ACTION ITEM! All male altar service prompts increases in numbers of altar boys.

I have some homework for all you readers, below.  But first, this introduction.

A friend sent a link to On This Rock where there is a post about how the number of altar boys increases dramatically once all-male service at the altar becomes the norm.

“But Father! But Father!”, you are surely quipping, “Obvious point, no?  Sun Rises In East… Dog Bites Man….”

True.

However, at that blog Fr. John Hollowell did a little gumshoe work to substantiate with numbers what should be obvious to anyone still possessed of common sense.

A sample from that blog’s post:

I like statistics, so I solicited some.  I’d love to have more, so if you know of a parish, drop their stats in as a comment, and I’ll add them.

I asked for parishes that made the switch to all male altar servers what their server numbers were like before the switch and what the number of servers was about a year after the switch.

Here we go:

That’s hard to argue with.  The average parish surveyed, when switching from co-ed servers to male-only saw their server numbers grow 450%

UPDATE:

As this has spread a bit across the internet, the statisticians have come out of the woodwork.  I was a math major, and so let me say, first of all, that I understand that correlation does not imply causality. I had it beat into my brain in high school and college.  Correlation does not imply causality, but it certainly can SUGGEST causality, and 450% change is certainly GIGANTIC change.

Secondly, some of the statistical hounds have pointed out that “the sample size is too small.” 
a) I never said this was scientific
b) one person has noted that I would need 200 parishes and another noted I would need at least 32 parishes.  I agree it would be great to get more parishes, but I’m not sure 32 parishes in the USA have had co-ed servers and have since switched back to only male servers.
c) If you want a “statistically relevant” study, feel free to go conduct one yourself.  I don’t have time.  My limited research has told me all I needed.  If you want more, feel free to go get more.  I’m busy pastoring a parish.
d) You may also want to ask yourself why you are attacking the above graphic – is it because you have a concern that every piece of data, even one not claiming to be “scientific” actually meat scientific standards…or do you struggle with the data presented because it upsets your personally held belief on the matter?

Thirdly, one commenter has put it beautifully – “I don’t understand why one side in this thread is expected to justify and extend the data it provides while the other gets to trot out unverifiable claims about unsampled groups and their “feelings”.”
- I couldn’t agree more!  People are falling into the exact pattern that I described in my original post, even in the face of the stats above.

[...]

Let’s help this guy with his stats.

If you have a parish which has gone through this process, go to that blog and get in touch. Add to their sampling.  Help them out.

PS: I know the present pastor at Holy Family in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.  Fine men both.

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Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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55 Responses to ACTION ITEM! All male altar service prompts increases in numbers of altar boys.

  1. SimonDodd says:

    I don’t think it’s at all obvious—actually, I find it counterintuitive—so the empirical data is very much welcomed. Thanks!

  2. Jim R says:

    Perhaps having been a boy (in pre-history) and being the father of a young man who was a boy :-), I agree that intuitively boys will be put off by a mixed sex group like servers. (Young men, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish, so to speak.)

    Glad to know you are familiar with co-linearity, and that correlation and causality are two different things. 32 would be sufficient if truly a random sample of the universe of parishes that have made the switch – not sure how anyone could identify that, so I would opt for a larger sample to address the related issues. (Of course, I have no intention of trying to do so. )

    As someone goes forth to firm up this study…can someone also be teed up to do the one we really want: to test the hypothesis that increased numbers of altar boys leads to increased priestly vocations…that’s where the rubber meets the road. (What a fun time for cliches today)!

  3. Austin Catholics says:

    Of all the pet peeves of the traditionalists, the one that truly mystifies me is girl alter servers.

    In 1976 I (a boy) served with my 12-year-old sister. She wasn’t the only girl server. For the past four decades it has never occurred to me there was any objection to female servers.

    Until the past few years, that is, when Internet people started complaining about girls. Out of nowhere this has become a talking point for those criticizing the Church.

    It seems like such a trivial thing.

  4. mamajen says:

    There was a huge increase in one of the parishes I used to go to. Wish I had specific numbers. I’m not sure, however, if it was due to the elimination of girl servers, or because the new priest was very enthusiastic about encouraging and training the boys (or a little of both). Also, the more traditional families who had lots of sons were more willing to work with the new, more traditional priest I think. I wonder how many of the switches noted above involved a new priest as well?

    I do think making it boys only makes a difference for sure, but having a priest who is not lackadaisical about training/expectations is also very important.

  5. Legisperitus says:

    Austin Catholics:

    Girl altar servers were unlawful until 1992 (or, to take the most liberal view, until 1983). Obviously the Church, for most of her existence, has not considered the matter trivial.

