Rachel Campos-Duffy: In defense of all-male service at the Lord’s altar

From Rachel Campos-Duffy comes this re: altar boys.


According to the Communications Office of the Diocese of Phoenix, there is growing evidence to support the claim that where altar service is limited to boys, priestly vocations increase. The best example is the Diocese of Lincoln Nebraska, the envy of all dioceses when it comes to vocations. [It isn’t rocket science.]

Why? Because serving at the altar was always considered an apprenticeship for the priesthood. Prior to the modern seminary, it was the primary means by which boys discerned their interest and calling to become priests. [Of course.]

For starters, there’s the surprising fact that the participation of boys in altar service programs decreases with the inclusion of girls; likewise it increases when it is boys-only. [Surprising to whom?  Oh, I get it.  She’s being ironical.]

My 10 year-old son is an altar server in a boys-only program he loves and I can attest that the inclusion of his 8 year old sister would, well, annoy him. He’s not a sexist. He’s a typical 10 year-old boy and that is the age that boys begin considering altar service. Our priest is a role model to our son and it’s common sense if the Church wants the experience to feel like a priest-in-training experience, then it ought to be limited to boys. [Of course.]

Despite the positive effects male-only altar service has on participation and more importantly on vocations to the priesthood, many priests are reluctant to implement the policy in this hyper-sensitive, war-on-women era. But changing the policy doesn’t necessarily have to be contentious or cause hurt feelings for girls who desire to serve the Church in its most central sacrament. [You are an optimist, it seems.] One way to ease the pain that comes with any liturgical change is by implementing a sacristan program for girls. [While I agree, in most places there will still be a ruckus.]

There is a long-standing Catholic tradition of nuns and women serving as sacristans. Now girls can follow in this tradition and experience and learn more about the Mass and this awesome responsibility. In many cases, these programs are designed and run by religious sisters. Not surprisingly, parishes that offer a sacristan program for girls report increases in religious vocations for women.


It’s obvious.

It’s just so obvious.

At the same time, I would love to see stats.

WDTPRS kudos to Rachel.

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  1. Amen! May there be more exclusion of women at the altar. Or rather, if they are to serve, they should be serving from the altar rail.

  2. Clinton R. says:

    This makes too much sense. I can just hear some modernists squawking about how the poor little, wittle girls are unfairly being denied their “right” to serve as girl altar boys. To help more young men discern their divine call to the all male (and this will never change) priesthood, it is vital that they serve at the altar. And young men will not do so if they perceive being an altar server as “something girls do”. How girl altar boys ever came about is beyond me. More “spirit of Vatican II” nonsense, I reckon.

  3. jflare says:

    “[While I agree, in most places there will still be a ruckus.]”

    Unfortunately, even THAT is a very optimistic appraisal.
    I seem to recall having generally withdrawn from most any teen-aimed Church-sponsored activity. I had no desire to be front and center in a typical local World War III over gender roles.
    I think if a priest intends to institute a male-only altar server corps, he might be VERY well advised to do so only AFTER offering a good deal of catechesis related to the various tasks that various groups of people might fill in the Church.
    Even then, he’s still going to be stuck contending with all manner of screams related to the Church’s returning to the “medieval, male-chauvenistic, sexist” mentality that we “outgrew” in the last 50 years.
    That’s assuming he doesn’t ALSO have a battle royale over the vestments.

    Those who’ve introduced and become well accustomed to new ideas won’t give up easily.
    Maybe we ought to offer prayers for this intention.

  4. Marianna says:

    It does indeed make sense. There is, though, one question that puzzles me: in those parts of the world where vocations to the priesthood are plentiful, do girls also serve on the altar? Because if so, I’m wondering if somehow the negative impact of girl altar-servers on priestly vocations is a specifically “Western” problem.

  5. Bea says:

    Girl Altar girls are a disaster to vocations.

    When my boys were young they quit being altar boys when the girls came in.
    Fortunately that idea was dropped (for a time) and they returned.
    Shortly before a liberal pastor left our parish, he started the altar girl program, knowing that a conservative priest was coming to take his place. It was a fait acompli and our new traditional pastor was stuck with the girls.

    Recently, I asked a nice young serious boy why he was not an altar boy. His mother standing there replied for him. She said his sister (an altar girl) is too bossy and he doesn’t want to be up on the altar with her. He prefers to play sports with his friends on Sundays (as if being an altar server is no longer a “boy-thing”.)

    At a solemn (maybe not so solemn) Mass on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 4 altar servers (2 boys and 2 girls) . Carried lighted candles to the foot of the pulpit while our pastor read the gospel. The girl with a long pony tail kept whipping her pony tail about and smiling at the boy standing facing her. At first the younger girl started to imitate her older partner but it seemed she came to her senses. The altar boy this older girl was obviously flirting with, at first exchanged smiles with her then he had to compose himself and simply looked down to the ground. I was sitting up in front and couldn’t help notice these antics. The priest apparently never noticed, but then what could he have done. In our day a priest was not loathe to halt a sermon and call attention to misbehaving youths. Alas, no more. Political correctness of fear of parental complaints is the rule of the day.

  6. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Call me the Fox Mulder conspiratorial “X-Files” Catholic – but could we not wonder if this is what the moderns/progressives wanted all along?

    I am not whopping JPII (who allowed the use of girl altar boys in 1994, another really long thread there, certainly) – I am wondering if those who are in favor of wymyn-priests (or inclusiveness or whatever-buzzword-fits-their-agenda-today) were implementing the use of girl servers, *before* it was allowed by JPII in many dioceses, to purposely hasten the dearth of vocations to the ministerial priesthood?

