QUAERITUR: My daughter wants to be an altar boy… girl… server.

From a reader:

On the way home from Mass this evening, my daughter, who is a leader in our parish’s CYM and very active in the Church, mentioned that she was going to an Altar server meeting this week. So, I find myself in the position of not wanting her to be an altar girl but also not wanting to wound her enthusiasm for service. I am just trying to find the best way to talk to her. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your ministry.

I think I’ll just open this to your suggestions.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. GAK says:

    I’ve thought about how I’ll handle this when/if it arises. Here’s what I’d do:

    Tell her the beautiful nature of the priesthood is under attack in our day and age. Tell her there is a lot of confusion about who priests are.

    Given that confusion, even though girl altar servers are permissible, in your family you think it is important to have only boys be altar servers, with girls participating in any number of other services. Give her as much explanation as you find warranted about the attack on the all-male priesthood and tie this to why it is a teaching moment to have boys only on the altar. Even if other families don’t agree or understand with this, and let their daughters be altar servers, we, in our family, take this approach.

    Tell her you admire her desire to assist on the altar, and ask her to offer her disappointment up at not being an altar server for those who don’t understand the nature of the priesthood.

  2. HugoJ.132 says:

    I agree with GAK just tell her that the priesthood is in need of an all boy server community and she can do “her part” in a different area.

  3. flyfree432 says:

    Is there any way she can serve at the altar in a more traditional role with an altar society? I know that Father has told me many times that without those women caring for the vestments, vessels, linens, candles, and more he would be a mess.

  4. johnmann says:

    I’m one of those who have no problems with altar-girls but can we please get them different vestments? Give them religious novice habits. Veil and all. That alone would eliminate at least half the “confusion” people talk about. It may even promote vocations to religious life.

  5. JKnott says:

    I think Father Markey has done wonderful work in his parish for boys and girls by promoting the priesthood using altar boys and getting the girls involved by starting The Handmaids of the Altar.
    Maybe this young lady could be encouraged to use leadership skills to seek her pastor’s permission to start one of those.
    Here is part of Father Markey’s commentary on the topic. It may be helpful to this dad. Also he points out that women are the most generous in offering service of all kinds in the parish.

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

  6. Spade says:

    At the church I attend they have the girls wear robes and the boys wear what a google search calls a “surplice”.

  7. J.M.C. says:

    I know this is going to be an unpopular opinion here, but…if the girl in question is younger (as in, under sixteen or so), and if the parish encourages both boys and girls to be altar servers, I think that telling the girl not to participate in her parish’s altar server program really might do more harm than good.

    Speaking from perspective of someone who was once a pre-teen/teenage girl, I think that even if a girl that age can intellectually comprehend the theological arguments for how an all-male altar server corps helps promote a better understanding of the priesthood (concepts which may very well be simply beyond her grasp at this point), she still probably won’t be at the point where she has an affective appreciation of why those arguments are meaningful. In other words, what you SAY might not be what she is developmentally able to HEAR.

    If you begin a talk with something like: “The priesthood is under attack in this day in age…so in our family we don’t allow girls to become altar servers…” what the girl might hear and take away from that could be something more like: “Your visible presence at Mass is something that would hurt the Church and the priesthood!”

    A misunderstanding like that could very easily wound a still-developing spiritual life. But also, it could plant the seeds for a lot of resentment and bitterness later on. And when the young girl gets older, and perhaps comes across some radical feminist theology, a memory of an experience like this could make it so that some of the feminists’ ideas actually seem to “ring true” to her.

    In my opinion, a girl’s adolescent experience of being encouraged (or at least allowed) to serve the Church in whatever avenues are legitimately permitted to her is one of the best preparations for her future proper adult understanding of the Church’s teachings on the role of women and Christ’s establishment of an all-male priesthood.

  8. GAK says:

    I was once a pre-adolescent girl, myself.

    Of course, how she takes it will depend on the girl in question.

    But I wouldn’t tiptoe around my daughter’s hypothetical, future radical feminist leanings in order to figure out what to say to her today.

    It’s never too soon to start teaching what the Church teaches about male & female and the vocations.

