Viewpoint: Banning Altar Girls is Theologically Unsound and Pastorally Imprudent

by Msgr. M. Francis Mannion

In a January 26 statement, Fr. Joseph Illo, pastor of Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco, announced a new policy whereby altar girls at Mass would be phased out and thenceforth only boys would serve at the altar.

Fr. Illo gives both practical and theological reasons for the move: “First, in a mixed altar-server program, boys usually end up losing interest, because girls generally do a better job.”

As a long-time parish priest, this has not been my experience. Altar servers–both boys and girls–are as good as the training they receive. I have never perceived that girls do a better job, or that boys lose interest when serving with girls.

Fr. Illo states: “A boys-only program gives altar boys the space to develop their own leadership potential.” In this age of gender equality, should we really be training boys to develop leadership skills in a world apart from girls and women generally?

He goes on to say that “altar service is intrinsically tied to the priesthood and serve[s] as [a]feeder program for the seminary.” As a sacramental theologian, I would flatly state that there is no theological basis for asserting that altar service is intrinsically tied to the priesthood.

Fr. Illo continues: “Nothing awakens a desire for the priesthood like service at the altar.” I know of no studies that would back this up. In the parish in which I serve, there are three young men considering the priesthood and none were or are altar boys.

He states further: “At the risk of generalizing, I suspect young men serving with young women might just distract them from the sacrifice of the Mass, and perhaps even from a priestly vocation.” Generalizations are a tricky business, and “I suspect” is hardly an adequate basis for a pastoral policy.

Fr. Illo asserts, “If this altar boy policy bothers us, we must ask ourselves if we have not unconsciously accepted the errors of the current age; specifically that the differences between men and women have no more spiritual significance than ‘plumbing’ arrangements.” I doubt that Catholic girls and women have assumed whole-heartedly the principles of deconstructionist feminism. If they have, they wouldn’t darken the door of the church in the first place!

Fr. Illo does plan to have girls read the scriptures at Mass. Surely there is a huge contradiction here. Is there not a greater connection between priestly ministry at the altar and ministry at the ambo than there is between the ministry of the priest at the altar and the ministry of altar servers? I see no reason why Fr. Illo would not also ban girls from reading at the Mass.

And what about women serving as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion? Is not the role of handling the Body and Blood of Christ of greater dignity than washing the priest’s hands” And how does Fr. Illo regard the fact that in some parts of the world women perform baptisms, marriages, and funerals, and lead Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest?

I serve in what would be regarded as a typical Catholic parish, neither overly “liberal” nor overly “conservative.” I have no doubt that there would be an uproar if we banned altar girls, not least because girls and young adult women are often said to be the most alienated groups in the Church.

Fr. Illo’s policy is, in my opinion, lacking in theological validity and pastoral prudence–and is just plain old-fashioned. The policy will appeal to some, but not to most.

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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63 comments

  1. ‘Fr. Illo’s policy is… lacking in theological validity and pastoral prudence–and is just plain old-fashioned. The policy will appeal to some, but not to most.’

    Not sure about ‘theological validity’, or why ‘old-fashioned’ is automatically a bad thing, or whether ‘it appeals to’ a majority makes any difference….but he may be right that it’s not pastorally prudent. I was an altar boy back when we shifted from a simplified, vernacular but nonetheless Tridentine rite to the new Pauline Mass. Overnight we altarboys went from being a critical, valued part of the Mass to mere gooseberries, standing around looking for something to do. In the years that followed, kindly priests tried to give us little jobs—marching around with candles, or holding up the new Pauline mass-book as they read strange new prayers (in that ‘and also with you’ translation)…but we all knew it wasn’t the same.

    Today’s altar servers really are peripheral to the mass…they’re as ephemeral as the lay readers, cantors, ‘extraordinary’ (?) ministers, and ‘welcomers’ who thrust hymn books in your hands when you wander into the church. Once upon a time, serving mass must have fostered many a vocation, but I doubt that happens serving the new mass. There’s really no reason to encourage boys to serve the new mass, or restrict servers to boys. My son never expressed an interest in serving, and I have to say I didn’t encourage him.

    ‘And what about women serving as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion?’
    What about ‘extraordinary’ ministers at all?—in every parish I’ve been in, there’s nothing extraordinary about them. What about the impious custom of communion in the hand? What about making it impossible to receive kneeling without making a spectacle of oneself? All this is more important that whether little girls want to serve at the altar, or whether little boys want to mix with little girls.

    1. @Tony Phillips – comment #1:

      This comment, and Comment 2 are beyond belief. Really, given little jobs to do in the Pauline Mass? Strange new prayers? Impious communion in the hand?

      Try being faithful to the Roman Catholic Church, and not your personal vision of it. Vatican II happened and it is here to stay. If that’s too much for you to handle, I’m sure the LeFeve’s would welcome new members.

      1. @Sean Whelan – comment #3:
        Hi Sean. I think we can agree that Vatican II happened. We may disagree over whether it was an ‘oecumenical council’ (the official view) or a local synod of the Western church (which I’d call it). But I think we can all agree that it had absolutely nothing to say about altar girls, extraordinary ministers or communion in the hand–the documents are there for all to read.

