Sunday, October 24, 2010

Female Altar Servers: An Impediment to the All-Male Priesthood?

Michael P. Foley presents Eight Reasons Why Men Only Should Serve at Mass. First, I am going to critique the strengths and weaknesses of his supporting arguments, history of altar servers (both male and female) citing papal documents, and then I will give my opinion on the subject.

His first reason - Allowed vs. Encouraged - is a pretty weak argument. This argument displays more of failure on the part of parishes, priests, and vocations to encourage and guide males to become altar servers and the priesthood among faithful boys and men.

Foley's second reason - Liturgical vs. Nonliturgical - is overstated since even before female altar servers were allowed women were allowed and encouraged to participate other parts of the liturgy.

His next three arguments - Mars vs. Venus, Function vs. Symbol, and Holy vs. Sacred - are strong arguments for a return to all-male altar servers.

Michael P. Foley's reason - Good for the Goose, Not for the Gander - is partially correct. The priesthood is not about being a Lord over people but is about teaching, serving, and espousing Christlike values to his flock in the normal day to day interactions, and during the Eucharistic Prayer Christ is speaking through the priest and to His flock while transubstatiation is taking place so in my opinion Foley misses the mark with this argument.

His argument - Top Down vs. Bottom-up - is weak. This is a weak reasoning since our secular society today already thinks the Church is sexist or chauvinistic and is not in sync with Today's Times, even with the Church allowing girl altar servers. The philosphies of both modernism and postmodernism are designed to repudiate, question, put doubt in peoples' minds and chip away at both Tradition and traditional values. As Catholic Christians we need to consistently defend, and promote our faith in order to dispel these attacks on the Church.

In Foley's final argument - Thermometer vs. Thermostat - he makes a good and strong case for all-male altar servers.

Below I have provided excerpts from the relevant authoritative documents.

Liturgicae Instaurationes

Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

Instruction on the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Liturgy, September 5, 1970


7. In conformity with norms traditional in the Church, women (single, married, religious), whether in churches, homes, convents, schools, or institutions for women, are barred from serving the priest at the altar.

According to the norms established for these matters, however, women are allowed to:

a. proclaim the readings, except the gospel. They are to make sure that, with the help of modern sound equipment, they can be comfortably heard by all. The conferences of bishops are to give specific directions on the place best suited for women to read the word of God in the liturgical assembly.

b. announce the intentions in the general intercessions;

c. lead the liturgical assembly in singing and play the organ or other instruments;

d. read the commentary assisting the people toward a better understanding of the rite;

e. attend to other functions, customarily filled by women in other settings, as a service to the congregation, for example, ushering, organizing processions, taking up the collection.

CITING THE ABOVE REFERENCE, JOHN PAUL II wrote, in Inaestimabile Donum (Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, April 17, 1980):

(18.) There are, of course, various roles that women can perform in the liturgical assembly: these include reading the Word of God and proclaiming the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. Women are not, however, permitted to act as altar servers.

Because of the way the 1983 Code of Canon Law was worded, some argued that the prohibition of females serving at the altar no longer applied based on the inclusion of both males and females in canon 230 §2: "Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation. All lay persons can also perform the functions of commentator or cantor, or other functions, according to the norm of law." In some dioceses, girls were allowed to act as altar servers under the new canon law, without any explicit decision on the matter from the Holy See.

The decision came in the form of a circular letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to presidents of episcopal conferences on 15 March 1994, which announced a 30 June 1992 authentic interpretation (confirmed on 11 July 1992 by Pope John Paul II) from the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. This authentic interpretation said that canon 230 §2 states that service at the altar is one of the liturgical functions that can be performed by both lay men and women. The circular letter, written by the cardinal-prefect of the Congregation, also clarified that canon 230 §2 has a permissive and not a preceptive character, that is, it allows, but does not require, the use of female altar servers. Thus it was for each diocesan bishop to decide whether to allow them in his diocese.

The wording of the 1983 Code of Canon Law was ambiguous since the prohibition was not specifically included and this led the way to a different interpretation (applying a hermeneutic of rupture from Tradition). But, the Code of Caon Law never denied the prohibition either. The 1994 letter by Pope John Paul II retroactively made official that the 1983 Code of Canon Law was in fact a reversal of Tradition with regards to women being allowed to serve at the altar.

Before I reveal my opinion on this subject, I do want to let you know that I was a an altar server for about seven years, while growing up. It was an honor and privilege to assist the priest in his duties. But with saying that, I do believe that it would be much better for the Church and priestly vocations for a return to all-male altar servers to happen. Unfortunately, I don't think there can be an abrupt change back to the hermeneutic of continuity in Tradition though. Plus, I don't think that women altar servers is the root cause of the decline in priests. (I think contraception is more of a cause of the decline of priests than girl altar servers.) Proper Catechesis needs to be taught better to our kids in both Catholic schools and in religious education classes. What percentage of priest's homilies tackle the tough issues like abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research because the priests are afraid of offending some parishoner? The Church is against all of these and if there is a priest that is afraid to teach the faith from the pulpit on a consistent basis then there is a problem much bigger than the question of whether woman should serve at the altar.


rewinn said...

Perhaps a decline in vocations is related to a growing respect for women.

What decent man wants to participate in a profession that proclaims as a foundational principle that his mother is less worthy than he?

Teresa said...

How do you think that the mother is considered less worthy than the father or son?

Do you think that a male is considered less worthy because he is not allowed to become a nun? Plus, can you prove that the Bible shows Jesus having women as apostles?