The Deacon's Bench

A couple days ago, I posted an amusing photograph from my parish’s Thanksgiving Day mass. To my amazement, it unleashed a tiny firestorm of comment and debate on the subject of girls serving on the altar.

One veteran of my parish altar server society, who is now in college, was particularly upset by the reaction, and wrote to tell me about it. I asked her if she’d like to write a response.

Here, with just light editing, is what she sent me:

First, I want to talk about female altar servers in general and, more specifically, my time and experiences as an altar server. I was first interested in altar serving back in fourth grade after reading about them in my religion textbook. Then, a year later, our class was told that we could sign up to be altar servers, and both boys and girls were eligible. So I signed up to be an altar server without asking permission from my parents, which was probably the first time I ever did that. The trainees in my year consisted of an even number of boys and girls, and we took time out of our Saturday mornings for about two months to train. When I signed up, female altar servers had only been around for about four years, when our current assistant moderator was first installed as an altar server.

Our training was a lot like an extra class and involved more than just learning about the procedures done during the Mass. We had to reflect on our thoughts on the Mass and our faith in general and understand the importance of serving for God. I took that idea with me when I finished my training and continued to apply it throughout my seven or eight years as an altar server.

I found that as an altar server, my faith in God has deepened in a way that I would not have acquired through my religion classes at school. The fact that I chose to be an altar server makes my understanding of the Catholic faith through my time at the altar even more meaningful. As an altar server, I also have a way to be more involved in my parish, and I still carry with me the importance of service to my parish and the community in general. As of today, I am a member of our choir and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

I did not first realize until a few years how privileged I was to even be an altar server. In some other parishes, female altar servers are unheard of. I remember a classmate of mine in high school, after I told her that I served for my parish, reply that her pastor will not let women serve at the altar, which we both thought was unfair. But it has not really occurred to me until a few days ago that there might be some objection to altar girls. So naturally, I was a little emotional. But after looking up “female altar servers” through Google, I learned that the view is not so uncommon. I don’t like it, but every person is entitled to an opinion.

The group of altar servers at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, both male and female, are some of the most dedicated servers at our parish and help to give an air of reverence to the service. We have servers who come and volunteer their time when they do not have to, and there are times where we have too many servers and have to find jobs for each of them to do. I knew a server about my age from another parish where it was difficult to get servers on a weekly basis because so few volunteered.

Does this mean that female servers are entertaining the thought of becoming women priests? Not necessarily. I understand that the priesthood is a male-only vocation, and I have no desire to be a priest. But just because young men become altar servers doesn’t necessarily mean that they will become priests; it also depends on how they are brought up and how deep their faith is. One thing I learned is that priesthood is a calling, and not all men are called to be priests.

Are we driving away boys from becoming altar servers just because girls are serving too? From my experience, I don’t believe so. There are still plenty of young men in our parish who become altar servers. In fact, my brothers would not have been altar servers if I were not an altar server.

I find that there are other factors as to why both young men and young women hesitate to become altar servers, including their upbringing from home and peer pressure from friends and classmates. When I was installed as an altar server, there were over twenty people in the class, but less than half of them were in my year and went to my school. In our class, and I went to the parish school, it was not that popular to be an altar server. By the time I graduated, only five people stayed as an altar server: four girls and one boy (To put things in perspective, there were about 22 girls and 9 boys in our class). The majority of those people stopped after graduation, and by the beginning of high school, there were only two of us left.

As for the picture in Deacon Greg’s post from November 28 “Where I was yesterday,” I would like to point out that those are only the torch bearers and two servers with thurifers. There are more servers that cannot be seen on both sides of the altar. Also, these young people signed up for the Thanksgiving Mass because they were available and wanted to serve. There were probably more people that signed up for the Mass, but it is up to the assistant moderator to choose who would best serve the mass. It just so happens that the majority of the people chosen were women.

I would also like to bring up concerns about the women wearing cassocks and surpluses. When I was an altar server, both men and women were required to wear white albs and cinctures instead of cassocks and surpluses for Sunday masses. However, for the big masses (i.e., the Midnight Mass at Christmas and Easter), everyone was, and still is, required to wear the red cassocks and the surpluses. The assistant moderator of the altar servers at our parish understands that, technically, women shouldn’t wear cassocks and surpluses at all. However, our church chooses what altar servers wear during mass to give a sense of uniformity. Different parishes have different requirements for what their servers wear at the altar, and our parish is no exception.

There you have it.

I think our parish is blessed to have young people like that — and I think most parishes would move heaven and earth to have kids so eager to serve our Lord.

Scripture tells us to judge a work by its fruits. The fruits of our altar servers, as I indicated in my previous post, are many: great devotion to the faith among those who serve, along with beautiful liturgies that enhance the prayerful spirit of our parish. Every Sunday the pews are filled, and the number of parishioners is growing. Not many parishes can say that these days.

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