Fr. Z seeks advice about women

Now that I have your attention, I would like to solicit some female readers… for advice.

For advice about a Ladies Altar Guild.  Altar… Society?

I am sure that some of you have experience in establishing and participating in a parish guild which takes care of important aspects of the sanctuaries and sacristies care.

It seems to me that we need one here.   We are getting ready for a servers guild.  We need a complimentary guild for women.



Folks… I really want comments in the comment box.

Many of you, very helpful, are writing to my email but without using the contact form.  I miss many of those, I’m afraid.

If you want me to read something, use the contact form or the combox, below.  Put

“Ladies Altar Society” in the subject line.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sue says:

    Good Morning, Father. I’m a member of our Altar Society. All the registered women of the parish are members. Not sure what all you want to know but we have a President, V.President, Secretary and Treasurer and the rest of us women are divided into monthly groups who are responsible for cleaning specific areas of our church and hall. We have fundraisers to pay for hosts, candles, wine, flowers, anything to do with the altar as well as raising money for charities and to support some diocesan needs. What else would you like to know? You can email me if necessary.

  2. Katherine says:

    In my experience, Altar Societies are full of aged women who complain that no young women want to join, then run them out because of their new ideas when they do join. I have a dream that parishes could start a small group of young girls learning how to hem linen (the beautiful way by pulling a thread) and embroider a simple cross, so that they could make corporals, purification’s, etc…
    and also work beside their Moms cleaning, polishing and washing.

    We have no altar girls, and our altar boys are well trained and must stick to high standards or not participate at the altar. We could have the same high standards for the girls’ stitching and linen care.

    Unfortunately, Father, as you probably already know, when you get a group of women together and “in charge” you will inevitably have problems, unless their work is rooted in prayer. Be very careful how you begin your Altar Society. I would look around for where you clearly see God working in the women you know, and ask that woman (or those women) to join you in the sacred work of the Holy Mass. Girls/women will be very enthusiastic about having a part in making the worship of God excellent. Having their linens on the altar, and polished vessels is a hidden sort of thing, so does not play as easily to our natural female pride.

  3. Katherine says: Unfortunately, Father, as you probably already know, when you get a group of women together …

    Okay, what are the solutions to this scenario?
    Altar and ROSARY Society?
    Altar and ADORATION Society?

  4. deaconjohn1987 says:

    We have a wonderful Altar Rosary Society at our parish. They do not do church cleaning or repairing. They have fund raising activities like bake sales, raffles, Easter & Christmas dinners, baby showers to help the local pregnancy center, collect items for the homeless shelter, etc., etc. They also donate these funds for parish needs, like altar flowers, new chalices and vestments. It’s important that there be a spiritual director for the group, to keep it Catholic! I lead off the monthly meeting with the Rosary and give a final blessing. Meetings should be about one hour and usually after Sunday Mass.

  5. BrionyB says:

    At my parish we have no guild or society; the women just quietly get on with doing what needs doing, as they always have. It isn’t advertised in the newsletter or anything, but female newcomers to the parish are likely to be pounced on by one of the parish “matriarchs” and recruited (ask me how I know :)). Occasionally husbands or older children are co-opted when particular skills or an extra pair of hands are needed.

    I haven’t experienced the problems of female groups alluded to above. I wonder whether the things are connected, whether it’s when you start formalizing things and assigning roles and positions that problems (envy, resentment, and so on) arise. For all that it’s popular in certain circles to denigrate the idea of sisterhood, women are actually fairly good at self-organizing and cooperating, when not forced into structures and hierarchies that don’t suit (cf. girls’ schools and female-dominated offices, which are often awful).

    I guess my point is – if the ladies are doing a good job, the solution is to leave them alone to get on with it!

