Reader challenge: craft a response

From a readerette (as is):

I am a lady of an age group that never was allowed on the alter. I
always love to see the little server girls and so wish it had been
allowed in my day. I am a Eucharistic minister now and feel so happy to do that service to my Maker. Is the church going to prohibit women from the alter? Manyyoung priests seem to be baying for women to be purged from this service to God. It would grieve me greatly if the women of the church were refused the chance to touch the hem of Our Lords gown as he passes nearby. Surely Christ never refused any service the women of the church offered him? One only has to look at the stations of the cross to see women there all the way loving Christ and reaching out to touch Him and return His Love. I cant understand and it is never explained by any priests why women are to be treated so disrespectfully (the church always seeming to discount us) when
Christ Himself always dignified women. This is not about women priests its about treating women the way Christ treated them. Surely the church wont ban us from the alter?

To my ear, this note has the feeling of what in the talk-radio sphere is a seminar caller. I could be wrong. However, the points that are brought up are commonly heard and read.

Ground rules:

1) Keep your response brief.
2) Do NOT … NOT… engage other people in the combox. Let everyone post his or her own response without worrying that everyone will get out their knives.
3) Think for a while before posting.
4) I am particularly interested in responses by priests.
5) Write as if you are responding to the woman, not responding to this entry. “Dear Ms. Jackson…” (“Jackson” is a generic name.)
6) Don’t be rude.
7) You can respond either way, in agreement or not.

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65 Responses to Reader challenge: craft a response

  1. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    This poor woman exemplifies the confusion which has been allowed by our pastors, and particularly our bishops, to spread through the Church in the pastors decades.

    It is not necessary here in detail to rehearse the many arguments: the apostolic example, tradition, fostering vocations, for male servers. She refers to “Many young priests. We must hope, and are confident, that they will kindly and firmly catechise this woman and her fellow Catholics as to the teachings of the Church in this an many other areas where sadly, I suspect she may also be in error.

    The other sad this about this lack of teaching is that women, who never felt thus until recently, have not been taught the great contribution of women to the Church from Our Lady onwards, as an example to follow. The feminised theology does not admire the qualities of chastity, constancy, selflessness and prayer which typify women though the ages; Therese of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Clare, Elizabeth of Hungary, Bernadette, Edith Stein – “treated so disrespectfully (the church always seeming to discount us)”? I think not.

    [Is that a response to the woman's letter? I think not.]

  2. Brooklyn says:

    This sure sounds like a “seminar poster” to me, and I’m puzzled, Father, as to why you even blogged on this one. If the writer has read your blog at all, she would know you are in complete disagreement and that most of the people who come here would disagree with her. We have many great women saints in the church, including doctors of the church – Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, and Terese of Liseux. Some of our greatest spiritual writings are by women. None of these women ever felt slighted or “disrespected” in the least because they were not allowed at the altar. They understood that the Mass was all about Christ’s sacrifice, and that is where the focus should be. They did not feel a need to be “front and center.”

    Christ was a man, and he has chosen men only to be in his priesthood. To allow women in the sanctuary creates a great distraction and takes away from “In persona Christi ” that is the priesthood. Why would you feel that it is so necessary to be in front, the focus of attention? If you feel the need to be up in front, you really need to be asking yourself some deep questions as to what your real motivations are.

    One interesting side point – a former alter boy I know – who served in the 50′s and 60′s before the Novus Ordo – told me that the result of allowing girls in the sanctuary was to drive boys away, because boys do not want to be associated with “girlie” things, and when boys are driven away, they are also less likely to enter the priesthood.

    [Was that a response to the woman's note? Doesn't seem to be.]

  3. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    As a college aged guy, I generally refuse to be a Extraordinary Minister unless necessary – I pray that one day we will have enough priests to fill the role. However, I love serving at the altar as I still discern my vocation to the priesthood… this role allows me to explore the ministerial priesthood.

    Most importantly, why might anyone seek to touch the hem of His garment when we can literally receive Him, allowing our souls to be a dwelling place for the Trinity? Nothing else can compare. The Fullest participation is receiving Christ in a state of Grace!

  4. jilly4ski says:

    As a young women who grew up in a charismatic parish that did not have girls serve the altar, I am afraid I don’t relate to the questioner. There are many ways to serve the Lord, and having a “job” at the liturgy seems one of the least ways. Instead, the questioner and those who share similar sentiments should maybe reflect on last Sunday’s Gospel. (In the new calendar). “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matt 25:40.

  5. catholicmidwest says:

    The focus of the Vatican II years so far has been on a sort of lay-clericalism, neglecting all the other ways that laypeople, in particular laywomen, can participate in the Church. One thing has all but been forgotten: Women have always served the Church in a wide variety of ways from administering the basic unit of the Church, which is the home, to operating schools, hospitals, religious congregations and more. There have been great women missionaries and builders for centuries. The Church has depended and relied on them. In the last 40 years, that has all gone on “pause,” for this other model, which is lay clericalism, and it’s been one of the tragedies of contemporary times in the Church.

    Many ordinary women have drawn the conclusion because of this contemporary emphasis on lay-clericalism that this is the only way they can participate. As a woman, I understand this, because it certainly does appear that way to women in contemporary Catholic culture. What is needed is a better public understanding of what the Church needs from women, and a real and genuine orthodox exploration of all the ways in which women could really benefit the Church.

    On a baseball team, if your first-baseman and your outfielders aren’t doing their jobs, it doesn’t matter at all how good your pitcher is. To have the best team possible, everyone has to do their part and all the parts are important. This is not just a slogan; it’s really how these things work. People will be good “outfielders” when the post is a visible one, and when it’s recognized as a necessary position that needs to be played. There are people out here with latent talent for roles that have been languishing in wait for them. Let’s find them!

  6. kab63 says:

    Ma’am, [That's the spirit. Address the reader directly!]

    Christ and the Church honor you through your womanhood. You bleed. When Christ says, “This is my body, which is given up for you,” you are graced with a human, fallen communion with Him: in pregnancy and lactation you give up your body for another day after day. All the sufferings of your female biology offer you a personal understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and love.

    Leave the altar to the men. They need it; we don’t.

  7. Taylor says:

    Okay. I will reply to the woman’s letter.

    Ma’am,

    The sanctuary is an area for ordained men only, as it is part of the priesthood. This goes back to Judaism. Although things have eased up in recent times and laypeople waltz around the altar and enter the sanctuary as though it were their living room, this is not really a good practice. Although there needs to be servers to assist the priest, there is no reason to allow girls. Young boys will grow in desire to join the priesthood if they help serve, as they experience the Mass up close when they assist.

    It is nice that you feel you are serving God by being an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister. However, it is extremely likely that the Extraordinary ministers are your church probably aren’t really needed. In any case, would you serve God any less if you were not an EMHC? The greatest women saints were neither lectors, nor cantors, nor EMHCs, nor altar girls, nor did they enter the sanctuary. There is definitely a connection here. Male and female are equal but different, with differing roles. The greatest female saints embraced their roles.

    The idea that not allowing altar girls denies them service to Christ is incorrect. By prohibiting them, may they be turned into a more appropriate, truer, deep erservice than being an altar girl–which nowadays seems to be nothing more than standing in the corner with a candle. There are holier things for women than that!

  8. Catholicity says:

    I am a man of an age group that never was allowed to become pregnant. It thrills me when I see healthy young women with bellies swollen with child and so wish that men in my day could experience the same. I am a physician assistant in an OB clinic now and feel so happy just to be close to the excitement. Is God going to continue to prohibit men from becoming pregnant? Women always look at me funny when I tell them how I feel. It grieves me that men are refused the chance to participate so deeply in the creation of life. Surely Christ never explicitly said that men were forbidden to give birth? I cant understand and it is never explained by any women why men are to be treated so disrespectfully when Christ Himself always dignified both men and women. Surely God wont refuse us the joy of giving birth!

  9. sejoga says:

    I am a man who has never served at the altar in any capacity and I suspect I never will. It has not been a detriment to my faith or the practice thereof. There are things in life all of us are barred from because of the circumstances of our birth or other aspects of our life, but it doesn’t render our lives futile or vain. We have a calling, and as Catholics, our calling includes to be obedient to the authority of the Church. If the Church were to decide to rescind the permission to allow women to serve as acolytes or to prohibit laypersons from acting as EMHCs, none of God’s grace or the spiritual benefits we derive from that is lost, so we should simply ask ourselves what more we can do in the practice of our faith to be the best Catholics that we can be in the face of such changes.

    No one is ‘discounted’ who can still receive the fullness of God’s grace. A man who serves at the altar every Sunday of his life may yet never live to see God in the face, but a woman who was never permitted to serve may become the most renowned of saints. The things of this world shall pass, but God endures forever, and we should seek happiness not for this life but for the next.

  10. I’m a 32 year old wife and mother to 4 daughters. I have only served as an altar server once (a memorial mass for my grandfather) and I would prefer there not be any female altar servers. In addition to the usual arguments against female altar servers, I find it very unfeminine and unbecoming for the girls and young women. Just so you know where I am coming from.

    I am sympathetic that this woman (taken at face value) feels called to serve God but I think she is confused on what service is asked for by God. Extraordinary Ministers are only supposed to be used rarely and when necessary, so if you are serving thus regularly, it is not a service God has requested. That does not, however, mean that God is not asking a service of you. Have you ever considered offering to do the mending and washing and folding of the altar linens? There is more than one way to serve our Lord and perhaps you are pursuing a form of service you wish to give but that He is not asking of you.

  11. I am responding as a woman and mother of boys, one who serves at the altar.

    I do not believe girls should serve. Men and women are different. They are not the same. Women have vital roles to play in the life of the church: as the primary educators of their children; as sacristans caring for the sanctuary, vessels and garments (touching – mending! – the hems!); as organizers of the social fabric of their parishes; as catechists; as employees helping in the running the offices.

    Christ called only men to the priesthood, and I believe the role of altar server should be reserved for boys in order to foster camaraderie and vocations.

  12. benedetta says:

    The questioner grounds her question using different allusions which confuses the question. This confuses the issues, for instance, the miraculous healing of the woman who touched Jesus’ hem cannot really be equated with priestly service, nor with the Church’s understanding that priestly service was instituted for males in persona Christi while at the same time not intended as a commentary or conclusion that women could not properly “serve” the Lord as they are. Also I do not think it wholly respectful on the one hand to depict female Eucharistic ministers as being devoted to the Lord and service to Him while “some priests” are “baying” for something or other to happen. Further I do not observe this phenomenon myself in reality but perhaps where the questioner lives due to the vocations crisis there is a concern that the lack of male presence on the altar aside from the priest celebrant contributes to the situation and that greater male participation might yield greater numbers of vocations. Finally I do not regard Eucharistic minister as being the best or only way to “touch His garment” or “serve the Lord”, while it may be visible activity, for a woman or a girl it is not necessarily ideal.

