QUAERITUR: heading off the altar girls

Here we go again.

I got a question from a reader:

As I greatly enjoy cooking, your last few posts have been a treat! Thank you for your blog and its plethora of liturgical and culinary delights.

[O]ur pastor is going to be incorporating altar girls into the parish life sooner or later. This a subject close to my heart and it pains me greatly to think that an unbroken tradition of altar boys at our parish will cease to exist. It also worries me because I do not think the parish will handle it too well. Then there are those who will applaud "progress" in our "lifeless" parish. It could become sharply divisive.

But you have probably dealt with this sort of thing before, so you would understand. I am going to discretely voice my concerns with Father before I do anything else, since it seems that nobody really knows yet. Do you have any recommendations as to what I should say? I remember reading your explanation that boys are appropriate because they substitute for an instituted ministry. Is there anything else I should bring to this meeting?

One thing I know that is important is charity. Father is not one to say the red and do the black. He might be concerned that some of the Masses have been less well-attended by the altar boys. We have a solid group, though, so I cannot see how altar girls could be justified since there is not a severe shortage here. I dunno. Your thoughts (and perhaps commentary from fellow WDTPRSers) would be greatly appreciated.


We have approached this several times, but I think we can return to this thorny topic with some concise comments.

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  1. Christian says:

    Fr. Longenecker posted recently on his blog the following:

    It may be helpful.

  2. Chris says:

    If so many people will have a problem with girl altarboys, then this probably won’t happen.

    If it does happen, then talk with your feet and your money.

    Go to the local traditional Mass parish and write a letter to the priest and the bishop telling them why you left.

  3. Iggy says:

    As the altar boy trainer/scheduler in our small parish (~150 families), I was asked by our pastor my opinion on this when our bishop, Paul Loverde, bent to the will of the liberals (it’s debatable whether he’s a liberal bishop, but that’s for another time…). We have 4 altar boys at our main Sunday Mass and could have 2 at the vigil and 8am Mass, but our pastor won’t allow this for some reason.

    Anyway, we have a good contingent of boys serving and the pastor allows girls to light the altar candles prior to Mass. There’s been no clamoring or requests from the faithful for altar girls, but I sensed that our Pastor was leaning that way. I told him that I believed that allowing girls to serve at the altar was not right and that the privelege should be solely for boys, since it could be a segue to the priesthood. I also told him that if he proceeded with this, he could find a new trainer and that he would have boys quit, since they view their service as a “team” that boys of this age are proud of.

    But the one person who probably made the most impression on him was my 17 year old daughter! She told him in no uncertain terms that although she indeed served at the altar in NC at a younger age (before we truly immersed ourselves in our faith), she did not think that girls belonged there. She felt that since males can only become priests, that having girls serve gave them the false impression that they too one day may do the same. It wasn’t fair to the girls and was against the goal of helping boys discern their calling. Besides, she said, the boys would be too distracted with girls up there with them!

    From the mouth babes comes the most intelligent and thoughtful insight.

    We still have boys in cassocks serving.

    I do have a question for Father Z: I’ve offered at least one boy to serve Mass at the Vigil and early Mass, but our Pastor says no. It’s a bit uncomfortable to see him doing everything himself up there when there are Altar Boys watching from the pews…I thought I read that there should be servers if available and that priests should avail themselves of servers.

    What’s the Church’s policy (is that the right term?) on this?

  4. Janet Perry says:

    While I am entirely in agreement about no altar girls, in many places you don’t have much of a choice. I don’t think having girls serve at the altar is liturgically or theologically sound, but you may not have a choice. (Priests in our diocese didn’t).

    So here are my suggestions for making the best of a terrible situation. The girls shouldn’t simply be altar servers, taking their ultimate model as being Christ as priest, but should rather be Handmaidens of the Lord, taking their model as Mary.

    As a handmaiden of the Lord, she assisted in the most concrete way in Christ’s ministry. As a handmaiden, the altar girl is there to assist the priest.

    To see this idea through, training for the girls should be, at least in part, separate from the boys and should include explicitly this idea.

    They should have different dress codes, which should include no bare legs, modesty in dress, and black flat shoes.

    And their grab as servers should be slightly different and should (no doubt to the horror of many) include a veil.

    Thinking about Father Longenecker’s comments about teenage girls, there should probably be more age restrictions on girls than on boys.

    That’s about the only way I could see altar girls being allowed in a parish. But, having said this, I realize that it flies into the face of the reasons many parishes want altar girls (it’s so the girls will be included, equally, with the boys). But if you are unlucky and must include them, but lucky in that you have a priest who would be willing to listen to the idea, I’d go for it.

