QUAERITUR: Should I encourage my daughter to be an altar girl?

From a reader:

I belong to a parish with a good Shepard. I also have two wonderful daughters, one of which has been an alter server (she is 12 by the way). Our priest tried to walk back the use of girl alter servers, but was met with stiff resistance. I applauded the attempt to go to all male alter servers, and understand why it SHOULD be male alter servers, but I am now wondering: Since our parish still allows female alter servers, should I continue to encourage my daughter to serve (the Knights of Columbus adore my daughter’s faith and service) or is there some other way that you would suggest she serve at the church?

In a word, no, do not encourage your daughter to be an altar server.

Perhaps you and some like-minded ladies can help the pastor found a group and activities for girls in the parish.

I suspect readers here may have some good and concrete suggestions.

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  1. Matt R says:

    They could assist as sacristans, and help clean altar linens and servers’ vestments.

  2. jkm210 says:

    My husband once interviewed for a job at St. Patrick in Kokomo, IN. They have male-only servers and what seems to be to be a great program for girls. We didn’t end up in that parish, but I wish my girls would have something like that to participate in.

    We are about to move to a new parish with almost no kids, to the point where sacramental prep is “on demand” because there are so few children. I am worried they will try to rope my girls into being servers eventually (they are only 3 and 5), due to the shortage of kids. I was a girl altar server and dread trying to explain why I don’t want them to do it, since I know that, to kids, that will seem “hypocritical.” Hopefully they won’t have any interest and will spare me the trouble!

  3. Stephen says:

    We’ve been thinking about adding a sacristan program for the girls. It’s beautiful how few girl servers we have right now because the boys have really stepped back up and decided they want to do this.

  4. An American Mother says:

    A girls’ schola is also an idea. In the absence of a hard-core choirboys program, most children’s choirs are composed primarily of girls anyway (that may be a variant of the Church Service corollary of Gresham’s Law, which is that the involvement of the girls drives out the boys).

  5. Sissy says:

    AAM: re schola. That’s an excellent idea. It provides the added bonus of providing a vehicle for reintroducing chant.

  6. wiFoodie says:

    The Sodality of The Children of Mary?
    Indulgences, galore:)

  7. jesusthroughmary says:

    I was a girl altar server and dread trying to explain why I don’t want them to do it, since I know that, to kids, that will seem “hypocritical.”

    Kids are smart enough to know what is and what isn’t hypocrisy. Learning a lesson as the result of a negative experience and teaching your kids differently so that they don’t make the same mistakes you did is not hypocrisy.

  8. catholicmidwest says:

    There are really 3 reasons why this keeps happening IMHO:
    1) the overclericalism of the laity – confusion about the proper roles of the clergy & the laity
    2) the general politicization of everything in this country, including the Church and her activities
    3) the fact that acceptable and compelling activities are generally not available for women and girls who do not wish to participate in pseudo-clerical “ministries” like EMHC slots. When people decide to get their kids “involved in the parish,” they look around to see what’s available and this is often pretty much “it,” the one thing on the “list.” So this is what they do. It’s happened this way in so many parishes for so long, that this is how people think of this now.

  9. KAS says:

    I think the idea of the Schola is stellar!

  10. kab63 says:

    See if your parish has a Challenge girls’ club. (challengeclubs dot com) Our daughter attends weekly meetings of girls only, 10-16 yrs old. The meetings are run by the oldest girls with adult mentoring. Service activities are planned, the coming Sunday’s Gospel reading is discussed, a decade of the rosary is prayed, and games and girl-talk make up the meeting. The girls here are spiritual and fun. My daughter likes the group very much.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    Fix the drivers, fix the consequences.

    Depoliticize the Church, clarify the roles of clergy and laity, and provide worthwhile & engaging work for female laity in terms of prayer, social activities and support for the Church, and you get rid of this crossover gender stuff. There are things that many women and girls are good at that don’t involve politics or undermining anything. The Church needs to do a better job of employing all that potential effort and skill, usually free for the taking, for her own ends.

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    “AAM: re schola. That’s an excellent idea. It provides the added bonus of providing a vehicle for reintroducing chant.”

    The earliest schola were male only with either young boys or castroti supplying the high parts. An all girl schola, while historically inaccurate, is certainly one of the good things permitted from Vatican II. I think it is a marvelous idea. What would be nice is to have solo Gregorian chanting. You have no idea how lovely that sounds during a snowy Christmas Mass. Imagine how, “I wonder as I wander,” would sound sung by a young girl soloist.

    The Chicken

  13. Sissy says:

    The Masked Chicken – just the chicken for this question: The choir in which I sing just wrapped up performances of Vivaldi’s Gloria. I’m told it was written for girls. True?

  14. Andy Milam says:

    The answer to this question most likely lies in the history of the parish. I would look to see whether or not a sodality ever existed. If one did, resurrect it. If one did not, do a little research and start one. Sodalities are very good ways for girls to bond as “budding” women and to prepare them to do the most important work in the parish, praying and worshipping God as a unified group.

