QUAERITUR: changing from altar “servers” to altar boys

A priest reader sent this.

Perhaps some of you can post concrete experiences.  We don’t need rants against altar girls here, just concrete help.

I would be interested if any of your readers have any resources that would be helpful to a pastor who is trying to move his parish back to training only boys to serve at the atlar.  I don’t anticipate a huge backlash, but I would be particularly interested in some ideas on how to explain the reasoning, especially to 4th and 5th graders. 


I remember how one pastor got rid of altar girls by starting to have only father and son teams serve.  Then the fathers were phased out and more boys phased in.

I think the standard explanation is that service at the altar is an extension, to an extent, of ministerial service.   These days many push the idea that everyone is somehow a "minister".   There are ministers of greeting, napkin folding, bulletin distributing, etc.  

Since the server is really a replacement for an officially installed acolyte, who must be male, the servers should be male.  An interpretation of canon law shockingly allowed that females could also substitute for males in this service, and so that law must be respected.   At the same time, the Church also very much prefers male service, and states clearly that service of boys at the altar should be fostered as a great tradition and as a starting point for priestly vocations.

So, in the theological side there is a argument from the idea that this is an extension of the service of the other, truly ministerial ministers.

Practically speaking, it helps vocations and… from a psychological/developmental point of view, boys tend not to want to serve when girls are around. 

I often wonder about a sound theological defense of altar girls.  I muse about whether or not one could get any mileage out of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins with their lamps, who were to accompany the Bridegroom in to the banquet.   But I only get so far with that, and then I hit a wall.

So… I am interested in concrete stories from people about how parishes shifted from mixed service back to male only service at the altar.

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  1. andrew says:

    I know of one priest who phased out female alter servers by starting a club in which only boys were allowed to join, and it was headed by the two most traditional men of the parish. This made it so girls decided that alter serving is a boy’s job, and so they stopped alter serving. This was an excellent idea for two reasons:
    1.) It helped start a male only serving program
    2.) It helped to foster vocations
    I do believe that they have regular meetings outside of Mass, but I’m not sure as this isn’t my parish.

  2. Hermeneutic is the anti spam word. Maybe it should be dialectics or something more abstruse.

    Before I get barred from this site let me suggest to you reverend presbyter [This has nothing to do with what I asked for in this entry.] that females of any age have no place on a Catholic altar except to arrange the flowers.

    Our mothers knew their place and were very happy with their place. They knew in their hearts that there was only ever one Woman Priest and that was the Virgin Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    It was she who consented to the Fathers will that he should be the Lamb to take away the sins of the world.

    I can tell you that Jesus Christ is very annoyed [You haven’t the slightest what Jesus thinks about this.] at modern women muscling in on his Mother’s preserve.

    [I will let this comment stand, but please know that in the future, I will delete and lock out.]

  3. Tim Ferguson says:

    A priest of my acquaintance led his parish through the transition from altar servers utriusque sexus to altar boys (in the face of a good deal of opposition) this way:

    1. Established within the parish a chapter of Knights of the Altar, geared primarily towards high school age boys. Besides having the Knights serve Mass, there were also many outside activities – trips to the local seminary, retreat days, athletic events, father and son breakfasts and camping trips.
    2. At the same time, a religious sister in the parish organized something of a parallel girls group. The girls had their own formation experiences and fun times – trips to a local Marian shrine, craft opportunities, mother-daughter brunches, bake sales.
    3. When the Knights of the Altar would serve, they wore cassock and surplice, instead of the offwhite “alb” that the other servers would wear. Soon, at every Mass, he would have a Knight serving as MC.
    4. Within a year, he had the Knights serving exclusively at the main Sunday Mass and all the major celebrations throughout the year – Christmas, Easter, etc.
    5. Sister worked on training the girls as sacristans – when they set up the sacristy before Mass, they would wear a special apron and then sit with the other girls, also wearing their aprons, in the front pew.
    6. Within two years, there were only a few stalwart “altar girls” left in the parish. All the young girls wanted to join the group of girls instead (I think they called it the Mary and Mary Sodality, or something like that). Father kept moving back the age for membership in the Knights of the Altar until all of the boys who served could be members.

    I think it was – and is – essential to provide something for the young ladies who have been serving Mass, rather than just excluding them. Many have volunteered their time to do so out of genuine, if misguided, religious sentiment. To deny them an opportunity to “serve” the Lord (not necessarily at Mass, but in a gender appropriate manner) could be very harmful to their faith development. Much better to steer and guide them into some gender appropriate role, which may have the additional effect of fostering religious vocations.

  4. Bishop Antonio Carlos Rossi Keller, when pastor at the Santo Antônio do Limão parish, didn’t get rid of altar girls, but changed their roles not to be “altar” in any way. They helped in other issues, the altar service being only to boys. This is a good way not to frustrate girls’ parents. In 22 years as pastor, he formed more than 400 altar boys and girls, lots of installed acolytes and some permanent deacons.

  5. Patrick says:

    I think the way to go is to have a vocations drive; base the altar serving on a general move to increase vocations to the priesthood, which is, of course, only for the male of the species.

  6. dpk says:

    A pastor in Connecticut grandfathered (“grandmothered”?) in the currently serving altar girls, but simply made a decision on his authority as pastor that any new servers have to be male. It was fair to those females who had spent a long time serving, while at the same time immediately implementing the new policy. Interest expressed in priestly vocations has soared in his parish.

