The Church and Women

I love this photo. Why? Because it shows our new pope washing the feet of both women and men on Holy Thursday. 

Catholics of a certain stripe look for holiness in anything that diminishes women. Righteousness is wanting to do away with altar girls, ending the service of women readers and extraordinary eucharistic ministers. These same folk are adamant that only people with y chromosomes should have their feet washed by a priest on Holy Thursday.

In each of these cases, they will insist that no, absolutely not, misogyny has nothing to do with their insistence that women’s participation in the life of the Church be diminished to spectator and held there. No. They are only making these claims because their liturgical/doctrinal/moral purity commands that they, “in charity,” do so.

After all, they tell you, we have a priest shortage, and the precipitous drop in vocations correlates to the use of female altar servers. Ergo, the presence of girls near the altar is what’s causing the priest shortage. As for women readers and female extraordinary eucharistic ministers … well … women, reading Scripture? Out Loud? Near the Altar? And women, touching the Host. Ewwwww. Then there’s the ugliness over foot washing on Holy Thursday. Everyone knows that when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He did it as part of instituting the priesthood, and the priesthood is all male. Sooooo … no foot washing of female feet on Holy Thursday.

Notice how these various excuses seek to sidestep the fact that every single one of them is aimed at women? Notice also, that every single one of them is an I-am-more-Catholic-than-the-popism?


Let’s take these arguments one at a time, starting with everybody’s favorite; altar girls = falling vocations. There is a historical correlation between the time that girls were allowed to be altar servers and the beginning of the drop in vocations to the priesthood. However, correlations are always a bogus argument for cause. Here’s why. A correlation simply shows that two events occur near one another. The Encyclical Humanae Vitae also correlates historically to the fall in vocations. By this logic, I could claim that it was the cause. Or, for that matter, Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency correlates. Maybe that did it.

Correlations do not signify cause.

One possible cause of falling vocations that I can think of is linked to that 400 pound gorilla in the room that unwritten rules say we shouldn’t talk about. The percentage of homosexual men in the priesthood appears to have risen during these years. Homosexuals are a much smaller pool of possible applicants from which to draw vocations than the entire male Catholic population. In addition to that, as the stigma against homosexuality goes away, homosexual men have lots of other options. I am not writing this to start an attack on homosexual priests. I am writing it to explain why blaming the priest shortage on altar girls is nonsense.

Let’s look at the next argument against women actively taking part in the life of the Church: Women near the altar, or touching the host = something unclean. I hardly know how to address this argument. It is so obviously misogynist and, well, crude, that it baffles me how people who believe it can convince themselves to believe it. A woman reading the scriptures is bad? A woman extraordinary eucharistic minister defiles the Host? Did Jesus despise half the people He made? I think not.

Next, let’s go to the question of washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday. You know: Washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday = heresy or some such. To talk about this intelligently, we need to pause for a moment and consider where the custom of Holy Thursday foot washing came from. It began when Jesus washed the disciples feet at the Last Supper.


“Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus asked the apostles after he washed their feet. “I have given you an example to follow.” 

He said this to men who, not so long before, were arguing about who was going to be greatest in His coming Kingdom. They didn’t get it. After three years of watching Him talk to the woman at the well, refuse to condemn the woman taken in adultery, teaching Mary and Martha and obeying His Mother at the wedding at Cana, they still didn’t get it.

He came for the least of these. And in all the world, no one is more consistently the least of these than women. Every society has it’s discriminated against. But no matter who else falls to the bottom of things, in every society, there is also always women who are beaten, raped, murdered, bought, sold and belittled from birth to death.

“Do you know what I have done to you?”  He instituted the priesthood that night, and by washing their feet, he was teaching them to be priests. “I have given you an example to follow,” He told them. 

The people who are so adamant that no woman’s foot should be washed base their argument on the fact that Jesus instituted the priesthood that night. In some translations, the Scriptures say, “… now you should wash one another’s feet.” These folks try to take that literally, without taking it too literally. It means, they say, no women. But, if you really want to be literal about it, it means only the Apostles. Taken that far, we would probably have bishops, washing each other’s feet in a room by themselves and that would be Holy Thursday.

Does anybody think that’s what Jesus intended?

I think that if you want to follow the spirit of the act, you should probably go out on the streets and bring in homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes and wash their feet. I think what Jesus was trying to tell the apostles — and us — is that they were wrong when they argued over who would be greatest in His Kingdom. They were wrong when they thought that they were following a Teacher Who would give them the power to lord it over all the rest of humanity. He wasn’t making them kings. He was making them servants.

He was also teaching us, all of us who take His name, that we should be servants. Washing feet on Holy Thursday is a testament of humility on the part of the priesthood of Christ. it is an action of profound meaning that tells all of us what the priesthood is and who it serves. When your parish priest goes down on his knees and washes and kisses the feet of twelve of his parishioners, he is acting out the meaning of the priesthood itself. He is demonstrating what in persona Christi means.