  6. mamajen says:

    @Austin Catholics

    Traditionalists have always been VERY opposed to female servers. It’s just that the internet has given them more of a voice now. I went to a novus ordo parish growing up, but the priest was very orthodox, and female servers were absolutely verboten there. He entertained the idea as a very last resort during a time when there weren’t many boys available, but I don’t think it ever ended up happening.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    Austin Catholics It has to do with the destruction of the minor orders, which were to steps to the priesthood. Acolyte was the first, step, although it was retained. When Paul VI changed the minor orders to let lay people be readers, and acolytes, the nature of being an altar server changed from one being in a line of hierarchy to one being open to all in effect, although, those two minor orders are still in effect for those going for the priesthood. But, therein is the confusion. That was in 1972 with a motu proprio Ministeria quaedam. That Bl. John Paul II allowed altar girls is a huge mystery to me.

    For girls to be serving on the altar is therefore sending a mixed message, as it seems like a step to becoming women priests.

  8. Athelstan says:

    Austin,

    Until the past few years, that is, when Internet people started complaining about girls. Out of nowhere this has become a talking point for those criticizing the Church.

    Perhaps you’ve only noticed it now, but there’s never been a scintilla of fondness for the idea of girl altar servers among traditionalists. I don’t think there’s ever been a point in time when it *didn’t* raise traditionalist (and, indeed, many conservatives’) hackles.

    And, yes, until 1992, it was illegal under canon law (though some parishes did no anyway, illegally).

    I think the motivation, for most of the key players, behind pushing girl altar servers has been pretty obvious: to make the laity more comfortable with the idea of ordaining women. The girls in question may not always have that in mind, but priests and liturgists in many cases have.

  9. Tradster says:

    What would have made the graphic more informative and useful would be the boy/girl breakdown of the Before numbers. It is a safe bet that in all or at least nearly all of the samples, the girls outnumbered the boys. If so, it would make the percentage increase of boys even more dramatic than shown here.

  10. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    With studies like these, it’s nearly impossible to rule out “Third Cause” factors. An example of such a study was one in which investigators for the City of New York noticed that a spike in infant mortality coincided with the asphalt outside in the street becoming noticeably soft. Was the asphalt giving off fumes that the infants were inhaling? This hypothesis was explored. Turns out, no: it was the heat that was causing both the upturn in infant deaths and softening of the asphalt. On the hottest days, the asphalt got soft, and also more babies succumbed. There was zero relationship between asphalt texture and infant mortality; both were being influenced by a “Third Cause:” the heat.

    To come as close as possible to eliminating “Third Causes” in a study, it’s necessary to randomize. You would do that in this study by randomly assigning parishes to “Mixed Sex” and “All Boy” altar server groups. The parishes do not get to self-select which group they want to be in; the researcher assigns the parishes randomly. The researcher draws the parish names out of a hat: “Saint Agnes, Infant of Prague, and Holy Redeemer will become the Mixed Sex altar server parishes; Saint Friedeswide; Our Lady of Good Counsel, and Holy Spirit will become the All Boy server parishes.” You do that random assigning to control for other factors (“Third Causes”) such as conservative vs. progressive attitudes in the parish; a higher proportion of families with boys vs. girls active in the parish; income levels; the presence or absence of parish schools with sports teams that are all boy vs. mixed which may influence peoples’ attitudes to all boy vs. mixed activities. Lots more are possible. So you would try to eliminate as many of these extraneous influences as you can. By randomly assigning parishes to the “all boy” vs. “mixed sex” altar server group, you have your best chance of eliminating extraneous factors, and thus, establishing causality, even with a fairly small sample size.

    Of course, what I propose is impossible to do: I can’t imagine even one parish agreeing to be randomly assigned in this way. So, the next best thing, is to take a snapshot of what’s going on with parishes which have self-selected for all boy vs. mixed sex. Of course, since they have self-selected, all of these other extraneous influences are going to be operational, and no attempt to identify causality can be scientifically substantiated, even if the sample size is equal to the number of parishes in the free world.

    Studies like this one – even large studies – can suggest the presence of a causal link between having an all boy altar server policy and receiving a large number of recruits. But that’s the most they can do.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    “one person has noted that I would need 200 parishes and another noted I would need at least 32 parishes.”

    It depends on what question you are asking. If you are looking at per parish switches, than about 30 is enough to get statistical significance. If you are asking of trends using a boy-girl ratio, then you are talking on a per person basis and five large parishes might be enough.

    Marion is correct about third causes, but good experimentation should, over time, be able to weed those out.

    I would bet that these sort of sex selection problems have been studied in marketing classes.

