QUAERITUR: female servers for Extraordinary Form

From time to time the question of female servers for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite pops up in my inbox.  Yes… Extraordinary Form or TLM

At present, the 1983 Code of Canon Law is interpreted such that females can substitute for installed acolytes (exclusively male).  That is to say males always and at times females – in those areas where the bishop permits it and where the priest wants it – can substitute for the officially installed acoylte (an all male ministry).

Here at WDTPRS I concluded a long time ago that, the present law being in force, yes, it would be licit for females to serve at a TLM, but … I wouldn’t give much for the life of the priest afterward.  That tar and those feathers are pretty tough to remove, I hear.

Furthermore, according to the present law, male servers are the norm and female servers cannot be imposed on a priest’s celebration of Holy Mass.  Moreover, the local diocesan bishop can decide whether or not female servers will be permitted in his diocese.

Thus, there is no obligation to have female servers at any celebration of Mass, nor is it – in my opinion – desirable in most cases.   Those cases certainly include the TLM.

Now this comes from ZENIT with my emphases and comments.

Female Servers in the Extraordinary Form

And More on the Blessed Sacrament

ROME, SEPT. 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is there any definitive answer available [no] regarding the use of female servers at celebrations of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite? — A.J., Pontypridd, Wales

A: Although a clarifying instruction on several such questions was frequently described as "imminent," a long time has passed and it would seem that it is still in the pipeline.

All the same, it is important to remember that, even in the ordinary form, the use of female altar servers is in virtue of a specific permission and is not automatic. As the Holy See has explained on several occasions, the local bishop may permit the use of female servers but may not oblige the pastor to use them.

Also, the Holy Father’s motu proprio granting permission for the celebrations of the extraordinary form was for the Roman Missal according to the edition issued under Pope John XXIII. Since the rubrics of this missal in no way contemplate the possibility of female servers, then it must be surmised that only altar boys or adult men are allowed as servers in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite[Let’s see if he can be convincing.]

To help us to understand the underlying logic behind this we can reflect on a particular situation.

It appears there was at least one case in which women were allowed some functions habitually carried out by the servers. In the preface to the 1936 first edition of H.E. Calnan’s guide for altar servers, he mentions the following circumstance: "In most parishes, a dozen influences combine to restrict the supply of efficient Mass servers. Layfolk must be asked to serve at short notice, or without warning. A woman with knowledge of Latin may venture, because she has only to answer and not to move about."

The case foreseen here is when there were no assigned altar servers present. In such a plight a woman with knowledge of Latin could do the responses. [And only the responses.]

A woman could carry out this role because it was properly speaking a role of the assembly. [Some will disagree with that, of course.] In making the Latin responses the altar boys in a way represented and substituted the assembly, who frequently did not know the liturgical language. One of the challenges of being an altar boy (and a source of legitimate pride to his parents) was memorizing the Latin texts to be recited.

However, years before the conciliar reform there was already a liturgical movement that encouraged the whole assembly’s recitation of these parts, and not just the server. This practice is relatively common today among communities that habitually celebrate the extraordinary form. [But not universal.]

Father Calnan’s mention that the woman "has only to answer and not move about" makes it clear that she did not carry out any of the other functions of the altar boy in serving the Mass. Since in these roles the altar servers substituted some of the functions of those who had received minor orders (and who were thus canonically numbered among the clergy), only males could carry out these functions.

[And here is the sticky point…] In the ordinary form the clerical minor orders have been replaced by the lay ministries of lector and acolyte. However, even though they are lay ministries, only males may be instituted as lectors and acolytes. Since instituted lectors and acolytes are uncommon in most parishes, other lay readers and servers may be delegated. At this stage the rubrics allow either men or women to be chosen as readers and, were permitted, as servers. [And there, friends, is the smoking gun, I’m afraid.]

In the extraordinary form, though, the minor orders and the liturgical logic behind them still exist. For this reason I would say that in this form the rule reserving altar service to boys or men remains in force. 

Well… then I suppose Fr. McNamara would also conclude that it is proper, nay rather, necessary for priests to deny people Communion in the hand during celebrations of the TLM, even if in that region the bishops have (alas) given approval to the practice.

I think the difference in our opinion lies in the fact that, as I see it, Summorum Pontificum did not revive all the old decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites.  I think we have to be guided closely by those old decrees – otherwise we have very little to go by.  Those decrees existed to fill in ambuguities and they were developed over a long time.

That said, the present 1983 Code is in force in the Latin Church.

Finally, having altar girls at a TLM or Communion in the hand for that matter, as so contrary to the spirit of the moment that I have a hard time imagining who would want those aberrations: for that is what they are – aberrations from the norms.  I can imagine some goofy priest who thinks he is being clever and is going to stick it to the TLM group, but… as I said at the top, that whole tar and feather thing has a pretty bad reputation.

