Girl altar servers: a woman’s perspective

I noticed an interesting post at 1 Peter 5.  A woman explains the altar girl situation.  Let’s jump in after her intro remarks:

[…]

I was a girl altar server. I served for roughly eight years in my parish. While I didn’t have a bad experience, I also have to be honest and admit that I didn’t gain anything more on the altar than I could have by just being in the pew. For a while serving was just something I did when I went to Mass: I goofed off with the other kids behind the scenes and followed the rubrics when Father told us to shape up.

As I got older and more serious about my faith, I felt guilty about the goofing off.  I told myself that I should only serve if I could do it with a prayerful and humble attitude, because serving was a way to participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. With that resolution came the realization that I had merely discovered the proper disposition that any layman in the congregation should have. If I was in the pew, I was participating. [She gets it.]

I didn’t need to be on the altar, so what was my goal? It’s not that girls don’t have the ability to be altar servers; it’s just that we don’t get much from it. We can’t use the experience as a way to discern a vocation, for two reasons: one, it is metaphysically impossible for a woman to become a priest, and two, if a woman is serious about pursuing a vocation, she starts seeking orders of nuns and spending time with them, and those nuns are not on the altar.

Sometimes people who identified as “feminist” would try to convince me that the Church was unfair to women. I just had another perspective: I don’t think that anyone would argue that their young son “has a right” to spend time with a religious order of nuns, or that he should take part in a retreat held by a convent that is geared towards fostering the vocations of young women to the religious life. I mean, such a retreat is obviously not a formal profession of vows, and boys ought to be allowed to do vocation exercises designed for women religious, because he can do works of mercy just as well as any girl, right?

Such a boy might conclude the same thing I did:  it might be nice, but nothing is gained except a sense of not belonging. He won’t ever be joining an order of nuns. The experience would be little more than an exercise in futility.

[…]

Read the rest there.

Fr. Z kudos.

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39 Responses to Girl altar servers: a woman’s perspective

  1. Gratias says:

    When a priest now cancels girl altar servers an outcry arises in the parish. What was once an indult for American dioceses has become a stalking horse for women’s ordination.

    It is difficult to comprehend why the extreme left is so tirelessly dedicated against the Catholic Church. Perhaps it indicates that the caravan moves on, despite the obstacles.

  2. Sarochka says:

    That is fabulous. It is the truth spoken through experience. No one can argue with that! God bless her. I hope other girl altar servers speak out about the futility of their situation.

  3. Tony Phillips says:

    Well, it’s one person’s experience.
    I don’t see much of a problem with girls serving the OF mass–it’s another ‘make-work’ job, like lay lectors, cantors, those ‘welcomers’ who thrust things into your mitts when you wander into the church, and the innumerable army of ‘extraordinary’ ministers.

    It’s nothing like serving the EF. I was an altar boy when they switched from a simplified vernacular but nonetheless Tridentine Mass to the Bugnini-Montini liturgy. What a change! Over night we had nothing to do but stand around feeling (and looking) useless.

    I wonder how many vocations are really sparked by serving the OF.

  4. Sarochka says:

    Great comment, Tony! It really all comes down to this: girl altar servers=lack of vocations. But I hadn’t realised that there was another equation: serving the OF Mass=lack of vocations. Put those two together and we could kill off any chances of having any vocations at all! Genius! Who came up with this master plan?

  5. JonPatrick says:

    I don’t thunk there is anything intrinsic about the Ordinary Form that precludes proper service at the altar. Altar servers can still be trained and vested properly. From my own experience, before reverting to the Catholic Church I was an altar server for several years at an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church which had a string tradition of service at the altar, which servers dressed in cassock and surplice and all trained in the proper movements such as the offertory, lavabo, proper use of the thurible, etc. We generally did Rite 2 which is practically identical in format to the Catholic Ordinary Form.

    It’s true that one rarely sees this in a Catholic Ordinary Form Mass but that is not the fault of the OF but how it is implemented at most parishes. I agree that there are many flaws in the OF even if it is done properly, but the lack of opportunity to provide proper altar service is not one of them.

  6. RAve says:

    Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony
    Please come around
    Your namesake’s objectivity is lost
    And cannot be found

  7. RAve says:

    My comment above is not in the spirit of this wonderful forum and the people who find comfort and encouragement and sanity here. I ask that it be deleted.

