Monday, August 6, 2007
Altar Servers….Boys vs. Girls
Fr. V is on vacation and I have taken over. Today the blog…tomorrow the world!!!
For the past year I have found myself a bit of a liturgical snob of. My friends often say that I’m a bit too critical with regards to the mass; yet, the most holy sacrifice should be done properly and with reverence or it’s not worth doing at all. After attending some short classes on the liturgy provided by our friend Fr. V, I was reinvigorated with the mass and how my whole life is centered on it. Sadly, there are some priests that change the mass to their liking, which of course brings some sorrow to my heart and soul. Yet, there are certain things that I enjoy about mass” good music (which I will post about later in the week), having the Eucharistic prayer said correctly, full, conscious, active participation by the congregation, and also watching alter boys perform their duties with the utmost respect and reverence.
While watching the rainfall in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday I sat and had a chat with a friend about alter boys. Formally, only boys and young men whom the Church hoped to recruit for priesthood were altar servers. However, things have taken a turn and now girls or young women can be alter servers. This was a source of discussion as my friend and I chatted. So I pose the question, is it appropriate for girls to be altar servers?
Depending on whom you speak with, you'll find some stanch Catholics that believe only boys should assist with the most holy sacrifice while others believe that girls can partake. On July 26, 1766, Pope Benedict XIV forbid females from serving at the altar. He stated,
“ Pope Gelasius in his ninth letter (chap. 26) to the bishops of Lucania condemned the evil practice which had been introduced of women serving the priest at the celebration of Mass. Since this abuse had spread to the Greeks, Innocent IV strictly forbade it in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum: "Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry." We too have forbidden this practice in the same words in Our oft-repeated constitution Etsi Pastoralis, sect. 6, no. 21.”
However, after the Second Vatican Council, thoughts changed and girls were allowed to join in the fun. Yet, in 1970 and 1980 two documents were put out by the Vatican stating that girls should NOT be altar servers. Some argument arose from this heated debate and officials were going back to canon §230 2 which stated:
"Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation. All lay persons can also perform the functions of commentator or cantor, or other functions, according to the norm of law."
The canon was argued in both directions and it was decided that each diocesan bishop could decide what was proper for their diocese. Yet, the tables turned again when a later document stated that a priest, if faced with a girl altar server, does not have to allow her to serve, since no one has the right to be an altar server.
After all of that, I’m not sure what to believe anymore. Being an altar server and a girl, I have to question if I was doing the proper thing in the Church’s eyes. The argument that I hear is that yes, serving properly sets up the role of the male to become a priest. However, one could possibly argue that a girl severing also is fulfilling her vocation as a possible sister/nun. Being a more conservative Catholic, I still agree with the fact that only males should serve. Although serving for a girl may aid her in her vocation to religious life, the role of a sister serves a different purpose in the Church and although her life should be centered on the Eucharist, males should only serve. Who should we ultimately follow, the Pope or the Bishop? How strictly should we adhere to canon law? Are we in today’s world becoming cafeteria Catholics? I shall let you decide.