    That way they could tug on the cassocks of Rome and say “See? If women could be priests we would not have this unfortunate shortage (?) of vocations for sacerdotal ministry.”

    To a degree this has happened in our area. Girls were being used (with approval by the bishop) before it was allowed and we have not seen a vocation to the priesthood since 1972!

    I have spoken with priests about using male only servers but their response is “JPII allowed it. What can I do?”

    However, is the real issue not wanting to have to deal with mothers who *want* their daughters to be able to serve just like any boy can? (“inclusiveness,””fairness” and “right-to-serve” and all of that, you know)

    In the mean time – the diocese is going through a “Stategic Planning Initiative” in order to deal with the “shortage of vocations” and “the aging demographic” (again, another thread to-be-sure). Parishes will be closing. Catholic schools will be closing.

    Good grief.

  7. APX says:

    There were altar girls prior to 1994, at least at my parish. It was the norm, and I don’t ever recall altar boys at my parish.

    Are women even allowed to be sacristans for the EF? It’s something that has crossed my mind from time to time. Ours are all men, and I don’t see how it would work if women aren’t allowed in the sanctuary, given that they’re usually traipsing through it to get to the sacristy.

  8. Long-Skirts says:


    Today five sons
    Served on the altar
    Determined boys
    Who would not falter.

    Boys at home
    Who fight and shove
    But on the altar
    Assist with love.

    At home shouting
    From top of lung.
    On the altar
    Latin’s sung.

    At home running
    Can’t sit still
    On the altar
    Disciplined will.

    At home throwing
    Cereal, toast
    On the altar
    Adoring Host.

    At home bedrooms
    Scattered scene
    On the altar
    Order, serene.

    I proud mother
    Faithful to Rome
    Five sons on the altar
    Five men at home.

  9. Maxiemom says:

    My parish had a boys only policy until about 8 years ago. Males only fostered only one vocation in over 100 years and he left the priesthood to get married. I can’t say I agree with this logic.

  10. Cosmos says:

    They are not claiming to be offering a mathematical proof. I don’t really think its fair to claim to disprove it with one counter-example. Even so, no one is saying that there are not other factors in creating vocations. What they are saying is that male-only alter service was a fertile recruiting ground for vocations, and it is becoming pretty clear that opening the service up to girls has damaged its effectiveness in that regard. The author is claiming that the reasons are very obvious to anyone who has, or was, a little boy.

  11. teomatteo says:

    My dilemma… my 11 year old son attends an EF mass with me often and i would like him to serve. He is shy and i think intimidated by the complexity of the details . I have assured him that I ccan take the saturday prep class with him and he can be simply a torchbearer. He does not want to do it. So… do i simply drop it? … do i drag him ‘just once’? … what?

  12. Papabile says:


    Don’t push it. Drop it for a couple months and see if Father will suggest it to him. That makes all the difference in the world.

  13. Charles E Flynn says:

    This might be helpful for the EF mass:

    Learning to Serve: A Guide for New Altar Boys, by Fr. Charles Carmody.

  14. APX said, “There were altar girls prior to 1994, at least at my parish.”

    In 1977 one of my little girls attended a Catholic School. I think it was first grade when she came home with a note asking if she could serve on the Altar. My first words were, “Over my dead body!” I let them know real quick that she would not have any part of it. I had to explain to her 6 year old mind that only boys should serve on the Altar and gave her simple reasons. She never questioned what I told her.

    I am thankful that our parish has only young men serving. It is a beautiful thing to witness

    The young women at the parish are involved in the Sodality of Our Lady of Lourdes.

  15. Mrs. O says:

    If you are looking at gathering stats, you can have mine. Our oldest son although he was trained, did not want to serve with the older girls, especially his sister, as they tended to be super bossy. Although not all girls are like that, it is a tendency we have especially since girls mature quicker than boys. Since girls are more than willing to volunteer, which continues throughout life, they outnumber the boys quickly. It also allows the whomever is training/offering retreats, to tie in the sacramental priesthood without feeling you are excluding anyone.

  16. irishgirl says:

    This lady writer has it right!
    I’d rather see only boys serving at Mass-no girls!

  17. Giuseppe says:

    Overheard a few years ago –
    Dad to young boy: Why don’t you want to be an altar server?
    Boy: Because they wear dresses.
    Dad: They are not dresses.
    Boy: On girls, they are dresses. So they are dresses.
    (youthful boy logic)

    Having said that, I attened an OF mass for years with a few girls who were the primary altar servers, and they were exceedingly reverent and dutiful, whereas most of the altar boys at the church seemed to be off their ADHD meds for the weekend.

  18. AnnAsher says:

    Girls serving the altar and women in the sanctuary is, I believe, an expression of the spirit of modernism in the Church. In the name of modernity and equality women have had their true dignity robbed from us. We were culturally brainwashed in the 70’s-90’s that dignity had to be grasped at by imitating men. By taking men’s roles in society and within the Church. It is a distorted service when a woman grasps at service in the church in order to attempt to force feed her lacking sense of self worth. The longer it goes on, the longer women remain feeling inferior. We can never achieve satiety by grasping at the roles of men. So the girl altar boy and women in the sanctuary has to be rectified along with addressing the cultural issue in its entirety. It is disordered to feel sacristan or choir is a relegation to unwanted women. But that distortion can only be flipped around with strong leadership from the pulpit and the pew. When women take back our true dignity, girls will follow. The point is to build up femininity not to focus on what roles are not available to women but those which are.

  19. AnnAsher says:

    Ps. I do contest the photo. Altar Boys imitating thugs … I think not.

    [Your objection is rejected. These are Fr. Finigan’s servers, of His Hermeneuticalness himself. For more go HERE.]

