ASK FATHER: How to talk to other mothers about male only altar service?

From a reader…

Our parish priest does not care for girl servers but allows it. Today we went to daily Mass and a new girl was serving (which was arranged by one of the moms, I don’t believe Father knew about it), while 8 boys sat in the pew, 3 of them mine, who all love to serve. I would like to say something to Father and the mom who arranged it. She has 6 boys who all serve. What is the best way to go about this? I read your article and thought it was very good!

The best way to say something to Father would be to go to him, or call him up, and ask to speak to him.

As for speaking to the other mother, I’m not quite sure how to go about that. Perhaps some mothers out there will have some advice on how to speak to a mother.  I’m at a loss about how to speak as a mother to another mother.  I would simply move slowly toward the door without making any sudden movements.

Seriously, a conversation should be undertaken.

If we approach each other with respect, with calm, measured voices, to express our opinions not in an apodictic way, you might get your point through.  Say a prayer to the Holy Spirit beforehand, and your respective Guardian Angels, asking for guidance and direction to say what needs to be said without vitriol or screed in our voice.

Keep in mind that Father, despite his preferences, might be fighting other serious battles with the “powers that be”.  He may have to compromise on the issue of altar girls because of serious pressure even from the bishop. He may have a long-term plan for all male servers and he craftily must implement it over time. In the end, the law gives him the authority to decide the matter.

But you can, and should, make your view known respectfully.

The moderation queue is ON.  I may let some comments pile up so that people can speak their piece without being jumped on by others.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Hello Father. This is good that you are broaching the subject. However I feel wanting more advice about approaching the priest say, perhaps if he’s Fr liberal pants and abuses Vatican II to self-validate his choice for altar girls. Can you follow up with a more detailed and “knock out” argument for such a scenario?

  2. Thorfinn says:

    Imagine how the conversation might run — one mother convinced that altar servers should be male, the other seemingly confident in her decision to have her daughter serve as well as her sons.

    The upside is that the other mother comes around to the first mother’s point of view. The downside is resentment and alienation between two families who should be working side by side in the vineyard. When I think of families at church I would risk alienating, the family at daily Mass with 4+ children and 4 altar servers would be pretty far down the list. If I felt the need to ask advice from a bloggist on how to broach a sensitive subject with another parent, I would just give it a pass.

  3. MrsMacD says:

    Is there a good book out there about how only boys should serve at Holy Mass or that has that as part of the contents (it’s relatively easy to share a good book with another mother)?

    Always start by loving, inviting, kind and friendly gestures. It’s easier to take the advice of a friend, than a crank.

    When I was a little girl I was given the evil eye by many people when I looked at the back of the church but it was the kind smile of a lady who reverently turned her gaze back to God that really inspired me to be good, to be holy, like that lady.

    I think Father has the best advice in praying to the Holy Spirit and to the guardian angels.

    My advice; Go to confession, keep your soul as free from sin as possible, recieve Holy Communion and don’t even premeditate, say that prayer to the Holy Ghost and speak if God moves you to speak, keep silence if he doesn’t.

  4. ckdexterhaven says:

    It’s entirely possible that the mother did not want her daughter to serve, but the girl’s father did want her to. That’s what happened to me.

    I have 3 boys, the older two always served at Daily Mass. My daughter also wanted to serve. I fought her over it for a long time. My husband thought she should be able to serve….because the Vatican allows it. It was a frustrating time, my daughter was very respectful, I believe she was only allowed to be a candle holder. She eventually gave it up.

    I prefer that altar servers be male. Many of my friends and women in the parish were very vocal about male only servers, and some of their comments hurt my feelings. I hope the writer of this letter to Father Z thinks hard about approaching the mother.

  5. Midwest St. Michael says:

    “…to express our opinions not in an apodictic way…”

    “apodictic”? Where in the world is my pocket dictionary? (yeah, I know I can bring up another window and go to Webster’s)

    After reading your… um, rant yesterday Fr. Z, we were off to a *very rural* local parish for an evening Mass. Turns out the Mass was being said for a local former resident.

