In Defense of Altar Boys

In Defense of Altar Boys

Last week I wrote about the importance of all-boys clubs. My jumping-off point was the decision of the Boy Scouts to drop “Boy” from the name and to open the group to girls. But the push to include girls in all-boy groups isn’t confined to secular organizations like the Boy Scouts. It’s also been evident in the Catholic Church for decades now. From time immemorial, only males could serve at the altar during a Catholic liturgy. However, in the 1970’s (the decade that virtue and taste forgot), parishes began to allow girls to be altar “boys” (renamed “altar servers” to be inclusive). This was unlawful under the discipline of the Church, but most bishops turned a blind eye.

Eventually, the practice was made lawful by Pope St. John Paul II (one of the bigger mistakes of his pontificate). Now almost every Catholic parish in the country (and the world) has girl altar servers. The argument is that they can serve just as well as boys (which is true) and that there’s no doctrinal reason to prohibit them from serving (also true). It’s also argued that allowing girls to serve makes them more “involved” in the parish and therefore more likely to remain Catholic as they get older. There’s no evidence to back this up, and of course for centuries girls weren’t allowed to serve at the altar and we didn’t see a drop in female membership then.

But the real problems with allowing girls to be altar servers aren’t even addressed in these pro-altar girl arguments.

Boys to Men

First, having all-male servers allows boys a time to be together without girls. As I noted in my previous article, this fosters a healthier masculinity in boys. It also fosters a healthier spiritual masculinity. Like everything else, how men and women “do” religion is often fundamentally different. Men often see religion in militaristic tones, whereas women see it more in terms of relationships. Neither is wrong, just different. Men will practice their faith in terms of fighting a battle: a battle against temptation, against the world, against the devil and his fallen angels. Women, on the other hand, often practice a more relationship-based spirituality. They practice their faith out of devotion to their beloved, Jesus Christ.

(As an aside, this is why the modern, one-sided emphasis on Christianity as a relationship is damaging. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve seen so many men leave the practice of the faith at a time when we only focus on the relationship aspects of following Christ.)

When my son was eight years old, he had expressed no interest in being an altar server. Our parish was a typical one, and we had both boys and girls serving at the altar. Then we moved to another state, and began attending a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), which only allowed altar boys. Almost immediately he expressed an interest in serving.

Why the change? Did he have deep-seated anti-woman, chauvinistic feelings? Did he think girls were unworthy to serve and be in his presence? No, he was just a normal, healthy boy who was in the developmental stage where he wanted to hang out with other boys. When he saw boys serving at the altar, being serious and reverent, he was naturally attracted to it.

I also believe the military-like aspects of serving the TLM attracted him. Here were boys standing at attention, following orders, and moving in unison to achieve their goal. Just like a military organization. Although our society now allows women to fight in battle (another terrible surrender to radical feminism), most people still naturally see military service as the purview of men. Likewise for service at the altar. By letting girls serve at the altar, we are feminizing the activity, and thus making it less attractive to the boys.

(For a very sad case of how the inclusion of girls at the altar impacted one young man, read this article: What Being an Altar Boy Once Meant to a Former Gay Man.)

Training for the Priesthood

Another problem with altar girls is that service at the altar is supposed to dispose boys to the priesthood. It’s not that every altar boy will be a priest, but priests often come from altar boys. Allowing girls to serve at the altar while not allowing them to be priests is cruel, to be frank. It’s like letting a kid practice with a team, but then not allowing him to play in the game. Of course, some think the answer is to allow women priests, but Our Lord already precluded that possibility.

When girls serve at the altar, we make that service no longer about training for the priesthood; it’s simply another profane activity, like sweeping the church after Mass. Such an activity is an important service, but it’s not sacred, as the priesthood and service at the altar are supposed to be. Some might complain that the Church therefore thinks men are more sacred than women. Yet sacred duties are not about the person performing it, but about God who is being served. A proscription against girls serving at the altar was never a statement about the worthiness of girls, just as the fact that men can’t join a Carmelite convent doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy enough to follow St. Theresa of Avila. Likewise, the Blessed Mother isn’t “less sacred” than the Apostles just because she wasn’t chosen as one of the Twelve by the Lord (quite the contrary, in fact).