    Also, an early age is the time to nip in the bud the idea that “I get to be what I want in the Church because I want to be it.” Cultivating a sense of learning what the Church really teaches, plus listening to that which God is really calling me to do (and part of what He’s really calling me to do, when I’m a kid, is following my parents’ guidance) is invaluable.

    Part of what needs to be trained is her true sense of herself in the Church; part of what needs to be curbed is any egotistical tendency to interpret things she learns about the Church chiefly in terms of herself. “If they see me on the altar, they will be confused.” It’s not about HER. It’s about the Church’s teaching and how we can best support it in this crazy culture. We take her, and this instance, and broaden it to a greater truth.

    Dialogue works wonders in these formation issues.

  9. av8er says:

    As a father of three awesome girls, I would suggest GAK’s approach. My oldest (12) and middle (10) are incredibly mature when I explain things about the world and people and other “life” stuff that come up. I hear it’s a trait in girls because I know I was nowhere near as mature as they can be when it comes to stuff. If your daughter is doing CYM, I would imagine that she could handle the truth in a sincere delivery coming from Dad. I am assuming you’re dad. Only you know your daughter which will determine the path you’ll choose. Good luck.

  10. wmeyer says:

    Who you gonna blame? If the preists, parents, deacons, parents, catechists and parents had been doing their jobs in forming young Catholics’ understanding of their faith, then the question of “doing more harm than good” would have no place in this.

    Where is it written that anyone is entitled to be an altar server?
    Where is it written that anyone is entitled to be an EMHC?

    (Sorry, that second one just popped out!)

    It may also be well to consider the role of pride in such service. There are good and bad reasons to serve.

    And if properly educating this young person on her faith “does more harm than good”, is that not a sign that there is much more education needed?

  11. Supertradmum says:

    Well, I was a real parent who said “no” when needed and did not consult my child’s opinion. Parents are supposed to be forming their children in the life of the virtues and preparing them for their vocation, which, if the parents are praying, should not be a secret, as God wants parents to cooperate with the nurturing of vocations.

    One, being an altar girl does not further a girl’s vocation in any way; in fact, it confuses them. Activities should not only be for the now but with the future in mind.

    Two, service on the altar is not necessary for a lay person. We do not have to do clerical things. In fact, the clericalization of the laity means that most of the laity are not doing what they should be doing-taking the Gospel out into the world.

    Three, Mom and Dad, you are smarter and more spiritual than your child. You can guide her to other types of service; when I was twelve, I was in the choir and being an assistant sacristan; also, visiting old people with a youth group is a service; or getting a babysitting certificate; or doing chores in the house. Service is humble and no one has to see someone serving. Obvious serving is the least humble.

    Four, explain that not everything that can be done should be done. My son had no trouble understanding this concept at a young age. Just because we are able to do something does not mean we can or should. Many things can fall under this category and it is a good lesson to teach.

    May I address the commentator above who suggested little habits. No, no, no, as that confuses girls thinking they are going to be priestesses when they get older. Keep them off the altar, please. And God forgive those who pushed this agenda in the Church.

  12. tcreek says:

    This should clear up the confusion:

    September 5, 1970
    Pope Paul VI
    Liturgicae Instaurationes – Instruction on the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Liturgy,
    7. In conformity with norms traditional in the Church, women (single, married, religious), whether in churches, homes, convents, schools, or institutions for women, are barred from serving the priest at the altar.
    April 17, 1980
    Pope John Paul II
    Inaestimabile Donum – Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery.

    18. There are, of course, various roles that women can perform in the liturgical assembly: these include reading the Word of God and proclaiming the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. Women are not, however, permitted to act as altar servers.
    March 15, 1994
    Vatican Communication On Female Altar Servers
    Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
    Approved by Pope John Paul II
    3) If in some diocese, on the basis of Canon 230 #2, the Bishop permits that, for particular reasons, women may also serve at the altar, this decision must be clearly explained to the faithful, in the light of the above-mentioned norm.
    And then there is this:
    July 22, 2001
    Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
    A bishop recently asked the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments whether a Diocesan Bishop would be able to obligate his priests to admit women and girls to service at the altar. This Dicastry has considered it opportune to send this letter to the Bishop in question, and given its particular importance to publish it here [in Notitiae]. …
    … In accord with the above cited instructions of the Holy See such an authorization may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar, nor require that priests of the diocese would make use of female altar servers, since ….
    … With respect to whether the practice of women serving at the altar would truly be of pastoral advantage in the local pastoral situation, it is perhaps helpful to recall that the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors (cf. Circular Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, March 15, 1994, no. 4, cf. also can. 228, s.1, Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio, August 15, 1997, no. 4, see Notitiae 34 [1998] 9-42). …
    Why should anyone be confused?