    Personal authority is the way that decisions have to be made, not decisions by parish or diocesan committees.

  7. Origen Adamantius says:

    I have two classmates who moved back to boy servers. Te more effective one planned a gradual implementation, Catechized the parish about the connection between servers and vocations, and created an atmosphere where the girls (and their parents) felt wanted and were not treated dismissively (similar to the plan outlined by Ferguson above). The less effective and disastrous occurred (I Think) because the girls were treated dismissively and the were catechized that they had no role in the CHurch.

    In response to the theology:

    Parable of Virgins — please do not butcher the literal and sensus plenior (read faithfully in the ecclesial context) senses of the scriptural text for the sake of expediency. Forced and faulty arguments do more harm than good

    “ministry” — two possible difficulties arise. THe first is the need for consistency. If one “extended ministry” requires males only then shouldn’t all (EM, Lector)? The second is continual blurring of the distinction between ordained and baptismal priesthood within the church in America might be further exacerbated among your parishioners when you use the sacramental substance of one to argue for the non-sacramental substance of the other?
    A further questioned that I do not know the answer to but others might; Were the instituted ministries (lector and acolyte) envisioned to be permanent (Lincoln Nebraska) or transitional steps toward priesthood?

  8. TerryC says:

    I think that Tim Ferguson is right. It all hinges on convincing girls that there are roles for them that are as important as alter serving, just different. dpk is also right in that it is much harder to tell a young lady who has spent years acting as a server, who take their server duties quite seriously, that they can no longer serve. Much easier to take the long view and phase them out by not letting new girls start to act as servers. Also right that this is a decision for the pastor to make on his authority. Very few lay committee members will see this as the right thing, mostly because they have been badly catechized on the matter. The pastor should explain why he is making the decision and then do it. Sometime that is how a shepherd must tend the sheep.

  9. Gerry Scheid says:

    Altar Servers Manual
    A server takes the place of one who formerly participated in the minor order of the Acolyte. Although this order has been retained while others have been suppressed and primarily relates to the role of distributing Communion and otherwise assisting the Priest-Celebrant, the boy who volunteers for this position in the Church’s Liturgy must realize the religious character of his undertaking. He is offering himself in God’s service and his lifestyle must reflect his closeness to the Sacred Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. His conduct must be as exemplary off the altar as it is while serving.

    Any boy in Sacred Heart Parish in the fourth grade or above is eligible to be a server. After a period of training, he will be inducted into the program at a public Mass and begin a two-year period of probation. During the first year, he will wear a white robe. During the second year, he will wear a wooden Cross with his white robe. After that he will be privileged to wear the cassock and surplice, indicating his full membership.


    I think we have some 105 altar boys at Sacred Heart and a parish rich in vocations as we also pray for vocations after the prayer to St Michael after every Mass.

  10. Jimbo says:

    You could google St. Patrick’s in Kokomo, Indiana, and perhaps talk to the pastor there. They have successfully implemented, in a limited (perhaps gradual) way, a “club” called Guardians of the Sacred Mysteries, which is an all-boy altar server’s society. At the Masses at which they serve, there are no altar girls. This, to me, looks like a good start.

  11. Lucia says:

    Take it from someone who was in that fifth-grade class: they won’t understand, and they will be mad and angry about it until their Confirmation year when they actually learn about vocations, etc.

    Your real resistance will be with the girls’ parents.

    Please note that yes, the Catholic mindset should not be “altar serving is a right!” with the whole girls/boys equality issue. But this is not the mindset of most grade school parents. Take it from someone…experienced…in the field.

    If you mention that you believe it interferes with vocations, that works. Obviously, you will have to explain well. If you mention that it is inappropriate to have female altar servers in a service (Mass) that is meant to be “run” by males (priests), that works too. What you really need to explain is that you are NOT changing to altar boys only because boys are “morally superior” or better in any way. Mention the whole thing about when Jesus chose His twelve disciples, He did not choose the perfect woman (Mary) to lead them all–He chose a fisherman and a sinner, Peter. Just be sure to allude to Jesus’ way of doing things in Scripture, etc. If you base it on Scripture and not the “traditional way of doing things,” they will be likely to listen to you.

    But, like I said, people will be angry with you. They won’t accept this immediately–there is no way around that. Give it time, and patience, but let them see that you aren’t a pushover (as in, be gentle but firm). This kind of change will take years to settle, and some families with daughters may leave the parish because of it. And I am sorry for that.

    I am sorry if this sounds a little bit “duh” but you can never be too simple. :)

    Good luck.


  12. Avus says:

    All of these are good suggestions. But as a side note, I’m shaking my head in amazement at Tim Ferguson’s entry about the cooperative nun. The idea that a modern-day nun, nearly all of whom are staunch feminists, would actually assist in keeping females away from serving is stunning. And yet as role models they and the “server moms” are the keys to making the transition smoothly and peacefully.

    One additional thought: the pastor should elicit his bishop’s full support beforehand, to be prepared for when the inevitable complaints are registered.