    I know of the history of a sodality in a parish I once lived in where by the girls of the parish thrived and they felt very much in tune with the liturgical life of the parish as well as the social and spiritual. The sodality which was under the patronage of St. Monica met monthly in the church basement and the girls planned various activities and were incorporated into the life of the parish. For example, the sodality led the rosary at the 8am Sunday Mass. They assisted the altar and rosary society with cleaning the church and for every major feast, the girls dressed in white dresses, ankle socks, shoes and wore white gloves and processed in during Holy Mass taking a place of honor in the first two pews, whereby their uniformity and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was put on display in a major and very visible display. The sight is beautiful and it is a special way to recognize the girls for being girls. Plus it expresses their participatio actuosa as well as their participatio activa in a way which is most appropriate to their role within Holy Mother Church.

  15. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    First, people are making a lot of suggestions about things that do not exist in that, or in most, parishes. Second, Fr. Z’s advice “In a word, no, do not encourage your daughter to be an altar server” is within the pale, of course, or parental options, but the immediate question is going to be whether a father should FORBID a daughter who wants to serve from doing so. That’s a different question, no?

  16. VexillaRegis says:

    Setting up a schola is indeed a good idea. I would also suggest arranging free organ lessons for girls AND boys. It’s much more difficult for a grown up pianist to learn how to play the organ properly and fluently, than it is for a teen to do that. Organists are needed! The teachers should be payed by the parish or so. (No wonder why there is a lack of organists if you have to pay one lesson a week for years to be able to play just decently.) I don’t think the church expects the altar servers to pay for their training or vestments.

  17. Giuseppe says:

    Yes, Vivaldi (a priest) was the violinist and music director of an orphanage in Venice, and while the boys learned a trade, the girls learned music, so I think that much of his vocal music was written for girls’ voices.

  18. kab63 says:

    Dr. Peters,

    In my experience, forbidding is the least effective way to parent. Our first priority is our child’s soul to Christ; our second priority is to raise a faithful and observant Catholic. If my daughter were in this situation I would discuss my concerns with her and try to redirect her to a more appropriate program, assuming (as you rightly say) that such a program exists. However, if she insists on serving at the altar, and the priest, whose authority we will follow, offers the opportunity to girls, then I don’t believe a parent should forbid. Neither of our parental priorities are served by that choice, IMHO. I would leave communication open and continue to discuss her service experience with her. I believe that any girl, as she advances into puberty, will become more aware of the tense dynamic of girls and boys on the altar together. I would trust in my daughter’s good judgment as it forms and strengthens.

    But I am the mother, and your question was directed at a father’s inclination to forbid. :)

  19. cdruiz says:

    My parish priest allows altar girls. My daughter wants to do it. I am the father and I do tell her no and explain why. She wants to do it because “all my friends are doing it.” It is tough saying no, but after two years of no, it gets easier each time.

  20. APX says:

    I agree with the organ idea. People want organists, but many don’t realize organists don’t grow on trees, nor do organ lessons.

  21. The Masked Chicken says:


    Gloria RV 589 (probably the one you sang) by Vivaldi was written while he was in the employment of the Ospedale Della Pieta, which was a convent, hospital, and music school for orphan (mostly) or abandoned girls. He worked there, first, as a violin teacher, but composed many works for the so-called, figlie di coor (daughter’s choir) . The works, however, would not have been sung by girls in an actual liturgical setting – women being forbidden to do so at the time. There were four such ospedale (what we might think of, broadly, as nursing homes or “hospitals” – they were originally built to treat crusaders) in Venice. Here is what Rousseau had to say:

    A kind of music far superior, in my opinion, to that of operas, and which in all Italy has not its equal, nor perhaps in the whole world, is that of the ‘scuole’. The ‘scuole’ are houses of charity, established for the education of young girls without fortune, to whom the republic afterwards gives a portion either in marriage or for the cloister. Amongst talents cultivated in these young girls, music is in the first rank. Every Sunday at the church of each of the four ‘scuole’, during vespers, motettos or anthems with full choruses, accompanied by a great orchestra, and composed and directed by the best masters in Italy, are sung in the galleries by girls only; not one of whom is more than twenty years of age. I have not an idea of anything so voluptuous and affecting as this music; the richness of the art, the exquisite taste of the vocal part, the excellence of the voices, the justness of the execution, everything in these delightful concerts concurs to produce an impression which certainly is not the mode, but from which I am of opinion no heart is secure. Carrio and I never failed being present at these vespers of the ‘Mendicanti’, and we were not alone. The church was always full of the lovers of the art, and even the actors of the opera came there to form their tastes after these excellent models. What vexed me was the iron grate, which suffered nothing to escape but sounds, and concealed from me the angels of which they were worthy. I talked of nothing else. One day I spoke of it at Le Blond’s; “If you are so desirous,” said he, “to see those little girls, it will be an easy matter to satisfy your wishes. I am one of the administrators of the house, I will give you a collation [light meal] with them.” I did not let him rest until he had fulfilled his promise. In entering the saloon, which contained these beauties I so much sighed to see, I felt a trembling of love which I had never before experienced. M. le Blond presented to me one after the other, these celebrated female singers, of whom the names and voices were all with which I was acquainted. Come, Sophia, — she was horrid. Come, Cattina, — she had but one eye. Come, Bettina, — the small-pox had entirely disfigured her. Scarcely one of them was without some striking defect.
    Le Blond laughed at my surprise; however, two or three of them appeared tolerable; these never sung but in the choruses; I was almost in despair. During the collation we endeavored to excite them, and they soon became enlivened; ugliness does not exclude the graces, and I found they possessed them. I said to myself, they cannot sing in this manner without intelligence and sensibility, they must have both; in fine, my manner of seeing them changed to such a degree that I left the house almost in love with each of these ugly faces. I had scarcely courage enough to return to vespers. But after having seen the girls, the danger was lessened. I still found their singing delightful; and their voices so much embellished their persons that, in spite of my eyes, I obstinately continued to think them beautiful.

