UPDATE: Altar girls and the Extraordinary Form – the PCED clarifies the situation

The Instruction on the application of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, entitled Universae Ecclesiae, in paragraph 28, says in an English version:

Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.

So, if there is a conflict of law between what is found in the 1962 books and what was issued subsequent to the 1962, the what was issued subsequent does not apply for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form.  That would include such post-Conciliar innovations as female service at the altar.

UE 28 clarified that females are not permitted to act as servers for the Extraordinary Form.

You may recall that at the University of Cambridge in England, even before Universae Ecclesiae was issued, the Catholic chaplain, who had also celebrated there the older form of Mass, made a decision that his male, female integrated team of servers, should serve also at the older form of Mass.  That meant that he employed altar girls, women, to serve at the Extraordinary Form. When Universae Ecclesiae was issued, he continued with this practice.

This situation generated claims on both sides regarding UE 28, some people claiming that that paragraph did not bar females from serving.

I have now a copy of a letter sent by the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesiae Dei” and signed by the Secretary Msgr. Guido Pozzo, which clarifies that UE 28 in fact does say that females cannot serve at the altar in the Extraordinary Form.

The letter essentially quotes UE 28 and then states:

In this regard, the Circular Letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments of 1994 (cf. Notitiae 30 [1994] 333-335) permitted female altar servers, does not apply to the Extraordinary Form.

Bottom line: females may not serve at the altar in the Extraordinary Form.

However, I understand as well that, though the chaplain at Cambridge has also had this clarification from the PCED for some time, as recently as Saturday 5 June he continued to have females serve at the altar for the Extraordinary Form.

This all goes beyond the single issue of the sex of the person serving at the altar.  There are other innovations subsequent to 1962 to which UE 28 applies.  It is important that, early on, the meaning of UE 28 be clear and also be accepted.  It is important that, early on, the PCED get involved when Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae are misinterpreted.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, Universae Ecclesiae and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. skull kid says:

    Faithful Catholics must insist that this is enforced. Any priest who would do such a thing should be reported to his bishop and Rome and the Mass ought to be boycotted in the meantime (obviously go to Mass some place else). If you want to stop it, stop it now. No point whinging about it when the horse has bolted. The door is open, and the horse is about to leave. Anyone up for stopping it? Act now.

  2. skull kid says:

    oops, that should be ‘whingeing’.

  3. RichardT says:

    A Cambridge man disobeying orders? Doesn’t surprise me; they always think they know best.

  4. RichardT says:

    skull kid, boycotting the Mass could be playing into his hands. A priest who doesn’t like the Old Rite, but who was under pressure to offer it, could have female servers (or something else improper) in order to drive people away to the point where he could say that attendance was so poor that he was cancelling it.

  5. Sorbonnetoga says:

    Am I the only one who can’t access a full size version of that jpeg?

  6. Jerry says:

    @Sorbonnetoga – you are not alone.

  7. skull kid says:

    RichardT: I don’t see what else can be done. By attending such a Mass, do you not signal your approval? I don’t know what other language would be understood than by boycotting the priest in question. If a priest is saying the EF Mass unwillingly and is introducing abuses, then we’re as well without his input.

  8. tzard says:

    Regarding reading it “full size” – you should be able to open it in your browser and use the “zoom” function to “zoom-in”.

  9. John Nolan says:

    What else do you expect from Cambridge, or Oxford for that matter? They are the ‘dark satanic mills ‘ to which Blake referred. Only Durham men can be trusted.

  10. fammarshall says:

    Let me clarify a little. Fr McCoy made known his desire to have female altar servers last September. From that time onwards several students and others had tried to dissuade him, explaining that it was not allowed in EF Masses. He simply would not listen, often becoming rude. He had already signalled his intent in an article he wrote for The Tablet in 2009. It is this situation which provoked the students to write a dubium to PCED asking for a ruling on the matter. His promise became reality in early May 2011 when we were presented with a female server at the Vigil EF Mass.

    The reply from the PCED came recently. Note the date of the PCED letter, less than a week after the publication of the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae. When asked about the letter he simply replied, ” As it’s not addressed to me personally it has no force in law. It is not valid.” He has also expressed his intention to continue. So that is where we are at present.

    Clearly, this will now go to the diocesan bishop and then no doubt back to the PCED. I can personally vouch for the fact that Fr McCoy has always been approached with great respect and in a spirit of Christian charity. Sadly, this has not been reciprocated. No one is doubting Fr McCoy’s piety, and indeed he has been an excellent chaplain but in this matter Fisher House has been badly let down.

    I should also mention that Fr McCoy only agreed to say the EF Masses, reluctantly it seems, upon being requested to do so by a group of students, in agreement with the conditions stipulated in Summorum Pontificum, the very people who have been most offended. Although one must admire his charity in agreeing to say the EF Mass, he has proceeded to make the Old Rite Liturgy very much his own, to do with as he pleases. For example, he says the Canon in a loud voice, encourages the congregation to join in with the Pater Noster and other parts of the Mass which pertain to the priest. I almost feel that he has taken it upon himself to unify the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form.

