The National Catholic Review

It is a Sunday morning in 1992, and I am ten years old and visiting relatives in the midwest. We head to church, pile into a pew, sit, stand and then sing the entrance hymn at Mass. I happen to look up from my missalette just as two girls who are about my age walk up the aisle; they are wearing robes and their light brown hair is pulled back into ponytails. My eyes widen and I look at my mother. She gives me a look that says, “I know. We’ll discuss later.” But throughout Mass the questions swim through my head: Why are there altar girls at this parish? Will we ever get altar girls at our home parish in Massachusetts? Can I ever be one of them?

For years, the answer to that last question had been a resounding no. There were no female altar servers in my parish, a fact that, in my mind, always seemed arbitrary and unfair, especially since my younger—younger!—brother already was able to become an acolyte. I longed to be more involved in the Mass, but the chances of my being able to join him on the altar always seemed slim. These girls gave me hope.

And so, two years later, when canon law explicitly permitted female altar servers, I signed up immediately, despite the fact that I was now in seventh grade and would have to spend my rookie year being trained alongside second-graders. For years my place at Mass reached only to the red carpeted steps of the altar. Now I would get to see the sacraments up close, I would get to serve my church and live my faith in a whole new way.

After our training sessions, I was asked to serve with two of my male classmates at the opening Mass for our school year in October. It was this fortunate timing, far more than any merit, that meant I became the first female altar server to serve a Mass at our parish.

The change was big news in our diocese. A reporter from our city paper called me before the Mass to get a quote for her story about new female servers. I paced across the floor of my parents’ bedroom as I talked into our cordless phone. This was my chance, I thought, to let my city know how meaningful it was to me to become an altar server.

And then, the next morning, there was my quote: "I had always wanted to do it—to serve at the altar," I told the reporter."I think it's a good idea. I think I would feel pretty important. It will be neat to go up there and serve God."

I read these words with some dismay. “Neat”? That was all I had come up with? I was not exactly the 12-year-old theologian I’d imagined myself to be.

Now, 20 years later, I’ve had a chance to compose my thoughts. And in light of recent criticisms of the role of female altar servers by Cardinal Raymond Burke, I’d like to take the opportunity to add a bit of nuance to my original sentiments. I served as an altar server for 6 years, and the role helped to deepen my understanding of what the church is and can be, as well as my responsibility for helping it to become better. Here is some of what I learned.

The church is accessible. In order to serve at the church, I didn’t have to be anyone other than myself. When I became an altar server, I felt more comfortable climbing the steps to the altar, not because it lost its mystery, but because being there helped to deepen my experience of the Paschal Mystery. The space became at once more familiar and more sacred. I felt at home in my church in the best way possible.

The church is tangible. The church is not simply an idea; it exists through individuals and through sacraments and sacramentals. As an altar server the objects and symbols that accompany the sacraments became real to me. I learned to swing a thurible; I learned the difference between a purificator and a corporal, and a chalice and a ciborium. I learned that these words and objects were part of a faith that has a vast and fascinating history, vocabulary and tradition—and that I was part of that history.

In all things, humility. As predicted, I did at times feel “important” while serving on the altar. But most days I simply felt grateful to be part of something more important than myself. I was humbled every time I held the book aloft to be read, carried the unconsecrated hosts to the altar so they could be transformed, poured out the water that washed the priest’s hands, rang the bells at the consecration. I grew in my faith as I learned about and participated in the many small, sacred actions that surrounded and celebrated this banquet.  

Priests are people, too. I learned that priests forget where they put the keys to the rectory or where they left the Sacramentary. They don’t always understand how microphones work or which light switches turn on the lights by the altar. They sometimes can be rushed or late or grumpy. They also can be hilarious, kind, encouraging, enthusiastic and thoughtful. In short, they are just like everyone else. Knowing this also meant that, later, when I learned about the horrible crimes of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, I could mourn the failures of our church and work to correct them knowing that many good priests I had met along the way were doing the same.

The church is communal. One of the most coveted gigs as an acolyte was to serve at a wedding. This was in large part because each server typically got $20 from the happy couple. But I also found joy in the fact that I got to hold the wedding rings while they were blessed, to see the dresses up close and, most importantly, to contribute in a small way to the celebration of two people committing to a lifetime of love. I felt honored to be a part of a faith community that supported such a commitment.This sense of community also was reinforced by the chance to look at the faces of the congregation from the altar. I was especially moved every year at the Easter Vigil, during which each face was lit by a candle, from the front pew to the choir loft—and to see in each one the Body of Christ.