    The Chicken

  22. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should read:

    Gloria RV 589 (probably the one you sang) by Vivaldi was written while he was in the employment of the Ospedale Della Pieta, which was a convent, hospital, and music school for orphan or abandoned (mostly) girls.

  23. catholictrad says:

    When we went to Novus Ordo, all I had to tell my daughter was that altar boys are the “seeds of priests”. Therefore altar girls are “tares in the wheat”, though they do a fine job, they are killing priest vocations.

    My daughter has stopped her classmates from participating through her holy influence. She refuses to perform abuses in the Mass which irritates the teachers, but does help the other kids. The next school year she will abstain from receiving Our Lord from the hands of the school principal. Now that will ignite fireworks!

  24. frodo says:

    I am the concerned father that posted the question to Fr. Z.

    Here is some background. My daughters go the the parish school. The school offered alter server training to any students interested and she signed up. She has been alter serving for a couple years. Now me being a convert I was unaware of the preferred rubrics of using male alter servers and said “GO FOR IT!” I am now aware of the reasons for having male alter servers and applauded my priests desire to go in this direction (even if the naysayers got their way).

    My question originated from a desire for guidance. Since the priest still allows it, I see it as an opportunity for her to learn her faith and to volunteer, however, I have reservations because when there is a need for alter servers, she is the first to volunteer, rather than allowing the boys to step forward (as they should), but want to allow her to fill in if asked.

    There doesn’t appear to be any of the girl activities mentioned.

    Stop me if I’m wrong, but perhaps a family discussion would be in order? Should I bring this to our parish priest? Or am I over-reacting here?


  25. Lucas says:

    If girls stop serving, than that shows to the parish that the people want only males.

    Thats what happened at our current parish, the priest spoke with a few families of altar girls said he wanted to have only males and met stiff resistence with the parish council. The families agreed with the priests and pulled their daughters out. I’m pretty sure he ended up setting something up for them.

    We’ve already agreed, with twin girls on the way, that there is no way they will be altar servers.

  26. Flambeaux says:


    As a father, may I suggest discussing this with your wife and, once you two are in agreement, get your daughter involved in the discussion.

    Authoritarian mandates, especially since this has been permitted and encouraged for some time now, will not only do no good, they’ll do real harm.

    A gentle approach over time may be called for. Ask your daughter what she thinks of serving and whether it’s something she really wants to do. She may simply be doing it out of habit at this point.

    I hope that’s helpful.

  27. catholictrad says:

    My family “swam the Tiber” in 2007! Happy to see another convert here, and as confused as I have been by the liturgical madness.

    I took my daughter to one TLM, explained why there are only boys, explained the mantilla, and she made her own decision. It all makes much more sense when seen through the eyes of uninterrupted Tradition.

    If your daughter has the same vocation as mine, she can help start one of the above mentioned groups (with your help). Send a direct post to me and our daughters can pen pal and talk it out.

  28. ReginaMarie says:

    I think your comment: “However, if she insists on serving at the altar…” is problematic. It doesn’t seem proper for a child to demand something that she (or he, for that matter) has no ‘right’ to do. Just a thought.

    catholictrad: Good for your daughter! Let the fireworks ignite! When our eldest child received his First Holy Eucharist, the DRE insisted that all the children must receive in their hands. We instructed our son otherwise & soon thereafter switched to an Eastern Rite parish where, thankfully, there are no altar girls, no EMHCs, & receiving in the hand is impossible.

    frodo: God bless you for wanting to guide your daughter in the Faith properly! Just because a priest allows something, it does not necessarily mean that the faithful must partake in or agree with it. If I were you, I’d see this as an opportunity to discuss (at her level, of course) the nature of the priesthood & the different/unique but equal gifts that boys/men & girls/women have in serving the Church.

  29. iPadre says:

    When I went back to boys only as Altar Servers, I did two things. First, I grandfathered the girls who were currently serving. I did not want them to feel like I was rejecting them. They were/ are all good kids and I love them just as much as the boys in my parish. Second, I started a girls only group, The Daughters of Mary. The group has had it’s ups and downs. Difficult getting the girls involved, but lately the group is growing. Daughters of Mary is very project oriented, but they also pray and sing together. I think we need to be firm but gentle. While we go back to tradition, we don’t want to hurt and alienate people. Start a group for the girls.