  13. Supertradmum says:

    JMC you talk of wounding a young spiritual life? Do you know what these kids see on their phones and talk about at school? A sixteen year old, especially one confirmed, should be beyond the hot-house-plant stage and be more like Joan of Arc.

    We need warriors not princesses. And young women, (a sixteen year old is not a girl imo, as she can get married in some states, drive, use a credit card, and work), must be trained in spiritual strengths, using all the virtues and gifts given to her in baptism and confirmation.

    I taught and I can assure most parents of the GenX variety of parents baby and overprotect their kids who really want to grow up psychologically into the young adults they are physically. One reason we do not have vocations, and the best orders take girls out of high school, like the Benedictines in Kansas City, is that too many parents baby their kids.

  14. Peter Rother says:

    One poor father’s conversation:

    Honey, I want to talk to you about wanting to be an altar girl. I hope you know how proud I am of you–I think most of all because you have a very strong faith. You don’t just talk about Jesus, you are an example to the other kids. You show them what it means to be a Christian. I wish more adults were like that. Wanting to be an altar girl is just another sign of how close you want to be to Christ.

    But I want to tell you a few things before you decide what to do. First, you can be an altar girl if you want. The Church says that altar girls are allowed and I won’t say that you can’t be one. But, I don’t think you should and I will tell you why. Now you know that only men can be priests, right? (I assume the daughter knows this; if not, I can conceive of a presentation to her). And you know that saying Mass and consecration of the Eucharist are the most important things that a priest can do, right? Well, an altar boy serving at the altar is an important experience for helping a boy learn what it means to be a priest. So, being an altar boy is very important to helping him start to figure our whether he may want to be a priest some day. It’s just like you may want to be a Mom some day or you may want to be a Nun or a Sister some day. So, sometimes girls babysit and sometimes they spend summer camp with the Sisters to help them decide what they want to do when they’re adults.

    Now, let me tell you a secret about boys that you may not know. Boys are lazy. Boys don’t usually do things unless or until they have to. And boys also don’t usually think that it’s cool to do what girls do. So the more that boys see girls serving at the altar, the less boys will want to do it. And the more boys see girls serving at the altar, the less likely it is that boys will feel that they have to do it. I think you should step aside and let God work in the boys the same way that I see Him work in you. We can find lots of other things that you can do to help at Church or at charities you like. And I will make sure you get there when you need to. What do you think?

  15. frjim4321 says:

    We were often warned in the seminary about trying to be more Catholic than the Church. Clearly it is licit to welcome females to be altar servers. The dangers inherent in making up new rules thus forcing parishioners to exceed the requirements of the law include alienating people from the church permanently. There is already more than enough technically licit sex discrimination in the church. Adding injury to injury is entirely unjustified. The “encouragement of vocations” canard is a total fail. Seminarians have mothers. Which mother is more apt to support a vocation, one who was included or one that has been marginalized?

  16. Amy Giglio says:

    Peter Rother, that is the best thing I’ve read in this thread.

  17. Well, being an EF altar server, having served the NO, and also knowing the truth on altar girls here’s how I’d take it:

    1) Teach her the Church’s stance on it, the cold hard truth: It’s only allowed because an indult, which is a special permission to allow something outside the liturgical norm/rules of the Church, got blown out of proportion and abused by the modern institutional Church (e.g. priests, teachers, etc.). In order to not cause further division, Pope John Paul II allowed for the indult to be up to the bishop in their diocese as to the official stance (boy/co-ed) allowed. However, this does not bar individual priests or bishops from taking the all boy route. So really, the true norm is “all boys” but many bishops and parishes take the non-normal route and allow co-ed serving for the Novus Ordo. In addition, altar serving has been a traditional ground for young boys/men to observe the life, holiness, and other facets of the Church in serving the priests, and does play a role in generating religious vocations. Also, serving used to be done ONLY by clergy or those in training to be priests, so that link still exists today, especially in the Extraordinary Form Mass/associations (e.g. FSSP, ICKSP).