Old posts about female servers:



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, Linking Back, SESSIUNCULA, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Jack Hughes says:

    NO NO and NO to female severs/readers in the extrodinary(i.e. the best) Form, we’ve had quite enough of them trying to feminize the Novus Ordo, Popes have denounced female servers as EVIL in the past, quite where the idea came from to allow them in the 83 code is beyond me, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz should get the Red Hat simply for prohibiting them

  2. Mitchell NY says:

    Before Priests get ready to “stick it” to the TLM group or any of their parishoners, they should think twice about it in a world without morals, values, ethics, decency, respect, compassion etc. They may themselves find being “stuck back” quite an experience. And what does that say about Priestly formation when they sooner or later wish to stick it to people. They have brought themselves down to the level of the worst in society. Nothing shocks me anymore.

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: That said, the present 1983 Code is in force in the Latin Church.

    Is it true that the 1983 Code of Canon Law does not explicitly mention or approve either female servers or communion in the hand?

  4. Hidden One says:

    What does it say about the catechesis and sanctity of laity who “stick it” back to the priest?

    It’s one thing to ask/discuss with/make a request of the priest and quite another to tar and feather him… and that role should, as I understand it, be normatively reserved for… shall we say, distinctly-not-laypeople.

  5. irishgirl says:

    I don’t want to see female servers in the TLM….ever.

    The reason I went back to the TLM [Extraordinary Form] is that I got tired of seeing women ‘running the show’ in the sanctuary!

    And I don’t want Communion in the hand, either!

  6. j says:

    Important caveat;
    Female servers have been allowed for some time at EF Masses in cases of dire emergency, (complete lack of a single male server) BUT!!!!,
    OUTSIDE the Altar Rail.

    It is NOT allowed for a female server in the EF to approach the Altar. I also understand that ringing of the bells is similarly allowed.

    Though I will, by definition, never see this, I would still commend any woman who filled in appropriately, if the dire emergency really did exist, or a Priest who used the option, for instance, at a Mass for a women’s sodality, or for his Missa Privata.

  7. maynardus says:

    Tar and feathers – now THAT’s traditional

    And, it’s probably a fair approximation of what really would happen to whomever tried it!

    Re: the Ordinary Form, I’m surprised how many priests I encounter who seem to be convinced that they are required to accept and use female servers. Granted, it takes plenty of courage to go against the entrenched “pantsuit sisterhood” which runs too many parishes – and potentially the the will of the bishop – but as with most of the post-Conciliar liturgical innovations and abuses (is that redundant?) there is a great deal of ignorance and misinformation out there and the “progressives” certainly exploit this.

    As the T.L.M. slowly becomes more “mainstream” someone will eventually try this. Keep the tar boiling ;-)

  8. I do really think the Church dropped the ball on the female servers. There has always been such a close connection between the alter server and the priest, in that being an altar server is often what awakens in a young boy or young man the first spark of hearing the call to priesthood. That’s how it was for me, I know. And I don’t believe it to be a coincidence that since we have allowed female altar servers we have also seen an increase (albeit a tiny but loud group, mostly of runaway priests and nuns from orders that are dying out) in the calls for female ordination, which obviously can never happen. I know taking away the female servers now would cause a significant outcry from a decent number of Catholics, but my heart tells me that it is an outcry worth enduring in the long run.

  9. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    As a mother to both a boy and a girl, an observation.

    A girl will almost always want to do what her brother (older or younger) is allowed to do. Maybe not a deep seated longing, but there is a bit of “what you can do I can do better,” attitude that the modern feminists not only encourage but endorse to the determent of our sons.

    On the other hand… boys do not want to do, at least publicly and in front of their peers, what girls are allowed to do.

    Want to snuff out a vocation? It takes a great burning fire of the Most Holy Spirit to over come the socialized norm.

    I’ve seen it with youth groups (Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, CYO) and in the catechism and faith formation classes I have taught.

    I’m a retired military career Sr. NCO, I saw it in the military as well. In career and duty tracks that were viewed as “female” very few guys really wanted to be there. Those viewed as “male” that had large numbers of men in them, LOST status, as more women entered them. In reality, neither male or female had an inherited “edge” most people, of either sex ‘could do the job’ but was it wise to do so?

    There are a “few” and I mean “few” times a girl “could” sub, a Mass at a Girl Scout Camp for example, or within the walls of a convent if another priest is not available.

  10. thereseb says:

    Having been to convent schools, I vaguely remember altar boys being imported for N.O. masses on special occasions, but for daily Mass, the Priest was alone on the altar – this was the 70s. I can’t remember far enough back to pre-1965. The logistics of taking boys out of school to serve day masses in convents would make efs very hard to celebrate in the normal course of things, so like Sandra, I would favour an “exception” rule – but do not see how it could be done for occasional events like Scout Camp, as it involves frequent practice. Perhaps in a Girl’s school, or Convent, as the congregation would be all female, and therefore not distracted. It’s a good point. Anyone remember girls’ schools in the 50’s? What happened at Daily Mass (as opposed to First Communion etc).

    My father served 6am Mass every day in the Sisters of Charity convent next door, from the age of 7 – but those days have gone, I fear.

  11. Antiquarian says:

    I agree with maynardus, that someone is eventually going to try this. Here’s a question that occurs to me– if a parish that had heretofore had no EF Mass added one, but with girls serving, what should happen? Given Fr Z’s “brick by brick” model of improvement in liturgy, should we “tar and feather” a priest who does this, or applaud his initiative in offering the Extraordinary Form where there had been none and seek to educate him (and probably his parishioners) as to the imprudence of using altar girls?

