Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Altar Server Chat

I got a charming email today from the secretary at the church where my son is a server.  He is not a server at our parish church because no one ever expressed much interest in having him.  However, at the church down the street, where I often go for Adoration and sometimes confession, he was welcomed with open arms.  The friars seem to have an infinite amount of patience.  This helps, because Matt doesn't learn or think like most of us.   On Sunday, the server who was scheduled didn't show up, so Matt was pressed into service.  This is another good reason why one should never arrive at church two minutes before Mass begins.  Whatever happened, it gave the pastor the impetus to amend the Holy Week schedule and Matthew will now serve, God-willing, on Holy Thursday and at the Easter Vigil.

I saw an interesting thread on Father's Z blog yesterday about a book from Angelus Press called Letters to an Altar Boy.  Just once, I wish I could read a post about altar boys without the mention of altar girls.  The comments weren't too bad yesterday, but in the past, quite a few were totally devoid of charity.  I don't happen to be someone who believes the Church should provide equal opportunities for boys and girls.  But I do happen to be the mother of a once-little girl who served at the Novus Ordo for 5 years with the utmost reverence and care.  I didn't encourage this because I thought my daughter should have the same opportunity as my son.  I encouraged it because I found it heartbreaking that our parish had so many young people and so few servers.  I got tired of hearing the poor pastor beg for boys or girls to help him.

When our new pastor came, I had a suspicion that he would prefer to have boys, so I broached the subject with him.  He was very clear that while he wished he had more boys, he really didn't have an objection to keeping Rebecca on.   Every so often, I would open the door again for him to dismiss her, but he passed.  Rebecca served at the Easter Vigil every year.  She was the appointed bell-ringer on Holy Thursday and at the Easter Vigil and despite her physical problems, she carried out her duties reliably and with great attention and care.  She never complained about being tired or bored.  She always wore an expression of angelic beauty, if I don't say so myself.

One day Father asked me if I had taught her to genuflect when he genuflected when returning the ciborium to the tabernacle.  I told him I had not.  He smiled.  He told me that none of the other servers ever did that except Rebecca.  He asked me if I realized the great privilege she had to be so close to the Lord during the Consecration.  I said yes, but I reminded him that she served at his pleasure, and he was free to dismiss her. The problem was that outside of the TLM, he had no new servers.

Finally, an adorable little cherub-faced boy came along who was willing to serve.  Rebecca trained him as though he was her baby brother.  She did everything she could to both teach him and protect him.  One Saturday evening, Father told her he thought her charge was ready to fly solo.  It was the last time she served.

No one was scandalized, unless they imagined it.  Rebecca found it amusing that some people fear that because she served at the altar, she might want to become a priest.  She spent her years serving in total oblivion of the resentment and even hostility that some people have toward girls serving the Novus Ordo.  I really have no idea how and why girls were permitted to begin serving. To be honest,   I'm relieved that we were insulated from it all. I'm also extremely grateful that not one but two of my children have had this privilege.

BTW, I have not read the book that Father Z featured on his blog, but I have read another excellent book from Angelus Press that a priest lent us.  Know Your Mass, while geared toward the Extraordinary Form,  is a wonderful resource and a charming book to help young people understand what happens at Mass and why.

I respect the tradition of boys only and I know it's the best way to try to groom young men for the priesthood.  I present my story for those who are insistent that girls are easily distracted simpletons who serve merely so they can meet boys and demand equal treatment.  There will always be stereotypes.  And there will always be exceptions.


  1. Oh God bless Matthew. I'm sure he will do great for holy week. Whenever I see the name Matthew now, my thoughts connect it to my son.

    We have alter girls at my church. I have no idea if there is any issue behind the scenes over it. It never even occurred to me that this might have been an issue at one time. Joyce, you said, "I don't happen to be someone who believes the Church should provide equal opportunities for boys and girls." Well, I'm pretty conservative in most things but I do think we should have opportunity for both sexes, where possible. It's not possible for girls to be priests (I'm adamant about that), but in terms of readers, the person who helps hand out the eucharist (the name is at the tip of my tongue but it's not coming to me), the musical team, and the altar helpers. I see no reason why any of those are restricted to one gender.

  2. I find your thoughts to be informative
    because I want to understand all the
    angles of the Catholic faith. As a
    baptized Christian I already understand
    what Christ asks of me through the
    Gospels, however the Church, as his
    Bride, is a mystery.

    I trust that the fascination I have with
    the Church will never wear off.