    2) What will Not happen in the Church: While women are being given much latitude in their roles as laity in parishes, the Church will NOT ordain women as this is doctrinal. So if she’s a budding feminist, nip that in the bud.

    3) Adolescent development: Hopefully by now, as a CYM, she understands how boys and girls act and mature spiritually, and it’s different on a number of fronts. When boys are in their pre-teen to mid-teen stages, they do not necessarily want to hang around girls (think “ewwww cooties”), and may think activities dominated by the female sex aren’t worth it. Think gymnastics for example. A male in a youth class is rare, and rarer as kids get older. Even slightly older, if a guy`s confindence isn’t the greatest, a more sensitive young man, might not want to be part of a co-ed serving program due to immaturity or low-self confidence, which being around a female might or might not help. Interestingly enough, those all boy programs do have a surge in recruits from before when they were Co-ed ….

    4) Support her in her current roles and future: The beauty of the Vatican II church, is that many roles that were once primarily or only for Men, do allow women to participate in parish and church life: e.g. lectoring, missionary work, catechesis as a lay person, etc. They are even declaring women “Doctors of the Church.“And the daughter is really in a great area as a Catholic Youth Minister. Now, if she’s a co-ordinator for the altar serving or teaches the “theory” behind it, that’s a different kettle of fish and that’s great if Fr. needs a hand where no men will step up to the plate who can do a good job of that. Better the young boys/men be taught well and proper reverence, positions, etc. by a female, than a male who doesn’t get the truth behind altar serving.

    5) The decision: This is a tough one. Ideally, she should be assessed for her reasoning for wanting to do altar serving. I personally, don’t go all “Radical Traditionalist” if a girl decides to serve the Novus Ordo. However, she should want to do this for the right reasons, be serious about what it is to be a server, and lead by example if she does do it. Ideally, it would be better to leave the serving for the young boys/men. If she is dead set on it, then you have to know whether she reacts quite harshly to disappointment (e.g. screaming, threats, violence), or can take it. If she’s radical in her reactions, then don’t stifle her lest she be weak of faith and rip herself apart from you, threaten you, and leave the Church (on the odd side, that kind of reaction shows mental immaturity, and that might be a sign she won`t last in the serving program.) If she’s more mature, then I’d put my foot down and say no. She’d be disappointed, but she won’t go crazy from the negative result either.

  18. Kathleen10 says:

    Much wisdom in these comments. GAK has it right, in my opinion.
    Truth needs to trump “feelings”. This is a teachable moment. She may reject it, true. But you would have given her truth, nonetheless, and respected her enough to give her that truth. Young people have been cheated enough.

  19. jc464 says:

    Although I do agree in principle that generally males are most suitable for service at the altar, there is an axiom of Church life (which came from a very wise and traditional priest I knew years ago) to which I have always tried to adhere: do not forbid that which is not forbidden, do not mandate that which is not mandatory. Girls are not forbidden by law from serving at the altar. To do so is, whether we like it or not, an act of arbitrariness. Just because we have good theological reasons for wanting to do something, doesn’t mean we can mandate or forbid something which Church law does not.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    frjim4321, my son is in the seminary and I can assure you I was marginalized constantly in my Catholic life for being orthodox. If you want a list of battles lost, I can provide them. Just two-blackballed at a famous Catholic university; fired for being against gay mafia in another Catholic institution.

    My son is a seminarian because of a marginalized mom.

  21. pannw says:

    frjim4321 says: The dangers inherent in making up new rules…

    Isn’t that the truth? By the way, did you read tcreek’s post? Were you as concerned with the ‘new rules’ that allowed altar girls in the first place only such a few short years ago?

  22. A.D. says:

    I’m with Peter. He is teaching her as father to daughter, but leaving the outcome up to her because she is of an age to make such a decision. And, in this case, though one choice may be more favored, both are allowed. He has given her food for thought, the wisdom of which may take a while to integrate into her beliefs.

  23. GAK says:

    Parents have every right to make prudential judgments in raising their children.

    Life Teen is a permissible mass. My children do not attend it.

    Going meatless on Fridays is not mandatory. My kids go meatless.