  13. Tom Esteban says:

    Everybody will have a lot of good in their responses so to save time I will only address one point because whenever I hear it I address it:

    Well, if you were a Eucharistic Minister (as you claim) you’d be a Priest, and if you were a Priest you’d be on the altar!
    You are an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

  14. ContraMundum says:

    It strikes me that this is what comes of talking too much of “the table of the Lord”; serving at the altar is taken to be a privilege on par with carving the turkey.

    It would be better to start off by being shocked by what Christ demands of us in the Eucharist. If you really, truly believe that the consecrated Host is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, you would not dare to consume it — except for the fact that we are explicitly commanded too, and we dare not disobey. We need to return to a holy fear of God.

    I have seen people put their fingers into liquid nitrogen — for just a fraction of a second — without harm. I will not do that. I have likewise seen videos of people wetting their hands and then putting their fingers into molten lead — for just a fraction of a second — also without harm. I won’t be doing that either. These people would have all been seriously injured if they had not had a deep respect, even a fear, of the materials they were working with.

  15. LittleShepherds says:

    Jesus gave you the answer when he was told that His mother and his brothers where outside and wanted to come nearer, to talk to Him. He said those who do the will of God are my mother and brother.
    Before His Ascention he appointed Peter as His Vicar and when Peter speaks in the manner described in Lumen Gentium #25, Peter speaks for Christ. The Pope tells us what is God’s will by interpreting His Word for our times. The Pope said no altar girls, so, God has said no altar girls — it’s not about what you want, its about what God wants. If the King is not pleased to have you up at the altar, why would you want to go up there? Are you concerned at all at grieving the King? And, do you love Him or not?

  16. benedictgal says:

    Thank you for your letter.

    You have raised a lot of points, which, I believe, require some clarification as to the Church’s liturgical practices for Masses celebrated in the Ordinary Form.

    First of all, we need to have an understanding of the Church’s proper terms. You identified yourdself as a “Eucharistic Minister”; however, the correct term is “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”, since the Eucharistic Minister is used for the bishop and the priest, since they are the one who confect (consecrate) the Eucharist. Bishops, priests and deacons are the Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. When you assist the celebrant, you are acting in the capacity of an “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”, since you are acting in an extraordinary role, something that is normally given to the laity, male or female.

    Now, your letter raises some concerns. It seems to me that we have a misunderstanding about what constitutes “active participation” in the liturgy. “Active participation” does not mean that we have to do everything and anything at the Mass. Each of us has a different role. As the priest, I offer the Holy Sacrifice to the Father on behalf of both the faithful and myself. The faithful join their prayers to mine, offering themselves to the Father, through Christ, in worship. True, there will be times when laity (male and female) assist as EMHCs, cantors, choir members or as those who proclaim the readings.

    Altar servers are a bit different. Traditionally, boys have taken this role. It is seen as a means of fostering vocations to the priesthood. In fact, a good many vocations, including some saintly ones (St. John Bosco comes to mind), have come from having these boys serve at the altar. They come in contact with the Holy Sacrifice through their close service to the priest and, for many, it inspires them. Of course, one could make the argument that this could also apply to young girls, but, when they grow up, they cannot offer the Holy Sacrifice in the ministerial way that a priest can.

    Now, the examples that you gave really, with all due respect, are not germaine to the point you are trying to make. The woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment was not acting in any liturgical capacity. In fact, this action was done outside the cultic sacrificial worship of Ancient Israel. In fact, the examples that you gave came from activities that were done outside the confines of temple worship. It might interest you to know that Jesus certainly respected the norms and guidelines for Ancient Israel’s form of cultic sacrificial worship because these dictates came from no less than God the Father, Himself, and these all pointed to Jesus’ own Sacrifice on the Cross.

    Please do not think that the young priests are discriminating against women. As you yourself pointed out, Jesus was ministered to by many women. St. Luke records the names of Susanna, Joanna and St. Mary Magdalene, and, even one account tells of St. Peter’s mother-in-law. We also have no less than the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was her Son’s perfect disciple. But, each of these women did not serve the Lord in a liturgical capacity; nonetheless, their service still mattered.

  17. I’m a woman, and I served once, a few years before the indult for it came out. I’ve sung in the choir in all the parishes I’ve been in, I served as a lector for a good few years in my youth, and I cantor at my parish now. If there’s some kind of emergency, like Father has a bum hand and there aren’t any boys or men around to serve, I can see having women serve.

    I love the Lord, and I love serving Him however I’m asked to do it. But none of these roles have been normative roles for women in the Church, historically, except for the latter two — but solely as part of the Liturgy of the Hours in churches for communities of nuns. Me being there is a confession that the Church is running out of men to do the jobs.

    And although I love doing it, it’s work. The real meat and potatoes, or milk and honey, of spiritual development for laypeople is down in the pews. (This is especially true for women and girls, who can never have any call to the priesthood and thus develop into clergy.) Doing liturgical services means giving up a lot of your proper lay spiritual training — but it’s the laypeople whom the clerical folks are supposed to be developing and helping to become more spiritually trained! So even though we love it, it’s kind of an imposition on the good offices of laypeople because there’s not enough clergy-possibles and clergy-in-training to do this work.

    Doing liturgical jobs means that you can’t really hunker down to serious contemplation and prayer, unless you are Father Neri or Father Pio and can freeze the Mass in place. (If I were to go into ecstasy while singing at the Alleluia mike, somebody would probably call 911.) You always have to be checking the timing, checking what other people are doing, checking that nothing is going wrong. It’s all Martha and no Mary, and it ain’t the better part. Any form of liturgical service at Mass means that you are probably going to have to stand at least a little “outside Mass” in your head and heart. Even being in the choir does this for most.

    I do not speak of those who use laywomen as pawns to try to dismantle the Church, or of those who condescend to laypeople of all ages by giving them little jobs to keep their little minds happy, or those who think the Church is some kind of Pokemon diversity collecting game. (Because they’re big jerks who totally miss the point.)

  18. benedictgal says:

    NB:

    Fr. Z, when I wrote my response, I was writing as though I were you.

    benedictgal

  19. But anyway… If I’d been a server as a girl, I would have been too busy “worried with many things”, like whether I tripped and spilled stuff, or what part of Mass we were in, or what the heck the other servers this week were doing wrong up on the altar, to spend any time with God in a serious way. Possibly boys are more able to sink into God while in action without losing track of time, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

    And if I hadn’t had real prayer experience at Mass as a child, pre-teen and teenager, I would have been too ignorant and foolish and inexperienced in college to resist many missteps and temptations toward losing my religion, my virtue, my mind, and other parts of myself. I could trust God and love His ways because I had had the time to learn them without worry, just as my parents had allowed me time to play unstructured games and to read books as leisure.

    Girls already have plenty of “activities.” At Mass, they need to be free, not to be constrained into a pattern of movement and worry.

    (While frankly, boys probably need more in the way of structured spiritual discipline, because they really like that sort of thing. I know my brothers did.)

  20. p2rp says:

    Women that cause young priests to bay? It would seem that many have lost the image of our priests as stamped with the indelible mark of the Sacred Character of Christ our Lord Himself. It would seem that respect and gratitude for the reality of sacred vocation has been lost altogether.

    How could anyone delude themselves into thinking they act in the service of our Lord by the conscious, selfish and willful participation in behavior that causes our “young priests to bay”?

  21. Nathan says:

    OK, here’s my shot:

    Ma’am:

    It is wonderful to see how much you obviously love Our Blessed Lord in the Holy Eucharist! With that in mind, I would ask you to think about how each of us can, as you accurately say, “do service to my Maker.” We live in a world which sees service as no distinction of roles except for leader and led and explicitly rejects any distinction of roles between how God created us, male and female. I would argue that in the Church’s Liturgy, the differences between the roles of male and female are highlighted.

    As a father of six (three girls) and a husband of a saintly woman (God is so good!) I am constantly amazed at the way that women are called, daily, to (quoting the TLM offertory) partake in the Divinity of Him who condescended to share in our humanity. Women, even women who are not mothers, take part in Creation in ways that men simply do not. Women, who often manage to accomplish a myriad of simulaneous tasks while men can usually handle one, mirror what God the Father does on a universal scale and the Holy Ghost handles in each baptized Christian–creation and sanctification of souls. I have noticed that women have the gift of thinking like the Blessed Trinity–relationships and love are at the center of who they are. And, of course, mothers partake in cooperation with God’s creation in a way that men simply cannot in the miracle of bringing new souls into the world. A Christian mother mirrors the Blessed Mother at Cana–she asks, Christ does what she asks.

    Men, on the other hand, seem to me to be the ones who manage action. Since we cannot begin to approach Our Blessed Lord in the intimate way that women can (and which makes women truly holy) we have to approach him though acts–which is why He gave, IMO, men the role of priests. Actions, rather than relationships, are seemingly how we men can best cooperate with grace. Through the actions on the altar, young men are given avenues of sanctification and best ways we can fulfil the role that God gave us in creating us male.

    I have been the MC for High Mass, and my job there is to stand next to a priest–an Alter Christus– and turn the pages while through his hands Our Lord offers Himself to God the Father in a re-presentation of the Cross. What a tremendous and awesome and terrible thing to behold! It is a role of action, not contemplation, though, and not relational in the sense that a holy woman in prayer in the pews can understand. Because I am not “hard-wired” to appreciate the relationship of Divine Love in the way that my wife and daughters can, assiting the priest through actions is a way that I (however unworthy) can approach the Mystery.

    My bottom line, Ma’am, is that God created women with a distinct role, one that is no less holy and beautiful and important than the similarly distinct role of men. Could you be at peace with those roles being maintained in the context of the sanctuary at Holy Mass?

    In Christ,

  22. pseudomodo says:

    This letter reminds me of the letters that Ann Landers would get back in the day. She was not often taken in and was very adept at spottingwhen a bunch of college students were trying to prank her and she would call then on it.