  30. jesusthroughmary says:

    Father Z suggested that the concerned parents make an effort to BEGIN a ministry to young girls at the parish, not merely direct their daughters to some pre-existing one.

    Also, I am a father, and I see no problem with a father forbidding his child from participating in something that the pastor merely permits. Whether it is the best course of action is a matter for the parents to judge, but it is undoubtedly within the father’s authority. If it is something the pastor REQUIRES of the child (such as in religious education or sacrament preparation), then that is a different issue.

    Finally, is there any supplication that can be offered on my behalf so that I might finally be released from the purgatory of having every one of my comments moderated? It usually takes hours and the comment becomes outdated and irrelevant to the conversation by the time anyone reads it.

  31. acardnal says:

    I think your approach was the right one, iPadre.

  32. Cathy says:

    Frodo, sometimes I think that is why I so miss the nuns in habit in the Church. Girls need the aspiration of possibility and have a great desire to serve and to witness this service. I find it so strange that so many who have thrown off their habits are now boo-hooing that the Church does not, will not, and can not allow for priestly ordination for women. To be honest, in the simple matter that, I am a woman, and therefore cannot be ordained to the priesthood, is a distinct and distinguished point of blessing to recognize that I am specifically ordained in Christ to be dignified and esteemed as something other than a ministerial priest. Fighting for what is a blessing reserved for another, isn’t a fight for right, it is the curse of envy, and actually destroys that which it proclaims as its own aspiration. Whymen’s ordination circles, gay marriage advocates, quality of life advocates all seem to be so blind with envy that they fail to see, in the course of their pursuits, that what they proclaim to aspire to, they actually work to destroy. Perhaps your pastor know of a community of faithful nuns and could ask them to 1)simply attend masses in your parish, 2)might ask the order for direction and service to the parish community by helping find a distinct niche for the girls, or 3) might direct you to attend public mass at a faithful convent. The first time I saw a nun in full habit, under the age of 70, I was 13 years old and my first impression was that I was seeing a walking prayer. I really miss this witness for young women and the whole of our Church.

  33. Ralph says:

    My wife and I have 5 children. 3 sons and 2 daughters.

    We have discussed this issue in our home. The reason for an alter server is two fold – to assist the priest and to discern a possible vocation to the priesthood. While girls can of course assist a priest as well as any boy, they are not able to discern a vocation to the priesthood. This is not possible, as the priesthood is male.

    What harm could possibly come from allowing a girl to serve? Two things come to mind. First, when alter server becomes a “girly thing” boys will shy away. (Is it any wonder that we have experienced a decline in vocations since girl servers began?) Second, girls (and those watching them serve) may become used to a female presence near the alter and begin to wonder – why can’t a woman be a priest?

    In order to protect my children and their faith, I do not allow my girls to be alter servers. There are so many other wonderful ways that they can serve the church, I don’t think they will miss it.

  34. visigrad says:

    I recently suggested to the two pastors for whom I work that females serving at the altar is an abortive ministry. After they got over the shock I suggested we start a group for the ladies. After consulting with a woman in another parish in our diocese who had similar ideas we bagan an apostolate called Handmaids of The Blessed Sacrament for young ladies age 10 through 18. In time the older girls will become mentors for the younger. They have learned sacristan duties only after catechesis about the history, rich symbolism and use of all the vessels and vestments. We prayerfully in silence clean two local churches each year during Advent and Lent . We constantly reinforce the joyful privilege of being “other Marys”,who care for our priests, as she did Jesus. Much time was spent on the importance of the beauty of The Church so that the hearts and minds of the people will be raised to God. Carrying that concept over…we moved to the Domestic Church where we learn to make our homes places of beauty – again pointing towards God. The girls are learning to be gracious hostesses, conversationalists , modestly dressed grace-filled and graceful young women. I promise you they are loving every minute. if anyone would like a copy of our brochure please email me at bethanymom92@hotmail.com Just write handmaids in the address bar.

  35. visigrad says:

    p.s. All the virtues and skills learned as a Handmaid will serve these young women well in whatever vocation God calls them.

  36. frjim4321 says:

    We have about half-and-half girl and boy altar servers from third grade to twelfth grade.

    Notwithstanding rationalizations to the contrary girls and their parents see their exclusion from an altar serving program as an injustice, and with good reason.

    Both the boys and girls are eager to serve and don’t find the inclusion of the opposite sex as being a discouragement in any way.

    A couple of our servers reached the age of 18 and are now serving as EM’s.

