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29 August 2012


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Barbara C.

I remember when I first heard about this argument and people pointed out that in many parishes where girls were allowed the number of boys willing to serve decreased. Apparently this is a common occurrence...when girls take over an activity in great numbers the boys tend to drop out.

I've come to see how important it is to boys and men to have spaces/activities with just other boys and men. It seems to fill some sort of instinctual need for them. I've also come to wonder recently if the all-male priesthood doesn't reflect a certain primal truth about how men are more willing to submit to the leadership of other men rather than women.

When I was in grade school, girls weren't allowed to be altar servers. It always seemed really unfair because the boys got to hang out with Brother Tom (who was always known to carry candy on him and had the sweetest dog) and go on special field trips. I don't think I would have minded a "boys-only club" if there had been a similar alternate for the girls.

And the "we're trying to encourage the boys to be priests reasoning" never rang true to me even when I was in the fifth grade...after all, why weren't they encouraging girls to religious vocations?

I am personally fine with boys-only or parishes that allow both sexes to serve. Although, I do find it interesting that in a lot of parishes the kids stop serving once they reach high school. It seems like it would be even more important to keep teenagers involved if we want them to seriously consider a vocation.


Another feature of our boys-only server squad is that we have older teens serving. Generally enough that the most "important" roles are usually performed by the bigger boys.

It is run in a hierarchical sort of way. The roles have names like "book" and "torch" and "thurifer" and the boys advance from one rank to another (though if not enough older people show up, a younger boy is pulled into service). There are enough of them that they generally don't have to sign up for a spot, they just show up and everybody who comes serves.


An alternate hypothesis is that the kind of priest who cares about the issue of altar servers enough to limit altar servers to boys only on his own initiative is more likely to be one who is more closely attentive to the training and formation of said servers.

My experience in our current and former parishes is of altar servers both girls and boys who are trained just enough not to totally flub the basics. But there is little attention to details. It seems no one has discussed with them how they should stand and sit and kneel with reverence and not staring off into space. No one has bothered to suggest that they wear appropriate attire and shoes under their robes. Flip-flops and sneakers are not uncommon. I don't entirely fault our pastors, who are over-extended; but I do wish someone would take the servers in hand. (And for that matter it would be nice if someone would train the lectors too, for that matter, who often show up unprepared seemingly not having cast eyes on the readings before they begin to read and with no idea how to pronounce the names.)

Though a counter example would be my parents' parish which like yours typically has upwards of a dozen servers, all very well trained, but they are mixed both girls and boys.


The parish we go to is a physically small building (this is in Denmark, so historically the Catholic population has been really small) but with a very active congregation with lots of kids. Regular Sunday masses (there's only one, at 11 am) have 150-200 people present and some have to sit on folding chairs in the aisles. We have a really engaging parish priest who (I HATE how bad this sounds) really loves kids and he encourages both boys and girls to serve as alter servers and there are usually 5-10 servers of both sexes, occasionally more. The parish has a "young Catholics" group for kids up through their teens and is run by older teens and young adults in their 20s. There are always a couple of these young adults serving at the alter as well and they keep the little ones (as young as 4) on task.

Our church is a convent church as well as the parish church for this area, and all the nuns (there are about 12) sit in what would be the apse if the building had a transept, and they are also involved with the smooth running of the Mass. I LOVE going to a church with built-in nuns. They are awesome. (It's also occasionally entertaining as the nuns are Benedictines and the priest is a Dominican.)

I'm really glad that there are examples for both boys and girls present at every Mass. And in spite of the fairly modest size of the congregation (there are 1000 registered members of the parish in all) we have 1 novice sister in the convent and 2 seminarians in Rome at the moment.


Rebekka -- that sounds pretty awesome.

And I love "built-in nuns." :)


We've had this conversation at our house because we have two of eligible serving age (boy and girl) at a parish that allows both genders to serve. I read the book _10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of a Child_ by Anthony Esolen and he speaks of this point in his book. My husband and I read it and had several long hard discussions and then discussed it with our kids. Our daughter opted to be put on the "reserve" list. She no longer actively participates on the server schedule, but will serve if there aren't enough or for funerals (because, hey, one call and they can get two servers!) Here's Esolen's reasoning, along with a little mixed in from us (since you don't have both genders at this age):

Boys need boy/male unifying activities, activities in which boys are allowed to be boys and have a "club." I realize that sounds extremely cliche', but it is true. At the serving age, boys really do need each other. And, they need guidance from a man. At that age, most girls are excelling over the boys in all (other) things. When girls were invited to the party, the boys stopped coming because they were tired of being out done by the girls. From a maturity standpoint, 10 year old girls TEND to be more mature than 10 year old boys. Boys already get enough scrutiny from society, school, and even parents, sometimes.
Boys need that opportunity to be required to serve (do their duty) without the automatic comparison that is done when boy and girl are up there together. My daughter totally got that. She sees also, why having it be co-ed, there is a competition, albeit unspoken. Put in that light, I get why boys quit. Girls get tired of it and stop serving. Not because it's not cool or fun, but because that type of duty seems to appeal more to boys than girl. That's why, I think, when there are twice as many available less actually serve.

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