In his brief Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2004, presented today at the Vatican, Pope John Paul asked priests to give witness of holiness and promote vocations among the youth, especially among altar servers.
“Our annual encounter through this Letter,” the Pope writes, “is a particularly fraternal one, thanks to our common sharing in the Priesthood of Christ, and it takes place in the liturgical setting of this holy day marked by two significant celebrations; the morning Chrism Mass, and the evening Mass ‘in cena Domini’.”
The Holy Father reflects on Holy Thursday, saying it is the day “we were born as priests,” and also the day the Eucharist was established.
He then says that the Eucharist, which was “entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and has been passed down by them and their successors in every generation,” is “a gift from God ‘which radically transcends the power of the assembly’.”
Pope John Paul asks the faithful to pray “that priests will never be lacking in the Church,” noting that in some parts of the world there is a shortage of priests while in others, “thank God, we see a promising springtime of vocations.”
He says that the fidelity of priests, their commitment to Christ, their love for the Eucharist, their Christ-like behavior will all help bring “new workers to the vineyard.”
The Pope asks priests to, “among other initiatives, show special care for altar servers, who represent a kind of ‘garden’ of priestly vocations.”
“The group of altar servers, under your guidance as part of the parish community, can be given a valuable experience of Christian education and become a kind of pre-seminary,” the Pope also says.
“Help the parish, as a family made up of families, to look upon altar servers as their own children, like ‘olive shoots around the table’of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life,” he adds.
“With the help of the families most involved and catechists, be particularly concerned for the group of servers so that, through their service at the altar, each of them will learn to grow in love for the Lord Jesus, to recognize Him truly present in the Eucharist and to experience the beauty of the liturgy.”
“Initiatives for altar servers,” also write the Pontiff, “on the diocesan or local level should be promoted and encouraged, with attention to the different age groups.”
“Never forget,” John Paul II urges priests, “that you yourselves are the first ‘Apostles’ of Jesus the High Priest. Your own witness counts more than anything else. Altar servers see you at the regular Sunday and weekday celebrations, in your hands they see the Eucharist ‘take ‘place’, on your face they see its mystery reflected, and in your heart they sense the summons of a greater love.”
“May you be for them fathers, teachers and witnesses of Eucharistic piety and holiness of life!”.
> Read the Pope's Letter to Priests at