Sunday, July 22, 2012

From Boys to Men and Men to Priests

Our pastor, who has worked so hard in turning his parish into a thriving, faithful, and family-filled church, has also decided that altar servers are roles for boys to fill.  

This decision never bothered me, as we only had boy altar servers when I was growing up, and becoming an altar server was never something I wanted.  Just as I never wanted to become a boy scout or be on the football team.  Certain things seemed meant for boys while other things were meant for girls.  We were created equally but different, and knowing that I could bear children but not grow chest hair was perfectly acceptable to me!  Although girl altar servers are acceptable according to the rules of the Catholic Church, it's still up to the Bishop or Priest if they decide to allow it.  In fact, the last two recent Popes have spoken out against girl altar servers:

In 1970 Pope Paul VI said in Liturgicae Instaurationes, “In conformity with norms traditional in the Church, women (single, married, religious), whether in churches, homes, convents, schools, or institutions for women, are barred from serving the priest at the altar".  And in 1980 Pope John Paul II stated in Inaestimabile Donum, “There are, of course, various roles that women can perform in the liturgical assembly: these include reading of the Word of God and proclaiming the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. Women are not, however, permitted to act as altar servers."
Why was the Catholic Church against female altar servers?  Were they just being mean?  Of course not!  The thinking was that becoming an altar server, and serving in Mass in such close proximity to a Priest, would encourage and help discern future vocations to the Priesthood.  Could a boy be called to the Priesthood without having ever served at the altar?  Of course, but as it is written in Redemptionis Sacramentum, promulgated by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacrament:
 “It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension,” nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these.”  
Which can be summed up to say that most priests were once altar servers.
Then, one might ask, why would having girl altar servers interfere with a boy's future vocation?  Well, the answer is simple.  Sometimes when boys see girls taking over their duties, they feel their duties aren't as needed anymore, and allow the girls to take over.  

It's similar to what happens when I watch my kids play.  My boys will make a clubhouse for Boys Only! and Maggie begins feeling left out.  I try to help her feel included and tell my boys to let her in, and as soon as they do, the clubhouse loses it's interest.  The brotherhood that was holding it together is now meaningless.  
My Pastor does allow girls and women to have duties in the parish.  We can sing, read, lead organizations, and become sacristans.  We feel included and respected and we all have our special roles.  I have never once felt excluded or thought the Church was sexist.
The boys, who desire to serve at the altar, participate in Altar Server Boot Camp (as our Pastor calls it) where they get together for three days each summer and learn how to serve, get to know each other, and play sports. 
The Altar Servers meet with Cardinal Sean O'Malley in July

 This summer, we were lucky enough to have John-Paul and Andrew attend, and today they served in their first Mass together:
There is a group of about 25 altar servers at our parish, and they look out for each other and have formed great friendships.  This past week in our Diocese, there was a retreat for young men discerning their vocations, and out of 30 or so men that attended from 100 churches, 12 came from our parish alone.  11 of them are current altar servers. And 1 is entering the Seminary in the Fall.  So I think the numbers seem to show a link between reserving altar serving roles for boys and allowing them to blossom into the Priests of tomorrow, if that is where God is calling them.
And having been blessed with four sons so far, I sure hope that He calls one of mine!!


  1. I love it. I'm floored that a New England parish priest would have the courage to reinstitute boy only altar servers.
    JP and Andrew look adorable and handsome and I'm sure they were tremendously reverent at their first Mass.

  2. I understand the logic but I don't agree. I was an alter server in my home town parish and I took great pride in what I did to help the priest. My parents often recieved complements from the parishioners about how they loved when my brother and I served. With treated the position with respect and I hate to say that every alterserver since then has not met my expectations at every church we've been too. They just don't care and haven't been instucted in the position they are filling. Most of the time, a priest is begging for someone, anyone to be an alterserver. Couldn't a girl be an alter server and then feel called to be a nun just as much as boy being called to the priesthood? I couldn't be a part of a parish that didn't allow girl alterservers just because of my own experience being an alterserver in my youth. It was something I loved so there is no way I could deny my children the same.

    1. Hi Natalie! Our last parish had girl altar servers and they were very detail oriented and loved their roles. I agree that in a church where the priest has nobody that wants to serve, than a girl should definitely step up and help out if she wants. It's really sad to think that young kids don't want to be involved like this. At our parish, I think the main reason that SO MANY kids want to be involved is because it is made into such a fun little "club" where the boys feel appreciated and relish their special roles. The girls in the church who are sacristans feel the same way about their duties too. And we are lucky that because there is an abundance of boys to become altar servers, no girls are needed to fill those roles. As for your point about having a girl altar server be called to become a nun...I think girls/boys/men/women who are meant to be Priests or Nuns are called no matter what. I think being involved in one's church could help someone to have an open mind to listening to their call if they have one. But having a girl serve at an altar is not truly the first step toward becoming a nun in the same way it is for a boy to become a Priest. Altar boys serve at Mass and Priests serve Mass. Altar girls serve at Mass, but Nuns/Sisters do not. So it's like giving girls a taste of something that they are not allowed to experience fully later in life. Would we tell a little boy that he can dress as a girl scout and pretend to play girl scouts, and then when he gets to the right age of a girl scout tell him that he can't join? What were we setting him up for?

