ASK FATHER: Difference between male and female?

From a seminarian…


I’m a seminarian at __ in ___ and I was wondering what’s the reason for why women should not be in the sanctuary for things such as lecturing and EMHC? I’m totally on board with this teaching, I just don’t know any deep theology or doctrine behind the practice. It’s been around since ancient times in the Jewish and even Catholic Tradition until recently. So, if you have an answer or books or articles that can explain this practice more thoroughly that’d be great! God Bless!

These days people don’t like to hear the following phrase:

There is a difference between male and female.

The difference goes to the very core of our being.

We are alike in our humanity and, as baptized Christians, we are alike in our sacramentally changed and elevated state.

But men and women are different. Sexes are not interchangeable.

For centuries the Church has operated mostly in cultures that accepted and respected this obvious fact. In many places and times, the Church has had to insist on the similarity of men and women with respect to our human dignity and baptized status. Against societies that preached that women were mere property of their menfolk, the Church has held aloft the Blessed Virgin to show that women not only have the same dignity as men, but a woman could rise to the highest pinnacle of the created order and outshine even the angels in purity and grace.

These days we move in a world wherein few societies, particularly in the West, denigrate women as they had been in the past.  Compare how they are treated where Islam has risen! The world now seeks to erase all differences between men and women, and to make sex (“gender”) a matter of personal choice and feelings, something fluid, something shifting back and forth depending on the base tug of concupiscence. Men pretend to be women, women men. To support this fiction, doctors perpetrate mutilation on apparently willing subjects. Devious psychologists affirm the deluded souls that their psychoses are normal and that their feelings trump reality.

So, how does that affect the long-standing, traditional prohibition against women in the sanctuary?

That said…

The current liturgical legislation is mute on the issue. There is, currently, no law in the Latin Rite that prohibits women from entering the sanctuaries of our churches (as there still is in the liturgical laws of some of the Eastern Rites of the Church).

Those who wish to retain the traditional practice do so not on the basis of the ius vigens, but rather on appealing to the maintenance of the long-standing practice of the Church.

The reasons for this long-standing practice is to emphasize the properly priestly role of service in the sanctuary.  There are probably also roots in the Old Testament distinctions of ritual purity.  However, they were overwhelmed by other, theological and symbolic meanings.

The sacred space of the sanctuary is usually separated from the nave of the church is by steps and ideally by a communion rail.

The priest is – must be – a male.

Priesthood is as masculine a thing as motherhood is feminine.

A female Christian priest is as illogical a construct as a male mother would be – were our world a sane one.

A man enters the sanctuary as and in service to The Priest, alter Christus. As the priest is configured to Christ, the High Priest, those who serve him are similarly configured.

In an era when squires served knights and knights served lords, maids served ladies and ladies-in-waiting served princesses and queens, this made sense.  Today however, when so many have rejected the norms of Christian society, not so much.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Imrahil says:

    You can count me among those who think that a ban on women “in the sanctuary” in the literal sense, such as, for instance, on passing through into the sacristy when needing to talk to the priest there or so (with a due genuflection), is and should be obsolete.

    That said, why shouldn’t they be lectors, acolytes, EMHCs?

    As we all know, a twofold event (is event the right word? – well you know what I mean) unfolds itself in a sense at Mass. Christ feeds His flock (literally with the Eucharist, and also with His words etc.); and said flock, the body of Christ, responds to Christ feeding His flock (and also prays for it to happen).

    The second part, to which the “sitting in the pews” but also the offices of choir-singer, organ-player, sacristan and, in the Novus Ordo, that of a “lector” for one or more of the General Intercessions (not for the introduction and the concluding prayer of the General Intercessions) belong, is fully open for women.

    It is the first part that is the issue here (pace Pope St. Pius X who thought that women couldn’t be cantrices either).

    This, now pertains to Christ acting on His Church, as it were, and thus it is done by those ordained (I include the lesser ordinations here). Without a priest a Mass cannot happen. As for the other ordained ministers, the Church has generously allowed them to be impersonated (as it were) by laymen (taking that word in its colloquial sense) to ensure that Masses have more festivity (commonly called altar-boys*), and now also that non-priests distribute the Holy Communion so that this runs more smoothly;

    but it goes without saying that at least if there are enough men present to do the job (which is usually the case), this kind of substitute-clergy should be restricted to those who at least could be clergy, by being men.

    [* A reader who is not ordained as a lector is actually a reading altar-boy, even if he is not dressed as an altar-boy.]

  2. APX says:


    According to our priest, traipsing through the sanctuary to get to the sacristy is not to be done by anyone, regardless if they’re man or woman, since such space is especially sacred. Only those who have a legitimate purpose to be in there should enter (ie: cleaning, arranging flowers, setting up for Mass, etc). He has told the congregation this on numerous occasions in the past, but unfortunately it fell on deaf male ears. Women have always managed to find the side door to the back sacristy, or someone with a key to unlock the door. The men on the other hand…not so much.

    That being said, there are legitimate times when a woman should be in the sanctuary during Mass, where the rubrics call for it. In the Rite of Consecration of a Virgin, after receiving the consecration and being set aside as the Spouse of Christ, her place to sit is moved to in the sanctuary. Furthermore, women enter the sanctuary during their final profession to sign their life away on the altar, being an act of sacrifice. Also, based on pictures from old marriages, the couple entered the sanctuary to receive the nuptial blessing. I’ve never seen it done during current marriages done in the Extraordinary Form.