  20. awkpearl says:

    I can tell you that I was an altar girl ONCE back in the early 70’s. My teacher told me to serve at a small, private Mass we were having for just our 4th grade class in the classroom-converted-to-chapel in our school. Thankfully, there was an altar boy, too, as Father politely ignored me and the boy did all the serving. I was relieved because I didn’t want to be there and was not offended by Father at all. Later that same year, another girl and I were told to carry the candles for a different priest during stations of the cross. I did it (you didn’t disobey back then), but was not happy about it.

    Believe me, this phenominon did not come from all us little girls clamoring to be altar boys! It was thrust upon us.

    My 16 year old son will not serve with girls. He never has. Of course, he only wants to serve the E.F. now. I thank God that our parish only has altar boys.

    And, yes, I did force him into altar service (am I a bad mother?) because he was too reserved to be comfortable trying it without coersion.

  21. AnnAsher says:

    @teomatteo, I recommend not forcing altar serving or anything else that is not required of him. Allow him to learn to hear and respond to God’s voice himself. One day he will be 18 and trying to hear God’s voice at that life changing moment. Let him practice. Lead him to the water, don’t force him to drink it. Even over enthusiasm for the “water” can add to confusion in my experience. God desires us to choose Him freely.

  22. Lucas says:

    Take this as you will.

    I was a altar boy from a very young age up until 1995(when altar girls were allowed) Everybody, the priests at the church, my family, friends etc, all thought I was going to be a priest. I was even thinking about it. I always served the 7:30 AM Sunday mass and the 8:00AM weekday Mass. One morning Fr told me I had to train a new server and to take it slow because they were knew. It was a girl, my teenage mind lost it. 1) It was a attractive girl so I had trouble focusing 2) I was a big introvert and talking to girls was even hard than talking to boys 3) She always seemed, to me, to be flirting. For a 16 year old this was to much. I told the priests I wanted to stop serving and the reason why, and I got the same answer as above. “What can we do? The Pope has allowed it”

    After that I went through a brief period of time away from Catholicism(about 4 years) and when I came back had no interest in being a priest.

    Most of the churches around here have a girl alter server majority. What bothers me even more is that there are enough boys in this church that girls should never be needed. Which is what the priest told me one day “Mostly girls volunteer, not the boys.”

  23. Springkeeper says:

    There is no reason (other than political correctness and feminist mothers) to have girls serve on the altar. I cringe when I see them up there and our absolutely two worst servers are female. They flip and play with their hair, pick at their fingernails, openly yawn, lean over in their seats, giggle and whisper. The head altar server had to go over to stop their horrible behaviour during Mass. Those girls are servers because that’s what their Mothers insisted upon. Those two women have only one or two children apiece (all female) and they don’t want to be “short changed” because they had no sons. They don’t get that it’s not about them at all.

  24. Adam Welp says:


    Yet another point you and I agree on! The vocational state our your/my former Diocese is concerning to say the least.

    We need to meet again when I can get back to town.

    I did remain a server once the girls joined us on the Alter but it just wasn’t the same. I feel that had the servers remained all male, I might have explored the Priesthood a little more. I have a feeling that the Priest at the time wanted to talk with me more about a vocation to the Priesthood, but backed down when he discovered that I had a girlfriend (who I can happily say that I am married to to this day). She was a server at the time too.


  25. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Partial solution for those who do not want to risk a divisive fight in the parish: separate the boys and girls in two different teams and have the servers assist with same-sex partners only.

    This partially reduces the problem of boys dropping out because they don’t want to serve with bossy girls, and at least allows the priest in occasion to work with the groups of altar boys. I think has some positive impact on the perception that serving is a girl thing. Plus, allows the boys to dress in Cassock and surplice. Some parishioners will still certainly complain but takes away the argument that the girls are being denied their ‘rights’

  26. Jenice says:

    I completely agree that only boys should be altar servers, and we made that very clear to our daughters before they were old enough to ask. (We have no living sons). The issue of vocations aside, it seems that whenever girls start participating in something that is just for boys, the boys bolt. I’ve seen it happen in sports and elsewhere. I don’t quite understand this, or like it, but it seems to be The Way It Is.

    I can however, understand that girls would desire to serve the Mass. What could be cooler? Tending the linens, dusting the pews, etc., can’t compare, and doesn’t feel like nearly as worthy service. As a convert, I have tried to figure out if there is a place for serious service for women in the parish. I don’t want to teach in the parish catechesis program, because I think that should be the job of the parents, not the parish. So I sing in the choir (although historically that was also men only), which in my parish includes chanting the Office, and I have an adoration hour. But, it is easy to feel that the men and boys get to do all the really great stuff.

  27. contrarian says:

    Great photo.

    One might argue that the job of the alter server is an extension, in some such way, of the duties of the priest. In which case, the roles and duties of the alter server are not androgynous, and therefore could only be done by a girl with a weird and noticeable anthropological tension. For the same reason that a women-priest would be utterly silly, given the roles of the priest, so would female alter people.

    Perhaps this is why one rightly feels a sense of strangeness seeing female alter people.

    N’est-ce pas? Dunno. Perhaps I’m off here.

  28. Springkeeper says:

    @ Jenice
    I too am a convert (just over a year ago) and I understand where you are coming from. Being a priest has to be the most awesome vocation ever and I (and my daughters) can never be one. I am also a retired Marine. I have had a lot of struggles dealing with issues of male and female roles and learning to accept the place the Lord has provided for me. I do feel more valued in the Catholic Church than I ever did being a Fundamentalist Baptist. There no matter how many degrees a woman had or how stratospheric her IQ or how much Bible knowledge she had, she was still considered “less than” with little to say of value.

