WDTPRS POLL: All-male sanctuary/altar service and vocations to the priesthood.

I have posted this poll before, but in light of another post, I thought I would revisit the question.

Please select a response and make comments on this subject in the combox, below.

And, yes, I know that some churches don’t even have an identifiable sanctuary any more.  You know what I mean by the question.

I suppose the flipside of the question is: Does having girls or women serving at the altar in anyway discourage or weaken vocations to the priesthood?  I’ll add that poll as well.

Anyone can vote, but only registered participants can leave comments.

Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood? (Revisited)

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And there is this

Does female service at the altar harm or suppress vocations to the priesthood?

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Linking Back, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, POLLS, Priests and Priesthood, Seminarians and Seminaries, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Matt R says:

    All the old ladies at church, instead of asking my mom where I am going to college, they ask, “when’s he entering the seminary?” So yes, it does…

  2. wmeyer says:

    I have seen young women who perform well as altar servers, and I have seen young men who do not. That said, I have observed more distraction among the young men when there is a young woman in the group. Not always, but usually. Moreover, with respect to motivation, when altar services is limited to males, then the seem to value the role more highly, and they can certainly be taught that the priesthood is a possible goal.

    I wonder, when both sexes are employed as altar servers, is the topic of vocations even raised in their training? Or, for the sake of political correctness, is nothing said?

    We have a shortage of vocations. Not so much in my diocese, but certainly it is common to hear of priests–especially in the northeast–who serve multiple parishes. To do less than all that we can do to foster vocations is irresponsible, at best.

  3. More boys and men would serve if females were not allowed.

  4. APX says:

    I can only speak from personal experiences that I am aware of, and I would say it appears only altar boys fosters vocations to the priesthood.

    For what’s it’s worth, I’m a woman discerning a vocation to the consecrated life. I never had the desire to do anything liturgical, nor did I ever do anything in the sanctuary (excluding First Communion when we all got to stand around the altar) save for reading once because I was asked to and it was my aunt’s funeral, emotions were running high, and my objections were met with much weeping and gnashing of teeth from my mom.

    I’d like to see the numbers on how many women actually discerning a vocation (excluding marraige) we altar servers, etc.

  5. BigRed says:

    I will offer something I witnessed only a few weeks ago after mass. A mother and her son, a toddler of about four years of age, had a few parting words with the pastor when the mother clarified something the little guy had not stated clearly. She said, “He saw the altar boys in the sanctuary and he was surprised that they let boys do it too!”

    [Any vocations at that parish?]

  6. Robbie says:

    I’m somewhat torn by the second question. As someone who prefers the traditions of the Catholic Church, I don’t like to see young girls serving as altar servers. Having said that, I don’t know that female altar servers has anything to do with male vocations. Maybe it does, but I just don’t see it right now. I’m open to new information, though.

    Just as a FYI, I attend a parish, although they call themselves a Catholic community now (yuck), who has altar boys/girls who wear all white. These days, they play little if any role in the Mass, yet they still find ways to screw up and look totally uninterested. It’s really depressing and you don’t even want to know about the hootenanny style music used on Pentecost Saturday night. The Mass felt like a Protestant service rather than a reverential Catholic rite.

    After months of trying, I’ve finally convinced my parents to attend the TLM. My Father was a senior server in the TLM so I think he’s actually looking forward to seeing the Mass of his youth. My Mother, on the other hand, is a convert. She actually seems a bit fearful of the TLM because she grew up as a Presbyterian.

  7. afzamarro says:

    I think it is interesting to watch the “altar politics” unfold in everyday parish life. A priest I know has taken a gradualist approach to change after a very liberal predecessor. He asked lectors and “extraordinary ministers” about kneeling during the Eucharistic prayer when they are in the sanctuary. The men were willing, the women were not.

    It’s hard not to feel that for some women being in the sanctuary, and in addition standing in the sanctuary along with the priest, are signs of inclusion and participation that they feel are “their due”. I’ve met many women, devout after a fashion, who are genuinely pained that they aren’t allowed to be priests. I’m not “endorsing” their grievance, but it’s hard not to think that this is a HUGE part of our current situation with women in the sanctuary.

    My thinking is that anything short of Jesus descending from heaven and doing a grand tour of American dioceses will be sufficient to get women out of the sanctuary at this point.

  8. mamamagistra says:

    I’m struck by how much the LGBT movement has in common with this whole altar girl thing:

    (1) You’re not permitted to talk about homosexual acts as sin or an all-male sanctuary with anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

    (2) Amnesia – most people no longer remember or are able to articulate reasons why traditional marriage should be a protected institution; ditto for all-male sanctuary.

    (3) Neither one is fruitful: no priestly vocations; no babies conceived.

    (4) The most ardent in each movement have ulterior motives: elimination of the institution of marriage/ ordaining women.

    (5) Same-sex marriage started in sin and as the numbers increased is accepted by law. Altar girls started in disobedience and as the numbers increased were admitted.

    (6) Both movement s tout equal rights, which have nothing to do with either.

    (7) LGBTs have cross-dressing. Altar girls wear cassock & surplice entirely inappropriately.

    (8) I’m not saying that altar girls are in any way to blame for where we are with same-sex marriage, but at the root of both issues is “gender”-confusion.

    Just goes to show that when you fool with as crucial aspects of God’s creation as sex or the liturgy, all hell breaks loose. Save the liturgy – save the world!

  9. maryh says:

    Not only do female altar servers discourage vocations to the priesthood; they don’t even encourage female vocations to the religious life. Female altar servers make altar service look like just one more job to do – not a chance to “try out” a potential vocation for either boys or girls.

    As an interim step to getting rid of altar girls, we might want to have them wear something more feminine and more like a religious sister – to emphasize the difference in sex and vocation.

    In the meantime, bring back devotions the Blessed Mother, and bring her statue back to the front of the church in those churches where it has been exiled to the back or to a chapel. It might help to have altar societies and girls’ societies/clubs centered around various female religious vocations. Get some consecrated virgins, or habited nuns or habited sisters in to lead the group of girls.

    Bring the feminine back into the Church. Having girls dress up like boys and serve on the altar doesn’t “make the Church more inclusive”. It just makes it look like girls should act like boys in absolutely every area, and denigrates feminine roles and imagery.

  10. wmeyer says:

    Bring the feminine back into the Church. Having girls dress up like boys and serve on the altar doesn’t “make the Church more inclusive”. It just makes it look like girls should act like boys in absolutely every area, and denigrates feminine roles and imagery.

    Amen! We men can offer all the opinions we wish, but they can be dismissed as sexist. We need women who understand the realities of such service to speak up.

  11. Rose in NE says:

    Let see, my old parish (about 3,000 families) allows girls in the sanctuary. There are no young men in the seminary from that parish. In the 20+ years we were members at this parish, I only know of two vocations that came from there.

    My current parish (FSSP-around 300 families) allows only boys in the sanctuary. From this parish there are currently five young men in the seminary (one will be ordained to the priesthood on June 1!) and there are a few more who hope to enter soon to test their vocations.

    In my experience, having only boys at the altar does seem to foster vocations.

  12. lucindatcm says:

    Okay, I think we’d better get something straight. In my experience (got two boys serving at the altar) the 8 year old is (sometimes, surprisingly) rather pious, but half of the allure, is the entire absence of the girls, I think. The 12 year old doesn’t really much care about the presence or absence of girls, but he’s happy to serve, first so his brother doesn’t get ahead of him in the points system, and second, because he can hear the sermon better. Both are apt to complain should they see altar server work done badly (boys or girls).

    I’ve got two girls too. And both have wanted to be up there. Not for any pious reason (they don’t stay in mass one second longer than they have to), but because their brothers are doing it. Would the boys do it, if the girls were? In an ideal world, sure. Except, I don’t think this is an ideal world. If you put girls up there, the boys will disappear. I don’t know why. And you’ve got to try out the priesthood in some small way before you try to step into those shoes. Only makes sense.

    I think that girls should be firmly pointed into all the places where they could help (maintenance of the altar via care of the linens, flowers, decorating the church for important feasts – lots of these in a polish parish), etc. Also sodalities where they make rosaries, or visit elderly and shut ins. There is PLENTY of work to be done.

  13. NBW says:

    I would agree with Rose in NE. Our Parish doesn’t have female altar servers and we’ve gotten some vocations to the priesthood as well.

  14. Bea says:

    Feast of the Sacred Heart last year:
    Two girls and two boys held the candles while our pastor read the gospel
    One girl kept smiling at one of the altar boys and flipping her pony tail.
    The priest was obvious as he was above them in the pulpit.
    The boy at first smiled at her a couple of times and ended up looking down at the ground.
    Not only distracting to the people who could see this but……add your own imagination.
    It was to his credit that in the end he fought the distraction.

    I asked a lady who has a daughter altar-server “why wasn’t her son serving?”
    She replied: “R…… (the daughter) is too bossy and he doesn’t want to serve with his sister”
    It is such a shame because he is a serious young man and could be a candidate for a vocation.

    I know of a group of brothers in the past that quit serving because of the girls that were allowed at the time. To his credit the pastor stopped this practice and trained the girls to do the work of setting up the linens and flowers etc.

    I think it’s a definite deterrent to vocations to have the girls up there distracting the boys.
    We do have 2 vocations at the moment because our pastor keeps a close contact with them but 4 others have dropped out in the past.

  15. contrarian says:

    Female alter servers = insanity.
    It’s insane.
    When I go to the neighborhood NO parish, I see an army of girls leading the procession. The head pastor there, recently retired, sometimes pines about the desire to see a vocation from this (huge, enormous, insanely large) parish before he dies (previously it was before he retired). This parish hasn’t had one in aeons.

    But, of course, no dots are connected.

    That’s a a reasonable point. The short answer (if you ask me, anyway) is that female alter servers are an extension of the war against boys and boyhood. From sport to pedagogy and now even in Mother Church (for God’s sake), our culture has flattened the natural distinctions between girls and boys. But since boys, like all natural entities, crave their own natural fulfillment (in this case, boyhood and its extension: manhood) they are repelled by anything, and any path or function, that smells of androgyny–despite so much social engineering to the contrary. So much of the NO Mass *presents* the priesthood as functionally androgynous. But boys aren’t fooled.

