Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The Cathedral in the Diocese of Phoenix will no longer allow altar girls. There are many who think if this ministry was once again the exclusive domain of boys, that we would have more interest from them to become priests. There's also a fear that girls serving will want to become priests.

I don't buy it! We've had altar girls ever since I was ordained in 1980. At the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Augusta, which by the way has the world's best trained servers, we had both girls and boys and we had a tremendous number of the altar boys become priests.

Girls serve very well and when trained properly pose no threat to boys serving. What poses a threat to boys serving is improper training or training that does not take seriously the role of the server, either male or female. If a boy or a girl feels as though they are looking foolish at the altar, they will not serve.

Well trained servers who take their role seriously will remain serving throughout high school and some even into college.

What we need for vocation promotion to the priesthood are priests who are willing to promote it and live their vocations joyously.

We need a culture of Catholicism in the home, meaning a strong Catholic identity. There needs to be prayer in the home and a respect for the clergy cultivated. Banning girls from serving will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many.


Gene said...

I don't have really strong feelings about it either way, although I would lean toward boys only simply because things have gone so far in the "progressive" direction. Have you seen what Bishop McGrath is doing out in San Jose?

Anonymous said...

I have three girls and they have been altar servers. O think it is a good thing for anyone to gain more knowledge of the mass. The importance of training is important and flows from the need for education for all Catholics.


Anonymous said...

You tell'em, Father!

I wouldn't change a single word you wrote.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the Cathedral rector is politically motivated - and that is sad for his parish, for his altar servers, male and female, and for the Church which gets another unneeded black eye from such silliness.

qwikness said...

It seems like there are more girls than boys at SJ. Is that true? If so is that of any concern?

Robert Kumpel said...

I see it a bit differently. Since priestly vocations are so overwhelmingly harvested from the ranks of altar boys, it seems pointless to have girls doing it, especially when there is such a shortage of vocations. Also, isn't it a bit unfair to "lead on" young girls by letting them experience serving at the altar, only to let them know that they've hit the dead-end and that they can never become priests? If such a large percentage of priests found that serving at the altar created a desire for the priesthood, why are we trying to instill this same desire in young women? It's grossly unfair to them.

I also found these comments from former Divine Worship Prefect Cardinal Ortas regarding Canon 230.2:

Canon 230.2 has a permissive and not a preceptive character: "laici ... `possunt´." ("lay persons ... `may´.") Hence the permission given in this regard by some bishops can in no way be considered as binding on other bishops. In fact, it is the competence of each bishop, in his diocese, after hearing the opinion of the episcopal conference, to make a prudential judgment on what to do, with a view to the ordered development of liturgical life in his own diocese.

The Holy See respects the decision adopted by certain bishops for specific local reasons on the basis of the provisions of Canon 230.2. At the same time, however, the Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has also led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.

If this is the case, it seems that our near-obsession with permitting girls to serve Mass has more to do with convincing women that we are not that "mean old Church" and trying to make some statement to pander to the masses. I, for one, think it's high time we stopped pandering and quit trying to push the limit of what the law allows.

When the older form of the Mass was permitted only by indult, the same people who demand altar girls were happy when their bishops refused to permit the old Mass. So if no one can force a bishop to have altar girls, then we should not badger any bishops who stick to that older norm as well.

Templar said...

Shame on you who judge the Bishop of Phoenix. On these very Blog pages we discuss issues which we are agree are sound Liturgicly but afraid to act upon because "obiedence to the Bishop" (as head Liturgist) must be upheld. Those that hold that position in Savannah should hold it for Phoenix as well.

Read the full text of the Bishop's announcement, it is grounded in sound theology and logic with examples cited on where the process has born fruit.

I personally am against the practice for 2 reasons: 1) It was a practice illictly started, and permission granted for after the fact like a Chicago political deal; and 2) I feel it is wrong to dress females in clerical garb at worst, and fosters confusion at best.

PHOENIX (Aug. 22, 2011) — Experiencing personally the consequences of the priesthood shortage and noting the absence of strong fatherly presence in society in general, and religious practice in particular, Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, recently restructured the program for boys and girls who serve at Mass. At the Cathedral, boys can train to serve at the altar, and girls can train to serve as sacristans.

The decision was made in order to encourage young men and women to honor their God-given differentiation and complementarity, and to discern more clearly how such differentiation points to specific vocations in the Church.

Boys' service at the altar has roots in Church history prior to the creation of the modern seminary system where men are formed for priesthood. Before seminaries, serving at the altar was part of an apprenticeship for priesthood. Fr. Lankeit's decision was made primarily in response to the shortage of priestly vocations, since serving at the altar points very clearly to the specific vocation of priesthood.