    The Chicken

  12. scholastica says:

    While our parish hasn’t made a rule for no girl altar servers, it has happened organically. As more boys were encouraged and enlisted, the girls (and women) gradually dropped out. So, at present we have an all boy corps.

    In a few years perhaps we can survey how many more priestly vocations have come from these parishes.

  13. msc says:

    Clearly the statement by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 1994 should be seen as an anomaly. And while I’m certainly inclined to accept happily any decision by JPII , it has been pointed out by many that apparently JPII did not permit female altar servers in his own diocese of Rome. I do think that the issue of vocations is, however, not truly relevant. If it is doctrinally acceptable to have female altar servers, then it should be allowed regardless of its results. If we found some odd correlation between some theologically unacceptable practice in church and increased vocations, we wouldn’t argue that the practice should be allowed on that account. Each action has to be judged as right or wrong on its own terms. That is why I’m not convinced by the argument that boys will avoid being altar servers if girls are allowed, since as a parent I’m obliged to teach my children how to act and be adults. If my son said that he didn’t want to be an altar server because girls were, I would tell him to grow up and stop being such a child and to go serve the Church gladly, girls or no.

  14. Bruce Wayne says:

    The altar server coordinator at the parish of my youth cropped up in a MSM article I once read about how a bishop in Northern Virginia had just allowed coed altar service in the diocese; and that diocese had been the last all-male server diocese in the country. The coordinator (from a different state, btw) was quoted as saying how fantastic the change was since having female altar servers was such a crucial step in eventually having female priests.

    I think anyone who is honest knows that this subversive motive is the entire point of using female altar servers, even if most coordinators do not get recorded publicly admitting as much. That this is the motive is common sense because it is common sense that all Catholics understand that altar service is an important first step for a boy to eventually discern a vocation to the priesthood. We all intuitively see the connection between the altar servers “up there assisting the priest” and the priesthood.

  15. Cosmos says:

    Austin Catholic,

    Edmund Burke’s observations on tradtion have been really useful for me in thinking through a lot of similar issues. One of his basic points is that traditions are the result (the collective wisdom) of generations working through certain problems in light of their expereinces. Because we don’t have the time, or often the ability, to fully grasp how they came to these conclusions, we should tred lightly before throwing them out. Traditions can be overturned, but only very slowly and deliberately.

    Basically, the idea is that–in direct contradiction to the modern practice–the burden should be on the revolutionary to justify overthrowing a tradition, not the other way around. For example, proponents of gay marriage should have to explain why such a practice is a really good idea. What ussually happens, unfortunately, is the other way around: “Why should the goverenment stop anyone from getting married? Why is it their business?” Since most people are not equipped or inclined to answere this question–regardless of how strong the reason is once thought through–the tradition is thrown out with little regard. That is not wise, and it is certianly not the Catholic way.

    So I propose that instead of asking, “What’s the big deal,” you instead assume that there was a legitimate reason for the centuries old tradition and really try to find out what it was. If you can’t find anything, then you may be entitled to state that the change was not a big deal.

    Pax!

  16. Austin Catholics says:

    Other data that would be interesting:

    What percentage of US-born priests were alter servers? And is this different for priests in their 30s vs priests in their 70s?

    What percentage of US boys who serve become priests? What percentage of those who were never servers become priests?

    Real data would be interesting, not guesses.

  17. Legisperitus says:

    Positive law can say what it will, but natural law always remains in place. We can’t avoid experiencing the reality that altar service, in its deepest nature, is associated with the clerical state. The admission by the “coordinator” (spoken of by Bruce Wayne) is very telling. The impetus behind the altar-girl movement has always been to get the camel’s nose under the tent of the priesthood.

  18. Cathy says:

    Because something is licit, does not mean it is wise. Female servers at the Altar, distribution of Holy Communion under both species, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, while licit, are bound to particular circumstances. It seems to me, that ignorance and lack of applicable boundaries and actually applying the boundaries is unwise – these boundaries are hardly acknowledged, that’s my gripe for the day!

  19. MKirGBP says:

    Fr. Peter Stravinskas gave a talk in the 90′s about how when girls are introduced into the Server mix, that boys’ participation drops exponentially.

    Also, Cardinal Arinze said in the late 90′s I believe, “that the ONLY form of abuse within the Church is the allowance of female altar servers…as it is training them for something they cannot be….a Priest” (paraphrased as best I can remember). But he is absolutely correct…being an Altar Server is training a young MAN to become a Priest!