  13. The new priest here at our parish has teenage boys scheduled for every mass (and seminarians when they are home visiting family) which encourages the younger boys to serve. Also, he actively reached out to boys in the fourth grade and older asking them to consider signing up. 19 boys did sign up (including my oldest son) as well as a handful of girls. Next, he started a “Handmaids of Mary” linen group for girls of the same age as most acolytes. We still see a girl on the altar from time to time (it has only been a few months) but by and large it is boys we see on the altar. My son looks up to this priest and the seminarians so, so much. It is such a blessing!

  14. Amanda says:

    Our parish has a Handmaids of the Altar group for the girls that does crafts and other girly things, and they clean out the votive candles, straighten the hymnals, and generally tidy the church, etc. The girls really seem to enjoy it.
    At our parish, Father does not prohibit girls from serving, but 8am and 10 Mass are all boys, and I think there is one girl at the noon Mass, (probably some more at the Spanish Mass, but I’ve never been). If a pastor wanted all boys serving, I think a similar group for the girls could be of great help.

  15. Avus says:

    I’m in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The good sisters here in the area parishes gleefully discarded their habits the first chance they got and have been pushing female EMs, female lectors, and female servers at every opportunity ever since.

    As a side note, earlier this year during Vocations Week I wrote to Cardinal Rigali pleading with him to get rid of the altar girls, and that as long as he allowed them his statements of concern and prayers about the vocations crisis are little more than lip service. Not surprisingly, there was no response.

  16. Several years ago at a meeting of priests of my diocese a pastor defended the use of female servers by saying that if women could read and distribute communion they certainly can serve at the altar.I find this a srtong argument for altar girls in the minds of the laity (most of them would not understand the ministry explnation).Our late Bishop.John Keating,replied that a lector and ext.minister of communion performs a service to the congrgation while the server performs his service for the priest.He serves thepriest as a page served a knight.That bond is what undegirds the strong vocational pull of the office.

  17. Mickey says:

    As I am a military man, I prefer a straightforward approach (“I am a man under authority, with authority over others…”). Let the pastor simply explain:

    “Serving in the Sanctuary allows young men an opportunity to examine the priesthood as a vocation. Since the Church has no authority to ordain women, and since the law allows but does not mandate female servers, we are returning to the ancient practice of young men as altar servers. We value and love our young women who have served, and thank them for beautiful and faithful service over the past 10 years. In honor of the young women who have served Our Lord at His altar, I have purchased an Our Lady of Grace medal, which the bishop has graciously blessed, as a token of our gratitude.

    We begin male only altar service on 1 Oct, during the Month of the Rosary.”

    I recognize that soldiers and civilians think about authority differently, but wouldn’t that work?

  18. 1) Expect backlash, it will happen (be it many or few). But any priest should realize they cannot please everyone all the time. Have the knowledge and foritude to deal with it. Study the Church documents and know your rights as a priest and understand that nobody has a right to serve at the altar except bishops, priests, deacons, and instituted ministers (all of which can only be men). Yet the Church does encourage the long standing tradition of altar boys which the Church considers a potential wellspring for priestly vocations.
    2) Don’t just focus on the altar boy group. Start a Marian sodality for the girls. Make this a group that meets monthly or weekly, the girls and a parent/guardian, and as the priest make sure you personally catechise them on Church teachings, the Saints, virtue, spirituality, etc.
    3) At the same time, make the altar servers an all boys group and re-train them in serving (with parent/guardian present) in more detail about what they are doing. Only allow boys and young men who are committed to serving well. Catechise them and teach them about spirituality, virtue, etc., as well.
    4) Pay attention to both groups and form them both spiritually. This way no one will be neglected.

  19. I should also add that there is a difference between a layman or laywoman doing the readings or serving, and an instituted lector or instituted acolyte. And this institution is only done through the bishop (since these ministries replaced the “minor orders”).
    The lay reader and lay servers are canonically allowed, but not the ideal, and are only used when there is not an instituted lector or instituted acolyte present.
    Instituted lectors and instituted acolytes (which can only be men) are the proper or ordinary ministers at Mass along with the bishop, priest, and deacon. Just as the bishops, priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist the insituted lector is like the ordinary reader and the instituted acolyte is the ordinary server.
    A layman or laywoman who does the readings are much like an “extra-ordinary” reader or server.
    Yet, if an instituted lector or an instituted acolyte is present, it is their ministry and right to carry out the liturgical function rather than a lay lector or server.
    Unfortunately, it is usually only seminarians, deacon candidates, and some male religious who are instituted as acolytes and lectors.

  20. I made the policy of permitting girls (if they REALLY wanted to do it) but actively encouraging boys. The consequence is that we have only two girls left (one in each church), whereas three years ago they were in the large majority. The sacristy has become a male space, really, and girls do not seem to feel comfortable. I suspect that if I made it serious policy to only permit boys under any circs, there would be a vast reaction and I would be inundated with girls. Right now, they know they can, but largely don’t want to. Soon, I suspect, none of them will want to. It isn’t ideal, but it seems to work.

  21. Tim Ferguson says:

    The sister in my example above was an older member of an Order that “went feminist” in the 70’s. She was very uncomfortable with her Order after that point and, when she retired, she returned to her home parish, lived alone, and at the encouragement of the pastor, resumed wearing her old full habit. When she died, some mothers in the parish took over the leadership of the girls’ group.