We are accountable to one another. The elderly ladies commended me or corrected me on my serving skills after Mass. My parents beamed each time I served with my two siblings on the altar. In short, I learned that our actions as servers affected how others experienced the Mass. And so I strove for flawless execution of the book-holding or cross-carrying. But I also made mistakes. One Holy Thursday I spilled the entirety of the foot-washing water across the altar. The sacristan pitched in to help clean up and her smile let me know that I was not the only person ever to make a mistake at Mass. On her knees beside me, she saw my mistake as an opportunity to demonstrate the spirit of service we prayed about that day, to pitch in and to teach me a lesson: Don’t place large bowls of water too close to the edge of the altar steps. And God’s grace is not easily thwarted by our own imperfections.

You don’t always get to choose the people with whom you serve. I served beside JD, who ate the wax off candles; Seamus, who feared ringing the bells; and Jake, who always seemed one second away from lighting a cigarette with the hot coals meant for the incense. There were occasional arguments over who got to carry the cross (the tallest server often won) and who would be forced to carry the boat. And yet we almost always found something to laugh about in the sacristy. We learned to get along, to be ok with not getting our way.

Our faith must be lived publically. Sometimes it must be lived in front of a crowd of people, some of whom think that what you’re doing is strange and wildly uncool. Occasionally, I felt a bit idiotic as I walked up the aisle in my blousy white robe and with a red yarn rope around my waist—attire that screamed I am a religious teenager!—while trying to avoid catching the eyes of my classmates, who I occasionally saw at Mass. But on most days, the privilege of participating in the Mass outweighed the fashion faux pas it required. And more often than not, I found my classmates more interested in learning than judging, as they wondered about the smell of the incense or the weight of the chalice.

Altar girls are a good idea. I’m sticking with this sentiment. Young women should have the chance to serve as acolytes today, not just because they might feel “pretty important,” as my 12-year-old self predicted, but because they are important to the church. Young people are not simply the future of the church. They are the church right now. We adults are not always good at reminding them of that fact. Involving young people—boys and girls—in the Mass can help them to more deeply understand the honor of serving at the Lord’s table, and the importance of serving one another, from wherever we stand.

Comments

Lisa Weber | 12/26/2015 - 3:06pm

This a good article on altar serving. Altar serving is fun, regardless of the age or gender of the server. When I serve with young people, I tell them that being an altar server is the most fun you can have in church. It is a first step toward including women in church leadership.

I have heard all the tiresome talk that women serving on the altar is the reason that there is a decline in priestly vocations. If men need to exclude women in order to want to be a priest, a desire for power is a bigger motivator than holiness in their vocations.

As to the decline in vocations to the religious life for women, it seems obvious that the cause is that women have so many more opportunities than they once did. Particularly important is that women can now have both a career and a family. The church needs to acknowledge that women's leadership in the future will be women who are not in religious life and develop a leadership structure for laywomen. Matriarchal leadership is even worse than patriarchal leadership and we need to get past the whole family model for church anyway. Jesus indicates that the church is to be a community, not a family. We will not be able to develop the role of women in the church until we give up patriarchal/matriarchal leadership and develop a community style of leadership.

In the meantime, thanks for a good article!

Tim O'Leary | 3/8/2015 - 4:19pm

One possible advantage of having alter girls is that it might foster more vocations to the dwindling ranks of sisters and nuns. I also note some formerly Anglican Sisters from the Priory of Our Lady in Walsingham & the Community of St Mary the Virgin in Wantage, Oxfordshire have joined the Catholic Church. Now, back to the comparison with the Anglicans and their pilgrim's progress, which is the model Anne Chapman recommends to us Catholics.

The Anglican Church’s founding principle was divorce and this theme continued throughout its history – divorce between the sexes and the races, between biblical doctrine and church teaching, and between Anglican communities and geographies. It went awry on other doctrinal issues early on (esp. the Eucharist, Holy Orders and other sacraments), but on moral issues, the Anglicans held pretty steady with the general Christian faith until 1930, when it was the first substantial denomination to depart on the question of contraception (approved only for married couples suffering some form of hardship). It departed on abortion in the 1970s, on homosexuality in the 1990s and on gay marriage in 2009. Each of these deviations went the same trajectory, from tolerance of hard cases, to acceptance for soft reasons, to approval based solely on personal choice, accompanied with spiritual blessings.