  20. As a mathematician with statistical experience, I’ve spent a certain amount of time over the years calculating random sample sizes and confidence levels. However, I think that in regard to the data presented here, technical remarks (however well-intentioned) about randomization and statistical significance, false correlations and third causes, etc. amount pretty much to (as Fr. Z is wont to say) B and in B, S as in S.

    Because the “feel” of this particular data set (however limited) correlates so strongly in the mind of an ordinarily intelligent person with what he himself surely has observed (even if of no scientific “statistical significance” whatever) if he’s spent enough time in parishes where the number of male altar servers has steadily decreased until almost all the remaining altar servers were female, or in all-male sacristies where many or most of the altar boys casually assumed in their everyday banter that they might someday be priests themselves, and the priest was uninhibited in low-key encouragement of those assumptions, versus mixed sacristies where such casual but ubiquitous encouragement of vocations was too awkward to be feasible. And has and has actually seen multiple priestly vocations come from one situation but not from the other. Thus compelling the obvious common-sense conclusion in anyone not predisposed against it.

  21. jflare says:

    “Until the past few years, that is, when Internet people started complaining about girls. Out of nowhere this has become a talking point for those criticizing the Church.

    It seems like such a trivial thing.”

    I’m..pretty surprised to hear this. As I recall, our bishop began allowing girls to serve at the altar somewhere around 1987. I’ve heard a great deal about this, battle after battle after battle, ever since. If you would argue that this is such a trivial thing, I’d need to know why you don’t make that case to the ladies. THEY don’t seem to think it trivial at all, but consider it rather an essential concern that girls be allowed to serve.

    **
    Whether this survey is scientific or not, it IS telling. While most of the parishes listed seem to be in Indiana, there are also two in more liberal states, Washington and New Jersey, a third in a fairly “permissive” state, Minnesota. (Sorry, Fr Z, that’s what I’ve seen the most from the area.)
    If the number of male servers has increased dramatically in THOSE areas as well, even if only in isolated spots, that’s still saying something.

    Considering how often the average Novus Ordo parish tends to be stubborn about following traditional Catholic identity..concepts..I think we’ve found some lights in the wilderness.

  22. pj_houston says:

    msc says: “If my son said that he didn’t want to be an altar server because girls were, I would tell him to grow up and stop being such a child and to go serve the Church gladly, girls or no.”

    Wow, way to belittle your son’s natural inclinations and seriously screw with his head. Bravo!

  23. MAJ Tony says:

    @Bruce Wayne: did you mean “second-to-last diocese?” Lincoln, Nebraska held that distinction at the time Arlington succombed.

  24. Geoffrey says:

    The instituted ministries of acolyte and lector are available to men only. If only more orthodox Catholic laymen would seek out these instituted ministries, I think the plethora of female readers and servers would gradually diminish.

    The Holy See has also allowed instituted acolytes to act as subdeacons (with some limitations) in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This, coupled with the permanent diaconate, we could have solemn EF Masses with much greater frequency!

  25. John Nolan says:

    When female servers were being discussed twenty-odd years ago proponents were arguing that it is natural for women to serve (think St Martha, or the etymology of ‘ancillary’) and if you look at the OF Mass (which in its basic form doesn’t require a server at all) all the servers do is fetch and carry. Permission was given somewhat grudgingly (it was a retrospective acceptance of an existing abuse) and if a priest celebrant doesn’t want a female he can send her packing.

    Most importantly, in the EF where the server’s role is important and he is undeniably substituting for a cleric, women may not serve.

  26. churchlady says:

    @Austin
    Real data: Percentage of US born girls who served and became priests – 0%

    Let’s get the girls helping in the parish where they can and will help: with the cleaning, floral arrangements, and caring for the sacred linens and the altar boys’ vestments. Girls can serve at the altar in that capacity and a very important one at that.

  27. mcs: And while I’m certainly inclined to accept happily any decision by JPII

    It’s pretty well known that JPII did not actually make this decision [to approve altar girls], having promised (Mother Teresa, among others) that this would never happen during his papacy.

    However, the protocol allowing female altar servers (famously lacking the usual official protocol number) was sent out to the world’s bishops without his approval while he was in the hospital incapacitated by a serious medical problem, and by the time he was conscious of this, he was presented with a fait accompli that could not feasibly be reversed.

  28. frjim4321 says:

    Seems to me that there are many variables here and in order for the statistics to be meaningful everything else would have had to be held constant with the only change being the discrimination against girls/young women in the altar serving program. Undoubtedly that was not the case.

    I would suspect that many of these situations involved a new person being in charge of the serving program and putting a lot of gusto into it. I would suspect that ANY serving program, those that discriminate against females and those which do not, would experience an influx of participants if there was a new adult leader who was willing to put a great deal of effort into an altar serving problem.

