Friday, November 22, 2013

Female Servers?


One of my parishioners told another of my parishioners she wants to serve, we have men serving but not women.

Until recently we had sufficient men to serve, illness and age have taken their toll, and a couple of years ago two of our men went off to begin studying for the priesthood. Being a city centre parish there are not hundreds of children who want to be on the sanctuary and frankly I am glad of that, I am not comfortable being surrounded by children whilst I celebrate Mass, children belong with their parents at Mass. I can do childcare and I can say Mass, I can't do both at the same time. Jesus loved small children but they do not appear to be present either at the Cross or at the Passover. Should those who have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation and therefore not fully initiated be performing a ministerial role in Church?

I can't help feeling that having girls or women serving, apart from being a significant break with tradition, is a first step towards women clergy, 'stealth priestesses'. The function of a server is obviously to assist the priest, a good server will ensure the priest follows the rubrics correctly and enable the priest to be recollected, and if necessary remind him if he forgets anything, like the consecration or the final blessing. No priest should be trusted to go the altar alone. Ideally the server and especially the Master of Ceremonies should have thorough understanding not just of rubrics but of the liturgy itself.

In the Ordinary Form there is no restriction on the number of servers, and although the server doesn't answer on behalf of the congregation, his role is to assist the priest but also to lead the congregation in prayer. He should at least be an example of prayerful deportment and reverence. He should have a deep prayer life and be devout, otherwise what he does is a sham, just play acting.

As Catholics we do not believe women can be priests, or in VII speak, "presidents of the assembly". It is not only that the Church has no authority to ordain women, as Ordinatio Sacerdotalis says but also there is the argument from 'headship', a favourite of some Protestants. The leaders of Christian prayer should be male, the proper leader of prayer in a family should be the father of the family, he stands as an icon of God the Father. His role as a Christian father is to direct family worship, as the head of the family. Ephesians 5 reminds us too that he also stands in the place of Christ the Head and Bridegroom. It is not illogical to assume that a priests immediate assistants, the servers should properly also be male, and leaders or potential leaders of prayer within their own families..

As a husband and father a man has liturgical role that we need to explore, who knows it might be done in the Synod on the Family. At the Extraordinary Form Mass we have no problem finding servers, it is not quite so easy at the Ordinary Form. In the EF traditionally practically every man knew how to serve, it meant that boys and men could receive some formation in the liturgy and prayer. Prayer was seen as manly. Now the priest and servers are often the only men in the church. As someone once said, not too seriously, 'one good reason for only ordaining men is that it ensures there is at least one man at Mass', well with men servers there are likely to be at least two. However there is crisis in the relationship of men and the Church, not many come and not many get involved and consequently feel the call of vocation either to priesthood or fatherhood. Ignoring the role given them by scripture and the t/Tradition does not help, it certainly does not help foster future priests or men in leadership roles within the Church.

I understand that many priests, even though they have gut instinct against it, feel in a spirit of equality obliged to go along with inclusivity and have both male and female servers but there seems to be a denial of an important element of the faith: men and women are equal, yes, but different. To apply this only to the priesthood and not other areas of Church life seems to be dishonest, if understandable.


30 comments:

Unknown said...

If you get female altar servers Father, most of the males will disappear. Serving on the altar is a recruiting ground for the seminary. Women don't belong on the sanctuary. We simply don't!

Chloe

viterbo said...

Equity and quality, esteem and respect aren't the same things. Women of quality deserving of respect and likewise men don't need to do the same things to prove, through 'equity', that they are both people of value and worthy of respect. Pray for men to care again. Pray for women to pray for men to take up their roles again. In some cases I reckon a lot of the women would breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe every parish should have almost obligatory lessons for boys and men on the serving at the altar. If Priests ('cause I doubt the Bishops will) insist on more formality - street clothes covered in the sanctuary, etc. maybe more men would respond. We should ask the SSPX what the secret is. But then I guess it's an open secret anyway.

Matthew said...

If the problem only affects "OF" celebrations, the answer is obvious: go "EF" full-time. Who dares, wins!

Genty said...

I wonder if the woman who is keen to serve is the same one who spoke to me most vehemently about the desirability of married priests and the "inclusion" of women.
There are plenty of other parishes within striking distance where the presence of women is overwhelming.
Pity about not having boys to serve Mass. Wouldn't training and herding be the job of the MC (if there is one)?

John Kearney said...

Young couples with young children are well aware that when their children grow up the fervour of faith in most cases will be replaces with rebellion. They will do everything possible to avoid this, yes even putting their daughters forward as altar servers. It is not easy to argue against this. I do agree though that in the past being an altar server was seen as a first stip to the priesthood and indeed it turned out that way many times. women on the altar is a different question. There is the quetion in the early church concerning the raising of Deacons to the altar and this leading to Deaconesses disappearing. So, yes, the Church has laid down markers for us. The role of the Father is I would agree being lost and the Church being secularised by `inclusiveness`. We have to solve this.