  16. Bea says:

    spelling boo-boo last post:
    “The priest was obvious” should have read “the priest was oblivious”

  17. maryh says:

    Here’s how it seems like to me: The entire church building, except the sanctuary, represents the feminine.

    The sanctuary represents the masculine. It contains the altar where the priest stands in the place of Christ, who is both the priest that offers the sacrifice and the perfect victim who is the sacrifice. The altar is, first and foremost, the location of the sacrifice. In terms of the sexes, we see the masculine (Christ) sacrificed out of love for the feminine (the Church). There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but I’m looking at this now primarily from the point of view of sex roles.

    And just as Jesus enters the world through the feminine, Blessed Virgin Mary, so too is Jesus brought to the world today through the feminine, the Church.

    Men cannot become women (give birth) so if men and women are the same, then we are all male. Doing away with sex differences / roles doesn’t empower women – it destroys the feminine, which at its most basic is giving birth to new life. No wonder that in our “liberated” society, female chemical castration (hormonal contraceptives) and abortion are so common.

    And, as usual, it’s the Catholic Church who has it right.

  18. teomatteo says:

    My sixth grade son started serving at our distant EF mass. He really seems to enjoy the ca..camer… fellowship. Problem i see looming. He is going to have a very difficult time learning the latin responces. I’m concerned.

  19. majuscule says:

    As I have mentioned other places, I attend a small mission church. When I started we had a boy and a girl (the deacon’s granddaughter) serving. The boy went off to colleges and the girl was happy to not be serving, so for a short while I ( an adult female) was doing it. Believe me, it was only the Holy Spirit prompting me to help out during a time when there were no boys the right age and no adult men stepped forward. (The one man who had been an altar server in his youth and would have helped is our musician so he was busy with that ministry.)

    Finally we have a few boys of the right age with a younger one coming along. One Sunday we had three servers with Father getting them all involved, from setting the altar to using incense. I could see clearly how this could lead to vocations! I notice that when they are involved and have to pay attention there is no fidgeting in the pew. The younger boy is very anxious to serve and did so alone one Sunday. I could see a vocation in his future.

    We do have a few girls in our congregation but none of them is interested (so far) and no one is going out of their way to encourage them to serve.

  20. Jim R says:

    Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood? Yes, of course
    Does female service at the altar harm or suppress vocations to the priesthood? Yes, of course

    Now I’ll see your two practical issues and raise you a heresy…
    Does female service at the altar lead to females wanting to be priests when it’s ontologically impossible to have a female priest? Why, yes, of course.

  21. parsnip says:

    for teomatteo:

    Here is a 2009 Altar Server’s handbook (with modern behavior injunctions)


    Here is the Knights of the Altar Handbook , http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/serving/
    If your son does flashcards, you can cut and paste from here to save the typing.

    Here are the responses recorded in small sound bites

  22. APX says:

    maryh says,

    Bring the feminine back into the Church. […]It just makes it look like girls should act like boys in absolutely every area, and denigrates feminine roles and imagery.

    Can you please elaborate on this idea of femininity, feminine roles, and imagery is? There were members of my Latin Mass Community who were literally surprised that, at almost 30 years old, my parents were letting me drive the 6 hour drive home all by myself. I had another two people inform me that I was being immodest by wearing pants, as well as a man tell me that he was in a position to fraternally correct me because he was a man, and thus had authority over me, a woman. I find that a number of traditionalists tend to have archaic and somewhat romanticized views of femininity and the 1950s housewife.

    BTW: if you want women’s vocations to something other than marriage, fostering the 1950s housewife stereotype won’t help. I know consecrated virgins have to be very independent.

  23. Scott W. says:

    I’d be interested in a study comparing parishes that allow and have female altar servers to the number of vocations to the priesthood it produced.

    My instinct is that while it contributes to less vocations, it is just one drop in the witches’ brew of priest shortages that I believe to be largely manufactured sometimes deliberately.

  24. yatzer says:

    At one point I was all for female servers as a matter of justice, but have completely changed my mind after raising 2 boys and 2 girls. Girls of the age of altar servers are generally much more co-ordinated and focused; boys tend to be clumsier and goofier. Why should they hang around being shown up by girls? Besides that there is the whole feeling of being on the fringes of the priesthood serving at the altar that might encourage a budding vocation. And the other possibilities mentioned.

  25. Maxiemom says:

    I don’t think it makes a difference. In the parish’s 100 year history, 90 of which had only altar boys, there was only one vocation. And he left the priesthood to marry. It was an ethnic parish with a great many immigrants until recently when it was merged and most of the immigrants left.

  26. lucaslaroche says:

    I forgot where I read it… It could have very well been on here, but I really enjoyed one pastor’s strategy and approach to the whole thing. He preferred male servers, but wanted to maintain the current female servers he had, to avoid drama.

    His solution was to only have one sex of servers at each Mass (e.g.: Saturday evening would be served by only girls; Sunday morning would be served by only boys; assignments would switch every week). He also had a separate uniform for each (only boys wore cassock & surplice; girls wore alb & cincture). I thought it was a very positive way of creating gender identity, and allowed the the boys feel that esprit de corps.

    It might not be the optimum for a N.O. parish, but it was a lot better than many other solutions I’ve seen pastors implement.

  27. MBeauregard says:

    I am a former Catholic elementary school principal and I can attest first hand that this makes a difference in the attitudes of boys and young men. We segregated boys and girls for serving school Masses: all boys served on Fridays, Holy Days, feast days, solemn occasions, etc. All female servers were used every other week on Wednesdays only. In addition, boys wore the traditional cassock and surplice and girls made use of the alb. This arrangement worked quite well without incident. It also taught that males and females have very different, but unique vocations that are different from each other – but equally important.

  28. Dave N. says:

    Since the crisis in vocations substantially precedes the “altar girl” phenomenon, it would be difficult to conclude that the all-male sanctuary somehow fosters or promotes vocations. Once could argue that female altar services discourages vocations–but that’s a different issue.

  29. JacobWall says:


    I can’t speak for maryh, but what she says makes sense to me (from my own male perspective.)

    I also understand your concens about “going back to the pre-50’s” housewife image.

    It seems to me that there can and should be a good deal of flexibility in “femine roles” and “bringing the feminine back,” so long as they are kept in perspective. A woman, for example, can run a business and take charge, make decisions, etc. within that context (even if men are working under her!) However, the fact that she is a good business woman and natural leader doesn’t mean that she should have charge of her household over and above her husband, or that she should direct the priest in her church (or – even worse – try to become a priest.) Some roles (head of a household, priesthood,) are based at least partly in nature (of men) rather than in ability per se, and that must always be respected.

    I think it’s absurd to say that any man always has authority over any woman. Doesn’t that authority come only within the family (husband) and Church (priest/bishops)?

    We can’t forget that mothers hold great authority and respect, which is why we honour Mary the way we do.

    Which brings me to the final point. The “correct context” for women’s roles, feminity and women’s authority is just this – motherhood. Mothers are the greatest evangelizers in the world. My priest pointed out that most of us can probably say with confidence that we believe in the Ressurection, forgiveness of sins, etc. because our mothers taught us. This is part of the reason why the Church has lost so many people in the past decades; mothers, wanting to be more like men, neglected a task that probably has more impact than any man could have – teaching their children (and those of others) the Faith, with their great motherly authority. (Father’s have an important role as well, of course, but much is lost when our mothers believe they are doing their families or society good by “masculinizing” themselves or even “neuterizing” themselves.)

    It’s from this that feminity and womenly authority flow. A woman is respected within a community (or business, etc.) because she either is a mother or (as a woman) holds motherliness within her.

    This does not mean that every woman is a 50’s style stay-at-home mother, or even a biological mother. But it does mean that women who try to take authority that doesn’t fit into this context (like male roles within the Church) or simply try to hold any authority in a masculine way are doing so at the peril of feminity, and of society, which motherly authority upholds.

    I hope that made sense.

  30. MaximusXVI says:

    just use common sense and history. Pre-Vatican II, only boys served Mass, result: many priests. *Just a note, Vatican II said NOTHING about girls serving Mass* Post Vatican II, rarely do I ever see a Mass with a majority of boys serving, 9/10 times its all or mostly girls, result: rapid decline in vocations to the priesthood, and religious life for that matter. Just use altar boys like they used too. Its not hard. God Bless.

  31. Trinitarian Dad says:

    Our medium sized parish has all male altar servers, ranging in age from four to 74. The “Altar Boy Corps” has about 120 members total. Our pastor’s philosophy seems to be to not schedule altar boys, but if a boy is trained to serve and will be at Holy Mass anyway, he should vest, process in and sit with the altar boys. Our 9:30 Sunday Mass is the Mass most popular with the young families and as a result, can have 50-60 boys/men serving. (It’s fun to watch the faces of first-time visitors during the Entrance Procession!) Most of the boys will have a job during Mass and take their responsibilities seriously and perform them most competently . The boys have a great esprit-de-corps with the youngers looking up to the older boys for guidance and the older boys keeping the younger boys focused. Since 2008 we have had six ordinations from our parish with three young men currently in the seminary. Is it any wonder? Other parishes have heard of our parish’s “ways” but don’t seem interested in adopting them. Other area parishes with many more families don’t seem to have registered a vocation in years.

  32. Robbie says:

    Dave N

    I tend to agree with you. I don’t care for altar girls, but I don’t see a straight line connection that links altar girls with the crisis in vocations. I’m open to other views, though.

    I only recently turned 36 so my history of the vocation crisis doesn’t stretch back very far, but was there a crisis in vocations in the 1960’s? I know one certainly came to be in the latter half of the 1970’s and the entirety of the 1980’s and it wasn’t until the early part of the 1980’s when the Vatican okayed altar girls, correct?

    My own view, and I suspect it may be a minority one, is the vocation crisis was a direct/indirect result of VCII and the NO. I’m not saying either one was evil, but both caused massive upheaval in what it meant to be Catholic. Some priests left because they refused to say NO while others joined the priesthood assuming a third VC would allow for married priest. When that didn’t happen, they bolted.

