Cooties and Vocations to the Priesthood

Cooties and Vocations to the Priesthood

The rector of the cathedral in Phoenix has disallowed girl altar servers on the grounds that this will lead to an increase in vocations to the priesthood. Fortunately, he’s also encouraging girls to be nuns by letting them be sacristans, taking care of the “stuff” of the liturgy in a much more traditional female role (i.e., setting the table, doing the dishes and taking care of the washing and ironing).

Some of those in favor of only male altar servers make the argument that once girls are allowed to be “altar boys” then boys will no longer want to volunteer for this ministry on the grounds that it makes the church too “feminine” (unlike, say, wearing a lacy cassock!).

If boys aren’t altar servers, the argument goes, they won’t be inspired to grow up to be priests. Is this because what’s most appealing about being an altar boy (or a priest) is that it’s a “no-girls-allowed” club? This argument comes dangerously close to suggesting that the appeal of special privileges (and power) is a good thing.

All of which leads me to wonder whether the solution to the shortage of vocations to the priesthood lies in the belief of preadolescent boys that girls have cooties or are otherwise “icky.”

Isn’t it about time we grow up?

Credit: (CNS photo/Matthew Barrick)


About the Author

Diane M. Houdek is Digital Editor for Franciscan Media as well as an editor in the book department. She is the author of Lent with St. Francis, Advent with St. Francis and Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy. She is an avid knitter and spinner and shares her home with four rambunctious dogs. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she has tried her hand at urban farming and a host of other pursuits and hobbies.
  • Carol Melucci

    If taking girls away from the altar and putting them in the “service areas” is going to help increase priestly vocations, then the boys will have to pack the seminaries, because we don’t  have enough of them. Therefore, marriages will be limited, children will not be born and vocations will never increase. That means no more nuns either. God help us!!!  

  • Anna VanSant

    Thank you for this!  And yes, yes, yes!  It is time to grow up!  

  • Joanm

    Fear of the feminine is rampant in our Church. Yet where would the Church be without its female members?! If we are to be truly open to the Holy Spirit as guide to our Church, then we need to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit and Jesus (GOD!) have feminine characteristics. Yes, there is a lot of growing up needed!

    • Sgfinke

       Ha ha, too funny. Exactly where do you see “fear of the feminine rampant in our Church”? If anything, the opposite is true! People are so afraid of the masculine that they won’t even call God “Father,” as our Lord Jesus Christ TOLD us to do! Hee hee, still chuckling over that…

  • Ryan in Oklahoma

    Interesting approach to say the least.  My first reaction is that traditional gender roles are important to teach our children, in our homes, through our marriages, in our social gatherings, through traditional chivalrous behavior, and in our church.  But I pause to think that in our church we are children of the living God and not as gender specific.  I have to scratch my head and ponder this for a bit.  Jesus did appoint the male disciples to different tasks, as far as what is recorded his female disciples were not factored as prominent.  But then you have Mary as the queen of all the saints, but she is mother and freind, she does not take a strong leadership role. She is greatest by being the most obidient and most open to God’s will.  Women were not tasked with leadership roles to the extent that men were.  Is there divine reason for this or is it simply the product of social filtering of early eastern society.   That is a question that would have to be answered.  I’m not sure, but it is an important concept we should all pray about and be open to the answer. 

  • Kbaldia

    I disagree with you completely. I believe that what was intended here was a return to, what has been for centuries, the sacredness of the Mass.  As a little girl growing up in the 50’s, I never felt the need to be on the altar, nor did I resent the fact that only boys were altar servers. When the Mass changed, it felt like all the sacredness was removed.  Attitudes changed. There was no longer a feeling of entering the house of the Lord. It was now a social gathering in a hall where everyone gets to eat together and sing some rousing songs. Not much emphasis on the sacredness of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the altar. I doubt that disallowing girls to be altar servers will restore what was lost, but I praise the rector for his attempt. 

    • Anonymous

      The Eucharist has been, from the earliest centuries of the Church, both meal and sacrifice. Just as there can be abuses of the Novus Ordo liturgy, so there have historically been poorly celebrated Traditional Latin Masses. The sacredness of the liturgy depends on many things, not least of which is the reverence of the priest and other ministers. I don’t see that male altar servers are more reverent than girls.

      • Laudor

        Poorly celebrated Traditional Latin Masses? Big difference in that the Novus Ordo Missae is itself an abuse. When did a Priest ever “consecrate” cola and hotdog buns during a Traditional Catholic Mass? Or coffee and donuts, or Doritos? When was a Traditional Mass ever said during the middle of a three-ring circus? Or on a beach with bikini clad women and thong wearing men? When we’re animals allowed to defecate in the sanctuary at a Traditional Catholic Church under the guise of being blessed on the feast day of St. Francis? All of these things have really occurred during the Novus Ordo Missae, and in se parishes these sorts of sacrileges are common practice. I’ll take the Traditional Latin Mass please – where the priests don’t rape little boys either.