        I do on occasion visit a local SSPX ‘mass centre’ (as they diplomatically call them), as there’s one nearby, as well as my local parish. (There’s a lot of cross-fertilisation of that sort, actually.) I can assure you they consider themselves faithful and full-fledged members of the Catholic church, even though their bishops were temporarily excommunicated.

        The nice thing about being Catholic is the breadth of opinions we can express within the fold of the church. That diversity is our strength, no?

    2. @Tony Phillips – comment #1:

      What about the impious custom of communion in the hand?

      Tell that to St Cyril of Jerusalem! (And yes, I am aware that some have tried to downplay this, or — wrongly — claim it is a false interpretation.)

    3. @Tony Phillips – comment #1:
      I agree with almost 95% of what you say. However, regardless of how tangential altar boys are to the ordinary form, I think there is some value in it.

      According to the CARA survey: 73% of the newly-professed male religious, and 14% of the newly-professed women religious, had been altar servers.

      Now correlation is not causation, but with such a high number of newly professed male religious registering former service as altar boys, I would think there probably is some underlying causation.

      Interestingly, I would also note that 21% of newly-professed men and women religious came from families with five or more siblings; 15% have four siblings, 20% have three siblings, 24% have two siblings, 12% have one sibling, and 8% have no siblings.

      That means fully 80% of newly professed religious men and women come from families with at least 3 kids. Interesting.

      1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #11:
        Todd, there may be some truth to what you say. But it’s been demonstrated that 79% of all statistics are simply made up. And I’m afraid the 5% of what I say that you don’t agree with is actually the most important bit.

        No 10, Norman Borelli: I’m sure that those who receive communion in the hand don’t intend impiety. But I do think that this custom, which has been foisted on the faithful (and not by their request), in conjunction with other practices like discouraging kneeling while receiving and removing altar rails and the ‘quick’ formula (‘Body of Christ!’) lends itself to a decrease in respect for the Sacrament and discourages belief in the Real Presence. It also (to return to the main topic) means there’s one less thing for the altar server to do! Holding the paten used to be quite the business.

        No 7, Lauren Murphy: ‘It’s thought of as a stepping stone, when that isn’t what it is anymore. ‘ I do agree with you here. In the Pauline mass, altar serving is really just another way to give the laity–here, generally children–something to do. If those individuals get benefit from it, then I suppose it’s of value. But having served on both sides of the fence, I can tell you that serving the Pauline mass is a far cry from representing the congregation by saying the responses in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Confiteor (the real one), etc. Sic transit gloria caeli.

      2. @Tony Phillips – comment #15:

        I’m sure that those who receive communion in the hand don’t intend impiety. But I do think that this custom, which has been foisted on the faithful (and not by their request),

        As in other cases, Communion in the hand was legitimized because it was already happening and had been found not to be objectively sinful after all. I first received Communion in the hand in August 1970. The Bishops of England and Wales did not authorize it until 1976: a classic case of edict catching up with practice, and not foisted at all. By that time the practice was much more widespread, and many lay people (yourself excepted) were delighted when their bishops finally cottoned on.

        in conjunction with other practices like discouraging kneeling while receiving and removing altar rails and the ‘quick’ formula (‘Body of Christ!’) lends itself to a decrease in respect for the Sacrament and discourages belief in the Real Presence.

        Read Cyril of Jerusalem again. It is quite clear that reverence to the Real Presence is uppermost in his mind. It seems self-evident to me that making a throne of your hands to receive your King is much more reverent than sticking out your tongue, in a similar way to the fact that a slow, profound bow is much more reverent than a quick bob-up-and-down genuflection.

        It also (to return to the main topic) means there’s one less thing for the altar server to do! Holding the paten used to be quite the business.

        That, sadly, reduces the argument to a quite puerile level.

      3. @Todd Orbitz – comment #11:
        First, thanks to Msgr. Mannion for the thoughtful piece.

        Todd–the 73% figure does not establish correlation much less cause. To know correlation we would need to know what percent of those who are not religious, but might have been, were altar servers. In my generation it was nearly universal for the boys to be altar servers. Imagine that 99% of us who are not professed religious were altar servers. The correlation in that case would be that *not* being an altar server would be associated with being more likely to become a professed religious.

        Even if there is a correlation, the magnitude of the percentage says nothing about the causal relationship. Consider, for instance, that the true cause might be growing up in a family that encourages religious practice. That likely elevates the rate of both being an altar server and of becoming a professed religious, even if there is no causal relation between serving and becoming a religious. It’s even statistically possible that those in the families encouraging practice who do not serve are more likely to become professed religious than those who serve, even accepting the 73% figure.

        My guess is that being an altar server doesn’t play a causal role and that if it does it is a very, very minor one, outweighed by the number of women who turn away from having been turned away. I’d think big causes would be very positive experiences with people who live lives that attract. Encouraging and loving parents, friends, priests, and others, regardless of how those others are found. And there are many ways to find them other than being a server.

  2. God’s blessings in abundance on Fr. Joseph Illo and the new generation of priests who are rightly repudiating the absolutely non-traditional, confusing, and destructively open-ended lay involvement of the past 50 years — especially in its feminist elements.

