Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why My Daughters Are Not Altar Servers

Mailbag time! A few weeks ago, I argued that learning traditional homemaking skills in an all-girl environment was beneficial for my girls. I'm back today to support something for just the boys . . . 

the question:
I had a question about your kids and altar serving. I noticed that only your boys are altar servers. I'm assuming that is because that's what your home parish allows, but out of curiosity, if you were members of a parish that allowed girls to become altar servers, would you allow them? Or stick to traditional custom of having altar boys?  Do your girls ever express interest in altar serving, and if so, what do you tell them?

Sincerely,
Claire

the answer:


Dear Claire,

You're right, my girls don't altar serve. It isn't the tradition at our parish, but even if it were, it's a privilege that I don't mind reserving for boys.

Not because my girls wouldn't do a good job, or wouldn't enjoy it, but mostly just because once women get involved in something, we tend to kind of take it over, then boys and men don't feel so obligated or interested in doing it. Altar serving is something I want my boys to want to do, and to feel pride about, and to feel necessary for. I hope it will help them respond if they have a vocation to the priesthood.

Female altar servers are allowed by canon law, but not required, or necessarily preferred . . .
From the point of view of liturgical law, an official interpretation of Canon 230, Paragraph 2, of the Code of Canon law on the possibility of delegating certain liturgical offices led to a 1994 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments clarifying that girls may serve at the altar. But bishops are not bound to permit them to do so, nor could the episcopal conference limit the bishop's faculty to decide for himself.

A further clarifying letter published in 2001 said priests are not compelled to have girls serve at the altar, even when their bishops grant permission.

The 1994 letter states: "It will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue."

The letter also recommends to bishops to consider "among other things the sensibilities of the faithful, the reasons which would motivate such permission and the different liturgical settings and congregations which gather for the Holy Mass."

Therefore the Holy See's recommendation is to retain as far as possible the custom of having only boys as servers. But it leaves to the bishop the choice of permitting women and girls for a good reason and to the pastor of each parish the decision as to whether to act on the bishop's permission.

Allowing girls to serve on the altar is a choice good Catholic pastors and families are free to make. I would not argue that this is a doctrinal issue. The fact that a pope who is now a saint approved of it, and it hasn't been reversed by subsequent popes, shows that the Church doesn't consider this issue to have serious doctrinal implications.



I also wouldn't argue that female altar servers pave the way for women's ordination, since the magisterium has been very clear that women priests are not going to happen. Ever.
The papal declaration in "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" that the Church has no power to ordain women is no mere statement of opinion but, as confirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an exercise of the gift of infallibility and therefore binding.

But I just don't find it necessary. In general, I am rather offended by the concept that in order for a woman to be empowered, she must stop doing women's things and do men's things instead. It's a misunderstanding of our dignity as women and our place in the world God created for men and women to share.

Being a man isn't superior to being a woman. Being a father isn't superior to being a mother. Being a priest isn't superior to being a nun. They are different, but equal in purpose and dignity and importance. I have no interest in devaluing traditional women's roles and suggesting that women can have purpose only in trying to be men.



I think what we're really missing at most parishes is a good way for young women (and adult women) to be involved in a helpful and fulfilling way in the life of the parish, like the old altar societies. Let's bring those back!

My mom is part of one that cleans and decorates the church, I'd love to see something like that as an option at more parishes.

We're actually particularly lucky that our church is one of the historic California Missions, and has an active ladies' organization that gives tours and whatnot, and also sells coffee and donuts after Mass. Betty is a (the) junior member of the group, and she really enjoys getting to sell donuts with the ladies after Mass. (I'm still wrangling too many little ones to participate, so it's just Betty and the old ladies.)

Blessed Sacrament Church: Fr. Keating with the Altar Society 1956


Altar serving is a beautiful, meaningful thing. It is more beautiful and meaningful than selling donuts. But selling donuts IS fun and useful. Anything one does in such close proximity to the Holy Eucharist as altar servers are would have to be especially important. But serving the needs of the parish in other ways is still service, and that's what I hope my kids will be concerned with: How they can be useful where they are needed, not how prominent or ceremonial the position might be.

If altar serving is a place to foster future priestly vocations, and I hope it is, and if adolescent and teen-aged boys are more likely to want to participate if it's an all-male endeavor, and I think they are, then it is something that I'm willing that my daughters would sacrifice a bit to protect. So, that's how our family has chosen to handle it.

Cheers,
Kendra


Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

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105 comments:

  1. As soon as I saw the title I knew this was going to be a good one and get you some good, er, discussion ;) I agree completely. Our parish growing up switched it right after I got into high school to allowing girls. I'm glad it wasn't allowed when I was in the grammar school or I totally would've been the bossy girl taking over. (Although, ha, I'm not sure it was a better alternative that we girls instead were usually involved in alb-wearing liturgical dances - eeep!!) I very very much wish that our parish would follow this. Maybe I'm biased as a mom of 5 boys but I think every point you make is right. I'm sadly already seeing the excitement of my oldest about serving already fizzling out and I think this is part of it.

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  2. So good to hear your reasoning behind what has been a gut-level decision for me. Mainly on the point that if it's not boy-only, the boys' interest will wane, or they won't feel as competent as some of the girls, or whatever. Our parish, we're the only ones with children who attend regularly. Only our oldest boy (aged 7) serves. He loves it and we are all thrilled for him. His four-year-old brother cannot wait to start serving too. :)

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  3. I completely agree. I will say that I never, ever hold it against the girls themselves - they are very sweet up there, and I'm glad they want to serve their church. But I do wish our priest encouraged more boys, and I'm always so happy when I see boys serving. I make sure to point them out to my boys (age 6 and 4) and tell them they can serve up there someday, too. I would love an altar society, too. Making the altar beautiful is a wonderful service for our girls to perform.

