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.

20 comments:

uncle jim said...

i didn't / don't know if you are using the word "alter"-boy as a focus play on "altar"-boy or if it just a 'freudian-slip' - elswhere you use "altar"-boy properly. so?

i vote against girls serving at the altar. the parish in which i reside just began the practice 3 years ago with a new pastor. in that short period of time, there are now more girls serving than boys - boys are now opting out. their former role was 'special' and now has been diluted.

an older (middle/late sixties)woman in the parish assisted at the altar a couple of weeks ago. she commented to me after Mass, "I've waited 60 years to do this - I am so happy."

Anonymous said...

Boys and boys only.

Who do we ultimately follow? The Pope.

If more and more girls invade the place where boys should be, less boys will want to be on the altar.

I however believe that the only person that should be on the altar is the priest and the altar boys. Anthing that takes away from that upsets me.

eileen said...

I agree that altar servers should be male. We have also seen a decline of boys serving since girls seem to sign up for everything :)

Rob said...

I am sure that there are plenty of good altar-servers that are female. I doubt that many of them are planning on undermining Catholic liturgy. However, I believe they should not be allowed for practical purposes: there seems to be a direct connection between the prevalence of female altar servers and a decline in the number of boys entering the priesthood. Strategically, it just seems wiser to permit only males

PS - It's altar-servers, not altar boys. Many of them are grown men where I live.

Lillian Marie said...

Question...Why were girls able to sign-up to be altar servers in the first place? Was it that there was such a decline in the number of boys who served/wanted to serve that the Bishops had to do something? I don't know. I understand the reasoning behind only boys. Be that as it may, to me this is trivial. What would really get me going is a Gloria & Holy, Holy being sung so prayerfully & so loudly that it ROCKS THE HOUSE! It would shake Heaven & earth.

Anonymous said...

I just happened upon your blog--you're from Cleveland? May I ask what parish?

With regard to the acolyte question, I disagree that females should be prohibited from serving. There are three recognized orders nowadays (deacons, presbyters, bishops) and in the olden days females were allowed (indeed, needed) to serve as deacons. If encouraging children to get excited about being ordained is the goal, then both should be allowed to serve (for a variety of reasons). Then again, I would prefer to see adults serving as acolytes. The only officially installed acolytes are ordinands anyway, so in 99% of situations, I think having adult acolytes would be one more way to encourage involvement and increased reverence among all God's people.

Adoro te Devote said...

anon ~ Look closer at history. Women as "deacons" did not serve the role that deacons serve now. They did thing like hold up sheets (or whatever cloth was used at the time in history) during baptisms to preserve the modesty of the women being baptized. Those kinds of things. They did not serve during the Mass.

Speaking as a woman myself, I think girls should be completely prohibited from being altar servers. It is a position that traditionally helps boys, as they grow into men, forge a connection with the priest and develops them for possible future service as a priest. I do think allowing women to serve in that capacity actually makes boys turn away from it and in fact, usurps the true roles of men and women within the Church.

The girls can sing, they can lector, they can do other things...let the boys do what they are called to do, and let them have it to themselves.

The Diocese of Lincoln, NE is the only diocese, to my knowledge, that never allowed girls to be altar servers...and that diocese is FILLED with Vocations to both the priesthood and the religious life.

There is a direct correlation.

Rob said...

Thanks, Adoro!

A well-stated reply.

Anonymous said...

I remain unpersuaded by adoro te devote's arguments. 1) Things change--that's the nature of the church insofar as it is a human/cultural institution. Female deacons ceased to be when initiation of nude adults fell out of fashion. That they aren't around now doesn't mean they won't be again, or shouldn't be. (There are lots of good reasons for reexamining the possibility of female deacons, the primary one being that our church has a need for ordained ministers to serve God's people and the world.) 2) Girl servers turn boys away from wanting to be of service to the church? Clearly that isn't true for any male readers of this blog, but let me set that aside for the moment. Admitting the correlation that adore te devote points out, I would remind all readers about the danger of drawing large conclusions from any correlation. Correlations point to a relationship between two factors; they don't account for all of the factors. Perhaps in Nebraska it is not only true that are no girls as servers, but that a whole ethos, of which this detail is a part, drives vocations. Perhaps that ethos, with or without girl servers, is what is responsible for the situation in Nebraska and could be responsible for increased vocations elsewhere. I would like very much to hear what the church in Nebraska is like--as a whole, perhaps it could be emulated to a positive end elsewhere (such as Cleveland).