    Have you ever wondered why the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, though it’s in the middle of the country and therefore not a high population or fashionable location diocese, is flourishing with clergy, vocations, and seminarians? Hmm… I wonder if it has something to do with its being the ONLY diocese in the United States that has never had female altar servers at all and still doesn’t?

  3. Let’s step back here for a moment and look at the big picture…

    For the vast majority of people, what encourages them to select a particular career and/or vocation? Interacting on a regular basis with a key person or people who have a positive attitude about that field. Receiving support and encouragement to explore that same path. Seeing that key person / people live a life where their path provides substance and meaning in day-to-day interactions. There are other possible answers, to be sure, but in summary, a regular personal connection is required to drive that vocational and/or career commitment, especially in the face of adversity.

    If a parish in question is a mission parish without a resident priest or has a different priest every year or two, I think generating vocations can be extremely difficult. I know that many, many parishes where I grew up are being “consolidated” into “clusters”, where one priest serves 3-4 parishes, each 5-30 miles apart. In this kind of environment, how much of this personal interaction is like to occur, either with kids or adults? Priests are running helter-skelter just to cover their essential duties. In some larger parishes, there may be several priests, but they have so many responsibilities, they cannot interact with the parishioners regularly. More and more parishes are becoming de facto “lay-led” as priests are overstretched. With that type of atmosphere, and strong competition from any nearby mega-churches, is it a wonder that the priesthood is seen as extraneous and non-essential in people’s lives?

    Based on this, I don’t think that an all-male Altar Server ministry is the biggest factor in generating vocations. A part of the puzzle? Yes, certainly, and not to be overlooked. But I think we need to be careful about oversimplifying a complex problem. Experience informs me that this conundrum won’t be solved with a single avenue of action.

  4. The acolytes in parishes where I prefer to attend Mass stay fairly busy during Mass, even at Low Mass where there is no procession or recession. For fun some time, check out the columns for Acolyte in the various Masses described in an edition of Ritual Notes. It’s pretty much what I’m used to seeing. Even at Low Mass where there are no incense, bells, music, etc, acolytes:

    Light and extinguish the candles before and after Mass;
    Move the altar missal from the Epistle side of the altar to the Gospel side of the altar while the priest prays the prayers before the Gospel lesson;
    Assist in the offertory preparation, which includes dealing with the cruets, bread box, ciborium (if used), lavabo bowl, etc;
    Hold a patina, if one is used, at the altar rail. (It’s a paten with a handle. I could have sworn they were called patinae, but I might be having a post-lunch memory lapse.);
    Assist with ablutions and put away the ciborium, if it’s used;
    Move the Altar Missal back to the Gospel side of the altar while the priest finishes ablutions and the various post-communion prayers in the ordinary.

    I’ve left out the multitude of devotional acts that are common in a Mass, and it’s still far less complicated than a Missa Cantata, particularly if there’s a large enough altar party to assist with elevations, have incense, etc.

    That level of acolyte duty helps discern vocations in no small part because it provides such a hands on, up close view of what a priest does during Mass and teaches the form of the liturgy in a direct way. The devotional acts, which I’ve not really detailed here, also ensure the acolytes are paying attention and not drifting off. That level of formation cannot and will not happen if the only things acolytes do are hustle down the aisle during the processional and recessional hymn and maybe, possibly, help a little at the offertory. The hustling I often see reminds me of the adjutant during a military parade. It isn’t quite a full on run, but it’s /quick/.

  5. Thank you, Msgr. Mannion for your comments on this situation. I began serving in my home parish in 1995, when I was in 5th grade, and I served all the way through high school. At the time, I had no idea that it was a novelty for me, a girl, to be able to serve. I remember learning to love the liturgy in a new way, gaining appreciation for the flow and action of it. I learned about the vessels and the books. In that almost ten-year span of time, I served almost every weekend. I also served weddings and funerals. I learned that it is a great ministry to take part in these rituals.

    And I think that’s what troubles me most about the conversation that surrounds altar servers. It’s thought of as a stepping stone, when that isn’t what it is anymore. Statistics show this. Eighty percent of priests were altar servers (according to a recent CARA report), but that doesn’t mean that 80 percent of male servers become priests. I highly doubt this is because girls are also servers.

    Maybe we need a revised theology of the server. Instead of seeing them as priests-in-training, maybe we need to have a conversation about what they’re doing and why it’s important. We are all called to serve at the altar–male and female. Maybe our servers–attentive, sometimes not, reverent, sometimes giggling–can show us how to do just that.

    I will always be grateful for my time as an altar server. It saddens me that there are people who want to deny girls this gift.

  6. My thanks to Msgr Mannion for his carefully considered and considerate assessment of Father Illo’s decision. I agree with his assessment completely. All I might add is a touch of reality to people’s comments about the past. I entered the high school seminary in 1951. There were almost a hundred students in my grade school graduating class, roughly divided in half between boys and girls. Obviously no girls served at Mass. But, although most of the boys were servers, I was the only one who went to the seminary. That was true also for the other boys from the parish who went to the seminary in preceding years. In my mind this casts considerable doubt on the historical argument for male servers only. Moreover how far back the use of boy servers goes needs to be examined. My suspicion is that it does not go back all that far, maybe only as far back as the parish school system in the USA. Finally — yesterday I presided, as a substitute, at a funeral in a parish where the two priests assigned there were away from the parish. The server was a 75 year old woman. She was excellent and inspiring. This is the real world!