Further, having girls at the altar restricts the ability of the priest to really open up about life as a priest. If he has a mixed-sex gathering of altar servers, how can he talk about the priesthood without being insensitive to those who can never become priests? However, if there are only boys, he can reveal to them more openly what it means to be a priest.

Combatting Today’s Gender Nonsense

Finally, allowing girls to serve at the altar removes a shield in the battle against today’s secular gender nonsense. Many Catholics who understand the problems with radical feminism don’t grasp that having no gender distinctions in the Church (other than the priesthood) is a surrender to that radical feminism. If Catholics were to see a clear gender delineation every Sunday at Mass, they would be less likely to succumb to arguments that men and woman are the same. They will understand, subconsciously at least, that they are not.

Several years ago I was conducting an “Ask Any Question” session at my parish. People could ask any question at all about the Catholic Faith. Most who attended were Catholics who only infrequently attended Mass, or had some issues with the Church. I built a relationship with one of the men who attended a few times. He had a number of problems with the Church, but had a good heart. He also respected my adherence to Church teaching. However, one day in passing I mentioned that my daughters would not be altar servers because “I don’t believe in altar girls.” (This was when I was at my parish that had both altar boys and altar girls). My friend flipped out. He could not understand my position. He thought it was discrimination, plain and simple, to exclude girls at the altar.

I realized quickly that he would not listen to any of my arguments. His mind was set. I also realized how deeply the view that men and women are the same has taken hold in our culture today. No institution has resisted that view. Even in the Church, which is supposed to be supremely counter-cultural, that view prevailed. If, however, the Church had resisted the push for gender sameness, then perhaps a generation of Catholics would have at least implicitly remembered that men and women are different. But we’ll never know.


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12 Comments

  • Mother of 8 Posted May 11, 2018 1:46 pm

    Outstanding article! We, too, are a devout Catholic family who does not believe that girls should be on the altar. There are other ways for girls – and women – to serve the church. We do not have to be the center of focus all the time. You presented a well thought-out argument. But you are correct when you say most people have their minds made up about the topic and there is nothing we can say that will change their minds. Lead by example, right? And I love the picture that goes with the article, especially the handsome young man carrying the incense.

  • Pamela Posted May 11, 2018 1:59 pm

    Thank God for the TLM and the sacredness of male altar servers!

    At my former Novus Ordo parish, both boy and girl altar servers performed their duties as if they were bored out of their minds–yawning, fidgeting, disengaged, sometimes even more openly disrespectful than that. Once, after Mass, my husband commented to a teenage girl altar server (who had hiked up her alb, presumbly to fit more like a skirt) that she had been on the altar in the company of the Real Presence … to which she responded, “Real Presence? What is that?!”

    At our new and growing FSSP parish, I find myself in awe of the dedicated, disciplined, humble-and-yet-confident boys (some as young as 5!) who lovingly attend to their duties. I have found this to be the case at every TLM I’ve ever attended anywhere.

    • unglaublich Posted May 12, 2018 3:21 pm

      You can thank the saintly Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (and Almighty God) that the Roman Mass (TLM) is celebrated so widely. The FSSP, Institute of CK, etc. came along after the SSPX founded by the Archbishop. These other groups are a reaction to the SSPX to draw people away from the SSPX. The SSPX is merely doing what has always been done in the Church and is punished for it. That is why the official Church has to bad mouth the SSPX calling it schismatic, etc. all of which has been contradicted by many in the hierarchy. If you like the Roman Mass, you should attend the SSPX where you will receive the same doctrine that has always been taught in the Church and not novelties that are already condemned by the Church.

      • salesgirl Posted May 13, 2018 4:05 am

        Um no not to steal sspx people. They did it to stay in communion with Rome

      • Eric Sammons Posted May 13, 2018 4:36 pm

        I agree that Archbishop Lefebvre was an instrument used by God to ensure the TLM wasn’t lost to the Church. For that, we should all be thankful to him.

        However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to belong to the SSPX today. They are in an irregular situation, and Catholics should only attend parishes in full (and regular) communion with Rome if at all possible. This excludes the SSPX.

        Also note, I’m not going to let this comment box become a place to debate the status of the SSPX. That’s been done far and wide at other sites and there is no need to continue it here.

  • salesgirl Posted May 13, 2018 4:00 am

    Ugh Pope John Paul didnt make it legal, he said girls are permitted ( **not** mandated or required) **as long as boys are not excluded*** because that has always been the pool where vocations grow. But activists in the church exploit that by saying boys are welcome in theory, while ignoring the fact that they are excluded in practice, because they have made serving Mass so unappealing.