  3. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Because of my work schedule as a physician, I had to attend a 7pm OF Mass at our geographic parish a couple of weeks ago. The male server spent the entire Mass flirting with, gesticulating dramatically toward, and making faces at and giggling unceremoniously with the 2 females servers with which he was “serving.”

    Not that two boys can’t be irreverent and disrespect the flow of the liturgy, but it is even worse when it is occurring between the sees within the sanctuary during Mass.

    My sensibilities were completely scandalized and offended. The priest seemed not to notice as they were mostly lateral to or behind him. And hes actually a pretty good priest which made it even worse I think because it wad insulting to him as well as celebrant. Not to mention the indignity to Christ being sacrificed for us on the altar while the servers flirted and giggled and blushed. Reason #59 for Summorum Pontificum. #5 for why attend almost exclusively the EF. No girls in the sanctuary distracting the men in the Church.

  4. APX says:

    *eye roll* Of course, let’s blame the two girls for the boys being unable to behave themselves. If boys aren’t taught they are accountable for their behaviour and grow up being told it’s the girls’ fault they can’t behave themselves, boys will grow up to be adult boys (I refuse to call such males “men”) who can’t control themselves and excuse their behaviour as being the fault of the women around them.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Imrahil – It was apparently normal in some medieval convent churches for the abbess to read/chant the Gospel with her abbatial crozier in hand, and for the choirmistress to chant other readings. So there are some exceptions. But your point is correct.

    Atra, I hate to disillusion you, but it is pretty common to read about minor clergy in medieval days who spent their altar time ogling the ladies, and the same of choir boys and men in choirs that were behind the sanctuary. Even monks were known to do this sort of thing, and some people blamed it on the iconostases being replaced by roodscreens. I am sorry to say that girls and women throughout the ages have also been known to flirt during Mass, and there was apparently more of it done in the ages when women sat in their own seating section. You also hear of both sexes talking during Mass, particularly if a notable stranger is in attendance.

    But the real reason is lack of self-control and self-respect. Nobody has a gun to anyone’s head, and people can save the flirtation until after Mass.

    If Father is too busy to notice, somebody should be having a word with the kids. They are old enough to know better if they are old enough to serve.

  6. Andrew says:

    It seems to me that the reason why the distinction of the roles of men and women is blurred, (at least partially) is the ease with which goods and necessities can be acquired anonymously, so to say, without the actual involvement of individuals in the process. No one has to till the land, harvest the fruit, take care of the livestock: everything is delivered to your doorsteps, all you have to do is write a check. There is no need for families to band together, to take care of the young and the old and the sick, to rely on the strong, to belong to a place, to plan for the future, to raise children, to defend your own, etc. You can just get a nice apartment, get a good office job that doesn’t produce anything, and live your dream.

  7. jhayes says:

    At one time, a woman could give the acolyte’s responses during Mass but had to stay outside of the altar rail to do it.

    Now, the GIRM permits laypersons (both male and female) to fulfill the roles of both acolytes and lectors:

    100. In the absence of an instituted acolyte, there may be deputed lay ministers to serve at the altar and assist the Priest and the Deacon; these carry the cross, the candles, the thurible, the bread, the wine, and the water, or who are even deputed to distribute Holy Communion as extraordinary ministers.[84]

    101. In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, people who are truly suited to carrying out this function and carefully prepared, so that by their hearing the readings from the sacred texts the faithful may conceive in their hearts a sweet and living affection for Sacred Scripture.[85]

    A bishop may bar the use of female altar servers in his diocese and a priest may bar their use at a Mass he celebrates.

  8. J.M.C. says:

    The current rubrics in the “Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity” direct that the candidates—who are obviously, necessarily women—be called into the sanctuary by the bishop, and that they remain seated there (together with their not-necessarily-consecrated female attendants!) for the duration of the rest of the Mass. So I think this example might be a counter-argument to the idea that the Church has a deep traditional theology of excluding women per se from the sanctuary.

  9. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    @APX: I did not blame these 2 girls specifically as individual moral operators for anything. In fact the older of the 2 girls was trying to keep the flirting younger pair, who were equally culpable for the bad behavior, in line. So I would appreciate your not deriding me as if I had personally judged them simply because they were girls. In point of fact, I specifically clarified that 2 immatute boys could be equally distracting to the Mass. Your kind of knee jerk feminist-world view framed response is why I usually have the sense to never express any of my opinions about anything in public anyway. Sexist sarcastic “eye roll” comments that add nothing but contrived unintended inter gender reactionary flourishes to an otherwise amicable intellectual exchange in the comments section of this site are specifically what i endeavor to avoid. If I wanted inflaming banter and ad hominem and straw men responses, I would comment at Hell’s Bible or WaPo or the Natl. Schismatic Reporter.

    I blamed the situation of a mixed altar service being an occasion of sin for the boy whose job it is to be serving and discerning a vocation to the priesthood while doing so. This Mass I attended was the case point. The problem is that there is a difference between how boys behave (good or bad) around girls than they do around other boys. This is Sociology 101 and confirmed by human experience. Having been a 12 year old boy in the past and having male children, I recognize that it is easier for a 12 year old boy to behave more maturely around older boys and men (the traditional sanctuary) than it is for him to behave well around the 13 yo girl he has a crush on that gives him butterflies in his belly and his attraction to her distracts him from the task at hand.

