Save The Altar Girls

Have you caught America’s headliner piece and the Endless Comment line on the above title? I was struck by the rector’s foray into it all. (see comment #7) The man has courage, I’ll give him that. He is right to suggest we shun the emotional commentary, but his allies on the only-boys front are no less prone to affective hysteria. I might say that includes the hope (the vain wish?) that a male-only domain for pre-adolescents and teens will ever bear vocational fruit in a decade or two.

I do have a little bit of time to explore Msgr Lankheit’s three alleged distortions of the America piece, and of the opposition to his policy in general. The cathedral recot is concerned about being m isquoted in the press, so I’ll take care to provide his actual text below, and suggest you read the America site to get the full context:

  • “Replacing girls” and “shunting them aside”– if one knows the actual history of altar service, one knows that, prior to the establishment of the seminary system, altar boys were “apprentices” for priesthood, and the service pointed to that specific vocation. It was actually the boys who were replaced at the altar by dissident clergy in the late 80’s and early 90’s prior to the permission being given by the Holy See.  So this all started with disobedience which is the epitome of clericalism.

The boys who were replaced were nearly all teenagers going off to high school and college. But the suggestion that liturgists and clergy, dissident or otherwise, decided in every parish to sweep away a chunk of males to make room for females is just ludicrous. It’s far easier and more logical to suppose that girls were just stepping forward to do a fairly public task they saw their brothers and classmates and neighbors do. There’s not really any liturgical reason why an assistant need be of a certain sex or age or vocational aspiration.

Msgr Lankheit must surely be aware that the Church in Phoenix and elsewhere no longer employs a seminary system for high schools, and not every priest today even went to an undergraduate seminary. There’s a long gap between a boy finishing up service at the altar in 8th grade, or even senior year in high school, and the mature, adult discernment for seminary.

I think very little of the hysterical allusion to clericalism here. What the rector is grasping at is the quality of elitism, and yes, sometimes disobedient people are elitists. I wouldn’t think of Adam and Eve as elitists, however. And sometimes, unjust policies are addressed at levels appropriate to decision-making. Altar servers of the 70’s and 80’s were hardly ever installed as acolytes, so the men-only prescription could and was easily interpreted as being de facto passé.

  • The “image of the priesthood today”.  The obsession with priestly “image” is the problem.  The first step in ending the confusion/distortion for this publication’s readers would be for the editor to share Vatican II’s actual teaching on the identity (i.e. Sacramental character) of the priest.  That is, unless one dissents from the Church’s theology of priesthood.

To suggest that one’s opponents are dissenters is an easy step often seen in the debates of the world. Discredit the opposition, rather than engage the actual arguments as being vacant of the quality of authentic theology.

I do think there’s an obsession with the “image” of the priest today, but it nearly always comes from elitists in the clergy. People are more than willing to embrace their priests as leaders, moral guides, preachers, teachers, and men of prayer. It seems pretty clear to me who has the corner office, who wears the vestments, who authorizes bills to be paid (if not signing the checks), who hires and lays off, who sets the tone, and who gets face time outside of the red-n-black for a handful of minutes every Sunday–not to mention most days of the week.

    • “The policy of John Paul II”.  (Could you not, at least, have referred to him as “Blessed” or “Pope”?) Presenting the Holy Father’s clear articulation of the Church’s teaching as a policy is a transparent attempt to frame Church teaching as arbitrary and, therefore, changeable.

    I’m not sure where Msgr Lankheit is going on this one. When I see popes referenced in church documents, I don’t see “Pope” or other titles applied.

And in context of his decision, Msgr Lankheit’s decision is indeed a policy, however well- or ill-rooted in theology or pastoral practice it might be.

My own sense of the policy for male-only altar servers at the Phoenix cathedral is that while within the bounds of what a cathedral rector may do, it seems to be needlessly provocative and imprudent. In other words, something the rector likely should not do.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Save The Altar Girls

  1. I have said it on VN, and I will say it here: altar girls would be good deaconesses.

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