    Our boys (14 and 11) usually serve [OF – they are homeschooled]. Turns out there were two girls there to be altar servers for the Holy Sacrifice (great-nieces of the deceased). So, since the parish-church is quite small. Our boys were politely thanked, but were declined.

    It was painstakingly evident these two… servers had zero-to-no clue what they were to be doing in their roles – much less what is happening at Holy Mass. It was very cringe-worthy.

    Our new pastor is all into being “all inclusive” or… maybe sympathetic (?) to families of the deceased in allowing members of the family to have roles in the Sacred Liturgy. He even does this with EMoHC asking a family member to “come forward” so they can distribute Holy Communion to their family members.

    This simply… Drives. Me. Nuts.

    Fr. Z, I have been reading you from the beginning. I must admit there are times I wish I had never discovered your fantastic blog. [LOL]

    Our priest is no “Spirit of Vatican II” priest – but he is very much into Pope Francis’ “Mercy” mantra. (not the worst thing, properly understood)

    FWIW we have two girls older than our boys. Once when we were asked if we wanted to allow the girls to serve we politely declined. We simply said we did not wish that we could possibly hinder a possible vocation to the priesthood.

    We have since been viewed as green eyed from Mars.


  6. wendyquade says:

    I love how my pastor handles this! The altar boys wear a traditional cassock, however the girls wear white alb and scapular with the color for the liturgical season. When my daughter questioned this practice, he very simply told her that she would never be a priest, but she may one day be a nun.

  7. CJ6 says:

    Recently, some enterprising members of our parish wrote up a pamphlet and left it at the tables near the doors about modesty and modest dressing, especially at mass. I saw quite a few people pick it up, and I think it was generally well received. It may be worth it to try something like that first. If I were this mother, this approach would come off as less confrontational, less like you’re singling out one particular mother or child. If you then want to talk to her directly, you can use the pamphlet as a conversation starter.

    Also, I would spin this more as how important giving boys the opportunity to serve is to vocations, rather than discouraging girls from participating (focus on the positives, not the negatives). Our catholic newspaper had a recent column interviewing six local seminarians, five of whom credited alter serving with inspiring their vocation (the sixth was called while working as a chef). Quotes from something like that may be helpful.

    Father Z. may have a different take on whether leaving handouts might cause more problems than it solves.

  8. OK_doc says:

    Dear Mom:
    Unless the other mother is someone that you are already on adversarial terms with and neither of you can stand even looking at each other and you are just looking to stick your thumb in their eye, my humble advice is to not speak to anyone but your priest about this. Someone gives me unsolicited criticism of my decisions as a mother is invited to MYOB, hopefully politely but not usually cordially.
    Clearly, if the other woman has “arranged” for her daughter to serve Mass, she is not going to be receptive to the notion that only boys should serve. If she brings it up, the best response to her “wasn’t it wonderful seeing Suzy Q up on the altar?” is a shrug of the shoulders and turn away.

  9. aliceinstpaul says:

    My priest was away this past Sunday. Funny things happened this last mass.

    Girls never serve at the high mass here, and yet this time, two. Surprised was I, because I had been told that wouldn’t happen anymore when the priest asked my son to serve. Coincidentally, the bulletin invited all boys and girls to serve at upcoming masses.

    I don’t know how that happened. I intend to ask Father.

    There is no point on talking to the other mother. No good can come of it for you. If Father can redirect her daughters to other activities, wonderful.

    There is a point in asking if your sons can serve more often, and also stating your concerns about having them serve with girls. That way, you are not accusing anyone of having gone around him without clear evidence, and yet you can highlight your concerns.

    I do assume that many members of parishes do like to exercise their control at the parish by scheduling these things without priest input. But the line of gossip is hard to keep sight of. Best to not ask in a way which accuses.

  10. ofHippo says:

    Mothers are the worst- I love them- am one of them- but they are part of the problems with the Church at present because they typically monopolize the priests with a bunch of emotional mishegas thus part of the reason why the Church is so feminized. Practically speaking- I would a) approach the priest respectfully and quietly and if he can’t do anything about it due to Bishop etc- I would b) not say anything to the mother but c) work towards trying to volunteer to take over the scheduling of the alter servers and d) schedule the girl rarely and for a Mass I don’t attend. Long story short: I’ve not experienced Moms working (sensitive) things out amongst themselves very well.