  33. FrDulli says:

    This poll also seems to show that male readers outnumber females by a significant margin on this blog. Fr. Z probably has the most accurate stats on that too. Priests have to go somewhere good on the web.

    Maybe the poll could be updated to say “Yes, and I am a priest/seminarian”. Sadly, you would probably still need the no option to that designation.

  34. Kathleen10 says:

    One doesn’t need to be a vocations expert, a church expert, or any other expert, except a KID expert, to know that when girls were added, the boys were going to decrease. I knew it then, and thought the idea was foolish, because of a few facts about kids.
    Despite the attire (strike one in some boy’s minds) when boys were the only altar servers, it was still, well, boyish. When you add girls to the mix, it becomes a “girly” thing in some boy’s minds and they won’t want to do it. Girls do it AND you wear a robe? No thanks. The peer pressure alone would keep boys out. You have to keep it exclusively male in order to get more boys. It’s tough enough to get boy altar servers now because of all the ‘priest’ comments boys are going to hear. That’s awful to say, I hate it too, but I saw this in my own family. Strike three.

    You have to factor in the clothing as a factor going in. It is hard enough to get boys to accept they are going to be wearing basically, a robe. It’s fine for grown up seminarians but remember, these are BOYS.
    I have seen altar girls in high heels. I have seen altar girls in dirty sneakers. I have seen boys in dirty sneakers. This sends a poor message overall. I have seen girls with long hair not tied back. It is most likely very distracting to have a female up on the altar with long, flowing hair fluttering around the altar. There has been a general decrease in the quality of service from altar servers, just as there has been a general decrease in the attitude and piety of people in general.

    But worst of all, is that it is a waste. With no vocation to aspire to, it is one fewer opportunity to have a boy up there on the altar who might enjoy learning what the priest does, and might see himself doing that. The girl is not going to serve up on the altar.
    This decision made no sense then, and it makes no sense now. We can’t go back to boys only soon enough, but who has the spine to do it. I’m sure in my liberal area we don’t.

  35. phlogiston says:

    Sadly, I believe there is room for a third poll question: Will female altar servers facilitate more agitation for female ordination? I don’t believe that answer is even debatable, which is another way the use of girls as altar servers is utterly reprehensible. They are being used as expendable psychological pawns in a battle against Church teaching, by fostering an attraction (to the priesthood) that can never be fulfilled.

  36. Scott W. says:

    Since the crisis in vocations substantially precedes the “altar girl” phenomenon, it would be difficult to conclude that the all-male sanctuary somehow fosters or promotes vocations. Once could argue that female altar services discourages vocations–but that’s a different issue.

    I don’t think any of us are arguing that female servers were the initial cause of priest shortages. But it sure didn’t fix it, and probably made it worse if anything.

  37. frjim4321 says:

    As you might have guessed, we have both female and male altar servers here. I believe more harm would be done by the injustice [?!? Serving is not a right.] of excluding females to outweigh any specious benefit of a discriminatory policy.

  38. maryh says:

    @APX Believe me, the last thing I want to do is foster a 1950’s housewife stereotype or a romanticized vision of the feminine. I’ve been in male-dominated fields most of my life, including the military for four years.

    When looking at the feminine, I take the following as my guidelines:
    1. The physical differences, especially with regard to end purposes, between women and men. The TOB tells us that these differences have theological meaning. Biology matters – God had a reason in creating us male and female. He had a reason to incarnate as a male, through a female.
    2. The example of our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary.
    3. The example of the female saints recognized by the Church.
    4. I’ve also started to read some of the writings of Saint Edith Stein.

    I seem to see as much stereotyping today as I did in the 70’s growing up. There is a difference between the sexes, and if we don’t recognize the significant differences, we’re going to latch onto simple statistical differences (most women are shorter than most men, women tend to have better verbal skills, men tend to have better math skills) or social styles (women wear pink, men wear blue; women wear dresses, men wear pants).

    There were members of my Latin Mass Community who were literally surprised that, at almost 30 years old, my parents were letting me drive the 6 hour drive home all by myself.
    I don’t really know what to say to that. As long as you have a (charged!) mobile phone to call for help if the car breaks down, I don’t think you would be in any danger. The average woman is at a disadvantage in a physical fight with the average man. But certainly, a woman is just as capable of navigating and driving a car as a man.

    I had another two people inform me that I was being immodest by wearing pants We spend so much time in this society arguing about whether women should be modest in the first place, that we spend virtually no time discussing what norms we ought to follow. Pants are not intrinsically immodest – it depends on how tight or how opaque they were.

    as well as a man tell me that he was in a position to fraternally correct me because he was a man, and thus had authority over me, a woman If I understand correctly, the man is the “head” of the woman in marriage only. In other cases, authority is not based on sex alone. As for fraternal correction, I didn’t realize you had to be in a position of authority for that. And anyway, women can have authority over men. I’m quite sure that Mother Angelica has authority over all her male employees at EWTN. And I’m fairly certain she is a traditional Catholic.

  39. JacobWall says:

    @maryh, what you say sounds very reasonable. Part of restoring the feminine is building true respect for women who hold true womanly authority.

  40. maryh says:

    Just curious. Do you have a crucifix or a resurrection crucifix in the sanctuary? Where is your statue of the Madonna and child? Is she only shown with the Holy Family?

    It does need to be clear that the reason women are not in the sanctuary during the Mass is because their vocation as mothers (spiritual or biological) excludes it, rather than because men are “better” than women.

    We all are called to carry our crosses, and we all may be called to die for the faith or for someone else. But I believe men are especially to called to this, because they are men. I can’t help but think that some of the impetus behind minimizing the sacrificial nature of the Mass and moving away from the clearly male Jesus suffering on the cross is because men are uncomfortable with the message about true masculinity that is sent here.

  41. maryh says:

    Thank you. I’m really interested in developing this further. There is a real tension between what is required to be a (biological) mother and what is required to be a (material) success in this (or perhaps any?) society.

    And a women is particularly vulnerable to accepting poor treatment if she can be sure it will help her child(ren). There’s no question that certain societies and times have taken advantage of this vulnerability to treat women very unfairly.

    However, it is no better to create a society where a woman can have any career or job a man has, BUT has no guarantee that the father of her child will share in the support and raising of that child. When it comes to pregnancy, childbirth, and raising the child, the woman in our (modern US) society is totally responsible, even if she marries (thanks to no-fault divorce).

  42. jbosco88 says:

    The second question I find difficult to answer in a black and white form.

    Throughout the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ and ‘age of aquarius’ there have, and continues to be, many holy saintly people in congregations of Parishes throughout the world, regardless of how intolerable the liturgy or preaching may be day by day. They attend Mass and pray.

    It could be said the same of altar servers? Sure it is important to not mfauddle genders, as society does, but the young men who truly wish to become holy Priests/Religious will try and do so, regardless of whether they serve the altar with Acolyte Ann and Thurifer Trudy. (I personally would struggle but would persevere entrusting myself to Divine Will).

  43. frjim4321 says:

    “Just curious. Do you have a crucifix or a resurrection crucifix in the sanctuary? Where is your statue of the Madonna and child? Is she only shown with the Holy Family?” – Mary

    Unfortunately the founding pastor installed a resurrection crucifix over the altar.

    I would like to remove it and have a suitable crucifix-style processional cross made, which would remain in the sanctuary when not being carried in procession.

    Also, as when I got here, there is a statue of Mary in the back of the church along with a candle rack.

    There is also in Infant of Prague.

    I have neither added nor subtracted any features during my tenure here . . . I have seen too many pastors klutz up churches; if I did anything my tendency would be to remove rather than to add distracting decorations.

    I don’t see the connection between your question and the topic at hand.

  44. I am going to play devil’s advocate, but from an orthodox perspective. Can the service of women at the altar promote religious vocations? That would be my “third question.” Heaven knows that we are sorely lacking in orthodox nuns, and that shortage is part of what has promoted “careerism” as Pope Francis put it, in the Church. Many of the paid positions in the Church today, such as teaching, were in the past performed by religious. I just wonder if it has to be either/or. Perhaps if it is approached correctly, we could not only get more priestly vocations, but also more religious vocations. As Father Z has said, maybe we can make a bigger pie instead of assuming that it is of fixed size. Granted, if push comes to shove, priests are essential to the Church’s mission, whereas religious are not essential in the same way, but religious are far from unimportant.

    That said, most of the arguments in favor of female altar servers tend to be emotional rather than reasonable, and it is kind of hard to separate that issue from women’s “ordination.”

  45. priests wife says:

    My husband is the ‘permanent’ supply priest for the 6:30 AM Sunday Mass at a Roman-rite parish with 10,000 registered families- this Mass has more than 200 people attending. It is a beautiful neo-Gothic church and it is a solid NO parish- except there are girl altar boys and lots of EMCs. It seems that only girls will wake up to serve at the 6:30 (which came first….), so my husband has to contend with all these females in the sanctuary…of course, the lector and EMCs are also female. (you might spare a prayer for him…luckily he is more compassionate than I)

  46. MouseTemplar says:

    I agree with the comment “Let’s bring the Feminine back into the Church”. Well and good. In our Parish we’ve said “let’s get the Dads back into the Church”. So the KofC formed up teams of Father/Son altar servers. It is hugely popular and the alar girls have faded away into a pair of hangers-on twin girls [whose Dad will not serve with them]who will soon be too old to qualify.

    I believe that this, coupled with the fact that several of us Mothers of boys refuse to let our sons serve with girls, is part of the reason our parish has the highest number of vocations in the Diocese.

    We do have a recently instituted Sacristan girls program, and have had one vocation to the Carmelite Order since it’s initiation thus far.

  47. Charivari Rob says:

    My replies don’t quite fit into the available choices.

    Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood? It might help, and I doubt it would hurt.

    Does female service at the altar harm or suppress vocations to the priesthood? I have no idea. Perhaps a companion question would be what a couple of commentators already alluded to – does it disrupt female religious formation or harm/suppress women’s vocations?

    I have seen no statistics or studies that attempt to correlate rate or numbers of priestly vocations to the setup of the altar server program in their childhood parish.