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    1. By the way, our parish does have young women serving at the altar as well as boys. But our Altar Society is not the group which cleans and cares for the altar. The Altar Society is the women's group wnich has fundraisers to pay for the hosts, candles and wine for Masses and serves the parish with social events, education, and spiritual events. It organizes and serves refreshments for Confirmation and RCIA Easter
      service. Women who clean the church/altar are separate volunteers. Parishes have many ministries but the same Lord.

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  4. I totally agree! I think we, woman can be pregnant and men can be priests and altarboys. A.k.a. women can be tabernacles and men can be around the tabernacle to defend it. When a woman understands that she can't be around the tabernacle, because she IS the tabernacle, she can accept this "unequality". :-)

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    1. That is a VERY cool way of looking at it! Thank you!

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    2. I love that response!! Thx. I am the mom to 5 girls and 3 boys. My oldest son has served for several years and helps train the new boys. My next son (only 4yo now) can not wait! My girls have questioned why they can't serve too (I was one of the first female servers in our diocese about 30 years ago, before it was even officially permitted I think.) I have found different ways for the girls to be involved - lecturing, the altar society, choir, etc. When our parish used to permit girls to serve, the boys started dropping out. It was a challenge to get only one server per Mass. Now that Father has limited the role to boys, we have boys tripping over themselves and often have 3-4 per Mass. It's awesome and I truly hope some of them have a vocation to the priesthood someday.

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    3. Um, Gazella. Wow. That brought tears to my eyes. It sounds exactly right.

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    4. Your kind responses make me very happy. Thank be to God for this thought I could share with you. And thank you, Kendra, for this brave post.

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    5. That SO cool!!! What an analogy!

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    6. Late to the party....I'm wondering how this analogy feels for women who struggle with infertility or have had reproductive options limited by surgery or cancer before they could have children? It also seems confusing to me on a logical level...if priests/altar boys serving at the altar = defending the tabernacle.... Does the Eucharist = the womb?? I am not very familiar with Catholic doctrine so I may be missing something as regards Mary's womb, but this seems like a stretch to me since the Eucharist is supposed to be about a male body, I.e. Christ's body. (Admittedly I am a pretty analytical person and Gazella might not have been going for a 1-to-1 metaphorical comparison.)
      Just some questions to complicate things :)

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    7. Dear Leah,

      I knew few Christian women who struggle with infertility but (Deo gratias!) they aren't oversensitive and accept that the woman as a sex/gender was made to be mother while there are sad (or happy) exceptions. There are lot of men too who can't be altar servers and/or priest, or fathers. I think Eucharist is the LIFE, God in the tabernacle, like women are made to carry new lives. Tabernacle ---> womb, Eucharist ---> new life in womb. I'm verry sorry for women who want to be mother but they can't. BUT I think infertility (and other problems of the health) come from sin (not their sin, I mean THE sin) and normally there wouldn't be wives who want to have children but can't... So normally and originally the female body (and soul) are to accept and carry new lifes as the tabernacle carry the Life. And men are to defent the Life / new life and it's carrier the tabernacle/the woman.

      + I think if a woman can't be mother by the body, she can and should have a "mother's soul". It's why we call nuns (who don't have children by body) "mother".

      (I hope I was understandable, English isn't my mother tongue, sorry for mistakes!)

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  5. I just started following your blog, but I love your posts. I'm Mormon, and this is definitely an issue that comes up a lot in our church. I really enjoyed your discussion of female and male roles being different and equally important. Thanks!

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  6. Hi Kendra, I agree wholeheartedly with your post. My question to you is: if your diocese did allow girl altar servers, and most of your daughters' friends were altar servers, would you still not allow it for your own family? My diocese does allow girl altar servers, and although my girls are not old enough yet to do it, I'm wondering how I'm going handle that issue when it comes up.

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    1. That's a valid question, and I could see it being a bit uncomfortable to manage both with the girls and other parents. But it's not like we're out of practice in doing things differently than other families. I think we'd just handle it as anOur Family Culture issue. That way, we get to do it Our Way, without disparaging Other People's Ways.

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    2. By the way it is incorrect to state it is an infallible teaching of the church that woman cannot be ordained as priests - a teaching but never declared infallible _ please state your source for this misinfirmation.

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    3. I'm not sure where you see Kendra using the word "infallible" but I believe Kendra used EWTN's website as a source and also references a papal document: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in regards to the Church never ordaining women.

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  7. I love this post! I too agree that I want this to be something for my boys to take pride in. However, if my daughter very strongly wants to alter serve when she is older I will probably let her. I love how you said "but mostly just because once women get involved in something, we tend to kind of take it over, then boys and men don't feel so obligated or interested in doing it" because I could see this happening in our family...alter serving being less important to my boys when their little sister is up there with them trying to run the show ;)
    Thanks for always being honest and true to yourself :)

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  8. I read this post thinking I would politely, silently disagree, but where you got me was the point that girls DO tend to take things over. Not in a bad way. As a society, I think we actually do a great job of raising conscientious girls who want to contribute. I think sometimes girls are likely to be the first to jump up to do something when there is a need, and boys get used to that :) and maybe sometimes as females, we do males a favor when we consciously don't step forward so they have to.

    So, I really liked this. I didn't get married until I was 29, partially because all the Catholic groups I was part of had about 4 gals to every guy and I wasn't going to fight over any of the guys ;) Maybe we can force men to become more involved by stepping back :)

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  9. This is a tremendous discussion and I agree wholeheartedly. However, our small town parish, has so few young families who actually come to Mass. It is sad how often our priest has to ask my daughters as we are walking into church if they can help serve because they do not have anyone signed up or the servers haven't shown up. How do I say no to that? My oldest daughter does not enjoy serving because she says that she isn't as prayerful. My second daughter loves serving because she says that it makes Mass feel faster. She is at least honest!