    Hypothetical, I know. But is no EF better than an EF with female servers? (BTW I agree with Fr Z that the use of girls is not illicit, although I know others of you do not. So my question really only applies if you think it’s a bad idea but not forbidden.)

  12. Mrs doyle says:

    I have attended a small low EF Mass without an altar server available and most of the congregation was female.
    We knew the latin responses, and so we did the job for the responses from the pews and one of us had the bells and rang them at the appropriate time.

    No altar server, but the job was done well.

  13. Greg Smisek says:

    Henry Edwards: “Is it true that the 1983 Code of Canon Law does not explicitly mention or approve either female servers or communion in the hand?”

    Canon 230, paragraph 2, permits lay persons to perform various liturgical functions by temporary designation/deputation. An authentic interpretation of this paragraph (which has the same force of law as the paragraph itself) was then given by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (now the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts), which said that both men and women could serve at the altar. This was decided on June 30, 1992, confirmed by Pope John Paul II on July 11, 1992, communicated by a letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments with further instructions to the presidents of the conferences of bishops on March 15, 1994 (Prot. n. 2482/93; see Notitiae 30 [1994] 333-335), and finally published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, LXXXVI, 1994, 541-542. It was further clarified by a response of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on July 27, 2001 (Prot. N.2451/00/L).

    The physical manner of receiving Holy Communion is not legislated in Canon Law, but in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nn. 160 and 284-287. Reception on the tongue by the laity is the universal norm. Reception in the hand by the laity is permitted only by an indult from the Holy See, requested by and granted to an individual bishops’ conference. For example, the bishops of the United States received this indult on June 17, 1977 and those of England and Wales received it on March 6, 1976.

  14. momoften says:

    I know of an older lady (69) who as a young girl did recite the Latin responses at Mass because they were in a very rural area. Yes, she had to stay behind the altar rail while reciting. She still believes ONLY boys should be altar servers NOT girls (as I do)…How about some of the churches up here- the older women serve(illicitly) daily Mass-they wouldn’t let the older men serve, the priest never asked the Catholic Schools for servers (though they are only a block away) A lot of Bad things going on there at that church…….

  15. Greg Smisek says:

    Colin Donovan provides a list of the dates of several of the indults for Communion in the hand.

  16. Henry Edwards says:

    Greg Smisek: I take it, then, that the answer to my question is “No”.

  17. rwprof says:

    For us, the issue is whether the role as minor clergy requires one to be in the sanctuary or not. That excludes women as altar servers, since women may not enter the sanctuary (oikonomia allows a bishop to bless women to serve in cases where necessary, such as convents). It is not uncommon, however, for women to serve as readers or chanters (although a woman again could not chant the epistle, since she would then be required to go behind the iconostasis to receive the priest’s blessing).

  18. Henry Edwards says:

    Greg: That is, “No, the 1983 Code of Canon Law does not explicitly mention or approve either female servers or communion in the hand?”.

    Or should we say “Yes, the 1983 Code of Canon Law does not explicitly mention or approve either female servers or communion in the hand”?

    Or, in plainer language, “There ain’t no female servers nor communion in the hand mentioned in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.”

  19. My mom and the other sacristy assistants at her girl’s school (Julienne) acted as acolytes at her school’s Masses, whenever the priest couldn’t get a boy to come with. (Which was often.) And that was before Vatican II was a twinkle in the bishops’ eyes, my friends.

    Since the chapel was really the school stage and the altar wasn’t a permanent one, perhaps the priest felt that sanctuary rules didn’t apply. But as I’m sure he’s long dead, it’s a bit hard to ask him.

  20. My mom and the other sacristy assistants at her girl’s school (Julienne) acted as acolytes at her school’s Masses, whenever the priest couldn’t get a boy to come with. (Which was often.) And that was before Vatican II was a twinkle in the bishops’ eyes, my friends.

    Since the chapel was really the school stage and the altar wasn’t a permanent one, perhaps the priest felt that sanctuary rules didn’t apply. But as I’m sure he’s long dead, it’s a bit hard to ask him.

    Anyway, the point is that you shouldn’t assume that women requesting to serve are doing it out of malice; they might be doing it out of pre-Vatican II girlhood memories.

  21. momoften says:

    ok, I am rereading Greg comment and find older women are allowed to serve according to canon law in the Ordinary forms of Mass? wow, patheticly they are correct in our local parishes when they have the old ladies on the altar and mother / daughter teams serving the ordinary forms of the Mass….YIKES!!!!

  22. Mom reaffirms that she did indeed do all the acolyte stuff: carrying the cross and the candles, doing the wine, holding the patens, and so on. The only thing they didn’t do was wear cassocks; they served wearing their normal school uniforms.

  23. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    So the TLM is to forever be fossilized. I think some of you need to come down from your ivory towers. [Wow. Is that the wrong attitude here….] Serving Mass is not SAYING the Mass. Some of you come off as people who were threatened because your sisters could rollerskate faster. [I am counting to ten…. ]

    Not every parish is a TLM parish, and there is NOTHING wrong with girls serving Mass. OF or EF. [Some say that there is. The Church’s tradition and norm remains male service. I agree with that tradition and norm.] You want the TLM to be more widespread in the average parish? So do I. I also live in 2009, not 2009. [Yah… hard not to live in 2009, after all…] If a priest feels he needs to have all boy teams or all girl teams, fine. No one says they have to serve together. [No one says there has to be girls at all.] But stop trying to [Wait for the cliché… ] demonize girls and women who serve. It’s obnoxious. Not every girl or woman who serves is a “feminist.” Just someone who loves God and the Mass.