    • Eric Sammons Posted May 13, 2018 4:37 pm

      Making something “legal” is literally the same thing as saying it is permitted. 🙂

      But other than that, you make very good points.

      • salesgirl Posted May 20, 2018 2:33 am

        No it is not the same. The Pope said they **may** serve ONLY IF boys are not excluded. But boys are being excluded in practice, so that means girls no longer **may** serve. But everyone whinges too much about feeeeeeeeelings being huwt, and so proper action isn’t taken.

  • Bill_S Posted May 14, 2018 3:44 am

    As a Byzantine Catholic, we do NOT have girls or women on the alter. EVER.

    • Eric Sammons Posted May 14, 2018 12:52 pm

      You are correct that altar girls are not allowed in the Byzantine rite. However, I have personally witnessed girls serving at the altar at a Byzantine church. Let’s hope that the Byzantine rite doesn’t follow the Latin rite in looking the other way, then making it legal.

  • Maria Tierney Koehn Posted May 15, 2018 2:12 am

    Well said.

    Let them go to the Altar. Let them go and shine with the Lord. Let them grow close to God. Let them know who they serve in Life. Let them pray and see who God wants them to give their life oath to. (Holy Oath = Sacrament) To a woman or the Church. Let them bring their sons. Let them be Godly Men.

    I once was a girl altar server than was told the Church does not allow it in 1979 or 1980. I plea that we pray earnestly for hearts to change because it takes a grace. An act of God. It did for me.

    I jotted down a thought a few months ago:

    Altar servers

    I was thinking about how do you tell someone especially an altar server that is a girl that it is wise not to serve on the altar. I know this in my heart, but the words? I thought about this in Mass and the thought if I could speak to my 6th grade self what would I say?

    Let the boys and men serve God on the Altar. Let them. Let them stand together serving God and leading other men to Himself. Let them think of the good and the clean. The separation from evil. The rise to God. The wheat they are to be offered in a sacrifice to God to become Christ. To protect souls. To protect their brothers and sisters in the way they act, in the way they talk and the way Jesus is calling to them to some day be a husband or a Priest.

    Jesus called 12 men to serve Him and His own Mother to be their mother.

    What are the girls to do? In a big way I would say be in the presence of God and rest now. Listen, Pray, Worship God with all your heart because you are going to be a woman. You don’t know in your heart if your going to be a mother…maybe an aunt, but you will be a woman and you can’t be blasé about it you have to be close to God for your own good and those you love. You have to be for everyone because God loves them and calls all to Himself and died so they may live.

    You need to nourish your soul on the word of God. You need to be without sin. You need to avoid sin. Someday you will have children. You will take them to Mass you will have to walk them to the bathroom…sometimes 3 times. Sometimes you will have to breastfeed a child that likes to dine in a quiet place. Sometimes going to Mass will be the only time you will get to sit with Lord or even just sit and pray because your praying will have turned to action in serving your family. Your child or husband may be sick and need your care.
    Your correct words may not produce a correct action from others and you will have sadness and loneliness and you will need to lean close to God and His strength.

    I would tell myself to pray for the boys and girls. I would tell myself the day the classmate says to you that his father says girls shouldn’t be servers that you should ask him why and tell him what I told you also the day you are receiving the gifts and Michael begins a tug a war, bless him and ask St. Michael to protect and guide him always and let him care for the altar for Jesus so he can can serve Jesus and His people in a holy selfless way.

    Women, we, hold life. We are entrusted to care and nourish.

    I stopped there. It has been a life touched by God and that has made all the difference.

    God bless.

  • mracketa Posted May 18, 2018 11:05 pm

    I totally disagree about girls being servers. Those who serve the Lord in any capacity at Mass receive grace. Those young ladies may one day be nuns and in a convent they do not have boy altar servers for Mass the nuns are the ones who do that work for the Lord. Also, after Mass in the sacristy the priest has the sacristan their and family members so any personal talk about priesthood is shared with all present as well as being nuns. It is not something secretive like you make it to be. Oh and about being in battle being only males should be involved this is not what you should teach children who have to battle the devil. No one told me how to battle the devil and it has been ongoing for me since 2nd grade and you wonder why our world is a mess. Silence kills people.

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