"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mommas, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up To Be Altar Boys

 | January 17, 2013 AD
The title of this post is meant to be tongue-in-cheek and not inflammatory. For those that simply can’t get past it, and are incensed: read on anyway as it is just that important.
For those of you that haven’t seen the very powerful “Altar Server” video filmed at St. Theresa’s in Sugarland, Texas (famous for their wonderful Catholic school) please take a few minutes and watch it:

The reason that boys, and not girls, should serve at the Altar has nothing to do with girls. It has everything to do with vocations and the lack of men, specifically fathers, that attend Mass. Priestly vocations and young fathers are the two demographics that are in most need in the Catholic Church, and yet we ignore the most obvious means to help correct the problem.
Fostering Vocations:
We should be encouraging boys, and only boys if possible, to serve at the Altar in a reverent way. That means instructing them, mentoring them, dressing them, and providing for them in a way that not only encourages reverence but promotes it beyond the servers themselves.
When the narrator says that when “anyone on the Altar doesn’t act like it is really God, or that it is… the most important act in human history…” What he means is that we can’t just grab anyone teach them their “parts” one Saturday and expect them to understand their role and act reverently. We can’t throw what amounts to a bath robe on a middle school boy, pair him with a middle school girl, and expect him to focus his attention on God in reverent way. We must not be lazy about this and we must not think about ourselves. This is about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – Jesus.
There is nothing wrong with Altar servers being girls in today’s Church, since we have transitioned the position to the laity, but for the fact that it takes a spot away from boys and the male/female tension that it sometimes creates detracts from their role in serving. The fact that there may not be enough boys who “want” to serve in a parish doesn’t mean that the solution is – “let girls serve” any more than the solution to the lack of priests should be “let women be priests.” Although the reasons why girls shouldn’t serve, is quite different from the reality that women can’t be a priest.
Time and time again we hear about how World Youth Day has a huge impact on our youth, and how a large percentage of young priests say that a determining factor in their vocational calling was attending WYD. What we ignore is that most of these boys were also altar servers. The correlation is clear, and the causation should be just as apparent. Serving at the Altar is such an obvious mentorship for young men by the priesthood that we should be shouting from the rooftops our new server programs that we are implementing in our parishes. I can tell you from experience – the parishes with the best male focused altar serving programs are the parishes that are the most vibrant, produce the most vocations, and often have the best overall “health” as a parish.
The Absent Father Syndrome:
Aside from priestly vocations lacking, the other main demographic that is missing in the modern parish is the young adult male. The 18-40 male, that grew up Catholic but has since found better things — like football or attending a protestant church that his wife/girlfriend go to — to do on a Sunday morning. Yet, instead of focusing on captivating these young men in the best way we can, while we can, we sit back and do nothing. In fact, from a young man’s point of view, everything about being an Altar server in today’s parish is anything but reverent and special. It is scary, boring, and not all that important looking.
Combine this with the state of Catechesis in many parishes, and it is no wonder why these men are missing from our parish. So then why wouldn’t we do all that we can to foster the faith, and instill the sense of the sacred within our young boys and men? Why wouldn’t we create robust ministries within the Church and our parishes that foster Altar boys?
As I said at the beginning, this post is really nothing about our young girls, and everything about how we foster the faith within our young men. What we need to do is watch this video, take it to heart, and foster priestly and manly vocations in our young men through the reverence and importance of having them serve at the Altar.
A Final Note:
As I said, this is not about girls per se. This isn’t about not having, women on the altar, the ability of girls to serve, or anything of the sort. This is about how beneficial serving at the altar can be for young men for vocational purposes – both priestly and fatherly vocations. The idea that serving is “participation” gets the role of the Altar server wrong from the start, so that argument has no place in this discussion. What should be at the forefront of our mind is creating a way to foster the faith within our young men – our sons and brothers, in a way that will create strong, faithful, reverent, and courageous priests and fathers. To me, that is worth the effort of limiting it to boys, creating robust serving programs, and finding other ways that we can engage our girls within the faith.

About the Author ()

Joe is a husband and father, and with his family has recently moved from Alaska to Michigan. He is doing a temporary tour of duty with CatholicVote.org until November. Joe graduated from Ave Maria School of Law a few years ago and has since then been working in politics. His family enjoys outdoor adventures, watching and playing sports, and enjoying the adventures God places before them.

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