  8. Vincent says:

    to be fair, Jon Patrick, I’m not sure the ceremony is even remotely the same. I often go to the Brompton Oratory, and the Mass is magnificent. Beautiful. And it might as well be an EF, but for the deacon and subdeacon having very little to do… But, the reality is that most churches don’t have that kind of liturgy. Without a thurible, I’d struggle to list what the server does:
    processes to altar.
    Sits.
    if lucky, he might move the book, although it always seems to be priest who carries it across .
    stands for Creed.
    lavabo.
    kneels at the sanctus? no movement required until after the consecration.
    the peace. (argh)
    nothing to do at communion, because there are EMHCs everywhere and no paten.
    are there even ablutions? always seems to be the priest just gives the chalices a wipe, if he doesn’t just leave the EMHCs to it.
    process off.

    Now, you might argue that that’s similar to the role of the altar server at an EF low mass, but we can see that the server (like the priest) is really, just sidelined. Hardly surprising therefore, that there are fewer boys than there should be, serving.

    (And yes, I’m sure some of you go to churches where this isn’t the case, and everything is done properly, but my guess Is that at least 90% of parishes have masses like these… Or, at least, that’s my experience, and in 21 years I’ve never found a modern mass that’s attracted me to serving (and I’ve served EF for ten years))

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I have not read the rest at her blog, yet, but on the basis of this extract:

    As Fr. Z says, “She gets it” – and helps us to, too. “Serving” as a sort of distinct subspecies of “participating” seems true.

    But then, I am not sure she (and other commenters) hold onto this, completely. The primary end of the subspecies “serving” is to serve – as much or as little, and in just the way, validly and licitly required (or permitted). ‘Not a lot to do?’ Isn’t that rather like the improper complaints of some about traditional ‘lay participation’? To quote the learned Protestant, Milton, applying the image of the Seraphim, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

    Encouraging openness to discerning vocation to Holy Orders, where possible, may be a secondary end to ” serving”, but surely subsidiary to serving well, and conditional upon possibility in any and every case.

  10. j says:

    I can’t tell how many very devout choir directors will tell you in private a similar thing. Many I know make a habit of NOT receiving Communion at Masses where they direct the choirs/music. It’s not that they are not orthodox or pious, exactly the opposite; they only wish to receive when they are truly focused on being properly disposed to receive, and where THAT is their focus, not which choir member has the right page, or reminding the kids what they did in rehearsal, or monitoring the communion line to see how much time there is. They feel they can receive WORTHILY at a later, other, Mass. The world often demands busy-ness. Not the Mass.

  11. mburn16 says:

    I guess this raises the question as to whether we should discourage altar service by those without any intention of considering (or at least joining) the Pristhood? I woukd say no.

    To say that you “don’t get much” from assisting in the conduct of making Holy Mass go smoothly (and, by extension, reverently) may well be a mark of one’s own personal unsuitability for the role, but I doubt it says much about the role itself.

  12. frjim4321 says:

    That she thinks she could have gotten as much out of mass by being with the assembly as opposed to serving at the altar isn’t the point. Serving at the altar is just that: serving. It’s not principally done because it will be of spiritual benefit to the person offering the service. It’s done because certain subroutines within the ritual require assistance so that the person who is presiding can in fact preside and not be sidetracked by perfunctory actions that are not inherent in the role. As the axiom advocated to by the preeminent liturgist Robert Hovda wrote states: “Presiders preside.”

    Our serving program here is intentionally inclusive, and will certainly remain so as long as I am here.

  13. KRD says:

    Tony, I know of several seminarians who would take offense at your comment. Why would you not work to promote reverence at the OF as well as promoting the EF?

  14. Athelstan says:

    Hello Tony,

    Over night we had nothing to do but stand around feeling (and looking) useless.

    There is, in fact, almost nothing in the rubrics for servers to do in the Ordinary Form – servers end up almost as decorations. I recall even some progressives over at PrayTellBlog taking note of that reality, just a little wistfully. A traditional-minded priest *can* introduce some of the server rubrics from the EF, and I have seen this done a few times, but it’s very rare, and entirely at the discretion of the priest.

    And I do think that this shift in the conception of servers probably does diminish the value of the experience for the servers over what used to obtain (and still does) with the reality of the Traditional Roman Rite.

  15. Athelstan says:

    Meanwhile, in San Francisco, another DefCon 1 media frenzy over another parish’s decision to shift back to exclusive use of male altar servers – this time at Star of the Sea, site of the new Oratory erected last year by Archbishop Cordileone. Two local TV stations even did feature stories on it – as horribly biased as you can imagine.