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  10. I love this post. My son is an altar server now & though our church allows girls most all of the servers are male. He loves it & serves the early Mass on Sunday (3 x this month) and the 6:30 am weekday Mass once a week every other month. He takes a lot of pride in his service especially the weekday because he is the only server. Our parish has an altar society & several other lady's organizations. My husband & I both volunteer in the parish and I think this has encouraged our son to be involved.

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  11. Thanks for posting about this hot button topic, Kendra! Here are two interesting articles I read on this subject in the past:

    http://liturgyguy.com/2014/05/17/what-altar-boys-can-do-that-altar-girls-cant/

    http://liturgyguy.com/2013/10/06/altar-boys-and-the-priesthood/

    Based on these articles, I am seeing that separating the boys and girls and tailoring their participation in the Church to those that best prepare them for their specific vocations may have more benefits to the individuals and the Church overall. For example, one article discusses a survey that was done ten years after the implementation of girl altar servers. The diocese that led the nation in the number of men discerning the priesthood (in the seminary) was the ONLY one that refused girl altar servers (Lincoln, NE). Another survey showed that eight out of ten ordinands surveyed were altar servers growing up. 80%! It also mentions a survey done by a priest who wanted to see how the level of participation changed when he switched from co-ed servers to only male servers. Although it is a small sampling, he found a 450% increase in male participation. What about the girls? Another priest goes on to share his experience following such a switch. He reports that after restricting female servers, the girls group, St. Maria Goretti Altar Guild, saw an increase in participation and vocations to religious/consecrated life. I think the question to consider is not gender equality or whether girls benefit from altar serving, but is the mission of the Holy Mother Church better served by encouraging participation by both boys and girls that is more specific to their unique vocations. If I have girls, I don't see it as "robbing" them of this opportunity to do what boys do, but, instead, an opportunity to direct them to activities that teach them about their very beautiful and dignified role in the Church. I wouldn't send my boys to a convent, not because there would be no benefit from the spiritual opportunities there, but, because I would want them in a place where the end result is conducive to their unique vocation. I would say that based on the gender identity crises that we find ourselves in today, we should do all we can to help our children recognize and embrace the unique roles that they have as men and women. (I love the comment about women being the tabernacle and men guarding it!) I think we could actually undermine the dignity of our girls if we teach them they are only "equal" if they do what the boys do. Our girls may not have a role on the altar (as a priest), but they DO have irreplaceable roles in the Church. These roles are set forth by God's natural law and are their only path to holiness and peace.

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  12. Bravo!! My three sons are all altar servers and my daughter is not for exactly the same reasons you discuss. We belonged to a parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan that keeps the tradition of male-only altar servers. The beloved pastor of Christ the King explained that altar serving is "the proving grounds for the priesthood". Over the years, CTK overflows with young men and women(!!) called to the religious life. Overflows! There is something to be said for this. Thank you for opening the proverbial can of worms!

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    1. Love!!! God reward him for his efforts in finding future shepherds.

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    2. My aunt goes to Christ the King! I visited before I converted and was sorely disappointed not to find all Catholic churches as full of huge families and enthusiastic young people as that one.

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  13. Long time lurker here as well as first female altar server in my parish. I have literally lived through the change and controversy and have to say that you are the first person to give a logical argument against women as altar servers. Anybody who was against it always just said it was because women can't be priests or would have a general attitude of women being inferior that even a teenage me could pick it up.

    That being said, I was also taught that it was a privilege to be up there and I remember the moment, standing between our parish priest and then Archbishop (and now Cardinal) when I realized that that was as close as I was ever going to get to serving the physical body of our Lord and I was both sad but accepting of the reality. My father's side is Anglican with a couple of female priests, so I know I could have converted if I wanted to get closer, but I also knew it wasn't the same and I was fine with that.

    For me, I saw my work as a servant of God, ensuring no crumb of His body was misplaced and that He is always protected and I taught the servers who came after me the same depth of understanding. Short of foresaking marriage, there is no other way for me to do this (unlike the Deacons in our parish) and it is why I was excited to learn of the new opportunity for adult altar servers to assist our priest (for when our 2 deacons can't attend all 4 masses). I relish the opportunity to serve at our Lord's feet once again.

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    1. My daughter felt the same way. She is know known as Sr. Veronica Mary of the Holy Face of Jesus. Maybe you too are called to religious life as. Sister or nun ?

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  14. Thank you for writing about this topic!

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  15. I do think this is a great post, but there is something that I want to mention-as great as altar societies are, there is an even cooler capacity that girls can serve in during the Liturgy: as a Sacristan! I was a sacristan for many, many years. What a tremendous honor, to prepare the church and altar for the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Lord! I always felt super Marian doing this, because Mary physically made preparations for Our Lord's coming. Furthermore, there are some super legit female saints, like St. Therese, who were sacristans. I really, really encourage families to look into the option of sacristaning, if their girls are interested! I started at my high school in 9th grade, started in my parish when I was 16 or so, but I know one girl who is currently in the 8th grade and a sacristan at her church. Seriously, it's awesome (I grew so much as a person, in my Faith, and in serving God through sacristan work), and I highly recommend it!

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    1. Yes!!! Our church has a group for the girls, called the St. Maria Goretti Sodality. They do all the sacristan duties lead by the sacristan! We used to have female altar servers, but now we have only male after this group was formed. The amount of male alter servers at least doubled after this change.

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    2. Woah, Elizabeth, that is the coolest thing ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wish more parishes had that, especially because some girls would probably be chill with being a sacristan, but don't realize that they can do that. Seriously, this should be a thing everywhere! How did your parish get it together? Is it part of a larger group nationwide or something, or is it specific to your church?