  23. The basic heart of what Our Lord said to Martha and Mary is this: Our duties in the world as women demand that we worry a lot about other people’s welfare, what other people think and feel, what we can do for them, and how we present ourselves while we do it. Little girls from the youngest ages are taught that it’s all about what they do and how they do themselves up, but that nobody cares who they are.

    Jesus cares about who women are, and throughout the Gospels, He asks them to sit down, rest, love, chat, listen, be healed, prepare to feel sorrow and pain, and be freed from sin. He wants the gift of us ourselves spending time with Him as ourselves, not to feel like we have to be working to be worth something, or to be on display to people’s picky eyes even when we are at Mass.

    Sorry for this rambling letter, but that’s how I feel.

  24. benedetta says:

    I would just like to add, on the notion that “the Church discounts” the contributions of women generally or historically, that to be qualified to comment on this one should first read, process intellectually, affectively, spiritually and wholly experientially these two documents from recent history:

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_29061995_women_en.html

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html

    Also I think it has been a terrible calumny and deed worked on women and the Church as a whole, this horrible myth that somehow if the Church is not able to ordain women in terms of the mandate that Christ instituted that this should signify in our hearts that the Church “discounts” women (or worse), their contributions, or even (and this is laughable) that the Church officially believes women incapable or not properly working outside of the home. On the contrary, “women’s work” is ennobled as any vocation but women and all people generally must first and foremost see in their work vocation. The fact that this is not happening by and large, and, despite the fact that in our milieu motherhood as an experience has numerous supports and technological advancements not available to our sisters in other parts of the world, leads us to discover and wonder at the other great tragedy worked in our midst, on which all of these confused presumptions rest and flow from: the dual attacks on priesthood and motherhood generally. The disparagement of the vocations of women apart from visible activity on the altar and the idealization of this and the pining and harping on this as something that is desired and that without it the Church discounts women is only intelligible and contextualized when one considers that it renders every (and I mean every) other service of women to, in, with Him and the Church as second class, and mothers are in the modern feminist equation which bases dignity not on our status as children of God but on the ability to kill in the womb, despised. It must be said: this disease of the culture of death is so widespread that it affects contentment and fulfillment in many spheres, and it makes even the well to do, non crisis, married woman question “whether she should have” this baby and makes strangers look at each other with the second guessing of the could of had an abortion…It unfortunately goes back to the culture of death which is based on these assumptions of a false feminism. That is not our dignity, that is something quite different and has led to things which are quite different.

    I pray for the humility of the woman who touched His hem. Was she audacious or was she humble, modest, and desperate?

  25. B.C.M. says:

    I’m a man of 27 years. I served the altar from the age of 11 until even now. However, I try and avoid it as much as possible to give the younger men (boys) an opportunity to test their vocations to the priesthood. When I was in a parish growing up, we had more than 70 altar servers.

    My parish had a very rigorous training of servers and a structured hierarchy. Girls were scattered throughout the hierarchy; we had about ten of them. From that crop, by the by, four men attended seminary, and two girls went to the nunnery. Once that particular pastor left, the dynamic changed. The new pastor wanted to be inclusive and started recruiting more altar girls. Now, there are about 15 altar servers, ten of them girls, and the five boys left are the younger brothers of the girls. None are discerning any religious vocation.

    If boys are not taught that serving the altar is a type of apprenticeship, they’ll reject the notion of priesthood when it comes time for them to consider it.

    I still serve now when called or asked, but I’m married now, and have accepted my vocation. I don’t want to get in the way of young boys making their discernment.

  26. Phillip says:

    Sometimes the best way to serve the Lord is simply to obey him by obeying the shepherds of the Church he founded. I don’t understand why you focus so much upon serving at the altar. It is truly a privilege to serve at the altar, though I have never had it. There are many, many ways in which women can serve the Church and help to celebrate Mass without ever entering the sanctuary. But these are not the only ways to “touch the gown” of the Lord, either. You can do far more than touch his gown. You can receive him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity every single time you go to Mass, provided you’re properly disposed, of course. My reply would sound like a “shut up and be grateful for what you’ve got” were it not for the sheer immensity of what it is Christ offers through his Church. He offers himself, and in himself, eternal life. If you really think about what that means, it’s mind-boggling. Serving at the altar is a great privilege, but it’s over when Mass is over. What Christ offers is eternal. He through whom all things were made, under the appearances of simple bread and wine, comes to dwell within you, a poor sinner. It might help to keep things in perspective.

    But there seems to be a broader “tone” to your letter about the Church devaluing femininity – and it is true that the Church historically has been guilty of that to some degree or another, and many of her members probably still are. But remember the Church’s love for Mary. Our last Pope was the “Pope of the Rosary.” His apostolic motto was taken from a Marian prayer. We could hardly say that he “discounted women.” To the contrary, the Church celebrates the gifts that God did give women – the highest of which is motherhood, exemplified most perfectly in Our Lady. She also celebrates the gifts God gave men, such as the ability to become fathers, and priests are our spiritual fathers. Service at the altar is a way for young men to get “up close and personal” with the liturgy and perhaps to foster a vocation to the priesthood in them. Drawing these distinctions between male and female in no way devalues women, but recognizes the differences God built into his creation and revealed most perfectly in Christ through his Church. If anything, losing sight of these distinctions “discounts women” in a way infinitely more degrading than saying “women aren’t to serve at the altar.”

  27. Elizabeth D says:

    I have been asked at various times to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (this is the correct term, the Church has officially asked us not to use other terms for this role) and have always declined. I felt uncomfortable (especially as a woman) about being in a role that is an extension of the priest’s role as Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion. It seemed irreverent unless in the case of quite serious necessity. Also, personally I have never felt nearly as comfortable receiving Communion, especially on the tongue which is my strong preference, from EMHCs as from the priest or deacon; I did not want to make others uncomfortable either. And when I see with what little reverence many people receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, and I know that me serving as an EMHC has no real power to inspire more reverence in them, I just think this is not what is needed at all. Rather it is good if the priest and deacon are the ones distributing Communion.

    An altar server? Having boys in this role quite clearly encourages vocations to the priesthood, and it simply does not have the same interest or meaning to boys if the altar servers are a mixed group of girls and boys which often winds up being predominantly girls. It no longer seems to the boys to be masculine to serve at the altar. The holy and chaste, self sacrificing masculinity of Christ, Bridegroom of the Church, who is FOR the Church His beloved bride, is most represented to all when service in the sanctuary is reserved to men. I love the use of boys only as altar servers. And at my church certainly there have been priestly vocations arise out of the ranks of the altar boys.

    There are other roles for girls and women. I am a Sacristan myself. Nobody is disrespecting me. It is actually important to me that women and men are not interchangeable and that I have dignity precisely as a woman.

  28. KAS says:

    Dear Ms. Jackson,
    I DO hope that the young priests prevail and ban women from the altar. As a woman who also loves her Maker, I find so many ways to serve Him that I must think hard and pick and choose which ones I will do. It becomes a challenge sometimes to discern which of the many possible services I might perform is among those activities God would most have me doing. I’ve a MA in Theological Studies, so this vastly widens my usefulness and thus the possibilities for service but most of what I do can be done without an advanced degree. I have taught on the RCIA team, I am qualified to teach Religion classes to most age groups, I could choose a topic for a class and offer that at the parish if the Priest thinks it is a topic that would be of use, I also have many secular activities in which I see my role as bringing the light of Christ to where I am, at every moment, to the best of my ability. That is the short list of the things I have considered or done. But then there was the two years of formation I took with a Lay Carmelite group and I would recommend that to anyone who was interested in deepening their service to God through prayer. There are prolife groups who pray outside of abortion clinics, and St. Gabriel programs to help poor mothers get help so they can choose life, and there is a Rosary guild that makes rosaries and scapulars… the list is practically endless of roles totally open to women and generally filled by women.

    I will be quite happy to see women cease to participate at the altar. I will be glad when I no longer get stuck receiving our Blessed Lord from an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who nearly drops the host while trying to do a priestlike blessing on my child while I try to duck that liturgical abuse. I’ll be glad when it is all deacons and priests up there, who are fully dedicated to that service and more often than not do it properly.

    In short, your complaints show a lack of imagination because not being at the altar is seemly and proper in my personal opinion and in the opinion of the vast majority of the history of the Church. It shows a lack of imagination because there are so many options for service that you could make a full time job of serving and not be doing more than a fraction of what needs to be done. Complaining because you are the wrong gender to be at the altar is just a bit silly in a Church where nearly everything has been open to women’s service and encourages that service.

    Even getting my degree I sat in classes with the seminarians and learned to far more deeply appreciate their growth in the faith as I watched them mature from “priestling” to Deacon to Priest. They came alive as they grew into their vocations and it made me a major fan of praying for our priests. They are real and human and can hurt yet have chosen a difficult path of service to the Body of Christ. The only thing I have done that comes close to being that BIG a commitment to the Church was giving birth to my children! I honestly look at the men who entered their Priesthood when I completed my Masters degree and cannot imagine it being anything but improper for women to serve at the altar.

    I hope you will come to see how many opportunities are there, needing your work, which will please Jesus and then choose one or two and find your joy in serving Him where HE permits rather than wasting your abilities complaining that you are not male and thus might be banned from the altar.

  29. Maxiemom says:

    I must say that I am definitely in the minority here – I have no problems with female altar servers. Stone me if you will, but this is my opinion.

    My parish was, for many years, in a time warp – we had only male altar servers, no Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, no female lectors and kneeling for communion. When we first joined this parish, I didn’t mind it. But as time went by, there was no opportunity for spiritual growth. The pastor, who had been there for over 25 years, was retired (not his choice) and a new pastor took over. We moved into post-Vatican II.

    In the history of our parish, we had one vocation. And he left the priesthood and married. So, I can’t say that having only boys and men serve fostered vocations. It only excluded women.

  30. Andy Milam says:

    Dear Ms. Jackson,

    Pax et Bonum, I am writing you today in response to the letter you recently sent. I have a few thoughts on the topics you brought up, if you would please indulge me. I thank you in advance for being open to my view and for allowing me to share it with you.

    It saddens me that in this day and age of Englightenment that we cannot understand the difference between paritcipatio activa and participatio actuosa. The Church calls us, as Catholics to the latter. When we participate at Holy Mass, we come to understand a couple of things, first we come to understand that our participation should first be internal. Any action that is external should be done as a genuine need to the Church, as a whole. In other words, that old addage, ad majorem Dei gloriam certainly applies. The layman (this is a gender neutral, please don’t be offended), is first called to worship God in the way which his position in life is best suited. For the vast, vast majority of Catholics, that means assisting the celebrant from the pew.