    I happen to attend a Latin Mass parish on weekdays. The boys are lovingly taught the responses and cooed over and encouraged to learn. But the girls? Not given a second thought to.

  24. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    should be “I DON’T live in 1962.”

  25. This begs the question on why we do not see more emphasis put on non-extraordinary activities alike clearly valid and listi instituted Acolytes and Lectors. I am afraid one opf th efew places this actually occurs is with Bp Bruskewitz. I spent a long time discerning this and looking for avenues locally, but it is vertually unknown to the NO world. Clearly there is very poor teaching and learning around even the GIRM and much less Canon Law.

  26. Henry Edwards says:

    Suburban: My mom and the other sacristy assistants at her girl’s school (Julienne) acted as acolytes at her school’s Masses, whenever the priest couldn’t get a boy to come with.

    Naturally! Whaddya think, that a girl’s school or convent would have to omit Mass because there are no boys there to serve the priest at Mass?

    Would make no sense. And certainly, if there are no boys at all there to see it, their vocations could hardly be discouraged by the spectacle of girls in the sancturary.

  27. Richard says:

    It is interesting to me that although Jesus allowed women to minister to Him, our traditional priests and congregants want women kept far away from them. Unless they are preparing dinner for the rectory.

    Jill, as a frequent visitor to and occassional poster on this site (sometimes I just cannot keep quiet), I can tell you that Fr. Z and his acolytes do not tolerate dissent or opposing views. They quote the popes they like (Pius X, Benedict XVI) and dismiss the ones they don’t (John XXIII, Paul VI). [That’s just plain silly. Hard to take anything you write seriously after that sort of rubbish.] How they know which popes know what they are talking about and which ones are wrong, I am not sure. Gnostics?

    Mr. Edwards, I seriously doubt a serious vocation to the priesthood has been derailed by the presence of female altar servers. Did Martha and Mary’s ministrations keep Peter and the rest of the twelve from following Jesus?

  28. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    Thank you Richard. It is one thing I do find a little exasperating about many in the EF camp. I do appreciate the form of the Mass very much, and I can understand the concern about boys of a certain age perhaps not wanting to serve alongside their sisters or classmates (hence, if need be, I can see separate teams) – but I do resent girls being shut out. I would never argue for women being priests (nor would I cast a woman as Hamlet!) but serving is serving, not some pretend “Priest, Junior.” SErving is hardly a true “order.” Despite in past centuries porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte were called “orders” — it was a poor choice of words. Hardly a “sacrament instituted by Christ to give grace.” I’d also agree it wouldn’t be a very strong vocation if a boy was discouraged from being a priest just by the sight of a girl serving! [Boys don’t want to stop being astronauts do they, even if some women have been — and here men get the priesthood “gig” 100% of the time.]

    And in a thread many moons ago, Fr. Z. said that first and formost the job of the server IS to stand in for the laity to act on THEIR behalf. How come a member of 50% of the population can stand in for the 100% but if one of the OTHER 50% tries to stand in for all, then she’s belittled and told she’s not wanted?

  29. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    And rwprof — I’m not sure who you mean by “for us the issue is.” Are you going to tell me there are NO boy servers in your sanctuary? If you want to argue that a 9 year old boy is somehow “clergy” be my guest. I’d love to hear your argument for that contention! [P.S. they formally did away with the minor orders more than 30 years ago.]

  30. Will D. says:

    This strikes me as a tempest in a teapot. Canon law seems to suggest that it is allowable for women to serve at the EF mass, but I doubt it should be much of an issue. Most priests who celebrate that form would prefer not to have female altar servers, and the priest’s wishes would carry the day. And on the other hand, most of the laity at an EF mass would be reluctant to see that as well.

  31. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    Will, I know of priests who DO have girls serve at their OF Masses, but seem to be afraid to let them serve the EF.

  32. Hidden One says:

    I am, for the record, strongly against “altar girls”. Female servers don’t become nuns or consecrated virgins etc. any more than non-servers – and possibly less. Meanwhile, from the ranks of male servers come not merely a disproportionately high percentage but most of our priests.

    The problem of the altar girl is really not a complicated dilemma. Regardless as to why and what ideals should or should not be, the fact exists. Get over it, people. Modernism* (ought to) be damned – it certainly damns enough people!

    As to altar girls in the EF, specifically… they (ordinarily) shouldn’t be used in the NO, so why use them in the EF?

    *a stupid philosophy based on that strange idea that progressional change means improvement.