  29. Nathan says:

    It was only after I started serving the TLM and acting as MC and training altar boys that I came to appreciate just how important it is to the priests of a parish to have through and competent sacristans. Having a program for developing young women to do this is an outstanding idea, especially in locations where there is a swift transition from having the sanctuary set up for OF to EF Masses.

    In my home parish, where I set up and serve a weeknight TLM (after the sacristans have gone home), it takes up to a half hour’s work to get altar linens, candles, a crucifix, kneelers, and credence tables moved and set up, as well as another 20 minutes to take it down. I’d give eye teeth to have a young person who is trained and trusted to help, male or female!

    In Christ,

    In Christ,

  30. Centristian says:

    We’ve just endured and are still enduring in many ways a devastating abuse scandal involving young, helpless, victimized altar boys. For this reason and others I am personally of the mind that young boys should not be in service at the altar any longer. The very sight of a priest surrounded by young boys vested in server robes has become appalling in the eyes of too many people, and the punch line of sick jokes to too many others.

    I think parishes ought to rethink the very concept of the “altar boy” and ditch the idea as a relic of the past that no longer works (and perhaps never really did). Instead, parishes ought to begin to re-imagine altar service as a ministry for adults, just in the same way lectoring, for example, is considered an adult’s role. Parishes don’t have “lector boys”, after all. Perhaps they shouldn’t have “altar boys”, either. The very title “altar boy” is nonsensical in any event.

    An adult altar service team makes more sense than a team of children because trained adult men who perform their ceremonial roles with a manly competence impart a more robust and majestic flavor to the liturgy than unsure, bewildered, pre-pubescent and adolescent boys are able to. The fact that nostalgic ladies may think it’s cute that there are “altar boys” should not be a persuasive concern, and the idea that boys who serve at the altar are sure to grow up to become priests is fantastic. The Mass of the Roman Rite isn’t supposed to be “cute”, and most “altar boys” never become priests.

    Female altar service, very much like child altar service, tends to rob the liturgy of it’s virility and should also be avoided, I think. That having been said, I also believe there ought to be reasonable exceptions, however, such as in the cases of liturgies at Catholic girls’ schools or convents, where a male service becomes an impossibility.

    Generally speaking, however, the lay ministers at the altar are performing ceremonial roles that would be performed by clerics if there were enough clerics to go around. Now that the minor clergy is gone, there are even fewer clerics than there once were. In lieu of trained adult male clerics, however, trained adult male laymen are best equipped to enhance the liturgy by the performance of the various ceremonial offices, and I think a return to that practice is long overdue.

  31. acardnal says:

    Oh, come on, Ann Asher! “imitating thugs”?? Really? The thought never occurred to me. The photo is not of servers at Mass in the sanctuary, but before or after Mass where the boys are playfully mugging for the camera. I like it.

  32. Adam Welp says:

    Centristian, the only Lectors in the church are men in Deacon or Priest formation who have gone through the Rite of Lector, all other “Lectors” are really “Lay Readers.” This and the use of “Eucharistic Ministers” instead of the proper Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion are two of my top 5 pet peeves.

  33. Johnno says:


    – Nobody ought to care what the lunatics in the public think. If they think that way already, there’s nothing you can do to change their minds. By your logic, since people are under the hilarious impression that all Catholic priests are pedophiles, we ought to do away with priests entirely, and just have community concelebrations…

    The purpose of altar servers is to get young boys engaged in service to our Lord and understanding the Mass at a young age, and also to discern future vocations.

  34. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: non-coolness of sacristan

    St. Francis was a fanatical self-serve sacristan. If he dropped into a church and something needed doing, he’d just do it. Up to and including washing the linens right then and there. He walked around town with a broom, just in case he’d drop into a little church and it would need sweeping out. (I only know this courtesy of Fr. Thompson’s awesome new bio of Francis.)

    If girls were taught about the significance of the altar and all the rest, and that it was a big responsibility, many girls would want to help out. As it is, most of those jobs are claimed by middle-aged adult women who never have any kids or teenagers helping them. There are almost never any classes or sessions announced for learning these jobs.

    I don’t think it would hurt kids to learn some of this stuff in religion class. It’s not necessary, but it’s a lot more hands-on way to learn and remember the components for saying Mass. And a lot of old catechetical materials did mention things like how altar linens are arranged.

  35. jkm210 says:

    I was a girl altar server. I didn’t want to do it at the time, but my mom pushed me into it. To give her some credit, her primary concern at that time was that I perform some service for the parish, and there was not much else available to children at that time (not even a children’s choir). My parish had girl altar servers before it was allowed, but by coincidence, it was allowed by the time I started.

    Once I started serving, I really enjoyed it, and I was good at it. Good enough that I earned the local Serra Club’s award for an outstanding altar server the year I was in eighth grade. I then went on to be vocationally-confused for years. When all of those people say “that never happens,” I think it is true that it does not happen often. 95% of girls probably serve until they age out, and never think of it again. But vocational confusion does happen to some of us, and gives us miserable years that I think could have been avoided if I had not been a server.

    I have girls of my own now who are 3 and 5, and I don’t want them to serve. I don’t belong to an EF parish, so I know I will probably get flak for this decision. Hopefully I can find some other way for them to get involved; I’d be more than happy to head up a sacristin-training program for girls if I could get the pastor on board.

    Also, I love the photo of the altar boys!

  36. aragonjohn7 says:


  37. Indulgentiam says:

    Love the picture. My son is an Altar Boy has been since he was 8. First few years it was the NO where the girls often served with the boys. The makeup, hair hanging in the face, red painted toe nails, flip lop wearing young ladies that paraded all over the Sanctuary where/are a scandal.