    I like to use this analogy: When we come into church and are preparing for Holy Mass quietly before the start of the liturgical action, we should be taking all of our intentions and placing them at the foot of the altar. That way when the priest comes to say the prayers at the foot of the altar, he may place them on the altar and offer them for us. While the Mass is being celebrated, we meditate on the Mass and apply the offerings internally to God, as the priest offers them externally through the Holy Sacrifice.

    This is our first end.

    If I may be so bold, I would like to answer your questions now. Your first; the Church has never allowed women at the altar, so I don’t quite understand your question; I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking. If you’re asking if women will be ordained, I must say that this is not an option, for John Paul II, that great pope and supporter of Vatican Council II said that in the Church this would not be a possibility, nor has it ever been so. I would encourage you to read Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. You will find your answer there. It is clear and unabashedly frank. Since that option is not available and will never be, it does no good to dwell upon it.

    Your second question; Christ didn’t live in a time when the Church existed temporally. So, I can say honestly that question makes no real sense at all. Christ knew what the roll women played in His ministry and He was content to allow them to fulfill that role to the greatest extent they could. However, this didn’t include women as His apostles, so any apostolic lineage cannot rightly include women. This would be that of deacon, priest or bishop. Never fear though, those are very limiting roles in the Church today and I don’t think that Christ would want to see women so pigeon-holed. There is much more freedom in being able to worship from the pew, which I mentioned above.

    Your third question; The Church has not banned women from the altar. Every time one approaches the altar rail to kneel and receive Holy Communion, the altar literally is brought to him. Think of it, the celebrant brings the Sacred Species and presents it to the faithful over the rail, the faithful then receive the Sacred Host in a manner which is consistent with the honor and goodness of the person approaching to continue his worship.

    If you will permit me I would like to make a few closing comments. The use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) should be a safe and rare in application, thus ensuring “a genuine need.” If the reasoning is that more EMHC’s will make Holy Communion pass more quickly, I would challenge that. I would say that one priest distributing to a line of people alone is quicker than the faithful having to stop at different stations along the way.

    Finally, my dear Ms. Jackson, I think that rather than worrying about the things that you do, it would be better served for you and for all the faithful to worship from the pew. It is what you are called to do, by virtue of your royal priesthood. When you attain heaven (I have all confidence you will), what will you spend eternity doing? You will be worshipping God through the beatific vision. The heavenly liturgy will be how this is done, but you will not be serving, that is the role of the angels. You will be as close to God as you are able.

    So, please don’t think that the boys who now serve in the parish are somehow doing more. Actually, those boys are making a huge sacrifice by serving at the altar. They are giving up the freedom to worship in the manner in which they want. They must worship, based upon the liturgical law, put forth in the rubrics. I am sure that you don’t want to be that stifled in your worship of God.

    I hope that our correspondence leads to great fruits. I will make it my fervent prayer that you willingly accept that role in the liturgical life of the Church which is most suited to you and that you fully embrace this role.

    I remain always,

    Andy

  31. buffaloknit says:

    Dear. Ms. Jackson,
    I’m inclined to agree with you on the following: many bishops and priests share in the culture’s current misunderstanding of the roles of male and female within the family as well as civilization. Let’s just call it what it is, already: feminism brought many unfortunate things that the Church accepted happily in the name of this, that and the other thing. A number of very smart feminist women, now doubt it greatly. Women are not simply different versions of men, but a separate creation, and one should not be surprised when women do not seek out, delight in or expect the same things in life as men. I’d like to recommend a book to you, titled ‘The Sexual Paradox’ by Susan Pinker. (Steven Pinker’s sister who is a psychologist who specializes in (not over) treating boys with developmental problems). She is a thoughtful progressive who I think will speak to you and your concerns and someone who I learned quite a bit from. One of her main issues in the book is, why do women value different types of compensation than men do. Do women value things, like more free time, more flexible schedules, etc, *differently* than men? If women are simply the same as men, why on earth would this be the case? As a libertarian-leaning, social-conservative, I am delighted when a leftist complains about the same social problems I complain about, with the same conclusions.

    What does this have to do with your concern? I suspect the same confusion over the roles of male and female in the family and civilization, underlies your concern (and may have little to do with the Church at all). I would go way back to the beginning as a first step!

    Here is a great link to what women’s role in the Mass can look like. My family tells me they have this group in a parish outside Indianapolis, Indiana-but I could be wrong. Scroll down to the picture of the little girl in the outfit. straphael.org.uk/ handmaids_of_mary (Also, google ‘handmaids of mary’ to find this organization. I don’t think you are too old to do this. I first read about this group at a blog recommended here at WDTPRS.com). Basically, the premise behind this group is to present the different but necessary work the two halves of the marital-unit do. the Mass is a mini-marriage celebration, after all, between Christ and his Bride the Church.

    What is my point? Basically, there is a giant amount of work to be done inside and *outside* of the home which does not constitute ‘work’ in the same way that my husband’s full-time job is quite obviously what everyone would call ‘work.’ His ‘work’ and my father’s ‘work’ is not more valuable than my mother’s ‘work’ simply because feminism-and sadly the Church-has taught 3 generations of women this lie. The ‘work’ my mother did as a home maker is not regarded as ‘work’ mainly because she is not paid for it and does not receive any benefits for that work from her ‘employer’ (whoever that would be). Civilization, as we know, presents many, many social pathologies when what is traditionally called ‘women’s work’ just doesn’t get done. I don’t think I will list them here.

    The ‘work’ done at Mass is not limited to the very visible ‘work’ done by the servers, but done by the (for example) women, who one doesn’t see: managing the linens, cleaning, making Hosts, etc. ( Yet another unfortunate outcome of Vatican-II was the failure to continue religious devotions, which frequently can and did have a variety of ways for women to participate in ways you seem to mention. I am not old enough to remember this happening, so I cannot elaborate).

    Just because feminism and the Church have told you what you are doing is not ‘valuable work,’ this does not mean what you are doing is actually not valuable. (I don’t want to sidetrack myself and recount how the secular lie called ‘choice feminism’ is its own special heresy that appears to present exactly what I just said-but actually does not-given its basic, flawed notion of human nature. I just wanted to nip that in the bud, right now! ‘Choice feminism’ is not at all what I’m advocating here).

    To sum up: I agree with you that the Church needs to do more effort to elevate the critical importance of ‘non-server work’ or ‘traditionally female work’ or whatever you want to call it, within and OUTSIDE the Mass. [DIGRESSION: The culture, does just about the same thing, when parents demand the mothers of their grand children work-not out of necessity (which obviously there is a lot of that going around these days) but to fulfill grandma & grandpa's ego. "How would it look if you work less than your husband!" Ego is not the correct reason to get a job. Similarly, the flawed assumption the pair of grandparents make in this example, is that they need to see the same behaviors from their daughter as they do from their son-in-law. People of a certain age are the first generation -I believe in history-who have literally the same expectation for wealth-generation from their daughters married-with-children as they do from their sons. I'm not sure how this can be a good thing (this was true WAY before the current financial crisis. I'm talking about working for ego, not out of necessity). It's also easy to see how a woman, raised by parents and Church expecting her from the age of reason (7 years old) to 'have it all' may grown into a neurotic person. This is one of few situations in which one can squarely blame the parents together with the Church, for giving a young person destructive ideas. ]

    Once the Church reiterates its teaching on the meaning and purpose of work, only then can it really streamline the male/female altar server problem. One is, in many ways, a metaphor for the other. Sacrificing one’s talents and time on the altar of the Ego, is the gateway to very bad things. I hope that reflection on these issues can help you find a structured plan.

  32. Supertradmum says:

    Dear Questioner,

    I have two small points which I hope help a fellow female in the Church.
    The first is a matter of history, a history created by God Himself by entering into history.
    One of the things about Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity becoming a Man is that He was not a Creature imprisoned by the customs of His time or the Jewish religion. He created both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, calling men in the Old and the New to be priests in His original religion, the Jewish, and then in the Catholic Church. Women have been honored in other ways in the Church instituted by Christ.
    And, ironically, my second point, it is the natural power of women which partly preclude them from being on the altar, as priests and, probably in the future, as altar servers. That women have an enormous amount of physical and spiritual power given to them by Nature, by God Himself, makes us able to effect our spouses, our children, our families, and our communities in very strong and distinct ways. I would go so far as to state that Christ chose Men to be leaders precisely because women are natural leaders and do not have to be raised up to the altar. Our primal matter is such that we need to be more humble and less obvious. The woman on the altar, who by Nature is beautiful and attractive is no match for humble, unattractive, but holy, Father X. without the same seeming charisma. God knew what he was doing at all times and made us the way we are. His organization, His structure is for the good of all of us.

  33. Lurker 59 says:

    Dear Mrs. Jackson,

    I think first we seek after a deeper understanding of “service” for that is at the heart of your question. What does it mean to be a servant? What does it mean to serve? These words do not mean volunteering according to what one wishes to do, nor contributing towards activities that one thinks need doing, nor creating a role that one thinks should exist for whatever personal reason. To be a servant and to serve, especially in the scriptural sense, has a lot more in common with the terms slave and servitude than is comfortable for our modern sensibilities. A servant is always looking to the hand of his master, to always do and always fill the role that the master wishes, never ever what the servant wishes. Thus coming from either male or female the desire that the Master should make available certain rolls and activities in accordance with the desires of the one demanding is not at all being a servant. Especially when it comes to serving at the altar of the High Priest and the banquet table of the King, these are roles and activities that the Lord burdens His servants with not that His servants demand that He allow them to do.

    Thus my suggestion would be to focus not on what the Lord is asking or not asking you or others to do, but rather focus on what the Lord is burdening you with, for those are the tasks at hand.

    Secondly, you are concerned with the role of women in the Church. Two things come to mind from your letter: First, the Church is female, “it” is she and bride and her action in the world is thus feminine in response and in direction to the masculinity of Christ her head. Thus it is impossible for the Church to disrespect or marginalize women (though certainly certain individuals might) when her very activity is feminine. Secondly, I think you are viewing the Church too narrowly. The ordained priesthood is not the Church nor should their activity be understood as all that the Church does. The masculinity of the ordained priesthood is directed towards the femininity of the Church proper, it is given and laid down after the manner of Christ for the sake of the Church. When the feminine and masculine are mixed in the various non ordained positions that attend the altar and liturgy, there is a loss of dignity for women (and men) as this detracts and confuses the direction towards which the masculine of Christ is serving the feminine of the Church, and the way the feminine of the Church is receiving and responding to the masculinity of Christ in the liturgical action.