Similarly, it opened the priesthood to women in 1976 and to homosexuals in 1989 (1st ordination by bishop Spong), then the episcopate to women in 1989 (Barbara Harris, divorcee and gay advocate even then) and to homosexuals in 2003 (Gene Robinson, now divorced from his gay marriage).
Yet, Anne Chapman thinks the Anglicans are better listeners to the “whispers of the Holy Spirit” and recommends Catholics follow the Anglican path, for our very survival. But Anglicanism in the UK and Episcopalianism in the US are in serious danger of extinction, and this has nothing to do with global warming. Philip Jenkins, an ECUSA layman, calls it “evaporation,” and another recent article asks “has the last Episcopalian been born?”

The once dominant US Episcopalian Church (50% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Vanderbilts, Astors, Rockefellers, Du Ponts, Roosevelts, Forbes, Whitneys, JP Morgan and Henry Ford) now have less members than US Muslims or Jews. According to their own numbers, their membership has gone from 3.6M in the 1960s, to 2.3M in 2000 to 1.8M in 2012. Similar declines are occurring in the UK, where now many more Catholics attend church each Sunday than Anglicans.

The only place in the world where there is any growth is in Africa, the very Anglican communities that Anne despises (see below). For comparison, US Catholics went from 34 million Catholics in 1952, are 78 million today, and are projected to be between 95 & 128 million in 2050. Indeed, much of that growth will be from poor immigrants. But, it doesn’t matter (to me, anyway) that rich white faces will be replaced by poor Hispanic ones. In the Episcopalian Church, there will be no faces by the end of the century! Perhaps, this trajectory is exactly according to the plan of the Holy Spirit.

For further reading, see: http://juicyecumenism.com/2014/10/14/episcopal-church-continues-shedding... and http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/10/the-church-vanishes-pa... and (http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2010/11/pies-damned-pies-and-stat...).

Martin Eble | 3/10/2015 - 11:07am

There is no "Anglican Church".

There is an Anglican Communion, a loose association of national churches whose only mandatory characteristic is that they are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tony Phillips | 1/17/2015 - 1:23pm

Truth is, in the Bugnin-Montini Novus Ordo Mass that was imposed on us around 1970, there's precious little for an altar server to do. It's a kind of 'make-work' job, like all those unnecessary 'extraordinary ministers', like lay lectors, like the 'welcomers' who thrust misalettes into your hand when you wander into the church.

I was an altar boy in the last years of the Tridentine mass--by then a simplified, vernacular Mass with no Asperges, Last Gospel, etc, but Tridentine nonetheless. We were an important part of the mass, saying the Confiteor (the real Confiteor, not today's saintless version) and various responses on behalf of the people...and then suddenly one week we were standing around like gooseberries with nothing to do. One kind priest eventually tried to invent jobs for us--holding the book aloft, marching around with candles--but we all knew it wasn't the same.

I think a lot of vocations must have grown out of serving the old mass. The Bugnini-Montini liturgy, probably not.

So I have nothing against altar girls in today's Novus Ordo because it's just another silly job that was invented to make people feel 'included'. I can't imagine anyone discerning a vocation there.

Carlos Orozco | 1/18/2015 - 11:53am

Yikes. Tony took no prisoners.

Carlos Orozco | 1/15/2015 - 4:23pm

That has been settled in the Catholic Church, following Jesus' teachings. Nobody wants to see the theological mess the Anglican "Church" finds itself in. (Sorry, that was meant to be a reply to Anne's comment of Jan the 10th).

Anne Chapman | 1/15/2015 - 5:04pm

Those who know the reality, have studied the facts rather than opinions, know that the Anglicans are in no greater "mess" than is the Roman Catholic church.

Some do not see this as a total negative, but as a sign that these churches are still alive, still thinking, and not simply frozen in the ideas (and sometimes the misconceptions) of past eras.

Carlos Orozco | 1/17/2015 - 7:29am

When you have priestesses, openly homosexual bishops and division (for example, US parishes seeking direct apostolic care from African bishops to flee apostasy), you undoubtedly have a mess. And that is not a total negative because of a reexamining of the Catholic Church by many Anglicans.

