In Case You Were Wondering

“The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has clarified that girls are not allowed to serve at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass,” according to the UK’s Catholic Herald. “It made clear that the Instruction on Summorum Pontificum, Universae Ecclesiae, does not permit female altar servers at the older Mass. Universae Ecclesiae states ‘the Moto Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the Sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962’.”

“Permission for female altar servers,” the Catholic Herald notes, “came with the Circular Letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments of 1994. However, the rubrics of the 1962 Missal did not allow for females on the sanctuary during Mass.”

For most people, this will seem a matter of keeping the discipline related to the Extraordinary Form consistent with the practices of the old Mass.  In a sense, that is all that is going on.  But the discipline related to the old Mass is not arbitrary or sexist.  It involved an understanding of the link between the activities of the acolyte or his stand-in (the “server”) and the priest.  The priest acts in the person of Christ in relation to his Church, which relation is spousal and husbandly.  This is why the priest is male.  Acolytes and their functional stand-ins either tend to reinforce the male, spousal understanding of the priest and his priestly action (in case of male-only servers) or they can tend to obscure it (in cases of female servers). 

At a time when the importances of the ministerial priesthood bears emphasizing, as does the importance of attracting young men to consider seriously discerning whether they have a call to priestly ministry, it would seem that we need to underscore the masculine, husbandly nature of the priestly action and male servers, not confuse things with female servers.  For this reason (and others), it seems time to reconsider the issue of female altar servers.  Already the Church’s discpline, even in the Ordinary Form of Mass, restricts the ministry of acolyte, properly speaking, to men.  It seems time to consider restricting stand-in-for-acolyte functions of those we usually refer to as “servers”, to males. 

Needless to say, such a move would require a hefty amount of instruction and will be interpreted by some as sheer sexism.  Even so, we better get at it if we want to address the confusion in the Church about priestly vocations.

About Mark Brumley 57 Articles

Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.