Christianity: Boys in the Church


Figure 1.--This unidentified boy was photograph at a Broadway, New York studio in 1889. I think the fact he holds a hymnal suggests that he is a chorister rathar than an altar boy.

Boys apparently had a role in the Church from a very early period. There is not a lot of information involved on this dufring the early history of the Christianity. Boys were involved in different activiyies. Boys assisted the priests in services becoming altar boys. As music became important in Christian services, boy choristers played a prominnt role. We also note boy preachers. This seems to have been a more recent development and one which we have noted in the Protestantv and not the Catholic churches. We have collected some individual examples of these boy preachers.

Altar Boys

Altar boys are an important part of the tradition of the Catholic Church as well as other churches such as the Orthodox and Anglican churches. Altar boys appear in the written record as early as 251 AD, meaning that the tradition must have developed even earlier. Altar boys in the Roman Catholic Church were first regarded as belonging to the clergy, thus they had to learn Latin prayers, songs and had to behave in a well manner and follow all the rules that were set on them. Many became priests later, much more so than is the case today. After the II Vatican Council, the status of altar boys changed. They were placed as a memeber of the congregation and represented the congregation at the altar. Altar boys have very important responsibilities in the modern Church service. Catholic boys serving as altar boys or "Acolytes" wear eclesiastical vestments. This is most common for Roman Catholic boys, although boys in the Orthodox Church and even some protesant demoninations may also wear these vestments.

Choristers

Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the early years of the church. Some of the first European schools after the fall of the Roman Empire were formed by the church at monestaries to educate young choristers. The choirs were primarily associated with the Catholic Church, but choirs were also formed by some Protestant churches. The Orthodox Church was less interested in boy choirs. The choral tradition was to a large part lost in the disorders and wars following the Reformation and relious wars of the 17th century. It was further weakened as a result of the anti-clerical direction of the French Revolution. Choirs survived in England and scattered other lications in Germany and Austria. The boy choral tradition was revived in the 20th century, especially in England, France, Germany, and America. Although there are now many girls' and mixed choirs, until recently the church choirs were all boy choirs.

Preachers

Some children have been recogonized as moving preachers. This seems to have been a uniquely American phenomenon. And an entirely Protestant one. As far as I know they were always boys. One is reminded of course of the novel Elmer Gantry and the movie The Apostle, with Robert Duvall, whose character preached as a boy in the Pentecostal church. We believe there have been quite a number of these children, especially in evangelical fundamentalist churches. Presumably this is why most of the boys we have noted have been Americans. Since the 1930s, however, the phenomenon has become less common. These boys appear to have only preched locally and HBC has been unable to find much information about them.





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Created: 8:07 AM 8/12/2007
Last updated: 8:07 AM 8/12/2007