  33. Girgadis says:

    What gets lost in this debate is the emphasis on Him, not on us. I have a problem with lay people in general entering the sanctuary, particularly if they assume an air of importance and superiority rather than humility in demeanor and gestures. As a woman, it pains me to have to say this but my observation is that women are more likely to put on airs than men. Whether this is the product of some perceived oppression for which they now feel they have to make up for lost time, I don’t know, but it’s disturbing. Occasionally I’m unable to get to early morning Mass and have to settle for going at Noon or after work. I had to strike the nearby Jesuit parish off the list of churches despite its convenience because of the horrors I’ve seen. Women in black cassocks lighting the candles (aren’t cassocks the exclusive domain of priests, deacons and seminarians?) and worse, women removing the ciborium from the tabernacle with as much decorum as they would a gallon of milk from the fridge while the priest celebrant stands by watching. For sure I’ve seen some pushy behavior on the part of men, like the deacon who spoke over the priest during the Kyrie (in English, of course). It seems these abuses are much less likely to occur at a TLM where there is a greater sense of mystery and awe. I personally don’t care what gender a person is if they approach their duties with the appropriate humility but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  34. No, no, no and no….

    The protocol for women servers in the EF should also apply to the OF…Assist from outside the sanctuary

  35. Hugh says:


    “Serving Mass is not SAYING the Mass.”

    Well, yes and no: in the symbolic logic of the liturgy, the two are intrinsically linked.

    There’s a delegation that goes on in every Mass. Under Christ, the High Priest at every Mass, the bishop delegates (some of) his duties to the priest, who delegates (some of) his duties to the deacon, who delegates to the subdeacon, and so on down the line to the alter servers.

    In serving mass, one is acting as part of this greater entity. Just as the fingertip is joined to the wrist, arm, elbow and head of a body and is linked in with the actions of that body, there is a deep unity, on the level of symbolism, between all who take part at in their various ways in the ministry at the altar.

    And just as my fingertip is of the same gender as the rest of my body, the symbolic logic of the liturgy requires that a server can only adequately signify that liturgical “body” which is performing the ministerial actions at the altar, if he is male.

  36. Prudentius says:

    Rather than just stating No, No, No or Father Z getting out his sarcastic headmaster’s red pen. Instead of that, can someone please provide a clear and concise reason why we cannot have girls as Altar Servers?

    This sentence from above may as well be in Japanese…
    “the symbolic logic of the liturgy requires that a server can only adequately signify that liturgical “body” which is performing the ministerial actions at the altar, if he is male.”
    Big words, well written but what does that actaully mean?

    Please someone articulate why this is wrong? Not because “it’s not how it used to be done in the old days”, or some guess at decoding Cannon law. Instead a reason?

  37. Mitchell NY says:


    I suppose you are for co-ed bathrooms as well. I mean, you go in and you go out, what could be the harm? Or at least you should be…The inability to at least consider the Church’s position on the subject, being that it often leads to vocations and was always held by males in the past is as narrow minded as you profess the people who don’t allow girls to serve in the EF Mass. For someone who does not support or envision women Priests then consider the cause and effect syndrome, but then again maybe, if a man, you would like to be Pope and decide for us all. You insult the many who witness being “juinor” Priest is what lead to their vocation.

  38. Mitchell NY says:


    Because an indult, or permission was needed and given in order to allow it in the Ordinary Form. (and if you read up on it, it was in a somewhat ambiguous, questionable way). For that “permission” to be given that means it was not allowed before by any Pope previous John Paul II for the Extraordinary or Ordinary Form. By not allowing it the Popes have spoken and that should be enough. If revoked, would everyone stand behind the revocation as they do the allowance because it comes from people who know better than us?

  39. Henry Edwards says:

    Mitchell: Jill, I suppose you are for co-ed bathrooms as well.

    Actually, I have survived unisex restrooms in East European universities with no lasting ill effect. But, then, I don’t think I ever encountered in one of them an Amazing Gal of the Wolverine Tribe.

  40. Hugh says:

    Sorry if it’s not clear, Prudentius: I had hoped that what I was doing was providing the reasoning that you’re asking for.

    No doubt someone has explained it better than my poor words above, but it’s going to come down to the same thing: although we see many people running around doing things at the altar during a Solemn High Mass, on a deeper level we’re to understand that there is one liturgical “person” acting. This is fittingly manifested when all the ministers and servers are of the same gender, which must be male, just as Christ the High Priest was male. As I’ve tried to suggest in the analogy of a physical body, having a female server is as odd and counter to the liturgical order of things as having a female finger at the end of a male body would be in the biological order of things.

    Of course, having a female server doesn’t make the mass invalid: the priest does not and cannot delegate his power to consecrate to others lower down in the hierarchy and validity turns on the use or non-use of that power. But having male servers is a corollary of the same theological reasoning which excludes the possibility that a woman can be a priest, and not to see this is not to see the full picture of what’s going on at the altar during mass.

    I was once unable to see the objection against altar girls, till a very wise theologian explained it to me in this way. I was immediately convinced, and I think it has given me a much richer appreciation of what goes on at Mass. I’m sorry if it comes out of my head to others in the same compelling way it came to me from my friend. I think there are deep truths here.

  41. Hugh says:

    “I’m sorry if it comes out of my head to others”

    Correction: I’m sorry if it doesn’t come out of my head &c”

  42. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again. Girls in EF parishes need to have sodalities and do prayer and service for the Church, if you want to help them grow in religion just like boys who are servers do.