  7. “What about the impious custom of communion in the hand?”

    There is nothing impious about it and those not wishing to receive in the hand are not required to do so.

  8. Fr. Illo does plan to have girls read the scriptures at Mass. Surely there is a huge contradiction here. Is there not a greater connection between priestly ministry at the altar and ministry at the ambo than there is between the ministry of the priest at the altar and the ministry of altar servers? I see no reason why Fr. Illo would not also ban girls from reading at the Mass.

    Father Illo’s parish is going to be an Oratorian oratory. I am quite sure they would restrict the readings to an all male population if they could. Perhaps they will eventually.

    The altar boy this is the easiest one to implement however as there is a clear ruling on this from the CDW, after a PCILT consultation. Perhaps you have forgotten it?

    see: http://www.adoremus.org/CDW-AltarServers.html

    1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #13:

      Re-reading this thread, and in particular the 2001 letter from Cardinal Medina Estevez, it is quite clear that what the CDW was worried about back then was the possible exclusion of men and boys from service at the altar, hence the insistence that no priest is obliged to use female altar servers even if the bishop of the diocese has given it his OK. This fear is quite clearly a phantom, and it would appear that the CDW had never envisaged boys and girls serving together at the same celebration: in their minds, it was either—or. I’m sure someone will come up with a parish where there are problems, but I personally don’t know of any parish where male and female servers aren’t operating quite happily alongside each other.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #57:
        1. It had nothing to do with that and it was generated out of the Arlington Diocese, explicitly because Bishop Loverde wanted to force his Priests to accept service by women at the altar.

        2. The Dubium was drafted and submitted by a number of Priests directly to the CDW, one of who contacted the Sub-Secretary directly to ensure receipt.

        3. The concerns involved were directly related to the power of the Bishop and NOT the issue of men being excluded from service.

      2. @Todd Orbitz – comment #60:

        You are attempting to rewrite history, as does the Wikipedia page on Bishop Loverde (which states that it was the bishop who submitted the Dubium, rather than clergy of the diocese).

        However, Bishop Loverde’s general permission for female altar servers in Arlington was not implemented until 2006, five years after the CDW letter. His letter to the diocese dated March 21, 2006, includes the following:

        Since 1994, our diocese has permitted girls and women to serve at the altar in several settings: university and college campuses, convents, nursing homes, retreat houses, hospitals, and home Masses. In desiring to make available those legitimate options endorsed by our Church, I am expanding our previous permission to include our parish and high school communities. Some parishes have actively requested the liberty to allow female altar servers; others have not. The Church’s permission in this arena, accordingly, allows for a legitimate diversity of options. The decision to allow female altar servers lies at the discretion of the local pastor, in consultation with his parochial vicar(s), deacon(s), and parish pastoral council.

        This is not a bishop desiring to enforce a ruling on his clergy, but a pastoral leader who is allowing for different options. (In the same letter, he expanded the provision of celebrations using the 1962 Missal.)

  9. As 1 of the first female servers and being 1st female adult server at Corpus Christi Brixton England, and then becoming M.C and training young boys and girls and adults too we had a great mixture of boys/girls who all done a brilliant job and were fully focused on the mass at all times. If you take girls away the church will lose out.

  10. I’ve seen reports that a sizable percentage of young men who enter the priesthood sang in their parish choir as a youth or young adult. Perhaps, by the reasoning here, we should ban girls and women from singing in the choir. This certainly has historical precedent. Plus it might encourage more boys and men to join the choir and, who knows, maybe end up becoming priests. Shall we vigorously implement this change and see if it works?

  11. Pastors need to remember two things:
    1. It is not just their parish; the people were there before you arrived and will be there when you leave. Your leadership needs to respect this fact. Changes like this are upsetting to the community and frequently are reversed once the pastor leaves. We had a pastor who unrennovated a church when he was assigned to the parish because he didn’t like what was done. Spending lots of money he claimed it was because the people didn’t like it. But when he left the next pastor came in and undid much of his work. Tens of thousands of dollars spent to keep Father happy.
    2. Pastors serve under “the authority of a diocesan bishop” (Can 515). They are not independent agents. “He is to cooperate with his proper Bishop and with the presbyterium of the diocese.” (Can 529) Rolling back a practice like this puts him in conflict with his bishop and other parishes and is often a cause of confusion for the faithful. We have a priest in our diocese who “doesn’t believe” in Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion so he frequently is the only one distributing Communion at Sunday Masses. I’m not sure what he is proving. But it has driven some people away and made the Communion line move much slower.

  12. Maybe we should ban females from the Mass altogether. That would assure that male bonding will take place full throttle and without interruption. The males who don’t do things as well as the females will have the humiliating reminders of that fact removed from their midst. Quite a few additional men will then become priests, undeterred by the depressing presence of females, who are at present one of the chief negatives listed in 9 out of 10 surveys of those males who would have become priests if it weren’t for female altar servers. Is there any doubt that women are responsible for the fall-off in priestly vocations? I don’t think so. I’m sure if we got rid of them all, without exception, the feminization of the liturgy would cease and manly men would usher in the kingdom of God. Let women pray at home. That is their proper sphere.

