Dedicating this week’s post to discussions on altar servers has proved to open the floodgates. As the first post to the first discussion claims “Altar girls are an abomination and have repressed priestly vocations.”
Now at first blush I want to dismiss this comment, because the word abomination is outrageous. Altar girls may not be your cup of tea but to call these young ladies a word like that is simply stupid and mean!
But as you know, dear readers, I am King of Fairness, so I also want to think about the second part of this statement in a wider way. And also to talk about a second element–are there more altar girls because the boys simply stay away now?
“To say that these adolescents and young teen have been the cause of the repression of priestly vocations since 1995 gives these girls a whole lot of power that they probably don’t know they have. That’s quite a statement!” said one pastoral associate I know. I think that’s one accurate way to look at it. The decline in priestly vocations come from a wealth of sources and I don’t think we can pin in on the rise of altar girls or even female lay ministers for that matter.
However, my own altar boy experience cautions me a bit. Not because I don’t think girls should be on the altar as servers but because the experience beyond the altar was a bonding experience for us boys. We were more than just altar servers we were a church organization that engaged in service, recreational activities (especially) and trips. I don’t think I would have had a problem with girls being along for the ride on any of these (in fact, often we would have girls join us for the trips to Six Flags, etc.) but it may have changed the group dynamic a bit and thus it may indeed have soured some of the guys on taking part.
So my thought is the following: all should be invited to serve at the altar. All should be invited to social activities beyond that service at the altar as well. But we also should take some time to encourage activities for single sex groups that’s appropriate as well.
Lastly, I had the pleasure of serving mass with Cardinal O’Connor, who was a proponent of girls serving at the altar, as a young man. He always greeted his servers and he would even remember names if you were there a second time. He also would encourage boys to think about becoming priests and young girls to consider lives as sisters. That indeed is important for both to hear and more importantly, it’s important for the women to have models of Sisters in their lives that they can emulate. Otherwise, it can become the bait and switch where girls may think that they can become priests. And as open as many of us are to that idea, it doesn’t seem to be on the horizon just yet, if at all. Therefore, we need to give them trusted mentors who they can look to and who they might wish to become more like as women.
But to shun girls from the altar because they’re more eager to help than the boys are, or the boys want to use the altar boys like the Hee-man woman haters club is just not a great idea.
And just look at the way that this young lady to the left of John Paul II is looking at him…is that worth 1000 words? Is she not going to be moved by that moment to be closer to God and the church in her life?
I have a call into CARA to see if they have any data on Altar girls and will look online later to see what I can find.