    Actually, some of the old Catholic fic I’ve read suggests that, just as altarboys moved up in seniority and responsibilities, the girls went into different sodalities with different responsibilities. (And sashes.)

  43. Oh, and none of this “ooh, the girls can do the flowers! Won’t that be nice!”

    The various Children of Mary sodalities were intended to form “valiant women”. “The principal end which the members proposed to themselves, was to love and serve the Immaculate Heart of Mary, by imitating her virtues, above all her fortitude and spotless purity.”

    Their founder, Sophie Barat, told them: “Your mission is a very high one, and I do not fear to call it an apostolate, for you are to act as apostles in the midst of a perverse world. You must lead into the right path those who are wandering from it, encourage those kept back byhuman respect, and stop the downward course of those in danger.”

    Their sodality activities, besides prayer and devotion, included: “the making of vestments and other altar requirements for poor churches and distant missions… supporting orphans, visiting hospitals, helping the poor in their homes, opening work-rooms and guiding reading-circles for young girls, providing for the maintenance of youthful aspirants to the priesthood: in a word, all the interests of God and Holy Church are theirs.”

    In short, girls back then were challenged to do _real_ things, and they responded with guts and gusto. Today’s kids don’t usually get a chance to do anything real. It would take girls a bit of time to be convinced that you really did want them to take charge and do things. But I think the results would be good.

  44. Greg Smisek says:

    Henry Edwards: “There ain’t no female servers nor communion in the hand mentioned in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.”

    That communion in the hand is not mentioned in the Code of Canon Law is not surprising, because Canon 2 says “For the most part the Code does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions.” Communion on the tongue is not mentioned in the Code of Canon Law either. Meanwhile, the 2002 GIRM, which does contain universal liturgical law, actually does mention communion in the hand for the faithful, albeit with the caveat, “where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses” (n. 161).

    Permission for female altar servers is in the Code, at least after the promulgation of the authentic interpretation in 1994. True, female altar servers are not mentioned by name, but then, non-installed altar servers generally (male or female) are not mentioned by name in the Code. Meanwhile, we know that according to the explicated mind of the legislator, Can. 230, par. 2 applies to female altar servers. Canonists argue about whether PCILT simply declared what was there since 1983, explained what was ambiguous, or broadened the applicability of the law beyond its original meaning. One canonist even argues that the authentic interpretation occasioned a stealth indult from the norm of male-only altar servers (so stealth, apparently, that the CDWDS doesn’t even know they granted it).

  45. j says:

    Fascinated by suburbanbanshees’ comments. It is obvious that there were for at least a hundred years exceptional provisions for women to serve, and presumably how, but not much detail on what was actually done pre-VII. She cites a girl’s school, an appropriate exception, but also an instance where there really was no Sanctuary. Carrying cross is fine, responses fine, but the rest is a different matter. Probably need to go into provisions for Convents. An interesting problem.

    Also, a separate Pastoral problem – if boys are involved at the Altar, how do we make sure girls are also involved? If EF communities want to grow and attract new families, this is probably a subject that is going to need serious, non-dismissive thought.

    With regard to WHY there is a specification for men/boys, one aspect comes from the structure of Rubrical Law. The ideal is for all major liturgical functions to be done by Priests, either in “Messa in Terza” aka Mass of Three or Solemn Mass. The Missa Cantata (a terrible term, since it mostly concerns what cannot be done since the server is not a Priest, nothing to do with singing) is a Mass of contingency, where lay men/boys fill in for Priests. Low Mass is a Mass of contingency, where there are insufficient servers for Solemn/Cantata Masses. In all, at some level the server does a part of what a Priest would ideally (ideal meaning the model, not a value judgement – all Masses are valuable, and Low Masses often fit peoples lives and dispositions best) do.

  46. rwprof says:

    “Are you going to tell me there are NO boy servers in your sanctuary?”

    No boy servers? Where did you get that? In my small parish, we have two teams of servers, six each, and they range from 12 or so to adult. But they are all male. And as for abolishing minor orders, YOU did. We did not. I am Orthodox. However, the Eastern Rite Catholics follow the same Canon Laws, which forbid women from being in the sanctuary (oikonomia excepted). You will, however, see female chanters and readers (although they are rarely tonsured as such).

  47. merrydelval says:

    I usually think that petition letters and the like about Church things are a monumental waste of time, especially to get rid of something which has become legal. But, considering that there are supposedly petitions on the Pope’s desk about Reform of the Reform changes, might it not be propitious for WDTPRS to mount some kind of letter campaign or internet thing asking the Pope to restore male-only service to the altar during the Year of the Priest. In my parish, I say Mass every day with girl servers. Almost every Mass includes me surrounded by a bevy of women. The parish has been around 25 years, not a vocation. My home parish, St Mary’s, Greenville, (shout out for St Mary’s!), does not have altar girls, and in the past 25 years, how many priests have been ordained from there? I think around 8 or so. The time might be right . . . I think it’s a good idea; who will do it???? And will “they” listen in Rome?

  48. Henry Edwards says:

    Greg Smisek,

    Thank you for your careful research. Of course, it is common ground among regular readers of WDTPRS that female servers and communion on the tongue are not generally illicit under universal Church law, and hence that the arguments against these practices are based on prudential rather than legal reasons.

