Mateo was presenting a program for teenage altar servers called Knights of the Altar. This club was founded at Dublin Oak Academy, an all-boys boarding school where students from Latin America come for a year of English studies and immersion in Irish
Half the congregation could not even see him behind the podium. He stood only four feet, ten inches tall, but twelve-year-old Mateo Bermeo’s voice resounded with self-confident conviction as he addressed parishioners at a church in south Dublin last February.
“We are here because we love Christ, and we want to make sure that he is respected and served well,” said Mateo. “And we want to help you respect and serve him too.” “What is this about?” parishioners asked.
Mateo was presenting a program for teenage altar servers called Knights of the Altar. This club was founded at Dublin Oak Academy, an all-boys boarding school where students from Latin America come for a year of English studies and immersion in Irish culture.
The altar servers program has been an outstanding success. Though founded only a year ago, it already has a good reputation in the Dublin area. Knights of the Altar serve Mass once a month in Dublin’s cathedral, and they are frequently asked to assist at special events at parishes in south Dublin.
Within the school itself, Knights of the Altar has great prestige. The process of becoming a Knight is based on the medieval model (an added attraction to adolescent boys), and is nearly as grueling. Aspirants must take tests proving their knowledge of the Catholic catechism and the ins-and-outs of sacristan lore. If they pass, they are accepted as pages.
Further tests earn them the rank of squires. Squires then undergo additional training in which they must be on their best behavior in church, get good grades in school, and exhibit dexterity at altar-serving. Their candidacy is then presented to a round table of veteran knights, who decide whether to raise the squire to knighthood or return him to the training cycle.
The knighting ceremony at Dublin Oak is straight from a boy’s dream. After a hearty supper of mead and roast game (Kool-Aid and hot dogs), the knights and squires take turns pledging fealty to their liege lord (in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament). Early the next morning, they process through woods wet with Dublin’s morning mist to the ruins of a 7th century chapel on the school property. There the squires, dressed in white albs, are officially sworn in as Knights of the Altar.
Such an atmosphere of adventure naturally adds to the prestige that the program carries among the rest of the school students. The waiting list is long, and since aspirants know they must be on their best behavior if they want a chance to be a Knight, the program has helped improve discipline at the school considerably. It is quite heartening, to say the least, for the school’s directors to see otherwise normal, iPod-wielding sons of today’s culture line up to join a club for altar boys.
Fr. Michael Duffy, LC, the program’s founder, says that “boys are initially attracted to the Knights of the Altar because of the sense of adventure that surrounds it. But the program’s staying power, the thing that makes the kids stick to the program, be on their best behavior, study hard, get good grades, and work hard to get others to join, is Christ. The boys pray morning and night prayers, and are encouraged to make frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. That is undoubtedly the secret to this program’s success.”
And now, with Mateo Bermeo at the podium, Knights of the Altar is expanding. The parish where Mateo presented Knights of the Altar has decided to adopt the program. Several people have pledged to start the program in parishes in the United States and Canada. With God’s grace and your help, Knights of the Altar will continue to grow. All thanks to the deeds of derring-do of knights in white surplices. To contact the author or for more information on the Knights of the Altar, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.