Pax et bonum.

Melody said...

I have six nieces who were altar servers, because they wanted to be. I have two sons who didn't want to be. I regret that I kind of pushed one of them into doing it for awhile, but he was never comfortable with it ( he had a thing about being in front of a crowd of people). I should add that we lived in the Lincoln Diocese when my boys were that age, so it wasn't that they minded that girls were serving. I say let the young people serve who want to, and are willing to put in the work and commitment; whether they are boys or girls. Altar servers aren't mini-priests, they're just kids; and it's good to see them there.

Melody said...

One reason the Lincoln Diocese has more vocations than some is that they put in a lot of recruitment effort through the University of Nebraska Newman Center.

Anonymous said...

My 6th grade daughter serves and does so quite reverently. I wouldn't say that the duties servers perform these days are meant to increase vocations- the duties seem so diminished and away from the priest for the most part, that either boys or girls can perform them equally well. I see about the same number of boys and girls becoming servers and the boys are not scared away because of girls participating in my parish. Another thing that troubles me is that boys and girls tend to stop serving in 7th and 8th grade. The parish recruits 5th graders in hopes they'll serve for at least 2 yrs, and then it's on to a new group. Bottom line- until there are common training procedures throughout parishes and a change to more meaningful duties they might perform, I am okay with both boys and girls being allowed to altar serve.

Adoro te Devote said...

The reality is that there is a vocations crisis in the Church; and the reality also exists that this crisis began after the "reforms" of Vatican II. Of course, the "reforms" were largely things not actually contained within the documents, but rather, a bunch of made-up stuff likely fueled by the heavy THC content in the air during those times. (tongue firmly planted in cheek).

The Lincoln NE diocese SHOULD be used as a model for the rest of us; for they have solid Catholic teaching, which leads to clear definitions in the roles within the Church for both men and women, and provides a base of reverence which tends to become ingrained and then replicate as young Catholic grow up. Certainly some fall away; that is the human condition.

The problem is that when the lines are blurred, whether it is within the roles of the laity in the Church, or with watered-down theology that minces words and seeks not to offend, Vocations fall off. Who wants to give their life for some kind of hokey practice and questionable theology? No one.

Correlations are important; clearly, the use of alter girls in place or with alter boys is actually only a symptom of what is wrong in the Church.

I can live with seeing girls serving at the alter, but I'd rejoice greatly if they weren't there at all. And I'm not a bit sorry if my position offends some of you. If we want Vocations, then they need to be built from the ground up; orthodoxy across the board.

In my archd., Mpls-St. Paul, the biggest suppliers of Vocations come from parishes that do not have altar girls. My own parish does have altar girls, sadly, but we also have other things that do help to make up for the lack; such as Perpetual Adoration, Marian devotions (we have a Fatima shrine), etc. The key is orthodoxy. However, I've observed that the more solid the parish, the more priests and religious choose vocations. The more "progressive" the parish, the more people are crying out about the Vocations Crisis because no one from that parish has followed the Call in YEARS, or perhaps NEVER. The parishes that list people in formation; we don't cry about the Crisis, because we are watching people choose to follow God.

I firmly believe definition of and enforcement of roles within the Church is needed. Good teachign is not enough. If we don't follow what we are teaching, then where is the example? Women should serve, absolutely, and women can serve at the Mass...but it would be better if they did something that does not involve the sacred space that should only be inhabited by Men, in accordance with God's will which has been revealed and practiced until 1968.

Yes, things change; but Truth does not, and the inherent characteristics and calls respective to men and women do not change, no matter how much we would prefer that they did.

Guess what? Men will forever be men. Women will always be women. That's been true throughout history.

And do NOT bring surgeries and other such things into this conversation. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Adoro,
You are very right on all you've said above...vocations start from the ground up. I maintain that consistency is necessary however, amongst the parishes in the archdiocese concerning altar serving. If the goal of serving is to seek to bring young men into the priesthood, than I've never heard it from any religious or lay person at my church.(I am just speaking the truth here-not trying to be confrontational.) Our parish is in Mpls/St. Paul too, a large suburban one as well. I will check on how many vocations have come from ours (I'm sure of one), but at any rate, orthodoxy is not a word often used/practiced there. I'd say our parish is sort of middle-of-the-road traditional in most repects. We did finally get weekend adoration, at the request of some parishioners-the pastor actually resisted it at first! At any rate, the training for servers wasn't adequate for my liking and I trained my kids(2 boys,1 girl)to wear proper attire and to fully participate with reverence during mass while having the honor of serving. I agree with what you've said, that men and women have differing, yet important roles in the Church. I am praying our new archbishop will provide us with some leadership, unity and consistency in this area-why do things have to be so different from one parish to the next?

