Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Female Acolytes and Vocations

With a shortage of priestly vocations, allowing women and girls to serve on the altar is counter to the cause. It ought to be an 'all boys' club. Of course, this practice has been sanctioned by Rome, as we can see in Redemptionis Sacramentum. Here we find one paragraph which starts out well and ends on a most regrettable note.

[47.] It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechises regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension.[119] Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these.[120] Associations for them, including also the participation and assistance of their parents, should be established or promoted, and in such a way greater pastoral care will be provided for the ministers. Whenever such associations are international in nature, it pertains to the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to establish them or to approve and revise their statutes.[121] Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in observance of the established norms.[122]

This was yielding to what is politically correct, another victory for feminism, and has not been in the best interest of vocations. It is disturbing to have girls and women serving as acolytes. This sort of statement from the Vatican sends mixed messages. We hear more and more from the laity how women ought to be allowed to be priests, then there wouldn't be a priest shortage. To allow girls to join the boys up on the altar gives a false impression that we will someday see them as priests. The Catholic church will never allow that, if the Church ever did allow for the ordination of women, we would be Protestant. What is interesting to note here, is, Bishops cannot require priests to use altar girls.

The last sentence quoted above, "Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in observance of the established norms." leaves me wondering exactly how girls were ever put up on the altar to begin with. It was always men and boys on the altar, never girls. The truth of the 'established norms' is there has been a trend of validating liturgical abuses in the Catholic church since Vatican II. If you do not like the way things have been done traditionally, do it your own way, eventually the Vatican will see the trend and respond. In Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II, Michael Davies has written about the abuses which were legalized in this manner. Regarding this particular issue, he states,

"Female acolytes were legalized, so the law permitting only male acolytes was no longer being broken--- liturgical discipline has been restored!"(1)

It is also disturbing that since the church has become more 'accessible' to the laity there has been a drop in vocations (at an alarming rate) and a drop in Mass attendance. We are supposed to be counter cultural when we are living our lives, counter cultural in that we stand up for what is right and set the example. Catholics were joked about because they actually were counter cultural, constantly concerned for their souls. Why is it that we aren't concerned (as a society) any more? The church gave a little towards making things 'better' and now things are so bad that we have schools and churches closing because there is no one in the pews and no one to say Mass. Remember the old adage 'Give them an inch and they'll take a mile,' it applies here as well.

Many Catholics today do not see and appreciate the beauty and mystery of our Catholic faith. It is not their fault. I like to say that I was raised in the "Love and Parachutes' era of CCD because all I learned is that Jesus is love, and all the books had balloons and parachutes on the cover. I've told my students this. It gets a laugh, but my point is that for a millennium things were done the same way. Then with Vatican II they changed the whole way that we worship. Catholics no longer knew what to expect. The Mass was different, the books were different, the priests were different, everything was changed. Parents and teachers no longer knew what to teach kids about the faith. Everything was too different too fast. We see the end result of 'Love and Parachutes' every week in our classrooms and in the pews. The result is that we have catechists who find the text books too hard to teach from because they were never properly taught in the first place.

In Catholic Christianity, Peter Kreeft states:
"Half a century ago such a book would have been superfluous, for Catholics knew then twenty times more than they know now about everything in their faith: it's essence, its theology, its morality, its liturgy, and its prayer; and there were twenty times more books like this one being written."(2)

That is the truth. The Church Militant doesn't even know what sin is any more. The people who are still coming to Mass want to be there, but most (not all) of the attendees cannot tell you why they are Catholic, and what it means to be Catholic. Catholicism is about Tradition. Novelty, political correctness, and local customs are not Catholicism.The understanding of Catholicism is so watered down today, all the aides we had in the Mass, the awe inspiring rituals that were abandoned, contributed to understanding. They made a catholic wonder, want to learn more. That awe inspired vocations. The understanding of Christ's True Presence in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and all her rituals made it clear. Novus Ordo services are so close to Protestant now, by design, that the average Catholic is confused about the differences, or lack thereof. Again I refer you to Michael Davies (3).

