Thursday, June 26, 2008

Going Against the Grain

From an article in

Members of St. Barnabas Parish in Mazomanie say they are stunned to learn that the priests leading their Catholic community will no longer allow their daughters to be servers at Mass. From now on, only boys will be able to assist priests in the ancient religious rite.

The new policy was announced at a meeting with parents Tuesday by Rev. John Del Priore, who was assigned to the parish on June 1....

...The Catholic Church broke with centuries of tradition in 1994, when the Vatican said girls would be allowed to join "altar boys" in assisting priests at Mass. It is up to the local bishop to decide whether to allow lay women, or girls, to serve when needed, said Brent King, director of communications for the Madison Diocese. Female servers have been allowed in the Madison Diocese, King said, but it is ultimately up to each individual priest to decide whether he needs help at the altar. Priests may ask whomever they wish to assist them, so long as that person is a Catholic in good standing, King said.

He stressed that servers take on the duties of acolytes, traditionally a low clerical rank."Neither lay women nor lay men have the right to carry out the function of acolyte," King said.Altar service is being reserved for boys to promote vocations to the priesthood, Rev. Jared Hood, one of a group of priests that serves the St. Barnabas cluster, said in an interview. Hood said he is a member of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, a religious order that ministers to boys to inspire them to become priests. The order offered its services to the Madison Diocese, which is consolidating parishes because of a shortage of priests.

"Very many priests began as altar boys," Hood said. "Without contact with a priest it's difficult for boys to even think about a vocation as a priest." He first learned about the order of which he is now a member as an altar boy in New Jersey, he said.

Four priests from the order now oversee a cluster of five parishes: St. Barnabas, St. Aloysius in Sauk City, St. Norbert in Roxbury, St. John the Baptist in Mill Creek, and St. Mary in Merrimac. Hood said boys only will be servers for each of the parishes.

That's been the case at St. Aloysius for more than a year, and the furor that met the change in policy has evaporated, said Ann Cicero, a secretary for the parish whose sons serve as altar boys.The commitment by parish boys to altar service is proof that it's right to reserve it for boys, she said. When girls were allowed to be servers, it became less popular among boys. Now that it's a thing for boys only, they revel in it.

Besides, having girls on the altar is misleading about what the church is about, she said."Women are not ordained," Cicero said.

The boys meet weekly with priests for training, spiritual growth and outings as the group, St. Michael Altar Guild, a practice that strengthens their ties to the church and parish community, she said. Girls, too, meet regularly and do things "more appropriate for girls."Cicero said several young boys have begun to talk about vocations to the priesthood...

A large part of my own vocation to Holy Priesthood was serving Mass. It gave me an opportunity to get to know the parish priest and learn more about his life.


Verity said...

In my own parish it is next to impossible to get boys to serve on the altar because they see it as girly. I suggested to my parish priest that he have a girls' team and a boys' team but alas he didn't see his way clear to doing this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the measure of letting only boys serve the altar. I am a career woman, but the same way we understand that in the Catholic Church only males can be ordained as priests, we should also understand that the practice of having girls serving as "altar boys" is not preserving our Catholic traditions.

AG said...

While I enjoy the fact that my own daughter has the privilege of serving at Mass, I also see that it doesn't carry the same meaning for her as it did when I was young, and I've wondered if it is because there is no connection for her between altar service and the priesthood.

Adoro te Devote said...

I personally believe it was a mistake to allow girls to serve, outside of an emergency. Then again...were there "emergencies" before girls were allowed to serve?

I work in a parish and when I can, I ask the boys to serve first. If I can't find the boys, or if a girl volunteers before I get to all the boys, I end up allowing them to serve. They're on "the list" and so I don't have a choice.

I myself, as an adult woman, was asked by Father to serve at a Benediction because there was no one else, and I agreed, although it's not an honor I would seek out! (And it WAS an honor and a very powerful moment...very humbling, actually. And it's a long story as to how that happened.) But it also solidified the necessity of male-only altar servers. I believe that allowing girls to serve only manages to give false hope that the Church "might change" her stance on male-only ordination.

This can be a very charged topic, and I often think of how to address it with the female servers in the parish where I work should our new Archbishop change the rules. That's the difficult thing; it's one thing to go from strict to permissive. But it's REALLY DIFFICULT to tighten the reins without having a spiritual impact on people who haven't been properly formed.