  16. Tony Phillips says:

    In the old rite, servers had an important role. Kneeling there for the Confiteor, bowing way over and striking the breast–all that disappeared, and of course the mea culpas themselves mysteriously disappeared in the English Novus Ordo that was rolled out. We said the responses on behalf of the congregation. (Dialogue masses were introduced in the early 20th century, I believe, but I’m not sure to what extent they really caught on.) Plus we rang the bells more in the old rite. That was the best job, of course, the bells. (We didn’t have much incense by then.)

    My older brother, of course, got to do all this in Latin. My version of the Tridentine mass was in English; there was never an Asperges, no Last Gospel (let alone Leonine Prayers, which I’m not that keen on, to tell the truth), and it was versus populum. But it was still a cool job.

    Some of the more sensitive priests realised we’d been sidelined and tried to make up things for us to do: hold the book while he read a prayer, march around with a candle. These were kind gestures. But everyone knew it wasn’t quite the same.

  17. Tony Phillips says:

    Sorry, one more thing….had to smile at Athelstan’s reference to the Pray Tell blog. I reckon about 50% of my comments there get deleted or never see the light of day. Somehow I think I’m not unique in that respect, so you wonder how much wistfulness never reaches the surface.

  18. Vincent says:

    Tony, aged 11 I wrote to my Jesuit great-uncle, telling him that my favourite part of serving was stripping the altar on Maundy Thursday…. Of course, there’s very little to strip off the altars now!

    Some of the comments come wearyingly close to the comments heard so often in the battle over “same-sex marriage” that happened over here in 2012/13. Of course, the primary argument against the Bill was that marriage has to be open to children. The number of times the “what about married couples who are incapable of having children” question came up was ludicrous. Whilst a boy may not have any intention of becoming a priest, the priesthood is open to him. In fact, it would be a bit of a pain if it were a 100% success rate of server to priest – there’d be no servers left!

    Fr Jim – really? If you are determined that the servers should have no role other than serving, then surely you’re missing out? If the server is ‘performing certain sub-routines’ to avoid the priest having to do them, how is that not giving the celebrant spiritual benefit? If he is not being distracted from his supplication for the offering to be worthy, then surely that’s to the spiritual benefit of every person in the church? In the EF missa cantata, the MC spends a lot of time ‘filling in’ for the deacon’s role in the missa solemnis. I’d say that servers do a lot more than merely “serving” – but that’s particularly the case in the EF, and much less obvious in the OF. In that way, the server gets a taste for the priesthood by supporting the priest in the most important activity of the Church…

    On that note, the other suggestion made on this thread is that it should be “enough to serve”. Perhaps that’s true for those with a bit more understanding of the Church and their Faith, but few 11 year old boys are so holy that the concept of doing something for nothing informs their decision to join the ranks of altar servers. It certainly never struck me. What did strike me was that it was ‘cool’. Not because of the other people serving (there was only one, and he left when I started), but because it offered the real opportunity to help out, because it was a challenge, learning something new. And maybe, just a little, because I was going to be one of the most important people in the Church.

    No. It’s a very important job, but it’s a job that pulls towards the priesthood, because it places you as second only to the priest in the Mass. And that’s why everyone I know in seminary served before they joined, or served as a result of being interested.

  19. Uxixu says:

    It’s nothing against the girls serving or not. It’s scaring away the boys that it itself a symptom of a larger problem: the normalization of lay substitutes replacing minor orders clerics. The clerical state was always so much more than sacred orders.

  20. Mary Jane says:

    Allow me to re-word part of frjim’s comment to apply to those who sing in their parish choir…this should be…interesting:

    “That people think they can get as much out of mass by being with the assembly as opposed to singing in the choir isn’t the point. Singing in the choir is just that: singing. It’s not principally done because it will be of spiritual benefit to the person offering the service. It’s done because certain subroutines within the ritual require assistance so that the person who is presiding can in fact preside and not be sidetracked by perfunctory actions that are not inherent in the role.”

