By Christina Galeone
STILL RIVER – In Italy in 1858, Joseph Bongiovanni, a friend of St. Dominic Savio, formed a society based on concepts he and the saint discussed before the saint’s passing. The Knights of the Altar was established as part of the Blessed Sacrament Sodality. In Minnesota, 80 years later, Father Francis E. Benz established the Knights of the Altar in the United States. Although he organized the society in response to clergy and religious who wanted an organization that would provide rules and regulations to altar boys, his vision was far greater. The knights’ noble duties include forming “a worthy guard of honor to our Divine Eucharistic King,” assisting in the Mass with faith and reverence, inspiring parishioners and serving the Church.
In Still River, a large chapter of knights has been embracing these responsibilities. They’ve been serving their parishes and the Sisters of St. Benedict Center, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with dignity and honor. Established in 2008 by Father Mark Withoos, the St. Ann’s Knights of the Altar chapter now hopes to bring the society and its knowledge to parishes in the Worcester Diocese.
One knight who’s leading the charge is 16-year-old James Petullo. Not only does James devote time to studying, computer coding, participating in the Civil Air Patrol and building remote control aircrafts, he has risen through the ranks of the knights to become a Grand Knight. James recalled, “I became involved with the Knights of the Altar because my family was especially interested in locating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass – both for its history and because my sister, brother and I study Latin.”
But his rise to his current role required much more than his knowledge of Latin.
“I was promoted to the rank of Grand Knight after eight years of service in the society,” said James. “It is the pinnacle of the member’s career in the Knights of the Altar. A young man reaches this level after serving in the ranks of apprentice, page, knight, and knight commander. At age 16, a member is eligible to take the Grand Knight knowledge test which is a 40-question exam touching on Latin responses, serving procedure, the names of the priest’s vestments, leadership and character and general Latin terminology.“
While there’s a lot for the boys to learn, the knights also enjoy friendship and fellowship. James said that a typical monthly meeting includes an opening prayer, society business and talks by a visiting priest, the Supreme Grand Knight and the Knight Director.
“At the end of the assembly, the knight’s pledge is recited, and the members move to the chapel to practice their rubrics,” James noted. “The meeting closes with pizza and a movie and outdoor games. Then, the members walk next door to St. Benedict Abbey for compline, night prayer. Some parents attend the meeting – although, normally, it is just the knights.”
Fred Moriarty is the group’s Knight Director. Mr. Moriarty, who said he “was blessed to have served the Latin Mass as a boy as well as the new Mass,” oversees the meetings and helps the boys and men become better altar servers. He said he’s amazed at how the boys mature as they progress through the ranks of the society and in their roles as altar servers.
“One parent told me that the first time her son was to emcee on a normal Sunday, he spent most of the day before reviewing everything over and over…,” Mr. Moriarty said. “They were amazed to see him devoting so much time to this and realized he was learning important lessons for the future – whatever his calling may be. The Knights build character, self-discipline, team spirit, and love of Jesus and Our Blessed Mother Mary. They learn reverence for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
And their enthusiasm for their noble responsibilities shows.
“I enjoy the leadership and administration roles I play in the society: leadership in the form of guiding servers through the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, managing the Knights of the Altar baseball team and serving as thurifer on the altar,” shared James.
He added, “Our group can make a difference in the Worcester Diocese through altar server formation in parishes. We stress to our own members the reverence, discipline and care that they should display while serving Mass. We can also distribute Knights of the Altar materials, such as the handbook, to local parishes.”
Parishes that would like altar server training from St. Ann’s Knights of the Altar, can contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the group, please visit its website, https://sites.google.com/site/saintannskota/.