    Building a Catholic culture in the home is full of such choices. Some involve not doing what is permitted. Some involve doing what is not mandatory.

    It’s the parents’ prerogative to guide as they believe best in these instances.

  24. Supertradmum says:

    A.D. as long as a parent has the child under the roof and is paying for all. As long as the child is under obedience to the parent, the parent should make such decisions, not the child. And a sixteen year is not a child, but under obedience until financially free.

  25. jc464 says:

    I should have been more clear: this applies to those in authority in the Church, i.e., parish policy about altar servers. Parents have the right and duty to make prudential decisions regarding such things, of course.

  26. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Starting at the beginning, I presume the issue has come up because the parish already permits girls to serve at the altar? In which case, the response will need to reflect that.

    I think that the distinction between EF and NO serving pointed out by Julian Barkin is very relevant as are the points about licity and, above all, the attitude of the individual young person whether boy or girl towards serving The Lord at the altar.

    Also, times have changed as frjim4321 points out. There are many more obstacles to vocations nowadays besides the ‘risks’ of female servers. To some this might put a greater justification on nipping any further creeping away from traditional practice in the bud (and I seem to recall seeing some recent data – on here? – about server numbers increasing in parishes where there is a boys only preference: is that correct?). But this in itself will not necessarily reflect a rise in vocations, only a rise in the probability that vocations might result.

  27. Rachel K says:

    Supertradmum, “Well, I was a real parent who said “no” when needed and did not consult my child’s opinion.” I do think that in our times young people are more sophisticated than previously and they want to know ( and have a right to know) the whys and wherefores when faced with serious or grave questions. We do not know either how old or mature this young girl is, but I would hope that her Mum or Dad will give her a clear explanation of the ins and outs of this thorny topic, and that they might leave her to make her own decision ( yes, even at a tender age we can allow our children to exercise good judgement) having had the options presented clearly to her.
    My understanding is that girls may be permitted to serve on the altar, that no-one, male or female has a right to serve on the altar and that any priest may of his own choice decline to allow girls to serve on his own altar. So, it is not right for us laity to say one may not do something which the Church permits, even if that is our own preference.
    I personally do not like to see girls serving and my son has been put off by the presence of girls when he has served. My daughter (younger than him) is very keen to serve, so I am making note of the lovely suggestions above regarding handmaiden work on the altar helping to keep all in order with linens etc. I am not quite convinced that altar girls= no vocations to the priesthood, I think it is more complex than such a direct correlation.

  28. churchlady says:

    JKnott – I would like to know more about Fr. Markey and The Handmaids of the Altar. How can I get in touch with him?

  29. Supertradmum says:

    Rachel K, my son is only 25. He is a Millennial. And we always discussed things. But the parent is in charge, is the authority and makes the decisions. As to allowing girls to serve just because it is allowed,you missed my and GAK’s points.

  30. One of those TNCs says:

    Fr. Jim:
    “The dangers inherent in making up new rules thus forcing parishioners to exceed the requirements of the law include alienating people from the church permanently.”
    Being alienated from the Church on the basis of not being able to serve at the altar is only a symptom, not a reason, for leaving the Church. If this is the case, Fr. Jim, something else is very wrong.

    “There is already more than enough technically licit sex discrimination in the church. ”
    You are confining the definition of “discrimination” only to what popular culture defines it as. Would you also accuse God of discrimination because He made mankind of 2 sexes, not one? You have forgotten that “equality” does not equal “same.”

    “Adding injury to injury is entirely unjustified.”
    It is only the one-dimensional opinions of the “equal-means-same” proponents who believe that women are injured because they cannot serve the Church in certain ways.

    “The “encouragement of vocations” canard is a total fail.”
    You say so. I have heard lots of seminarians and priests say otherwise.

    “Which mother is more apt to support a vocation, one who was included or one that has been marginalized?”
    You have bought into the canard of “because I cannot serve in this manner, I am being discriminated against and feel marginalized.” Being marginalized can be real, or it can be perceived. Repeat something often enough (“You are being marginalized!!”) and people will start to believe it.

    Catholic women are always included in the service of the Church. The failure – the absymal failure – of catechesis is that we have been told that the only way to serve the Church is to be up on the altar. Go tell that to the saints who were not priests, bishops, or popes.