Anne Chapman | 3/6/2015 - 1:58pm

There is no greater division in Anglicanism than in Roman Catholicism. The western Roman rite church has come close to schism a number of times and still is perilously near it - for those remaining. In western Europe and North America, tens of millions of cradle Catholics no longer practice. The same has been happening in Latin America - Catholics are leaving by the millions. The tens of millions who have left, particularly since 1978, represent a silent exodus that is the greatest outflow from the Roman church since the Reformation.

In the US, Hispanic Catholics are also leaving the Roman Catholic church. The second and third generations are joining their peers as "nones" and some of their parents are choosing pentacostal worship over Roman Catholicism. Obviously the decades of attempting to impose euro-centric Catholicism on the whole world has not worked terribly well in the Latin world. Maybe Francis will turn that around.

Among the Catholics who remain in the US and the Americas, there are not only huge divisions in understanding of what it means to be Catholic, the situation sometines verges on schism. The "outs" were the progressive Catholics - for more than three decades. Although nobody could call Francis "progressive" on doctrine, he has changed the focus from a church of judgment to a church of love, mercy and forgiveness. The "conservative" Catholics don't like this, much preferring the rules and regulations, law-and-order vision of church imposed by Ratzinger/JPII/Benedict. On the right, Pius X left decades ago, and even all of Benedict's bowing and scraping failed to bring them back 'into the fold". Now, with a "kinder, gentler" pope, disgruntled Catholics on the right are issuing veiled threats of schism underneath their very public dissent against the pope. No need though - Pius X awaits with open arms.

Anglicans are not becoming Catholic in droves. It has been a barely measurable trickle. The Ordinariate in England has been a "disappointment" as some Ordinariate leaders put it - instead of bringing in tens of thousands (some estimates were that it would be hundreds of thousands), the total is about 1500. Ordinariate Msgr Keith Newton said as much in a chrism mass - "We must be honest and say the ordinariate has not grown as much as we hoped it might. The vision has not been caught … ” Roman rite Catholics are being given the bill for supporting this somewhat misguided venture. Perhaps most of the conservative Anglicans who protest having women priests (much less bishops) took the time to think about the entire package. It wasn't just entering another church that thinks the ame they do in choosing to treat women and gays as second class members of the church, it meant buying into the ban on contraception, Marian dogmas etc. All of their priests and bishops have to be "re-ordained", and their bishops are bishops in regalia only. They do not have the same powers as Roman Rite bishops, but they are allowed to wear their rings and miters.

Some have noted that 1500 is much smaller than an average parish in most US cities. The two Catholic parishes nearest my home have 3500 and 2000 familes respectively - FAMILIES, not total members. There are several parishes in this diocese with 4500+ families.

In the US, some disgruntled parishes in the ECUSA chose to sever their ties.. Some have joined a new group of churches, composed of former Episcopal churches, that retain the traditional Episcopal liturgy. Some are simply independent of any overall group. Some have chosen to join African dioceses.

Voluntarily seeking to join dioceses in Africa headed by bishops who have supported draconian legislation that criminalizes homosexuality with jail terms, sometimes life sentences in prison for homosexuals, and even penalties for those who do not "report" someone they know is gay, is no credit to this group.

Who would want to be associated with them? Thank goodness they went to the African dioceses instead of joining the Roman Catholic church in the US. Another handful of unhappy Episcopal parishes have joined the US Ordinariate - very small parishes in about a dozen states. Not exactly a tsunami.

I think you need not worry about the Anglicans. They will handle whatever comes without giving in to the hate-agenda held by some dioceses in the Anglican communion. If those dioceses again threaten to sever themselves from Canterbury, one hopes that Canterbury will continue to put the gospel ahead of retaining them. The Anglicans are very open to listening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit - they have a humility that is sadly lacking in the Roman Catholic church. They may suffer for it for a while, but goodness and mercy and love is always the right path to follow, even if there is some cost to it. That is the message of Jesus' life and death.

Martin Eble | 3/10/2015 - 9:14am

Of course there’s greater division in Anglicanism than in Catholicism. In the United States alone there are dozens of sects that schismed from the Protestant Episcopal Church over a wide variety of issues,

http://www.anglicansonline.org/communion/nic.html

But division is inherent in Anglicanism since it lacks a central authority as an association of national churches which share some common characteristics but otherwise are completely independent. It has more in common with Lutheranism than Catholicism.