    Now I must also focus strongly on that the servants of the altar is not the highest nor greatest thing that humans can do in the Church. There is much more to being Catholic and being part of the Church than the Mass (though that is the source and summit of our life). There are many many robust, dignified, and fulfilling ways that individuals, especially women can lay down their lives for Christ in service and obedience to His will. Doing “Church stuff” is to take up the totality of our daily lives. Explore the femininity that exists and in ways that the masculinity of the ordained priesthood serves and lays down its life for.

    Blessings.

  34. Johnno says:

    Dear Ma’am,

    The Church is in a terrible state today. Vocations have been dropping and young men are increasingly leaving it for the secular world and there is a great shortage of priests that risks bringing about the end of many parishes and the end of the Eucharist for many who must receive it remain on the path of salvation.

    There are many factors to this. Certainly altar girls are not the only one, nor is muhc of what has befallen the Church their fault, nor would I say their existence is the largest problem, but they are part of a problem by offering another obstacle to young boys wanting to be altar servers and of fostering an aura of a more feminized Church, and a priesthood role that is being taken away from the age where priests were soldiers of Christ, martyrs, heroes, and men in the truest sense of the word.

    Which image appears more masculine to you? An image of a priest surrounded by altar boys in proper vestments and attire proper to males? Or the image of a priest surrounded by girls in white gowns that are unisex? Obviously the former is more masculine by simple virtue that there are boys there. The presense of girls by themselves surrounding the priest comes off as perceiving the role of the priest being that of a feminine occupation. Boys do not like that. And any attempts to socially engineer this out of them will result in failure and I’d go so far as to call it abuse and unjust discrimination that boys must be altered in their natural behavior to allow girls to feel included.

    The Church is and always will be at war with the world, and war and being a soldier remain masculine traits and always will be so. Thus masculinity must be the default approach of the Church to the world. All these little things do matter. The Church has become increasingly feminized over the years preferring dialogue, ecumenism, inclusivity, gentleness, all which are traits of the nuturing emotional nature of femininity, and most excellent and desirable traits of femininity. However, these traits are not suitable for wartime nor in the fight against an evil which does not compromise and wishes to destroy all that is good in totality. The Church must not be shy nor gentle when it has to confront a foe such as this. It requires a call to arms, bravery, the desire to fight and destroy its foe totally. It is just war, and it will require a most spiritually violent or if necessarily even a physically violent confrontation.

    Christ knew what he was doing when He called only men to the priesthood. Certainly women were there in the background to serve to their needs, and they knew and understood their place. But that is a role they must humbly accept for this time. To remain in the background, and not at the foreground or surrounding the altar upon which the Church’s masculine aspect must always be emphasized strongly. This is not because women are in a place of inferiorty. But rather that they must be protected because they are precious and because their femininity is precious. Women are veiled because they are holy and their virtue is to be protected, just as the Holy of holies is veiled, just as the tabernacle is closed. The Church itself is the bride of Christ, and those who serve her in this manner serve as a man who protects and serves his bride, as Christ protects and serves His Church from the Devil, as Adam should have done for Eve in confronting the serpent instead of giving in to her. A man must give himself completely so as to die for his bride whom he loves and wishes to protect. This is the relationship of priestly men to the Church. The role of the priest is a masculine one and should be surrounded by masculinity to emphasize that and so that men and women may know the masculine nature of that calling through the physical ceremonial emphasis of the mass. A woman’s place is to adorn the bride to prepare her for the wedding. But it will be the man, her groom who will take her completely for himself and serve her. It is a man’s duty and pride to protect her. And this is the role that all men must take up for the Church, both clergy and laymen. And they are to be crusaders in this world that wishes to devour and desecrate the bride, the Church.

    Women are not deprived from serving Christ by allowing men to rightly take their roles to serve on the altar. Rather by doing this and humbling themselves they do indeed serve the Church and come closer to God. This is how it always was from the Time of Aaron as God called for it! Women were there to serve, but in the courtyard, never the altar. And at that, only consecrated men, and at that only the high priest on certain days after fasting and cleansing would enter the holy of holies… and look… here on our altar is something far more holier, the body and blood of Our Lord! How we have fallen… how terrible that we have lost the significance of these things in our changes to the Mass in our vain changes to the roles of men and women, in our ignorant haste to put political correctness and inclusivity above that of the timeless and eternal truths of the Mass and the Church and God…

    By placing girls around the altar, one reduces the sole and prominent role of masculinity so needed. One then places a woman’s needs and pride above that of the Church, the bride, who we are to serve and who we are to give over completely to her groom, to Christ, represented by the priests who marry their vocation. People are affected by what they see and what they do, they learn and gain understanding from it. It is not insignificant. God made man and woman distinct, and the Church values and honors these distinctions, unlike the secular world that wishes to eradicate these distinctions out of unfound paranoia and so unwittingly erase the image of God that can only be found when reflecting upon the distinctions of men and women and their distinct natures, one and the same, yet different in role and function, just as the Trinity is one, yet three. There are multiple layers of meaning that are lost in the whirpool of political ‘in’correctness and ‘hyper’equality. Men and women are equals in dignity and responsibility, but they are NOT identical. Women can no more become priests than a man may become a pregnant mother. Not unless God Himself ordains it such, just as He could also recreate a man’s biology to bear children. And this He has not done, and God does not create anything without meaning and purpose and intent.

    The mass and the male priesthood are meant to teach this, and also it is good that women and girls should ask, “why is this so?” But instead of letting their personal pride and convictions pass judgment on it, let them humble themselves and seek to understand it, and in so doing, learn about their feminine distinction, learn about their roles, learn about the nature of God and the Trinity, and in so doing and understanding and living their distinction and virtue, draw far closer to Christ and the Mystery of the Church and God than they’d have ever imagined. A far greater reward that honors God and themselves than simply thinking they can only achieve it by emulating men and doing what they do when they are nothing like them and have their own unique priviledged relationship to God that no man could ever have.

  35. Joe Magarac says:

    Madam,

    Throughout Biblical history we see that God consistently picks the least qualified or least expected people to be His ministers. God’s spokesman to the Pharaoh (Moses) was a murderer with a speech impediment. God’s leader against the Assyrians (Judith) was a woman with no military experience. God’s mother (Mary) was a woman of no distinction from a tiny town in the backwoods of Israel. And so on.

    As you rightly point out, the stations of the cross are full of women who stayed close to Jesus, and they did this while the men in His life were fleeing from Him and denying Him. Looking at the stations and at the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion, it seems obvious to us that women are qualified to be priests and that men are not. But that’s precisely why women can’t be priests and can’t serve at the altar – they are too obvious a choice, too qualified. To be consistent with Biblical history, Catholic priests and altar servers must be from the least qualified and least expected portion of the population. That means that they need to be male.

  36. p2rp says:

    Dear Reader,

    In the interest of being brief, my first response to your letter was shortsighted, impatient and rude, for this I apologize. First let me say that your love and dedication to the service of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is edifying to say the least.

    The mystery of Our Church and Liturgy are highly incarnational. Our Lord first chose to come to us through the cooperation of a humble Virgin, a singular privilege, as we see in the Annunciation; “and the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.” We now see this incarnation perpetuated throughout the ages in the singular privilege of the vocation of our priests.

    Priests are stamped with the indelible mark of the Sacred Character of Christ our Lord Himself, without them the Perpetuation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would cease as well as the mystery of the incarnation of Our Lord being made Flesh and dwelling among us. I have the utmost respect and gratitude for our priests and this mysterious vocation.

    In order that I may, in some small way foster, nurture and zealously protect this mysterious and privileged vocation, given the opportunity, I would hope I never allow my personal preferences to interfere. In light of these divine and sacred mysteries, I would hope no self sacrifice to be too great.

  37. cheyan says:

    Dear fellow reader,

    I’m of the age group that was first allowed “on the altar” as a server. I loved the opportunity to make Mass go smoothly – to make sure that the congregation noticed the priest, not myself; to make sure that the priest never reached for anything without it being there. I loved the feeling of “really participating”, which I hadn’t had before.

    What I didn’t realize (and couldn’t have been expected to realize, as a kid) was that a lot of older women saw me as a stepping stone to ordaining women. My attentive service gave them hope for something that can’t happen and shouldn’t be expected to happen. That wasn’t fair to me, and it isn’t fair to the “little server girls” you love to see. (I’m not suggesting that you’re doing anything like that! But for every four or five people like you who are just delighted to see young girls getting the chance to serve God in that way, there’s one or two who are being encouraged in their hopes for women as priests, or who are even deliberately encouraging those girls to hope to be priests, themselves.) If nobody had told me, “finally, the Church is allowing girls to serve instead of being mean to you!” as a kid, I would never have felt excluded.

    I also never realized, until someone pointed it out to me, that the proportion of girls to boys who served was not proportional to the number of girls and boys in the parish. Boys simply weren’t volunteering. Some of that was because my parish relied on high school-age servers to make up for assigned servers showing up (I can’t tell you how many calls I got from the server coordinator that went, “Cheyan, would it be at all possible for you to serve 9am Mass? It’s 8:30 and no one’s shown up to serve!”), that meant the role models for younger servers were mostly teenage girls – not a role model young boys tend to want. A significant number of priests were once altar servers themselves, but by unintentionally preventing boys from serving, my parish was unintentionally discouraging vocations. (It was also unintentionally saying to boys that if they didn’t want to have a teenage girl as a role model, they should just sit like a frog on a rock through Mass… and the frog-on-a-rock model isn’t appealing to anyone short of actual amphibians.)

    I myself certainly don’t feel dismissed by the Church – I can proclaim the readings (through which God speaks to us!), sing in the choir (which helps us to worship more beautifully), even serve as an usher or a greeter (their role in helping the whole congregation is sometimes dismissed, but it really shouldn’t be). Outside of Mass itself I can teach Sunday School, or I can help take care of the church, or I can do the setup before Mass so that the altar servers can do their job during Mass. All of that is important – all of that is crucial to keeping a parish going.

    Most parishes don’t have a way for young girls to help with those tasks, except for the choir – and that’s the problem they should be fixing, rather than assuming that letting them be servers is “good enough”. (Well, that and many parishes seem to promote the attitude that “real” participation at Mass means “having something special to do”, which makes it sound like simply being able to be present for the Mass, simply being able to participate through my prayers and my love of God, is a consolation prize rather than the whole point of my attendance. Countering that attitude would go a long way towards making women feel as important as the Church teaches they are.)