    @Suburbanbanshee: I am aware that there are always and will always be distractions for everyone at every Mass. The devil has an art for this, of course. But what didn’t happen in the Middle Ages was girls and boys both wearing vestments as “assistant ministers” of the service and flirting with eachother in front of everyone. Girls were not dressed in liturgical gear pretending at being minor clergy. When you put on liturgical gear, you are more accoutable than when you are simply attending. I don’t think an argument that says “bad things happened then, so let’s ignore what we could fix now” is very effective. I mean priests slept around with women in the Middle Ages quite commonly as clerical corruption was common, but this is not an argument against modern priestly celibacy. I don’t think your argument stands.

  10. ccrino says:

    I’ve been a one parish mass with St Joh Paul II and the servers were female and another with Benedict XVI where the lectors were women. Women even read the General Intercessions although there was no shortage of deacons about. From this I would gather that women in these roles is permissible. If we want to use papal liturgies as models, one might even assume that it is desirable. Not exclusively female roles, as men can perform them as well.

    The original ban had to do withmenstrual impurity. Orthodox women don’t receive communion during their periods. But, aren’t we past that?

  11. justamom says:

    The example of the Consecrated Virgin entering the sanctuary is the exception that proves the rule!

  12. Bender says:

    Atra, sure you didn’t blame these two girls specifically as individual moral operators, you simply suggested that all girls are responsible, while exculpating all boys from thier own responsibiity to control themselves. Even boys have free choice of the will. If the altar boy will not control himself — for whatever reason — then that is HIS fault, not anyone else’s.

    On a similar line, since you are condemning these kids for their conduct at Mass, why were you paying so much attention to them rather than your own participation in the Mass? In so many areas, if people would just worry about themselves, rather than those around them, the Mass would be so much more fruitful and holy.

  13. gracie says:

    Sometimes I stay after Mass to say the rosary and my attention is divided between the mysteries and the clean up crew on the alter. Three times I have watched in fascinated horror as individuals have casually opened up the Tabernacle door to peer inside and move around the ciborium. I’m not sure what the point is. I was thinking maybe these people have the mindset that they’re doing a “kitchen clean-up” of the sanctuary, but when we’re cleaning up our own kitchens we normally don’t open the cupboard doors and move the crockery around. The thing is that the door has a key in it which the priest turns and locks after he’s put everything away. The key is left in the door for the benefit of the priest at the next Mass and yet the lay people who descend on the altar seem to think it’s there for them too.

  14. ccrino says:

    @gracie, based on working in a parish for 35 years, my guess is that they are the sacristans setting up for the next mass who are counting consecrated hosts so they know how many to set out

    If there is more than one ciborium, they might have to move them around to check.

    I agree that doing these chores might make it difficult for others to pray without distraction. I always try to be conscious of that. But, there are things that just need to be done between one mass and another

  15. Manducat in the hat says:

    Stations of the Cross last night consisted of one priest in alb and stole, three 70-80 year old women carrying the processional crucifix and candles, and 14 other 60-80 year old women leading the Stations of the Cross written from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That version of the Stations wasn’t terrible, but it was written to be attractive to women and repeated many of the same lines throughout.

    Upon arrival, I leaned to my wife and state that we would leave upon any liturgical dancing.

    There were plenty of men in the congregation, but the women involved looked as if they were conquering something or overturning some injustice. The entire event felt to me like a political statement. It’s not for lack of men willing to be involved. I am hesitant to offer further opinion for the cause.

  16. gracie says:


    I hope so, although the teenage girl didn’t look much like a sacristan. But who am I to judge?

  17. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    @Bender: I did not, as you uncharitably suggest, “simply suggest that *all girls* are responsible, while exculpating *all boys* from their own responsibiity to control themselves.”

    If you think this then you need to reread my original post and my previous response. You are simply providing another reactionary attempt to contrive and place on me an extreme gender judgment I did not actually make; this insinuation that I have made an all encompassing sexist judgment against “all girls” is a ridiculous albeit convenient and all-to-common feminist straw man to argue against but is not in reality what I said. I’m not arguing logical fallacies any further.

    With regard to why I was worried about them, it’s because, again as I said before, they are garbled in clerical attire and in the sanctuary. They are hard to miss, as they should be as liturgical participants. As giant puppets would be hard to miss. Or a priest in a Barney suit would be hard to miss. Or a notorious sinner lectoring. They are part and parcel of the OF Mass as acolytes thereof.

    I have nothing else to comment after this. This is one of the most disappointing threads I’ve ever participated in on this blog. I was unaware there were so many people on here ready to place sexist and judgmental statements on my lips which I’ve not uttered…and then to completely ignore my actual responses. This feels like a Facebook argument. Fulton Sheen was right, an argument is the hardest thing to find these days. What a lack of charity.

  18. Thomas Sweeney says:

    All of these arguments would be moot if we only attended Traditional Masses. It seems to me that Vatican II was contrived by petty lawyers to engender arguments. My heart longs for the days when conservative Sisters would severely admonish anyone taking liberties at Mass or in the pews.

  19. APX says:

    Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda, did you not say,

    “Reason #59 for Summorum Pontificum. #5 for why attend almost exclusively the EF. No girls in the sanctuary distracting the men in the Church.?

    You clearly stated that girls in the sanctuary distract the men in the Church. If that’s not what you meant, then maybe proofread and edit what you write so that your message is clear to those who read it.

  20. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    H.J.A. Sire, Phoenix from the Ashes, Angelico Press, 2015, pp. 307-317, has a very interesting exposition of the priesthood and the complementarity of the sexes. On p. 317 he says:

    “The human person is not begotten by a father alone but brought into being by a father and a mother. This is a relation that does not exist in the Trinity, and we need to ask ourselves why that is so, why there is in humanity a dual parenthood that has no divine prototype. It is so for the sake of the Incarnation. The reason why every human being derives his nature equally from a man and a woman is that that was the only way in which a Being could come into the world who was by nature both God and man. The Incarnation is not an expedient improvised from the accidents of creation; the human race was devised so as to make the Incarnation possible. The duality of the sexes is the natural precondition for the supernatural duality of the Incarnation.