He cites examples where limiting altar service to boys in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and in Ann Arbor, Mich., has borne the fruit of many priestly vocations. The Diocese of Lincoln is considered a vocations "powerhouse." In a single parish in Ann Arbor, in 2008, there were 22 new seminarians and five women in formation for religious life. The same parish is also home to 16 sisters in the Servants of God's Love religious community.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, also based in Ann Arbor, are receiving so many inquiries from young women interested in entering the order that they cannot build facilities fast enough to accommodate the surge in vocations. Their order offers clear evidence that when the God-given differentiation between male and female is honored, both men's and women's vocations flourish.

The first girls to train in the Cathedral's sacristan program are learning quickly, serving well and enjoying the important responsibility of sacristan. The parish is coordinating with a contemplative women's religious order to provide these young sacristans with a "come and see" event at their monastery and to learn from one of the sisters who served as the official sacristan of their mother house in Alabama.

Anonymous said...

Father this is one time I have to (respectfully) disagree with you. I say no way to altar girls

Anonymous said...

It's really hard for me to get into a debate with "no altar girls' folks because I can see both sides of the coin. The time may come when altar girls are done away with completely. If that happens, then so be it.

However, I can't help but sense that if the option had been open to me, then my understanding of the Mass would have bee SO MUCH better, and also, and perhaps consequently, I wouldn't have fallen away from the faith for most of my adult life.

If BOTH girls and boys are more firmly rooted in the Church by whatever means available, then their children will consequently be able to be taught better by them when they become parents.

Growing up, there wasn't much family prayer at home. What if I could at least have had altar serving, or even being a sacristan, as an option?

I for one will encourage, but not force, my daughter to become an altar server when she is old enough.
She is going to get every spiritual advantage that I can give matter what the naysayers think.

Who knows? Maybe she'll be inspired to enter the religious life. Without many Sisters/Nuns around where I live, what else does she have to see with her own two eyes on a regular basis???

Like I said before..."You tell 'em, Father."


W.C. Hoag said...

I oppose female servers not because of the vocations argument but simply because males and female possess wholly different roles in the Church and direct cultic participation is the domain of males alone. A female presence in the sanctuary is sacrilege.

Beyond that, as a Church we ought to be seeking to restrict the role of females in secular society, a return to pre-20th century sensibilities. Female servers certainly do not promote such a program.

n his encyclical "Allatae Sunt" of 26 July 1755, Pope Benedict XIV explicitly condemned females serving the priest at the altar with the following words:

"Pope Gelasius in his ninth letter (chap. 26) to the bishops of Lucania condemned the evil practice which had been introduced of women serving the priest at the celebration of Mass. Since this abuse had spread to the Greeks, Innocent IV strictly forbade it in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum: "Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry." We too have forbidden this practice in the same words in Our oft-repeated constitution Etsi Pastoralis, sect. 6, no. 21."

Jenny said...

For the second time today, I am in total agreement with Templar and was impressed by the courage of the SS&J rector. The Bishops of Lincoln, NB and Ann Arbor, MI have been on the forefront of many courageous decisions, and continue to point the way ...
In the Parish Church that formed me as a young girl (where I was first exposed to the Altar Guild), it would have been unthinkable, let alone discussable for girls to serve at Holy Mass on the altar. I have often thought over these past 45 years that my formation priest, Fr. Healy of blessed memory (yes, in those days the priest handled ALL formation for preparation for ALL sacraments, youth and convert), is not fully resting in peace. 'Course he only intoned the Latin Mass, so what did he know of the "progressive" Church about to explode on the scene?

Anonymous said...

Is there a rule that servers have to be children?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

There is no rule that children have to be servers. The tradition of altar boys is precisely to recruit new priests from their ranks. But technically an "acolyte" is a seminarian who has been formally instituted as one by the bishop. The same held true for lectors who were also seminarians who were instituted for this ministry by the bishop. The reform of the Liturgy allowed for lay lectors of either gender and this was extended to serving the altar in the 1980's.

Templar said...

Father, I could be wrong, but wasn't the permission for Lay Lectors granted to men only, with women being used only in an emergency situation (so to speak)?

If so, this is another fine example of a door being opened an inch, and a host of well meaning (or not) Pastors forcing the door open to make something that was supposed to be a minor accommodation into a standing practice. Like EMHCs, Altar Girls, Communion in the Hand, etc etc.

This is my primary complaint in general. Liberal ideas are instituted by fiat, expanded beyond intent, and then treated as tradition if questioned. Meanwhile Traditional practices, with centuries of historical precedence can't seem to be permitted with a direct order from the Pope...In writing...and then only if the local pastor has a Bishop he can cajole into letting him do it.

