Why can 5th graders figure out what many priests don’t?

From a reader:

I am one of two Altar Boy Deans in charge of my parish’s 112 Altar boys.

Yesterday I was assisting our Altar boy director in training new recruits to the program (5th graders). He had asked me to show them where we keep our Altar cross and where to put it on the free-standing Altar for the Priests who like to use it.

They asked why it was used and I told them so that the Priest could focus on Christ during Mass, especially the consecration, and not distractions in the congregation; I also told them this is why there is always a Crucifix on high Altars (we still have ours – Altar of Repose, except for the annual Dominican Rite Mass in the summer).

Then I was asked why the Priest faces the Altar away from the people at the Latin Mass and I explained that the Priest is leading us in the prayer that is the Mass, and we are all facing Christ in the tabernacle together.

One boy then asks, “Well, why doesn’t the Priest always face the Altar at Mass!?” I could only smile and agree with him that this should happen.

Ex ore infantium!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Fr. Z KUDOS, Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. GreggW says:

    112 altar boys in one parish. Granting it must be a large parish, that is still amazing. Our parish (weekend attendance 250) has I think just 3 altar boys, and 6 altar girls.

    I understand the post is about where the priest should face, but I cannot yet get past the first sentence. Wish we has so much interest from boys in serving at the Lord’s altar.

  2. dominic1955 says:

    Its not a matter of “figuring” out anything. Mass versus populum is an ideological issue, full stop. [I don’t think that is always the case. Some priests have never know or imagined anything else.]

  3. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    Short answer: Because 5th graders aren’t blinded by ideological commitments.

  4. Uxixu says:

    Ah yeah 112 altar boys! Glorious. My home parish seems to be large and relatively prosperous but it seems there are NO children servers the last couple months. Last few months seems like it had been one boy and one girl, but recently it’s only an older man bearing the processional cross with a train of EMHC before our clergy.

    Always amazed at the 8+ altar boys in cassock & surplice when I’m blessed to attend Missa Cantata or Solemn High Mass at nearby EF parish. When my boy gets a bit older, I’m going to sign him up, hopefully at the new FSSP parish which should be up and thriving by then.

    Have seen that picture before and love it. I do believe I spy a tonsure on the celebrant.

  5. Gregorius says:

    Euge, lector bone! As Fr. mentioned, some priests just don’t know or can’t imagine doing anything other than what they were formed to do. It also takes knowledgeable clergy and laity to teach the truth as well. Hopefully a seed has been planted here, and more will be for years to come.

  6. Amateur Scholastic says:

    Because many priests don’t believe in the real presence. They’re immanentists, and think the real presence is somehow ‘transfigured by Faith’.

    Read Pascendi Dominici, it’s all there. I can’t recommend that encyclical highly enough for those who want to know how the other side thinks.

  7. Bob B. says:

    I started with 5th graders, too. I would take me whole class over to the Church and teach them to altar serve. When I moved to junior high schoolers, I took each of these and did the same – the school should support the morning Mass, I reasoned and they were well received…until a change in regime, though the need remained, the principal didn’t like teachers thinking outside of the box. This meant keeping to the simple, waste of time book of which the students learned little. (I even asked to tape a morning Mass, but was told no).
    This is what many Catholic school teachers face….

  8. Unwilling says:

    Interesting point. I never noticed the cross [sic] on a vp altar focus the priest’s attention — he looks beyond it to the people or, if pious, at the Vessels. I think the cross in vp functions like a car’s hood ornament.

Comments are closed.