    At OSJ I there is a young girl who serves
    at the 9:30am Mass, and that is the one
    that is geared towards children.

    Also it is the same for the 6:30pm Mass,
    which is for young adults. I really have
    no basis to be offended considering I am
    a neophyte.

    I think the Holy Spirit can surprise the
    assumptions of people in many ways, so
    perhaps traditionalists are forgetting
    that God can do anything He wants, and
    that includes adjusting the Liturgy and
    rubrics according to His desires.

  3. Reading about your daughter and how she acted as an altar server, also how she helped the young boy to train, reminded me of testimonies I have read, about saints, when they were younger. It was really special,God bless her. I don't know if this is appropriate to request, but would you ask her, if she has time and wouldn't mind (and your permission) to say a prayer for my son's (all five of them) continuing conversions? I just sense her prayers will be powerful. Sorry, if this is a bit cheeky to request? I will pray for you and yours today.

  4. Lovely blog! I come to you from Shadowlands.

    This post is very timely for me...after my four sons all served (one still continues)for years at our parish, my only daughter will finally be of age next year. I have always told her that she can't serve because she's not a boy even though my parish does allow girls. I get a lot of pressure from my sons who feel that I am being unfair and sexist towards my daughter.

    Your post has given me some food for thought.

  5. My youngest daughter serves as well. Our parish is large and allows both boys and girls, I would say there are perhaps 75% boys.
    She had a desire to do the thing, and since it is allowable at least right now-I didn't want to discourage her. She does a good job, too.

  6. Manny, yes we have that in common, Matthews. The Easter Vigil is a tall order so I'm hoping they have at least one other server with him. Like I said, the friars are well-endowed with patience, which is a good thing because they will need it!

    Pete, I haven't been to OSJ for Sunday Mass in years. I'd be interested to see how they do things.

    Ros, I got home before Rebecca did today ( a rarity) but I know she'll be honored that you asked her to pray for your boys. ( I know they're probably grown men, but my son will always be a boy and my daughters will always be my girls)

    Anne, welcome! Like I said, I never pushed for my daughter to serve. In hindsight, I wished I had pushed my son a little harder, but I honestly don't think he was ready at the time the pastor was pleading for help.

    Kelly, yes I know your little one serves also. She was a trained by a great priest, too.

    My point, which perhaps I didn't succeed in making, is that I resent the way some folks can foam at the mouth over the mention of female altar servers. First, no one who has an affinity for the Extraordinary Form is ever going to insist on females being permitted at the altar, so I don't know why this is always such a concern in those circles. Second, all servers should be appropriately dressed, reverent, reliable and knowledgeable, regardless of the Form of the Mass they serve. I've seen some terribly uncharitable comments, including "as soon as we get rid of the girl altar servers". That just feeds fuel to the misogynist theories. I will never forget the two male altar servers who stood by the crucifix on Good Friday, laughing as the faithful came forward to venerate the cross, sometimes in tears. After that, the pastor was only too happy to have a serious and appropriate girl interested in learning.

  7. Oh that comment of getting rid of the altar girls is incredibly uncharitable. They ought to just get a life. Where is the commandment that altar servers must be boys? Just because something has been done a particular way doesn't mean it has theological requirement. When something is theologically required, such as a male priest, then it cannot be changed. But when something was arbitrarily chosen in the first place, or chosen based on the cultural norms of a particular time, then it's subject to re-evaluation every so often.

    Hey that's basically my argument against the latin mass. ;)

  8. Q: Why do we in our US Catholic Churches have female altar servers?

    Fr. Fessio SJ :

    The answer to your question is much more complex than the matter appears. I have it on authority of a Roman canonist who has been involved that even to this day, technically, female altar servers are not permitted by the Code of Canon Law.

    There has been a permission given to bishops to allow female altar servers in their dioceses. Note that this is only a permission to allow, not to require. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has clearly shown its preference for the traditional male altar servers and also made it clear that no priest can be required to have female altar servers. However, bishops are not reluctant to overstep their authority and introduce the practice as a requirement.

    Since priests who do not go along with this can be reassigned to unpopular places, and because good priests want to obey their bishops even when the bishops are not speaking authoritatively, the practice has become widespread.

    You don't want to get me started on this topic!


Comments which reflect true Christian charity are always welcome. Comments which attack the Pope, the Church, priests or other bloggers will go in the dustbin, especially if they are anonymous. Thank you and God Bless you!