    I have, however, seen statistics – comparing glory days, thin times, and in-between (and pre/post V2) for priestly vocations (USA, I think) – that correlated to other factors. Turns out that Mass attendance is a strong determinant. As in – the number of vocations as compared to the number of Catholics who consistently fulfill their Sunday obligation has remained nearly constant throughout the decades.

  48. Legisperitus says:

    Ascension Thursday Sunday.
    Corpus Christi Thursday Sunday.
    Ordinary extraordinary ministers.
    Altar boy girls.
    It all fits together.

  49. Austin Catholics says:

    I can’t believe this question keeps going, and before a couple years ago I had no idea anyone objected to alter girls or women doing the readings. That’s what the internet brings us – exposure to different ideas.

    But seriously, even the self-styled “conservative” Catholics I know in real life – I doubt any of them object to women in the sanctuary and some of the conservative women eagerly server as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Outside the internet, there does not appear to be any questions or controversy in this area of church life.

    I wish we could have some actual data rather than speculation by internet commenters who imagine girls serving reduces vocation to the priesthood. Some hard data would be useful. It is reasonable to assume that kids identify certain jobs and professions with certain sexes, but it is also reasonable to assume that everyone (kids and otherwise) associates the Catholic priesthood with men. Does anyone really think teenage boys are confused into thinking the priesthood isn’t a vocation for adult men?

  50. APX says:

    We do have a recently instituted Sacristan girls program, and have had one vocation to the Carmelite Order since it’s initiation thus far.

    All our sacristans for our EF Mass are men, and I suspect that either this is an FSSP policy (it, a policy set in place by one priest and carried over by the next, or just coincidental. Anyone know for sure about whether or not women can be sacristans in traditionalist circles?

  51. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I believe more harm would be done by the injustice of excluding females to outweigh any specious benefit of a discriminatory policy.”

    Excluding females is not an injustice. To discriminate means to make a difference between two things. There certainly are differences between boys and girls in altar server roles.

    As for bringing back the idea of the feminine, Edith Stein has a collection of essays, published as book called, Essays on Women, that I can highly recommend.

    The question of altar girls is very simple to answer: name any period of Church history other than the last 30 years that has seen female altar servers comparable to what we have, today? There aren’t any. Male altar servers is so close to being part of Tradition that one can smell it. If the constant tradition of the Church is male-only, then the concession of female altar girls is and always will be that – a concession. I do not think that it can, really, become part of the normal practice of the Church.

    What we really have, here, is not just a need for a return to a correct understanding of the idea of the female or male, but, rather, what we need is a corrected understanding of the idea of the sacred, the holy. Men and women are set apart for different purposes in the worship of God and come together much as complimentary base pairs in the DNA of the Church. If the Church is the body of Christ, this is not a bad analogy.

    Long before we lost the idea of a separation of the roles of the sexes in the liturgy, we lost the idea of the sacred. These sorts of breeches almost always start from the top and proceed downward, with the breech in the supernatural preceding the breech in the natural. Long before unnatural marriages came to be, marriage had lost its supernatural characteristics and became just another legal contract. Long before women wanted to become priests, we lost the idea of the priest being separated from other men, not to mention women. To be holy is to be separate. To be sacred is to be set apart. If we can no longer believe that there is a real separateness between the priest and any other man, then there is no wonder why we can’t believe that there should be a real separateness between the male and the female at the altar.

    It is the Holy that I see so neglected at Church after Church. Why, if Christ were to walk into the Church before Mass, I suspect he might get back-slapped and drawn into a discussion of sports rather that seeing people fall down and adore him. You want a real correlation? How correlated are the male only servers with Eucharistic adoration? How many people who attend Eucharistic adoration have girls who are altar servers? Very few, I imagine.

    It is the sacred that we must recapture, but so many are drawn into the world, accepting only the world they can see with their eyes and not the world they can see with their soul. The question of altar girls is a question, ultimately, of the soul, not of legislation.

    The Chicken

  52. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I am so tired of this issue. In all charity, I think that the 1994 document promulgated during Bl. JP2’s pontificate was one of the most horrificly insane decisions of that pontificate. I just do not have anything else positive to add to this discussion. Everything negative I could offer has been said by other posters above. Positivity: Look at Lincoln, Nebraska diocese: the only ALL MALE ONLY ALTAR SERVICE diocese in the US, the only diocese with a Bishop with enough backbone to continue the traditional practice during the sexual/gender confusion/revolution. It is thriving with as many priests as parishes (around 130), 45 current diocesan seminarians (NOT including the FSSP seminary nearby), and is known all around for its general orthodoxy. This is not rocket science people. If you build it, they will come.

    It is just flabbergasting to me that intelligent people seriously argue that female altar service is good or has accomplished good things. As if any subjective feelings of “contribution” or “inclusivity” for teenage girls are worth diocesan collapse secondary to priestly shortage. I mean many diocese are fast-tracking their way to become mission territory, I know my home diocese is. I mean the ship is entering the maelstrom and it’s running out of oarsmen…and everyone is sitting around talking about their feelings being hurt and why the girls rats can’t help clean the deck…meanwhile the ship is capsizing.

  53. The Masked Chicken says:

    “But seriously, even the self-styled “conservative” Catholics I know in real life – I doubt any of them object to women in the sanctuary and some of the conservative women eagerly server as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Outside the internet, there does not appear to be any questions or controversy in this area of church life.”

    Are you kidding? How many conservative Catholics do you know? These are really center-Catholics you are describing. There are hard-core Conservatives to whom these practices are anathema. Travel broadens the mind. I don’t know what region of the country you live in (if in the U. S. at all), but there really are differences of opinions outside of the Internet.

    The Chicken

  54. jkm210 says:

    I’m 30 years old and grew up in a parish founded in 1965. We had girl altar servers there, long before it was licit. Yet, just that I am aware of (and there could be more out there), there are three diocesan priests, a priest in an order, and a recently-ordained transitional deacon, that have come from my home parish. At least 5 priests in 50 years is not too shabby. I think the altar-server culture probably plays a part, but it is not the sole indicator of priestly vocations.

  55. wmeyer says: I have seen young women who perform well as altar servers, and I have seen young men who do not. That said, I have observed more distraction among the young men when there is a young woman in the group. Not always, but usually.

    Quite honestly, I think this is beside the point. The fact is, boys need their all-male preserves. It is foolish to grudge them this. And having females in the sanctuary changes the whole ethos of the Mass.

    Frankly, I think the whole purpose of altar girls was to push for women’s ordination. Getting people inured to the changed ethos of the Mass was a step along the way. And the women’s ordination crowd is forever beating us over the head with the poor altar girls who can’t understand why they can’t be priests. Raising up a generation of dissatisfied girls who go on to advocate for women’s ordination was another step.

  56. tzard says:

    Extreme situations make poor law. One extreme stance is that if a boy has problems, distractions with girls, there is something wrong with them.

    And that’s not a situation I want my boys exposed to – but unfortunately it’s a fallout of the society we live in. It’s anti-boy.

    In my parish, girl altar servers are typically from large faithful catholic families. There’s no feminist push from them. But I think what the problem is, is subtler. As someone said, there’s no talk to all the altar servers about considering the priesthood – it would need to be brought up individually instead of culturally. A goal for the priesthood is relegated to the interior life, and not to a “place” – the sanctuary. This is fine enough, but having physical, tangible “areas” and “things” is what us poor human beings need to grasp eternal truths. I bet there’s some correlation with whitewashed churches and the use of altar girls. But I digress.

  57. robtbrown says:

    Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I am so tired of this issue. In all charity, I think that the 1994 document promulgated during Bl. JP2?s pontificate was one of the most horrificly insane decisions of that pontificate.

    What document?

  58. PA mom says:

    Yes and yes, however… I have experienced at the moment a great reluctance in Father’s response to getting the boys more involved. The idea was a boys only altar server group who would serve during the summer at daily Masses, funerals and weddings.
    I can understand with the undercurrents how a priest is safer with girls in the mix, from erroneous claims of misconduct. Perhaps that is part of the friction as well. I had hoped that the older men who spend all school year getting to be the altar boys would step up, make it happen and form a protective layer to the setup, but so far, no dice.
    My daughter has requested, I have said no.

  59. Catholictothecore says:

    It would be interesting to see some kind of a survey done on this in Europe and in North America.

    Ask the current seminarians as well as the recently ordained priests these questions :

    – did you enter the priesthood because of an All-male sanctuary?
    – an All-female sanctuary
    – a mixture of boys and girl servers?
    – you entered because you discerned God’s call?
    – other reasons (elaborate)

    Once we get the above figures, then maybe Rome can sit down and evaluate the situation. Until then we are merely pin-pointing to one factor when there could be a whole myriad of reasons why young men are not discerning a call to the priesthood.

  60. APX says:

    If we really want to blame the lack of vocations on something, it’s the contraceptive mentality that took over. Right now it’s the people my age getting ordained (or at least should have been), but they come from really small families. I wonder how many vocations have been lost due to babies not being born?

  61. cyejbv says:

    This is purely anecdotal: my 15 year old son was discouraged by it-even though he doesn’t know anything different. The jist of his disappointment was that ‘there isn’t anything just for us (boys) anymore – not at school or in sports and it’s like that at church too.’

    He served for about 5 years but last year was his last year; I know-so please know I know-altar serving is for Our Lord and not for or about with whom you assist the priest,but at several of the Masses he was the only boy- and at 12,13 and 14 rather than being a badge of honor for him, it was a burden: most of the girls assisting were 9-10 years old. So older girls distract and younger irritate, I guess. At any rate, it got to the point that he dreaded altar serving, and begged not to do it anymore.

  62. maryh says:

    @Catholictothecore That’s not going to work. Every priest is going to say he entered the priesthood because he discerned God’s call (I hope).

    What you want to do is gather statistics about how many seminarians and recently ordained priests were altar boys.

    If there is a high correlation between having been an altar boy and becoming a priest, then anything which reduces the number of altar boys will be correlated with fewer priests.

    If girl altar servers are correlated with fewer boys being altar servers, then girl altar servers will be correlated with fewer priests.

    Yes, there are other factors. We’re just pin-pointing one. Although I think this factor is representative of a lot of other factors that contribute to it.