  11. frjim4321 says:

    “Recently, some enterprising members of our parish wrote up a pamphlet and left it at the tables near the doors about modesty and modest dressing, especially at mass.”

    Which is precisely why we police up the vestibules before and after every mass to make sure that unauthorized pamphlets are immediately destroyed and discarded.

    It’s amazing how effective this practice is. We almost never find such contraband any more.

  12. moon1234 says:

    If it continues to be a distraction to you and you would like to help improve your parish, speak to your Priest and request that he add a TLM to the schedule. Work with your boys so that they can properly serve at low Mass for starters.

    Altar servers can only be male at the TLM and there are no exceptions. You may find that all of the other benefits of the TLM with enrich your spiritual life along with removing many of the externalities that can distract or detract when at Mass.

  13. catholictrad says:

    It has been glorious being at a diocesan TLM parish where this is a total non-issue.

    However, at the Novus Ordo parish where my daughter attends school, there was a boyfriend/girlfriend altar-server team who flirted at every opportunity during Mass, including making “goo-goo eyes” at each other during the bringing up of the gifts. Their antics were obvious to everyone but the priest.

    Like many post-Council-of-all-Councils changes, the altar-girl problem should never have happened because it only serves to confuse the faithful and take the focus off of God.

  14. Christine says:

    I definitley would not speak to the other mother about this. There is more of a chance of things getting ugly and uncomfortable, then changing that mother’s mind on girls serving at the altar. I would talk to the priest, let him know you support him and offer prayers and fasting for God to change the other mom’s heart.

  15. mpmaron says:

    Thank you frjim4321 for policing the vestibule rigorously.

    Is it standard operating procedure in the “We are Church” model to rid the vestibule of pamphlet clutter such as devotionals and “how-tos” or do you just cherry pick those you don’t like?

    Thank you in advance for your answer.

  16. acardnal says:

    frjim, I hope that procedure includes copies of the “National Catholic Reporter” aka Fishwrap.

  17. APX says:

    I’m OK_doc on this one. I have been on the receiving end of other people’s “charity” (as they like to call it) usually regarding my wardrobe. I do the best with what I can given that the basic necessities are a struggle right now. My wardrobe is slim and well worn. I usually ask them if they’re offering to buy me a new wardrobe and pay for alterations. They tend to get the hint, though I have been told “to just trust in God and he will provide” by some well meaning people far more well-off than myself. Again I ask, “are you the means God is using to provide for me?”

    The point I’m getting at is most “well-meaning” people don’t know what’s going on. They only know what they see. My priest has explained this to me, and I would encourage people to respectfully take your concerns up with your priest and let him deal with it as he sees fit. If it’s not to your liking, pray or go elsewhere.

  18. pannw says:

    “We almost never find such contraband any more.”

    Yes, guidelines for modesty is awful contraband and clearly has no place in a Catholic Church. What will these wicked sneaky pushers be trafficking next, directions for a good examination of conscience? Horror!

  19. gracie says:


    If I understand your post correctly, people are asking you to buy new clothes to replace your older, worn out clothing. That’s just terrible and it’s shocking to hear that you are on the receiving end of such crass behavior.

    It may help you to know that when people are criticizing other people’s clothing on websites such as this, they mostly are talking about the immodest style and cut of the clothes, rather than their shelf life. On *this* issue price is not a factor because modest clothes are no more expensive to buy than immodest ones. At the stores both styles are on the racks – but the prices are the same. In fact, often the more revealing costumes are more expensive than the ones that cover up more.