    “It follows that the difference of the sexes is not a mere physical accident., but is integral to human nature and its relation to God. A man is the kind of human being that God devised in whom the Incarnation was to be realized; a woman is the kind of human being that God devised as the vessel of the Incarnation. God could only have become incarnate as a man, because the male sex was formed to represent him; he could only have become man as the son of a woman, because the female sex was formed to bear him. Only a man can represent Christ in the government of the Church; but only a woman could be raised to be the mother of God, a privilege to which no priesthood comes near. The participations in divinity that God has chosen to grant us through the Incarnation are not made without discrimination of sex but with congruity and complementarity to one and the other.”

    Until the very recent past most people did not question the differences between the sexes or the distinctions that were made in liturgical and social roles. Too often, the advantage of size and strength was exploited and the differences were taken for granted, for good or ill. The modern imperative to question everything has overthrown that passive acceptance and come to some ridiculous and destructive conclusions, so that it is now necessary to think through the truth very carefully and thoroughly. That work should lead all of us to a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s creative work and the ability to explain it to a culture that is rapidly losing any sense of the sacred.

  21. aprons says:

    Father, I am a convert to the Church. The only Catholic Church I have ever known is the one I attend with a Novus Ordo Mass. When I joined the Church, I signed up for everything I could to be of help whenever it might be needed: lector, E.M., sacristan. Through reading your blog and others, I came to realize that it was not always accepted that women serve in some of these capacities and so I stepped down from the ministries of lector and E.M. I do remain a sacristan, however, because I have not come across anything that has said this would be wrong. I am an older woman, in my 60’s. Is it permissible for me to be serving in this way, preparing things for Mass in the sanctuary, according to the older rubrics of the Church?

    Thank you.

  22. Geoffrey says:

    “In the absence of an instituted acolyte, there may be deputed lay ministers to serve at the altar… In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings…” (General Instruction of The Roman Missal, 100 & 101).

    The “absence” of instituted ministers has fostered what was to be an exception to become the norm. We need a renewal of the instituted ministries and the problem of women in the sanctuary during Mass will take care of itself!

  23. Semper Gumby says:

    Thomas Sweeney: well said.

    The world could indeed benefit from more conservative/traditional Sisters and mothers, fathers and Fathers.

  24. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Grateful to be Catholic,

    I cannot but suppose I am not the only one grateful to be introduced to H.J.A. Sire, Phoenix from the Ashes (2015) by the very interesting exposition you quote.

    Without rejecting your last paragraph, I would add that I think it has also been characteristic of other times to find it good or even necessary to (attempt t0) think through the truth very carefully and thoroughly.

    An example that comes to mind in the present context, is St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? (II, 8). There he considers and argues “whether the human nature taken by God must be produced from a father and mother, as other men are, or from man alone, or from woman alone. For, in whichever of these three modes it be, it will be produced from Adam and Eve, for from these two is every person of either sex descended. And of these three modes, no one is easier for God than another, that it should be selected on this account.” And, “It is no great toil to show that that man will be brought into existence in a nobler and purer manner, if produced from man alone, or woman alone, than if springing from the union of both, as do all other men.” And, “In four ways can God create man, viz., either of man and woman, in the common way; or neither of man nor woman, as he created Adam; or of man without woman, as he made Eve; or of woman without man, which thus far he has never done. Wherefore, in order to show that this last mode [is] also under his power, and was reserved for this very purpose, what more fitting than that he should take that man whose origin we are seeking from a woman without a man? Now whether it be more worthy that he be born of a virgin, or one not a virgin, we need not discuss, but must affirm, beyond all doubt, that the God-man should be born of a virgin” (1907 S.N. Deane translation as transcribed in Wikisource).

    While he thinks it was “more fitting” for God to do what He had not done before, namely, “that he should take that man whose origin we are seeking from a woman without a man”, and, indeed, “that this last mode also under his power, and was reserved for this very purpose”, he does not seem to be asserting that it was necessary, or that He could not have derived a virgin female Savior from a a virgin male descendant of Adam and Eve much as He wonderfully produced the virgin Eve from the virgin Adam. If He had, presumably an exclusively female priesthood would be defended on the same terms as an exclusively male priesthood, now; history – that He did not – would in these terms seem decisive.

  25. Cincinnati Priest says:

    APX: Instead of initiating the “blame game” war between the sexes (not helpful), the better thing to do would be to focus on the issue at hand: why are there mixed-sex servers *in the sanctuary* in the first place. This is asking for trouble given the reality of teen behavior, especially in the modern era of immodesty. It would be be much more logical to have boys and girls separately (if girls serve at all which I don’t favor).

    To the argument that this would happen elsewhere besides in the sanctuary, that may be true. The point is that it is especially noticeable in the sanctuary and especially distracting to the Massgoers.

    For other post-ers: It is not helpful to castigate someone for being distracted and blaming him for not focusing on the Mass. If there are distracting things happening, people will be distracted.

    The priest should try to do whatever reasonably possible to remove obvious distractions.

  26. frjim4321 says:

    A psychosexually healthy individual is by definition capable of being in the presence of members of the opposite sex without distress. I really don’t think we should be making decisions about who can and who cannot serve in the sanctuary on the basis of the accommodation of sociopaths.