    Losing our sense of the sacred, as The Masked Chicken said. I think that makes being a priest (and certainly an altar server) is just another job, which justice requires be made as available to women as to men, which is why people like Frjim4321 and Austin Catholics can’t even see any other way to interpret this except as injustice;

    No longer having a physical place – the sanctuary – serve as sign for someone who might have a goal for the priesthood” as tzard said. Like so much else, we seem intent on removing physical symbols for spiritual realities.

    And the many other commenters who note the importance of a male space for boys to discern a uniquely male vocation.

    And finally, as phlogiston says, altar girls “are being used as expendable psychological pawns in a battle against Church teaching, by fostering an attraction (to the priesthood) that can never be fulfilled.”

  63. maryh says:

    @APX If we really want to blame the lack of vocations on something, it’s the contraceptive mentality that took over.

    That’s certainly part of it too.

  64. robtbrown says:

    APX says:
    If we really want to blame the lack of vocations on something, it’s the contraceptive mentality that took over.

    And why did people adopt the contraceptive mentality?

    With the change to celebrating mass in the vernacular, facing the people, the Church lost much of the mystique of Her Divine Teaching Authority.

  65. M. K. says:

    The parish I grew up in during the 1980s and early 1990s had only altar boys. When Rome formally permitted female altar servers, the pastor started to allow them as well though my impression at the time was that he did so only because he felt like he “had to” (perhaps he was pressured by people in the parish or by others in the diocese? I don’t know – I never got the story; the pastor was fairly traditional on a lot of other things, which is part of why I do not think that he was in favor of the change).

    As for the effect on vocations, I am currently a seminarian and I am the only one who has ever come from the above parish. It’s worth noting that I was not an altar boy growing up and only began to serve at the altar while I was in college – and then in places where only male servers were used. A lot of other influences helped lead me to consider a priestly vocation, and I cannot say that being an acolyte was the most important, but I still think that having started out as an acolyte in a male-only environment made me connect service at the altar with priesthood in a way that I would not have done otherwise.

  66. Kieninger says:

    As pastor of a large parish where altar girls were introduced by my predecessor, I am in a quandary. I firmly believe that: 1. The purpose of having boys on the altar assisting with things that I or other adults could handle is specifically to give them some sense of a vocation to the priesthood, and 2. I see no purpose whatsoever in having girls on the altar for the same reason – religious sisters do not say Mass in their convents. Neither I nor my altar server trainer (who does not allow his daughters to serve) encourage girls to join, but their parents often push them to sign up, especially when an older sister has served. I have noted that the boys generally prefer to serve with other boys and the girls prefer to serve with other girls, and often both visibly dislike being in mixed groups (we have four servers at every Mass). The difficulty is that, while it is within my authority to limit servers to males only, I would be lynched by a large percentage of my parishioners who would view it as a cruel or possibly misogynistic action, and they would almost certainly complain to the bishop about it. I wonder whether there isn’t some alternate activity that the girls could do during Mass, such as ushering, which would keep them involved without being in the sanctuary.

  67. Chuck3030 says:

    I have had experiences primarily in two parishes/areas.
    In one, only boys were allowed to serve, and a lot of us did so. That parish currently has 4 seminarians at SJV, and I think one more at SPS. I know of at least one more who is applying from that parish as well. Only one other parish in the archdiocese has more seminarians than this one, and that one has not only the male-only altar servers, but also the TLM. (It is hard to compete with only the NO.)
    My family then moved away from there, to a 4-parish cluster with two priests and one deacon between the four of them. Girls were (and are, to the best of my knowledge) allowed to serve, and almost always there is one or more female altar servers. Rarely was there a male server, other than the school masses where the guys did not have another choice. Between these four parishes, which admittedly are smaller when combined than the first mentioned parish, do not have a single seminarian at this time to the best of my knowledge.

  68. Dave N. says:

    I only recently turned 36 so my history of the vocation crisis doesn’t stretch back very far, but was there a crisis in vocations in the 1960?s? I know one certainly came to be in the latter half of the 1970?s and the entirety of the 1980?s and it wasn’t until the early part of the 1980?s when the Vatican okayed altar girls, correct?

    The biggest decline in the number of seminarians (both percentage-wise and in absolute terms) was in the period from 1965-1975–almost 40%; but you’re right in a sense, the decline continued, although at a slower pace, well into the 1990’s. The number of seminarians has held fairly constant since about 1995.

    My recollection that official Vatican approval for female altar servers came around 1993 or 1994, but maybe someone has more information on that. Of course, this was already in practice in some places prior to that.

    As far as I’m concerned, your hunches are probably justified.

  69. Bob B. says:

    Being a Catholic school teacher, I always felt it was our job to also prompt students to become priests, sisters, brothers and nuns. The problem in the different schools I’ve taught is support.
    The first school saw priests supporting my efforts to have students become altar servers, while the principal didn’t. The second school saw no support from both the priests and the new principal (in fact she forbade me from continuing to teach altar serving). The diocese could not be depended upon to do anything for Vocation Awareness week.
    Both parishes needed altar servers but parents often told their children that they were not allowed to altar serve on weekends. My thought was that they could at least be able to serve the parish and school during the week. I made every student learn how to serve (no exceptions) and I was able to introduce a whole realm of different things for them to learn (including Latin, Canonical Hours, etc). (This really paid off when I took two classes to the Norbertine Abbey where they participated in Sext – they received a lot of compliments.)
    I did have two students tell me they wanted to be priests and I felt my classes could easily take on students in higher grades in their overall Catholic knowledge.

  70. Helier says:

    All 3 of my children have been altar servers – one of them is my beloved daughter.
    All 3 of them are wonderful Catholics to this day.
    The youngest son is still today a server for our bishop, and as such a member of an exclusive group of servers entrusted with that duty (our Rector keeps a very traditional tone in the Cathedral I will mention as well, and this inclination is in fact very much a part of who I am.)

    My daughter today is a beautiful Catholic young lady (and I mean big C Catholic here,) – who prefers to veil at age 19, and I can tell you with great certainty, that her opportunity to participate as a server during mass in years past was an important part of her journey till now. She made this choice as a learned one, not based on example from her parents (her mother does not follow this practice today.) I can also tell you that her choice to veil today is rooted in humility and love of God – no question here.

    Children are not adults – a young girl wishing to serve Christ during the mass does not indicate that she wants to be a priest someday. Can we really say with complete certainty that the opportunity to serve during the mass for properly catechised girls and boys might not lead to increases in vocations for both women and men as they later mature?

  71. kiwitrad says:

    I went to a Mass for the local school recently. The choir was all girls, the altar servers were girls, girls did the readings. No wonder we have so few vocations in NZ.

  72. I am a woman. What I have noticed is that more often than not, altar serving is female dominated. Now I look around and see people have families with boys, but they are not up there serving. The Eucharistic ministers are also 90 % women. I feel like females are taking everything over and edging the males out. It is very disconcerting. Men need to have their place at church, they need to be “allowed” back in the sanctuary because sometimes it honestly looks like an all-girls club up there.

  73. The girls are occupying space that would otherwise be filled by a boy – and prospective priest. There will not be a shortage of servers if only boys are allowed. Boys will rise to the occasion – it will happen. There is a shortage in vocations because there is a shortage in male presence at the altar. Girls can serve the Church in other ways. Creating quality vestments with care, dedication, love, and attention to detail that inspires devotion is just as important to the Church as young boys learning to serve mass with just as much care, dedication, love and attention to detail to inspire devotion. Both are essential boys and girls individually can have their role that they can develop a mastery of. Right now, the roles have diluted so much that all we have today are lackluster vestments and lackluster serving. Get the roles exclusive and you will be inspired with the results.

  74. wmeyer says:

    I think that, as with most changes made after the close of the Council, many in the laity look on them with favor because they are ignorant of their faith. Yes, they may well be in the pew every Sunday–and some every day–but how many of them have any comprehension of (or have read) the Catechism? How many of the champions of Vatican II have read all (or any) of the documents of the Council?

    I believe that there is a high correlation between membership in the spirit of Vatican II crowd and:
    – support for EMHCs
    – support for female altar servers
    – acceptance of contraception
    – acceptance of abortion
    – welcome of Haugen, Haas, Schutte, et. al. in the choir
    – interference with pastoral authority
    – near total ignorance of what the Council actually promulgated

    Certainly we must all pray for these things to be corrected, but we must also make an effort to apply correction. Is there an adult class in the Catechism in your parish? Why not?

  75. RJHighland says:

    After attending several TLM masses will I was a vocations liaison to the dioceses for my Novus Ordo Parish I realized the importance of having all male altar servers. In the small parish that had the TLM 6 of the young altar servers were thinking of entering the priesthood. In my Novus Ordo parish there over a thousand families none of the altar servers were thinking about going into the priesthood. As one who was not confirmed into the Church until 1995 how was this allowed to happen in the Church and who could Bishop’s in the service of our Lord elevated by the Supreme Pontiff nearly unanimously think this and reception of communion standing in the hand were good ideas? The Popes that elevated these Bishops that corrupted the Church are being beatified and pressed into sainthood. Does that make any sense? Should that raise questions about infallibility? Yet these folks that made these changes to the altar servers and postures in mass are in full normal communion with the Church and the Society of St. Pius X who said no to all these innovations and maintained an all male altar service is in irregular communion, fascinating. Fundamentally the new mass and its innovations is what Paul VI and John Paul II were demanding the Society to accept. This would make complete sense in bizarro world. We must go back in time to save the future of the Church, we must go back to the future.

  76. a catechist says:

    What bothers me about this topic is that it lets the priest shortage get laid on the shoulders of the altar girls & their pastors and families. How about this: priests who aren’t visibly happy to be priests don’t inspire boys to be servers, much less to be priests. Priests who aren’t well-balanced and interesting people don’t inspire confidence in celibacy as a healthy commitment. Priests who don’t think of themselves as modeling/recruiting priests don’t.

    My daughter wants to be an altar girl because she loves Jesus and loves the Mass. I tell her no. My older son won’t go near it, not because there are girls at some Masses, but because none of the priests have ever given the slightest encouragement, or shown the smallest interest in him at all. My daughter has the social skills and confidence to do it without encouragement, and my son doesn’t. How many families is that true for?