And, yes, we all understand that - as in centuries past - there is a waxing and waning of adherence to the Church in particular areas and among particular people. This is simply the way things are and trying to cite it in support of favorites scripts on the Catholic Church that you happen to hold has the same explanatory power as citing a solar eclipse to demonstrate that God supports your interpretation of the facts.

Anglicans are not becoming Catholic in droves. Then again, they’re not attending Anglican churches in droves.

The exception is in the African dioceses headed by bishops who still think the Bible has some teaching value and that the undivided Church was not a collection of benighted eccentrics.

What you call “humility” is simply recognition that without a teaching authority, everyone must be right and no one can be wrong. If that’s the sort of thing that appeals to someone, that’s the place to get some. Most people are actually trying to find the meaning to life, some truth, an improvement in their code of conduct, and things like that.

Anne Chapman | 1/15/2015 - 10:52am

His views are so extreme that it is better to simply ignore them and him, rather than spread them. He is not a good spokesman for the church, because his words and his actions so frequently hold the church up to general ridicule.

Martin Eble | 3/5/2015 - 7:12pm

And your words don't?

.

Anne Chapman | 3/6/2015 - 2:08pm

No. My words do not hold the church up to ridicule. My views are aligned with the majority of educated Catholics.

Also, I am not a public figure who calls the media in order to protest the pope's words and decisions. I am not a cardinal who has pledged loyalty to the pope while holding press conferences to disparage his ideas.

Nor do I choose to be held up to ridicule by choosing to wear a 60' silken train borne by courtiers as if I were a midaevil monarch instead of a follower of the carpenter and successor to the fishermen who preached simplicity.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-fDiAsXAXjws/UTTQrCCk6mI/AAAAAAAAFIw/21t89PCxP0...

Martin Eble | 3/10/2015 - 8:57am

We can deluded to misinformed.

Let's just all agree that you have a great deal of personal animosity for Cardinal Burke and get back to actually having an intelligent conversation.

Jack Rakosky | 1/14/2015 - 8:48pm

This is a great article that underlines the potential not just for altar servers but other church ministries to give both girls and boys great apprenticeships in Christian ministry rather than putting all our parish eggs in the basket of sacramental formation experiences.

A local parish has its post confirmation teens serve as readers. Their obvious pride and attention greatly enhances the readings as well as giving them opportunities to develop. Music ministry is another great area of opportunities, as well that of ushers and greeters.

When I was young before Vatican II, I was just as bored with catechism as many young people seem to be today. Fortunately one of the seminarians who taught summer school in our parish recruited some of us (boys only of course) to sing Gregorian chant at the morning Mass. I was fascinated and decided to respond to my best friend’s pleas to become an altar boy like him. By the time I was sixteen, when a seminarian from our parish was ordained, I took over most of his responsibilities around the parish becoming what we today we would call a pastoral associate. It was a fine parish adolescence experience that I hope many more young men and women will have today now that we have a far great range of parish ministries than before the Council.

Marie Haener-Patti | 1/14/2015 - 5:51pm

I, too wanted to be an altar server, but could not, as in the 1960's and 70's girls could be sacristans and help clean, but not serve. Then, I went to an all girls Catholic high school and there were no one but girls to serve at altar for class and all-school masses, and no one but us girls to be the lectors, as well, and so I got to do both and enjoyed it, and extra credit in religion class for volunteering to serve and to read. So when my parish announced that one of the men lectors was moving and that a volunteer lector for every other Sunday 10:00 am Mass was needed, I volunteered at the age of 16 ( this was 1974). The men in the lectors' committee were not sure about the idea of a GIRL standing up there doing the readings and psalms and intentions, and announcements, but our pastor said, "why not?. I had the slot until I left for college two years later. It was a privilege and an honor to serve.

Laurence DeCarolis | 1/14/2015 - 4:20pm

Great article! Reasonable theologically, inspiring, and tastefully humorous. You go, Girl!

Milde Waterfall | 1/14/2015 - 2:49pm

You've captured the essential goodness of having girls be alter servers. In the early 60's I served the Mass in Latin in western South Dakota. The experience not only deepened my faith but assured me of a place in my Church. In the 80's in northern Virginia I felt like I had fallen in a time warp. The Diocese of Arlington's attitude toward women in general would have been damaging had not my earlier experience so strengthened my faith and belief in my place in the Church.