    Perhaps a newly ordained priest with relatively few other responsibilities or without strong leadership from a pastor would sink many hours each week into the serving program, and perhaps that was not the case in the past. I am sure in such a case that the membership would grow in an inclusive serving program as well as a discriminatory serving program.

    All that being said, from my point of view what would be important about an altar serving program would be quality rather than quantity; and I certainly would not brag that my serving program was better because it was bigger and because I was excluding half the population of the parish or parish school.

    The ends do not always justify the means.

  29. Indulgentiam says:

    Henry Edwards: “, he was presented with a fait accompli that could not feasibly be reversed.”
    I don’t get it. JPII had access to the same pen and paper that th other guys did. He could have written out something along the lines of “this was done without my approval and MUST be discontinued forthwith” or something along those line. Couldn’t he have said that? I’m honestly asking.
    I’m a woman and IMHO girls do not belong on the Altar for all the obvious reasons that have been stated above and which have been stated on this blog before, ad nauseum. The only people who want them up there IMHO fall into three catagories. Those who want to weaken the Priesthood, those who don’t care about the Priesthood and those who have no concept of what and Who the Priesthood stands for.

  30. As far as I know, my parish has always had all-male servers, and we have well over 100 servers. Additionally, in the past six years, there have been six new priests ordained from among their ranks, not to mention three who are currently in the seminary.

  31. JDBenedictH says:

    My school goes to daily Mass at Holy Family in St. Louis Park, and as soon as the training for students not from that parish occurs, I’ll start serving there. Great parish.

  32. ray from mn says:

    Sex is not the only issue in attracting more boys to being altar servers. You have to give them something important to do. Processing out and sitting in a chair for an hour would not attract anybody.

    What you need to do is emulate the server tasks of the EF Mass and have the servers ring bells, memorize and respond to the priest’s prayers, move the Roman Missal from one side of the altar to the other and pour the water into the chalice and wet the priest’s hands at the Offertory. In addition they could hold the paten under the chins of communicants, genuflect at important points in the Mass, lead processions with a crucifix, present the thurible (censer) and the incense boat to the priest. There is no reason that they couldn’t incense the congregation at “high masses”, and various and sundry other tasks that would give a young man who now and thinks of becoming a priest a real experience of being up on the altar.

  33. Indulgentiam: Even a pope can do so much when when his curial support is weak on several different fronts. We saw this recently in the case of Pope Benedict. Anyone familiar with the 1990s knows that Pope John Paul II suffered the same problem, crippling him in the face of a “fait accompli” such as this, when his expressed will was already being flouted publicly in many dioceses throughout the world. I recall an old anecdote concerning Pope Pius X a century ago, when he was unable to work his will on a comparatively minor matter within the Vatican. When was asked why he didn’t simply give a direct order, he allegedly replied to the effect that he couldn’t give an order that he didn’t have the power to enforce effectively, saying something like “After all, I’m only the pope, and almost everyone around here has more real power than I do!”

  34. Former Altar Boy says:

    Start keeping the stats now so in 15 or 20 years you all can report on the increase in priestly vocations at the parishes with only altar BOYS.

  35. Stu says:

    Happy to see my former parish in Bremerton on the list. Great parish.

  36. Bruce Wayne says:

    To Maj Tony:

    I didn’t want to try and dredge up the original article I was recalling so am not surprised if in fact it was only the second to last diocese to succumb.

    However, maybe you can confirm for me whether Lincoln had at one time permitted altar girls? That is, if it is the case that Bp. Bruskewitz had returned Lincoln to an all-male altar service then we could both be right and just quibbling. My recollection was that the last diocese to have *never* allowed altar girls was Arlington, as in keeping a continuous tradition. So if Bruskewitz had only re-instituted the all-male altar service then I could have remembered the article correctly by a technicality.

    Or, I could just try and google search for the article and not seem stubborn in maintaining the accuracy of my recollection.

    The article has mainly stuck in my memory banks over the years because of the quote from the lay (male) altar server coordinator from my childhood parish. That quote I will never forget.

  37. Del says:

    There are two parishes in the Diocese of Madison who have made such a switch, and not without plenty of drama from the “I’m entitled” crowd.

    They read your blog.

    As to idle altar servers and vocations:
    My son refused to learn how to serve Mass, for reasons that suited his introverted youth. But by the time he was in high school, he jumped at the opportunity to be part of the first licit celebration of the Extraordinary Form. He attended many sessions and memorized quite a bit of liturgical Latin.

    It seems that the commenters here are correct: The boys and young men will work hard for something that is worth doing.