  37. Cassie says:

    This past January our parish began an apostolate for girls ages 10-18. It is called “Handmaids of the Blessed Sacrament” and its purpose is to help girls discover how their “feminine genius” affords them a very unique means of serving the Church. We meet every First Saturday (the girls are learning about/practicing the First Saturday devotion) – we begin by reciting the rosary with some members of the Legion of Mary before Mass, sing some Marian hymns until Mass starts, attend Mass as a group, then after Mass we have our meeting. We are trying to teach the girls some of the lost arts that the altar guilds and the sisters in convents used to practice. For example, hand sewing and embroidering are two skills the girls are learning. Putting those skills to use, they have sewn/embroidered new altar linens and are learning to repair existing linens; they are currently learning about proper care of altar linens. The girls also regularly assist the sacristan by polishing brass fixtures for use during liturgy, and cleaning the sanctuary and church, especially in preparation for Easter and Christmas. We compile spiritual bouquets for our clergy and seminarians on special occasions and we have “adopted” a young lady from our parish who recently joined a Dominican order. (We write to her, pray for her and plan to send care packages from time to time). Some future endeavors will hopefully include making small mantillas for visitors to use at our weekly TLM, and hope to plant a “Mary garden” to help beautify our parish grounds, among other things. Eventually vestment repair and construction may be part of what we do, as well. The girls wear white sashes when they are praying together/at Mass or doing something as a group. There are about 25 “regulars” and we consistently have at least 12-15 girls at each meeting, with the older girls helping the younger ones. The enthusiasm level has been very encouraging and the support of some of the older women in the parish has been heartwarming. Fathers and mothers alike appreciate what this apostolate has to offer their daughters. The crux of what we do is teach the girls to serve with humility and encourage a love for and devout practice of their Catholic faith – with an emphasis on Mass, Marian Devotions and Eucharistic Adoration. This gives girls a very solid and very special way to serve the Church.

  38. Austin Catholics says:

    I will never in a million years understand the opposition to girl alter servers. I don’t think I ever even was aware there was any opposition until a few years ago. (Thanks to the internet for exposing me to unusual views.)

    Back in the 70s I (male) served alongside my sister. Nowadays I lector on some Sundays and when we meet with the priest before Mass there are usually as many or more girls as boys in serving robes. What is the big deal? They are not priests; nobody thinks they are priests or anything like it.

    I am astonished anyone would discourage their own daughter from serving. Unless you are just generally anti-Catholic and anti-Church. [LOL! You’re funny.]

  39. johnmann says:


    “First, when alter server becomes a “girly thing” boys will shy away. (Is it any wonder that we have experienced a decline in vocations since girl servers began?)”

    I think that’s a very poor reason. Error shouldn’t be accommodated but corrected. Lest we make altarservers wear pants because albs look like girls’ dresses. We’ve also seen a decline in vocations since the Vietnam War. Correlation is not proof of causation.

    “Second, girls (and those watching them serve) may become used to a female presence near the alter and begin to wonder – why can’t a woman be a priest?”

    This is a better reason but I’d state it differently. Again, error should be corrected not accommodated. Lest we ban female lectors. [Ehem. There is no such thing as a “female lector” (lectrix?). The only males may be lectors. However, females can substitute for male lectors.] But stated positively, altar serving may encourage vocations to the priesthood and it would be laudable if those capable of becoming priests were encouraged in this way. This also means that unmarried boys should be preferred to married men.

  40. wmeyer says:

    I will never in a million years understand the opposition to girl alter servers.

    Possibly not. However, for a boy, being an altar server is the first step to a possible vocation. Like it or not, there is a correlation between male-only servers and the number of vocations. We need men to hear that call.

  41. acardnal says:

    johnmann said twice, “error should be corrected not accommodated.”

    What error?

  42. acardnal says:

    Here is a link to a previous post by Fr. Z on this subject and he provides pertinent guidance from the Holy See.


    Notice the emphasis on how serving at the altar by boys provides a fertile ground for vocations to the priesthood.

  43. jesusthroughmary says:

    “Again, error should be corrected not accommodated. Lest we ban female lectors.”

    Female lectors are also a radical break with tradition. Even after the suppression of the minor orders it is still true that only men may be formally and permanently instituted to the ministry of lector.

  44. acardnal says:

    Austin Catholics said, “Back in the 70s I (male) served alongside my sister.”

    AND guess what, it was NOT permitted at that time! Just one more example (like communion in the hand) of how some bishops and pastors did things which were not licit. Over the decades, the error was widespread and became so commonplace that everyone thought it was “normal” so the bishops’ conference ultimately requested an indult from the Holy See as an exception to the norm.

  45. A Sinner 2 says:

    May I offer another reason for excluding altar girls (and girls and women from the altar generally).

    Having females serve at the altar validates the modern idea that there is no difference between girls and boys/men and women, that each should be performing the same, rather than complimentary, roles. This leads to an acceptance of, among other things, abortion and gay marriage. It seems to me the most meaningful action the Church could make with regard to these two issues would be to again validate the differences between the sexes by allowing only males to serve at the altar.

  46. jkm210 says:

    “Kids are smart enough to know what is and what isn’t hypocrisy. Learning a lesson as the result of a negative experience and teaching your kids differently so that they don’t make the same mistakes you did is not hypocrisy.”

    I didn’t say it was hypocrisy. I said it would *seem* like hypocrisy. Many people equate learning from past mistakes or having a genuine change of heart with hypocrisy. How many of us listen when our parents say, “I want you to learn from my mistakes so you don’t make the same ones” ?? I certainly didn’t.