Luis Gutierrez | 1/14/2015 - 2:38pm

Absolute agreement. I cannot understand why they don't have them in St Peter's basilica.

MICHAEL GUIDRY | 1/14/2015 - 1:33pm

Both of my sons and my daughter were altar servers. But they were not acolytes. An acolyte is a position in the church involving a ceremonial installation whereby a person reflects and comes to understanding of service to the altar. Becoming an acolyte is a step in Ordination to the Office of the Deaconite.
I'm not just mincing words. Children can be servers assisting at the altar but rarely are they capable of understanding the sacredness of the altar, regardless of sex. And it not just training but an acolyte should have spirituality that results from contemplation and openness towards the sacred.

Mike Evans | 1/14/2015 - 1:00pm

I had two daughters who were privileged to be altar servers, about the same time as the author. It was a revelation to them, especially being so close to the altar and the prayers and actions of the priest at Mass. Later, when I was ordained a deacon, both continued to serve through high school. For our youth group, altar serving was a characteristic of both young women and young men wishing to become more involved. Later, many went on to be Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers and Pastoral Council members.

Karen Park | 1/13/2015 - 1:22pm

Thanks so much for this article. While it makes me sad that anyone should have to "defend" altar girls, I am glad you did this. My daughter, who is now 17, was an altar girl--an opportunity I was never offered. She served her first Mass at 9:00 am on Easter Sunday when she was ten years old and did a beautiful job. Now, her faith life is strong as is her commitment to the church and at least some of that is due to the involvement she had with Mass when she was a server. Her decision to live her faith publically, as you put it, by being an altar girl, inspired me to volunteer as a lector. If my daughter was going to be involved in the Mass, then I figured as a good mother, I should be too. She modeled this to me.

Kerry Weber | 1/12/2015 - 3:33pm

This is beautiful, Karen. Thanks for sharing! Isn't it wonderful to know that each of us has the ability to inspire one another?! No matter our age or experience, we all carry Christ within us. 

Steve Ackman | 1/11/2015 - 10:58am

Altar girls are not a good idea - but that horse is out of the barn. It is and will be, and the effects are galloping through for good or ill.

Have lived in 12 different dioceses, so seen much. When returning home to my starting diocese I began shopping for a parish. One must do that here. Noted the predominance of women on the altar for the various "ministries," so began keeping statistics. On a given weekend mass in excess of 80% of persons on the altar are women. If an when women are admitted to the priesthood that number will push closer to 100%. The "ministries" are being feminized, men are leaving active participation and frankly no one seems to care. I see a future Church that essentially becomes a women's club with the men staying home (hunting, fishing and/or football become the new faith experience) - that is not healthy. When I was a boy and the question of serving at the altar came up I can just hear the common discussion among the boys with current conditions "that's a girls job." The Church will change - human nature will not.
And so it goes.

There is one exception to these observations - ushers. I've never seen a female usher, though I'm sure they are out there. Folks, this is the stuff of a situation comedy - not faith.

But as said - the horse is out of the barn. There will be women at the altar - including the celebrant. They'll just be alone or accompanied by a few feminized males. The justice of the issue is not debatable. It is the second and third order affects I worry about, see happening, and no one is addressing.

Molly Roach | 3/6/2015 - 7:03am

What do you mean by "feminized" and "that's a girl's job" and "human nature will not..." change? Sounds like the second Person of the Trinity has not taken on human flesh and offered salvation to the human family where you live.

Mike Evans | 1/14/2015 - 1:05pm

Women and mothers who serve in various liturgical roles are an inspiration to their children, both girls AND boys. There is nothing that will substitute for a faith-filled encouraging mom to see to it that her children are able to fulfill their desire to serve. Hopefully, all dads will share that commitment and show their love for both daughters and sons.

Linda Cooper | 1/12/2015 - 1:55pm

OK Steve, I'm an old lady, but I serve on the altar a couple days a week. The reason, I serve, is because I got tired of seeing our Priest have to set everything up himself. "The "ministries" are being feminized" men are leaving, why? Because women are on the altar? If men think it's so awful that women are on the altar, maybe they should sign up and serve on the altar. It is laughable that you think men left the church because women are on the altar. Great excuse to not worship God for one hour a week. That is a big load of bull crap, but if blaming everyone but yourself for not attending Church works for you, so be it. Women will never be Priest, can't happen, and won’t happen, period. "When I was a boy, and the question of serving at the altar came up I can just hear the common discussion among the boys with current conditions "that's a girl's job." The Church will change - human nature will not." Get over yourself, we go to Mass to worship God, if you think blaming women for not going to Church works, you may be in for a surprise some day.
I love my Catholic Faith more than anything in this world, and will do anything I can to make my parish a welcome place for everyone.

