Altar server Gerard Burton is known for the extraordinary grace that he brings to his role. He would rather call it a humble effort to return through worship a little of what God lavishes on the world. “When I think of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit,” he said, “I just think of everything beautiful that they have created. So Mass is a beautiful way to give back.”
Altar serving is also a means for Gerard to honor the memory of his twin brother Greg, who died of leukemia at the age of 32. “Greg and I were altar servers together from the ages of 7 to 14,” he said. They grew up in a Catholic family that made service a cornerstone of faith. Those lessons came back to Gerard when, in his grief over the death of his brother, he began attending Mass even more frequently than before. “It was such a sad time,” he said, “but I found myself growing much closer to God.” As he became a daily worshipper at his church in Harrisburg, Gerard noticed the need for an altar server, so he volunteered. After he and his wife Peggy moved permanently to Ocean City in 2012, he began to serve the altar at various Masses across all three St Damien churches, but he eventually saw the biggest need at the Saturday afternoon Mass at St. Augustine Church.
Gerard also lends his grace and experience to special services, including the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, which he describes as both “joyous” and “solemn.” He carries basins and cloths for officiants during the washing of the feet. He holds texts during the priests’ renewal of vows. He participates in the recession of the Blessed Sacrament. Afterwards he assists in the stripping of the altar in preparation for Good Friday services. Another gratifying ceremony is the Confirmation Mass, which he has served for the past four years. “Bishop Sullivan is so good with the young people,” he observed. Gerard also formed a friendship with the Bishop’s secretary, Fr. Michael Romano, who now is assigned to the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
What is Gerard’s favorite part of being an altar server? It comes during Communion when the Eucharistic ministers fan out from the altar to distribute the hosts and Gerard kneels alone, looking up at the beautiful flower arrangement and then beyond, to Jesus on the cross. “That is when I feel a personal connection,” he said, from an angle that belongs only to the altar server.
Gerard serves God and the parish in other ways. In 2018 he completed formation as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. As a member of the Liturgy Ministry he helps to write Christ at Mass themes that are read on Sundays and longer essays for the St. Damien website. He also recently was recruited to be a sacristan. He does all these things while holding a full-time job as an Information Technology project manager at an area casino. “None of these roles takes that much time,” Gerard observed. Indeed, the few hours he sacrifices each month in service to the church are far surpassed, he said, by the rewards that come from learning more, participating more deeply, and feeling closer to God.
Gerard has been married for 32 years. He and his wife Peggy have two adult children, Maggie and Michael, who both live in Pennsylvania. As an uncle he stays connected to his late brother’s children, who are similar in age to his own.
Most recently Gerard agreed to become the coordinator of the Altar Service ministry, taking over from Ed and Ginny Manning. He seeks to recruit and orient new altar servers, both youths and adults. “Whether you are between the ages of 6 and 18, or an adult like me, it is such a rewarding experience to contribute to the Mass as an alter server,” he said, adding, “Altar serving is like being the catcher in a baseball game. You are part of nearly every play.”