Lillian Marie said...

Adoro: "Women should serve, absolutely, and women can serve at the Mass...but it would be better if they did something that does not involve the sacred space that should only be inhabited by Men..."

Then you are also ruling out women's roles in the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, since only men should be on the altar.

First, and foremost, these are children we are talking about. Jesus told his Disciples to let the children come to Him. It is an honor to serve God! Let's foster and nurture that, since it's definitely the Spirit working in them, boy or girl, and they desire to be there.

And, as Jesus taught Mary, Martha's sister, we then, also, need to teach and nurture the altar servers as they get older to learn about vocations. Let's not turn her away because they she's a girl...who knows, she could be the next Mother Angelica or Mother Theresa!

Adoro te Devote said...

lilian marie ~ what are you talking about? Lectors and cantors do NOT stand at the altar. They stand at the lectern. There IS a difference.

Raise children to know their place, wherever it may be. Children are much smarter than we give them credit for; letting them use "childhood" as an excuse for getting away with stuff is unacceptable.

Maybe it's because my own mother was very strict; my brother was an altar server and Mom made it clear it was not my place to be so. That was fine with me; I was shy and didn't want to be in front of people. But even as I later aspired to male-dominated fields, the lines were drawn; I knew I did not belong on the altar. I did serve a couple times as lector; I read the Gospel in Spanish. (That was actually an abuse, liturgically but I didn't know any better at the time and it didn't cross a boundary that had previously been defined to me). I also stood near the altar playing my flute during the Palm Sunday Gospel (also a no-no), but I was not crossing boundaries between the sexes as to what was appropriate.

Teach the altar servers that only boys belong in that position; teach the girls they can do other things. And when they grow up, they won't be as confused as women are today.

Of course, maybe I'm being unfair; it's mostly grey-haired baby-boomers who are confused about their roles.

I stand by what I said, and I mean what I said. If needed, further clarification will occurr.

For the record, I'm an ex feminazi, but still a feminist. I will lobby to the death for women to have the right to serve in traditionally male roles. But when it comes to the Church, a Divine Institution, hand's off. Let God decide, follow HIS order, and not our own preferences. The Church is not a Democracy and things are ordered the way they are for a reason, whether we agree or not.

Only boys should be alter servers. Period.

Adoro te Devote said...

I just came across this on my "evening rounds." Pertinent to the subject; be sure to read the comments.

Keep in mind that use of altar girls is a slippery slope that can lead to what we are now seeing with regard to PLC's. God save us from PLC's!

http://hancaquam.blogspot.com/2007/08/mistakes-we-make-with-priestly.html

JustMe said...

PLCs.. that's a whole other kettle of ribs. I'd better restrict my commentary mostly to altar servers.

I've been slammed for being quite orthodox-- but that silly e-diom is true, that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. It's for the same reason I will no longer have my feet washed by a priest on Holy Thursday that I'm also not thrilled to see female altar servers (of any age). If the Church -- Mother and Teacher -- says "Um, not so much!" about females serving in traditionally male roles, which Traditionally reflects Apostles' roles (of whom even the replacement Apostle was male), then it is either ignorance or arrogance that demands we forge ahead.

Mary B said...

I do not like the idea of girl altar servers. But since it is acceptable by the church I have allowed my daughter to become one.

She did not start at the typical age, but wanted to do it at junior high age. She wants to be involved with the mass/church and that is a good thing.

We have a mix of boys and girls at our parish and usually there is a mixture of boys and girls serving during the mass.

Deep down I would like to see it return to all boy altar servers like it was when I was younger. I'm not an expert by any means, but I think it would be good for vocations of the priesthood.

I had not encouraged my daughter to be an altar server. I did not discourage her when she became interested. If I had a son I would encourage him to do it at the age they begin serving. I doubt I would've forced a son to do it, but I probably would've encouraged it even before he was the proper age.

Anonymous said...

I believe somewhere in the Liturgy Constitution it reads that one thing that liturgy does is TEACH. Inasmuch as arguments can be made either way regarding the necessity of inclusive altar serving programs, sadly what is being TAUGHT by excluding girls and young women is injustice; particularly when boys are given preferential treatment. Liturgy always teaches . . . what is important is to teach values that are consistent with and not contradictory of gospel values.