  38. Cazienza says:

    Dear Madam,

    It has done me good to read your letter; thank you for sending it. I was a teenage girl when I became an altar server, and a woman in my twenties when I stopped, having come to the conclusion that it was not a role within the Church for girls and ladies.

    Knowing and being able to follow the logical arguments, however, does not help an inner longing I sometimes experience which I read echoed in your words. Being close to the altar and tabernacle, especially whilst serving at Mass, is a beautiful privilege which I only rarely appreciated during my time there. Being able to touch Our Lord’s garment as He passes by is something we long to do, but cannot in a liturgical manner.

    It is a real sacrifice to have to definitively relinquish such desires, which in your case are surely borne out of a true love for Our Lord. But these desires, which I believe are more common than good people in ‘traditional’ circles would admit to, have been fanned by errors from different corners into flames which are now so hard to put out. Put them out we must, though. The logic and reasoning are there, they are iron-clad, and they take precedence over our wishes.

    For many of us this is truly self-denial, and it is very hard indeed. I do not think I have words which can lessen it for you (otherwise I would have surely used them to lessen it for myself!). It can make Mass an ordeal sometimes – but then there are also so many other trials and distractions during Mass, and we must do our best to not be perturbed by any of them. It is often only made worse by others’ remarks on this and various other issues…and yet these too we must simply accept and offer to Christ.

    God bless you for your courage. Please pray for me.

    Faithfully,
    Cazienza.

  39. Dear Madam,

    Do not overlook supernatural realities. The Church is not a mere political institution invented by man. So far from discounting females, she is herself female: the holy and spotless Bride of Christ, without wrinkle or blemish, in spite of the sins of her members. She is a virgin and she is also our mother. And she honors above all creatures her type and figure, the immaculate Mother of God, of whom the world took no account while she lived on earth. This proves that often to be in the background is, supernaturally speaking, to be in the foreground.

    A.

  40. Lori Pieper says:

    My dear Lady J (sounds so much better than Ms.),

    I appreciate your question and especially the respectful way you asked it.

    I suspect many people in your parish (and out of it) will give you a variety of answers. They will think you are pushing for women’s ordination when you haven’t done that. You will get long and probably unwelcome dissertations on your nature and role as a woman. People will focus on your role as an EHMC, which you didn’t ask about either.

    On the other hand, some people will tell you that women shouldn’t be in the sanctuary as altar girls; that is in fact, is your reason for concern. In fact, the Church has said “yes” to the question of whether girls can be on the altar (no matter what anyone says to the contrary). But you are wondering whether the Church has now withdrawn permission from young girls now to serve at the altar, because some parishes have discontinued it.

    What has happened is this: Rome has in the past few decades permitted girl altar servers as an option, and a bishop can permit this to his priests, and priests can do so or not if he does. I don’t see Rome withdrawing permission any time soon. But the final decision on what each diocese can do is up to the priests and bishops. Some priests want to encourage vocations to the priesthood by allowing only boys to be altar servers. You know how hard it is to get men (old or young) to do anything in the Church. They have to be encouraged strongly. And boys of altar-server age will often hang back if they see girls are involved in something.

    Anyone can actually do what altar servers do; but in a way, I think it is especially important for future priests to do it. We women come almost instinctively by our ability to serve others humbly. Men really have to be taught that. (This will be the whole of my discourse on the nature of men and women!). Whatever the case may be, if future priests are trained by serving at the altar to a real attitude of humble service, this could be the best thing that ever happens to them on the road to their vocation. It will help them avoid the arrogance of clericalism of both the pre- and post- Vatican II kind, and that has contributed to the priest sex abuse scandals as well. Thank heavens vocations seem to be on the way back in many places, girl altar servers or not.

    I sympathize with you when you say women are disdained. But I honestly don’t think most priests/bishops are doing this to be disrespectful to women or women’s contributions. Of course, a permission once given that is withdrawn will sometimes seem like disdain whether that’s the real reason for the action or not.

    Maybe having fewer girl altar servers, at least for a time, is worth it as a sacrifice to obtain more faithful priests. Let’s pray for vocations every day and if you have daughters /granddaughters, tell them to pray and make this sacrifice if they are asked to make it. Let’s rejoice that we have come a long enough way in the Church to be ushers, lectors, cantors, EMHCs, and so on. But even if our service, however humble, is never seen by anyone, God will see it. God bless you.

    Lori Pieper

    (Please Father, don’t suppress my reply. Remember I was only talking about people in this lady’s parish, not anyone here – God forbid! At any rate, I didn’t criticize anyone’s ideas on any subject; I just pointed out that those things weren’t germane to the question)

  41. Madame:

    I can see from this letter, that you are most distressed over this, and feel you need to be heard. As one who would respectfully advocate an opposing position, and who does not believe your needs would be met with a singular response, I am prepared to open a dialogue with you. Please contact me at [enter email address here] or call me at [enter mobile number here]. If you live in the Washington DC area, I am prepared to meet with you over coffee at a mutually agreeable time. If not, we will make do with what we can.

    You want dialogue. You’ve got dialogue. And you know where to find me.

    David

  42. Lori Pieper says:

    Yikes! In the fourth paragraph of my letter, it should read “up to the priest and ultimately up to the bishop.”

  43. Lori Pieper says:

    My original post was much longer, but my demon-possessed mouse caused the browser to close entirely on its own; I actually gave a longer explanation as to why the service of altar servers was so humble and a servant-like job, perhaps the most humble, but I guess anyone can figure it out. I see from other people’s responses that many have.

  44. sunbreak says:

    I am also a woman who grew up at a time when women were not anywhere near the altar. I’ve never had an issue with that. If I am a guest at the Lord’s table I don’t have to be the one preparing the spiritual food/drink or serving it to others. I am very happy to see the boys up there doing it, since it’s one of the few ways for them to learn to be of service while most girls have learned to be of service from a young age. I just don’t see being on the altar or not as an issue of some sort of equal rights or mistreatment. We are in the church at Mass to worship God. That is the focus and not who can do what task.

  45. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Here’s my response to the woman who wrote the original post…

    (I would actually seek to talk with the woman, rather than write a letter; but I’ll try to give a sense of my approach.)

    First I’d thank her both for what she does for the Church and for her questions and comments.

    I’d talk to her about why she helps at Mass and I’d delve into the idea that if women or girls can’t do something in the sanctuary, this diminishes the value or place of women. Does “the sanctuary” make some more worthy than others? Why? Does she think priests think that way? I don’t and I don’t know of other priests who do.

    I’d actually say that I see no problem with women as lectors or as extraordinary ministers; but I do think there is a need to avoid too much recourse to extraordinary ministers–whether they are men or women.

    So is it about women or girls as altar servers? Is it about whether women can be priests? If so we would talk about this.

    I would be interested in her thoughts on the merits of the argument, that boys as altar servers means more vocations; because I’d want to be able to pose this question. If you thought reserving altar servers to boys would mean more priestly vocations, what would you say?

    And if the reaction is, yes but still, what about the girls? My question would be, OK, what really at issue here? Are we saying we need to do something to affirm or strengthen girls? Is that the idea here? If so, fine–but surely we have other options, don’t we?

    I’d talk to the woman about the implicit clericalism of all this–something our genial host has pointed out so well: the idea that for our participation in the church, or the Mass, to count, we have to be up there in the sanctuary. Shouldn’t we demolish that sort of thinking?

  46. Mellie says:

    Dear Sister in Christ,

    I am younger than you are but never had the opportunity to serve at the altar. To be fair, I didn’t have much of a desire to do so since I knew little to nothing about my faith and cared even less. I did, however, attend Catholic schools for twelve years and certainly considered it to be my “right” to do so if I should desire it.

    Much has changed since then. I now have a teenage son who serves at a parish that only permits males in that role. My son takes every opportunity he can to serve and enjoys every bit of it, particularly when Father allows him to use incense! Lots of it. He is also discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood. As I see him grow and mature in this role and progress in the discernment of his vocation, I have developed, as any loving mother does, a strong desire to protect and nurture the call of God that is blossoming within him. Where will it lead? I know not. But I sense my son’s awareness of the journey increasing… and my understanding of service at the altar has grown… and changed.

    When I sit in the pew kneeling before my God, I see Father and the altar boys. I see the lectors and the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. And I realize that any desire within me to be front and center, “involved” and “busy” with the business of the altar has faded away. Blessed Mother knelt before her Son hanging on His Cross… and I recognize that the place I take in the pew is a good one. Important. Blessed. Nothing about my silence, my stillness, my physical inactivity, or my humble place in the pew irks me… because I see that it is far more important that someone else be at the altar.

    If my son has a call to the priesthood, he should have the opportunity to serve alongside other males without the distraction of girls (reverent and talented and lovely as they might be). He should have the opportunity to grow close to the priest and have the little discussions and prayers that they have in the sacristy… the ones that fuel the fire of grace and teach and form… without those peer issues. And the girls should not be led to believe that their future lies in Father’s place at the altar.

    There are mothers at my parish who are unhappy that their daughters are not allowed to serve at Mass. They are the same moms who view serving as an “activity” and see only that their dear girls are being excluded from something. I wish they could sit in my pew, in my shoes, and see my son; and feel the strength of the joy that a discerning young man has when he is allowed to pursue the whispers of Christ without having this particular service reduced to an “activity.” It is so much more.

    You might be thinking: “Yes, that’s the thing! Why exclude girls from such an opportunity for grace and fulfillment!” What I can offer in response is my own experience in my vocation as a mother. I have carried seven children in my womb. I have delivered six of them living. I have nursed them at my breast. These years of motherhood have not been an “activity” that anyone can step into. There is no one, including my husband, who has been able to do what I do in the way that God has designed me to do it. And yet I hear no griping from the men. They see the joy of a mother. They also see the suffering and sacrifice. And they know… this place is for woman. Not for man. There is no injustice or exclusion in this distinction. Rather, a deep appreciation and reverence. It is a similar thing that I have begun to feel for those in service at the altar. An imperfect analogy… but it goes a short distance at least.

    I do not propose that it is a sin for a girl to serve at the altar. What I propose (or rather echo from those much wiser and holier than I) is that the act of serving aught to ideally be preserved for the boys and men; to leave them free to reflect and focus, to be in the company of other males on a similar journey, and to increase their exposure to the altar, the priest, and the possibility of their own priestly vocation.

