Q: Why do altar servers carry candles?

A: Did you know that the carrying of candles at the celebration of the Mass goes back to the earliest days of our church? The servers who carry candles are part of a tradition, which spans over a thousand years, which is much older than the modern English language you and I speak.

The purpose behind carrying a candle goes back even further, for it was not uncommon to have candles at the head of a procession in ancient times in order to “light the way” for a very important entourage or group of people, or a very special person. The candles also inform everyone that something is happening that is very important. Many families light candles for dinner on special occasions, like birthdays or holidays. All the more reason for us to have candles at the celebration of the holy Eucharist, Jesus’ presence with us in his body and blood, not to mention in his word as well.

To be a server carrying a candle is to have a very important role at Mass, for the server is declaring to all that the priest is beginning a celebration which is unique to all celebrations human beings have. At this celebration or gathering, Jesus is making himself present through the priest at the altar and wishes for us to receive him at the Communion time.

Q: What’s the youngest age you can get first holy Communion?

A: This is a good transition topic from the first question.

Did you know that for years it was normal for children not to receive first holy Communion until they were 10 or 11 years old? Don’t worry, that idea is not crossing my mind for further discussion, but it is a historical fact. The Catholic Church is quite clear that children who have received the proper instruction, know the difference between right and wrong, and have “sufficient knowledge” of the mystery of Jesus Christ are able to receive the body of Christ. Our faith further instructs that we receive Jesus both “with faith and devotion.” 

Your pastor, the parish catechists and parents all possess a vital role in properly preparing the parish’s children for first holy Communion. As a family in faith we are obligated to work together so that all children in the parish have received sufficient instruction to be ready to receive Jesus in the holy Eucharist. 

While a child receiving his or her first holy Communion is the pivotal moment in their continued growth in his or her relationship with our Lord and God and in their Catholic faith, it should not overshadow or draw attention away from the most important moment at the Mass celebration, for Jesus’ real presence in the holy Eucharist is primary. 

May we together pray for our pastors and their co-workers in the vineyard, including all of the moms and dads, to instruct our young ones preparing for first holy Communion. This is not an easy age to provide instruction on the mystery of the holy Eucharist when many in our culture take the narrow view of “seeing is believing.”

As a bishop, I cherish every moment when I give first holy Communion, especially at the Easter Vigil, for I also remember as a parish pastor the bonds of a parish are strengthened every time the children come together to receive the body and blood of Christ the very first time.

Q: What saint do you pray to for surgery?

A: As one who has had surgery, I can personally say that I asked for more than one saint to intercede for a successful outcome. Of course, I asked St. Mary, in the Hail Mary,for her intercession, but there also were others. I have great admiration for St. Therese of Lisieux, and I asked for her prayers. St. John of God (born at the end of the 15th century) and St. Camillus (born the same year St. John of God died (1550) are patron saints of the sick. There also are patron saints for people suffering from specific ailments.

How about the surgeons? We have St. Luke (yes, one of the four evangelists) who is the patron saint of surgeons. When was the last time we prayed to St. Luke to assist the surgeon or surgical team who is preparing to help us?

Never forget we have a host of friends in heaven willing to assist us here on earth (and those on the International Space Station) if only we are willing to ask for our saints’ prayerful assistance. You and I mention in the profession of faith (the creed) each week that we believe in the “communion of saints.” In other words, you and I are never alone. Never.

May our patron saint, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, bless you and your families throughout this summer.

Editor’s Note: To “Ask the Bishop,” school-aged youth should email Joseph M. Taylor, jtaylor@diosteub.org; or write him at the chancery, P.O. Box 969, Steubenville, OH 43952. Taylor is a catechetical consultant and coordinator of youth ministry for the Diocese of Steubenville Office of Christian Formation and Schools.