    Accepting for the sake of argument the concept that females are not valid matter for holy orders, a convincing rationale for this has not surfaced to date, and for the most part it is rejected by most Catholics that I know. Granted this is anecdotal data and not generalizable. But if CARA was permitted to study this, how many Catholics really believe that women theoretically cannot be ordained? I certainly don’t.

    On the other hand, the pithy argument “if you can’t ordain females, why bother baptizing them” is easy understood.

  27. MrsMacD says:

    In my very sheltered world. I can add what I see in my little corner. I have a bunch of boys. They’ve all mentioned wanting to be a priest at some point, being an altar boy has brought them closer to that, but when asked what they would do if they had to serve with girls, the answer I have gotten is that they wouldn’t serve. That indicates to me that this is part of why we have a crisis of the priesthood. If a lad has regular contact with a Holy priest, he might want to be like him. Boys need to copy their Fathers. Save the liturgy, save the world.

  28. frjim4321 says:

    “I have a bunch of boys. They’ve all mentioned wanting to be a priest at some point, being an altar boy has brought them closer to that, but when asked what they would do if they had to serve with girls, the answer I have gotten is that they wouldn’t serve.”

    Good that they are honest.

    But we don’t need any more people like that in the priesthood.

  29. Felicia says:

    That women are not to function as priests is traditional, for they did not function as priests in ancient Judaism as well. Further, they were not even allowed into the Court of the Gentiles, but stayed farther away from the Holy of Holies, in the Court of Women.

    Why? God could have just flipped a coin and it came up “male.” Or there could be an actual reason related to the essence of masculinity and femininity. I would bet on the latter.

    But what exactly is the difference between male and female? No one here has really come up with an anwer other than the purely biological functions of fatherhood and motherhood. But outside what one *does* (fathering or mothering a child), what exactly is the difference in the root essence?

    Of course one can easily discuss stereotypes—women tend to like shopping; men tend to like watching sports, etc.—but all of these are only generally true. After all, one does find women who abhor shopping and men who abhor watching sports. Beyond stereotypes and purely biological functions, really, what is the difference? I ask this honestly and not rhetorically.

  30. lmgilbert says:

    Last week Saturday I served Mass and read at our parish, Holy Rosary in Portland, and in the congregation were about 40 boys and young men present for the annual altar servers retreat. This is a corps of highly disciplined and well-trained altar servers, and a group from which I understand many vocations have come over the years. I mentioned this parish in a recent post about the altar rail we have which creates the sanctuary into which laymen and women come with diffidence, and in which only men serve.

    For your edification, here is a current item from the 2/7/2016 bulletin:

    “NEW SERVER TRAINING, Week of February 14
    Holy Rosary is proud of the young men who choose to serve
    reverently at the altar. What great graces are available to them
    as they join the multitude of angels around the altar! Young men
    ages 10 and into beyond high-school age who wish to serve at
    Holy Rosary are very much encouraged to attend the upcoming
    server training days on 2/16, 2/17, 2/19, and 2/20. All four days
    are mandatory attendance for proper training as one day’s work
    builds on the next. Weekday training is held from 7-9 PM and
    Saturday training is all day from 9 AM to 5 PM with the newly
    trained serving their first Mass at 5:30 PM that evening. Please
    RSVP to. . . .” etc.

    Four days of training! This is the kind of challenge on which boys and young men thrive.

    FrJim: One can only suppose that with such an attitude you must be or have been a director of vocations or a seminary rector strategically positioned as a gatekeeper to keep “people like that” from the priesthood. Am I right? Or otherwise had a voice in such decisions? Better the Church should implode than that men of a traditional cast of mind be admitted to the ranks of the priesthood, eh? Michel Rose wrote a book-GoodGoodbye! Good Men: How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations From the Priesthood- about the depredations inflicted on the Church by such a policy. Better people should go without the Sacraments, that churches should close, that people fail of coming to God, than that priests should carry on the traditions handed down from the time of Moses till now. How priestly is that? How charitable is it?

    You write, “But if CARA was permitted to study this, how many Catholics really believe that women theoretically cannot be ordained? I certainly don’t.” This is not at all a question of theory, it is defined doctrine, for Pope John Paul wrote, “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful (ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS, no. 4)

    One would be interested to know what other doctrines of the faith you don’t believe, and which you feel free to contest in Catholic forums, presumably also from the altar. One could wish that men ordained as priests in the Catholic Church would repent and embrace the Catholic faith, for then if they faithfully preached it the laity also would “really believe” in the teaching handed down by the successors of the apostles.

  31. lampada says:

    Sacred virgins are not the only exceptions [whether EF or OF] to women being in the sanctuary. Catholic royalty also have been seated in the sanctuary for eons.

    If women knew their dignity and if pastors promoted the true dignity of women, then I daresay the push for women priests would be dissipated. Why do we not see the vocation of consecrated virginity promoted by our orthodox priests? After all, only virgin women can fully and perfectly image the Church, the living Bride of Christ. This is why only women can be admitted to the Ordo Virginum. If we talked more about the beauty of women who are called to the sublime vocation of being sacred virgins like the Blessed Virgin, if we discussed how they complement the male episcopate who fully represent Christ, we would see a greater understanding of the dignity of women in the Church. If we were to give honor to our virgins in the Church and show that we respect those united to Christ with an indissoluble nuptial bond then we might have hope that the Church is not seen as a lopsided entity with only males being honored.

