A calling in itself: Adult altar servers fulfill an ageless vocation

Servers 2 Mark Mroz kneels before the altar at SS. Peter and Paul (Westside) Parish in Detroit. Mroz began serving in 1990 as a way to volunteer, and today serves as many as four to five times per week. Photos by Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Mentors to young servers, indispensable help for pastors, adult servers see role as God’s gift

Sterling Heights — You’re never too old to be an altar boy.

While serving might appear sometimes to be a young man (or woman’s) game, to the adults who minister at the altar, there is nothing strange about answering a call from God.

“We don’t pick God; God picks us,” John Mangano told The Michigan Catholic. Mangano has been serving the altar for 38 years, the last eight years at SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights.

Mangano attended Mass at SS. Peter and Paul (Jesuit) Parish in downtown Detroit for the 6 p.m. evening Mass when he received his first invitation to serve.

“I was sitting there for the 6 p.m. Mass and the priest asked if I would do the reading,” Mangano recalled. “Then he asked if I would help him on the altar, and that slowly led to be being an altar server.”

Mangano wasn’t an altar server as a boy, but started serving at SS. Peter and Paul for four and a half years, Old St. Mary’s in Greektown for 10 years, the Carmelite Monastery in Clinton Township for 14 years, and later whatever parish priest would need him.

“It’s a great mystery and a great gift that God called me to be an altar boy,” said Mangano, who insists on being called an “altar boy,” regardless of age. “He could have picked someone 100 times better than me, but God works through strange ways.”

Adult altar servers see their role as being there to assist the priest during the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Being so close to the Eucharist during Mass and being part of the ritual leads to a great respect for the majesty and awe of the liturgy, said SS. Cyril and Methodius server Jeff Gura, whose been serving since 2000.

“When I first started serving years ago, I was there on the altar when I thought, ‘Why doesn’t every man come to the pastor and request to serve?’” Gura said. “But then I realized not all are called to do that. I’m in that comfort zone when I serve; that’s how I know I’m in the right spot.”

It’s not uncommon to see a grown man discerning the priesthood or diaconate serving the altar as part of the discernment process, but for many adult altar servers, it isn’t necessarily a stepping stone to another vocation, but a vocation in and of itself.

Mark Mroz of SS. Peter and Paul (Westside) Parish in Detroit started serving in the early 1990s as a way to volunteer, but since then has gained an appreciation for being able to help in whatever way he can.

“When I first came out, I looked at it as volunteering,” Mroz said. “But now looking at the bigger picture, I see it as a calling. Not as great a calling as being a priest, of course, or a deacon or anything like that. It is a calling in a sense that I’m called to serve and help out.”

John Mangano, an altar server at SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights, is pictured in the sacristy at the parish. Mangano, who has been serving for 38 years, said adults can find joy and purpose in serving at the altar, even if they’re not discerning a vocation to holy orders.

Mroz typically serves during the Wednesday evening Mass and the First Friday and First Saturday Masses at SS. Peter and Paul, in addition to the 4:30 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. and noon Sunday Masses.

“I learned there is this sense of joy in serving, knowing you are serving God and helping and praying for others,” Mroz continued. “In all the Mases you serve, you are offering up those Mass intentions. Your serving is an offering, an additional prayer that is going up to heaven.”

Often, men who serve as adults feel they aren’t called to the diaconate or the priesthood – many of them are married – but the small sacrifices of serving the altar are a calling in themselves.

“Being on the altar, you see it all a little differently,” said Tom Kassab, who has served at SS. Cyril and Methodius for two years. “You feel like you are closer to God. Especially when the priest does the consecration, you’re right there, you are on holy ground.”

Servers 3 Altar server Mark Mroz cleans the vessels after Mass at SS. Peter and Paul (Westside) Parish in Detroit. Mroz has been an altar server for 28 years.

For parishes with a larger number of younger altar servers, adult servers can serve as a “captain,” making sure the younger rookies are doing all the priest needs of them during Mass.

“For me, being an adult server is about being there for the kids, especially boys discerning a vocation to be a priest,” Gura said. “By being an adult on the altar, you are a presence of what it looks like for a man to serve the parish community. So I share with the boys the values of the server, letting them know when they come in to be prepared and ready.”

Whatever calls men to be altar boys, whether passing along knowledge and reverence of the Mass or just being around to be the pastor’s helper, being an altar boy is a vocation. And like all vocations, it’s worthy of pouring one’s entire soul into it, Mangano says.

“Whatever your vocation is, you have to have your heart into it,” Mangano said. “If you don’t have your heart into it, you probably should do something else. I’m called to be a server; it’s not a stepping stone. This is what God wants me to do, and I’m elated that He has chosen me. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and want to thank Him for this calling.”