Jim Lein | 1/14/2015 - 8:05pm

We've had altar girls for years, with our previous priest who retired about 7 years ago and with our current priest. Often there are boys and girls serving together. About 9 or so years ago, we had an unusual Holyday Mass, or rather word and communion service. Father did not show up for the noon Mass, and after 10 or 15 minutes three women took matters into their hands. One did the celebration of the liturgy of the word, another did the readings and the other distributed communion. There was a different and positive feel, and it seemed so right, so full of the Holy Spirit. There was a sense of the very early, just new church with three "Marys" up there doing what they did way back then.

Kerry Weber | 1/12/2015 - 10:05am

Thanks for your comments. I have not yet seen any reliable statistics or studies that demostrate that the presence of altar girls is discouraging altar boys (or that the presence of women in ministry is discouraging men in ministry). More often, I have heard parents talk about the fact that many students already have so many obligations from sports and school and extracurricular activities that they don't have the time to take a more active role in their parish. It seems to be a matter of priorities. I have also heard that the sexual abuse crisis has discouraged parents from encouraging young children to become altar servers. However, all of these things are simply anecdotal and are not necessarily widespread or even substantiated. It would be interesting to conduct a scientific survey of young people in parishes today to learn more about their motivations regarding why they have chosen to be altar servers or not.

Greg Siebenaller | 1/10/2015 - 7:34pm

Excellent article. I'm a 55 year old grandfather. Being a server was was one of the best parts of my youth which generated a lot of very good memories. The sentiments and experiences you expressed in your article are some of the same I experienced many years ago. I'm so glad young girls, and now older women are servers at weekend and weekday masses. What a blessing. I've noticed over the past 10 years or so, there are more girls serving than boys. While I'm happy for the girls, I'm sad for the boys. I'm sad that they're not being encouraged to serve and that they won't have these experiences you, me and many others experienced and the bond we share. Unfortunately, the lack of male servers seems reflect the lack of adult males being willing to serve our parishes. Thanks again for your article.

Kerry Weber | 1/12/2015 - 9:36am

Thanks for your kind and thoughtful reply. I am glad that you had a similar experience, and I agree that all young people in our church should have a chance to be a part of the Mass in this way. You ask a good question regarding the role of male role models. I wonder whether parishes with more equal numbers of lay male and female lectors/extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc., also have more equal numbers of boy and girl altar servers. 

William Rydberg | 1/10/2015 - 4:13pm

I remember when they purchased new (I think red) Altar Boy Costumes and announced that they were implementing an Altar Boy training programme at my local Catholic School. It wasn't a surprise when the "favourite" boy was chosen as the head of the god squad. Many wished to be members (including myself) but knew that we didn't measure up. nor were even asked.

Twenty-five years later, due to a mix up about what constituted "assisting at Mass", I became an Altar Server on Saturday mornings with another adult. I really got a lot out of the Service, even at the age of 33, it was spiritually great for me, and I enjoyed every opportunity subsequently, to help out "on the Altar". At least until my knees started to go, and I moved on to another Parish.

Mentioning this service to a brother of mine (9 years senior to me), he volunteered that he had been an Altar Boy from an early age until his teens when he was fired for watering down the communion wine along with some chums.

Until our conversation, I had no idea that my brother ever went to Church beyond Christmas and Easter, first Communion, etc... Didn't even know that he had been an Altar Boy. He married in the Catholic Faith and baptized all his kids though... I think that he goes to Church when he can, but maybe not every Sunday?

Point is, its a wonderful opportunity for a motivated layperson to help out. But I doubt that it is a stepping stone to becoming a Priest.

in Christ,

This Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Michelle Neely | 1/10/2015 - 2:40pm

I was able to serve at a parish in Monterey, California, for one year in 1973! My father's job took us to Richmond, Virginia, in 1974 and I was surprised and saddened when I was told "no girls'" and that was the end. One of my daughters has been serving for a year now and loves it. The last thing the Church needs is to send a message that girls aren't wanted.

