Mollie Wilson O’Reilly blogs on female servers fifteen point five years after the CDWDS loosened up officially on the matter. Ms. O’Reilly’s eagle eye skewers statements from the naysayers and doubters like Fr Fessio, Zenit’s Fr McNamara, and a parish here and there. I especially like her take on Weigelism.
I’ve overseen servers for most of the last twenty-one years, boys and girls both, before and after 1994. Dispensing with the popular mythologies, this is what I’ve seen:
Lots of boys and girls approach serving with a moderate degree of earnestness. They want to do well, or at minimum they want to avoid embarrassing themselves. It’s okay that serving is one more activity in a spectrum of sports, Scouts, music, band, friends, schoolwork, and family. Many are involved more intensely in liturgy and take to it in a good way. They learn more about the Mass, and they contribute significantly to the celebration of liturgy.
I have experienced young people being drawn to priesthood or religious life through serving. I don’t know if any of my young friends have actually made it yet. The closest candidate was a girl who served for me many years ago. I hear she is considering religious life these days. She also believed that other servers were good candidates for priesthood or religious life. When I hear the clarion call for servers to be part of the seminaries’ junior auxiliary, I wonder if the girl-naysayers feel we have the women religious situation nailed down and wrapped up tight.
I’ve known a number of unfortunate boys and girls who served because it was their parents’ notion, not theirs. They often end up sullen, inattentive, truant, and generally unreliable. After many years, I find them very easy to pick out. The last name is usually familiar because the parents are frequently Pillars of the Parish. Too bad, because these young kids are given another reason to resent the Church and be driven away. I suspect we lose more from this route than we gain priests or sisters.
I endorse the value of getting young people involved in age-appropriate ministries other than altar server. Not all Catholic priests are liturgy geeks. Some are more inspired by theology, or by the Word, or by the social Gospel, or by a desire to help other people. If Catholics want good priests, brothers, and sisters, children should be encouraged to visit the sick and the elderly, to assist at soup kitchens and thrift stores and clothing drives. They should also have Bible studies, youth choirs of all ages, encouragement to be a big brother or big sister to a newcomer to their parish or school. I could actually respect the meme about male servers being the pathway to priesthood if clergy were more serious about the other paths that lead to ministry. The bottom line is that we want better Catholics from all this. On that score, I think most servers are led in that direction, and many cooperate well and fruitfully with God’s grace.
My current parish doesn’t have servers. Since I’ve arrived, I’ve fielded a few queries along those lines. Scroll to page five of last week’s bulletin to see my answer to a parishioner question. The previous pastor was cool to the idea; he preferred having the server duties divided among the sacristan and the occasional adult volunteer. If we were ever to institute servers at my parish, it would likely be a nobly simple version of what servers do in other parishes. No frills like albs or processions (unless there was actually something to carry) and the bare minimum of assistance–just what the priest, liturgist, and sacristan would need to make our tasks go more smoothly. In fact, I doubt we would even call them “altar,” just servers.Maybe liturgical servers; I don’t know.
Seen any good servers lately?