    Since when have priests preached on the vocation of consecrated virgins? They cop out by talking about religious, who do not have the same significance in their bodies or the same nuptial bond as sacred virgins do. Religious men and women do not share the nuptial bond of the married that the virgin does. They do not have an indissoluble nuptial union with Christ. Let’s start talking about how the virgin is an example to the married in that she shares with those who have consummated a sacramental union the unbreakable nuptial bond. Instead of just the priesthood, let’s start talking about the living images of the Church. Religious life by its nature is a following of Christ but sacred virginity by its nature is a legal wedded union with Christ [hence both the priesthood and sacred virginity are compatible with religious life but are not identical to it], so let’s hear from the priests about the only vocation in the Church reserved for women.

  32. Semper Gumby says:

    MrsMacD, CincinnatiPriest, Imgilbert: well said.

  33. helenmarie211 says:

    One of the loveliest–and, at the same time, most philosophical–reflections on not only the reality of gender distinction but also its salvific purpose is to be found in the form of a short story by George MacDonald, entitled “The History of Photogen and Nycteris.” (I have also seen it published as “The Day Boy and the Night Girl.”) The imagery is grounded in gender distinction, yet reaches beyond it in unfurling the meaning of createdness itself–the intrinsic limitation of which is paradoxically intended to be overcome by the grace of the very God who established limitation in the first place. Only God is unlimited; all of creation is limited in some way or another, and gender distinction is one expression of that limitation. Those who refuse or distort masculine v. feminine humanity are therefore assaulting Heaven itself with the ancient cry, “I will not serve.” For it is through gender, first of all, that God gives us our mission: apart from gender, we are not even granted that participation in this life and that potential for blessed participation the next which we call existence itself. It is important that we point out the sociological, psychological, liturgical, and other drawbacks of the blurring of gender roles, but not at the cost of failing to bear witness to our faith in the One who made us male and female in the first place. Let us not adopt merely a defensive stance of noting that which is destructive; let us affirm unflinchingly that God’s will is to be obeyed in the matter of gender distinction as in all things, no matter what. Read the story. Paraphrasing what Sam Gamgee once said about the growing of apples: if I could write like that, I would call myself an author. Ave Maria!

  34. The Faith does not regenerate without the man planting the seed. Women nurture, men plant.
    You wanna see a dead parish or a screwed up family? Its where the men are absent. Where the men do not play an authoritarian role, or ‘generative’ role so to speak.

    So really, the truth of our real nature is reflected in the truths of the Church.
    Men have testosterone and the body parts that reflect their true nature and purpose.
    Men belong in the Sanctuary and have the responsibilities that Christ ordained because, well, they have the gonads. We women do not.

    Same logic applies to why only men can be priests: confecting the Eucharist is a generative exercise. Only men can do that cuz, well, only they have the body parts. Yea, its all related.

    Women are not men. That is why.

  35. mysticalrose says:


    How on earth can you say that motherhood is a “purely biological function?” Is there any women who considers her motherhood as somehow detached from her ontology? My children most certainly have changed me to the core. I am a mother, plain and simple — there is no separation between my “biology” and who I am as a person. To admit otherwise is to fall into a kind of modern crypto-gnosticism.

  36. K2 says:

    The difference between men and women

    If there is a theology/philosophy of the differences between men and women, it would be a very long and articulate study, not able to be summed up in a blog comment. This is a brief attempt to shorten centuries of carefully nuanced thought into a comment.

    I’m pretty sure we can agree that God had a plan in creating humanity in His image. Genesis says that He created them in His image male and female. It’s clear there’s a difference between men and women. Rather than “just” motherhood or fatherhood, masculinity and femininity are what each man and woman are at the core of themselves. If one rejects that we are God’s intention and design, then we are a collection of characteristics, and can alter and change them at will.

    Really, the question here is one of nature: do we as men and women have something at the core of ourselves that IS who we are, or do we not? Scriptures and Tradition tell us one thing, reason too leads us to this conclusion. We are either a certain way as human persons, as men or women, or we are not.

    Reason tells us we have a nature. We are material, bound by gravity, location, etc. We cannot walk through walls, we cannot be in four places at once. We are rational but limited, we learn in a progressive way, from evidence. We love, we hold situations to be fair/just or not. All these are aspects of our nature as rational beings with bodies.

    Reason and Faith both tell us we have a nature, and that to be human is to be human in a particular way, as man or woman, and as the individual we are. Our individuality is played out, is made manifest under the conditions of humanity, of masculinity and femininity, and of a descending cascade of conditions of our person (nation, genes, parents, education), some of which spring directly from who we are, some of which are merely accidental to who we are.

    The point is, we are defined in some ways, which gives context to our existence, and means to continue it. If you take away all stimuli and circumstances from a person, he shuts down, he cannot function… Who we are has a nature.

    As a man or woman, as one of the two parts of humanity that image God, we fulfill certain roles. If there is a reason or not for a tradition of limiting the role of women in liturgy, it would then only be legitimate if based in this. A discussion of roles, of actually having parts to play is not politically correct, but nor is the notion of nature. These are foundational notions lived out in the old and new Testament, and the way in which God has revealed Himself and the structure of reality to us. The reasons are this: that men are the head of the family, and represent the outward activity of God, the creative aspect of His Nature. This headship is not the stereotyped RULER and King of all, but really one of gift, of gift os self, of pouring out of self. In this way, God pours out His goodness into the world, bringing it into being, and giving it form. Woman represents the nourishing and sustaining aspect of God, (alone can they do this) giving themselves in keeping things/reality and growing them. Parenthood is but a shadow of these aspects of God, which are of course all part of One Reality in Him. For us, since we learn Who He is by who we are, most importantly by our parents, we then learn of Him as creating and sustaining, as just and merciful, as head and heart, knowledge and love. These qualities are not exclusive to man or woman, but rather given first form and knowledge in them, respectively. If this is the case, and it is a very brief summary of a theology/philosophy mentioned in Paul, lived out by the Israelites, taught by the fathers (much is found in St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings, for example), and brought to new relevance by St. John Paul II, then the Liturgy and its place and circumstances most certainly have a proper place and conditions for them.

