is the story of the Guild of St Stephen for Altar Servers.
If you travel all over the world you will find somewhere a Catholic church whether it be in China, Africa, America, Europe, or at the North Pole. No matter where you go you, as a Catholic, will be quite at home because you will always be able to attend Holy Mass just as you do at home in your own parish. Isn't that a consoling and really wonderful fact ! Yet it is true. And who is it who will say the Mass ? It will be one of God's priests and you will see him doing just as your own priest does at home and, when using the Roman rite, he will speak the same language too, the very same Latin words which your own priest says at Mass. But I wonder if we are forgetting anything? I think we are. We are forgetting that there will be some little lad, or some young man, assisting the priest at Mass. And strangely enough he will be saying the very same words in Latin as the boys and young men in your own parish say when they serve Mass ! Wherever you find Mass being said there you will also see the server attending to the priest.
It may seem strange to us to realise that although Holy Mass has been offered " from the rising of the sun even to the going down thereof" for almost two thousand years, those who are privileged to serve it have never been joined together in any sort of confraternity or Guild. One would have thought it the most natural thing in the world to have a Guild for them. Somehow or other it was overlooked.
The Guild at Hammersmith
However, in 1905, here in England, a priest realised that great good could follow from a Guild.-for Altar Servers, and in March of that year, after considerable thought about it, he formed a Guild among his Altar servers at Hammersmith in London. In seeking a saint who would be an appropriate patron for the Guild, this good priest remembered the life and work of St Stephen and decided that he, the First Deacon, would be the ideal Patron for the Guild. It was St Stephen who served the Apostles, and who could better be patron to those Altar boys who now served the successors of the Apostles at Holy Mass ?
Cardinal Bourne, who was then Archbishop of Westminster, gave his blessing and support to the new Guild and, in November of the same year, news of the Guild had already reached the Pope, the great and saintly Pope Pius X, who sent the Guild his special blessing. So greatly impressed was the Pope by the nature and work of the Guild, that just over a year afterwards he erected the Guild into an Archconfraternity on December 4th, 1906, and gave to it the power to join to it other Guilds of a similar nature in the British Isles. Many years later, on February 19th, 1934, His Holiness Pope Pius XI extended this privilege throughout the British Empire. Thus in a short time the work and life of St Stephen was being introduced to boys and young men, not only in Britain but also throughout the British Empire. It certainly looked as if the First Martyr was once again taking his rightful place in the lives of the young men and boys.
A National Council
In more recent times, much greater interest has been aroused in the Guild with the formation of a National Council of priests who meet once a year to discuss all manner of problems connected with the Guild. This Council has met twice and at the second meeting there were over double the number who attended the first meeting. One of the works of the Council has been to send a circular letter to all the Parish Priests of the country telling all about the Guild and how they can begin a branch in their own parishes.
Perhaps you would be interested to learn how a Guild works in a parish. It is all very interesting and sometimes quite exciting. When a Parish Priest has decided to erect the Guild he applies to his own Bishop for permission to do this, and then he gets the Guild affiliated to the Archconfraternity at Westminster so that all members may gain the Indulgences. The priest will then get his keen and enthusiastic servers together and tell them all about the Guild. There will follow a few weeks of training to see that everyone is really able to serve Mass really well and with true devotion. Then will come the great day of the first enrolment of members. A really impressive ceremony has been arranged during which each member makes a solemn promise to serve Holy Mass, " reverently, diligently, and punctually, having the Glory of God and my own eternal salvation as my object." It is really most stirring to hear the young voices of the servers ringing through the church making this solemn promise. Then each server is given a blessed medal on a red cord which is placed round his neck while the priest says these words : " Receive the token of your admission into the Guild of St Stephen that, ever aided by his intercession, thou mayest lead a holy life. Amen."
The Guild Medal
What a great day it is when a server has been enrolled ! He feels now that he is dedicated to one of the greatest of all tasks and that he is privileged indeed to be able to assist the priest. Every time he serves he will wear his Guild medal to remind him of his duty and of his promise on the day he was enrolled. He will be taught to prepare properly for serving by saying the Guild prayers especially composed for servers. He will learn above all to pray fervently and devoutly all during Holy Mass. He will want to carry out the sacred ceremonies as perfectly as possible, realising that only the best is good enough for Our Divine Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The server will learn to turn to St Stephen in all troubles and difficulties. No server will have recourse to his Patron in vain. St Stephen will be a wonderful help to you as a server, and in everything else too. Another great blessing which seems to flow naturally from the work of the Guild is that many of its members are one day called by Our Lord to join the ranks of His Sacred Priesthood. Wherever the Guild is established there will you find young men eager to go forward to be priests. As a member of the Guild of St Stephen you, too, ^will be encouraged to pray that you will one day be called no longer to serve Mass but to offer it for the Glory of God and for the eternal benefit of all mankind.
Now to conclude, I would like you, as servers, to think seriously about the greatness of the office of serving Holy Mass and to ask St Stephen to help you. You can always have recourse to him even if there is no Guild in your Parish. Never forget the greatness of the privilege you have when you serve. Think about these words of the late Cardinal Bourne who said this about Mass-serving :
" No ministry, except that of those who by Ordination are set apart for the service of the Altar, deserves greater thought and consideration than the duty entrusted to those laymen and youths who have the office of assisting the priests of God in the discharge of their sacred functions."
When you think that those words were written by a Prince of the Church you will realise how important they are. You must ask yourself very seriously, " How do I serve Mass ? Do I need to improve in my serving ? " Many servers have perhaps never thought of the greatness of their task or the grandeur of the privilege they enjoy. This pamphlet will serve as a reminder to them and to you. Above all let us all hope and pray that the words we have read will encourage us to do better in our duties at the Altar; to pray better while we are serving Holy Mass, to get every day closer to the love of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. These things are so necessary if Our Lord is to be served properly, and we all do want to do our very best for Him, do we not?
As a final word of inspiration to all servers wherever you are in the world, study carefully and think deeply on the words which are quoted at the close of this little pamphlet.
A priest has written these words about servers, words whic should be a continual reminder of the greatness of their task :
" All who are considered worthy to serve at the Altar should remember that they are engaged in a work which is the Angels' joy to perform in heaven, the work oi SERVING around the Throne of God and ministering unto Him". Server ! This is YOUR privilege. Ask St Stephen to make you love your precious task and to accomplish it, even as the Angels, for the love of Almighty God.