  5. Fortitude says:

    A few months ago Fr. Z mentioned St. Mary’s Norwalk in one of his posts. Our fellow WDTPRSer should check out their FAQ section in the side bar.

    The question : “Why does St. Mary’s reserve altar serving to boys alone?” has some good information to bring to his pastor.

  6. Fortitude says:

    Sorry…. Here is the link to St Mary’s


  7. momof8 says:

    Just an FYI that is related to this subject…

    If it MUST be done.. do not co-mingle boy/girl teams.. At our former parish (where girls were already serving).. We stopped mixing the sexes up. We created girl teams only and boy teams only. The boys were able to wear their Cassock/Surplice while serving and the girls wore albs.

    The number of boys wanting to serve jumped and girls started to dwindle down. The boys were the only ones that were allowed to serve at the more solemn Masses while the girls tended to serve at the vigil or early morning Mass. We had NO complaints from the girls and once they hit High School, girls were no longer allowed to serve but charitably moved into other ministries more suitable.(Lector, Choir, church cleaning, etc) Girls never served at Benediction or processions and so on, that was reserved for the boys.. Again I want to stress, their were no complaints. Perhaps because our Pastor explained WHY before we implemented this change.

    I often found that some girls were not really wanting to serve, but were being encouraged by their parent.

    Training was held seperate.. Boys had quarterly meetings with training/reflection/retreat.

    IMHO this worked VERY well and I think would work well in other parishes where both boys and girls serve.

    Just my 2cents.. :)

  8. Jackie says:

    Iggy- Im from Arlington too and our pastor had the same leanings. Our parish is much bigger though (10,000 souls) with a herd of altar boys…probably around 80, mostly homeschoolers. The moms of the homeschoolers threatened if there were altar girls introduced, then they would pull their sons. The moms won and there are no altar girls. I just thought it was funny that the same kind of scinerio happened at more than one parish :-)

  9. momof8 says:


    Priests DO have the authority to deny Girls serving at the Altar, even when the Bishop tries to demand it..

    No one has the “right” to serve at the altar..

    See these helpful links..


    and the Document: http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/DocumentContents/DocumentIndex/556

  10. Charivari Rob says:

    A few thoughts and reactions…

    Iggy – “I also told him that if he proceeded with this, he could find a new trainer…”

    If I understand correctly, this is a decision that the Bishop(s) leave to the discretion of the local pastor. To his judgement. It seems to me that this part of your approach borders on issuing an ultimatem. It does nothing to appeal to reason.

    Janet – “They [girls] should have different dress codes, which should include no bare legs, modesty in dress, and black flat shoes.”

    How is this different from what the boys should be doing?

    I’ve seen more than one suggestion or anecdote in this thread (and the other recent ones) about various practices along the lines of segregated assignments, preference to boys for any event of greater import, cassock & surplice for the boys but ‘only’ albs for the girls. I touched on this in a previous thread but I’ll state my opinion more plainly here.

    It is easily posssible to make a sound historical, philosophical and practical argument in support of a policy of using boys only as altar servers. Many here have made or recounted such an argument. It is also possible (perhaps necessary) to explain that it doesn’t make girls or boys any less or more equal – just different, and called to different things. It sounds os though momof8’s pastor made that pretty clear. That some places treat the girls differently without putting it in context means that they’re more interested in driving th

  11. Charivari Rob says:

    (Sorry, I hit submit instead of preview)

    That some places treat the girls differently without putting it in context means (to me) that they’re more interested in driving them away from something than they’re interested in calling them to something else.

    That’s just offensive.

  12. undertheradar says:

    Our parish in the Arlington Diocese also had a \”herd\” of altar boys — over 100 in a parish of about 1500 families. One of the reasons our pastors have been able to continue to reserve altar service to boys alone is that, objectively, there is no \”need\” for girls to serve, since so many boys are willing and able. Jackie\’s post illustrates one of the problems with relying too heavily on the homeschooling or otherwise very orthodox families to supply the servers — you might not get enough boys to serve, leaving the supporters of altar girls room to argue that they are, indeed, \”needed.\” The other problem with this approach is that it sends an undesirable message — that serving is only for the very pious, not for the \”regular guys\” who have to juggle school schedules, sports, etc. That message is the kiss of death for inspiring the \”regular guys\” to volunteer.

  13. Dan says:

    Is this an FSSPX parish?

  14. undertheradar says:

    If you’re asking me — no, our parish was not FSSPX. Just a regular diocesan parish with a reputation for orthodoxy that drew many folks from other parishes. And a TLM every Sunday, with full choir.

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