    • Jensenyetta

      Sounds a lot like the complaints about Jesus and his disciples made by the religious people of the time to me.

  • DM Reed

    And I guess its just a coincidence that the only diocese in the nation to have a diocesian wide ban on “alter girls” is also the diocese with the highest rate of priestly vocations? Give me a break…

  • The Egyptian

    I agree Diane, please grow up.

  • Steve

    Ms Houdek, Open your eyes.  Take count.  Altars are overrun with women.  Counting all “ministers” the presence of women is usually in the 70 to 80 percent range.  Whether it be good or not men are receding from any role except those mandated – well they are usually the majority if not entirely the cadre of “ushers.”  Some may see this as good or health.  I suspect the majority do not care one way or the other.  Be sure the vectors you have launched, advocate or satirize are truly what you think best – like a wave they are almost unchangeable.  

    • Laurely282

      Altars are over run by women?!

      It always gives me pause when people say things like this. Lectors, servers, Extraordinary Ministers…. These are ministries usually open to women and men. If more women come forward to serve their parishes than men, maybe we ought to the men in our parishes to come forward rather than telling women to stay away.

  • Trad Tom

    No, Diane, perhaps it’s time that YOU grow up. Snarky whining and oh-so-clever wordplay prove only that you have little respect for Sacred Tradition.  If I hadn’t read your bio, I would have thought that you wrote for a somewhat dissident publication.  Oh, wait a minute…………..

  • Greta

    Since women cannot now or ever in the future become priests and that is settled doctrine in the Catholic Church, this seems to make a great deal of sense to limit servers to boys.  It is often stated by current priests that their first thoughts of a vocation came while serving the mass.  I think that altar girl thing should never have been started.  And yes, boys the age of altar servers in the first year do not want to join anything with girls.  Once you lose them in those first years, you might never get thim back.  Seems like Christ is working closely with this bishop and dioceses. 

  • Maureen O’Brien

    Okay… what’s a server or acolyte in terms of the historical liturgical significance? A member of the clergy; or properly, a young man at the bottom of the clergy ladder and not yet clergy; or as a replacement, a layman taking the place of such a man; or as a replacement, a boy taking the place of such a layman; or as a replacement, a girl or woman taking the place of such a lay boy.

    It’s interesting for every young Catholic girl to be a pretend-boy or boy-extraordinary-minister once, but it’s not really the sort of thing that we should be encouraging as a normal thing. Being a pretend boy on a non-emergency basis is inherently denigrating to girls’ dignity and to the vocations of all laywomen, whether they realize what’s being done to them or not. Also, the visual of a band of young girls waiting hand and foot on one man is so unfeminist it’s not funny.

    On the other hand, being a pretend-layman-cleric-replacement is exactly the sort of thing boys get into, for whatever boyish reasons of emulation. Let them do all the serving at the Lord’s table.

    • Anonymous

      By this argument, I should not be allowed to serve as a lector in my parish, because that, too, was historically one of the minor orders. Perhaps I’ll suggest this to our parish liturgy director.

      • anthony

        Brilliant idea. Please do so.

  • Guest

    You are missing the boat, Ms. Houdek.  And you obviously don’t understand the sacredness of the Eucharist nor do you understand the role of priests.  No priests, no Eucharist.  Period.  Young boys need to see the priesthood for what it is, the essence of our Catholic faith.  I know young boys who are not given the opportunity to assist at Mass because there are so many young girls vying for time on the altar.  How in the world did you become the Digital Editor of St. Anthony Messenger Press?  We need people who understand our Faith in roles such as yours.

    • Anonymous

      I fully understand both the sacredness of the Eucharist and the importance of the role of priests. I also know priests who work every day to inspire vocations to the priesthood.

  • Sylvester

    Wow, I am stunned at the disrespect you direct towards those who disagree with your viewpoint.  Grow up? Is that what a loving person tells another adult who disagrees with you? Who are the customers that buy your products that you can be so disrespectful of someone who has a differing opinion? You really haven’t presented any theological basis for your opinion, just a shallow argument.

  • Smartuckus

    Christ ordained only men.  Women may not be ordained, and that is not something that can ever change.  Allowing altar girls to serve at the Novus Ordo table was a violation of the rubrics, even those in the immediate aftermath of Vatican 2.  But it was done, despite the rubrics, in order to make Catholics comfortable with women in the sacristy so that one day they might accept something as schismatic as women priests.  It’s something straight out of the progressivist handbook – incrementalism.  40 – 50 years ago most Catholics did not approve; today they accept servettes, women “lay ministers,” and ecumenical sing-song leaders, and the ultra-feminists are pushing ever harder for female “ordainations.”  To them it is about equality; but the real issue is not about power, authority, or equality, it is about humble service to God, and since God ordained only men, humble service to Him includes acceptance of that fact.  No, you should not be allowed to serve as a lector.  The circus of progressivism needs to be stopped; it is ruining the Church both as an institution and a collection of individual catholics who no longer profess a unified Faith; most “catholics” don’t know what they are supposed to believe, even many “priests!”