    God’s revelation to us, in who we are, and in His Own words indicate a man as a public face of the family, as the outward face and representative, the Woman as the interior face and the keeper of the family. The roles in the liturgy (the public prayer of the Church) are reflections of the teaching/creative aspect of God, Who created and Taught, and revealed himself to us as a man. Some would say that serving as acolyte or lector or Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist are not leadership/image positions. That is a separate debate, but part of it. This is a partial description of the theology and reasons for men to be in the sanctuary, and I enter it for the questioner’s education. Much reading and study of this would be an excellent foundation for a future priest, as it teaches the mind of the Church in many ages, the ideas of the Fathers of the Church, and some of the deepest considerations of how we can understand God Himself.

  37. APX says:

    Regarding the lack of promotion of consecrated virgins, in all fairness, the vocation as we know it today is still pretty new (it was “restored” during Vatican II), thus not well known, nor welcomed by some bishops.

    When I was discerning the vocation, my spiritual director really had no idea what I was talking about. He knew about virgins “consecrating” themselves via a private vow (ie: St. Rose of Lima, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Gemma Galgani, etc), and Consecrated Virgins living in the world as it was prior to religious life, as well as the consecrating of virgins for religious that remained after the secular vocation fell into disuse, but had no idea that there was this elaborate rite of a hybrid between a marriage and an ordination done by the bishop. When I went to discuss it with the vocations director, he discouraged me from “throwing [my] life away at such a young age” and that I “should be out dating and looking for a potential husband”. (And they wonder why there is a vocations shortage…)

    There’s also the excluding fact that a woman must actually be a virgin and never lived in open violation of chastity. Given the current state of moral decay in which we live, that probably excludes a lot of women. What priest wants to tell a woman that one night of indiscretion, though forgiven, has a very permanent consequence that could have cost her vocation?

    Given the tone of the comparison of Consecrated Virginity to that of religious life, I will give this warning that many of the Church Fathers did to the consecrated virgins under their care, humility is a higher virtue than virginity and God rejects the proud virgin. The majority of virgin mystic saints who reached the highest degree of perfection and reached the Spiritual Nuptials were never Consecrated Virgins. They were either living under a private vow of virginity, or were religious. Let’s not get too hoity-toity about Consecrated Virginity being better than religious life and re-start the “who’s more married to Jesus” argument again that permeated the Internet a few years ago amongst Consecrated Virgin bloggers.

  38. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Aprons, the custom (in the West anyway) of female sacristans was primarily associated with female religious houses, but it was often done formally and informally in parish churches, too.

    Here’s a beautiful picture of St. Therese of Lisieux acting as a sacristan in her Carmelite convent, as drawn by her sister and fellow nun, Celine.

  39. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I forgot to say that St. Bernadette also served as a sacristan for her convent. There are many other older examples, but I think those two ladies prove the point!

  40. Suburbanbanshee says:

    A priest is someone who kills and sacrifices animals. A Catholic priest is someone who presents the Unbloody Sacrifice to God, while acting in persona Christi. He represents the bloody victim and the bloody High Priest, his garments stained with blood so plentiful it looks like wine.

    Do you really want a woman doing this? Yes, women can wring the necks of chickens and chop off their heads, sure. But do you really want a woman getting into that mental and spiritual place, of killing and being killed? Bear in mind that when we women get into religion, we really get into it.

    In the ancient world, priestesses were usually sex symbols (of one sort or another), practitioners of fertility rites, sacred prostitutes, scary crones, or Maenads who killed things and people in a not very nice way.

    But mostly, I would guess that it’s because women like to take things over, and that women running a church without any male brakes on their activities tend to turn the whole thing into a power struggle, with the desired end being that one queen bee grinds all challengers into the dirt. The Lord is kind and merciful, so He gave the responsibility to the guys.

    And most of all, God knew that if women had to run the Church and say Mass as well as running everything else, we’d get tired out.

  41. Felicia says:


    You say: ” I am a mother, plain and simple — there is no separation between my “biology” and who I am as a person”

    But were you not a women *BEFORE* you had children? Of course you were. So what was the essence of this femininity, then?

    Whether or not a woman has any children, she is still a woman. Femininity, whatever it is, has to exist apart from the biological function of having gotten pregnant at one point in one’s life.

  42. WYMiriam says:

    Father Jim4321, I am having a hard time understanding you. I hope you will help me out by responding to this.

    You said, “I really don’t think we should be making decisions about who can and who cannot serve in the sanctuary on the basis of the accommodation of sociopaths.”

    Who said anything about sociopaths? Are you calling openly flirtatious girls AND boys, boys AND girls, sociopaths? “Normal” teenagers flirt. But –that sort of behavior does not belong in the sanctuary. It should not happen during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. [Query: where are the parents, and why they aren’t seeing and correcting this behavior? What kind of training did these altar servers receive, if any, and why is the person responsible for their training not seeing or correcting this behavior?]

    You also said, “But if CARA was permitted to study this, how many Catholics really believe that women theoretically cannot be ordained? I certainly don’t.”