    Jenice: “it seems that whenever girls start participating in something that is just for boys, the boys bolt. I’ve seen it happen in sports and elsewhere. I don’t quite understand this, or like it, but it seems to be The Way It Is.” I absolutely agree and i believe it is b/c boys are naturally self conscious around girls. For the last few years my son has served at the TLM. He loves to serve and is in his 2nd year of Latin. He plans to attend the FSSP Seminary.

    @teomatteo–there are times in a boys life when they have to be pushed in the right direction. Fear is keeping your son from a very worthy service to Our Lord, not to mention the great graces that will pour down on him. and as we all know fear is from the enemy. Putting him in a situation that challenges him, while you offer your help at a safe distance, allows him to see what he is made of. He will dig deep and he will find if not the strength he needs, then a prayer uttered from the depths of his soul. a win, win situation yes?

    Centristian: “We’ve just endured and are still enduring in many ways a devastating abuse scandal involving young, helpless, victimized altar boys. For this reason and others I am personally of the mind that young boys should not be in service at the altar any longer. The very sight of a priest surrounded by young boys vested in server robes has become appalling in the eyes of too many people, and the punch line of sick jokes to too many others.”

    That’s just obnoxious. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has NEVER been cowed by evil and we are NOT about to start now. So in your opinion i should keep my son home b/c he might be abused. Well than mothers everywhere had better start keeping their kids home from school, sports, playmates homes ALL of which have a statistically greater incidence of child sexual assault. Awe gimme a break!

  38. LisaP. says:

    Actually, if you’ve worked or lived in gang territory you recognize the origin of this mugging as related to rap music and particularly to gangs — the youngest boy is probably throwing out a funny “loser” L but the way he holds his hands is very much in the posture of gang members flashing gang signs.

    Much of gang culture has passed, in the last twenty years or more, into popular culture as watered down attitudes, gestures, and mannerisms, and no one means them anymore to be criminally related. Unfortunately, they have subconsciously passed into our culture as signs of strength and manliness, and often that’s where the joke lies.

    Yes, this is mugging, and yes, these kids and the priest in no way mean anything bad by it, but I do think we need to remember the roots of these things.

    Everyone will have to decide for himself whether he wants to drop a behavior that is in itself not wrong, and no longer specifically means something wrong, but has its origins in something wrong. I’m all right with the picture, it’s fun and goofy and shows buds hanging out. But my first impression on seeing that pictures was surprise, also, because I know where the origins are of those gestures and it hit that nerve for me, so if the kids make those gestures it’s fair for me to have a moment of pause before smiling at them for having fun.

  39. Athelstan says:

    Hello Midwest,

    However, is the real issue not wanting to have to deal with mothers who *want* their daughters to be able to serve just like any boy can?

    Some of them can be quite ornery.

    We had a real set-to here in Nor. Virginia when a local pastor announced he’d be restoring an all boy alter server crew. You can guess what sort of parishioners were the most livid, and quotable in the Washington Post.

    It will take a strong-spined, and prudent, pastor to make it happen.

    Hello maxiemom,

    My parish had a boys only policy until about 8 years ago. Males only fostered only one vocation in over 100 years and he left the priesthood to get married. I can’t say I agree with this logic.

    I don’t doubt what you’re saying is true. But the plural of anecdote is not data.

    And there’s a fair bit of data now that there is a correlation. Obviously, just having boy alter servers alone is not sufficient to create vocations.

  40. Indulgentiam says:

    Lisa.P–your right, i should have taken a longer look at that picture. I agree that they think its cute but where i grew up flashing another gangs sign got you beat up. I’ve worked in inner city ER trauma bays and still today lots of young white boys, trying to be cool, end up with broken bones over nothing more than a ridiculous hand gesture. Strong Catholic men shouldn’t ape secular society at its worse.

  41. Bea says:

    My thoughts 100%

    As to boys “bolting” when girls show up: (mine did that) They sense this is a “man’s territory” It’s like the old fashioned “boy’s club house/no girls allowed” Men have to have their space. (and this “space” is an important space vocation-wise). Men are being emasculated by the invasion of feminists. Our perspective is being turned upside down. As a girl I wouldn’t want my sons invading my make-up/cosmetic/jewelry area. Just the thought: Blech

    As to the “mugging” Mug shots? Reminds me of my boys when they were young. One can’t really expect boys this age to just stand there (unless it’s a formal photograph). My first thought was lack of respect for their “office” but then I could just see my boys doing the same thing in the sacristy at that age.
    The hands on their chins reminded me of Rodin’s “The Thinker” Hmmm, maybe they’re thinking of the priesthood? The little one is just imitating the hand positions of the older boys he obviously looks up to. Gang signs never even crossed my mind.

  42. Athelstan says:


    We’ve just endured and are still enduring in many ways a devastating abuse scandal involving young, helpless, victimized altar boys. For this reason and others I am personally of the mind that young boys should not be in service at the altar any longer. The very sight of a priest surrounded by young boys vested in server robes has become appalling in the eyes of too many people, and the punch line of sick jokes to too many others.

    You realize what message this is sending? It’s saying that we don’t trust *any* of our priests now. If that’s the case, there’s a far graver problem.

    As to your suggestion that only adults should serve: In my experience, most traditional, or semi-traditional parishes have a mix of adult and child alter servers – often a complete age range. Such a model ought to mitigate your concerns.

  43. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Hello Athelstan,

    You say: “And there’s a fair bit of data now that there is a correlation. Obviously, just having boy alter servers alone is not sufficient to create vocations.”