Liam Ronan said...

I assure you, Father, that I have attended any number of Masses where there was no altar server. The priest did quite nicely with the lavabo and cruet-work. I myself would much prefer, and in a sense be more edified, if there were no altar server to assist the priest at Mass rather than a female altar server.
By the way, when I was growing up they were called 'altar boys'. I think 'altar server' clangs a bit.

Jacobi said...

It’s a difficult one, Fr., given the ever increasing fashion, not so much for equality, but for identical roles, in Secular society and sadly now in the Church. It is a false idea of inclusivity.

In our church, the girl servers are growing in numbers and diminishing in age. The boys left, when they are there, look uncomfortable and even embarrassed. You get the same phenomenon, I believe, in the military cadet forces, the boys getting fewer. And who can blame them.

I suspect Matthew is thinking along the right lines. Have the O.F. at, say, 8.00 am, and build up a sound, sung, E.F. Mass and congregation with choir and organ for 11.00 am!

Pétrus said...

@Liam Ronan

I personally prefer the term "altar server". I see many servers who are grown men, especially in the Extraordinary Form. I don't think one can really call a grown man an "altar boy"

:)

Gertrude said...

Oh that all Parish Priests held your view Father. The only time it is appropriate for a woman to be within the sanctuary is when her Nuptial Mass is celebrated. It is such a special time.
Sadly, it seems that some of our dear Priests allow girl servers for fear of upsetting mummy dearest - who probably runs the raffle, the rosary group, the summer fete etc,and I am sure you know that these dear ladies can be quite formidable!

Deacon Augustine said...

I can speak from experience of being in a parish which only had male servers until 2001. We never had a shortage of them from 8 years of age up to late teens and mature men who would serve as MC's.

Then a new priest changed all that - he couldn't believe that the girls "had been excluded" up to that point. Within a matter of weeks all the boys were gone. I couldn't even get my own sons to serve anymore, except for major feasts when I resorted to bribery to cajole them into it.

In the intervening years, the initial flood of girls grew up and found more important things to do than go to Mass, so we are now left with no servers at all at most Masses.

It is not worth giving in to the pressure, Fr. Ray. Once the role is perceived by the boys as an androgynous thing, rather than a male thing, then they quit.

umblepie said...

I have seen young women - not girls, serving at Mass,and their very presence is/can be a serious distraction. Often they are very attractive,and why not, but they should not be on the sanctuary. I do not see this problem raised by many, but I am sure that it is there.

Liam Ronan said...

I agree with Deacon Augustine's advice, Father. If no male servers can be had, then better no altar server at all. The function isn't absolutely essential in any event.
I've shown up for Masses that had to be cancelled because the priest was unavailable but never because an altar server couldn't be had.

Celia said...

In my parish the problem is not so much that boys have been put off by girl servers- the numbers are about equal- as that the parish priest has a policy of allowing any child who has made their first Communion to become a server if they or more usually their mothers (you're right there, Gertrude)want to. Very few of them stay the course so we have a constant stream of very young and useless children, anything up to 6 or 7 of them at a time, hanging around the sanctuary fiddling with their hair, making each other laugh- anything except paying attention to the Mass - and having to be told constantly what to do by the priest.
When I'm occasionally able to get to an EF Mass it couldn't be more different- usually 1 or 2 older boys supervised by adult servers and how much better they behave!

The Bones said...

I think an OF Mass earlier in the morning, instead of the NO, might possibly see more male servers coming along to volunteer.

Misericordia said...

I have always understood that ideally the role of altar server belonged to those who had received the minor order of acolyte during training for the priesthood. Since such young men were not always and everywhere available, the role was given to members of the laity but as they were standing in for acolytes, it was required that such altar servers be essentially male.

Jane Ireland said...

Children may not have been at the foot of the cross, but women most definitely were.

Adrian said...

Choirboys have almost completely disappeared in the past thirty years in ordinary parish churches, entirely because young boys do not feel comfortable in activities involving girls, so the girls have taken over. We are now seeing fewer young men with the musical experience or interest to take up places as tenors and basses in choirs and choral societies. Mutatis mutandis, the effect of the feminisation of the sanctuary will be to deplete the seminaries.
It also seems to me, in an age where boys are exposed to the non-too subtle message that males are largely useless, violent buffoons, that the Church has a role in giving growing boys a space where they can find their self-worth and be seen to be contributing something positive.

George said...

