Servers 15.5

alb shopping 2Mollie 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?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Servers 15.5

  1. Copernicus says:

    I think in your parish you’re calling this one wrong, Todd. The role of altar server isn’t an encumbrance to be conceded grudgingly if and only if the tasks can’t be dispensed with. At least, if it is, then so is liturgical music.

    I think if you take the line you do, you’re promoting the idea that the ‘real’ Mass is the no-frills Low Mass, and any attempt at liturgical richness is a sideshow. This is something we musicians have to battle against – the fact that in a typical parish the hard core of committed worshippers are the the daily Massgoers, firm in their conviction that anything except the spoken texts of the Missal are an irrelevance.

    That’s not how it should be, not with sung liturgy, not with liturgical ministers. The servers are there partly for pageantry. How else do we invest our Sunday celebration with the solemnity it warrants?

    The same argument goes for robes, incense and bells. If those are high-church trappings, what’s happened to the source and summit of Christian living?

  2. FrMichael says:

    I think you’re skirting the issue of priestly vocations: do I read your comment correctly to indicate that in 21 years you haven’t seen a priest develop from the ranks of altar servers of your parishes? Either you have worked in tiny parishes (which as a long-time reader I know isn’t the case) or that’s an abysmal record which might back the naysayers misgivings.

  3. Todd says:

    “… do I read your comment correctly to indicate that in 21 years you haven’t seen a priest develop from the ranks of altar servers of your parishes?”

    You don’t. I said I didn’t know. What I did say is that potential priests aren’t the only thing I’ve seen in altar servers.

    As for the notion of pageantry, call me a doubter. I would prefer mindfulness, commitment, and skill. My current parish is the twelfth I’ve ever been in. Three did not have servers–all college campus ministries, as it happens. A fourth had them sometimes, but not at all major Masses. Two others that had servers did not have robes.

    Currently at my parish, the role is folded into that of sacristan, mostly. I don’t feel strongly enough on the issue to institute servers without a careful discernment. And ultimately, it’s the pastor’s call, not mine.

  4. Liam says:

    I grew up in a huge parish in the Baby Boom that had 50 years of boy-only altar servers and nary a vocation from them. Now, the altar servers in my youth were restricted to those who attended the parish school; us public school boys were excluded (our public school district was a top district, and my parents leaped at the chance right on the heels of the close of Vatican II to send me to it from K through 12), and I can safely say that the altar boys as a group tended to not to be of a pious mindset.

  5. Jimmy Mac says:

    We have lots of good servers in our parish. Most of them are over 40.

    They take it seriously, do it well, and actually seem to enjoy the responsibility.

    Many are women and would most likely make good priests, but for their plumbing, mercurial tempraments, lack of ontological adaptiveness and (worst of all) not the proper subservience to the Malearchy.

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