  21. MAJ Tony says:

    Seems like there are a few good points already made here. I find the OF less rich in gesture (where it is not a made-up gesture like this – to my and many of my fellow wdtprs-ers – silly arm-raising gesture which we never saw in the West until at least the 70s (I never saw until the 90s in Indiana, and on a major Big 10 campus chapel). Certainly, we can, as Pope Benedict XVI proposed with Summorum pontificum, enrich the OF with the EF (and in some limited ways vice versa), such as to bring back some of the rubrics, as Fr. Z says, “brick by brick.” My current parish hosts the three major forms/usages of the Roman Rite (OF, EF, AU). Our OF is HIGHLY enriched by the EF as much as GIRM allows (which I would allow is much more than one would think.) Think about it: we already have a “Gospel procession” which is a carryover from the EF in concept, something that was only recently (as in since Vat II) resurrected in the OF (as I have known it in the Midwest. Make it more dignified, more like the EF, having the torchbearers and crucifer attend to the Deacon or Priest evanglizing as in the EF, perhaps even going to the point of facing Liturgical North. No requirement exists that I’m aware of to use a fixed pulpit to read any scriptures. This one example is just that.

  22. jacobi says:

    The woman makes an interesting point that “we don’t get much from it”

    As an ex-altar boy I remember the need to concentrate and get things right. Participation as such became secondary something she may have found out. Fine if there is the possibility of proceeding to a vocation, but for female altar servers the whole thing is mainly an exercise in establishing “equality” which is why so few boys serve.

    This is important in the now widely discussed “feminisation of the liturgy,or as one young woman after Mass last Sunday put it,the de-maculinisation of the Mass which she did not like.

    No, with vocations now at a critical level, the time has come for an honest look at what has happened to our liturgy over the past fifty years, in particular the false concept of “sameness” for women in the liturgy.

  23. Clinton R. says:

    That the novelty of girl altar servers has brought nothing positive to the Church is not surprising, given like Communion in the hand, it was born out of dissent and disobedience. As Pope Innocent IV stated in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum and repeated by Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Allatae Sunt; “Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry.”

  24. frjim4321 says:

    “As Pope Innocent IV stated in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum and repeated by Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Allatae Sunt; “Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry.” – Clinton

    Institutionalized misogyny has done little to strengthen the church in the northern hemisphere.

    [We won’t accept your premise. Instead, what those Vicars of Christ did was an exercise of charity.]

  25. Mojoron says:

    As a tyke of 8 y/o, I was imprisoned in a Catholic boys home, not because I was bad, but my single mother couldn’t take care of me. Anyway, the Daughters of Charity, yes those “Flying Nuns,” taught me all the necessary rubrics of Latin Lingo, in addition, I had to learn all the Latin Lingo for Benediction which was celebrated after each Mass. I was a master of the “Smoke Machine.” This all happened at 5 AM! Fortunately, I only had to do it once per week.

    While Fr. Z consistently uses the boy altar server as a potential pre-curser for the Priesthood, I don’t believe there was one boy who made it to the priesthood, in fact, most of the other boys were truants and serving Mass probably kept them out of prison. So that is another reason that boys should be on the altar, to keep them out of prison. Although, it didn’t work for Adolf.

  26. jhayes says:

    “As Pope Innocent IV stated in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum and repeated by Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Allatae Sunt; “Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry.” – Clinton

    That was superseded in 1983 by Canon 230 #2 of the new Code of Canon Law

    In 1992, the CDW stated that Canon 230 #2 is “permissive not prescriptive” and that each bishop could decide for his own diocese whether to allow females to be altar servers.

  27. Midwest St. Michael says:

    71% of the priests currently ministering in the U.S. served as Altar boys.

    It is not rocket science.

    MSM

  28. frjim4321 says:

    “71% of the priests currently ministering in the U.S. served as Altar boys.” – MSM

    What percentage of priest ministering in the U.S. have mothers?

    How many mothers who feel excluded from the church would encourage their sons to be priests?

  29. RobS says:

    “Feeling excluded” is not the same thing as “are excluded.”

    Hopefully solid guidance is given to those who feel that way so that their erroneous feeling does not morph into an erroneous reality.

  30. RAve says:

    frjim logical is not.

  31. “71% of the priests currently ministering in the U.S. served as Altar boys.” – MSM

    What percentage of priest ministering in the U.S. have mothers?

    How many mothers who feel excluded from the church would encourage their sons to be priests?

    C’mon Fr Jim, that’s fallacious and you know it. We’ve all got mothers, even you. And yes, they’ve probably all eaten tomatoes as well, which proves the link between the priesthood and tomato-eating.

    Being an altar server can and should be seen as a form of ‘work experience’ – even if it’s for a specialised and demanding ministry that ultimately comes as a unique call from God.