Part of the answer to returning "fatherhood" to the priesthood and episcopacy is making pastors and bishops lifelong appointments. Fathers shouldn't be leaving their families and jumping from wife to wife, nor from parish to parish, nor from diocese to diocese.

Physiocrat said...

I wonder if events are trying to say something, such as time to go over to the EF as the main Sunday Mass? You have the perfect reason. The only down side is whether the church will be big enough for the congregations. Also may I suggest that you try to get translations in a few other languages eg French, German, Spanish and Polish, and the task is one best delegated.

Jacobi said...

Re Umblepie’s point.

This also applies to female emHCs, as per the time at a neighbouring parish when in the Communion queue (and probably in the middles of my Act of Contrition) I looked up to see a rather nice emHC with well cut bobbed hair, and plunging neckline, meeting a very short skirt---------------I’d better not go on!

Needless to say I did a sharp side-step into the priest’s queue.

toxteth said...

Father,
Your instincts are correct, if France is anything to go by. At Notre Dame, Paris, the servers, known as Les Clercs (the clergy), are exclusively male, between the ages of 16 and 25. At one point during Cardinal Lustiger's episcopate, more priests per year were ordained for the diocese of Paris than at any time since the French Revolution. This is a historical fact.

Cardinal Barbarin operates a similar policy for servers in his primatial cathedral at Lyons. Last year he ordained four priests for his diocese, and not too long ago he had a single cohort of 10 new priests.


Matthew Luke said...

As representatives of the heavenly host at the liturgy, along with any choir, I feel that girls should be made to feel welcome.

Pastoral concerns should most definitely be taken into account, for example it would be odd for female servers to serve the EF and probably pastorally incorrect, not, however liturgically incorrect.

Girls need experience of prayer, and prayerful role-models. In the church of the past this may have been religious sisters, these days it is more likely to be lay teachers. I pray that today's female servers become tomorrow's teachers and/or religious, and carry an orthodox love of the liturgy into their adult lives.

Whilst the seeds planted in them can not grow to fruit as priests directly, they may make mothers who have served at the most holy sacrifice of the altar, unlike any generation before, and we may have a generation of Catholic mothers more in love with the Eucharist, and from that fertile soil see priestly fruit born (forgive the extended metaphors).

I serve as MC with a team of a dozen boys and girls. They are all very devoted and eager to learn. If this love of the Mass is matched by good catechesis then we will have excellent Catholics in the future. I am personally making sure this is the case in my parish, not least of all because I have two youngs sons (3 and 1) and I want practice teaching the catechism under my belt to mean I have two potential priests for sons.

Susan Ireland said...

So no female altar servers , what shall we say about those who have learning disabilities , are they too barred because they may be a 'distraction' ?
Umblepie I wonder if good looking young male altar servers or priests are not also a distraction to some people ?
Susan

Joseph Johnston said...

I have no problem with mentally handicapped males serving the Mass but girls look ridiculous wearing male clerical dress. Hence the emergence of the alb which renders both girls and boys equally vulgar in appearance.

I knew of one female altar server who wore make-up on the sanctuary ...

Unknown said...

Last week we had 6 girls and 2 boys serving mass. I was surprised there were so many boys.

Gungarius said...

My daughters serve at the OF Mass. My 8 year old son wont have anything to do with it and dosent want to go to Mass, saying I wan't to go to LATIN Mass, and is now learing to serve at our weekly EF Mass.

I fear that if we only had OF I would be having the most almighty struggle to get him to church at all.

Childermass said...

Sacristans for girls, altar servers for boys. Everybody has a place.

Katalina said...

Technically there is nothing wrong with female service but the Tradition of the Church has always been males as altar servers. This is in the Vatican II documents on the clergy and the new Code of Canon law. It was the soon to be Saint John Paul II who allowed this after saying years before no. In my parish they have put boys back in only.

Physiocrat said...

We have just had the parish's annual two day bazaar. Mostly females serving the food and drinks, but some canny young guys had obviously cottoned on to the fact that the girls who are the most willing to give up their weekends for a public service are the sort that are most likely to make the best lifetime partners, and had got in on the service team as well, though I would not want to suggest that their motive was ulterior.

It is important, however, to keep in mind that what happens inside the church is only one aspect of Christian life, and a dead-end one if it is not extended in every direction.

Anne Chapman said...

We have both boys and girls once they have made their 1st Holy Communion. They like to get involved in the celebration of the Holy Mass. In weekday Masses the altar servers are men. The children start in an alb and as they progress they wear the altar servers outfit. We have about 50 in the parish so they don't do it every week and are trained beautifully by the older ones ( usually 16-18 year olds.) They all serve beautifully and are wonderful.