    There is anecdotal evidence showing of the 40,000+ priests serving Mother Church in this country – over 70% were altar servers.

    With respect – it may not be *sufficient* – but good enough for me. :)

    (BTW, with all respect and charity, it’s “altar” not “alter”)

    God bless,

  44. Bea says:

    My thought 100% referred to your post 4 posts up. I don’t think the Catholic boys were imitating gang signs in that “mug shot”.

  45. Bea says:

    You guys post too fast for me
    Make it 7 posts up, Indulgentium

  46. Laura98 says:

    Those girls are servers because that’s what their Mothers insisted upon. Those two women have only one or two children apiece (all female) and they don’t want to be “short changed” because they had no sons.

    @Springkeeper – While this can be true for some mothers… (no matter how many kids they have) – it isn’t true for all of us who have only one or two daughters. I have one daughter who asked about the altar servers at Mass. When she was much younger, she wondered if she “had” to do it at some point. Like someone above stated – “Over my dead body!” Then I went on to explain why I don’t think girls should be altar servers at Mass and that there are other ways for girls to serve Our Lord. She was actually relieved.

  47. frjim4321 says:

    Centristian, I think I get you on this but I don’t necessarily agree. I would miss the youth altar servers (both female and male at my place as they always will be). I think excluding youth is giving in way too much. Also our safe environment procedures are effective. I suspect there are fewer safe places for a girl or boy as the sacristy.

  48. Indulgentiam says:

    Bea, i agree with you that they were not posting gang signs. They look like good
    Catholic young men who have been allowed to watch some very questionable stuff on TV and have gotten the wrong idea of what a young man should be. The world screams at the top of its lungs that to be manly you must be cool and of course what they tout as cool is the antithesis of God’s definition of manly. I agree with Lisa P that if you have worked anywhere in the inner city you will recognize this type of mugging as being gang/rap related. Its all over the music videos. We haven’t had cable for over 7 years but you can’t go to a doctor or dentist office without being assaulted by this stuff. Its hard for kids b/c they don’t know any better and if parents aren’t careful they get sucked into this mentality.

  49. Centristian says:


    “That’s just obnoxious. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has NEVER been cowed by evil and we are NOT about to start now. So in your opinion i should keep my son home b/c he might be abused. Well than mothers everywhere had better start keeping their kids home from school, sports, playmates homes ALL of which have a statistically greater incidence of child sexual assault. Awe gimme a break!”

    No, I never expressed an opinion concerning what you ought to do with your son, ma’am. Neither did I suggest that if parents do allow their boys to serve Mass they are sure to be abused. You’ve wildly misinterpreted my remarks which you have judged to be obnoxious. Perhaps if you read my post again, slowly this time, in it’s entirety, keeping everything in context, and then re-read your response to me, you will be moved to re-evaluate your assessment concerning which of our two posts is, in fact, obnoxious.


    “You realize what message this is sending? It’s saying that we don’t trust *any* of our priests now. If that’s the case, there’s a far graver problem.”

    I’m not saying that at all, although it is true that many people have lost confidence in the clergy over this sad episode (quite understandably). But that wasn’t really my point. I’m saying that, rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, the image of the “altar boy” has become symbolic of an extremely ugly episode in the history of our Church, and it might be a good time and a good idea to re-evaluate the practice of adolescent altar service, and to retire it in favor of a more sensible idea that will lend greater dignity to our liturgical worship.


    “The purpose of altar servers is to get young boys engaged in service to our Lord and understanding the Mass at a young age, and also to discern future vocations.”

    No. No it isn’t. The purpose of altar servers is the performance of the ceremonial functions that need to be performed by someone during the sacred liturgy. Catechesis is used to help young boys understand Mass at a young age, and a seminary education is the tool by which vocations are discerned.

  50. Indulgentiam says:

    Centristian, ok i went back and read it again really, really slowly and its still obnoxious. This right here, in particular; “The very sight of a priest surrounded by young boys vested in server robes has become appalling in the eyes of too many people, and the punch line of sick jokes to too many others.” The people whose dirty little minds condemn a Holy Priest and would have the temerity to insult a Holy Man of God are not the kind of people you want to be guiding your decisions. If you were to make that statement about any other group of people you would be called a bigot. For example “for their own sake lets keep mentally handicapped children away from “normal” kids so that they wont be hurt or made fun off” The site of our Priest surrounded by vested Altar Boys elicits joy and not a few tears of gratitude from every parent of my acquaintance.

  51. dominic1955 says:

    At least at our Traditional parish, the boys do a fine job and as another poster related, there is a span of ages from 6 or so all the way up to 40ish.

    As to what the outside World thinks, who cares-its Satan’s kingdom. That’s the same argument some put forward about lace, or cappa magnae, or damask, etc.-that the larger world is appalled by it, thinks its “gay” or whatever. The World will never be satisfied with what we do, now matter how low we kowtow to its tyrannical demands. It will still think our vesture and vestments are officious, or gay, or bourgeois, no matter how gawdawful tacky and cheap we make them. Same with priests and altar boys-it will always find a way to cast a judgmentally campy glance towards priests and their “boys” no matter what we do.

    As to female altar servers-the NO no longer needs a server anyway! A little table near the altar does the trick. There are no responses to make that anyone else there out in the pews do not already do anyway. In the TLM, a girl might say some responses from the nave, if at all, for a Low Mass. Even in this context, a server up there doing stuff is not needed. For anything higher than a Low, the proper arrangements for people would have necessarily been made and again, no need for girls beyond the rail.

  52. Brad says:

    LisaP, spot on. We have at this point become so saturated by the grosser side of life that we have now begun to breezily manifest it back out, having internalized and processed it, if only on a subconscious basis (the saturated subconscious).