    About the same time, he started attending weekly “Quo Vadis?” meetings for young men who were discerning for seminary. I believe that exploring the vocation came before his enthusiasm for Liturgy, but it is certain that each one magnified the other.

  38. Mojoron says:

    I suggest that you use the Diocese of Omaha under Bishop Bruskiwitz as an example for all-male servers. Not only are there not female servers there are older male servers during some masses. Omaha has always had a large group of men who are studying for the priesthood and the bishop always points out his rules for servers as being the cause.

  39. Mojoron says:

    I meant to say Diocese of LINCOLN, NE not Omaha.

  40. AlexE says:

    My parish has 30 co-ed altar servers from a parish with a school, CCD and a couple of thousand families. The EF family has 90 altar boys from 800 family with no school…

  41. Palladio says:

    Two parishes from 2 states, both with boys (and young men) only, a change (I think) from coed serving under the previous pastors: both have dozens of altar boys, one with so many that they have to sit in the front pews! Both, surprise, surprise, have EF, and more than 1000 families AND GROWING. Both are in smallish, industrialized towns, not very wealthy.

    It stands to reason that there is no better place to wish to become a priest than at the altar. Vocations suffered and suffer still for reasons having nothing, I believe, specifically to do with this, but they would inevitably rise returning in this regard to tradition. At the same time, we need to rid ourselves of the squads of ‘ministers’ at Communion. We need to eliminate, curtail, or for once seriously train lectors. The Sanctuary is by definition sacred, but where we have shunted off the Tabernacle to one side, we have also stripped the Sanctuary of holiness in a protestant spirit. We are sloppy, formless, irreverent. Part of the beauty of altar boys is seeing the little men overcome such things to become real men.

  42. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Henry Edwards,

    You wrote,

    “As a mathematician with statistical experience, I’ve spent a certain amount of time over the years calculating random sample sizes and confidence levels. However, I think that in regard to the data presented here, technical remarks (however well-intentioned) about randomization and statistical significance, false correlations and third causes, etc. amount pretty much to (as Fr. Z is wont to say) B and in B, S as in S.”

    Why? Truth is truth and if this is a real phenomenon, then there is no harm in seeing good statistics support what appears to be common sense. Statistics can be abused and what appears to be common sense can, sometimes, be disproven, so it is the cooperation and support among different types of information that, often, leads to the truth. Unfortunately, I know of cases in the sciences where common wisdom was proven wrong by further detailed investigation. While I don’t think that would happen, here, nevertheless, it is part of the vocation of a scientist to bring empirical experimental experience to bear in shaping research. Although this is informal research, it does no harm in speculating about how it might actually be done, rigorously, even if this amounts to fantasy, given the impossibility of doing a thorough examination and design of the experimental conditions.

    I mean, in an anti-universe, if the priesthood were all female, would having all female altar servers lead to a similar increase? That, is an experiment that cannot be run, but still, it suggests that the answer might be, no, because we know from other research that men and women display different herd tendencies in business settings. Then, the question could be asked: is the increase due to male herd tendencies or due to the priesthood being male. In other words, does having female football players lead to less males signing up? Would that happen in the NFL?

    See, thought experiments and all can lead to insight. The hypothesis is: All male altar service prompts increases in numbers of altar boys. If the same phenomenon occurs if the term, “altar server,” is substituted for other male bonding activities, like , “code jockey,” or “lab assistant,” or , “football players,” then the phenomenon would not be related to the priesthood, per se, but maleness. These are interesting questions and common sense is no substitute for data.

    There is no B. S., here, but, rather, an unwillingness (at least on my part) to be involved in Cargo Cult Science.

    http://neurotheory.columbia.edu/~ken/cargo_cult.html

    The Chicken

  43. Ella says:

    As a convert to Catholicism and not reared in The Faith, my question is what, precisely, is the point of altar servers? Are they there just to assist the congregation in worship? Does the priest require their assistance to conduct Mass? Is it to encourage vocations to the priesthood? Is it to make young people feel like they’re doing something at Mass? Is it for the sake of the youngster’s parents? I suppose it’s too much to ask for a mission statement but it seems to me a lot of the difficulty with this issue comes in with differing views of the altar server’s purpose. What is the specific mission of the altar servers in accordance with The Church?