  77. Austin Catholics says:

    @maryh “which is why people like Frjim4321 and Austin Catholics can’t even see any other way to interpret this except as injustice;”

    I never said excluding girls from alter service was an injustice. I’m usually not one to go around screaming about injustice. It’s not an injustice because it doesn’t happen (except apparently in Nebraska). I just think it’s strange that so many people on the internet (but not real life) consider this important or even worthy of discussion.

    I do agree (and said in my post) that statistical data would be useful in addressing this question, as so many people don’t make an appeal to theology as much as pragmatism (the argument that allowing girls to serve reduces the number of priests.)

    In any case, I would estimate the chances of returning to boys only in alter service in the next 30 years at less than 1%. It’s not an issue outside the internet.

  78. SimonDodd says:

    This seems like a fundamentally empirical question, to which anecdotal evidence may be helpful, but on which one’s opinion is irrelevant. I am tacitly voting for “my opinion is irrelevant and I don’t have empirical or anecdotal evidence.” I will say that I always find it startling and bizarre to read variations on the “girls drive out boys” claim—semper adfirmatio, numquam argumentum—which seems utterly contrary to experience and common sense. When I was young, boys wanted to be wherever girls are, and as I’ve grown older and put my kid through high school, it has seemed even clearer that boys want to be wherever girls are. Perhaps there is a case to be made that girls drive out boys—and empirics trump everything, so if there is in fact evidence that altar girls drive out altar boys, it doesn’t matter whether or not it makes sense—in which case those who repeat the claim would do well to make that case instead of repeating ad nauseum what seems to be a hollow talking point.

  79. Fr AJ says:

    All male servers is a nice idea but in some places it would be next to impossible to start. In my Diocese the Bishop has said, without using the word “quota,” he would like each parish to have equal numbers of male and female servers. If I tried to just have male servers, it would last as long as the first phone call or letter to the Chancery.

  80. JabbaPapa says:

    I see nothing significantly wrong with very young altar girls — but I don’t think nubile adolescent women have any place at the altar service.

    I only answered the second question, the answers offered for the first do not represent what I think.

    One has to consider the possibility of encouraging not just priestly vocations, but religious vocations too, and other forms of service in Christ, as well as — frankly — the simple continuation of Mass attendance and Catholic Faith into adult life.

  81. Lisa says:

    As soon as our parish started allowing girl altar boys, my dad sat the girls in our family down. He told us that it was while he was serving at the altar that he began to think seriously about the priesthood, and he thought that it was probably that way for many, many other boys. Therefore it wouldn’t even be fair to allow us to serve, because it may make us desire to be something we could never be. And that was that. Many of my girl friends served, but I never did, and it wasn’t a big deal at all.
    There are very, very few vocations in my home parish. As in, one young man was just ordained a transitional deacon, and he’s the first in my memory.

  82. Giuseppe says:

    1) Girl altar servers can foster vocations, if you count female EMHC as a vocation. On parish I know already has some former female altar servers graduate to be lectors and then EMHCs.

    2) As a former altar boy, we wondered why we had to dress like girls to serve at Mass. (Girls asked why we wore a loose blouse over our dresses.) I now understand the rationale for liturgical garb. I do not think we ever viewed Father or Monsignor as essentially masculine, given the liturgical garb, which, in our minds as boys, seemed feminine.

    3) With female altar servers and EMHCs, there is a visual weakening of the argument for an all-male priesthood. The argument remains solid. But optics mean a lot (Nixon v. Kennedy).

  83. Late for heaven says:

    Having female alter servers leads to confusion at least. Not only in the role of server, but also in the role of women in the church. Even if it leads to vocations among women.

    A local parish has an altar server who is a mature woman in her 30s. Most of the readers and ministers are also women. So I grant that perhaps this adult server has a burning devotion to Our Lord and the Church. But this is the wrong place for that devotion.

  84. chantgirl says:

    I know several NO parish priests who would love to go to an all-male server roster, but are terrified of the backlash that they would get. Bishops, it would only take one act of courage from you to say, “Due to my desire to increase vocations to the priesthood, this diocese will now only use male altar servers.”. If an individual priest does this, he gets nasty letters sent downtown, angry phone calls, and people jump ship to another parish. If the order comes from the top down, no individual priests have to fall on their swords, no one needs to find a different parish (for this reason), and the buck stops with the bishop.

    For the pastor who’s bishop has given quotas of female servers, perhaps some of those girls who would like to serve would like to sing in an all girls’ schola better.

  85. lampada says:

    My diocese has one of the highest numbers of seminarians per capita. It has more seminarians than most dioceses in the USA. There is only one parish that has all male servers (the TLM parish). It is so small that I do not believe any seminarian vocations are forthcoming. There is only one other venue for all male servers- the Bishop’s Masses with the “Pontifical Servers” group. All the rest of the parishes have mixed servers. The key here isn’t an all male corps. It is the fact that Mass is said reverently and well by the priests in the Ordinary Form. Incidentally, there are a lot of vocations to consecrated life (religious, secular institutes, and consecrated virginity) in the diocese as well. Again, let me stress that this is in an Ordinary Form, ad populum, Communion in both forms environment.

    Another point which I ought to bring up is that there is a certain “hierarchy” for certain ministries when duly ordained or instituted men are not present. Thus, religious sisters trump lay men for being readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, etc. My own bishop has asked as part of my apostolate and service to the Church to be a visible presence in the parish in taking roles at Mass. I am seriously considering being an EMHC to bring the Lord to the sick or homebound, partly because of the intrinsic connection between the Consecrated Virgin and the Eucharist.

  86. maryh says:

    @Austin Catholics says:
    I never said excluding girls from alter service was an injustice. … It’s not an injustice because it doesn’t happen (except apparently in Nebraska).
    So is it an injustice in Nebraska? How about where it occurs in the Diocese of Madison, WI? Would you be upset if you had a daughter who wanted to be an altar server, but couldn’t, in your parish? Would you change parishes?

    I just think it’s strange that so many people on the internet (but not real life) consider this important or even worthy of discussion.
    You didn’t know about Nebraska. You didn’t know about the cases in the Diocese of Madison, WI. Do you wonder what other real life examples you don’t know about? And given that opposition to girl altar servers is easily (if not usually) construed as sexist, would someone even be comfortable broaching the subject to you?

    I do agree (and said in my post) that statistical data would be useful in addressing this question
    Agreed. I think we all agree here. It’s hard to believe that such data doesn’t already exist though.

    In any case, I would estimate the chances of returning to boys only in alter service in the next 30 years at less than 1%. It’s not an issue outside the internet.
    Actually, as has been pointed out, there are already only boys in altar service in some places. And I have seen so many things change in my life – in both directions – that I don’t believe in such statements.

    Finally, as certain people have said, certainly there are other factors that encourage boys to become priests as well, including priests that foster vocations. It may simply be that the kinds of priests who actually foster vocations also happen to be the kinds of priests who encourage all male altar service. But that in itself is revealing.

    So what about the actual statistics? Does anyone have any for say, the past ten or twenty years?

    @Father AJ
    You could start out by having the girls and the boys wear different things for altar service, and by not having boys and girls serve together at the same Mass. Since girls do seem to outnumber boys in altar service, you probably don’t have as many boys serving the altar as girls right now anyway.

  87. lampada says:

    The argument running in this thread appears to be that women’s presence in the sanctuary diminishes vocations to the priesthood, and makes women wish to be priests. I really don’t see this happening in my diocese. I seriously doubt that more vocations would miraculously spring forth should my diocese switch to an all male sanctuary (no female servers/readers). While there is room for vast improvement, my diocese at least has a lot of important bases covered as far as catechesis and other areas of formation are concerned. It’s not just what happens in the church building, it is the life and mores of the people that really counts. Is a young person raised in a loving intact family strong in the Faith? Such a person would be more likely to respond to a vocation, regardless of what form of Mass is being attended. I would say that more vocations are family “grown” than the result of an all male server policy at the parish. Think of the families and people that reverent Masses attract. Sure, a TLM parish “might” have more vocations, but maybe it is because the people are more serious about their Faith, rather than because only males are up at the altar. Where there are more people who are practicing Catholics, there will be more vocations.

  88. Robbie says:

    As I wrote previously in this comment section, I don’t like the practice of altar girls. Heck, in the parish I attend, they’ve suddenly begun to use recently confirmed eight graders as Eucharistic ministers! It just frustrates me to no end.

    However, I think a previous commenter was correct to say this conversation could be construed as placing the vocation shortage, in large part, on altar girls. I think focusing on altar girls is somewhat like missing the forest for the trees. I think the real culprit is VCII, or at least its implementation.

    For almost 2000 years, the Catholic Church was one way. The Mass, with only minor word changes, was said the same way for 1500 years. What it meant to be Catholic was not in question. Everyone knew. That all changed with the Council.

    The net result of the Council’s implementation left up in the air much of what had been done for centuries upon centuries. It wasn’t until JPII and Cardinal Ratzinger drew a line in the sand in the early 1980’s that the decline leveled off. Given the massive change of the 1970’s, it’s not surprising so many who might have wanted to become priests soured on what they saw.

    That’s just my relatively uniformed view.

  89. Anne M. says:

    In our small OF parish of 430 families we have only altar boys. Our pastor doesn’t prohibit girls but no girl has asked to be an altar server in a number of years. It is not uncommon to have 15 or more altar boys at Sunday Mass, ranging in age from 10 through college age men. We have six men in the seminary, which is remarkable for a parish as small as ours. I do believe that having only male altar servers helps to foster vocations to the priesthood, but I also think that more traditional practices and liturgy play a huge role as well. As one poster mentioned, the attitude of the priest in encouraging vocations is also crucial. Our pastor does a wonderful job with that. He is also cognizant of the fact that the girls want something to do as well, so he has them take up the collection at our Weds. evening Mass and present the gifts. The older girls pass the collection baskets, but all the girls, even very young ones, participate in presenting the gifts and they love it. The older girls also assist our altar guild in caring for the sanctuary.

  90. Phil_NL says:

    I think we should be careful in keeping in mind that correlation is not causation.

