Monday, April 12, 2010


I am afraid there is not too much intriguing to report from last week. Most of Easter Week I was as sick as can be. I got up tried to work for an hour or so and then would be so tired that I would have to lay down for a spell. It was supposed to be a catch up week and now I find I am further behind than ever.

One thing I did not miss however was getting together with priest friends to do an Easter report. We talk about what went right and (mostly) what went wrong at our respective parishes. Of course I told the story that I told you last week about getting to baptisms and suddenly discovering that we had forgotten to prepare for this most important moment.

One of the topics we discussed I almost hesitate to mention now because it is so charged with emotion. But it happened. One of my best priest friends asked, “What did people most complain about?” That was easy. On Maundy Thursday the celebrant had washed only men’s feet. That brought about an equal amount of mail both pro and con but the cons were defiantly more passionate. With a grin he reported that he had received equally heated letters because he had decided to wash women’s feet this year.

If you want to have a discussion about rubrics and symbols versus social justice please feel free to carry that on among yourselves. I will not get involved. If we were truly equal it wouldn’t matter a jot if it were all men, or 50/50, or what have you, it would be “people had their feet washed.” But it shows we have a long way to go that it matters so much. Such is life.

But what gave me a heart attack was the Easter Vigil. We are in the sacristy and I am giving last minute instructions when I stop in mid sentence. “Where are the girls?” Out of 12 servers there was only one girl. This was not planned. A sheet is posted on the wall and people sign up first come first serve. It just happened to be mostly boys that signed up. A certain dread fell over me. “This isn’t good,” I thought, “this is going to come back in a bad way.”

Then the readers stepped forward. Man heavy. Oh! We shouldn’t care! But we do! And I felt a trickle of sweat go down my back. It was like a dream where you are at a party and think everything is Okay and then suddenly realize you don’t have pants on and you pray nobody notices. So every day of Easter Week I approached my phone, mailbox, and Emails with trepidation. Fortunately there were no more angry letters concerning any observances of my boxers though I am sure there are those who noticed and for one reason or another decided not to mention them.

So . . . if your pastor seems to have done something (anything) that you find offensive might I suggest to you that you call, write, Email him a polite letter of inquiry to make sure if he woke in this dream discovering he had only boxers on or if he in fact purposefully came to the party sans trousers and what his motivation might have been in appearing so. The motivation may have been noble or innocent even if it does not appear to be so at first. More offense is brought into the world by people taking it than by it actually being offered.


Anonymous said...

I think my biggest concern over washing Every One's feet is that it is not allowed except in special circumstances with written permission.
It is unfortunate that this has become the "norm" or that in trying to address it, there is fear that people will get quite upset.
For us, we know what is asked of us. We know, as do our children, that this also represents the priesthood (different from baptismal priesthood that we all share in). We sit in back and pray.
I sort of see it like this, some priests are danged if they do, danged if they don't.
It does need to be addressed, but how the priest does it, is up to him.
I didn't let the fact that our priest had all, including children with the DRE (woman) "helping" too affect the significance of the night. It just comes across as someone trying to be OVERLY sensitive to a situation where women and men need to do some accepting on things.
Or at least challenging them to be obedient would be nice.
(I am not in FrV's parish or diocese-just someone who enjoys his thoughts/commentary)

Anonymous said...

I did wonder why there were only men having their feet washed. I'd like to say that my memory was sufficient to recall if last year was all men or something other but I could not. I also wondered if men were chosen to signify the apostles. Guess I am not worried enough about equal treament of the sexes because my next thought was not that I should complain but if I were chosen how many times would I wash my own feet before mass to make certain they were clean and would I really want Fr. Pfeiffer to see my toes.

Unfortunately, I think those who want to complain will always find something to complain about. I thought all the Triduum services were beautiful and well thought out and rehearsed

Adoro said...

Well, Father, I'm going to just say I'm glad it was all men. That's what indicated in the rubrics, it's significant that it be men, and the second we have others up there it becomes about "us" and not about God's incredible designs and the greater transcendance of the Mass.

People who claim that there weren't women up there actually make the point that they don't understand what the Mass, and this event, is really about.

But that leaves you in the position of trying to provide the proper catechesis to people who maybe aren't so interested.