    I therefore hope that the time you have devoted to this matter was not based on a misunderstanding of my original point — which was simply the factual observation that neither practice is explicitly mentioned in the 1983 Code of Canon Law itself (as occasional remarks here may seem to suggest).

  49. Henry Edwards says:

    merrydelval: I have occasionally visited St. Mary’s, Greenville and know by observation why that parish yields such a good harvest of vocations. In lieu of words, a picture (from one of two parishes I attend) that shows where vocations come from:


    One of our altar boys is already in the seminary, another hopefully will be next year, and I suspect that at least two or three more boys in this picture will eventually wind up in a seminary.

  50. Greg Smisek says:

    Henry Edwards:
    I’m not a canonist, although I try to be as thorough and accurate in my research as possible. Let me try my hand at analyzing some remarks I’ve seen on WDTPRS.

    Answering your original question, the 1983 Code of Canon Law does “explicitly approve” (or better, permit) female servers. PCILT gave us the authentic interpretation of the words of Canon 230 regarding this. Thus it is entirely correct to say that the Code explicitly sanctions female altar servers or that according to the Code, female altar servers are permitted.

    As to communion in the hand, I’ve seen remarks by the host and fellow guests to the effect that the Code permits (or protects the right of) communicants to receive in the hand. This applies in nations with the reception-in-the-hand indult. Canon 912 protects the recipient’s lawful options: “Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.” Thus, where it is lawful to receive communion in the hand, a priest or other minister of Holy Communion may not refuse giving Holy Communion to the faithful solely because they chose to receive in that (lawful) manner.

    In order to deny these statements, you would need to deny that the authentic interpretation and the indult apply to the extraordinary form. And since Summorum Pontificum (2007) specifically sets down in law that the ordinary and extraordinary forms are “two usages of the one Roman rite” (duo usus unici ritus romani, Art. 1), this is no mean feat.

  51. Joanne says:

    “I seriously doubt a serious vocation to the priesthood has been derailed by the presence of female altar servers.”

    I understand the preference for exclusively male altar servers (although as I have said before, I find being *angry* at the use of female servers to be kinda creepy, quite frankly). I have to agree with this poster, however – no adult man who has a genuine vocation to the priesthood is going to be deterred by the presence of girls on the altar. Anyone who would not step into his vocation for any reason is not someone the Church needs. It’s like male-female relationships, a woman is wasting her time with any guy who is unsure, wishy-washy, or for whatever reason, not on fire with love.

  52. shoofoolatte says:

    From the 1st comment:

    “Popes have denounced female servers as EVIL in the past…”

    I can understand Popes denouncing genocide or abortion as evil, but FEMALE SERVERS??!!. EVIL?! Is this really true?

  53. MichaelJ says:

    You seem to be saying that the Church does not need anyone who is, well, human. You expect a level of perfection and heroic virtue that is rarely found

  54. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    MichaelJ — Not having a hissy fit about female servers is “heroic?” I expect grown up males not to be still mentally 11.

    And Fr. Z’s choice of picture for this topic, really tells me all I want to know about his tolerance for lawful acts. It’s this attitude that if a priest wished to introduce ALL his servers to the EF form of Mass in a “regular parish” then the priest will be made to feel ostracized and castigated by those who would assume that the TLM belongs to them and only them.

  55. Joanne says:

    “I expect grown up males not to be still mentally 11.”

    LOL at this. Me too. So add “not mentally 11” to my list above, ie, unsure, wishy-washy, etc… ;)

    “You expect a level of perfection and heroic virtue that is rarely found.”

    There are orthodox men being ordained to the priesthood every year. Clearly, many are still answering the call. And again, I don’t really understand why you evidently want those who would resist the call STILL to be your priest.

    Take care, everyone!

  56. robtbrown says:


    You raise some interesting issues.

    1. You say that lector, acolyte, exorcist, and porter weren’t instituted by Christ, and therefore shouldn’t be called “orders”. But the diaconate also was not instituted by Christ. Should it not be called an “order”?

    2. The tradition of a male server at mass is a function of the minor order of acolyte. A server acts in lieu of an acolyte.
    Until the minor orders and the subdiaconate are restored, there will still be confusion about female servers.

    3. My sister couldn’t roller skate better, nor could she run faster.

    Are you Irish?

  57. robtbrown says:

    Jill, as a frequent visitor to and occassional poster on this site (sometimes I just cannot keep quiet), I can tell you that Fr. Z and his acolytes do not tolerate dissent or opposing views. They quote the popes they like (Pius X, Benedict XVI) and dismiss the ones they don’t (John XXIII, Paul VI). How they know which popes know what they are talking about and which ones are wrong, I am not sure. Gnostics?
    Comment by Richard

    Although I’m not averse to being referred to as a Fr Z acolyte, in fact, I have lots of pontifical theological degrees. And so when I have the time, I will be most happy to deal with any of your objections.

    If you’re shown to be wrong, however, don’t go crying to Mama.

  58. Jack Hughes says:


    Pope Gelasius condemmed female alter servers as evil and Pope Benedict the 14th re-affirmed said condemnation in 1755, more recently the likes of Cardinal Arinze have also condemmed the practise.