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  16. I have always read the training of women as altar servers as an exception rather than a rule. And it is a good exception, too... I teach at an all-girls high school and of course, it makes way more sense for the young women to serve for the school masses than to bring in boys just for that occasion. My husband, on the other hand, teaches at a co-ed high school and reserves the altar serving for the boys in the discernment club and the girls who want to serve act as sacristans.
    With our daughter we won't have the issue of her wanting to be a server because my parish doesn't have girl servers and does have an altar guild--but if we did attend a parish at which girl servers was the norm, I think it would be hard to tell a young girl who really wanted to serve, "no".

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  17. Kendra, I am not sure where you place female lectors, if they fall in same category as female altar servers? I have been a lector since 2nd grade at our Catholic school Masses. My dad was one of the best lectors ever and he mentored me. In most parishes I have attended, there aren't enough lectors and many of them don't actually read slowly enough or enunciate enough, so if one feels called, this is a great way to serve at Mass. I feel honored to proclaim the Word of God and do so as carefully as possible, hoping my voice can help others hear the Word in a way that touches them. I really likes this post and your reasoning! Thanks for writing this.

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  18. My younger son is an altar server at our church. (My older son is in the choir so that is how he serves) He often complains that the two other servers who are girls, do take over and don't see the importance of doing things "right". I think your article is spot on. Thank you, for putting it together so succinctly.

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  19. Thank you for posting this. Our parish has allowed female altar server servers for almost 25 years now and I've had the thoughts recently that "geez, it's a good thing we allow female servers or we wouldn't have anybody to serve" because it's a job that the kids and parents aren't taking seriously anymore, and its very often that the priest has to make an announcement at the beginning of Mass, asking kids to serve. Very often, it's the girls that step up to the plate! (As you said, we like to take over!) So true!! SO after reading your input, I have to wonder if that is exactly the reason WHY boys AND their parents, don't seem to think it's as important anymore, to show up, etc. Very good point. After reading your article I think that's exactly the reason why the role of the altar server has gone "down hill." Will definitely have to pray about it. Thank you!!

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    1. This is exactly why I eventually allowed my daughter to serve. We have few young people anyhow and most of them refused to serve and/or stopped serving/coming to Mass when they reached high school age.

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    2. My daughters were altar servers because there was such a dire need. Many Masses, there was only one or no altar servers so we saw the need and agreed when the priest approached us. However, as we started to think and pray more about the issue, we were struck by one thing...being on the altar assisting with the Holy Mass may be instilling a desire in our daughters that can never be fulfilled. Women can not become priests - plain and simple. After almost 2 years, we talked with our daughters and agreed that being altar servers was not a suitable role for them to serve the Church. They have since found other ways to serve and we are pleased that the Holy Spirit moved us to reconsider our choice.

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  20. Our priest chose to continue our church's tradition of no girl servers because for one reason he didn't want a co-ed changing room in the sacristy. My daughter really did want to be an altar server, but for various reasons, included some mentioned above, I told her I was sure God didn't want her to be an altar server...or he wouldn't have placed her in our family. šŸ˜‰ Now that she is older, she is considering religious life.

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    1. He wouldn't have placed her in our family. Ha, love it! I have to remind my kids of that too!

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  21. Thank you for posting this Kendra. This is written so wonderfully and I agree with everything you've said.

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  22. I actually was an altar server all through HS, and I helped train the younger ones. I really enjoyed serving because it felt special to be so close to the "action" going on in the sanctuary. I agree with you that fact its not a doctrinal issue, makes me not mind so much either way.
    Good post though!!! :-)

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  23. I love this post. Women and men can do equally important but different jobs in the church community! Yes! I was an altar server and had no idea what I was doing, no clue about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and I am often sad that I did serve on altar so poorly. I really appreciate this post because I think it explains why I did it. I thought if i really wanted to participate, I had to do what the boys did even though I was not suited to the task. Now, in a different city and parish, I help with Sunday Hospitality. I really like to help welcome people, give them a smile and introduce new families. I'm glad to see a discussion about the many different, valuable roles people of all ages serve in parish life.

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  24. I waited and waited to allow my daughter to be an altar server....but very few boys stepped up (my oldest son is one). as soon as the few boys we had reached high school age, they stopped serving (and coming to Mass, for the most part). So...my daughter is the only one up there wearing a veil - seems sort of ironic. Anyway, she does a lovely job and I console myself with pictures of women and girls helping and serving the priest when the early Masses were held in homes.

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  25. I have a very practical addition to your thoughts. I do not like my boys changing in front of girls or sharing clothes with them. Teen aged boys don't not need anything to feed their imaginations and my boys think so too.

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    1. This is the second comment I've seen about changing. When I served, we popped the robe on over our clothes, no muss. Has that changed?

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    2. The husband has actually mentioned this issue as well. It's not something that girls or women would even consider, but God made us different (which is okay, good even). "Disrobing" is going to be noticeable to them, even if you don't end up with nothing on afterwards.

      What a girl would experience as "popping off the robe" a boy might well experience as the getting out of the pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

      At the least, it's going to be a distraction. And for some young men, it's going to be a near occasion of sin.

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  26. I just wanted to pipe in to say that I agree with this post, but I think it would also be really beneficial to have SOME special group for just girls that involves close proximity and devotion to the Holy Eucharist, like maybe a group of girls that meets weekly to worship in the adoration chapel. I think little girls could also really grow from some way of experiencing the Eucharist in fellowship with their peers; that's the one thing that bothers me a bit about not having girl altar servers. Maybe some parishes already have something like that!

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    1. We do! They are sacristans, setting up and cleaning up the altar before and after mass!!

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  27. I am not sure where to start with this one. I disagree so profoundly with the reasoning.

    "I am rather offended by the concept that in order for a woman to be empowered, she must stop doing women's things and do men's things instead. It's a misunderstanding of our dignity as women and our place in the world God created for men and women to share."

    Please explain why being an Altar Server is "a men's thing".