  44. Palladio says:

    Warmest welcome, Ella. Beginning early in the Church, the acolyte was “a cleric promoted to the fourth and highest minor order in the Latin Church, ranking next to a subdeacon” (Cath. Encyc.). The word acolyte strictly speaking means candle bearer. This ceremony, East and West, of candle bearing was incorporated in Holy Mass at the last reading of the Gospel, at the ambo, and at the Eucharist, at the altar: the two tables of the Lord (Origen, CCC). At the former two candles were normal, hence two acolytes at a minimum appear often in images of the Church in art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The justification for candle bearing was, explicitly from Saint Jerome onward, symbolic: Christ is the light of the world (John). V II put an end to it being an order, but naturally you will have noticed the help the priest requires, especially at the Altar, in celebrating Mass. There are norms for altar boys in Canon Law which would give you the most details. As for Catholic Culture, when the priest I first served for–many years ago–wrote me last year to say that I was one of his favorite altar boys, I received what I consider to be one of the highest honors of my life.

  45. Vox Laudis says:

    @churchlady and @Austin–
    The young ladies could also learn to chant, to sing well, to play the organ, and to effectively teach and direct childrens’ and adult mixed and male/female-only scholae–including how to keep the boys and men singing during and after their voices change.

    And then train their sons and daughters to do likewise, as well as the young men serving in place of acolytes and young ladies doing all the things churchlady describes.

  46. msc says:

    pj_houston: Education is all about training people to overcome a lot of their natural inclinations. And for a boy to say that he doesn’t want to do something because there are girls doing it is, I believe, not a reflection of natural law but merely a childish sentiment. Most boys at some time think girls are “ucky”, which is, of course, not a mature attitude. Would you like your adult son to have that belief? I’m not saying boys have to play with dolls and be girlish, just that they are being immature when they reject something because girls are involved. I’d hope my son would be delighted to have a chance to play soccer with Brandi Chastain or hockey with Hayley Wickenheiser, girls or not.

    Palladio: acolyte comes from the Greek “akolouthos” meaning “follower”; nothing to do with candles.

  47. Kathleen10 says:

    It is interesting to hear about JPII and altar girls. It is very hard to believe it could not be rescinded, but I know nothing of these things.
    Up to the present day, boys and girls had their roles in life and life was simpler. In my opinion girls have been culturally elevated and this gets demonstrated in many ways. One small example, our local newspaper pretty much only covers girls sports, not boys. Any sport, especially the one’s traditionally male (baseball) gets extensive coverage for the girls, even very young ones. Boys, not so. No one could seriously argue girls are not the focus of our culture today. Boys are treated like so much flotsam. What do they have to look forward to in a culture where men are so denigrated? (Watch commercials which reflect contemporary culture.) This attitude is not humorous, it’s a societal problem. My point is, boys have few roles today where girls have not infiltrated, and this is only a good thing to those who feel a gender-neutral society is a wonderful thing.
    This is, I know, just one lesser reason to have altar boys only, but it’s not minor, if one cares at all about boys. Boys need a role. They need to have something that is male, for boys only, and when they are young this helps them separate their identity from females. As the mother of a son, I can assure you this was on my mind as I raised him. I had a boy. I wanted him to be a man, not a woman. How today, can boys become men when they often have no or only bad role models, and there are no “boys only” activities? Look around and see boys have few options for expressing their growing masculinity today. Girls are applauded in particular when they adopt the male model. I work in public schools and I see this ALL the time. We have worrisome effects from all this gender confusion coming down the pike. We can only guess at what the current pro-homosexuality culture is going to do to both boys and girls as we go along. I don’t want to think about it. It’s too grim.
    Up to the current day, boys under say, 13, would of course be repelled by activities in which girls participated. In general this was simply a reflection in a young boy’s wish to differentiate himself from the female sex, and was considered as normal as could be. Now boys have no place. Girls have taken over on every sphere and are applauded, but take a look. Boys are virtually ignored. Some have made the connection between this reality and boys joining gangs, acting out, drug use, and other societal problems. It makes sense. When you remove the method and “reason” to be male, the affirmation for it, what have you got left? Misdirected energy.
    Boys should serve on the altar, and boys only. Girls can serve in other important ways. Too bad for us that the most important contribution that any human being can make has been so terribly downgraded, that of bringing to the world the next generation of boys and girls and raising them both as happy, healthy children, and good citizens. Always the authentic feminine role is rejected for the male role. Such confusion.