    On the whole, parishes with an all-male sanctuary are much more likely to be much more orthodox in their beliefs, more traditional in the subjects that they emphasize, and more reverent when it comes to celebrating Mass. Each of those three factors, as well as some others perhaps, would also have an impact, and more likely than not, a profound one. As lampada gives anecdotal evidence of.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that you won’t hurt vocations if all servers are girls, 10 to 14 years old, and wear pink surplices. No self-respecting boy aged 8-12 would want to touch such an institution with a pole, and frankly, liturgical garb doesn’t help to begin with (as Guiseppe remarks, a boy typically does not see these vestments as masculine, and that’s before we even touch the subject of lace for the priest).

    So what the stand-alone impact would be, remains to be seen. Also since there nowadays is a gap of 15, and sometimes nearly 20, years between the age when boys would start serving Mass, and when they would be accepted as seminarians. (a secular college degree is desired, in most cases). With such a gap, I doubt that there will be many cases where experiences serving as a 6 year old will still be decisive at age 21. An influence, yes – but probably an indirect and small one.

  91. Anne M. says:

    Phil_NL says: Also since there nowadays is a gap of 15, and sometimes nearly 20, years between the age when boys would start serving Mass, and when they would be accepted as seminarians. (a secular college degree is desired, in most cases).

    Really? I wonder if that is a diocesan preference? Many of our seminarians go to seminary right after high school.

  92. NickD says:

    Serving only with other men makes it like a brotherhood, which is something that is destroyed by bringing women into the sanctuary.

  93. Springkeeper says:

    I will say this as a woman who is also a retired Marine; female altar servers will never encourage more males to get involved or increase the number of men who aspire to the priesthood. What greater goal is there for altar servers than to become priests? I was a Gunnery Sergeant and a drill instructor and do not feel slighted or “unjustly discriminated against” because I can’t serve on the altar. I embrace my femininity and am greatly pleased when men embrace their masculinity. Vive la difference! A holy Catholic girl can want to become a nun or sister without ever once “serving” at Mass and I think (conservative/traditional) Sisters teaching Catholic school will do more to foster female vocations in that regard. Daughter #2 is almost old enough to serve and she would be a distraction just because of her appearance alone. I also think if parents think their daughter won’t be a distraction to young males, maybe she is unusually unattractive because all girls, especially pretty ones, are a distraction to young males.

  94. APX says:

    lampada says:
    I am seriously considering being an EMHC to bring the Lord to the sick or homebound, partly because of the intrinsic connection between the Consecrated Virgin and the Eucharist.

    I know there’s also an intrinsic connection between the Consecrated Virgin and the Priesthood, and have thought, that while it may be preferable for a CV bring the Eucharist to the homebound or sick than a non-consecrated lay person, but would it not be better for the CV to use her charism to organize that a priest do this instead? IMHO, it should still be priests who provide the sacraments to their parishioners unless absolutely not possible. Not to mention this would also allow the person to have their confession heard without having to reveal the possibility that they are in a state of mortal sin to the person who brings them the Eucharist.

    Anne M. says:
    Really? I wonder if that is a diocesan preference? Many of our seminarians go to seminary right after high school.
    I have heard some diocese requiring that prospective seminarians do their undergraduate philosophy from a secular university and pay for it themselves (yet they can’t have any outstanding debt when they’re ordained), some leave it as an option, whereas some strongly advise against it because of the likely possibility of being demoralized in the university culture, as well as learning bad philosophy/theology.

    I know my friend, who is a diocesan priest in Canada, did his own BA in Philosophy at Christendom College rather than go through the philosophy program at seminary. Unfortunately, to do such is rather expensive and not everyone has that option available to them. Personally, given the opportunity, if I were a prospective seminarian, I’d rather do my philosophy degree through a reputable Catholic university than a seminary philosophy program, but that’s just me and I can’t be a seminarian so…

  95. A Sinner 2 says:

    I think Fr. Jim makes a good (although misdirected) point here. There is an injustice being done by the Church. That injustice is to force upon men and women, boys and girls, the idea that rather than being significantly and fundamentally different, they were interchangeable parts: that anything a man or boy does a woman or girl should do as well and vice versa. In other words, by allowing girls and women in the sanctuary, the Church has caved to one of the major fallacies of the modern world.

    The ramifications extend beyond lack of vocations. A requirement of this interchangeability is sexual activity without consequences: hence birth control and abortion, and that a marriage may take place between two members of the same sex.

    As a result, I cannot take the bishops’ words and actions opposing abortion, birth control, and gay marriage seriously when they continue to promote the idea of males and females as interchangeable.

  96. AdMajoremDeiGloriam says:

    I can only speak from my experience as a (male) server. Others have noted that young boys have a great drive to do things they perceive as manly, and their interests are largely shaped by the actions of the men around them. I went to a parochial grade school, and we had some female altar servers at the parish church. However, most servers were boys, so altar serving was still primarily seen as a masculine practice. I wanted to light the incense (fire!!), to lead the procession, to wear the cassock our sacristan would use (we wore albs). The coolest boy in school was an 8th grader who was always serving the “special” Masses (weddings, funerals, first Friday Masses with Benediction) as thurifer. Of course, we needed to grow in our faith to understand the significance of what we were doing as servers, but, nevertheless, all of these things built on our natural desires for manhood, fostered community among the altar boys, and drew us into the Mass. And these elements of masculinity attracted me when I sometimes pictured myself in the place of the priest. Now I’m applying to a religious order to pursue the priesthood.

    I agree with Phil_NL that correlation does not necessarily imply causation when we look to parishes for evidence. The NO parish I attend when possible has only male servers, but it’s also a mission church with many other things going for it (6 Masses a day, Confessions throughout the day, devotions, solid preaching, etc.), so I don’t know whether I could point to the male servers as a major reason for parish vocations. On the other hand, I’ve been to parishes with no recent vocations where it’s rare to see a single altar boy serving (though these parishes generally don’t have those other things going for them either). I can’t conclude these relationships are causative, and I don’t know how serving in a parish of the latter type would have affected my initial attraction to the priesthood (or my serious discernment, which began much later). However, I believe that anything a pastor does to present masculinity in altar serving will encourage the servers and other boys to see masculinity exemplified in the priesthood.

  97. maryh says:

    @A Sinner 2 Absolutely!
    @AdMajoremDeiGloriam anything a pastor does to present masculinity in altar serving will encourage the servers and other boys to see masculinity exemplified in the priesthood. Agreed!

  98. Jennifer_Fitz says:

    I voted all-male encourages, because of the obvious effect of man-time in encouraging boys in any direction. I voted females discourage, because I view the world like a mother, and can see that mixed-gender teams creates a convenient little Catholic dating service.

    So . . . weirdly . . . in my family, my daughter serves, and my son doesn’t. My daughter’s in because it’s permitted, and there’s really nothing else offered for girls to do, and it’s normal for a kid to want to help out in some way around the parish. [Note to self — I need to take her to the rosary makers one Saturday. That she could do, and be good at it.] I’d love to see a girls’ vocation club or some such thing created as an alternative way to involve the girls.

    My son we excused from serving when his man-brain engaged in early adolescence, because he found it very uncomfortable having front row views of the scantily-clad ladies serving in other functions around the sanctuary. He still sometimes subs, but subbing gives him the option of checking who’s on the roster for this and that, to make sure he won’t have a view up anyone’s skirt before he volunteers that week.

    So until our pin-up show problem is solved, any teen boy serious about practicing the faith has to steer clear of altar serving.

    [I know — should be an easy problem to solve. We’ll charitably assume the pastor has good reasons for not taking a hard line on a dress code. And perhaps has a long term plan in place that we don’t know about? Maybe? Please?]

  99. Kathy C says:

    The feelings and egos of girls and women do count. They are important. However, having priests is much more important. For good or ill, boys don’t want to do what girls do. If the girls are doing it, then it’s girl stuff and the boys are out of there. The old boys are generally the same. If the old girls are doing it, they’re out of there too. That is the reality of the gender differences that God has put into us. No matter how much they want women and men to be the same, they never will be. We’re destroying the identities of our young people by insisting that all opportunities be available to everyone.

  100. totustuusmaria says:

    Even if it did not encourage vocations, the services at the altar should be restriced to men because they are extensions of the ministry of the priest. The uninstituted ministers are doing the duties of sub-deacon, acolyte, lector, and sometimes some of the duties of the deacon. The ordinary ministers for these offices are deacons, acolytes, and lectors– all of which are restricted to men because their duties are lesser-duties that pertain to the ministerial priesthood.

    That said, it does encourage vocations. My pastor has an all-male set of servers. He says it is to encourage vocations. Hardly a year goes by when there are not AT LEAST 20 men in seminary from my parish. That is in part because the Pastor is always inviting the men to participate as much as they can in his liturgical ministry.

  101. Mary Jane says:

    frjim4321 , it is certainly not an injustice to exclude females from serving. And comeon – “specious benefit”? “Discriminatory policy”?? I don’t even know what to say to that except that it’s very similar to language liberals tend to use.

  102. Mary Jane says:

    An all-male sanctuary fosters vocations to the priesthood. A mixed sanctuary fosters the notion some seem to have that women should be able to be ordained:


  103. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    This probably won’t matter much to most people discussing the question of whether female altar service is appropriate, but speaking as a middle-aged woman, if anyone were to stick around after the last Mass, or visit the church on a weekday after Mass, they would very likely see an all-female, all over 40 cadre of females vacuuming the altar, washing the tiled areas, dusting, polishing, cleaning, straightening, and fixing and taking care of everything on the altar. Keeping expensive floral arrangements looking fresh beyond a week, alone, can and does represent hours of work. So does laundering and ironing the linens.

    These women swarming and bustling all over the sanctuary during the church’s off-hours keep the sanctuary clean, attractive, and properly equipped so that the menfolk can do what they need to do when it is time for Mass to begin. We do plenty of service on the altar in many parishes, just unseen, unnoticed, and I’ll wager, pretty much unappreciated, except by One who Himself knows what it is to be taken for granted. (We continue to do our work for love of Him.)

