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Pot stirring – female altar servers? October 22, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Dallas Diocese, General Catholic, North Deanery, scandals.

Michael Foley tries to make a semi-philosophical, semi-theological argument in support of male altar servers, rather than the current common situation where both girls and boys serve, or, sometimes, just girls.   I’m not sure his argument succeeds, because he appears to be reticent to attack the root cause of the issue, which is that having numerous lay people in the sanctuary is a novelty and a firm break with Tradition.   He does get to this issue somewhat tangentially when he discusses the sexual imagery that attends the sanctuary and the re-presentation of Christ’s life and sacrifice during the Consecration. Since the Incarnation is part of Christ’s mission on earth and lead to his Sacrifice, there is a tradition in the Church that the Sanctuary be evocative of the Marian womb and thus only should be attended by males – otherwise, it would seem, we make a mockery of God’s creating us male and female and the whole natural, sexual order that flows from that.  This view is not necessarily core to the act of Consecration that is the Source and Summit of our Faith, but it has been traditionally held as a key reason to have only males perform roles in the sanctuary.

There are a number of practical reasons for preserving an all male altar server cohort, which Foley ignores.  Traditionally, the altar boys were seen as the seed bed from which many priestly vocations would grow.  Having female altar servers presents two problems here – one, it seems to imply that, perhaps, at some point in the future, the Church will be enlightened enough to allow females to “take the next step” and become priests (the impossibility of the conferring of priestly orders on a woman, apparently, being discounted).  This is perhaps a slippery slope argument, but, then again, some slopes are slippery.   I think many traditionalists in the Church definitely fear this possible progression.  Secondly, many believe that the esprit de corps of the altar boys as a group has been undermined by having female altar servers, that a once all-male institution that attracted quite a bit of pride has been undermined by the presence of females and led to a decrease in interest in performing this very important role.  Certainly, theatrical priests have also undermined the traditional role of the altar boy, but I think the “any kid can do it” mentality is also part of the, how shall I say it?………lower standards that we see in many altar servers today.  Foley also ignores the importance of all-male bonding that growth that participation in such a gender focused group can provide – again, this can be a means to help train young men for vocations to the priesthood or religious life. 

It’s interesting to read the comments at InsideCatholic.   It seems alot of those who describe themselves as fairly conservative or traditional Catholics have bought into the thinking of the dominant culture, that the inclusion of female altar servers is an issue of “fairness” and “equality” and that girls “have a right to serve.”  These are the exact same arguments used to justify the notion of a female priesthood.

What are some other reasons to have male altar servers that I, and Foley, have missed?


1. Teresa - October 24, 2010

Even as a former female altar server, I agree that there should be a return to all-male altar servers. While I think that is a great idea, I don’t think that is the root cause of the decline in priests. I think it is in part due to poor manner in which catechetics in both Catholic schools and religious education classes have been taught in the past 30 or so years. Plus, then you have priests who refuse to preach on the controversial topics of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and embryonic stell research because their afraid of offending parishoners. There needs to be a further and expanded concerted effort on the part of priests to reach out to boys to become altar servers and for men to become priests.

I have posted a more detailed response to Michael Foley’s article.

tantamergo - October 25, 2010

Perhaps I made the impact of female altar servers sound greater than I think it is. I don’t think it’s a big part of the decline in vocations, but it may play a small role. In my polemical attitude trying to make a point, I probably left that unclear or made it seem I thought it a major component. Thanks.

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