  20. SaintJude6 says:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were pamphlets on modesty in the vestibule of every church? Truly, the shocking fashions worn by parishioners have gotten out of hand. Tube tops, micro minis, ragged jeans (not because they are old, these are expensive and purchased already frayed in various areas), exposed bra straps, leggings instead of pants, and outfits apparently chosen to maximize the return on investment of rather large tattoos. The ONLY parish I have attended where this is not a problem is the one where the pastor gives reminders about modesty and custody of the eyes about twice a year, as well as the dress code being in the bulletin and on the website.
    It’s pretty sad that frjim would work against modesty, which is really charity towards one’s neighbor. Many tween and teen girls go through a stage where they think they need to display the changes that have taken place in their bodies. (Unfortunately, some do not outgrow it.) It is better to have a millstone around your neck than to encourage this behavior. I am so thankful for the strong priests who aid parents in their duty to raise virtuous children.

  21. SaintJude6 says:

    Also, modest clothing is not any more expensive than immodest clothing. Many, many women I know are getting their skirts and blouses at thrift stores for very little money, since they just aren’t in heavy demand. An easy way to to build a modest wardrobe is to look at clearance racks. Specifically, look under the rack for the skirts that are hanging down the lowest. And most dresses or blouses can be covered up on top with a cardigan. If you look around at the girls and women in our parish, you will see cardigans everywhere.

  22. KateD says:

    A friend has lovely daughters who altar serve. If the magesterium has allowed it and the priest permits it, is it really our place to say they can’t? The priest may not prefer it, but in most parishes, they have bigger fish to fry, and this is a lesser (and more importantly, un-winnable) battle. This is one of the reasons why the Latin Mass is such a refuge for all of us embattled souls.

    If God wants this subject broached, he will provide for a moment when the mother will ask your opinion. Maybe she will ask for your daughter to join in altar serving, then you will have an opportunity to lovingly and with out any hint of judgement, express why it is not possible. The difficulty is partiently waiting for God’s timing, or accepting that it may not be a priority for Him, either. Pray that the Holy Spirit give you the words that she needs to hear.

  23. Alice says:

    I am a mom. I would not tell a mother of 7+ (you mentioned that she had 6 boys who serve) what I thought of her family choices. If you think she pulled a fast one on Father, you could talk to him and see if this is even true. Don’t be surprised, though, if you find out that Father not only knew but encouraged the girl to serve. Many priests don’t care for altar girls, but for one reason or another feel that their hands are tied when it comes down to ending the practice in their parishes.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: pamphlets – It’s pretty standard for parishes to discourage people posting stuff without asking. It’s a shame for people putting up good things to have to go through paperwork; but OTOH, there was that bit with a local person claiming an apparition of Mary who posted her unapproved messages, such as “Watch the skies,” and things with occult or heretical theology.

    OTOH, it disrespects the laity’s legitimate Catholic thoughts and feelings to give them the idea that they can never get permission for anything, and that Father just wants them to “pay, obey, and have nothing to say.”

  25. frjim4321 says:

    mpmaron says:
    26 August 2015 at 8:58 AM
    Thank you frjim4321 for policing the vestibule rigorously. Is it standard operating procedure in the “We are Church” model to rid the vestibule of pamphlet clutter such as devotionals and “how-tos” or do you just cherry pick those you don’t like? Thank you in advance for your answer.

    acardnal says: 26 August 2015 at 9:00 AM frjim, I hope that procedure includes copies of the “National Catholic Reporter” aka Fishwrap.

    First of all, mpmaron, I doubt that any competent pastor would welcome ad hoc contributions of literature by random parishioners placed on the basis of their pet peeves, eccentricities, favorite borderline pious practice, etc., without going through some kind of vetting process. A random parishioner claiming entitlement to setting a dress code for other parishioners is absurd. The sense of entitlement required to do such a thing is so over-sized that I would recommend such a person for immediate mental health assistance.

    I certainly do toss material that I find objectionable. We permit moderate, centrist material and avoid the excesses of either extreme. So would would not find the NCR or the OSV or Wanderer. You would certainly find the diocesan newspaper. You would not find anything from Ascension Press or EWTN.

    All literature within the main stream is permitted.

  26. KateD says:

    *patiently – I always have trouble with patience.

  27. Bea says:

    When a priest in the long past introduced altar girls, our boys quit.
    Other boys followed suit.
    The policy was changed when the pastor saw the boycott and only boys served for a long while.