    You might argue that the boys can do this even with the girls present. It is true that it is possible. I think that it is not likely to happen to the extent that it would in a single sex environment. If you still disagree, then I suggest that you do not really remember what it is like to be a young person in the company of the opposite sex. Nor do you do much people watching.

    Someone once suggested to my 11-year old daughter that she might like to be an altar server someday. She replied: “Oh no! I would never want to do that to the boys. They should have the opportunity to spend as much time there as they can. They might be priests someday after all. I’m sure I would do a good job… I think I could do it now without even going to a class! But I have plenty of things to do without taking away their opportunities.” I promise I didn’t coach her. In fact, I had never had a conversation with her directly about this subject until she said this.

    You are right that Christ does not refuse the service of women in the Church. He asks us to be like His Blessed Mother; right there in the thick of things. But He has never suggested that our service should be at our own pleasure, doing what we prefer, when we like, only when it makes us feel involved, important or warm and happy. His own example of service was to be shunned, hated and brutally murdered. I don’t know that it is such a suffering to set our preferences in this matter aside in service of another.

    If we women ever feel irritation over this preference of ours, I suggest we offer it up as a prayer for all of the boys and men who are discerning the priesthood… and step aside for their benefit and God’s greater glory. And if your struggle is fundamentally about an all-male priesthood… well, I guess that’s an entirely different discussion and in the future, aught to begin there.

    God bless you.

  47. Girgadis says:

    In response to the woman who wrote this letter:

    Three Doctors – St. Therese, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Sienna – never set foot on the altar or touched the Sacred Body of Christ, yet look at the profound impact each of these women had on the Church. St. Therese was content to remain hidden in the Carmel and probably accomplished by prayer alone far more than any of us could by serving at the altar or distributing Holy Communion.

    I would like to leave you with this from St. Therese. I hope it helps give you the grace to accept with joy and humility the special place we women hold.

    “Ah! Poor women, how they are misunderstood! And yet they love God in much larger numbers than men do and during the Passion of Our Lord, women had more courage than the apostles since they braved the insults of the soldiers and dared to dry the adorable Face of Jesus. It is undoubtedly because of this that He allows misunderstanding to be their lot on earth, since He chose it for Himself. In heaven, He will show that His thoughts are not men’s thoughts, for then the last will be first”.

  48. Nicole says:

    Ma’am, [Good. I like it when people address her directly.]

    While it seems like a bad deal for women to be excluded from the sanctuary, it has nothing to do with how Our Lord treated women. I, personally, feel a sense of sickness at the female transvestites (or altar servers, as they are also called) in the sanctuary and intense sorrow for them. They buck against the very dignity to which Christ raised women that is reflected both in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and solemn religious profession.

    Women have a specialized place in society, and it is not to serve at the altar in the sanctuary. St. John Chrysostom has some lovely works on the dignity of women: 9th and 11th homilies on the First Letter to Timothy, and the 26th and 27th homilies on the First Letter to the Corinthians. I would hope that every woman would read these and begin to see themselves as very special in God’s plan.

    I have been told by some elders that there used to be monasteries who would refuse admittance of men or boys with soft cheeks due to their feminine qualities, as well as not being permitted to serve at the altar in some places for this reason. I also wonder how much more a young woman or girl (or any woman, really) at the altar is a distraction to a priest while he offers the Holy Sacrifice.

    I hope the best for you.

  49. Nicole says:

    Pardon me above, Ma’am, I meant the 26th and 37th homilies on the First Letter to the Corinthians.

  50. kallman says:

    To the writer: God made man and woman and by intention made them complementary but different for the good of the human race. The role of women should ideally be to seek to emulate the life and qualities of Our Lady, especially in regards to such virtues as chastity, purity. This role in life also is a great example to and influence on men, whose passions and weaknesses may often be greatly tempered by the example of holy women. Holy women in the Church by example and influence have and can exercise enormous spiritual power over men. Our Lady rarely told Our Lord what to do, with the exception of occasions such as the wedding feast at Cana.
    On the altar the priest by virtue of his consecration acts in persona Christi. The servers have a privileged role in being on the sanctuary especially at and after the consecration. The experience of these boys and men on the altar may thus draw them towards the priesthood themselves.

  51. Joanne says:

    Dear Madam Reader:

    Hello! Thank you for this thought-provoking letter. Your love of God and your desire to serve Him are admirable, and what we need more of in the Church and in the world. I’m sorry that you feel less than valued by the Church. Your feelings are understandable.

    You mention girls serving on the altar. I was an altar server briefly in 4th grade. I didn’t really understand my faith very well then, but I knew I loved God and wanted to serve Him, I liked my parish and the priests, etc, so I did it. Quite honestly, I don’t remember much about it, other than that I enjoyed it and learned a bit about my faith. Not sure that anyone was looking at my altar service as a means to break into the priesthood, and it doesn’t seem like that is your agenda here, either.

    At my current parish, which is EF/OF, there are no EMHCs or female altar servers (there are female lectors, though). The altar servers in this parish are actually men and boys of all ages, which I really like. However, if you’re not really convinced by any of the “male only altar server” arguments, I’m not either. The primary one seems to be that male only servers foster vocations to the priesthood. It seems to me though that a man either has a vocation to the priesthood or he doesn’t. If a man’s “vocation” to the priesthood could be derailed by girls serving on the altar, then he’s not someone we need as a priest. There’s a strong preference for male only servers among many in the Church (myself included, these days), but it seems to me that the theological/doctrinal defense of that position as being the only legitimate one is sort of weak.

    My bias is that I don’t believe, generally speaking, that EMHCs have a role in the Mass, but most definitely DO have a role in the community. I am wondering if you have ever considered being an EMHC in a hospital, nursing home, or similar setting. Sounds like that would be the ideal way for you to serve God : bringing Him to the sick, the homebound, the lonely, etc.

  52. jflare says:

    Ma’am,
    In a sense, I understand your question: Why can’t I do this or that in the Church?

    Well, I’ve been in many discussions regarding the merits of women as priests, who should serve for Mass, whether one group or another ought to lector, or whether we ought to be, er, “inclusive” in the language we use in the music. In most of these discussions, neither I nor any other truly know the actual rules, nor the rationale behind the rules. We wind up haggling over matters about which we truthfully know..almost nothing.

    I think when we consider these questions, we need to ask what the rule currently IS, what the rationale behind the rule might be, and almost as important: Will this action bring me or others closer to God? Or will it detract from either?

    If there’s a significant risk that what I propose to be allowed to do might hinder myself or others from God, maybe I ought to avoid doing it.

    Consider that, technically, I’m authorized to be a an altar server, a lector, an EMHC, a choir member, or a simple congregant in the pew. Typically, I act as a choir member; it’s the role for which I have the most experience, and incidentally, what we almost always need the most. For reasons I’ve never entirely understood, church choirs seem incapable of attracting and keeping men, especially tenors. I think it sad, but there it is.

    I think we need to carefully examine precisely what God and His Church need from us the most. Do we really NEED women as servers or lectors at Mass? Or do we more truly need those same women as mothers, altar society members, organizers for other efforts in the parish, or..OR do we need these same women called to religious life or similar functions? Do we need more catechists who have a mother’s experience at shepherding a group of kids in a class?

    Let’s both remember, a priest can’t do every single thing a parish requires, even at a High Mass. Not if we wish for these tasks to be done smoothly and efficiently.

    Are you REALLY needed to serve at the altar or be an EMHC? Or are you more truly needed elsewhere? Is it possible that you really need to simply kneel in the pew and pray a little more fervently?
    For what it’s worth, I’ve been quite relieved that my current choir director has arranged for the teens and kids to sing a bit more at Mass. I don’t always even sing when I’m not in the choir loft, precisely because I feel a greater need to simply sit or kneel and pray.

    I regret that we’ve tended to forget about these needs rather too often.

  53. Mdepie says:

    Madam reader:
    Just a couple of brief thoughts.
    If we believe the Catholic church is what it claims to be, ( The Church established by Christ to be his presence among us, and that it is infallible.) Than it is clear that women are not called to be priests. The evidence for this is extensive. It includes the following: In its 2000 year history the Church has not ordained women, Christ himself did not select women as apostles, and we have had a recent definitive comment on this from Blessed John Paul II, specifically in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis he states : “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” I can see no way one can believe that Catholic Church is what it claims and yet dismiss all of this. So regardless of whether you feel called to the priesthood or not, it is clear that you are not called. The objective evidence against such a calling is overwhelming. It is not about just ones personal feelings. It does not really matter if you or I like the teaching or agree with it, the teaching is clear and must be accepted. To the extent you reject it, you are saying the Church is wrong, fallible and in that case is in essence a hoax. Why would one want to be a priest in such an organization? This would make no sense. No I think God has decided that he would only call men to the priesthood, possibly because the priest in his role must “image” Christ, and it would be a distortion to have a woman due this, but regardless of the reason, Gods decision is clear.

    In fact there are religious bodies that allow for women priests ( Much of the mainline protestant world, like the Episcopal Church, the Methodists etc..) There is nothing to suggest this is attractive to most people. These Churches are in a rapid state of decline and membership implosion. At the very least then we can say ordaining women does not seem to increase the attractiveness of these religious organizations. It might even be something that at some level undermines their attractiveness. Again that’s not my opinion. Its a conclusion that follows from the objective fact of the decline in membership of these religions.

    That is not to say women are not called to play a vital, role in the Church, and in fact there are 3 women doctors of the Church ( St Therese of Avila, St Catherine of Siena, and St Therese Lisieux, not to mention other women saints/Blesseds, Like Sister Faustina of the Divine Mercy, Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and of course humanities solitary boast (Our Lady) was not a priest. So God has raised women up to the pinnacle of holiness , they are an example to men and women alike. I suspect none of them spent much time worrying about not being called to the alter. Following their example would probably make more sense for you than agonizing over the not being a Priest.
    Best Wishes

  54. Jael says:

    Dear Mrs. Jackson,

    I agree with you that male clergy sometimes treat women disrespectfully. A good example is you being called a “readerette.” I’m so annoyed by that, I can’t think of much else to say right now. Hang in there…many who are last will be first.