  53. Jenice says:

    Centristian: I think your idea of adult male altar servers is an idea worthy of serious consideration. I have seen than done occasionally, and it has been an improvement over the boys who show up in tennis shoes or flip flops, hold the candles crooked, pick their toes during communion, etc. But more importantly, it would be more helpful than that awful Virtus program that we have to endure if we want to do anything in the parish. As far as I can tell, all the Virtus program has done is expose a lot of people to the inner mental workings of those who abuse children, and has put the burden of vigilance on the parents. It has done nothing to stop those who abuse. But with adult altar servers, a serious temptation is avoided, and the sons of the parish are protected. It falls in the category of avoiding occasions of sin.

    I realize that this will be an unpopular idea, for a variety of reasons, but it makes sense to me.

    Springkeeper: I appreciated your post about your experience as a woman in your protestant ecclesial community. I can imagine how little-valued you would feel. My protestant e.c. was really liberal, so the women did whatever they wanted there. One of our 4 clergy (in a congregation of 600) was a woman. I agree that women are more valued in the Catholic Church, mostly because of her teaching on human dignity and because of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the female saints, some of whom were warriors and theologians, roles usually reserved for men.

    And I agree with the reader who posted about the futility of servers in the NO. There really is so little to do that I can’t imagine it would foster priestly vocations. The servers in TLM have a lot to do and learn, and they keep at it through high school. I rarely see a high school boy serving the NO. The bar needs to be raised.

  54. MouseTemplar says:

    In our Parish, we have several Father and Sons teams of altar servers. The project was put into place by our pastor and the Knights of Columbus. They are by far preferred by both the congregation and the priests since the teams take it so seriously. My son, who at 5 years old is still too young, insists on visiting the sacristy after every Mass to see if he can hold the cross a moment, or get a look at the monstrance. Whenever he does see a girl at the altar, he spends the entire Mass whispering “SHE can’t be a Papa [his term for priest]–I’M gonna be a Papa, I want to carry the cross!”

  55. heway says:

    In 1956, my younger brother graduated from a Catholic grammar school. 8 boys in his class entered the Minor Seminary in the diocese. Of those 8, 2 were ordained. Of those 2, one left to marry and the other got old and fat.
    I believe they are too young to be dreaming of their adult life. My sons were all altar severs, through high school. The other boys in their class stopped serving when they graduated from grammar school. I’d be happy if anyone young would show up and get on their knees to serve.

  56. dwfinke says:

    BLUF: In a military community, we make stuff happen. That includes mass.
    I am responsible for the altar servers in my small military chapel (about 70 in attendance weekly). I am very grateful for the contributions our girls and boys make as altar servers. In a military community we bounce from base to base every few years and may have a different chaplain or contractor (Priest) every weekend. I try having two altar servers at each mass, but sometimes I only have one. They must know the expectations of each Priest that visits. But I have learned that they are still children and (jokingly) all children exhibit brain damage from time to time. I don’t put siblings together. The teenagers take the lead and perform OJT for the younger altar server. Occasionally I must correct them after mass or give them the “stop doing that” look. But as always I will respect the rules of our faith. For now, the USCCB is allowing girls to serve if the bishop concurs and Archbishop Broglio has not objected.
    I think some people will find it interesting to take a video tour of a military chapel; on land, onboard ships, and in the field.

  57. jflare says:

    OK, a few thoughts come to mind from reading all this:
    – JP II authorized altar girls in 1994, therefore we can’t change it back.

    Au contraire! Our bishop allowed girls to serve as early as 1987 or so, several years before JP II gave it his OK. Hard to tell his sentiments on the matter–I’m only now re-reading Man of the Century, so I’ll probably see it come up again–but he doesn’t appear to have been eager to lead into this idea. Seems to me he held off as long as he could.

    – These boys should be vigorously discouraged from flashing gang symbols.

    Well, if that’s the case, then I can’t ever say “DUDE!” anymore, because that expression came originally from surfers, a group of people I’ve never been part of, have no interest in becoming, and do not wish to be mis-taken for.
    In fact, I remember being VERY disgusted with the expression–and many others–throughout my teens and early 20’s. I’ve only used it these past 15 years because..much as I dislike the origin, it DOES express a particular thought rather well.
    ..And never once have I been accused of being a surfer!

    If they start flashing sexually provocative themes and so forth, THEN we need to intervene. These boys appeared to me to be mostly expressing a good deal of enthusiasm. This is GOOD.

    – We shouldn’t have youthful servers because of the abuse scandal.

    Oh, for pity’s sake!!!!!
    By that logic–and the fact that the Safe Environment training makes quite clear that the law will be suspicious of ALL men–we can’t have any male person of any age involved even with catechesis!
    It’s time that we admit that men and women are different and that sin HAPPENS and that law can’t eliminate bad things, and the harder we try, the more we’ll simply chase our own tails (and tales, for that matter!). Let’s be bothered to give ourselves and our priests even a small chance to actually–gulp!–trust each other.

    – We need to see more men (adults) serving at the altar.
    I wouldn’t mind that a bit, especially since I’d be interested in being one of them–especially for the Extraordinary Form–but it might be wiser if we focus on the boys for awhile. Let them develop greater interest in the liturgy from up close.
    *grins wickedly* Then bring the ones that AREN’T going to seminary back to the choir loft! We need them there too!

    – Boys don’t want to serve, even though parents have suggested it.
    May I suggest having the priest arrange for a meeting with a whole bunch of boys, whether they’re servers or not, and explain some of what they would do at the altar?
    Even let them practice with some of the simpler tasks a few times.