  13. Quite frankly it seems to me that any male who is discouraged from serving at the altar because girls and women are there doesn’t have a particularly healthy view of half the human race and therefore isn’t likely to be the best suited for a priestly vocation.

  14. Mass attendance in Lincoln is nearly double the national average. I’m pretty sure they have a higher rate of Catholic school enrollment too. And a higher rate of rosary recital. But it’s the lack of altargirls we’re going to credit?

  15. Also, one missing data point is how many of the seminarians spent how many of their boyhood years in Lincoln diocesan parishes as altar servers.

  16. Comment #18 “Maybe we should ban females from the Mass altogether. That would assure that male bonding will take place full throttle and without interruption.”

    A wholehearted tongue-in-cheek Amen, sister Rita! I often wonder what would happen if for only one day Roman Catholic men had to stand in women’s shoes. The sadness I feel because of men (and I realize some women) desiring or so excluding women will, I’m afraid, be with me until the grave.

    Thank you, Msgr. Mannion, for so eloquently expressing your thoughts.

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #36:

        Rita, I have a near-absolute impediment to the priesthood. I had wanted to be a priest, but now I know that option is closed to me. I do not merely soldier on with bitterness and anger. I have earned multiple degrees and have devoted myself to a fulfilling career.

        Is my situation as a man barred from major orders any different from a woman who wishes to be admitted to major orders? I do not perceive my situation as unjust, but rather God’s will for me and the Church. Perhaps the absolute ban on the ordination of women is unjust from a macro perspective, given that many women otherwise meet the criteria necessary to begin seminary studies. On a one-to-one level, however, I and a woman who seeks ordination are roughly equivalent in circumstance. Why then be angry about this situation, but rather embrace belief and faith more boldly? Are not the laity also called to be evangelizers through our common baptismal vocation?

        You bet I prefer to be Mary, not Martha!

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #38:
        Hi Jordan,
        You’ve never had it said or implied — as it is repeatedly for women when altar servers of the female sex are forbidden — that your very presence in the sanctuary sullies its holiness, that your very presence is a profanity and it would be no matter what you said, did, decided, no matter who you were, just because you are female. That your presence, qua female, is driving men away from the priesthood, that you are in competition with them, and must be removed for the good of the church. The many contributors to this discussion do not seem to understand this is an offense, because it is always somebody else, never them. It’s not a question of anger or bitterness on the part of any of the women who have dared to comment on this thread, it is a question of reality and theology.

      3. @Rita Ferrone – comment #44:

        Rita, I apologize for implying that the women who have commented on this thread, or any women for that matter, feel bitter or angry about exclusion from service at Mass. I can only speak for myself when I say that I am not angry or bitter that I can’t be a priest.

        When I was a practicing Anglican, I often attended celebrations of the Eucharist by women priests. The first one or two times were a bit jarring, but after that I did not notice the difference as much. In fact, many of the women priests were markedly better preachers than many male priests! Looking back, I can see your point about the ignorance and short-sightedness of those who are quick to criticize women in the Catholic sanctuary. There was never a time when I was a practicing Anglican when I was entirely comfortable with a woman celebrating the Eucharist. There was always the visual disjunct that I was not the same gender as the celebrant. In reading this discussion, I now realize that even the fact that at every Mass a man will inevitably preside might present a perpetual disjunct for some women. This phenomenon cannot be casually brushed aside.

      4. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #45:
        Thank you, Jordan, for this very thoughtful reply. Apology accepted and I apologize if I was too hasty in drawing conclusions from what you wrote above. For what it is worth, I do see you as someone who, because you do reflect on your own experience, can appreciate the reality of another’s experience and perspective even when it may be different from your own. Peace.

      5. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #45:
        ” There was always the visual disjunct that I was not the same gender as the celebrant. In reading this discussion, I now realize that even the fact that at every Mass a man will inevitably preside might present a perpetual disjunct for some women. ” Thanks, Jordan for the observation.

        Now go a step further. Consider an ordination or Chrism Mass in which the altar is filled with men…

        Then, go back and look at pictures of the opening ceremonies inside St. Peter’s Basilica when Pope Francis was installed. The only feminine face I could see, watching on TV, was the statue of my patron saint, Juliana Falconieri which resides in one of the pillars to the left of the Bernini altar. Stone cold women apparently are OK.

  17. Ordinary Form parishes who permit girls and women to serve at the altar should continue to do so. This is permitted by law, and cannot be impeded. A parish priest who cannot abide by this law should seek to serve at a parish where the Extraordinary Form or a tridentinized Ordinary Form is celebrated, or even petition to be released by his bishop to a traditionalist order. The consciences of those who contend that girls and women should serve at the altar must be respected. Likewise, priests who cannot conscientiously agree and seek another arrangement must also be respected. A person’s ability to respect another’s conscience mirrors their own state of conscientious fitness.

    “Who is a server” is merely a politicized fiddle to take up while our theological integrity burns. The rot which is rapidly corroding much of Catholicism and mainline Protestantism is an unwillingness to preach the self examined through an intent study of theology and philosophy. This intensive interest matures within an environment of ecclesiastical tradition. An unwillingness to live in a relentless pursuit of introspection and study manifests itself in clergy who practice a morally therapeutic deism. Therapeutics never satisfies the inquisitive mind or the mourning soul. Intellectual inquisitiveness cannot easily arise (or arise at all) from those who have little or no intent to venture beyond bickering over whose hand bears a cruet.