    Someone who’s got the basic requirements for priesthood – male and baptised – and who has been exposed to the Mass up close like that is going to be in a better position to hear that call.

    That doesn’t mean that God can’t call someone from the pews as well, and He does. But I hear and read this over and over again from currently serving priests – ‘I first discerned my vocation as an altar boy’.

    No one’s crediting it in the same way to Mom or the tomatoes, although Mom sometimes features as the prayer-engine or the painful obstacle. Tomatoes, I don’t hear about at all.

  32. frjim4321 says:

    Rob, “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” – R v Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy

  33. williamjm says:

    As an eighteen-year-old, I would like to share my sense of the situation from what we could call the “front lines.” I have seen firsthand the femininity in the Church, the altar girls, the female EMHCs. I was an altar server in NO parishes with altar girls for five years of my life. As an organist, I have experienced the castrated hymnody. Perhaps what I feel derives from youth, from inexperience. I hope not. Anyway, the feminization of the Church has left me…

    Sick. I feel like crying.

    What gender was Jesus? He was a man. What gender were the apostles? All men. That is not a coincidence. The offering of the Mass, and the duties incumbent upon it, rightfully belong to MEN.

    However, the Mass has been STOLEN from us in the name of “equality”. What a sick, sick joke.

    Give it back to us. I demand this a right and duty granted by God. Also, to any other young men out there who read this comment, I ask you to fight for the return of the Mass to its rightful keepers. Pray. Speak out. Tell all your friends to read Father Z’s blog. Be men! Don’t stop until you achieve the goal, or death prevents you. God bless.

  34. Singing Mum says:

    I think training up male instituted acolytes who take serving seriously would be a wonderful development in many parishes. Tony is onto something when he speaks of servers looking useless- and it’s not just girls. The OF doesn’t have to have undisciplined, sloppy servers. But it often does. The EF doesn’t suffer from that nearly as much.

    I’m fine with building up the men and boys in the sanctuary. I’m happy to stay out of the sanctuary.

    But all this wringing of hands about “feminization” is misplaced. The term lumps faithful women with dissenters. It confuses femininity with off-base feminism.

    Men- bishops and priests- are deciding who is and isn’t in the altar. If there’s a problem, they can fix it. For the sake of charity, faithful Catholics should look to build up the men without lumping all faithful women and girls and claiming women as the enemy. Furthermore, a backlash of this sort only serves to bolster the claims of those who want to accuse the Church of misogyny.

  35. Clinton R. says:

    jhayes:
    “That was superseded in 1983 by Canon 230 #2 of the new Code of Canon Law
    In 1992, the CDW stated that Canon 230 #2 is “permissive not prescriptive” and that each bishop could decide for his own diocese whether to allow females to be altar servers.”

    In an effort to keep those disobedient dioceses from falling into a schism, the prohibition of females serving at the altar was dropped. Similar to why we have Communion in the hand and so many other actions that have been previously forbidden and are now allowed. The trend over the last several decades has been to relax (weaken) law and doctrine. The result has been the ‘anything goes’ mentality becoming the norm.

  36. Per Signum Crucis says:

    That 71% of active priests serving in the US were altar boys is probably not that surprising; I wonder if (similar?) figures exist for other countries.

    However, if it were possible to establish the total numbers of active altar servers against the total numbers of active priests, I would expect the former to significantly outstrip the latter. So I too am not altogether persuaded by the argument that an all-male serving body is essential for fostering vocations. Sure, it may help, but I don’t think it’s the given it is claimed to be.

    (And yes, we do have female servers at my parish. Quite frankly, some of them are more reliable and conscientious than the boys).

  37. The Cobbler says:

    Bring back the Minor Orders!

    *ahem*

    Fr. Jim, if I had the cash to spare, I should dearly like to make you some robot servers. 8^)

  38. Mary Jane says:

    “What percentage of priest ministering in the U.S. have mothers? How many mothers who feel excluded from the church would encourage their sons to be priests?”

    frjim, did your mother encourage (or discourage) you from becoming a priest?

  39. Ben Kenobi says:

    “What percentage of priest ministering in the U.S. have mothers? How many mothers who feel excluded from the church would encourage their sons to be priests?”

    @Fr. Jim

    The real question is whether the sample of those boys with mothers are more or less likely to be priests than the sample of those boys who are altar servers. ;)

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