For myself, I got blasted because a parent was upset that a little girl who was baptized also received the other 2 Sacraments. She'd never heard of it before, she thought we were doing something wrong, and she spoke from a position of "unfairness". As in, "I had to do all this running around with my teenage son to fulfill Confirmation program requirements yet this little girl won't ever have to do that!"

We live in a very self-absorbed culture that doesn't understand what justice REALLY is, that equality and fairness are not the same thing, and that in the order of grace what is owed to another might not necessarily be due for them.

Yet, to be Catholic, we have to transcend culture, and popular opinion to act in Truth, even if that action sets off people who haven't been introduced to the concept.

(Oh, in my case the conversation ended very very well and she understood. She really wasn't happy about it, but she was convinced at least that we didn't do anything wrong, nor did Father!) Hope your chat sessions with angry people turn out even better!

melody said...

I belong to a parish of this diocese that has only male altar servers. Most of our large parish finds their reverent service inspiring. The boys take this ministry very seriously and one result is that a many of them have a strong attraction to the vocation of the priesthood. They are becoming a community of young Catholic men, unashamed, enthusiastic, led by priests who help to instill in them a great love for the liturgy and the Eucharist.

A small (but vocal) minority want to see girls included. The thing I notice most about this group is that they are also vocal about their belief that women should be ordained as priests. They do not honor this unique opportunity that our young men should be free to have as their own; to serve at the altar under the direction of good priests who are instilling in them a love for the Mass and openness to a priestly vocation. Unfortunately, it is confusing to the girls and boys alike and tends to cause the boys to withdraw partially or completely.

Most of the other parishes that surround us include girls at the service of the altar. Over time, boys simply stop joining. It is a "girl" activity. Many parishes around us never have male servers.

I beg you to ignore the numbers and emails and focus on those things which are more important. My oldest son is actively discerning a priestly vocation. Without question, I can say his attraction to the priesthood has come PRIMARILY through his service at the altar and the interaction with the holy priests he serves for. I have been astounded by the growing number of other boys in the parish who are now openly talking about their desire for a religious vocation. This community they have as altar boys is something unique that CANNOT be found among their school or neighborhood friends. And it could not possibly be found among young ladies serving at the altar with them since this vocation is not open to females.

When a mom has a fit about her daughter not being allowed to serve at the altar, I am always tempted to ask why she isn't already involved in the 100's of other ministries that are open to her in our huge and dynamic parish. Women sometimes lose sight of reason when they feel excluded. They want Suzy to be an altar server because someone's telling them she can't.

I can't stress enough how important an all-male experience of this ministry has been to young men of my parish who are growing more confident every day in their pursuit of holiness and discernment of religious vocation. Their influence on the younger boys is significant. The community is beginning to notice.

I congratulate you on being able to retain boys as well as girl servers. You are doing something right. Please know that it does make a difference to these boys who they serve with. I'm a happy female but pride of my sex must take a back seat better things. Is having girl altar servers "bad"? I don't think so. But I think having all male servers is "best." Don't be afraid of those people who make noise, Father. Ultimately, the fruits of upholding the better option will be seen in vocations. My family is a living witness to the truth of this.

My oldest daughter was asked whether she feels left out because her brother serves and she doesn't. She was vehement in her response: "Oh no! This is so important to my brother and the other boys. They really get a chance to be close to the Mass and to the priests and so many of them want to be priests now, too. Any girl can do the things that they do up there. It doesn't look that hard and we're not dumb! But they should have the chance to have this special thing for themselves. Girls have their own special things and can do lots and lots of other activities that always need doing." She's 10 years old.

I hope this doesn't come across as overly negative. My attempt was to encourage you and share my experience of the powerful impact that an all-male altar service clearly has on vocations.

Anonymous said...

I am a woman and I would love to see female priests! I remember as a child pretending to be a priest but that is a whole other story. However, despite that fact, I think when we are so concerned with the gender thing, we lose sight of the significance of the act. I know that God loves me regardless of my sex and that he had female apostles albeit not the "12". Why do we get so hung up with "worldly beliefs" and just can't seem to get beyond the secular world?

Catholic Writer said...

Great blog today on the "backlash" from Holy Week. What are people thinking? Is worship about worship of God or is it about looking for hurt and insult to complain about?

I just loved the ending of your post, Father:

The motivation may have been noble or innocent even if it does not appear to be so at first. More offense is brought into the world by people taking it than by it actually being offered.