  22. What Roman Sacristan describes in his reply has been done in our parish from the first day Father appeared on the scene. There was a little flack but not as much as one would think. We have a multitude of Altar Boys as well as a multitude of young ladies in the Sodality of Our Lady of Lourdes. Both the Altar boys and the young ladies are involved in all our processions. So, it is working out wonderfully in our parish. There are no complaints that I am aware of…not anymore anyway.

  23. Make me a Spark says:

    May God bless your efforts. I really don’t like to see girls up there on the altar, it just does not seem right, also girls seem much more image conscious rather than conscious of serving well.

    My spin would be that in order to encourage vocations to the priesthood it is very important for boys to be encouraged to step forward into positions that girls will step forward into first. Girls tend to raise their hands first to join most anything and boys are more reluctant and willing to let the girls take over. I think most Catholic parents can recognize that leadership skills come more slowly to boys and need more encouragement.

    Also, boys are more slow to form friendships with each other and network together which is emotionally very healthy for them. It is really a good thing for boys to have some time just to be boys and do boy things. In the long run this may have a net effect of encouraging vocations to the priesthood.

  24. mcitl says:

    Readers are invited to check out a blog dedicated to this issue at


    The constitution of the Liguori Society as well as other resources are collected in one place to support this element of a return to the practice of attracting young men to associate themselves with the offering of the priestly Sacrifice with a view to priestly vocations.

    Thank you.

  25. undertheradar says:

    Our parish in northern Virginia had no altar girls, and our boys were frequent and enthusiastic servers and members of the Knights of the Altar. The young priest at a neighboring parish, which also had only altar boys, started up a program called \”Fiat\” for the girls. http://www.epriest.com/best_practices/view/48

  26. Ubi Caritas says:

    If my daughter was told that she couldn’t serve Mass simply because of her gender, then I would find another parish and take as many fellow parishioners with me as possible. [But that really doesn’t have anything to do with what I asked about in the entry, above.]

  27. I led the opposition to femal servers in our parish a number of years ago but in the end they were admitted and, from a practical point of view, we have some very fine ones.

    For some time now I have been concerned about efforts to reverse this in e.g. the revival of the TLM. Again,speaking from a practical viewpoint I would remind everyone that most young female Catholics have grown up knowing no other way and most of them are now feminist (NOT radical feminists). Since women make up at least half the Church I fear that “expelling” them from the sanctuary could threaten the revival of the EF. [That is not the topic of this entry.]

    Perhaps (I’m not certain), Canon Law may bar female servers in the EF but the danger of alenation remains. It’s a tough question. [The EF has nothing to do, really, with this discussion either.]

    I consider the TLM to be the Mass of the future, indeed the Mass of all times. The truth is that when only males were allowed in the sanctuary we were living in very different times. Nowadays women hold high positions in society and even, more and more, in the Vatican. Of course we can and must maintain the male priesthood but I don’t know how far back we can go.

    And, by the way, as a member of a parish with very high ceremonial standards may I urge that adults be included among the servers. Children alone don’t do a great job.

  28. Ubi Caritas says:

    Can somebody smart tell me what the official rules are regarding female altar servers (without commentary if possible):

    Are they allowed in ‘the EF’?
    If so, can an individual priest stop them?
    Can an individual priest bare them from serving the regular (English) Mass in his parish?
    Can a Bishop bar them in his diocese?

    This is an area I am very sketchy on. Thanks.

  29. Rob says:

    Interesting to read examples of direction and misdirection that have been used to skirt the question and attempt to redirect interests based on sex and peer groups, instead of addressing it head-on. For those who seemed to find it admirably effective, do you feel the same way with the stories of bishops who resist the Latin Mass by insisting upon a standard of knowledge (in the language and the form) without specifying the standard or providing training?

    I’m not that worked up over the issue, but I’m pretty sure I have more respect for the pastors who, if they see it as an issue, teach it straight-forward.

    I don’t have any experience with a parish that switched back. My current parish, at the Mass in English, we’ve only ever had a couple of particular boys who served (and no girls) – but it is a very small population and not many kids. The parish I grew up in – the boy-only altar boys were progressively incompetent (I should know, I was one of them). The girls generally met a higher standard in dress, decorum, and execution.

    What’s more important, who’s doing it or who will do it well?

    Theological defense of altar girls? Hmm… You mentioned a scriptural example (the wise and foolish virgins). I would suggest a couple more. The woman who broke the jug of perfumed oil to annoint Jesus (while those chosen men tut-tutted), and Mary and Martha (one running out to be in the presence of the Lord, leaving the other to do the housework). In each case, Jesus gently rebuked the complainers, defending those who seeked to be in His presence and recognize Him appropriately. Of course, that’s “merely” scripture – anyone can do a little searching and find an example that can be construed as supporting a certain point-of-view. Part of theology is taking those examples and putting them in context.

  30. Romuleus says:

    Ubi Caritas:

    I believe the indult allowing altar girls still applies to the EF; however, be prepared for the whole assembly (people in the pews) to walk out if your daughter shows up at the altar of an EF Mass.


  31. Romuleus: I believe the indult allowing altar girls still applies to the EF

    That is not really the issue at hand. We are talking, clearly, about the Ordinary Form.

  32. Romuleus says:

    Sorry,Father Z.

    I was only trying to provide a response to a previous question from Ubi Caritas.