  18. Jordan Zarembo : Ordinary Form parishes who permit girls and women to serve at the altar should continue to do so. This is permitted by law, and cannot be impeded.

    Legally it can be impeded by the will of the celebrating priest, because the permission for females to serve at the altar is structured as an indult. Though the PCILT ruled that the CIC allowed females to serve in all extraordinary liturgical ministries *according to the norm of law*, the liturgical law at the time forbade women from ministering within the sanctuary, hence the permission that came in 1994 was not carte blanche. IF the ordinary permits his priests they may employ female altar servers IF they choose, but if the priests do not want to use them it is not in the ordinary’s power (or anyone else’s but the pope’s) to compel them. The Roman ruling on the matter is that it is not just permissible but fitting to maintain at least some pockets of male-only service “since ‘it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar.’ Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain” (CDW letter 27 July 2001).

    1. @Aaron Sanders – comment #25:

      Alright, but functionally the permission for female altar servers is law, even if it can be impeded in some circumstances. I know of few American bishops (save two or three perhaps) who have not given blanket permission for female altar servers. In my diocese, most parishes have female servers.

      However, my diocese has at least two churches where female altar servers do not serve. Both are “high church”; one celebrates the Extraordinary Form frequently. Is it just for a bishop to permit two or even several parishes in his diocese to not permit female servers? If a majority of a congregation does not agree to female servers, then perhaps the parish consensus should be respected. Should these holdout parishes be forced to permit female servers? Maybe, but the victory would be Phyrric.

      Yes, I attend a parish which does not allow female altar servers for Mass. Would I stop attending this parish if this policy were reversed? No, because I value the preaching of the clergy and the overall parish approach to belief and faith. I would respect the decision of the pastor in this regard.

      Again, the question of altar service is important but not paramount given the existential challenges to Catholicism today.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #27:
        De facto, yes, in the modern West female altar service is the norm, just as various other indults and adaptations (like the biliiously contested Communion in the hand) are mistakenly considered to be normative Catholic practice. But if the indult for “certain Bishops for specific local reasons” to permit a practice results in 99% of the bishops in a large and rather diverse nation permitting that practice, we might reasonably ask whether the mind of the legislator has been accurately discerned and applied in the matter (though without any “specific reasons” being spelled out we are of course free to debate this).

        But to return to the de jure reality, it is not for a bishop to “permit” churches not to permit female altar servers, because it is never for him to mandate otherwise. Rome has considered male-only service valuable enough that it protects against the force of any broader consensus, whether within a parish, diocese, or even nation. And part of Rome’s explanation for this somewhat aberrant abstention from counseling unity within localities is based upon the curial assertion that justice is not a particularly apt category for analyzing the practice. The virtue of justice renders to each his due, whereas this and other liturgical ministries are carried out by simple laymen without “having any right to exercise them.”
        It would still be alright to ask if it seems fair for girls at most parishes to be allowed to serve at the altar while denying those in a few holdouts, but we could also turn the tables of the question:
        is it fair to hold an entire community to a fait accompli often introduced originally by only two people (bishop and pastor)?
        is it fair that in a diocese where 10-15% (to invent a number) of the people do not desire girl servers should have access to 0% of the Masses celebrated in that way?
        How about if 30% get their way at 0% of Masses?
        Is the larger consensus really a fair veto when Rome supports the minority’s desire?

  19. I think Msgr. Mannion has plucked low-hanging fruit in this debate, since Fr. Illo’s presentation of his case relies more or pragmatism and assertion than theological or legal argumentation.

    Though it can never definitively end a debate, the argument from tradition must give us pause. In 1900 years it is not the case that no one yet considered admitting females to service at the altar. On the contrary it was repeatedly attempted and just as often reproved (often quite forcefully). Thus we owe that disciplinary tradition at least enough deference to try to discern a theological rationale behind the Church’s inflexibility on the matter.

    I propose that one such rationale could lie in the altar server’s role as a sign of Christ the Priest. Just as the one who stands in persona Christi is required to be able to signify the male God-Man, so the one who exercises that priesthood in a more remote yet still visible and connected way could be expected to be capable of the same male signification. This rationale does of course depend upon there being an intimate link between the ordained priest and the acolyte, but even lacking a sacramental basis (as if that were the only acceptable grounds, Msgr.!, tsk, tsk) I wonder if anyone here would contest that the Church has indeed considered and practically treated the acolyte (for which altar boys are but stand-ins) as intimately connected to the sacerdos. In the hierarchical array of the Church at prayer the acolyte stands halfway between the assembly and the priest, but traditionally without question he is more assimilated to the sacerdotal activity than the lay – he not only enters and ministers in the sanctuary but is even privileged to touch the sacred vessels. His service is tied to the ALTAR- not teaching, not alms; sacrifice. All of this may seem irrelevant in desacralized age when EMHCs are the norm rather than exxception, but the incoherence should be laid at the feet of the novelties, not the ~bimillennial practice.