  104. gjp says:

    I became an altar boy in 1987 in the diocese of the late Most Rev. +Untener. Consequently, I have never seen a male-only sanctuary. Therefore, I cannot say based on any personal experience that a male-only approach is better, because I have never observed one. So I feel I cannot answer the question one way or another.

    From personal experience, I feel I may be fighting hard and/or ducking my possible vocation to the priesthood. My feeling is that if this is indeed the case, I know for a fact that because once upon a time I served the altar with girls has nothing to do with it. Although, I cannot doubt that this possibility may be the case for others.

  105. lampada says:

    APX said:

    I know there’s also an intrinsic connection between the Consecrated Virgin and the Priesthood, and have thought, that while it may be preferable for a CV bring the Eucharist to the homebound or sick than a non-consecrated lay person, but would it not be better for the CV to use her charism to organize that a priest do this instead? IMHO, it should still be priests who provide the sacraments to their parishioners unless absolutely not possible. Not to mention this would also allow the person to have their confession heard without having to reveal the possibility that they are in a state of mortal sin to the person who brings them the Eucharist.

    Priests, like CVs, are limited in time and space. When parish priests are juggling two or three parishes alone, there will be many things which others will be called to do, including bringing Holy Communion to people. Also, many traditional priests don’t appreciate being “organized” by others. Indeed, many tend to be quite clericalist. There is a happy medium between clericalism and anti-clericalism, and I have seen very few successfully pull it off. That is a tangent, however to the thrust of this thread, which is whether women participating in ministries in the sanctuary reduce priestly vocations. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t a tangent.

    I’d be interested in knowing whether the faithful are more comfortable with the clericalist model and hence have more “vocations” because they are told to hold fast to traditional practices (such as only male servers) and that they have vocations to the priesthood or consecrated life if they are single and pious. The pay, pray, and obey model is certainly a lot easier one to follow than the mature Christian model which requires prayer, active discernment and weighing of the circumstances and relevant principles.

    Yes, I am considering being an EMHC, but that is after duly considering the pressing need, the lack of clergy, my spousal relationship with Jesus Christ, and my own concrete circumstances in addition to the liturgical and pastoral ramifications. The fact that I am commenting on this blog should be a clue that I might not be a feminist in a bad way nor a wanna be priest. Likewise, young girls and their parents and priests need to individually weigh the pros and cons of having them serve at Mass. I have seen so-so Catholics return to the Faith through being more involved (“active participation”) by serving and sewing/cleaning brigades don’t quite cut it for many females. And please, don’t let us get started on exterior vs. interior “active participation”. Your average person starts with the exterior. One such friend went from being pro-homosexual to a devout Catholic now actively discerning her vocation thanks to her pastor encouraging the young adults to serve at Mass, and do other “mission work” around the parish.

    This is just a long winded way [I’ll say.] of saying what others have said, namely, that there is not necessarily a causation between an all male sanctuary and vocations or a decrease in vocations to the priesthood when females are allowed in the sanctuary. There are a lot of factors involved, and prudence, rather than pat answers, is needed about an objectively indifferent practice. If boys can get distracted in the sanctuary at the sight of girls, well, they can also get distracted in the pews. Even the OF Mass doesn’t guarantee an ideal place to serve. I vividly recall an indult TLM I went to for years where, due to the location, the altar boys would gather and chatter during Mass because they didn’t fit in the sanctuary. Every Sunday.

    Please, men, don’t play the Adam card and put the blame on Eve. Altar girls distract. Women can’t wear pants or makeup because that’s tempting the men. Women should not do this or that because they might distract men. As I type, I should add that women should not wear hats at sermons because the feathers can get into the preacher’s mouth (anyone else remember that story from the days when preaching was separate from the Mass?) and distract him! Maybe we should reinstitute the upstairs wings with grills for women to attend Mass unseen while the menfolk attend in the pews. Maybe we should don the burquas so that our sensitive men may not be distracted by hair, ankles, the neck, or even a toe. Of course, this leads to a never ending spiral of control in the name of keeping women from distracting men. Even the burquas are increasingly being found inadequate because they expose such attractive eyes! On the other hand, maybe we should learn how to maturely interact without the need of segregation or random men determining what women should wear or how they should act to keep them from being distracted. Does anyone else recall the antiquated line about American men and women self-segregating at social gatherings and Europeans being able to mingle because they had mastered the art of socializing? Half the human population is female and so men should know how to function in the presence of females.

    One last comment. We are worried here about vocations to the priesthood. A perfectly legitimate concern because of the shrinking numbers of our clergy. But, have you noticed that there is almost never a discussion on how to promote vocations to the consecrated life for women? The Church says something about religious life being an “essential” part of the Church. Yet, you don’t really see any concerted effort to promote this on the part of many traditional priests except the occasional “nun run”. At the moment, I see female altar serving as one of the few things which might promote female vocations more effectively than many other efforts currently being done.

  106. dn.philip.mathew says:

    With all due respect to my Catholic friends, I believe the whole practice of “altar servers” itself contributes to the problems discussed here. Everyone agrees that “altar servers” perform functions once performed by those in minor orders (clerics). At some point, minor orders became restricted to candidates for the priesthood, and so unordained males, young or old, stepped in. It seems to me that the moment you allow non-clerics to fulfill clerical roles, sex doesn’t matter. You can make the argument that an “altar boy” can theoretically become a cleric one day but an “altar girl” can’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that neither is a cleric now, and the former may just as theoretically not become one later.

    In the vast majority, if not all, of the Orthodox traditions of which I’m aware, what appear to be “altar boys” are actually clerics, even if of the lowest grade. They may not be listed in diocesan records as “clergymen”, they may not wear a cassock, receive tonsure, etc., but they are in fact minor clergy: the bishop will read over them the prayer setting them apart for whichever order, and that’s that. We believe that God mediates his grace to them through the conferral of these ministries in order for them to properly serve the holy mysteries according to their rank.

    As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong), there’s nothing like this for “altar servers” in the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps some pastors use a prayer to set them apart, but from my limited experience online and in real life, it’s hardly uniform or widespread. For example, I went to Catholic parochial schools in the early 1990’s and none of my friends had any prayer read over them when they began to serve: they were taught what to do, donned a robe, and off they went. At any rate, they’re not set apart by bishops, and they’re certainly not clerics. If an unordained man can fulfill this clerical role, why not an unordained woman? So much energy seems to be focused on “male vs. female” when, I believe, the real issue is “cleric vs. laic”.

    Perhaps it would require some “re-thinking”, but IMO, bring back the minor orders and let those who wish to serve at the altar be ordained to the order(s) proper to their form of service. Not only does this restrict the ministry to males by default, but more importantly they benefit from the prayer of the Church for their ministry, receive the grace of God to carry it out faithfully, and are accountable to the Church for their stewardship of that ministry. I still remember attending, years ago, the minor ordination of one of my classmates from the Armenian Church; at some point in the rite (three orders were conferred: taperbearer, reader, and subdeacon), the Archbishop handed him a broom and said, very solemnly, something like “Receive this broom, and with it receive power and authority from the Holy Spirit to clean the Holy Altar.” That vision of altar service–what it is, what it means, who can do it and under what conditions–is terribly obscured when we let unordained people do what properly belongs to the ordained, and then proceed to focus on their sex, whether they should wear a cassock or an alb because of their sex, etc.

  107. MattH says:

    There is at least one Catholic diocese in the US that institutes men as acolytes as a permanent ministry (http://www.archgh.org/worship/instituted-acolytes/). Just as it was concluded that some men are called to be deacons as such, and not as a preparatory step to priesthood, I think one could conclude that some men could have a vocation to be acolytes. A case could also be made for the reintroduction of the subdiaconate into the mainstream of the Latin rite.

  108. DavidR says:

    It’s been touched on by some commentators; are our priests really good masculine role models for boys to want to imitate? In my very limited experience, some priests appear quite worldly. Fathers, if you are just another politically correct, or worse, politically oriented, guy, boys can find that anywhere.

    Yes, I know, it’s tough to be spiritual, and even tougher to project that Christianity. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Boys need to see our priests as men, not metrosexuals.

    My 2 cents.

  109. prolifemomri says:

    Practically speaking, I’ve learned from sad experience that our impatience for men and boys to do what we need/want them to do can not be effectively soothed by doing their jobs for them. It seems this is as true of altar serving as it is of taking out the garbage. As more and more girls serve because they are willing to do so, fewer boys are willing to serve. Perhaps they feel unnecessary?

  110. prolifemomri says:

    Those of more willing to do than to pray, wait, trust need prayers. I see this today with my own example, as I recognize that I now take out the garbage for everyone in my three-family dwelling. If I wait a week, it doesn’t get done. I’m afraid by two weeks we’d be crawling with rodents. ;( Only mentioning this b/c I’m guessing my response is common and applies to many situations that are made worse as a result. I’m gaining greater appreciation for our Blessed Mother as I write this, and also seeing the significance of humility in the equation.

  111. BLB Oregon says:

    I have a very hard time with this question because the nature of the work of the diocesan priesthood has changed so much. Yes, I think boys are far more likely to consider whether they have a vocation to the priesthood if they are altar servers. Still, a priest in our diocese has to be able to work with females. They just do.

    We don’t have the problem in our parish that boys won’t serve because the girls do it. The truth is, a lot of parishes started allowing girls to do it because the boys weren’t volunteering in sufficient numbers. I wonder if the problem isn’t more that religion itself and morality itself aren’t becoming concerns that boys consider “feminine”, in movies and on TV and so on. IOW, the issue of female servers might be a symptom, not a cause.

  112. tjg says:

    I do think that servers should be boys only. Not that girls can’t do it (and do it well), but in my simple mind it is representative of Christ and the men he was preparing to lead the Church. This also eliminates the possibility of any distraction between members of the opposite sex (there are plenty of other opportunities for them to interact.)

    A slight side note (Fr. Z, my apologies for getting off track!);
    Our parish priest has started training the older servers to take on more responsibility in what I believe is known as the Master of Ceremonies (MC) in the Novus Ordo rite. To me this involves the boys even more in the Mass and gives them a greater sense of what it could be like to be a priest one day and it certainly adds to the solemnity of the Mass. A great privilege!

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