  33. Ubi Caritas– Regarding the OF, a bishop may ban altar girls or limit their use and according to Sacramentum Redemptionis an individual celebrant may refuse them. In my diocese when altar girls were universally banned a pastor in an extremely liberal parish with altar girls got rid of the practice by gradually fazing them out over several years.He let those doing it,but reduced the times they served.And he accepted no new ones.By the way BlessedTeresa of Calcutta was strongly opposed to girls serving even after it was allowed.

  34. Reverend Zuhlsdorf

    There is a red line appearing under my spelling of your name. Have I spelt your name wrong? Maybe you are persona non grata just like me.

    Pray for me and I will pray for you.

    Above all let us pray for the triumph of Our Immaculate Mother. Me and you are just part of her heel.

    I do not know why I have latched onto your good webpage. I have no desire to denigrate you and your priesthood.

    Only your God and my God can bring forth good from evil.

    Suffice to say…………….

    Oh my God I am so tired.

    All praise all thanks, all glory to the most Holy Trinity through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Our Mother. Can we ask for more than that.

  35. avecrux says:

    Tim – excellent post. I saw something very similar being tried at a parish without forming a “Knights” group. It was a gradual process, but incorporated the very same things like:
    1) girls serve with girls, boys serve with boys – this brought a lot of opposition from parents who wanted their sons and daughters from the same family to be able to serve at the same Mass for the sake of convenience, but they were in the minority;
    2) two very different manners of dress for the boy servers and the girls – the boys were in a cassocks and surplices, the girls were in albs;
    3) a hierarchy – the boys served at the “most important” Masses; since the serving groups were segregated by sex, it was always possible to assign the boys to Midnight Mass for Christmas, the Triduum, etc. – and the girls knew it. The were not happy, but had to accept it.
    I think taking these steps in conjunction with adding something for girls only would start to turn the tide – but a plan (manual) needs to be worked out in detail before hand so that there is something to refer to when things get tense.

  36. undertheradar says:

    With regard to “children” serving at Mass, it’s true that 10 year olds cannot be expected to serve with poise, precision, and competence. That’s why it’s important not only to attract and train the youngsters, but to keep them serving through high school. Our parish was exemplary in that regard, with a team of highly competent master servers capable of handling the most solemn Masses without the assistance of “adult” servers. Such a program takes time to develop, and those responsible for scheduling the servers need to be willing to work around the soccer tournaments and SAT classes but the presence of teenage servers goes a long way toward convincing the younger boys to sign up.

  37. a catechist says:

    Now converted to a more traditional position after having been an altargirl myself, I’d offer one bit of advice: doing the laundry isn’t going to answer a girl’s devotion to the Eucharist if that’s really been her motivation, as it was for me. If you’re going to create a club for girls, make sure it includes Eucharistic Adoration. Ironing and puttering in the sacristy may be pious service, but it doesn’t replace the intimacy of being on the altar–obviously, or we’d encourage boys to do that, too.

  38. Mary Jane says:

    “doing the laundry isn’t going to answer a girl’s devotion to the Eucharist” – truer words were never spoken. Puttering, dusting, and laundry have traditionally been the province of “church ladies,” generally elderly and occasionally quite ferocious.

    I agree that altar servers should be men and boys,if only for the unenlightened reason that boys don’t want to do things girls do.

    The model of “Fiat” referred above sounds so rich with prayer, charity, education, and fun. And it’s a program that would nurture religious vocations among girls.

  39. avecrux says:

    I actually do think that working in the sacristy can assist in satisfying a girl’s devotion to the Eucharist. I assisted the head sacristan when I was in college. It wasn’t puttering at all. I was very humbled by the privilege of ironing cloths that would be used by the Priest. I am reminded of something St. Josemaria Escriva once did – prior to an ordination Mass, he kissed the chalices that would hold the blood of Christ for the first time. He wanted his kiss to be the first thing the Lord encountered upon His visit to those chalices. A similar love could be fostered in the heart of a young lady preparing altar clothes, flowers, etc. for the Bridegroom of her soul.

  40. Anne Mansfield says:

    Dear Father Z and thank you for your blogs.

    This comment is probably redundant but until we get more nuns like some of the young-ish groups in France and the Nashville Dominicans there seems little point in entrusting young girls, who DO wish to serve God, to the ministrations of the declining but still there polyester ‘sisters’ . Another problem has to do with the post of avecrux 20 sept 7:09 pm. Fine sentiments, avecrux, but since most churches are locked much of the time — thievery and so forth — where do the girls do the ironing?
    On the other hand it is true that the lay brothers attached to the unlocked urban churches patrol their domains well but their ironing leaves something to be desired.

    Is there any way to include girls in the blessings of the Church without segregating them? Even into the hoped for St. Etheldreda’s of the future? I ask this as a traditional RC who welcomes
    the chance to speak with priests as well as non feminist agenda Catholic women.

    Thanks you

  41. Judy Watson says:

    I belong to a parish in Lafayette, IN, where at St. Boniface parish we never had altar girls. Fr. Timothy Alkire was working on his canon law degree and studying the question. Except for the young EMs and lectors who don’t remain the in the sanctuary once their part if completed, we are very happy to have only men on the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. We call the young men servers. In the beginning were three of four who petitioned to be girl servers, but they generally just wanted to hang out with the priests and the boys. And there were a few young Hilarys in the group. But they have gone on to tear down another barrier that they think they deserve. Serving on God’s altar is not a right. It’s in invitation by the Church who knows who knows tthe best way we can serve Her. The trouble in this society is that we will not acknowledge that the Church knows best. “I’ll do it my way” has not,of yet, been played at any liturgical celebration. Well, maybe those fake womenpriest ordinations!