  20. I had thought that the vatican ruling was to allow altar girls, but it was still up to the pastor/parish. is this correct?
    “I’ve seen reports that a sizable percentage of young men who enter the priesthood sang in their parish choir as a youth or young adult.”
    this is certainly surprising – in my many years as a seminary teacher i cannot recall more than a handful of seminarians that had sung in parish choir.

    Concerning communion in the hand: Here’s a quote:
    “One of the things that most saddens me about the American church is when I see communion in the hand”
    St.Mother Theresa

  21. I have read accounts of the ban, and also looked at his blog. I can understand why the parish is concerned.

    Illo claims he is “on loan” from another diocese, and has an Oratory in Formation. Illo himself says he is neither a diocesan or order priest. so… who has oversight of him?

    I’m willing to bet it is the same person who is giving him his marching orders.

  22. It’s sad that we’re arguing over whether females can be altar servers …. forget about deacons, much less priests. The church is one of the last redoubts of gender discrimination in the west, and we wonder why people are leaving the church in droves. The doctrines were created by people, they can be changed – the fact that no one seems to have the will to do so is depressing.

  23. I do not know whether boy-only altar servers serves vocations to the priesthood, but it certainly creates an atmosphere where the altar is surrounded by males only, and many women do not feel welcome in such an environment. But why should it matter how women feel or what they think?

  24. I wish people could debate the topic of how to recieve communion without resorting to silly phrases. Nobody sticks their tongue out at the priest like a kid would stick his tongue out, yet Sean and Paul would mislead us into thinking so. I suppose next we’ll be told the reason the priest “turns his back on us” is because he didn’t like us all sticking our tongues out at him.

  25. ‘I often wonder what would happen if for only one day Roman Catholic men had to stand in women’s shoes.’

    As one who has stood in women’s shoes, but only in the privacy of my own home and because it helps me relax, I do think that a lot of the indignation (eg, no.30) that’s expressed is a learned response. I live near Minster Abbey, where Benedictine nuns returned in the early 20th century, hundreds of years after the dissolution. I’ve never felt excluded when I attend the Office there.

    But I think we need to be pastoral. A generation has grown up being taught that ‘gender equality’ is both desirable and achievable, the testimony of comparative evolutionary biology notwithstanding. When people have been trained to feel offense at any hint or vestige of a sexual division of labour, I’m not sure the church is the organ to enlighten them.

  26. Respectfully, Jordan and Tony, I don’t see these last two posts. Tony feels that gender equality is not desirable or achievable, and the Church is somehow helpless to teach otherwise. Jordan accepts that he is not a priest, but notes that each woman denied the clergy is not treated unjustly (although all women might be).

    This is how we squirm when what we’ve been taught, what we’ve believed earnestly and in good faith, doesn’t square with reality. I think the church has stated it quite properly. We have repudiated all the various obvious reasons to exclude women. We are simply too afraid to take the next step. And we argue whether girls can step foot in the place. Our history reeks of such reasonable ignorance.

  27. “I and a woman who seeks ordination are roughly equivalent in circumstance”

    This is a category error, I think. Imagine a similar situation from the past of the Mormon church, when African Americans could not be priests, and see how your example would work.

  28. I’ll just write one more comment and then give up. Complementarianism is not a fact, it’s an opinion, an outdated and questionable opinion, that’s used by the church to disenfranchise women. It’s not an intrinsic Christian view …. it’s the opposite of Christian egalitarianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_egalitarianism) and it flies in the face of science (http://www.apa.org/research/action/difference.aspxhttp://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2015/01/29/genderdifferenceshttps://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/close-encounters/201410/6-myths-about-men-women-and-relationships).

  29. There’s a persistent confusion being made above between the psychological state of taking offense and the objective reality of giving offense. As is typical in discussions by men who refuse to admit that women are capable of having arguments of a rational and objective sort, the whole thing is put down to irrationality and emotion — being “touchy” “easily offended” or “angry” or “resentful.” Thus the bad conscience that men have when they have offended women is assuaged by putting the “problem” down to the women and their psychological condition, assuming a sort of irrationality that would never be attributed to males, and dismissing out of hand the possibility that women take offense at things not because they are psychologically prone to do so, or manipulated by theories, but because the way they are treated is actually and objectively offensive. It’s such a classic way to stereotype and demean females, right out of the textbooks, that I can’t believe we’re really seeing this unfold here unselfconsciously, and not as a parody.

    The uneasy conscience is evident in the number of times men in this thread have brought up women’s ordination. The subject is altar servers. But the men, not the women, keep returning to ordination (I think Crystal is the only woman who spoke to this) over and over again. Why? Because they know they’re not really arguing in favor of altar boys. It’s all about keeping females away from the altar, and they know it, and they have a bad conscience about it. So it’s ever more necessary to put the blame on women who are “angry” “resentful” etc.

    Aaron informs us that female altar servers were attempted for 1900 years and repeatedly, forcefully reproved. Interesting. Why was so much force required? It’s our fault, evidently. Women are the sinners needing reproof. It couldn’t be that the men in charge were wrong. Right? You see how this works.

  30. #3 by Sean Whelan: “Try being faithful to the Roman Catholic Church, and not your personal vision of it. Vatican II happened and it is here to stay. If that’s too much for you to handle, I’m sure the LeFeve’s would welcome new members.”