    What I am mostly concerned about is teaching my girls that there is a difference between modern feminist ideals of sex, birth control, and doing everything exactly the same way that men do, and what I consider to be a true feminism: the recognition of the value of women and their equality with men, despite the differences in their roles. I think this will be very tricky to do when it comes to something that is allowed, if not encouraged, by the church. I am hoping that maybe the matter will be resolved before it becomes an issue for my girls.

  47. momoften says:

    This is what I wrote to a pastor recently. Although he is NOT opposed to ridding the altar of girls,
    he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and was afraid of parishioner backlash….here we go…
    Dear Fr. C,
    Often I hear from priests I feel bad about not letting the girls serve Mass. Ok, this is what I think.
    One important thing is not to dwell on anything political, such as rights or equality. Most parents would respond that this is the case when their daughters are denied the opportunity to serve Mass. The fact of the matter is that the privilege of serving in a act of worship is one that nobody has any rights. Speaking from experience as I came from a large family of 14 children and have 13 children, I find it easy to see that boys and girls are different and require different motivational and formative methods. As a parent, it is easy to note that at a certain age girls and boys usually go through a stage when they tend to avoid common activities. Young boys desire activities that appeal to them and more often than not tend to reject sharing activities with girls. These things are perfectly normal, and part of growing up. Boys also tend to need more structured activities than girls as they are less mature and responsible at this stage in their life. Because of this, when girl servers began to be used at Mass, I noticed it led to a sharp drop off of boys offering to serve. I think if you looked at the ratio of girl servers to boy servers, you would find that in this Diocese there are more girl than boys serving Mass. Doesn’t that ring any alarms? You can also notice, once boys leave(from serving at Church) and enter the puberty, it is difficult, if not impossible to bring them back to serve. They will have less interest, and quite frankly refuse to compete with girls whose very nature is more responsible.
    The next point really has to do with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline. They have emphasized in the past that “boys who have served at the altar become priests in larger numbers than boys who have not”. It isn’t just the Congregation that notices it. I have 11 boys, Father, and what I see agrees with that point exactly. My oldest is now 30. His first born son is starting to serve Mass as he did(in a parish without girl servers) He looks up to the older boys, he looks up to the Pastor and priests and religious. And how many times have I heard from sons(and grandson), I want to be a priest like him. There are bonds formed. At St Cyrils and Methodious Church in Sterling Heights ( I have friends, and family there)they have 125 servers, all male. They are the church in the Detroit Diocese that is recognized for a HOT BED of religious vocations. What a thing to aspire to as a priest to have! Much less a Bishop have in his Diocese, much less for a boy to be a part of such a parish. Here at St Cyril’s every Mass has over 15 servers, and they have over 4 Masses a day, and 6 on Sundays. It is my belief when boys serve they develop a more intimate view and knowledge of the liturgy than others, and it draws them into a closer friendship with Christ. It removes the idea that being religious, or being prayerful is too feminine. It gives them a manly relationship to the church and promotes pride in their parish. Men (especially priests) can mentor and lead other males in a special way that neither their mothers nor sisters can. Today this is so important as young boys have a hard time being manly in society.
    So what about girls you wonder? It is healthier and better for girls to learn at an early age that their role in the Church—as in life—is different from that of boys and men though equal in dignity. Just as men who are ordained bear a natural resemblance to Christ the priest, so all girls and women bear a natural resemblance to the one whom the poet William Wordsworth rightly and aptly called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast namely, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was free from all sin and who has now been assumed body and soul, into heaven, where she makes intercession for us” now and at the hour of our death.” Women do not need ordination or even to be “altar girls in order to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next! Will one of your girl servers think they should be able to be a priest some day, are you encouraging a vocation to the priesthood that is not possible by indirectly allowing a girl to serve Mass? I pray not.

  48. momoften says:

    On another note, the parish I actually belongs to:has Jr Legion of Mary, The girls are introduced
    to at least 2 retreats with women religious, they are encouraged to join choir, play organ, help
    with event babysitting, clean linens, and finally help with flowers.Since Father set the ground
    rules 4 years ago, with no female servers, the male serving has increased, they sing schola, and
    readings. There has been 1 woman religious vocation, and 2 others deeply interested …..this in a
    small parish. It all adds up to what the parishioners want to volunteer and help with, and Father’s
    support. There HAS to be a division between female activities and Male activities, and when parents
    actively support it, there ARE NO PROBLEMS.

  49. Imrahil says:

    Let me state beforehand that I do believe that altar servers technically have the position of substitute clerics; hence, and also because of the priest vocation thing, they should be all-male.

    However, there is nothing intrinsically reserved to the male s*xus in altar serving; and while the authentic interpretation that allowed altar girls was somewhat strange as interpretation, and somewhat we can disagree with as a law, still it is the fact that the Church allows it.

