ASK FATHER: Altar girls also Communion ministrices

From a reader…


I went to Mass today in the diocese of [removed] as a visitor. The priest had 4 teen age alter girls and I actually received communion from one of them. This brought tears of sorrow to my eyes. I have never even seen an alter boy serve communion, let alone a girl. I am so shocked, I am thinking of writing a letter to their new bishop to let him in on this. What to you advise?

I presume the author is asking about “altar girls” rather than alter girls, or worse, altered girls.

While this is possibly permissible, it is unusual.

Leaving aside the issue of females serving at all, if the girls are confirmed, then they fit the minimum requirement for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  Hmmm… feminine of minister is ministrix, so, plural ministrices.

Those on the Left usually harp on and on about not “mixing ministries”, namely, lectors should not distribute Holy Communion, ushers should not serve Mass, puppeteers should not ply their tambourine skills, etc.

The new bishop of [that diocese] has many, many challenges on his plate.  Pray for him.

I suspect that this situation, while odd, would not amount to something he could begin to attend to.

How about writing to the new bishop of [that diocese], saying that you recently attended Holy Mass in his diocese and became aware of how much work he has before him. Instead of mentioning specific problems, could you promise him a daily decade of the Rosary for the next year?

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. Marie Teresa says:

    In our diocese a teenager becomes a EMHC when they’re confirmed. The EMHC training must be included in the classes as they prepare for Confirmation.

    Confirmation is typically on a weekday evening, and the new “confirmandee” will serve as an EMHC the following Sunday. I know of no churches in the diocese where this is not the case.

  2. frjim4321 says:

    Although since Acolytes are defacto communion ministers I don’t know if the same confusion of ministries results when an altar server is distributing.

    I would avoid it, though, if at all possible.

  3. Will D. says:

    I suspect that this situation, while odd, would not amount to something he could begin to attend to.

    How about writing to the new bishop of [that diocese], saying that you recently attended Holy Mass in his diocese and became aware of how much work he has before him.

    This seems like it would cause more trouble than it fixes. Imagine poor Bishop John Doe picking up a letter that says “I just visited your diocese: you’ve got your work cut out for you! I’ll pray for you. Signed, Bob Smith.” Either he will conclude that Bob is a nut, or his mind is going to run riot over which parish decided to be goofy and just how bad it was to spur such a letter. It seems to me, if you’re going to write the bishop, be clear and concise about it, otherwise just pray for the bishop and the priest and save the stamp.

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Ministrices”… chuckle chuckle.

  5. jacobi says:

    Your reader could avoid this dilemma altogether if he were to adopt that ancient Catholic custom, so favoured by St Francis of Assisi, of only receiving Holy Communion from hands which had been anointed for that purpose, namely those of a priest or a deacon.

  6. excalibur says:

    Sounds like a diocese north of NYC to me.

    Cucurbita maxima comes to mind.

  7. ASPM Sem says:

    Hm, this somewhat answers a question I had. I was wondering if, when back at my home parish and I serve (which I normally do) if I should volunteer to EMHC as I would think I am a somewhat more legitimate minister (or that could just be my pride speaking) given I’m a seminarian (though not an acolyte yet). I suppose I’ll keep to the paten then!

  8. This is just one more reason for bishops to increase the number of men who have the minor order (or ministry) of acolyte and lector.

    Everyone has a role to take part in during the Mass. The reason why these extraordinary positions seem to be ordinary is due to lack of men who hold these orders (ministries). Many people think that the minor orders can only be conferred on those who are on the way to the priesthood or the permanent diaconate, but Ministeria Quaedam says that even men who are not on the way to the priesthood or the permanent diaconate can be ordained (instituted) into the (remaining) minor orders of lector and acolyte. Every parish should have a number of men who are lectors and acolytes (so that most of the Masses are covered). This way, everyone works within their proper role during the Mass for a “dignified and fitting celebration of the liturgy”. The only exception I could see to this would be for lay men (and boys) to perhaps serve at the altar along with those who are acolytes.