  31. johnmann says:

    Yes, yes, parents should make important decisions for their children. That’s the duty of a parent. But there’s also wisdom in loosening the chains when the children are capable of making their own decisions. It’s not like 18 is some divinely established age at which we become decision-making experts. It’s good to give kids practice with smaller decisions. How important is it to you that altar servers be male? It’ll differ by parent. To me, it’s not important so it’s a decision they can make themselves. To some, it’s important but not terribly so. Others think it vital.

    Personally, I don’t have any desire to accommodate the squeamishness of boys who don’t want to serve alongside girls. After all, aren’t we not supposed to base decisions on the feelings of children? Teach the boys to get over it. I do wish to accommodate the spiritual growth of all children which may include having girls serve. I simply think that those who think it has a negative vocational impact are factually incorrect.

  32. JKnott says:

    Father Markey’s parish website is: http://www.stmarynorwalk.net/
    Email stmarynorwalk@stmarynorwalk.net

  33. John of Chicago says:

    Based upon some of the reasoning above (e.g. Handmaids of the Altar), ought we discourage/prohibit our sons from serving as sacristans?

  34. John Nolan says:

    Outside the Birmingham Oratory I overheard a woman telling a friend that they used to worship there but had to change parishes because their daughter wanted to be ‘on the altar’, which of course the Oratorians do not allow. Should children be indulged to this extent?

  35. Nan says:

    @John of Chicago, I think a Sacristan was traditionally a guy and that altar societies are a modern innovation.

  36. Nan says:

    @johnmann, by the same logic about feelings, altar girls are only allowed because it would otherwise hurt their feelings and should get over it as serving at the altar isn’t appropriate for those who can never serve as Alter Christi.

  37. Alaina says:

    I agree with wmeyer that if the issue of female alter servers is to be addressed, so should the other service roles of the laity, especially the EMHCs. Women are not permitted to be priests, and they should not be EMHCs. They also should not be alter servers. It’s not a question of being marginalized, as Fr. Jim stated. God has a plan. His plan has a role for everyone. If my daughter ever says that she feels marginalized by her faith because she is a female, I will remind her of something: God gave the greatest role that he could give to a human to a female human.

  38. FeedieB says:

    Supertradmum, you always make great points. I agree with you completely.

    Frjim4321 – As a mother, wife and former obnoxious feminist, I NEVER feel marginalized in my parish. As a matter of fact I pray all the time for a few more men on the altar. Sometimes I get so sick of women running the parish that I can hardly stand it. Men rarely volunteer except to take the offering. That’s the only job that the bossy women haven’t elbowed them out of. I long for a day when I don’t have to receive Holy Communion from the same lady who always tells me I need to get my tubes tied!

  39. MasterofCeremonies says:

    I have been an altar boy for many years and have trained quite a few, such as my younger brother. I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up in a parish (NO) where male-only service was allowed; we had a server roster at one point of almost 250 boys! Our priests were also very supportive and gave wonderful guidance, counsel, and examples of priestly life to all the guys. I treasure that time spent at the altar very deeply, and the seeds of the seminary were planted in my heart as a result of that time. Also, it was not uncommon for 5-10 servers at any given time to be fostering a vocation.

    Times changed… Our family is now at a different parish due to some orthodoxy issues with the new pastor (not good!) and altar girls are allowed. Guess what? The girls significantly outnumber the boys, and many boys who could and would serve, won’t because of the plethora of females. There are doubtless some girls that serve who truly care about the ministry of altar serving in and of itself, but at my parish serving is just another school activity. How do I know? I know most of the girls; trust me, they wouldn’t know a purificator or a corporal if it hit em’ in the face. (We are working strenuously to solve this problem, and we hope to have all boys serving [possibly grandfathering the girls into a specific mass] by next year.)

    Am I just bashing on girls? Of course not! I have excellent female friends who help me in my life as a Christian, and who also would never dream of serving at the altar because they know and I know (as we all know, really) that female service at the altar often does real harm: it discourages vocations, directly or indirectly, by discouraging boys from serving at the altar of God.

