november 13, 2021
On November 14, the Acolytes Group of the Shrine of Fatima (GASF) celebrates 36 years of existence. Founded in 1985, the GASF is currently made up of 38 altar servers, between 9 and 50 years old.
It is already a “long history of service and dedication to the liturgy”, with a model deeply inspired by the spirituality of this place, of children, young people and adults, the overwhelming majority of whom come from Cova da Iria and the parishes of the Fatima area. After an initial training, they make their commitment – investiture – and officially become acolytes of the Shrine.
Fr. Joaquim Ganhão, director of the Department of Liturgy, told the Voice of Fatima that “Without a doubt, the best training for the altar servers is their participation in the liturgy and the proper preparation”. He notes that every year there is a course on training/updating.
Besides this course, the coordinating group tries, each year, to propose a program of activities which includes the monthly meeting with a view to spiritual and liturgical training, two activities of conviviality and a cultural outing, besides the general formations offered by the Shrine each year.
“The main emphasis regarding all the liturgical ministers should be that participation, above all, must be an interior attitude, of harmony with the Mystery that is being celebrated,” Fr. Joaquim Ganhão says.
“The liturgy can never be reduced to an artificial ‘show’, but it is always a celebration of the Mystery of Christ, in which each one who participates must be in tune and identified so as to allow himself to be involved and inhabited by the grace that is offered to him”, he clarifies. Therefore, to the necessary exterior participation, “which is desired to be beautiful and worthy”, there must necessarily correspond “a true inner participation”.
“The liturgy must be a moment of Christian truth always up to date. We are inspired in this place by the testimony of St. Francisco Marto in his unceasing search for God and in the inner experience of the unprecedented mystery of His Eucharistic presence”, he adds, without forgetting that St. Francisco Marto is the national patron of acolytes and in particular of the acolytes of the Shrine of Fatima.
Unlike the group of altar servers, the group of readers is larger, 58 members, but also with the highest average age, made up of volunteers between 42 and 78 years old.
To carry out his ministry, “the reader needs a serious preparation”, adds the head of the Department of Liturgy. “It is necessary that, at the same time as he proclaims the Word of God to others, he knows how to welcome it into himself through docility to the Holy Spirit. He must meditate on it every day in order to attain an ever more lively and penetrating knowledge of it, but above all he must witness to the Lord Jesus with his own life”, says Fr. Joaquim Ganhão. And he compares: “The reader must be a true spouse of the Word. When he leaves his place to proclaim the Word in the liturgy, he goes out to his beloved spouse to make her known, accepted, loved and lived by the whole assembly.”
Without a doubt, “It is not enough to know how to read; it is necessary to grasp the spiritual meaning of the text, so as to be able to proclaim it in a way that penetrates the heart of each member of the assembly”.
Fatima is a Privileged Place of Pilgrimage and Celebration of Faith
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy states that “The time spent in the sanctuary constitutes the most important part of the pilgrimage and should be marked by a commitment to conversion, ratified by reception of the Sacrament of Penance; by private prayer of thanksgiving, supplication, or of intercession, in accordance with the nature of the shrine or the objectives of the pilgrimage; by celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which is the climax of the pilgrimage” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 287).
For a “worthy and fruitful” celebration of the faith on the part of pilgrims, “it is essential to promote the various liturgical ministries”. To this end, the liturgical pastoral of the Shrine has a group of about 236 volunteers in the different services/ministries of the liturgy – acolytes, singers, readers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
The Shrine of Fatima, like most parishes, does not have instituted readers and acolytes. Institution in these ministries is still reserved for candidates for the diaconate and priesthood, although there has already been a recent pronouncement by the Pope on institution in these ministries.
"Since there is no 'official institution', there is, however, a discernment made on the part of those responsible and an acceptance of the various candidates in order to be taught and to carry out these ministries in the Shrine's celebrations. To this discernment and acceptance also corresponds the availability for service and for permanent learning", admits the person in charge of the Liturgy Department. “Any trustworthy person, with a proven Christian life, can apply for these services. The acceptance and incorporation in the group will depend on the capacities of each person in relation to the service that is proposed", Fr. Joaquim Ganhão further emphasized, recognizing that “the proximity to the Shrine will ease a good performance".
“Being an altar server is a way of serving in the liturgy, contributing to the embellishment of the celebrations. In the Shrine of Fatima, it is to be able to do this with humility and dedication, at the 'Altar of the World', in the service of Our Lady. It is with great responsibility, honor and pride that I have been part of this group of volunteers since its beginning. The way we carry out the tasks may be modelled, whether it is correct or less correct.”
“Since I was a little boy I have faced this ministry with great responsibility. As time went by, I have been trying to know more about liturgy and wanting to help other young people in this beautiful ministry. An acolyte has to be a simple person: to assist with attitudes and gestures, to act at the right time, to be in harmony with the officiator and to be dedicated in serving Our Lady. Here, we have the pleasure of acolyting under the inspiration of Saint Francisco Marto.”
“Being a reader at the Shrine has a great meaning that I define in two words: service and gratitude. Serving the Word of God, the Church and each pilgrim who comes to the Shrine and participates in the Eucharist. Gratitude to the Shrine, for exercising the ministry of reader and being able to offer my voice to God, so that everyone can listen to His Word and because the Word of God ‘is a beacon for my steps and a light for my paths’ (Ps 119:105).”