    Why serving donuts is a "women's thing".

    This is not an Equality issue or even a Feminist issue. It is simply about overturning a tradition and allowing all members of the congregation (whether male or female, boys or girls, men or women) to serve the priest at the altar. It is really no different to allowing women to become Lectors.

    "Being a priest isn't superior to being a nun."

    Except that a priest receives the sacrament of ordination and a Nun is a member of the laity. She receives no sacrament when she makes her vows before God. The Church has made being a priest superior to everyone else in the Church through restricting many offices to the ordained. Being a SIster or a Nun is equivalent to being Brother i.e. a non-ordained member of a male religious congregation. None of these states of life are equivalent to the priesthood.

    "They are different, but equal in purpose and dignity and importance."

    They are different, I agree, but they are NOT equal in purpose, dignity or importance. When was a Nun (or a Sister) ever allowed to hear confession? When was a Nun or Sister allowed to anoint a dying person? Yes, they could sit with the person dying and give them comfort and solace in their last hours, but in the end the priest had to be called when the Last Rites were needed. And yet, who was it who anointed Jesus before his Death? It certainly wasn't a man. Who was it who went to His tomb to anoint his dead body? Not the men who remained cowering in the upper room. Yes, the women did take over and it was just as well they did because that was how they were the first to learn that Jesus had risen. So no, Nuns and Priests are NOT equal in any which way and since the early days of the Church, sadly too many men have striven to keep women in the roles that they, the men, have decided were appropriate for them. And too many women have acceded to the male desire to keep women in the roles which the men decided were appropriate to them.

    For centuries, women have struggled against these restrictions. For centuries before the word "feminism" was coined, before "equality" was a political issue women have struggled to live their vocations in the teeth of narrow-minded men who feared, I don't know what - women taking over. Read about Mary Ward who was excommunicated in the early 17th century for daring to set up a congregation of sisters who would teach the faith in newly protestant England; read the battle Mother Mary Martin had in the early 20th century to train her Sisters as Doctors so that they could minister as obstetricians to poor women in Africa. These battles were not about equality or feminism, they were about men refusing to allow women to use their gifts and their talents in God's service because they, the men, had the temerity to think they knew better than God.

    If the boys are not coming forward to serve at the altar, perhaps it is because the notion of giving service has been "feminised", not by feminists but by those are called to service but abuse that call by using their position to exercise power, and the boys are clever to see through the utter hyprocrisy of that abuse.

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    1. I just have a completely different experience of being a Catholic and of being a woman. To me, to complain that women can't be priests is the same as complaining that men can't bear children. It just doesn't make sense. I think the church has a long tradition of celebrating women, even in leadership positions, like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Catherine of Alexandria. And Mary, the Mother of God, co-mediatrix. I don't feel marginalized. AT all.

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    2. Wonderfully put, Kia! Thank you for sharing.

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    3. It concerns me that when girls are allowed into the club, and for some reason the boys are no longer interested, the response is to kick the girls out. Is the participation of boys inherently more valuable than girls? Why should girls be penalized for boys' refusal to participate if they are involved? I am grateful to be a member of a denomination that recognizes the authority of the call to His children from God, no matter their gender.

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    4. It bothers me that people think priesthood motherhood. Motherhood = Fatherhood. Men do have an opportunity equal to bearing children and that is called being a dad. The priesthood is on a completely different level... so its hard for me to see that line of reasoning.

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    5. sorry typo * It bothers me that people think that the priesthood is equal to motherhood. *

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    6. But Kendra, men can't bear children because of biology. There is no physical or biological reason that a woman can not perform the same duties as a priest.

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    7. I didn't mean to imply that it was biology that meant women can't be priests, just that the fact of our biology is as unchangeable as this particular church teaching. It just is what it is. Love it or hate it, it is.

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    9. I know I am a couple years late, but thank you KiaRose. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I was the first female altar server in my parish and the amount of injustice I had to deal with was tremendous. It was never fair and I was always overtaken by males, no matter how early I came for mass to help. After several years I moved on to becoming an Altar Server trainer just to want to stamp out this injustice as it was not only happening to me but other females and in some instances young males who wanted in. Instigators were the older males who were not acting in charity or giving any chance to anyone. I did not want anyone to ever feel what I felt. I have been an Altar Server trainer for over 10 years now at my parish and always keep it very equal. 3 boys and 3 girls a week. Each get a fair share of jobs. The boys that come don't mind serving with girls and I shake the hand of the parents that raise them well like this. They all work together very well and you should see the happiness in each of the kids eyes that they get to do a job so great. Altar Serving should be open for both genders because the boys that will continue on to be priests will have served alongside females that they will need to later cater for spiritually as well. I see this as a major issue for priests today. If they are barred to work with females at the start then how are they going to work with them when they become priests? Both genders are better together. Also who knows, a female might go on to become a nun.

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  28. My younger son is an altar server at our church. (My older son is in the choir so that is how he serves) He often complains that the two other servers who are girls, do take over and don't see the importance of doing things "right". I think your article is spot on. Thank you, for putting it together so succinctly.

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  29. Love this post! We have a VERY teeny tiny parish, and I'm a little worried they might push for my daughter to be an alter server when she is old enough. I'm hoping the fact that I have two boys, who will both be serving by that time will help!

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  30. I used to think that this line of thinking was the right way. No girl servers.
    But then I watched Fr. asking.. For weeks, often just Minutes before Mass for servers . Sometimes we had none, despite having a Parish school. Having been raised that way.. Expecting us to say no.. And knowing how and why we felt the way we did about girl servers, our teenaged daughter approached my husband and I anyway to be a server for our NO Mass. We listened . We talked to her. We reluctantly said yes. Later she became a cantor when she was not serving, she also taught herself Latin and helped her younger brother learn Latin so he could serve the TLM. She studied and sang in the schola there. That daughter joined a convent the week after she turned 18. She wanted to give God the first try. Before college or anything else. She just simply felt called to serve the Lord. Like the other poster she wanted to be as close to the Eucharist as she could . The thought of female ordination never crosse her mind. Her name is now Sr Veronica Mary of the Holy Face of Jesus.