Paul Collins | 1/10/2015 - 1:07pm

I would make one small correction to Ms. Weber's article - she was an "altar server," not an "acolyte." That distinction was made unpleasantly clear to me when visiting an Easter celebration at a local parish -- I noticed the servers had different color belts. I later quizzed a student I knew from the parish and discovered that the colored cinctures were for the acolytes, one of the minor orders which was not suppressed in 1972, who served around the altar. Only boys could be acolytes in that parish; girls were relegated to peripheral duties such as carrying candles in procession -- the parish had implemented a glass ceiling at the grade school level...

Connie Neuman | 1/10/2015 - 12:42pm

I recall the first time I was allowed to serve Mass at age 56, in our Education for Parish Service class liturgy at Trinity University, Washington D.C. This adult faith formation program was a blessing in every way, and teaching adult women to serve as the men did was another blessing. I love this essay by Kerry Weber. New marks of the Church -- accessible, tangible, in all things humble, we are all human beings priests included, communal, accountable to each other, you don’t always get to choose the people with whom you serve, our faith must be lived publically, altar girls are a good idea. Beautifully said.

Kerry Weber | 1/12/2015 - 9:39am

How wonderful that you got the chance to serve. I think it's a great experience at any age!

Sara Damewood | 1/10/2015 - 11:53am

Great arguments! Thanks!

Carmen Torres | 1/10/2015 - 12:32pm

I loved reading this...I too, at the age of 8 wanted so much to join the group up at the altar... Thank you.

Michael Miller | 1/10/2015 - 10:50am

Doesn't it seem silly that there is a debate about the feminization of Mother Church?

Linda Cooper | 1/12/2015 - 2:41pm

You sir, are a very clever man...thank you for the comment, you are correct, it is silly.

John Adams | 1/10/2015 - 10:35am

Beautifully written. I try and and make a point to thank the servers and readers for their service. I have never paused to think about gender issues and don't understand why there was ever this barrier. Your faith and desire to love/serve in a tangible way is as good a witness as one may expect. Thank you!

Kerry Weber | 1/12/2015 - 9:44am

Thank you! I think that showing gratitude to the servers is a wonderful thing. It acknowledges that, in an age when young people have so many options for extracurricular activities, the time they spend in service to the church and to one another is valued by the other members of our faith community. Thank you!

Walter Sandell | 1/10/2015 - 10:32am

Ordain Women!

Linda Cooper | 1/12/2015 - 2:43pm

Women will never be ordained. Can't happen, Jesus didn't set it up that way.I don't feel like I'm somehow less because I can't become a Priest, I love what I can do; serve on the altar, act as Eucharist Minister, and help with our ChristLife program.

Jim Lein | 1/14/2015 - 8:23pm

Never say never. It can happen. IMHO. No one has asked for MO yet, but I think it can happen. And I pray for it.

I served many years ago in Latin and with High Masses and incense. Getting the charcoal going was cool, and we didn't start any fires. But I wonder how wise to give 10 or 11 year old boys such responsibility. Girls yes, boys no.

One last thing. I think many or most mafia family sons back then were altar boys.

BRUCE SNOWDEN | 1/9/2015 - 1:16pm

I see nothing irregular in allowing girls to serve the Altar - the Table "Allowing?" A very inaccurate word, 'acknowledging" their Baptismal right to do so absolutely accurate. Although there may be no recorded evidence in Scripture or Tradition supporting the following assertion, I believe among those who prepared and served the Table of the First Eucharist in the Upper Room were women, probably the Mother of Jesus taking a lead role. The Holy Spirit arranged in the course of ordinary life , that a woman should be the first to tell the chosen men that Resurrection had happened. If so, what's wrong with acknowledging that women (girls) have the right to serve the Table where Resurrection is enacted and proclaimed at Mass? Such simplicity in explanation may "turn-off" the more erudite and in their better grasp perhaps rightly so. All I do is in the rationality of Faith express it as I see it.

Anne Chapman | 1/10/2015 - 10:23am

Women also should be allowed to follow their call to serve as priests.

Martin Eble | 3/5/2015 - 9:20pm

They are, in the Anglican Communion. For sound theological reasons the sacerdotal role is restricted to males in the Catholic Church, and that seems to be the end of the matter if the Church's consistent teaching and its authority is to be believed.

.

John Adams | 1/10/2015 - 10:35am

Agree....

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