    I hope that in some way I have been able to clarify the muddy waters of the River Cam.

  11. Fr. A.M. says:

    Knock it off with the Cambridge comments ; )

    Seriously, this letter is very good news indeed, and, a logical interpretation of the aforementioned documents.

    It will be interesting to see future clarifications from PCED.

  12. Mundabor says:

    This seems to me a full-fledged, deliberate liturgical abuse. Am I right?

    1) letter or email to the bishop2
    2) email to clero @ cclergy.va [No. This is not the right dicastery. The PCED is, for this matter, the dicastery with competence.]

    As they Germans say: “those who don’t want to understand, must feel” (the punishment)


  13. Maltese says:

    “Bottom line: females may not serve at the altar in the Extraordinary Form”

    Thank God!

    Everyday I pray to a woman–Mary. The Catholic faith is the most pro-woman faith on earth. I have four, yes, four daughters, and revere them; my littlest one I almost worship!

    It’s hard to explain, but her stumbling little steps even cause me anxiety.

    I’m trying my best to teach my children, that “outside the Church, there is no salvation.”

    St. John the Baptist didn’t get beheaded for nothing….

  14. Clinton says:

    Fammarshall, it’s interesting that Fr. McCoy takes the line that as the letter from the PCED
    in response to a dubium regarding female altar servers at the EF was not addressed
    to him personally, it has no force in law and is not valid. I say it’s interesting because the
    admission of females as altar servers for the NO Mass was deemed legal in another letter
    issued in response to a dubium regarding female servers and the new Code of Canon
    Law of 1983. A letter that, I suspect, was also not addressed specifically to the good Fr. McCoy.

    In other words, the good Father seems to believe that when one letter is released permitting
    female servers in the NO Mass it is legal and valid, even though the letter was not addressed
    to him personally. However, when another congregation releases a letter stating that female
    servers are not licit for the EF Mass and the PCED fails to mail Fr. McCoy his personal copy
    that means the ruling has neither legal force or validity.

    I’m not sure I can follow the man’s logic…

  15. skull kid says:

    Fammarshall: piety stuffed with pride and disobedience is worthless.

  16. cpaulitz says:

    Sticking with this logic, they should also ban permanent deacons from distributing communions and laymen pretending to be subdeacons at solemn high Masses.

  17. mibethda says:

    Inviting the congregation to join in the recitation of the Pater Noster at Low Mass is not an abuse, and is specifically allowed in dialogue Masses under De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Rites in 1958:
    32. Since the Pater Noster is a fitting , and ancient prayer of preparation for Communion, the entire congregation may recite this prayer in unison with the priest in low Masses; the Amen at the end is to be said by all. This is to be done only in Latin, never in the vernacular.

  18. fammarshall says:


    I never said it was an abuse as such. I simply have the impression that he wishes to take elements of the NO and apply them to the EF, such as praying the canon aloud and the use of female servers which are of course permitted in the NO. But where is the authority to do that in the EF? If we are going to have the EF then we should stick to the rules as laid down by the Vatican. This means not only embracing the rite but also the missal, which includes the liturgical calendar, and also the underlying sprituality. Coming so soon after the publication of the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae this whole saga is a massive disappointment.

    I realise that obedience is a bit of a dirty word these days, but if we take it in its correct spiritual sense then it actually becomes a liberation. In the case of the liturgy this is especially important since only in this way can it possibly shine out and not be obscured by the personal predilections of individual priests and liturgical committees.

  19. RJS007 says:

    @skull kid Boycotting the mass? Because of women altar servers? Are you kidding me? What’s next? Boycotting The Mass because another dicsiplinary law is not obeyed? Swell… I can see this bearing much much good fruit. Not.

  20. Speravi says:

    UE 28 still seems to me to be a bit of a double-edged sword. It is great that it protects the integrity of the traditional rites, but some of the post 1962 changes were convenient. I am thinking primarily of the Rituale Romanum and the Breviarium Romanum. Are all the reserved blessings still reserved? To get a medal of St. Benedict blessed in the EF, must one now try to find a Benedictine priest who is willing to use the traditional ritual? What about blessing a rosary? Is a parochial vicar prohibited from blessing his own vestments? Must Compline be completed before midnight?

  21. dcs says:


    Sticking with this logic, they should also ban permanent deacons from distributing communions and laymen pretending to be subdeacons at solemn high Masses.

    I’m not following you. A permanent deacon is a deacon, and a deacon is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in the old Rite. In addition, straw subdeacons are not exactly a recent development.

  22. MichaelJ says:

    You seem to have missed part of skull kid’s post where he stated ” (obviously go to Mass some place else). “. Sorry, I’m with him. There is no need, ever, to attend such a Mass.

Comments are closed.