  55. kiwitrad says:

    I’ve thought about Our Lord’s attitude to women for years. There is no doubt when he engaged with women he treated them with respect and honour. After all the first people to know about the incarnation were Mary and Elizabeth. The first person to see the resurrected Christ was a woman. To the woman at the well he said openly “I am the Messiah”, he didn’t say that to any man. The women understood Him, and they stood by the cross. The men on the other hand were always wanting to get the best places, wanting pour down fire from heaven, making vain boasts (I’ll never betray you) and running away. And yet…it was the men he made apostles and Popes. Why?
    My personal guess is that it’s something to do with dying to self. Women are so naturally spiritual and very capable. They would make excellent priests. On the other hand, men would be happy to sit back let women do the work. In the church I used to attend the Priest was often the only male on the altar, the EM, the altar servers, and the readers were all women. They were often the choir too.
    But Jesus chose the men to be the leaders, and they would need the Holy Spirit to do it! And our job as women is to pray for them. They need a lot of prayer!

  56. tioedong says:

    My mother told me many years ago that God allowed men to be priests because they couldn’t be mothers.
    That was back in the days when motherhood was still respected.

    The dirty little secret is that men and women are not the same, and complement each other in the family in order to raise children.

    Edith Stein pointed out that in any job a woman does, she brings her femininity to the work. (the different approach to patients by male vs female doctors for example is well documented).

    Alas, modern feminists have brainwashed women into thinking that they need to be men to be equal: That means to deny their biological and psychological femininity to work as men, often contracepting or aborting their children in order to do so. So the “females and males are interchangable” has deep implications to society and against the family.

    In a related item: Please pray for the Philippines, where the US is busy pushing population control on our people.

  57. Cathy says:

    Ma’am,

    I am a woman, also of a particular age, where women were not allowed to serve at the alter. As I grow older, I guess I marvel at the genius of the all-male priesthood and long for the return of all-male servers. It is easy in our world, to see women preferred as counselors, comforters and, yes, servants. I marvel at the contrast in the priesthood in which men are called to be all these for all. You are correct in pointing out the very willing and loving service given to Christ by women on the Way of the Cross, but, remember, it was the reluctant Simon who was given to help carry The Cross of Christ. As you seem to have a great devotion to the Stations of the Cross, please offer them for the reluctant men called to the priesthood who perhaps feel quite justified in protesting their call, that they will find the great blessing in embracing the call.

    God bless you.

  58. missy says:

    Dear Mrs. Jackson,
    I am deeply moved by your desire to be in close communion with our Lord. I have just a few thoughts to offer. The first is, presuming you do not take issue with the all-male priesthood that Christ instituted, it is a frequently noted fact that when girls serve on the altar, few boys choose to do so. Many boys who are called to the priesthood first heard that call while serving the Lord at the altar. There is, therefore, a particular reason for boys to serve. For girls, there is really no reason except that they want to.

    And my other thought is: there are many ways to be close to Jesus. You can reach deep union with God anywhere. Yes, the woman with the hemorrhage knew Jesus would heal her if she could touch his robe. The man born blind was healed when Jesus put mud over his eyes. But those were tangible signs to show us the love and care Jesus has for each one of us. While serving at the altar is a great privilege, being able to participate in the mass without the distractions of actions to perform can make it easier pray and meditate and reach union with God, which is our ultimate goal. For that kind of closeness, it isn’t necessary to be in the sanctuary. Remember while Martha bustled about, Mary sat quietly at the feet of Jesus, just being in his presence– and she had the better part.

  59. DisturbedMary says:

    You’re totally missing the point of Mass. The altar is not about humans. Mass is not a human event. It is not concerned with human things like who gets to do what. Think of it as a heavenly banquet given to us as a gift of God’s love because he knows we need it. It is our chance to be drawn to heaven despite our smallness, our unworthiness, our frailties, our foolishness. In kindness I say: Lose the human glasses. Let yourself be drawn into Mass in a fresh way. Pay attention to the new translation, which is going to draw us all closer to this eneffable mystery.

  60. ALL: The woman in question who sent the original email posted a disordered response to many of your own responses. I won’t release her comment from the moderation queue because many of her points to commentators here were, quite frankly, pretty rude – which violates the rules I imposed in the top entry.

    Feel free to continue to post your responses, however, always remembering the rules at the top:

    1) Keep your response brief.

    2) Do NOT … NOT… engage other people in the combox. Let everyone post his or her own response without worrying that everyone will get out their knives.

    3) Think for a while before posting.

    4) I am particularly interested in responses by priests.

    5) Write as if you are responding to the woman, not responding to this entry. “Dear Ms. Jackson…” (“Jackson” is a generic name.)

    6) Don’t be rude.

    7) You can respond either way, in agreement or not. 

  61. o.h. says:

    Dear Sister in Christ:

    When I was in RCIA as a teenager, it seemed obvious to me that those Catholics around me who assured me that women’s ordination was right, just, and on the horizon were on the side of justice and the future Church.

    But, as I read the Gospels as part of my preparation for Confirmation, I was struck by the treatment of women in the culture of Jesus’ time, versus Our Lord’s respectful and loving treatment of them. In particular, I noticed how women were expected to wash the feet of men, and yet when Our Lord called for the service of his apostles as priests, he instructed only the men to go and wash the feet of others. He did not call his Mother, nor Mary Magdalene, nor his other female followers to this service of humility and self-effacement. It seemed that women had been the servants in this way long enough.

    If we see service at the altar as a prerogative of male power, some sort of leftover of male domination over women, it becomes incomprehensible how Christ could have (as he did) limit it to a small group of his male followers. But it is not, as the world sees it, an exercise of power and domination, but of self-abnegating service. The Gospels show that, while Christ calls us all to serve, he does not call women to that particular denial of self. We don’t wash feet anymore. Rejoice!

  62. jenne says:

    Dear Ma’am,
    I have served as an EHMC and the honor was incredible. I can understand your joy in being able to be close to our Lord and serving Him. If you are angry over a perceived intrusion on your right I think you are wasting valuable time loving the one you are serving. Serve Him! Evil has a way of making us feel we have rights. Christ’s right was to live and then die for us so as to break the bondage of sin that we may have new life in him. All as the Father planned.
    Our right is to follow him. Yet our right is really a privilege!
    I have many things I want and can’t see how the church allows or doesn’t allow them to be so. But in the end this is a total distraction. If you are allowed to serve Him now enjoy it! But the time may come when you can’t serve Him as you wish but it will never be because you are kept from being close to Him. Your joy in Him should be so complete that it cannot be taken from you.
    I have three young girls and a son. When I go to Mass where there are only male servers it moves me to think my son may become a priest. I did not grow up thinking I am kept down somehow by being woman. I was raised a fully secular liberal woman. I really don’t want that for my girls. So as a newer generation woman I don’t see an all male sanctuary as a threat to my dignity, nor is the love Christ has for me lessened by this. I simply think my son has a greater chance at serving at the altar if it is a guy thing. Then perhaps if he has a vocation it can be nurtured.
    Yours in Christ

  63. Former Altar Boy says:

    Dear Mrs. Jackson;

    I heard a story once (and it probably more parable than truth, but it has a point). A priest had been elevated to bishop and in his pride was telling his mother how fast he had risen in the “ranks” and held his ring out for his mother to admire. The mother, knowing her son needed to be knocked off his high horse, held out her wedding band and said, “You wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for this.”

    Surely this mother knew the role God had prepared for her to play in his plan of salvation.

    Maybe you never had sons or never had a son who became priest, but Scripture says “male and female He created them,” yet it is obvious He has called us to different vocations and ministries.

    You letter leads me to believe you are a devout Catholic. If you want to be of more service to the Lord, have you considered joining the Altar Society to launder and iron the altar cloths? Have you volunteered to help clean the church or even come in unannounced with a dust rag? Is that much different than cleaning the Lord’s feet?

    You must be more comfortable with the Ordinary than the Extraordinary Mass. Be happy then that you can be an EMHC. Let the boys be “altar boys” and pray that one or more of them will be gifted with a vocation to become a priest and then take satisfaction that your prayers may have played a part in him/them accepting it.

    God bless you,

  64. cl00bie says:

    Dear Ms. Jackson,

    It is admirable that you want to serve our Lord. I do also. But there are ways of service that are not open to me. As a man, I cannot nurture new life in my body, though I would love to. This is a role that God has denied me. Were I to walk around with a fake belly, telling people I was pregnant, you would think I was silly.

    Having female altar servers is much like getting a young boy ready for childbirth. Useless, and a bit silly.

    Jesus called only men to serve in the capacity of priests. He could have called women, but He chose not to. He was not bound by cultural limitations of his time, because his violation of cultural norms led to his death.

    There are many ways for women to serve in the Church. They already do the lion’s share of all of the hospitality work. I would love to have many women involved in our RCIA teams. So please continue to serve in the capacity to which God is truly calling you, and I will continue to serve in the capacity to which God is calling me.

    Yours in Christ Jesus,
    -Tony

  65. LittleFlower says:

    Dear Ma’am,
    I understand that you want to serve God and that your intention is to honour Him. Of course that is great :) However, though I am a young woman, I have never felt the inclination to serve at the altar. I don’t see anything negative in only having male altar servers. Traditionally being an altar server was seen as preparation for the priesthood, and only men can be priests, not out of a disrespect for women but because the Apostles were men and possibly because the priest acts “In persona Christi” and Christ is a Man. Pope John Paul II wrote to the Church saying that women can’t be priests for a theological reason and it’s not merely a matter of custom. When I’m at Mass, I don’t see anything negative in just staying in my pew and praying.. I think that is very Mary-like and it’s a great thing to be able to go to Mass at all :) I also believe that it’s best for just the priest to touch the Host because his hands are consecrated and also it’s best to reduce “handling” of the Eucharist to what is absolutely necessary. For example in the Tridentine Mass, the priest only touches the Host with two fingers. I wouldn’t say that the Mass is about our rights or anything like that, it’s not about us at all! It’s about Our Lord :) so I think your intention is good and I can’t judge that, but I don’t think you would serve God any less by staying in the pew and praying. I think that’s a great way to imitate Mary. The Church does not teach that women are lesser than men, but we have different roles, and different roles in the Church as well. That is good too. We don’t have to all be the same :) So I hope you would consider this.. the reason for encouraging male alter servers etc, is not at all about the Church seeing women as “lesser” than men. Our Blessed Mother is second only to God, she is even placed above the Angels, and she’s a woman ;) but we are not priests.. we have different roles. I think it’s best for the priest to give out Communion and for boys (potential future priests) to be altar servers. I don’t wish to argue but I don’t see anything negative in that at all and I hope my post helps. God bless you!