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  31. I just think we have more serious things to focus on than this. My daughter didn't serve for long (2 yrs), but the training helped her really understand what we do and why. My son will be "installed" as a server this coming Sunday. He also has learned a lot from the training. What's wrong with that?

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  32. Bravo!! My son just began serving. My daughters (now in college) were both lectors and continue to serve. Thanks for your beautiful insight.

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  33. Bravo!! My son just began serving. My daughters (now in college) were both lectors and continue to serve. Thanks for your beautiful insight.

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  34. This is such a new thing to me - I grew up Prot. so "alter servers" were just basically "candle lighters", so it's requiring a new scope of my understanding. That being said - I look forward to encouraging my son to be an alter server, but I also appreciate that any future daughters could learn and approach the alter that way too. Sadly in my parish alter serving doesn't seem to have that good of training or respect (hoping I can help change that in time), and there's absolutely not Sacristan program for girls - so while I would probably encourage one to serve over the other I appreciate that the opportunity is allowed if need. Note to self: when overhauling alter server program, start Sacristan program for girls.

    I do agree with some of the comments - we need to stop comparing Priests to Nuns. Perhaps it's better to compare Holy Orders with Holy Matrimony? Perhaps it makes more sense if we understand that Matrimony is supposed to (??) reflect the relationship between a priest and his church and vis-versa? That these are two sacraments that allow those who take them to act out and embody the idea and being of Christ and the Church - one being masculine, one being feminine. Therefore I don't see it as women being left out of Holy Orders, but that the feminine role has already, eternally, been filled.

    Or perhaps... I'm just rambling and still trying to figure this all out ;)

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    1. Oh, and on further thought Kendra - personally the whole "girls take over" justification doesn't *quite* sit well with me, but on further thinking what I see as the issue is that when you double the pool of applicants the stress is taken off other people. I would argue that it's less "girls get bossy and take over", but when there are both boys and girls to choose from it's easier to let boys get away with saying "no" to the experience. I still stand-by that I appreciate that girls have the chance to learn and participate (so many lovely comments about young girls discovering their vocations through alter serving!), but I can see having both boys and girls to choose from allows us to focus on, regardless of gender, those with either the strongest personalities (or pushiest parents) and we risk not encouraging the experience to young boys who could really benefit from it.

      Just my two cents. ;)

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  35. Reading the discussion, both here and on facebook, there's something that has me pondering... Nothing to do with theology or doctrine, but rather psychology -the psychology of boys, specifically. Many have noted that boys lose interest in being altar servers if girls are also altar servers (especially if "bossy" girls take over), and are more drawn to it if it is their exclusive role. I guess what's disturbing to me is that we, as women, can say that we feel our traditionally female activities and spheres of influence (selling donuts, altar societies) are equal to those of men, just different. But I get the distinct impression that boys do *not* see this equality, if they begin to lose interest in- or even scorn- anything in which girls participate significantly. Or feel that a homemaking club would be "just awful for them." I have yet to see any comments from anyone with a son who is helping to sell donuts... Why, even in 2015, are boys praised for exhibiting leadership qualities, while girls still get called "bossy?" I guess what I'm wondering is if this aspect of boys' psychology is something that should be catered to -after all, in nearly any profession boys take up as adults (except the priesthood ;-) ), they are going to be working alongside female colleagues of equal or higher rank. Shouldn't they be encouraged to learn, from early on, how to do that successfully?

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    1. I share that concern as well. i disagree, though can understand/respect the reasoning behind a lot of what Kemdra said. However, this part seemed really off. If the fact that an activity is neither a truly feminine or masculine one (being a doctor, cooking, driving...) but a boy is turned off because girls do it, too-- then it seems to me that that is the boy's problem. Not one for parents to legitimize. The answer is not to work with the boy's take on it, but to address why it's an issue to him. Also, as a girl who was an altar server, and someone who has always attended a parish with boys & girls as altar servers-- the whole "allowing girls will turn boys away" thing seems to hold no water. In my experience, it's always been well mixed. I know other parishes may be different, but I've never seen the fact that girls serve prevent plenty of boys from serving.

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    2. I completely agree... If is IS true (and I am not completely convinced that it is) that boys don't want to participate if girls are participating, that is not a good thing and it is something we need to address with our boys. I heard my brother say once when he saw a girl on a football team that he wouldn't want to play for that team. I was only 12 years old but I challenged him on it. Parents should do the same ... no matter the activity.

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    3. I'm reminded now of one of the many reasons I love the Harry Potter series -boys and girls play on the same quidditch teams. Oh, and Ron and Harry are fine with that, and with having a female best friend, Hermione, who's loads more competent at magic than they are and doesn't try to hide it.

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    4. I think all that is cool too, but I also think it's worth noting that muggle sports that rely on outside equipment for propulsion: equestrian, sailing, race car driving are also co-ed competitions, right here in real life.

      Unfortunately I've never heard of quidditch inspiring any vocations. So far.

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  36. I've heard that before , that if the girls are doing it the boys won't want to . Is this really the case ? Couldn't there be more to it than that . My parish allows girl altar servers , yet we still have more boy servers . We also have a pretty even mix of male and female teens and adults serving as lectors and eme's
    Like · Reply · More · 1 hour ago

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    1. Does the author really think that every last woman was put on earth to sell donuts and clean things? Educated professional women --many of whom supervise their male employees--are not interested in being reduced to glorified children on Sunday morning. To turn a skilled and educated woman into the donut girl is a sin against the God who blessed her with an intellect. And the boys who refuse to interact with girls as equals? They're simply mimicking the misogyny they've learned at home --from mom and dad.