  6. chantgirl says:

    For technical training, the Williamsburg School of Needlework offers classes on embroidery and mastering altar linens. A friend took one of their week-long courses:

  7. Diana says:

    My parish has monthly “Ladies Sodality Meetings”, after First Saturday Mass and Adoration. Father gives a talk and then whoever can stay to clean does, although I understand some women also clean other Saturdays. I went a few times, but stopped going for a variety of reasons.
    However, here are some thoughts. They might seem petty, and you probably know much of this already, but I offer them in case you find them helpful. For perspective, I’m married, no kids, late 40s.
    1. If you want younger women to join, choose the name of the group carefully. “Sodality” just rubbed me the wrong way. I know what it means, and it’s a perfectly innocuous word, but… I don’t know. This is petty, I know… but I honestly had negative reactions to that word. As a comparison, there’s a group for younger people called Juventutum… that sounds fun!
    2. There are a LOT of things to be done in a parish–I know you know. If this one group has too much on its “to do” list, it will dissuade people who have kids and jobs from participating. Cleaning the church, and organizing Sunday get togethers, and making food for new mommies, and doing the gardening, and … and… it is overwhelming.
    3. Remember that the ladies of your parish come in a variety of situations, and try to give each one something she can manage. A homeschooling mom of ten with all the energy in the world and an adoring, faithful husband may be able to do much more than a mom with no kids and a husband who hasn’t been to Mass in years. She wants to help, she has the time and ability, but has to carefully balance the grumpy hubs with her desire to grow in her faith. It’s a tenuous line she’s walking. Unequally yoked marriages are tough. But those in them also need fellowship in their walk with God. They just have to balance things carefully.
    4. If the same women end up doing everything, it will dissuade newcomers from wanting to help. Some women avoid even what looks like it might be a clique, even though it’s not.
    5. Make sure prayer and growing closer to God is at the center of this all.

  8. Alice says:

    My parish doesn’t have an Altar and Rosary Society, but there are women who are charge of various things from funeral dinners to church cleaning. It’s a larger parish, so when they need people to help with various things, they advertise and more women respond. Occasionally, the older ladies will treat me like a young thing, but I’m in my mid-thirties with four kids, so it’s welcome these days. :)

    I’ve been in smaller parishes where younger women were involved and it seemed like most of them had been trained by their mothers and aunts. The older ladies of the parish might take a young woman under their wings if she was new to the parish. I think older girls should be encouraged to go with their mothers. I know this seems to be frowned upon in the post-2002 church, but if the mother is there, I really don’t see why it should be a problem.

    Personally, I’m a huge fan of the words “confraternity” and “sodality,” but I’m a Millennial, so I’ll just eat some Tide Pods over here while everyone discusses how I should be living my life. ;)

  9. NancyA says:

    Hello, Fr. Z! I’m a member of my parish Altar Society and, as another person responded, every woman in our parish is considered a member, but the real work is accomplished by about a dozen women who keep the ball rolling. We are mostly older women (I can say that because I’m one of them) and a few of them have a death grip on the way they think things should be done and this is a turn off to younger women who don’t feel welcomed. This, as you can guess, is a road to extinction for an Altar Society.

    Our Altar Society oversees just about anything that is needed for the sanctuary and Mass: vestments, hosts and Sacramental wine, altar cloths, candles, washing, flowers, and the list goes on….and on, plus our Pastor expects us to provide meals for ‘special occasions’ and monetary contributions to parish projects.

    The Knights of Columbus also do a lot of work in our parish, but I pretty much feel like we are both just a money-making machines (especially the Altar Society) and there is really very little to the spiritual side of what we do. Our Pastor does not really lead us, unfortunately, but just assumes we are going to take care of things, such as the Easter Triduum. He mostly didn’t know what we were doing, just that we would do it.

    From experience, I would say that it is important for the Pastor to be involved with an Altar Society and take care of them spiritually because it can easily become a group of women just taking charge and making decisions themselves combined with the pressure of always having to raise money to take care of too many things and it almost seems like God isn’t even involved anymore but we just have to make money for ‘stuff’. It’s important for a priest to teach an Altar Society HOW to do things, like how to properly wash the purificators and dispose of the water used to wash them. Those are beautiful things to learn, but I haven’t experienced a priest that even thinks about it in my parish. That leads to even more lukewarmness when the things we do lose the understanding of sacredness.

    I think that an Altar Society can drive a priest crazy if the women get out of hand, because believe me, we can. The priest needs to be foremost a Pastor and a leader, he needs to teach and be firm but kind and not have favorites or use people up because they are an easy touch for him to get what he wants. Most importantly keep Jesus and Our Blessed Mother involved with the work of the Altar Society.