    Did you just say that you do not believe that women cannot be ordained — or, to put it another way, did you just say that you believe women *can* be ordained? Breathtaking. You do not believe an infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Church? Unbelievable. What kind of example does that set for the wobbling, the weak, the doubtful members of your congregation?

    Fr. Jim, you finished with “On the other hand, the pithy argument “if you can’t ordain females, why bother baptizing them” is eas[ily] understood.”

    The “pithy argument” you put forward here is wrong on so many levels. It is, I think, understood easily only by those who think that women have some sort of automatic, inescapable “right” to be ordained: “women get baptized; therefore they must be ordained.” With otherwise due respect, BOSH. What this argument really says is, “women can’t be ordained; therefore they must be excluded, starting at their birth, from the life of the Church, denied the gift of faith, denied the consolation of forgiveness in the sacrament of confession, and denied the spiritual sustenance of the inestimable gift of the Holy Eucharist — all because they can’t be ordained, and therefore can’t be baptized.”

    That “pithy” argument is illogical, inhuman, and inhumane. The “pith” in it is rotten to the core.

  43. Imrahil says:

    Dear APX re trespassing through the sanctuary…

    of course a priest is at liberty to set up rules for behavior in Church and explain why he thinks them appropriate. That said, the entire Church is a sanctuary, as it were, and the principal (at any rate) bevaviour of a Christian towards the sanctuary is “reverence”, not “keeping oneself out of it at all cost”. The temple veil has been torn apart from upside down.

    (One unbaptized should really keep himself out, though.)

    By the way, choosing between a woman who goes to the sacristy through it, with a genuflection in front of the tabernacle, and a sacristan who doesn’t, I’m pretty sure of what to choose…

  44. Imrahil says:

    Dear Banshee,

    very interesting.

  45. lampada says:

    I am not sure it’s a valid argument to ignore consecrated virgins simply because many women are not eligible to receive the solemn consecration. Nor is it fair to characterize them as hoity toity if they choose to discuss the nuptial dimension of their vocation as being per se nuptial. The Vatican has acknowledged this month during the closing ceremonies of the Year of Consecrated Life that the numbers of women religious vocations are going down and that the consecrated virgins are expanding in such numbers that the official number is predicted to double by 2020 and the Congregation for consecrated life will be dedicating more resources to this most popular women’s vocation. The Vatican just released the results of a survey of episcopal conferences for numbers of consecrated virgins. Less than half responded and of those that responded, there are at least 4,000 virgins living in the world (real numbers are probably closer to 5,000-6,000 but not all bishops or their conferences deem it necessary to keep tabs on their virgins).

    As this blog purports to be very traditional and in mind with the Church, the theology of consecrated virginity seems an appropriate subject since the consecration has been given in every century of the Church. [Thank you, Fr. Z, for your mentions of this vocation in your blog!] Yes, the teaching is hard. One must be a virgin to be a living image of the Church as Virgin. No one should start counting numbers of the mystic females who were consecrated virgins- remember that most of the early nuns up until the 1000’s received the consecration of virgins along with or after their Profession of vows. Being a mystic has nothing to do with the consecration of virgins- man or woman can be a mystic. St. Hildegard is an example of one who also received the Consecration of Virgins and she is a Doctor of the Church. Her great mentor, St. Gertrude the Great also received the Consecration of Virgins and she wrote eloquently on the blessing that the virginal consecration is.

    If we really wish to understand the dignity of women we must understand consecrated virginity. There is no other way around it. The complementarity of the sexes, human marriage being between one man and one woman, the Petrine and Marian dimensions of the Church, clerics and spouses of Christ, are mysteries which must be understood in context of each other and if you simply focus on the priesthood as being reserved for men you risk losing out on the Marian dimension of the Church in which the woman bride of Jesus Christ is the living image of the Church herself. I would go so far as to say that the real reason many do not understand consecrated virginity is because they do not understand marriage. There is a real resistance on the part of the faithful and clergy for understanding the vocation of virginity because they want to put it in terms of the following of Christ (sequela Christi) like religious instead of espousals with Christ (sponsa Christi) and I think that is partly because marriage is not esteemed.

  46. Imrahil says:


    It was apparently normal in some medieval convent churches for the abbess to read/chant the Gospel with her abbatial crozier in hand, and for the choirmistress to chant other readings.

    I may be wrong, but I think the Carthusiennes have that priviledge and it refers to Matins, not to Mass… and of course, a priest would then read all readings silently for himself in any case.

    (This two-groove system of the Extraordinary Form, as much as it was criticized by the liturgy reformers, makes a lot of things easier; you can always say that the priest has done the thing in a correct way as it were to make sure. In the Extraordinary Form, you can unproblematically sing a mere paraphrase for the Sanctus, which may be a very pious and valuable song, because the priest has actually praised it – in the Novus Ordo, that is already problematic, as then noone would have prayed the words as they stand… but I digress.)

    At any rate,each day for Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, laymen and -women chant the Gospel (for this is what these canticles are).

  47. Imrahil says:

    has actually prayed it. Sorry

  48. Jarrod says:

    “On the other hand, the pithy argument “if you can’t ordain females, why bother baptizing them” is easily understood.”

    With respect, Father, that argument is much easier to reject than it is to understand, and for the same reason: baptism and ordination do almost entirely different things. The only similarity would seem to be the fact of an indelible mark each one leaves on the person.

    Would you accept the equally pithy argument “If you can’t ordain murderers and insane people (cf. CIC 1041), why bother baptizing them?” I hope not.

  49. SunnyFlowers says:

    Well said!

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