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    2. I'm curious who cleans your house, Jeannette? Maybe you split the work with whomever you share your house? Or maybe you hire someone to do it? But it has to be done, doesn't it? Just like the different duties and services at church. Perhaps all the educated, professional people in your parish - men and women - think serving donuts is beneath them, so you can ask the blue collar workers to do it? Or maybe hire a team of caterers just as you might at your office?

      Realistically, in most parishes, the people who will most likely enjoy serving donuts will be those who have a spiritual gift of hospitality. It's not misogyny to say that a group of women who enjoy each other's company are more likely to embrace a food service role than are men. It's not misogyny to say that women are often better at decorating the altar than are men. It's also not misogyny to say that Jesus chose twelve men as his apostles, and they then taught other men to say the words of consecration. It makes sense that if there are boys to do it, that it be boys as a preference who serve at the altar - a training ground for priesthood.

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    3. Elisa,

      As a mother I considered it important that my daughter and my sons learned housekeeping duties before they left home. After all, as single young people living away from home at university or in their own accommodation, who was going to clean and cook for them? And so I taught them to cook, clean, wash their clothes, do their own ironing etc etc. My boys were astonished at the inability of many of their university peers to manage even simple tasks around their self-catered accommodation and were not happy about visiting some of their friends and certainly would have been very suspicious about eating there.

      This was not about girl-stuff or boy-stuff, this was about enabling them to live as independent adults.

      And my husband helped with the cleaning, loved ironing and always cooked Saturday and Sunday dinner.

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    4. Jeannette,

      Blogs like this are like a living room. You have been invited into Kendra's home to have a cordial discussion. To refer to her, in her own space, as "the author" is rude - surely you would never do that in someone's home. You can call her Kendra and disagree to her face, no need to talk behind her back like that.

      Also, just as you think it's insulting to have women cook and clean and serve I find it insulting that doing those things (and enjoying it!) is inferior to you. As an educated woman who turned down multiple job offers to stay home to cook, clean, and serve I am appalled that you find me nothing more than a "glorified child" - and what does that even mean? I am not saying women shouldn't lead - and neither is Kendra - but just because we see great value in service and hospitality does not mean we have reduced ourselves in any way.

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    5. No, Jeanette is right. Girls need positions in which they can learn about the faith and the mass, and not be excluded from the most beautiful thing that happens in the church. It's not below anyone to clean, but it doesn't have the educational properties of altar service or being involved in the mass. Denying girls the opportunity to help in the mass is Denying them something important, educational, and meaningful that can't be replaced with donut sales or cleaning.

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  37. Kendra I see you have not responded to my question on your source for stating that it is infallibly taught that church cannot ordain women as priests. You need to correct this misinformation.

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    1. Kendra quoted a sumary of JP II's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in which he states "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance…I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

      The Congregatiom for the Doctrine of Faith later further clarified that while JP II's "OS" as a complete work was not infallible "witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church. ... This doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith of the Church. The definitive and infallible nature of this teaching of the Church did not arise with the publication of the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis"[21] but was "founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium".

      As faithful Catholics we are called on to believe that the matter of ordination is a part of Divine Law which we have no power to change, rather than a dogma or tradition of the church which could be adjusted to the times in which we live.

      Also - please remember that while Mrs. Tierney runs a very popular blog, she is not at the beck and call of it. It is a hobby and not her job to drop everything and engage in continuing dialogue in the comments section.

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  38. Cardinal Ratzinger said it ought to be considered infallible but it was never declared as ex cathedra

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    1. Ex cathedra is one way to settle the teaching. Majority teaching are not ex cathedra but rather traditions as stated in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
      These are traditions passed down. Ex cathedra is used when there is a dispute in teaching and the reason councils are called. The Pope has only spoke ex cathedra twice. Immaculate conception 1854. Papal infallibility in 1870. These were twice as traditions before but were called into question.

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  39. My daughter alter served for two main reasons. The most.important was to.better understand her religion and the church was asking due to a shortage. not sure where the coralation between female alterservers and priests comes in. If your daughters were not interested in serving that is one thing, but.to deny them that experience and the church because of tradition seems silly to me.

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  40. At my parish, only boys can alter serve. And we have the most amazing group of boys, I think the number is around 40 now and we are small Parish. All the boys think it is so wonderful to be part of a group that serves altar and has great friendships. The girls in our parish are sacristans and have that same sense of comraderie for girls. I absolutely love it and it's one of the things that brought us to this parish. A lot of reasons some parishes around us have shortages of alter servers is because girls are allowed to do it, and the boys don't want to anymore.

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  41. Great post, Kendra. What I think some commenters are missing is that it is not just a numbers game but the building of a culture. We are in a diocese where most Masses are served by a female majority. Somehow, in that context, we ended up at a parish with a male-only sacristy. And as my oldest son said, "There is nowhere else on earth that is like an all-male sacristy for the nurturing of priestly vocations... with joyful, faithful priests and boys of all ages who are free to dream about serving Christ at the altar. To talk about it. To pray together. And who are free to be wholly interested without girls laughing or noticing. That's not saying girls are bad. It is saying that once they enter that domain, that dynamic changes. It's just the way it is. And as I said, there really is nowhere else on earth where I have known that kind of experience. It is where my call to the seminary was watered and fed."

    As a mom, if I hadn't seen it before my eyes, I know I wouldn't really understand it. And now, I will go to great lengths to preserve it for my younger sons. My daughters don't mind. In fact, they take tremendous satisfaction in seeing their brothers in a community of such joy.

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  42. How about women cantors? Do you see that role best suited for a male since that too involves leading the congregation during parts of the liturgy, especially during the Responsorial Psalm which is sung at the altar.