    Boys, like men, likely won’t eagerly agree to be involved with something they’ve never tried and doesn’t look easy. BUT, if you don’t require them to serve for Mass, but let them try some of the things servers might do, even something like preparing the vestments beforehand, you might spark interest that otherwise would die off.

    (Now this is mostly off-topic, but)
    – Girls mature more rapidly than boys.
    Uh huh.
    You know, I’ve been hearing that comment for 30 years and I’d like to see someone substantiate that claim. I’ll readily acknowledge that girls begin puberty at an earlier age. I don’t agree that growing taller or more physically developed constitutes maturity by any stretch. In fact, I’d contend that numerous girls had long struck me as being desperately lacking in maturity, long after the boys had begun to wise up.

    Before we start declaring that girls mature more rapidly or sooner, I think we need revise our estimate of what maturity IS.

    dwfinke: Having been a military officer for several years myself, I wholly agree that a military community..makes things happen, whether it’s really the preferred means or not. I recall my first tour was overseas, our choir director for Catholic Mass was a Protestant minister. We simply had no one else available for the role. I recall that being overseas, we all knew that we pretty much needed to lean on each other for faith, we wouldn’t see it in the larger community off-base. In a way, this actually knit us rather closer together, even though nothing was really optimal. When I returned to the ‘States, I discovered that we typically lacked this camaraderie, in no small part because we all could find the “more correct” approach at a civilian Church. I’ll admit to following that mindset as much as anyone else.

    I must also say though, during my last tour of duty, I wound up finding a civilian parish almost from the get-go, precisely because I felt a need for much more prayer before and after Mass. Beings the base chapel needed to switch from one group to the next, I generally heard a great deal of hubbub before and after.
    I also recall being somewhat irritated with the gizmo in the sanctuary that LOOKED like it should be a tablernacle. It wasn’t, that was actually in a room designated as a chapel, but it had three sides: One with a crucifix for the Catholics, one with a cross for the Protestants, and one blank side for everyone else and/or non-service times.
    I understood the intent, but it seemed a bit tacky to me.

  58. LisaP. says:

    I have no problem with surfers. Kids loved “Soul Surfer.”

    But even if they ooged me out culturally, they are not sinners by the very nature of the group they are members of. They do not gain prestige because they commit crimes and hurt other people. Maybe some are associated with drug culture, but it’s not a prerequisite of their “order”. To be in a true gang, you must hurt people. To mimic a gang member means you admire those who hurt people and want to be associated with that. The only excuse is ignorance.

    And, even given that, every time some person uses the phrase “dude” I get an impression of that person — depending on how he uses it, it is often not a good one. So if you don’t want me to think on first blush that you might be kind of a poser, kind of a rube, kind of a goof, kind of a vocabulary-deprived modernist, you will use it with discretion. If you don’t care what I think, or want me to think poorly of you until I get my impression corrected, “dude” away!

    The mannerisms you adopt create an image of yourself when you present yourself to the world. My first impression of these young men was not a good one. I don’t want them to be kicked out of service or yelled at or berated. I just think someone ought to clue them in that those gestures make them look bad.

  59. jflare says:

    “So if you don’t want me to think on first blush that you might be kind of a poser, kind of a rube, kind of a goof, kind of a vocabulary-deprived modernist, you will use it with discretion.”

    I have used the word on occasion at work, but I’m usually inclined toward..other expressions. Sadly, “dude” might be the most “complimentary” version I can dredge up for some of my more..difficult..customers!

    Trouble is, I still didn’t get a poor impression of these kids in the first place. Whatever the youngest one might be flashing, it appeared to me that he was looking toward the eldest, at least partly. ..And they’re standing in a sacristy. I have a sneaking suspicion that, if “outlandish” conduct kept up, they’d most likely be..encouraged..to find more appropriate ways to behave.
    I’d say it’s a teachable moment at worst.

  60. LisaP. says:


    Well, I admit I swear like a Marine. And of course, teachable moment, that’s all I’m saying. :)

    I think you are getting the wrong impression if you think I’m saying this is bad behavior, and bad because it is outlandish, and should be admonished. I fully admitted that ignorance all around is probably in play, at least thoughtlessness, in a good way, I certainly don’t think they should be admonished, and I’m a huge fan of outlandish behavior. And I find the picture funny. I’d find it funny if they were all flicking out switchblades. I’m a Monty Python fan.

    But I stand by my opinion that our culture teaches boys that being tough means being gangsta, and just because that message (that whole message, not just the mannerisms) has been absorbed doesn’t make it any less a disordered one, and the boys should be gently told to make their jokes some other way.

  61. Supertradmum says:

    Too obvious…and the trappings of these girls on the altar, the twinkling head gear, like fairies and the bling, silvery shoes are too much.

    As to boys cursing, no need. I grew up with a family, extended and immediate, of many boys, and dads, and uncles, none of which I ever heard say a bad word. Being Catholic means being a gentlemen, which is one thing altar serving can teach.

    Newman on being a gentleman–http://www.his.com/~z/gentleman.html

    And, I agree with the girls as sacristans, duties which teach all manners of womanly traits. I was a sacristan and president of the Sacristy Club in both high school and college.

  62. a catechist says:

    I don’t mean to be contrary, but to me, making sacristy work all female really is sexist. There are good ecclesial & practical reasons for altar service to be done by boys and men. There is no similar reason for the care of linens, vestments, etc. to be done only by girls and women. So, I’m not persuaded that would a good idea so much as throwing the girls a sop.

    No one’s brought it up, so I’ll mention that my son (who loves numbers & math) was happy to be asked to help sort the collection, which is a sacristy task in my parish.

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