  9. mburn16 says:

    “Every parish should have a number of men who are lectors and acolytes”

    I agree. I noticed at our last mass Father made a plea to young people (and by young, I mean between, say, fourth and eighth grade) to serve as altar servers. No suggestion so far to convert the older youths in their late teens and 20s into acolytes though. I suspect its a tad too traditional for our current Priest.

  10. MikeM says:

    I’ve heard of the “don’t mix ministries” “rule” before, but does anyone know where it came from or what the reasoning behind it is?

  11. Anne M. says:

    In my parish when we have seminarians home on break who are serving at the altar our priest makes a point of announcing that he has asked them to also serve as EMHCs so there is no confusion as to why this is happening. This only applies to seminarians, however. He would never ask the other altar servers to step in as EMHCs.

  12. I think the bishop needs to know. I too am from a diocese where we have a new bishop. He is in the dark until light begins to shed on the underlying currents in his diocese. Altar girls giving communion being one of those symptoms of a deeper underlying current that signify errors in understanding the liturgy, errors in understanding the roles of women in the Church, errors in pervading agendas to ordain women to the priesthood.

    Our new bishop is surrounded by a bunch of crafty liberals who will offer soothing words on the surface and underneath continue their work of dismantling the Apostolic Faith. They would be just happy keeping our bishop in the dark as long as possible while the rats run amuck in the shadows.

    The more light that is shed on every facet of the bishop’s new diocese the better.

  13. BLB Oregon says:

    This is explicitly prohibited in our archdiocese.

    In “Guidelines for Eucharistic Ministers,” the Archdiocese of Portland refers to the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy as the reason to restrict laypersons serving in the capacity of extraordinary ministers from assisting in any other special capacity at the same Mass:

    “All taking part in the liturgical celebrations, whether ministers or members of the congregation, should do all that pertains to them, and no more, taking into account the rite and liturgical norms (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #28).” Therefore, those serving as Eucharist ministers, especially at the Sunday celebration, generally should not serve in any other capacity at that particular liturgy.

    IOW, no double-dipping. If you are needed, assist Father in one special capacity but in no more than one, particularly if one of those is the role of extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. This seems a very wise policy on the part of the Church, since it avoids what our Holy Father calls the “clericalization of the laity”. It would be extremely unusual for there to be so few fully-initiated adults present to serve as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, so few who could serve as altar servers, and so great a need for both by the priest that one person would by necessity take on both roles.

    I cannot find it in writing anywhere, but if I remember correctly it is also not allowed for extraordinary ministers to wear an alb, at least not in our archdiocese. Perhaps I am thinking of the guidelines for laypersons leading a communion service. The same principals would apply, though. If there were some extremity that somehow required the altar servers to also help to distribute Holy Communion–I cannot think of any, save that the priest offering Mass is too frail to do so without both altar servers and extraordinary ministers, yet extremely short of people to help him, which is possibly more common than anyone would like–they would do better to serve in street clothes, not an alb.

  14. HobokenZephyr says:

    We have a young man (high school age) who serves as a MC-in-training and will distribute communion as an EMHC when needed. Otherwise he is guiding the younger altar boys as they learn their responsibilities.

    We do things a bit different here. There are no training classes. Boys meet with Father, ask to become altar boys, wear black pants and black shoes, and start the next Sunday. We have about 25 in the parish.

  15. jacobi says:

    If I may add to my previous comment, there are three degrees of Ecclesial Minister in the Catholic Church, bishop, priest and deacon. The laity are is in no way no way “Ministers”, or EMHCs. A better way to describe them is emHCs, extraordinary ministers or perhaps better still ldHCs that is lay distributers of Holy Communion. Acolytes may, however, be preferentially permitted.

    Importantly, emHCs should may be used only in exceptional circumstance, and in no way routinely. They should not be used, for instance, at a weekday Mass with 12 laity present.

    Hence my point about receiving only from hands anointed for the purpose.

  16. MichaelTMS says:

    Yes, I will write the letter as you suggest ( while at Adoration tonight) and offer a decade daily for his work as shepherd of his diocese. Thank you father.

Comments are closed.