    We must, in my humble opinion, be careful not to make a case of faith and martyrdom of where we merely claim to be right. It would be absurd to say that it is a sacrilege to be an altar girl or so; hence, it is also absurd make a case of conscience of not being one or not allowing one’s daughter to be one. It is true that in principle there should not be altar girls; but given that altar girls do exist these days (and the competent authority judged it unwise, or did not have the courage, to change the fact in the parish) I do not see the point in having one girl less. Nor even in disencouraging her to volunteer much: such problem as does arise arises from the plain fact of having altar girls at all, not because one of them volunteers often.

    On the other thing, it would be wise indeed to separate altar-service from Church youth activity.

  50. Giuseppe says:

    Of course the overwhelming answer on this site would be to discourage her for the numerous reasons mentioned above. This blog is a much-needed voice in our church. And this answer is the correct answer.

    Altar girls are largely accepted in many parishes and there is no current rule forbidding them. Some commenters noted this. This is also the correct answer.

    You can attend Mass in English, Latin, or Latin American (I mean, Spanish). Mass can be sung or spoken. Mass can be celebrated by a celibate priest or a married priest in a fully reverent manner in a church of our Eastern Catholic brethren. It can be celebrated in many different rites. Music at mass can be sung by men, by women, by both. It can be concelebrated or celebrated multiple times at different altars.

    These are all right answers: and God, manifest through the church, is the right answer.

  51. Patt says:

    For over 20 plus years I have trained and scheduled our altar servers. At our parish the policy has been–NO GIRL ALTAR SERVERS. When permission for this first came into effect, the boys declared they would quit if girls served. I have 5 granddaughters and I continue to support this policy and am grateful our parish pastor enforced it. As an added note–my son was an altar server and our pastor requested me–a female– to conduct classes and make out schedules. I think it is a sensible policy since women are never going to be priests–why should they serve as acolytes?

  52. Athelstan says:

    Dr. Peters,

    “…but the immediate question is going to be whether a father should FORBID a daughter who wants to serve from doing so.”

    I would certainly forbid it. I see nothing wrong with doing so. But then I attend exclusively either the TLM or an Ordinariate parish using only the TLM or the Knott Missal, so it’s not likely to be an issue.

  53. AnnAsher says:

    I would forbid my daughters to fill any litirgical role other than sacristan. Women and our culture are suffering direly as a result of the confusion of roles between men and women. So long as women deny our due dignity and gifts and seek after the things of men, we will suffer and society will suffer. It is an issue that is of most importance at the altar but extends beyond into every aspect of our lives. It isn’t worth the compromise to feed such confusion in our daughters no matter how piously they might perform the task. Women are women and men are men.

  54. AnnAsher says:

    @ jesusthroughmary, thank you and God bless you !
    “Female lectors are also a radical break with tradition. Even after the suppression of the minor orders it is still true that only men may be formally and permanently instituted to the ministry of lector.”
    Indeed! And indeed every NO parish I’ve ever been to has regularly scheduled women lectors!

  55. JKnott says:

    This question is addressed by an excellent pastor who has the EF and a very devout NO (ad orientem). This is from the website and it gives his alternatives for the girls.

    “Why does St. Mary’s reserve altar serving to boys alone?”

    ………….. Pope John Paul II in 2004 accordingly encouraged priests to show a special concern for altar boys, saying that they “represent a kind of ‘garden’ of priestly vocations. and that their service at the altar can be “a valuable experience of Christian education and become a kind of pre-seminary.”
    Therefore after much prayer, reading and discussion, I have decided that in the future I will only be inviting boys to serve as altar servers for my Masses, for the primary reason of promoting priestly vocations. The other priests have also agreed to the same policy. Those girls who are currently serving are welcome to continue serving as long as they like. Finally, so as to encourage the participation of the girls in the parish, I will be starting a group called the Handmaids of the Altar, who will help with the flowers, the linens, and the sacristy. As Sister Eileen and Sr. Rita pointed out, both of them discerned their vocations to the sisterhood by belonging to this type of club.
    For some this is a decision which will be difficult to understand. Certainly the spirit of the society in which we live will not accept this. Yet this has nothing to do with equal rights. Men and women are equal in the eyes of God, and each has different gifts which should be allowed to develop in their proper environment.
    Experience has shown that women generally do not need as much encouragement to be involved in the Church. All you have to do is look at Sunday Mass attendance, the religious education teachers, or parish volunteers, and one will easily notice that the majority of people active in parish life are women.
    However, I think that boys and men need special encouragement to help them develop a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church. Therefore having a group of boys set apart will help develop that bond with the Church, preparing them for their vocation, whatever it may be.
    If anyone has difficulty with this decision I ask you to reflect on what I have written here and to pray about it. You are welcome to write or visit me to voice your concerns. You can also contact Deacon Steve who is in charge of the altar servers. My motivation here is to try to do what is right for the Church.
    May our Lady, whose son is the eternal high priest, pray for the boys of St. Mary Church, that we may all be here one day to witness of the first Mass of one of our altar boys.

  56. catholicmidwest says:

    I see a lot of things here that just aren’t going to happen. The one that made me smile was the one that had all the girls dressing up in white ankle length lacy socks and filing in single file to fill pews. Um. No. That’s not going to happen in anything but an old Bing Crosby movie or something.