  59. MichaelJ says:

    You missed the point. When do you suppose most men are called to the Priesthood? Is it when they are mature, wise adults, or does the call begin earlier. Say, when they are boys.
    Sandra_in_Severn made an excellent point which seems to have been glossed over. Boys do not want to do what girls do. So yes, you are expecting herioc virtue of those who are just beginning to hear the call to the Priesthood.

  60. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    robt: No, not Irish. 3/8ths German, 1/4 English, 1/2 Ukrainian with trace elements of Swiss and 100% American. :-D

    Henry, et al: I was using the “good ‘ole Baltimore catechism” to define a sacrament. “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” No one would argue that the so called “minor orders” were actually sacraments. The odd ball one, you have to admit was the sub-deacon. The western rite considered it a major order (and frankly it’s a bit dicey at best, considering that one could be “released” from the subdiaconate — a friend of mine had been dispensed and allowed to marry without too much quibble back in the sixties. But had he been a deacon, that would have been a “full commitment.”)

    For a long time the office of porter and acoylyte were filled by people NOT in minor orders. No one, for instance, goes in to a fit of hysteria if a woman helps wtih the collection and counts it afterwards or locks up the church. All traditionally jobs of the “porter.”

    And again, I have no problem if a priest thinks that perhaps it would be best for some or all of the boys in his parish to serve on an “all boy team.” All I’m saying is don’t shut the girls out, and let them serve some of the EF Masses. I think it should be obvious that if we really want the EF form of Mass to be widespread, it’s time to remember that in the vast majority of families it’s the faith and teaching and example of the MOTHER of the family that the children follow. USually, in reality, it’s “mom” the children learn the faith from. I think it’s quite possible for women NOT to even consider giving the EF a chance if they think they are being shut out, when they don’t NEED (for a theological reason) to be shut out. If I had daughters, I’d certainly encourage them to learn to serve, so I doubt if I’d exclusively attend the Latin Mass just on that score alone. [But I would NOT deny a boy the chance to serve an EF Mass just because his sister wasn’t allowed to – I’ve heard of some parents going to that extent, and that’s mean.] [And Fr. Z., you didn’t mean to be mean, I’m sure, but just that picture of someone *DESERVING* to be ridden out on the rails because they disagree with your view would make me DISINCLINED to try the EF – it makes you seem hostile to women, who by canon law ARE permitted to serve.]

    Again, look at the old Missals. They will confirm what father Z has said in a previous thread. The server is there not primarily to hand things to the priest, but to give the responses for the people. As for that old bug-a-boo about “no wimmin in the sanctuary” even the traditional men seem fine with it if the “weak woman [that’s saint Paul for ya]” hefts a wet mop in the sanctuary after all the men have gone off to pray about higher things or watch football.

    If little Bobby, aged 10, who by no stretch of the imagination is a cleric, can stand in for 100% of the people. Then Susie should be able to too. It would certainly encourage girls to follow the EF form of Mass more closely if they knew that THEY were also expected to know the responses off by heart. Try an experiment, Fr. Z. Pull aside your 12 year old girls who attend the EF form of Mass — and see how far they get with the priest/server responses in the prayers to the foot of the altar. Any bets how well they’d fare? NOT teaching them the responses with the care you teach their brothers would be irresponsbile, frankly. You want ALL the parish to be behind the EF? Great. All I’m asking for is 50% of the congregants not to be seen as somehow “less important” to teach.

    As long as I’m on this, why do the EF priests (not of the FFSP variety) seem to ONLY tap their nale servers for benediction and adoration. I can name at least 3 priests in England who are in “normal” parishes who’ve added the EF form of Mass, and they have females serve the OF Masses, but they don’t let the girls NEAR benediction. WHy? It’s not MASS, is it?

  61. robtbrown says:


    A few points:

    1. The document, Ministeria Quaedam, that suppressed Minor Orders in favor of Lay Ministries (lector and acolyte) also limits them to males.

    2. In light of that prohibition, I think it follows that those who perform the functions of lector and acolyte should also be limited to males.

    3. I confess that I am no fan of MQ. It uncouples lector and acolyte from Orders, yet preserves the limitation to males. This makes no sense.

    4. I think that #1 and #2 are sufficient theological evidence that women should not serve mass. The fact, however, is that the PCILT interpreted c. 230 to permit women to serve. Although this is taken to be authoritative, nevertheless, it contradicts not only common juridical hermeneutic but also Inaestimabile Donum, which was approved by JPII. Translation: It is a mess, no matter whether someone favors or opposes women altar servers.

    I favor the restoration of the minor orders and the subdiaconate for the follow reasons:

    A. The seven grades of Holy Orders go back at least to the mid 3rd century.

    B. As I noted earlier, it is true that it cannot be shown that the minor orders and subdiaconate are of Divine origin (Christ), but it is known that diaconate is not–it is of Apostolic origin.

    C. Further, unlike the priest and bishop the deacon receives no Sacramental power.

  62. robtbrown says:

    Re weak “wimmin” and St Paul:

    It is important not to try to impose a North European culture (also found in the US) on Mediterranean cultures. Generally, the N Euro cultures are patriarchies, Mediterranean cultures (from which comes the Church) are matriarchies.

    Matriarchies are very complex cultures.

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