    Now to answer the question: I’ve pretty much already done so as regards my position, but my advice would be just to lay out what the church has always taught, demonstrate how female servers can cause harm (without intending it), relate how girl servers came to be (it WAS an abuse), and if she still doesn’t understand (not a likely situation:), if she’s under 21 and living under your roof, then yes, you can say “No”. If you’re a loving parent, she won’t become a feminist. I have been pretty darn mad with my parents for decisions they made. Oh, I thought those decisions were so cruddy, but guess what? They were for my greater good and happiness. Don’t worry about saying No, it’s the right decision!

    Deo gratias!

  40. Peter Rother says:

    Amy and A.D.,

    Gratias vobis.


    I appreciate that we may not share the same approach, but that you recognize that this is a matter of prudential judgment of the parents under the facts and circumstances that are known only to them in their particulars. There is no moral law that compels a certain judgment in the case of a girl who wants to be an altar server (unless, of course, such a girl is driving toward a misguided desire to be a priest). As such, there is no one who is more a “real parent” (as stated by Supertradmum) than another in this case.

    In the case of my daughters (or my sons for that matter) wanting to go to a sleepover where members of the opposite sex were attending, my judgment (although also prudential) would be without equivocation in the negative. There may be a discussion, but the decision would be entirely my wife’s and mine. I view the matter of girl altar servers to be of a different order and, thus, treated it in the manner of the hypothetical conversation I mentioned in my earlier post.

    Again, this is a matter of prudential judgment and I believe that your approach is without question morally valid.

    Satis est.

  41. Supertradmum says:

    Nan, as to sacristans, these for centuries were nuns. And the nuns taught girls in schools including grade schools and high schools to help out. The role is demanding-washing, starching, ironing, laying out, handling things correctly and so on.

    Men to my knowledge never did the taking care of the linens, or the polishing and cleaning. And, as to the meticulous laying out of the vestments, as well as the above, nuns taught girls how to do this after the girls were confirmed. Same in high school, and college, where I was the president of the sacristy clubs in both. One of my mentors in college was a nun who is still doing this work for her order in the mother-house chapel.

  42. iPadre says:

    Some people like to turn this into a political or sexist issue. I think it wise for all to read / re-read the clarification from the CDW.

    Let me quote one part of the letter:

    “In accord with the above cited instructions of the Holy See such an authorization may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar, nor require that priests of the diocese would make use of female altar servers, since “it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar” (Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conference, March 15, 1994, no. 2). Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain, not least of all due to the well known assistance that such programs have provided since time immemorial in encouraging future priestly vocations (cf. ibid.)

    With respect to whether the practice of women serving at the altar would truly be of pastoral advantage in the local pastoral situation, it is perhaps helpful to recall that the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors.”

    Read the whole letter here: http://www.adoremus.org/CDW-AltarServers.html

  43. Meli says:

    This is a difficult question, at our parish and school boys and girls have been asked and taught straight from school, for school masses and there wasn’t an opportunity to say yes or no to daughters serving before they were on the schedule.

    As a parent I wish that someone would lead from the front on this, as a protestant convert I didn’t know at first that it wasn’t customary and appropriate for girls to serve, and I wish that at the parish level their was someone teaching, something anything to do with this.

    I also wish there was some encouragement to keep boys serving, at our parish the boys drop out after a year or so for the most part, and the only ones who are still serving are girls, and very few of those. There are always only a few families that show up week after week with kids who are willing to serve.

  44. johnmann says:

    @Nan, “as serving at the altar isn’t appropriate for those who can never serve as Alter Christi.”

    The Church says otherwise.

    Closing the door to altar-girls for the sole reason that it makes boys squeamish is unambiguously catering to feelings. Maybe you think vocations to the priesthood is so important that feelings, however irrational, should be accommodated. If a patient is dying and a male doctor refuses to work with female nurses, we should accommodate the doctor’s request, however rational, even immoral, it is. But let’s be clear that this is an accommodation for irrational feelings. If at all possible, the irrationality should be addressed, not catered to. On the other hand, allowing girls to serve, is abolishing the accommodation towards irrational feelings.

  45. Per Signum Crucis says:

    A few more thoughts as an assistant MC at my parish: it is easy to try and answer this question from a position of absolutes and / or ideals. But what about the parishes, like Meli’s, where it is difficult to scratch together enough servers from week to week? It is not easy in such circumstances to say no to girls, much less to try to attempt to explain the beautiful nature of the priesthood, and especially where those girls might regularly see female EMHCs on the altar.