    Unfortunately when another pastor was ready to leave he saddled the new pastor with the policy of altar girls to appease a rich woman’s daughter.
    Altar girls are still permitted and there are usually more females on the altar than the male priest.

  28. Katherine says:

    We have only boys serving on the altar at my parish, and it is such a pleasure for the little boys to get to be in the “man club” in the sanctuary, learning how to be holy men by the examples there. It is a delight to see how proud they are of a job well done, as perfection is expected of them. Our pastor also writes a personal thank-you note to each altar boy at Christmas time, with a crisp five dollar bill in it!

    What about getting a group of young ladies and their moms together to learn how to make altar linens. It’s pretty easy and gives the young girls something equally important to do for God and His Holy Mass…something they can certainly take pride in, and a skill that will last them a lifetime.

  29. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    Good job on the policing of the vestibule Father Jim! After all, we wouldn’t want these lay people starting to think that it’s their church, would we? I mean – a random parishioner exercising some right to make known their views to Christ’s faithful on matters which concern the good of the Church? The nerve. It’s almost like they think that canon 212 is actually in force, and not just some dead letter in the Code that’s meant as window dressing. You’re right – there’s a clear sense of entitlement there, I mean, you’re the pastor, it’s your church, those uppity layfolk are just there to listen to your wisdom, not to share any of their own.

    I used to think that you were one of these pie-eyed, banner waving lib’ruls, but I see now that you’re a good solid, old-school clericalist like the best of ’em. Keep those lay people ignorant and feed ’em only that moderate pablum that keeps packing them in the pews!

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [Fr. F (official parodohymnodist) v Fr Jim. I, for one, am making popcorn.]

  30. SaintJude6 says:

    Fr. Ferguson, I think I love you.
    To some priests the churches only belong to the laity when there is a capital campaign going on–no other input appreciated. (And in this age of dioceses being able to lock up the church, kick the parishioners out, and sell it for a profit, we aren’t really falling for that line anymore.)

  31. VexillaRegis says:

    Of course every parish has to do some weeding in the vestibule; here are just some examples of what I have found on the book shelves of different Catholic churches in Scandinavia:

    Material promoting the alleged apparitions in Medugorje and Bayswater, Vassula Ryden-pamphlets, paranoid papers about the apocalypse, sedevacantist cards, ads for a We are church-like group and even radical evangelical material saying that “the-Catholic-Church-is-you-know-what-of-Babylon.” A friend told me, that in his parish, some guy tried to use the vestibule to sell his own home made wood carvings and had the nerve to get mad when the priest nicely told him that he couldn’t do that.

  32. mpmaron says:

    Thanks Fr. Ferguson. You said it a million times better than I ever could.

  33. cl00bie says:

    This is one of the reasons that we have to fight valiantly to prevent these incremental innovations. Once you get these innovations, you never get rid of them without a major blow to church cohesion and sometimes a massive loss of members from your parish.

    One local pastor compromised by allowing the current girls to serve, but training no new altar girls. The mom with one older girl and one younger one who wanted to serve left the church. You can’t please everyone. Sometimes you have to do the right thing regardless of the consequences because you’re ultimately responsible to Jesus for the care of the souls in your parish borders.

  34. a catechist says:

    *big sigh* I’d say if you don’t already know that mother, don’t bring it up with her. But…I’m in the position that my oldest son does not want to serve but does want to read, but age restrictions mean he won’t be allowed to read for six more years – despite being Confirmed, tall enough to read from the ambo, unusually well-spoken for his age, and a serious shortage of readers at our parish. To him, it’s merely arbitrary. Meanwhile, his younger sister has wanted to be an altar server for years and we won’t allow it, ‘though we try to explain that it isn’t arbitrary. I don’t approve parents forcing change, but I very much sympathize with parents who have kids with a devout desire to serve the liturgy and the church tells them “no” for years, their most easily devout years.

  35. Nan says:

    We used to have adult altar servers, both male and female. Then Fr decided it was time to introduce all male altar servers and while all three stages of altar server are represented, it seems there are more and more boys serving on Sunday and the afternoon Mass during which the children’s choir sings.

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