      I do understand that you loved your experience as an altar server, and we are so lucky that in America, you can be at a parish that has girl altar servers, and I can chose to be at one that does not, and we are both happily abiding by the rules of the Catholic Church :)

    2. I respectfully agree with Colleen. I think she summed it up well. There are indeed parishes who need to use their young women as altar servers. We do not. In fact, our parish has so many male servers available that the opportunities for young men to actually serve a Mass are limited.

      Our whole diocese--I believe it's the only one in the U.S.--does not allow female altar servers. It's NOT a decision made against young women, just a decision to encourage young men to step up and fulfill their roles in our parish and especially at the Mass. Our bishop has made this very clear. As a result, our diocese has both the highest rate of vocations (priesthood) in the nation and has the highest ratio of priests-to-Catholics. We are so very blessed.

      I do not feel that my girls (10, 9, and 2) are being ignored or neglected. On the contrary, I feel that they are being encouraged toward roles specially suited for them while our boys (7, 5, and unborn) are being encouraged in Mass participation (which I believe to be harder for boys than for girls), awareness of the liturgy, and awareness of a priest's duties and those of the acolyte.

      Another thought: our diocese also has a high population of women religious. My older girls each have a nun as a teacher this school year. The girls are invited to special days with two particular orders of nuns to which their brothers are not invited. Again, not an exclusion of boys, but a special encouragement for girls. We are so happy here. :)

  3. Your boys do look precious! Altar serving is such a great way for them to show that they have grown in respect and understanding of our church. Both of my boys followed their fathers footsteps in being altar servers and now one is a eucharistic minister as well and both have been honored by altar serving for the bishop...I am sure they will become knights like their dad as well. I am not sure my feelings on the girl issue. My oldest girl and her friends were/are altar servers and I did feel that joy when she and one of her brothers got to serve mass together, and i am sure my youngest girl will love serving as well. But I have never thought of it as the road to a priest thing and I do like your analogy there...I am not one that believes the church needs a woman priest so I am not offended by girls not serving...You are right in that there are plenty of ways for everyone to "serve" the church and be a part of the mass...

  4. your heart must leap for joy seeing your boys up on that altar!

  5. I feel strongly in my own case I would not let my dds be altar servers even if they wanted to be. Our church allows girls-- but I guess in general since the church hasnt made an official ruling I think it's a personal decision per parent.

    I do feel it's one step up to priesthood and feel the same that a nun isn't the same linear route.

    My husband was an altar server from 7 until mid 20s and he says if there were girl altar servers all he would have been thinking of is sex. He's a man thats what they do... Lol. And as he says the altar is the last place where you want that temptation. I don't think women are like this and don't constantly think sex like men do, so they don't get it.

    Anyway my 10 year old is an altar server. He started last year since our church didn't allow anyone under 4th grade for maturity reasons. He didn't want to. I forced him. I told him in our family the boys will be altar servers period. I think he was shy and lacking confidence... Anyway he did it and now he loves it and feels important. I just think its good for boys to take on roles of authority and importance to learn to be leaders. Now they changed it this year and anyone who just made communion can do it. So.... I don't know if James is ready. As I said , eventually all 3 will be servers I just don't know if James is ready now.

    Our church also does special things for servers. It's like a club here also. They are going to a chuckie cheese place this week.

    Our new priest 2x has written in the bulletin about the importance of serving the church and "making" lol your kids serve. Everyone is called to serve
    He says and all kids need to feel important and integral to the mass.

  6. Our parish only has boy servers and I think it is so great. Our parish is not a huge parish, but has around 100 servers. Our pastor truly views the altar server program as a place hwere boys can begin to discern their vocation. And the boys love it.

    Studies have been done on schools that were all boy schools and then went to co-ed and it was widely seen that within two years of a school going co-ed, boys dropped out of MANY clubs and leadership roles at the school. I think that is somewhat true with altar server programs as well.

  7. I have such trouble with this one . . .

    I agree that there is a link between boy altar servers and discerning a vocation. It's like "on the job training" so to speak. In our parish, when a new boy has graduated from the altar server training program our pastor introduces him to the congregation and then tells him to take the priest's seat for minute, just to "see what's like." Then our pastor tells the congregation that the new altar server looks great in that chair and we should look for him there in the future. I think that's a fantastic intro and it's something that he just can't do with the girl servers because they'll never be allowed to sit there in the future.

    I also agree that boys tend to yield the responsibilities/duties to girls when they are both on the altar. Not because I think boys are lazier, but I do think girls are used to sort of taking things over. Serving loses its special privilege for boys when the girls are there.

    All that being said, Francie is an altar server and she is a good one. She does not aspire to the priesthood or anything, she just likes the job. She asked if she could serve after she was approached by the DRE and the pastor for the training course. They both knew how responsible she is and how well versed she is in her faith. Honestly, I found it incredibly hard to say no to the pastor - I am such a wimp when it comes to stuff like that.
    I think our pastor needed all the help he could get.

    Fiver needs another year before he is ready to become a server, but I think in the future that I will not encourage the other girls to be altar servers.

    PS: the boys look great in their "uniforms" (as Fiver calls them)

  8. I love seeing your boys in their altar boy dress. We wear the traditional dress as well, and my husband leads the "Guardians of the Altar" club for boys in our parish. I nominated you for a blogging award on my website,! I hope you'll come by and check it out!


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