    Female altar servers have nothing whatsoever to do with Vatican II.

    The change was made in 1983 in the revision of the Code of Canon Law by St. John Paul II. Canon 230 §2 allowed, but did not require, the use of female altar servers. This was confirmed in an interpretation in 1992. It was then further clarified that the bishop could grant or withhold permission for doing so, and that no priest was compelled to exercise the permission in his parish.

    There are sound theological, cultural, pedagogical, and practical considerations for both utilizing the permission and refraining from using it.

  31. “There are sound theological, cultural, pedagogical, and practical considerations for both utilizing the permission and refraining from using it.”

    Let me first say that I too do not wish to “start a fight.” I hope we all know that we all come at these problems from a position of faith. Marty, I’m glad you believe, and I’m glad we believe.

    That having been said, I can’t disagree more with this statement. There is no sound theology behind the segregation of men and women in terms of leadership or ordination, let alone the simplicity of altar server genders. All of the many previous “sound” theological reasons have been repudiated by our own leadership. We simply are afraid to act, officially not sure we have been empowered.

    Cultural? Sure. Pedagogical? Yes, in its worst sense. Practical? A delay of justice is eminently practical in the short run, and obviously impractical from the long lens view.

    We refrain because we are fearful, and that one talent looks very safe under that rock.

    1. @Matt Connolly – comment #50:

      Matt, I also respect your position. It is evidently clear from the Protestant traditions which have admitted women to the pastorate that women are clearly called to express the faith in homiletics, liturgical presidency, and pastoral work. Many women pastors are quite skilled in every aspect of Christian leadership. I would hope that few would disagree with this point. Even I, as a hard boiled Catholic traditionalist, will strongly agree to this. I also agree that the refusal of the Roman Church to ordain women is unjust from the aspect of civil society. The practices of our church are culturally anachronistic, and indeed this cannot be denied.

      However, there are aspects of our faith, such as apostolic succession and its role in sacerdotal ordination, which have not been fully solved. The Roman ordination of women would create a very serious rift between the canonical Orthodox synods and the Holy See. Should Rome ordain women, most canonical Orthodox would likely refuse to recognize Rome as a apostolic see. These are serious questions which require sober thought both by pro- and anti- women’s ordination proponents in Roman Catholicism. Even bodies which are not considered by Rome to hold apostolic succession (despite internal affirmation), such as the Church of England and the Church of Sweden, still contain minority groups which consider the ordination of women by these bodies to be a breach of apostolicity.

      I would be extremely interested in reading an argument which attempts to prove that apostolicity is no longer relevant for the Western Christian traditions which maintain the episcopate. I would respect the view of the author, particularly if he or she could convincingly prove that the ordination of women is more important that severing apostolic union with other ancient sees.

  32. Very good questions, Jordan, and certainly beyond my ken. I’d love to see that proof as well, either way. You state something that I quite agree with, that “aspects of our faith…..have not been fully solved.” That feels so right to me, waiting and acting in expectation that we will continue to learn, to grow, to love more, to become more of Christ. Thanks.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #53:

      Another article on women and ordination which I found excellent is by Professor Dr Fr Georg Kraus, a dogmatic theologian – it was published in Stimmen der Zeit at the end of 2011.

      I translated it into English and asked Professor Kraus by e-mail if he would allow the translation to be made known – he responded by saying he would be happy for it to be available in church and women’s circles.

      It can be read in English at
      http://www.womenwordspirit.org/womensordination.pdf

  33. #50 by Matt Connolly: “There is no sound theology behind the segregation of men and women in terms of leadership or ordination, let alone the simplicity of altar server genders.”

    With, of course, the exceptions expressed in the Epistles, nearly two millenia of Canon Law, and doctrinal statements over the last half century.

    Service to the Church is an exercise of servanthood, not an exercise of power.

  34. Bruce Janiga : 2. Pastors serve under “the authority of a diocesan bishop” (Can 515). They are not independent agents. “He is to cooperate with his proper Bishop and with the presbyterium of the diocese.” (Can 529) Rolling back a practice like this puts him in conflict with his bishop and other parishes and is often a cause of confusion for the faithful. We have a priest in our diocese who “doesn’t believe” in Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion so he frequently is the only one distributing Communion at Sunday Masses. I’m not sure what he is proving. But it has driven some people away and made the Communion line move much slower.

    Perhaps you might like to consult the ruling of the CDW which establishes that it is the right of the Priest – not the Bishop – to choose whether to admit women to the altar.

  35. I am not attempting to re-write history. Yes, Loverde sent a dubium after being informed by the CDW that his own clergy had submitted one. It functionally asked the same question. He knew ahead of time that he would be put down on it. And yes, Loverde waited before giving general permission for altar girls. He combined that permission with the first authorized EF Masses under Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei in Arlington.

    It was largely seen as a thumb in the eye to his own clergy. He has since engaged in a system of moving Priests into Parishes where he knows there are only altar boys, and has altar girls introduced. The assumed thinking is that it’s hard to turn back that custom.

    It hasn’t been successful, as many of the Priests seem to go to new parishes and then eliminate the altar girl program.

    Additionally, since SP, Arlington now has the EF in about 1/3rd of its parishes in some form or another.

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