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    1. Thank you Kendra. At our church, our pastor prefers to have boys as altar servers, but he will accept girls since our parish is limited in the number of young families, despite having a school! The student population is largely non-Catholic. As a cantor, I've never encountered a problem other than dress code, which was fine with me. I don't like to wear flashy things. I keep my hair off my face and prefer to wear a robe. Something about uniform helps me to focus my mind on the task -- the mass.

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    2. This is from that same article I link to above: "I think it is necessary to distinguish between minister, either ordained (bishop, priest and deacon) or instituted (acolyte and lector) and those who may be delegated in some cases to substitute for them.

      Thus the formal ministries of the Church are open only to males, while altar servers, readers and extraordinary ministers of Communion, whose function is to substitute for the lack of proper ministers, may be delegated to Catholics of either sex.

      Even when these functions are carried out frequently, or even daily, they will always be essentially delegated and substitutive. In this context the canonical decision to open service at the altar to girls was logical since every other delegated ministry had already been opened up."

      So that's reason why females are allowed (and not problematic doctrinally) as cantors, lectors, and altar servers.

      If the question is what I think is appropriate for my family, I don't see lectoring or cantoring as traditionally a role that nurtures priestly vocations, the way that I believe altar serving does. So it seems to me that there isn't a benefit to excluding women and girls from those roles.

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  43. To the point about boys not wanting to join because there are girls does ring true. For us women, it seems superficial, but boys and men need that camaraderie to help define themselves. They need the affirmation, they need the herd support, they need the modelling. Girls need it too. Thus you have groups such as Girl Scouts (although I don't agree with their charitable philosophy). I asked my daughter if she wanted to train as an altar server and she declined. Two other girls in her class joined. I can't say that I'm grateful she didn't join. In some ways I wished she did. I think wanting to be close to the Eucharist and witnessing all the parts of the mass up close teach a catechism no catechetical leader could convey as closely. Does that lead a young girl towards wanting to become ordained a priest? Not sure, but at least the wanting to be close to Jesus is there. As parents, it would then be our role to gently re-direct her towards a truer path that brings forth her womanhood as a gift for the Lord. And that doesn't mean she has to be relegated to emptying wastebaskets and sweeping the floor. Although I had to remind my little ones today that in every act, there is a nobility so long as each act praises the Lord. We must learn to give all the time to God. He doesn't ask us to become the smartest leaders ever, just to love Him and use the gifts He gives us to love Him and share His love to others. This is so hard to teach, because it is so hard to live it. Ok, thank you for listening to my soap box talk!

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  44. I am 55 years old and when I was a small girl I wished I had been an Altar Server, but at that time it was more fitting for the boys. I now am a Coordinator for my church for QuinceaƱeras, and while I coordinate the rehearsals right down to assisting the Priest as an Altar Server for the mass celebrations, I am so blessed that God heard my heart desire and granted my wish to serve in my church. The altar is the best place to be in mass.

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  45. Exactly how we feel. Our parish is mostly boys and lots of them but you do see an occasionally girl serving.

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  46. Our parish has both girls and boys as altar servers and I support that fully. I don't think it's necessary to exclude girls to motivate boys, and that's not the way I would want my children to view rules in the church. I personally would not attend a church in which this is a policy. If there were a sister's helper equivalent position then that's ok, but I don't want my daughter scrubbing the floor while my son assists the priest for the sake of motivating my son more. I have a sister who left the church over feeling excluded based on gender. If a woman can be a minister of the eucharist, altar service is good preparation. It doesn't only lead to the priesthood.

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  47. Thanks for this amazingly insightful article!! It would be so cool if we went back to only altar boys.
    You have an amazing blog! Reminds me of my family. :D

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  48. I'm a mom who is going to totally disagree with you. I myself was an alter server in the mid 1970's in upstate NY. I loved being allowed to have that privilege. My serving in no way took anything from the boys. In my time it was back when having communion served into your hand was very new. The servers did many more tasks, back then, and even in a small parish there were normally at least 4 of us used for a single mass. In a large Cathedral there would be more, depending on how many host communion ministers were needed. In that time it seemed the only woman active in the whole service was maybe the one playing the piano or organ. Again, I was in a small parish and even she wasn't at every mass. Allowing girl to serve showed me that I didn't have to be someone who always just sat with the congregation. My role to be more. The children are never allowed to be bossy and try to take over. Our roles were assigned and we were not even allowed to talk while putting on our robes and waiting to be called to the back of the church for the opening procession. Being allowed at the altar as a child made me feel more called to witness. Getting that closer view with the priest was actually doing at the alter was breath take. I was getting to be an active participant in the recreation of the last supper. It's also were my spark for wanting to serve in the church, as I grew older, started. I never looked to take roles over. I spent several early teen years serving in the nursery, at this point we had moved to OK and I was tearfully heartbroken to find that small city church did not allow girls to serve at the alter. Even a few times when they were short boys the Priest refused my assistance to help. Now, funny enough, I find myself in a small parish with the Priest,from the small city of my teen years, both calling the same church our home and he now allows the girl to serve AND he is now allowing the young kids to walk out of mass behind the alter servers but in front of him, something my parish in NY had done since the 70's. The sweetest part of Sunday is seeing him no longer tell girls to go sit in the pews with their parents but rather seeing him dot on them, fixing collars and being sure they are not in flip flops, and fully in glory in his role of our Shepard watching over the little lambs at the final procession as the young children parade out in front of him after every mass.
    This week my children, the son and the daughter, will begin their alter server trailing and I couldn't be more pleased in them fallowing in my footsteps. Who knows, maybe he will become a Priest and she a nun. A spark might be lite while they serve at the alter of our Lord.

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    1. What a beautiful testimony. Had a tear well up. I know that feeling of rejection all too well. Thank you for sharing

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