  48. Palladio says:

    msc, you are writing beside the point, and, in your last claim, totally mistaken. Here is Saint Isidore of Seville, first in Latin (OCT, ed. W. M. Lindsay), then a modern translation in English:

    Acolythi Graece, Latine ceroferarii dicuntur, a deportandis cereis, quando legendum est Evangelium, aut sacrificium offerendum. [30] Tunc enim accenduntur luminaria ab eis et deportantur, non ad effugandas tenebras, dum sol eodem tempore rutilet, sed ad signum laetitiae demonstrandum, ut sub typo luminis corporalis illa lux ostendatur de qua in Evangelio legitur (Ioh. 1, 9): ‘Erat lux vera, quae inluminat omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum.’ [31]

    “Acolytes,” (acolythus) in Greek, are called torch bearers (ceroferius [sic]) in Greek from their carrying candles (cereus) when the Gospel is to be read or mass to be offered. For at that time lights are to be kindles and carried by them, not in order to put darkness to flight, since at the same time there is daylight, but in order to display a symbol of joy, so that under the figure of the physical candlelight that light may be displayed concerning which it is read in the Gospel (John 1:9), “That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.

    That’s the constant tradition of the Church, not the etymology of the word, which determined the meaning, a reflection of the practice. It is also in the Cat. of Saint Peter Canisius, to say nothing of Trent: Feria cena Domini, Missale romanum ex decreto SS. Concilii Tridentini restitutum (Antwerp: Plantin, 1577), 178.

  49. Dear Masked Chicken,

    I always look forward to your erudite and wide-ranging comments, which often strike me as the most uniquely and consistently informative of any single participant’s that are consistently seen here at WDTPRS. That said, it seemed to me that your 8:01 am 6 September 2013 comment, while interesting and even provocative as usual, was somewhat orthogonal to my own specific comment to which you were ostensibly replying.

    However, you are no doubt correct in your speculation on the centrality of masculinity to the issue at hand here. For instance, to me it seems quite unsurprising that altar boys serving the traditional Latin Mass will be attracted to the possibility of a priestly vocation when they see in their EF priest a more attractive male role model than many of these boys otherwise have an opportunity to observe. And also, perhaps, that the less clearly-defined role of many OF priests may preferentially attract girls rather than boys as altar servers. And that, in the respective cases, male-bonding and female-bonding may well be factors. The universe is, for better or worse, quite asymmetric in these matters.

  50. The Masked Chicken says:

    “That said, it seemed to me that your 8:01 am 6 September 2013 comment, while interesting and even provocative as usual, was somewhat orthogonal to my own specific comment to which you were ostensibly replying.”

    Nah. It was maybe 67.2 degrees off, not orthogonal :)

    The Chicken

  51. Jim of Bowie says:

    “I always look forward to your erudite and wide-ranging comments, which often strike me as the most uniquely and consistently informative of any single participant’s that are consistently seen here at WDTPRS.”

    Wow! Quite a complement, Chicken, coming from the erudite Mr. Edwards.

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  53. msproule says:

    Unfortunately, we have experienced the reverse of this phenomenon at my relatively small (<400 families) parish. Under a previous pastor who only permitted male servers, there had been approximately 75 servers about a decade ago. Our current pastor granted girls the opportunity to serve about three years ago. Today, we have 19 servers total, two of whom are girls. That is a 77% drop in the number of boys participating in less than 10 years! In fairness, there are many other factors that led to this decline, but there is little doubt that, under the current circumstances, our numbers are low because of the current gender policy.

    In a related way, this parish had been well-known for beautiful, reverent, liturgy and this reputation is rapidly eroding away. A decade ago, the majority of communicants received on the tongue and many of them knelt. Eventually, this majority became a minority. Instead of trying to reverse the unfortunate trend, our current pastor decided to do away with the paten, lest somebody accidentally bump it with their outstretched hand. Now, there are very few who receive Our Lord on the tongue and only about two kneel to receive Him! To add insult to injury, our "Entrance Hymn" for Corpus Christi this year was "Gather Us In"! Yes, you read that correctly!

  54. Nan says:

    @jflare, yes MN has a reputation for being more permissive; however, our Bishop has been making changes. I’m at the MN priests previous parish, where he had tied for most vocations (8) with a parish that has a school. That was before instituting all male altar servers. While I don’t know the numbers, since he did that, we’ve gone from primarily adult servers to a mixed group that includes several altar boys but I don’t know the exact numbers.

    Fr. JJ is in the enviable position of having two schools from which to draw altar boys at his current parish. They have his example to follow as well as that of the weekend assoc (retired priest) who is well thought of.

  55. Nan says:

    @Geoffrey, I scandalized a friend from my parish who acts both as reader and EMHC by telling her that I don’t do those things because I don’t believe that women belong in the sanctuary. She responded that probably others don’t think she should be there, either. No idea.

    @Fr Jim, it isn’t discrimination not to allow girls to do things that interfere with boys doing what they need to do. Much better to have all male altar servers as girl servers are less focused on the task at hand and disturb the boys.

    @JDBenedictH, provide Annette from HF with your name and contact info and I’ll pray for you and send you a handmade rosary.