  42. avecrux says:

    Hi Anne.
    Since this blog entry deals with a Pastor who wants to make a positive change from altar servers to altar boys, I think he would be willing to open the Church for a girls’ group that was interested in helping in the sacristy. In addition, nuns are not essential for the formation of such a group. A good laywoman could assist in the way that laymen often form the altar boys.

  43. paul says:

    My solution is rather radical- don’t have boys or girls as altar servers. The altar servers in the OF don’t really do much in comparison to the EF of the mass. Perhaps the church could organize an adoration society for both sexes where young people can spend time in adoration of Our Lord. Let’s focus our attention on what’s really important- Jesus.

  44. Eric says:

    There have been three parishes here in this small midwest diocese (approximately 90 parishes) in the last couple of years that have transitioned to only boys serving at the altar. Generally, the pastors have grandfathered out the existing altar girls and have reinstituted the use of cassocks and surplices for the boys as against using the white alb. The priests also preached faithfully so that the congregations had changed in character by the time the practice was enacted. Finally, as I understand it, there never was a formal announcement that girls were not allowed to serve, but it rather became the culture of the parish. One of these priests started an altar society for girls so that there were other opportunities for girls to serve the Church. The pastors are generally younger and interested in the liturgical restoration that Pope Benedict is leading.

  45. Matthew says:

    I’ve heard of one priest using the grandfather system. All current female servers could serve until they finished grade 7. After that, he strongly encouraged them to read at Mass. From what I understand, there hasn’t been too much backlash with that approach.

    This is a slightly off topic, but Fr. Z, I hope you’ll allow a little leeway. I’m one of the senior altar servers at my parish. We have boys and girls serving. I’ve talked to my pastor about it, and he really has no intention of changing the status quo. I try to go talk to the young fellas and their parents when I see them at Mass and encourage them to serve, but this only goes so far. Can anyone suggest ways of recruiting boys, without recruiting girls, and without going against the wishes of my pastor? A tough task, I know…

  46. Gometius says:

    I feel ashamed to be part of a group that makes such stark delineations based upon gender as though they were so meaningful. A life-long Catholic and devotee of the tradional mass, I remain unclear as to why the female gender should be excluded from serving at the altar. Why should a girl be denied the opportunity to become an acolyte? Why would “the assembly” get up and walk out should a girl provide service at a TLM? I find the premise of the question that began this discussion and most responses alike to be quite uncharitable.

  47. David2 says:


    You might as well ask why women cannot be ordained as priestesses or consecrated as bishopettes or elected as “Mope”. The reasons are fundamentally the same, and they apply by analogy or extension to those standing in for the former Minor Orders.

    Namely, very briefly:

    1. Nothing in scripture or tradition authorized it; to the contrary, the apostles were universally male;
    2. The priest as “alter Christus”, must be male thus the minor orders leading to the sacred priesthood must also be male;
    3. In both theology and practice, altar-service is a step along the road to priesthood, and as such it is inappropriate for girls to take that step, and
    4. As a matter of practice, adolescent boys don’t like doing things they perceive as “girly” so altar girls harm priestly vocations.

    This has all been set out several times in this entry, and in others. You do not seem to have read it. So I am stating the reasons briefly out of charity, with an apology to Fr Z for going somewheat off topic. And, like it or not, altar girls at a TLM would cause hurt and constertation, and would politicize the Holy Mass.

    Here in Australia, many of our parishes seem to be about ten years behind the US. We’re just getting altar girls in some places, just as in the US, you are thinking about getting rid of them….

    On the contrary, Gometius, it is the epitome of charity to make sure that females are catechized not to desire what the Holy Faith has always taught (until about 10 years ago) they ought not have.

  48. Mark S. says:

    I have some sympathy with the comment made by Paul above, regarding not having boys or girls as servers – in the sense I sometimes feel having children of either sex as opposed to adults is questionable.

    Personally, I’d much rather see adult men in the role, or at least teenagers. My reasons for no females are in part much the same as those given previously. Also, in my parish, once “altar girls” (aka “serviettes”) were introduced, serving soon became a 90% female activity, because the boys saw it as a “girls'” job.

    I also have a slight aversion to young altar servers of either sex. This is partly due to the sexual misconduct crisis – many people still have the suspicion even though these activities were carried out by a very small percentage of priests.

    The majority of child servers I’ve experienced also seem very easily distracted – talking to each other and giggling during Mass, pulling faces at their friends in the congregation, and also walking round in the sanctuary as if they have no idea what they’re doing.

    finally, I’ve had recent experience of trying to train some young male servers to serve mass in the Extraordinary form. Personally, I found it to be an almost complete disaster. The boys – the oldest of whom was 12 – showed no evidence of having learned anything over a 3-month period of weekly training. The priest associated with this training made the comment “Well, children these days aren’t as studious as you or I were”. All of this left the impression that young children can only absorb with great difficulty the required skills.