    I had something else in mind: Something like helping out at the soup kitchen or making quilts for charity, or packing up items into boxes to be sent to disaster areas, sewing clothes for kids in Haiti, shopping for the homebound …. you get the idea. Something someone would actually want to participate in if they were a female human being born after 1980 or so.

  57. PA mom says:

    Setting up a girls group, or involving your daughters in the choir are great ways of working this question. I brought my daughter to choir in kindergarten, so by the time altar serving had started, I reminded her that she was already a valuable member of that, and it would leave something for the other children to do. My experience suggests that it would be helpful for whatever group to allow girls the year before altar server training.

  58. I suspect different parishes and different regions will find different answers to this question.

    Speaking for myself: a belong to a fairly orthodox urban parish with about 3,000 parishioners. We have five weekend Masses, four priests and one deacon. Our pastor is an auxiliary bishop. Progressive? Hardly. We haven’t had guitars in years and the liturgy makes ample use of Latin, chants and beautiful choral pieces such as “Panis Angelicus.”

    We have a large and vibrant altar server society of about 100 kids, evenly split between male and female, between the ages of about eight and 18. It’s rare to have a Mass with fewer than six servers, including torchbearers. We also have a “prelate’s guild”, who serve exclusively at the bishop’s Masses and are trained specifically to handle things like the mitre and crosier. The members of this group are all male, I think, and for one reason: our pastor/bishop is exceedingly tall. :-)

    Having said all that: you’d be hard-pressed to find a more joy-filled, dynamic, enthusiastic group of young men and women. The altar server society serves a variety of purposes in their lives; it is a safe haven in a bustling city, a place for prayerful service, a club for like-minded smart kids, a place to connect with idealistic and outgoing youngsters who are all, uniformly, great kids. It keeps them off the street and teaches responsibility, liturgy, and fidelity. For many, it’s their introduction to what it means to be a practicing Catholic in a parish setting, and a lot of them have gone on to work in the parish council, choir or serve as EMHCs. The moderator of the group (a former altar server himself and now a married graduate student working on his PhD) hopes one day to become a deacon, as does his predecessor.

    We rarely have to schedule servers; they show up and are eager to be on the altar. Fridays during Lent, my wife and I lead the Stations of the Cross, and it’s not uncommon for a dozen servers to show up and lead the procession around the nave. Midnight Mass and the Easter Vigil are beautiful, with almost every server on board.

    Our situation, I know, is unusual. But in the right hands, with the right guidance and leadership, a mixed group of male and female servers can be a blessing for both the congregation and the servers —enhancing worship, teaching the faith and building character.

    [That said, Fr. Z does not endorse altar girls.]

  59. jesusthroughmary says:

    Catholicmidwest – All of those things are great, but they actually ARE things that all Catholics should be doing by virtue of their baptism. They are not things that teach girls a specifically feminine spirituality. The Church has never taught “boys serve at the altar, girls do corporal works of mercy”.

  60. Brad says:

    Austin Catholics, your uncharity in your final sentence is simply revolting.

    Andy Milam: “the girls dressed in white dresses, ankle socks, shoes and wore white gloves and processed in during Holy Mass taking a place of honor in the first two pews”. Beautiful! Little Marys accorded places of honor according to their true feminine nature, just like a very certain Queen of Heaven and Earth.

  61. Imrahil says:

    We’ve also seen a decline in vocations since the Vietnam War. Correlation is not proof of causation.

    Priesthood is a kind of military thing (though for a higher end); in the spiritual combat and even in such incidentalities as wearing a uniform. (Which, as it were, is where all this opposition against the clerical dress actually comes from.)

    The Vietnam War obviously caused a decline in people’s enthousiasm for soldiering. By consequence, etc.

    That said, correlation is no proof of causation.

  62. Maxiemom says:

    I must agree with Austin Catholic. I see nothing wrong with girls serving at the altar.

    When I was young (I am in my early 50’s), I attended Catholic school and we had wonderful Sisters who were role models to many young women. Today, with the decline in Catholic schools and many Sisters not being involved in education, fewer young women have the opportunity to be mentored by nuns to consider vocations in the Convent. For many, their only exposure to vocations is serving as altar servers. What I would have given as a girl to be an altar server…. I was jealous that my brother was an altar boy. In fact, when we were young, you could not be an altar boy if you didn’t attend Catholic school – how’s that for fostering a vocation in a young man who’s parent’s couldn’t afford Catholic High school!

  63. catholicmidwest says:


    The things I cited were specifically: helping out at the soup kitchen or making quilts for charity, or packing up items into boxes to be sent to disaster areas, sewing clothes for kids in Haiti, shopping for the homebound…..etc.

    If those aren’t things that a person would do “by virtue of their baptism,” I’m not sure what might be. BTW, it wouldn’t hurt boys to get down off their high horses to rake some leaves, shovel some drives, and haul some groceries for somebody either. Christ stooped to help people. I think that means we’re supposed to do so too.

    PS: All of those things I cited are also examples of “feminine spirituality.” Being a mute Barbie doll with lace socks on is NOT an example of “feminine spirituality.” I don’t know what it is.

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