In these midsummer days Rome has been cheerfully invaded by more than 55,000 young people – boys and girls, the vast majority of whom were German speaking. Members of Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium , they came to the city for a meeting that culminated round Benedict xvi.
Smiling faces, summer clothes and brightly coloured kerchiefs – sports caps and funny, perky straw hats. Surprisingly enough to many, the undoubtedly important event was given a three-page-spread by the daily La Repubblica that generally ignores the Church and is seldom kind to her.
And these days really were an extraordinary Catholic celebration.
But who are the ministrantes ? Ordinary boys and girls and young people, full of the joy of life. They were once known as “altar boys”, a term perhaps less precise than its modern form taken from the beautiful Latin verb ministrare (“to serve”, in this case above all in the liturgical sense), but that sounds less cold and formal.
Also in the feminine case [ Ministrantinnen in German], to tell the truth a word with an odd ring, yet usually spoken sympathetically, to indicate the mass entry in recent decades – especially in German-speaking countries, precisely – of little girls and young women in a role that in the past was an exclusively male domain.
Today instead this role has broader dimensions because – open without distinction to both boys and girls, young women and young men, altar girls and altar boys – it teaches and accustoms them with greater clarity to being close to Christ. They learn this in the family above all but go on learning it at church and in the Church, training and preparing themselves for a truly Christian life.
They also do this through serving at the Liturgy, through listening to the divine Word made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, Verbum Domini, and through adoration and contemplation of his Real Presence in the Eucharist.
The Pope never tires of pointing out with his preaching and with the example of the celebrations at which he presides the beauty and centrality of the Liturgy, whose renewal should be studied in depth and in line with the directives of the Council, that is, in vital continuity with Tradition.
The beauty and commitment of this world meeting of ministrantes in the summer sunshine show clearly – after a long, cold season in the media that sought indiscriminately, on the basis of dreadful scandals, to cloud the beauty and radicalism of the Catholic priesthood – the importance of all that the Church has done in the past and continues to do, every day and in every part of the world, for the formation of the younger generations.
Girls and boys to whom she teaches closeness and friendship with the Lord “friend of man”, as he is defined in the Eastern Liturgies; as was expressed by the joy of thousands of young people who celebrated in St Peter's Square, waving their hats to Benedict xvi.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 18, 2019
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