    Thank-you, Father!

  10. CatholicHistoryNerd says:

    If you want a variety of women to volunteer, it’s important to make boundaries and expectations clear. Otherwise the group becomes a clique that one cannot join without some inside connection. In my experience, altar society/sacristan duties are handled by either a group of retirees with plenty of free time, or by a single devout mom personally asked by the priest. An email chain of assignments, as is often done for lectors, ushers, servers, etc, would be a more accessible way to organize things.

    Some points to make clear when soliciting members in the bulletin, etc:
    – Does Father lead the group or is there a lay appointee?
    – Are tasks a weekly commitment or can someone just help with big holy days?
    – Is work done at the church, or can some cleaning, ironing, etc be taken home during the week?
    – Do all activities take place during the weekday? If so, this excludes anyone with a full-time job or other commitments.
    – Do I have to be an expert to join? Not everyone may be well-versed in the finer points of more obscure vestments, so an initial training session could be a great chance for some catechesis as well.

    Lastly, treat this group with the respect and gratitude you would any parish volunteers. Women are not a time bomb of prideful cat-fights, we’re just fellows members of Christ’s Body who want to help make the liturgy reverent and beautiful. Please refrain from the old worn-out “Blessed am I among women!” jokes when you’re the only man in the room. We won’t give you cooties.

  11. beelady says:

    I believe that the only way to avoid the Guild becoming a clique or a club for a certain group of women is to make a list of what needs to be done and then draw lots for who is assigned to which tasks. If a woman has to be in charge of a certain group then I would also cast lots for leadership positions.
    We call this “letting the Holy Spirit decided” in our parish. It has worked extremely well to get a wide variety of women to participate and to avoid petty conflicts.

  12. beelady says:

    *letting the Holy Spirit decide

  13. beelady says:

    One more thought – this idea may be better received if the Servers Guild is structured the same way.

  14. teachermom24 says:

    “Okay, what are the solutions to this scenario?
    Altar and ROSARY Society?
    Altar and ADORATION Society?”

    Yes. To keep any group of women in the church from turning in on itself into a catty, gossipy, prideful bunch, it has to be founded in deep prayer, and flow out of prayer.

    “I would look around for where you clearly see God working in the women you know, and ask that woman (or those women) to join you in the sacred work of the Holy Mass.”

    Precisely. If it’s just one devout woman to start with, that’s where to begin.

  15. Diana says:

    LOL @Alice! Stay away from the TidePods!
    I’ll learn to live with Sodality if I must. It’s just one of those words like “slacks” and “Antietam” that drives me crazy. Each to his own, I know.

  16. catholiccomelately says:

    Former Protestant here, who learned about linens and altar care at her mother’s knee. And former ordained Lutheran woman, who learned about women’s groups from experience over 30 years….
    Don’t use the word “Ladies”, it’s too old-fashioned. Altar Society might work IF it is connected with prayer or Adoration or brief retreats over the course of the year. Have meetings perhaps 2 or 3 times a year for adoration and prayer, fellowship, and learning (and coffee … but no more than 2 hours) . If Father is not an extrovert, give it to a deacon or faithful older woman who is.
    Pair new members with an old hand to explain the details of the services asked..
    Let the structure be largely by email or Messenger, or after Mass in the narthex.
    Invite women to bring their daughters or young women of the oarish to join. Reach out into parts of the parish who may be of different co!ors, languages or socio-economic status.
    Emphasize that we are being asked to do Something Beautiful For God.
    Maybe invoke St. Theresa of Kolkot as patroness.
    Never, ever praise these women publicly … ask them to serve quietly and with devotion.
    Have Father offer a Mass for them once a year.

  17. Lauren35 says:

    Our Altar Guild has core groups that do weekly cleaning, flowers, laundry, etc. For Ember Days, we have major church cleaning over the course of a day or two. Once a year (maybe twice?) we have a potluck breakfast, meet to discuss plans for the guild, and then Father provides us with a talk on a topic helpful for women.

    Encourage all age groups to join. It has been a blessing in our Altar Guild to have tasks specifically for young children that the mothers oversee and help out with (for example, kids clean kneelers while moms clean pews). If I can’t bring my children, it is typically much harder for me to be involved! This also teaches the next generation how to help.