There is something terribly wrong with that picture.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Lay lectors is "codified" in canon law and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and includes both men and women. Women are quite commonly chosen as lectors at papal Masses at St. Peters and elsewhere as well as chosen to read the General Intercessions which technically is the ministry of the deacon!

Gene said...

Well, Templar, Hoag, and Jenny have convinced me that it should only be altar boys, not altar girls. Again, things have really gotten out of hand.

Anonymous said...

WC Hoag - Could you expand on your thought that "as a Church we ought to be seeking to restrict the role of females in secular society."?

What secular roles should females be restricted from filling? Members of the US Senate or House of Representatives? CEO's of corporations? Surgeons, dentists, police officers?

Anonymous said...

Why do we have to break with our beautiful Tradition? It's not a BAN, it's a wise decision to return to what is true, ancient, beautiful and good.

Templar said...

Taken directly from the Vatican website:

Can. 230 §1. Lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.

Nevertheless, the conferral of these ministries does not grant them the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

§2. Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation. All lay persons can also perform the functions of commentator or cantor, or other functions, according to the norm of law.

As it clearly states in 230.1 "Lay Men" can be admitted on a stable basis to the Ministry of Lector (and Acolyte).

As it clearly states in 230.2 "Lay persons" can perform the function on a temnporary basis.

The clear common sense interpretation of this is that if a Parish has Lay Lectors (Men) who have been instituted as such, the use of females to perform the role should be limited to an as necessary (temporary) basis, and if "instituted" Male Lay Lectors are available, they should have the preference.

If a Parish has both male and female laity who routinely perform the role of Lector but the men have not been instituted into the Ministry on a stable basis, it would beg the question why? "IF" the answer is to simply allow for females to perform the rule I think a Canon lawyer could make a good case that this would be abuse. If the Lay Men simply do not want to instituted that is another issue entirely.

Gene said...

Anonymous/Ignotus, Re: Restricting the roles of females in secular society: Gawd, I know that just kills you! LOL! I love it! Wow, I can't count the jokes that come to mind (most of which Fr. would not post...LOL!) I love stuff like this because the very suggestion that men and women might be different just send libs up the wall. This is too good...

Anonymous said...

Pinanv525 - The issue isn't, as you have tried to make it, the difference between men and women. No one denies that we are different.

The issue is what restrictions Hoag think the Church should support in secular society.

Gene said...

Well, we could start by restricting them from military combat. I think it is pretty sad when a society, for the sake of being PC, sends its wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters to war.
Street police work would be next on my list. Women are not physically suited for wallowing on the ground with some thug. It is another PC development that demeans women and lowers us all.

Of course, as a culture, we were all better off when most women were at home working as wives and mothers or serving in more traditional female roles. It is unfortunate that, for various economic and social reasons, women entered the full-time work force wholesale. We have all suffered for, women, and children...but I doubt most people even remember it being otherwise. That toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube, but we should remain aware of what has been lost. Maybe a future generation can recover some of our humanity....

Anonymous said...

This makes me so sad- I am currently writing a booklet to train new Altar Servers in our pastoral area- a good mix of girls and boys, thank you- and stumbled on this page.

I and a few other girls, back in the mid-90s, were granted permission to become altar servers at our church. I have since served, and trained other servers for 20 years. Female altar servers pose no threat to male altar servers- indeed, it became easier for a time for us to recruit boys because most of the local football and rugby teams practice on Sunday mornings, so boys preferred to serve at the Saturday night or Sunday afternoon Masses.

I can understand the arguments that candidates for the priesthood are often servers first, but how many altar boys have then become priests? Not all, certainly, as the men who trained me were all good, holy men were married, and served God in other ways through their families and through other services to the church and community.

It makes me so sad that the same arguments still continue- in a time when Mass attendance is generationally so low that surely anything that can provide encouragement to young people, and offer them a chance of deeper understanding of the Mass, can only be to the good of the Church.

Being an Altar Server gave me a responsibility to lean on during difficult teenage years, it taught me to understand the Mass in a way I had not previously done so. I have seen generations of boys and girls after me learn these things, I have seen them use the responsibility of serving as something to hold onto when other forces urged them to 'give up' coming to Mass. I have seen them learn other skills too that have stood them in good in stead and will continue to do so- to concentrate and listen, to think on one's feet, to think about others and the purpose of one's behaviour. Serving at Mass isn't for everyone, but it is a priviledge and an honour and to deny girls the chance at that simply because "well, they aren't going to become priests are they?" seems to me to be fundamentally cruel and arbitary. Serving is a joy for its own sake, for the Glory of God.