    As for trying the simpler “I or we, your parents, personally don’t like it”, the dynamics of each family are unique and I would not for a minute dream of venturing into that area no matter how well-intentioned. But I would suggest that putting a personal interpretation on something where there is no clear ‘right or wrong’ answer and the child has the latitude to make their own mind up (without falling into error) is not always the best approach.

    On the practicalities of all this, a PP can always take the trump card approach like Fr. Markey and chooses to phase out female servers. Alternatively, since female servers didn’t exist in the EF, the boys only approach is fully justified there allowing a dual approach of girls to serve at NO masses. The possibility of encouraging girls to assist mainly as sacristans may work in some parishes but, in others, this task can be as much if not a more exclusive preserve of one or two elders of the parish so allowing the girls to serve at mass (provided it is in the right spirit) offers a solution to this problem too.

  46. BLB Oregon says:

    I find this a tricky question. In our parish, we don’t have more volunteers at the altar (lectors, extraordinary ministers, singers, and so on–the altar servers are split 50:50, too) that are one gender instead of the other except that the ushers are all or almost all guys. Our altar server trainers and the deacon who is the main trainer is very clear with the altar servers that a) only males can be priests and b) an altar server, like a priest, has to be willing to work with any member of the parish that he or she is asked to work with. For instance, if the leadership role is given to a younger server, the older ones are to do as they are asked without attitude. Either be a servant who does not grasp with regards to the role you get, or else don’t be an altar server. Experience says that these are the parishioners who will go on to volunteer in many other roles, and it is important to rule out a sense of entitlement from the word “go”.

    What I think we don’t want is for only the so-called “progressive” families to be the ones supplying all the female altar servers. [I have often said that the progressive families are the ones who only raise their daughters to want to be ordained, but not their sons! :( ] We want the girls who believe that it is right to reserve the priesthood for males to be the ones chosen as altar servers, if girls are going to serve. We don’t need any servers who are bitter about their prospects in the Church, either girls who want to be priests or boys who want the Church to be run as a democracy. One of our former pastors said we also don’t want boys heading into the priesthood who won’t work with females, because the seminaries won’t ordain men with that attitude toward the laity. That just isn’t the reality of parish life right now.

    I guess my response would be this: Why do you want to serve? If you’re going to start serving with an idea that you want to do this or that, rather than that you are willing to do what you are asked to do faithfully and without complaint, then you’re not mature enough to be an altar server yet. That would go for boys or girls, though.

  47. Rachel K says:

    Supertradmum, “Rachel K, my son is only 25. ” Ok, but not sure how this fits into the discussion about altar girls here. “But the parent is in charge, is the authority and makes the decisions. ”
    Yes, up to a point, to quote Evelyn Waugh in Scoop. The Catchism speaks about the gradual loosening of overall authority of parents over their children as they mature. When they are near adulthood or adults their decisions can’t be made by their parents any more. I think another commentor makes this point in saying that there is a gradual move towards this over time, it doesn’t just happen at 18 in a flash. It may or may not be relevant whether the young person is still living at home and economically reliant still as many of our young adults are in this position through no choice way beyond the years when they are able to make their own adult decisions.
    “As to allowing girls to serve just because it is allowed,you missed my and GAK’s points.”
    I read all the comments carefully, but may not agree with them all!
    St Josemaria taught that we accept all that the Church permits; it may not be to our taste but if the Church allows something that is that. We are not obliged to take part in something permitted, just as St Paul said that which is permissible is not obligatory.
    I see that you feel very strongly about this issue among others. Each of us is entitled to our own opinion about things which are relative, but I think it becomes difficult when we are talking about an issue about which the church has given direction, we need to leave it alone a bit. The original question was about how to talk to a daughter not whether the current ruling is legitimate or not.

  48. annieB says:

    I have to say that if my daughter wanted to serve I would be delighted. I don’t see Jesus turning women away from him women who wanted to serve him. Anything that can strengthen faith is a good thing and serving does that. Shock, horror I am a middle aged woman who served at the vigil mass tonight because the usual servers were away and no one else would do it. Let’s stay faithful to what really matters and not make an idol out of our religion and how things should be done. A narrow path I teeter along.

Comments are closed.