Differences Noted Between the Catholic Mass and a Protestant Communion Service Before Vatican II

  1. The Catholic Mass -- Latin. Protestant Communion Service -- vernacular.
  2. Catholic -- much of the liturgy inaudible. Protestant --the entire service is audible.
  3. Catholic -- only two readings. Protestant -- generally three readings.
  4. Catholic -- no lay readers. Protestant -- lay readers used.
  5. Catholic --clearly performing solemn rites upon the altar facing the East. Protestant -- a meal served upon the table, often facing the congregation. (The celebration of Mass facing the people is a pure innovation and a complete break with Catholic tradition in both the Roman and Eastern Rites. It is not mandated, recommended or even mentioned in Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. See The Catholic Sanctuary and the Second Vatican Council.)(4)
  6. Catholic -- kneeling throughout long periods of the service, particularly for the reception of Communion. Protestant--little kneeling; Communion often received standing.
  7. Catholic -- the people receive Holy Communion on the tongue. Protestant--Communion given in the hand.
  8. Catholic -- Communion received only under one kind. Protestant -- Communion received under both kinds.
  9. Catholic -- frequent liturgical reference to the doctrines of sacrifice and Real Presence. Protestant-- no reference whatsoever to the offering of any sacrifice beyond that of the congregation offering itself. Some references to the Body and Blood of Christ which could give the impression of the belief in the Real Presence.
Prior to these changes, boys were taught to serve, and it wasn't easy. The Latin Mass was hard to learn. The acolytes formed relationships with the priest through it all. They had a front row seat to all the miracle of Transubstantiation. They had to pay attention to ring the bells, to answer the priest. They had full participation in the Mass and they wanted to be priests. They wanted to be priests. That is what we are missing now. There is so much less for acolytes to do, they sit and yawn through Mass. They miss cues. They are not needed to lead the congregation in the same way. They do not have so much to learn. They are not right in the thick of things, they are on the sidelines. When you factor girls into the mix, young boys that age do not want to serve with girls no matter what they say. The boys who like girls have a ready distraction to lead their thoughts elsewhere, away from serving Mass. It is not good in any way. It does not help vocations.

Parents today are discouraging service because the priests aren't having the same influence on his parishioners. Priests of today tell me that they are not trusted by the diocesan offices, by the parents, by the parishioners, or by society. Parents are also encouraging their sons to seek the monetary rewards of a prestigious business career over a vocation of service, personal sacrifice, and celibacy. Without parents honoring the priests, and giving their sons the opportunity to serve, there are going to be less vocations. There isn't the sense of 'sacred' in the church buildings or in the liturgy anymore. Parents are discouraging vocations as a result. Because their numbers are dwindling, they do not have the time to spend with the acolytes as they once did. Some of that 'negativity' could be undone if the priests and the acolytes were side by side through most of the Mass, the boy serving the priest, assisting in this special way with the sacrifice. Holding such an important role, being so closely involved, what boy wouldn't at least consider being a priest, even for a moment? A fleeting moment is all God needs, that momentary open-mindedness, and that seed can take root.

(1) M. Davies, Liturgical Abuses in Vatican II (Rockford, IL: Tan books, 2003) p. 57.

(2)P. Kreeft, Catholic Christianity (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2001) p. 10.

(3) Davies, p.51.

(4) M. Davies, The Catholic Sanctuary and the Second Vatican Council (Rockford, IL: Tan books, ....)

For Further Reading (I'm sure there is a lot more out there on this topic):
This is a thread from Catholic Answers Forum, looking at the comments, it is obvious there is a problem.
Girl Servers Cause Sexual Confusion at the Altar by David L. Sonnier
Father Fessio Files, scroll down a bit to find the question about female servers.
Zenit Dispatch on Female Altar Servers Question answered by Father Edward McNamara


a thorn in the pew said...

This is all very true but very sad. The pendulum definately needs to swing back in the way of Catholic tradition. Other than technology, I reject most "modern" notions and inventions. There are far too many lay people and girls involved in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Lu said...

Very scholarly....and informative....Lu

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

very good article :), found my way here via digi.

Lily said...

Thank you, Joe. Welcome! I love digi's blog, it is one of my faves! Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

last week our class held a similar discussion about this topic and you show something we haven't covered yet, appreciate that.

- Laura

Anonymous said...

Nice post, kind of drawn out though. Really good subject matter though.

believej316@gmail.com said...

I was just curious who you meant when you said 'Protestants'. I find your descriptions to be, while researched, fairly foreign to this Protestant. Perhaps you mean Anglican or Episcopalian only? Also I was wondering why you are attached to the traditions of the church as you set them out. I am not saying they are bad at all but as a theology student I am curious where in the Bible these practices are laid out. Thank you for writing this, I find it very interesting.

Anonymous said...

J'ai appris des choses interessantes grace a vous, et vous m'avez aide a resoudre un probleme, merci.

- Daniel