  49. undertheradar says:

    It can be difficult to encourage boys to serve, even in parishes with no female servers. Here are some suggestions based on my experiences in our former parish:

    1. Start with boys in the fifth grade. Younger boys, for the most part, don’t have the necessary maturity, and boys in middle school are usually far too self-conscious, especially if there are girls serving alongside them. (And most especially if those girls are much better at serving than they are.)

    2. Find some way to make exposure to serving a universal experience for all the boys in your parish. If you have a school, have the initial training sessions during the school day, and run separate sessions for boys and girls. Take the same approach with the CCD students, even though it means sacrificing precious class time. Excuse them from class, boys and girls separately, and have the most enthusiastic priest and/or male senior servers work with the boys. If EVERYONE is doing it, boys are far less likely to hang back and refuse to participate.

    3. If you have to hold training sessions outside school/CCD hours, try to offer a variety of afternoon, evening, and weekend options, so that parents will see that training need not be a huge inconvenience. In our experience, parents were sometimes unwilling to even consider altar serving because of the fear of conflicts with other activities or family time.

    4. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Allow the guys to serve once they are reasonably familiar with the routine (we paired the newbies with veteran servers who would rescue them from disaster) — they WILL get better with practice. Make sure that the priests are on board and don’t unwittingly discourage the new guys by snapping at them for their mistakes.

  50. Nicola C says:

    I think that it is important to involve the parents, at the beginning of each year or training session for altar servers, have a parents meeting (no children). Remember that the children now coming of serving age are mostly from post Vatican II parents who were not catechised in the same way. If you can get the parents on board that is half the battle, catechise the parents regarding this issue with charity, and with the real reasons why serving should be for boys. Let the priest talk to the parents explaining why this change is being implemented and then answer any questions firmly but kindly and unswervingly. I think that if the parents understand the reason isn’t based on “girls aren’t as good/worthy as boys” (which can be the feeling if the issue is not addressed with charity) then this can be reinforced in the home, and in families with several children as each child reaches the appropriate age, they will see it as a natural progression. We parents should be teaching our children about their Catholicity both in and out of the Mass, so to me this seems to be simply common sense.

    Giving the girls other roles, such as reading, being in the choir, helping to keep the altar looking beautiful are also, in my opinion great ways to keep the girls involved and build a sense of community that will last a lifetime and be instilled in their own children.

    I do like the idea of adopting a father and son serving team, but (as a member of a military parish) I would add that care should be taken to not then isolate those boys who do not have fathers that attend Mass, be it due to deployment, death, absent father, or non-Catholic father. Perhaps having a buddy system where adults who wish to serve could train a younger lad.

  51. Mary W. says:

    I know that at a parish I attend they have only boys serving with boys, and only girls serving with girls. The boys & girls have different alter serving “outfits” (not sure what they are called.)

  52. Dave says:

    Find a lady who has good Catholic sense and ask her to assist by starting a girls choir. Invite all the girls in the parish to participate. Start a “Handmaidens” group. Give the girls something else to do, and for those who insist on serving at the Altar, just schedule them as infrequently as possible while working on explaining to the congregation the importance of priestly vocations and how such vocations are fostered by service at the Altar.

    Pray and fast….something like this cannot be done easily. You’re in my prayers.

  53. Matt says:

    I can only speak to server training for the Traditional Mass. Both of my boys, 7 and 6, attended weekly training and spiritual formation over the summer. This usually occurred on one day out of the week. The boys would attend mass in the morning (Served only by boys) and then would have an hour of spiritual instruction with the parish priests at their home. This was usually followed by lunch and desert and finally with time for all of the boys to play in the Gym or at the park.

    I found this method was very attractive for my 7 year old. My 6 year old is still a little too squirrely to go the whole four hours. I would sometimes attend with the boys. Many of the younger boys would watch how the older boys acted and I think it was a great way to introduce the younger boys to being interested in the Mass and their life as a Catholic.

    This training directly translated to a deeper respect and understanding that their attitude and demeanor at Mass was very important. We have been training for our first Misa Cantata, possibly a high Mass if we can get a deacon and sub deacon, along with the Choir. We had a dry run of the entire Mass last week. The head server is an older boy. All of the younger boys were congregating at the back of Mass preparing for the procession. There were the giggles, etc. The head server walk up to the younger boys and calmly, but firmly reminded them that this practice must be treated just as if it was Sunday. He stated they needed to be respectful and pay attention to the Mass and they part they played in it. All of the younger boys almost immediatly fell silent and into line. The head alter boy then stated taking each of the boys and explaining what they needed to do and when.

    I was off to the side of the church observing. I was VERY proud of the head alter boy. I think all of the younger boys also could sesnse that because he took his role seriously they should as well.

    I am not sure if all of this helps with how to phase out girl alter servers or not. I can only tell you that I pray daily for the return of the Minor orders for the Tridentine Mass. I know that when I was serving the TLM as a boy I WANTED to be elevated to the minor order of Acolyte. I was dismayed when I found that it had been abolished. To a young man there is something special about the ceremony involved as he works his way towards discerning a call to the priesthood. Should a young man feel the call to the priesthood he could continue his studies at semenary and eventually be elevated to Sub-Deacon, Deacon and finally Priest.