    When we have a large cleaning task (say, before holy days), Father will make an announcement asking for new volunteers to help out. We got 2 days worth of projects done in about 2 hours before Holy Week because of the huge response from the parish. Father also takes the time to thank us, which we appreciate, but truly I think we all really just appreciate the opportunity to help out at our beloved church. I haven’t noticed any cliques or gossip…just a wonderful group of women (and their families!).

  18. maternalView says:

    The foundation of the group must be either weekly Adoration or rosary or both. Then care of the altar. I would suggest only those who show up for Adoration or rosary get altar assignments. Also there should be an understanding that duties are rotated/shared so all have a chance to learn and offer service.

    And don’t be afraid to call them “ladies”. Sure it’s old-fashioned but apparently so is men as men and women as women!

  19. Katherine says:

    Well, Father, you have much good advice here in broad terms. Here is some help where the rubber meets the road:

    As someone has already said, priestly guidance is very important. When women are working, be a peripatetic leader. Show up. Walk among them. Lend a hand. Compliment. Ask them to bow their heads for a blessing when you leave. This could take 10 minutes out of your day but will be worth a fortune in spiritual benefits.

    The Society should begin and end with prayer. That’s a no-brainer. Many years ago, a group of friends got together to cook for a daughter’s wedding reception. We would be at it most of the day. One of my friends suggested we stop at the same minute every hour (say, at quarter past each hour—whenever the first prayer happened) and pray a Memorare. We have done this innumerable times and it changes the tenor of the work. Whoever happens to notice the time just begins, “In the name of the Father…” and everyone drops what she is doing for the moment and joins the prayer then goes right back to the work or conversation where she left it. Sometimes you’re late. Then you pray and everyone remarks how quickly that hour passed. If the ladies are only going to work together for an hour, pray every 20 minutes. Pick your own prayer—doesn’t have to be a Memorare!

  20. notenoughflair says:

    In an ideal world, if I had the choice to propose a true Guild composed of all women of the parish, I would have it be a combination of a Spiritual Motherhood themed prayer and spirituality group to pray for priests and for fruitfulness of their ministry in the parish, as well as service projects that could be completed in one day, or which have a foreseeable completion time and date.. For example, the service projects could be embroidering new linens, or helping to plant a Mary garden at the parish or at the rectory, or helping to do a deep cleaning of the Parish Hall kitchen. Also, one-time service activities would have the added benefit of having beginnings and endings which could foster more participation.

    One of the most intimidating parts of the service-only groups in the parish is that there is no end placed on the service. You join, and then you serve until you burn out or are no longer able to do so. To join a volunteer organization where a time commitment has no defined end date (an “In Perpetuity” expectation of participation, if you will) is a very stressful proposition, especially because many already serve in other capacities on a regular basis.

    Also, and this is critical, THANK YOUR VOLUNTEERS who serve your parish!!!! I cannot stress this enough. Most service ministries at a parish are very “hidden”, like the Altar Society women who clean our parish on Saturday afternoons, and have little or no spiritual aspect to them. And virtually all volunteers serve with little or no recognition of the many hours of work that they may spend in service to the parish. At the very least, have a once a year Volunteer Appreciation Dinner, or maybe put a weekly “Thank You to Xxxx for their service in the Xxxx ministry” in your bulletin or on your social media accounts. Or maybe have a quarterly Volunteer Mini-Retreat with an hour of adoration with a talk followed by a potluck with the main dish paid for by the parish and the potluck organized by parish staff. Don’t just do a once-a-year Atta Boy either, try to spend time in those off-hours of the parish to simply spend a few minutes with the women who organize the altar flowers, or who set up and tear down the kitchens on Sunday, or who wash and iron the altar linens. It is much easier to keep volunteers around if you simply acknowledge gratitude for all that they do.

  21. oakdiocesegirl2 says:

    Sodality is the first word that came to my mind. In my parish, indeed the entire deanery, women do all the above mentioned tasks. They are of all ages. 85% Filipinos. You have to not mind hearing a lot of prattling on in Tagalog [which I have tried to learn a bit of, but its just too hard].

    I just wish Jesus didn’t taste like hand sanitizer so often.

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