    Now that these minor orders have been “Opened” to all laity of both gendors there is less of a “tract to the priesthood” for young men. Young men and boys no longer see a clear path to the priesthood. What is so special if anyone can do it? Maybe this is not the right way to look at it, but this structure was a VERY strong pull on my heart when I was boy. Maybe this is also the reason that FSSP, ICTK, and other traditional orders are busting at the seams with seminarians. Those young boys want the struture, order and lack of confusion that seems to be misssing in the NO.

  54. Ann says:

    What if girls do a better job? [That is not the point of this entry. However, now that you bring it up, I will close it off by pointing out that “who does a better job” is not the point of ministerial service – especially not in the case of priesthood. What happens around the altar must be considered in view of ministerial priesthood. Priesthood is not just a “function” in the Church. It is an ontological and not merely a occupational role.] That’s a result of whoever is in charge of the Altar Servers, I guess, who trains them, etc, but as far as getting rid of the girls and making it all boys, here’s one problem I’ve seen time and again. Girls are better! They are on time, neat, properly dressed, fastidious about their duties, extremely conscientious about serving the priest, and observe all proper gestures, rules, etc. Boys come running in a few minutes before mass, hair disheveled, come out on the altar robes askew, tennis shoes underneath, attention wanders all thru Mass, they don’t hold their hands folded properly, etc. And this is after repeated instruction. Our priest wants girls involved because their consistently superior bearing and behavior [Then these priests are deeply confused.] puts the boys to shame and so tends to get the boys to shape up. Also, girls can have vocations too, not to the priesthood of course, but serving Mass could be argued to be just as legitimate as source of inspiration for the sisterhood. [I don’t think so.] [Again, this is not the point of this entry. This is about what concrete things have been done to shift service at the altar back to male only service. Perhaps a different entry will someday tackle these other issues.]

  55. undertheradar says:

    Ann, maybe it’s different when there ARE no girls to put the boys to shame, but our male servers were always properly dressed, with dress shoes and slacks beneath their cassocks and surplices. Their hair was not untidy and, unlike many girls, male servers do not tend to twirl or fiddle with their hair while serving. They also don’t cross their legs whilst seated in the sanctuary, swinging their foot back and forth.
    But really, as you noted, it’s a question of training. Not all servers get the benefit of solid training, because not all parishes make server recruitment and training a high priority. Indeed, I attended one Mass at a relative’s parish where the CELEBRANT kept whispering to the giggling girl servers during Mass, “I see your grandma. She’s looking at you. Nope, you missed her.” (The girls told us this after Mass, when their grandma laughingly asked them whey they were smirking during Mass. “But it was Fr. Tim’s fault. He MADE us laugh!”) With a priest who approaches the Mass like that, how can you possibly expect the children to get it?

  56. Maureen says:

    Re: sacristy service et al

    Obviously, some girls will experience sacristy service as a good devotion; but some won’t. There is no “one size fits all” in devotion or service. This is why, generally, you didn’t have a huge pack of girls all doing sacristy stuff, back in the old days; it was usually limited to a group of four-twenty ladies/girls/nuns, depending on the size of parish. You can have just one sodality, if you like; but it had better be an umbrella for other stuff than just sacristan-ing.

    The real problem is that we don’t have a variety of devotional or service activities for any kids, much less for girls. There’s a lot of “service requirements for Confirmation” and “required volunteer hours”, but not a lot of attitude that “this is a privilege, and you’re lucky to be able to help” or even “you are doing something valuable and real, not just makework”.

    Our parishes really ought to try to find out what our kids’ gifts are, not shove kids into boxes. And we ought to make sure that in-church service is not the be-all and end-all of service to the Lord through the parish.

  57. Patrick T says:

    My parish does all of those things noted by avecrux and Tim Ferguson. But there is no movement afoot to end the girls serving. We have many boys and many girls and they all do quite a good job. So, why aren’t we ending the girls serving? Because my pastor toes the line by the Church. He says if the Holy Mother Church says that girls can be used and the bishop allows it, he will continue to allow it. If tomorrow, that changed, he would no doubt change immediately. So, we are left with boys serving with boys in cassock and surplice and doing all the “high” masses and girls serving with girls in albs. Generally, the boys are better servers, but they are all very good.

  58. Gometius says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful posting. In reply to your points I say the following.

    1. To say that “Nothing in scripture” authorizes it simply is misleading. Many women in scripture tended and ministered to Jesus and others in the Christian and Jewish communities in scripture. If you wish to argue narrowly about tradition, you of course make a valid point that was true up to the last 50 years. The traditions of the Church, which I do respect intently, have changed significantly. You must see, even if you disagree, that the Novus Ordo will have an impact on the practice of the older rite.
    2. So, cantors and ostiaries likewise must be male? Hmm. No one walked out of the FSSP high mass I attended last week where the protopsaltus was distinctly female.
    3. Steps need not lead only to one place. They rarely do. If what you say is true, this is what I disagree with and why I posted initially. But I believe your rendering extremely narrow and unfortunate.
    4. Your point needs no rebuttal as it falters under its own weight.

    I kneel in adoration of the older rites. But I also respect the undeniable progress of the Church in the last half century. A reconciliation is taking place and we need to be charitable to all.


  59. alf says:

    My parish has this same structure, but has not succeeded in keeping girls from serving. The girls need a group of their own. However, it won’t work for all girls. My sister used to like serving because it made Mass more interesting for her (having to pay attention and getting to be close to the ‘action’).

    God bless.

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