“Feed my sheep,” Jesus told Peter. He didn’t say feed my rams. He also didn’t say feed my ewes. He said feed them all, male and female, young and old, weak and strong, without discrimination or turning any of them away.

Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of all people, everywhere. In my humble and theologically ignorant opinion, if you don’t “get” that, then you don’t “get” Jesus. If you don’t understand that to your core, then you have never met the Lord I encountered on that day long ago when I said, “Forgive me.”

Do you know what I have done to you, he asked. I have given you an example to follow. 

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  • Robert King

    Female altar servers have been explicitly allowed, throughout the entire Church, by the Congregation for Divine Worship (subject always to the prescriptions of the local bishop).

    Female readers are allowed in Canon Law (Canon 230 #2) because “laity” includes both men and women.

    The only possible controversy is about washing feet on Holy Thursday. The rubric mentions “viri” which is Latin for “men” (as distinct from “women” or “mankind”). However the USCCB has stated that, within the U.S. at least, washing the feet of women is permissible. At most, there is the possibility of some controversy over the symbolism of the gesture. But this is neither a sacrament, nor even a necessary part of the liturgy; so it is wide open to interpretation and change as time goes on. In other words, without direct guidance from Rome, there is no possibility of sin either in washing a woman’s feet, or in a woman having her feet washed.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I didn’t know all this. Thank you Robert.

    • Ronk

      Female servers are explicitly allowed, yes, but also explicitly discouraged. And they are supposed to be allowed only in circumstanmces where the parish is not able to get enough boys or men to do the job, or in circumstanmces where this would be impossible (e.g. Mass said in an enclosed convent of nuns). And any bishop, and any parish priest, can decide that there will be no female altarr servers in his diocese or parish. And a bishop does not have the power to force a parish to have female altar servers if the parish priest opposes it.

      In practice what happens is that all parishes I know advertise for altar servers without any discrimination. Instead of what they are supposed to be doing – advertise for men or boys, THEN if unable to get sufficient male servers so that the celebration of Mass would be unduly impaired, only then should they advertise for women or girls to serve. That is what Rome says.

      • Ted Seeber

        And like I said below- the more girls who sign up to be altar servers, the fewer boys will. Sometimes equality can’t be forced.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Ted, this is nonsense put out by people who are looking for a reason to justify limiting altar girls. What boys need are better dads. Haven’t you noticed the lack of fathers in the home lately?

          • Dave

            Rebecca….sorry, but it’s true. Boys don’t like to serve with girls very much. Our parish has made it so that the girls are serving on some weekends and the boys on others. Otherwise, the boys don’t really want to do it.

            • Michelle

              Thank you for this piece, Rebecca. The responses from many of your readers make me sad to be Catholic. My two boys could care less whether they serve with boys or girls. This kind of thinking makes me sick.
              Again, thank you, Rebecca for saying something sane.

              • Dave

                This plays right into the thinking that we are androgynous beings, and that there are no real differences between the sexes. The relationships between members of the opposite sex are different than those among the same sex. When boys serve together with other boys (and probably girls with girls), there is a certain camaraderie and closeness that naturally arise. When they serve together with the opposite sex, it isn’t really a PROBLEM, but their camaraderie is limited by the natural tension between the sexes. Perhaps some boys won’t really care, but some will. At that age, whether they have started to be attracted to girls or not, most boys will be more comfortable around other boys. If that makes me a misogynist, then so be it. I view it as being a non-androgynist.

              • Theodore Seeber

                If for nothing else- my son is reluctant to get dressed in robes for fear of looking too female. I could probably convince him to be an altar server if it was a boys club, but the way things stand, he simply refuses to serve in that capacity at all.

                You may find it sad, but in a way, I’m proud of him for sticking to a gender identity, and a male one at that, in a world where the assumption is that all men are evil rapists.

                • Sus

                  If your boys refuse to be an alter server because girls are serving, you need to work on how you are parenting your sons.
                  I cannot believe some of the comments in this thread.

                  • Dave

                    It’s not a matter of “refusal”, unless one is attempting to FORCE the boys to be altar servers, in which case I would assert that they need to work on how they are parenting their sons. It’s rather a matter of how INCLINED they are to be altar servers, and if you try to convince the boys that they should or must feel as comfortable with girls as they do with other boys, I don’t think you will get very good results.

                  • Theodore Seeber

                    So basically you think I should force my son to be an altar server even though he does not want to?

                    In my area of the country, that’s called child abuse.

                • pagansister

                  Theodore, do your boys realize that Jesus was wearing what some might call a “dress” today? The men in his time and long after that wore long robes, and today many men in the Middle Eastern countries wear “robes” as their customary, traditional clothing.

                  • pagansister

                    BTW, Theodore, what do your boys think of the clothing that the Popes wear or the priests on Sunday at Mass? Just curious since they seem to identify robes as only for females.

                    • Theodore Seeber

                      My son- singular- still comments on the fact that “Father dresses funny”. Of course with our last priest, he was still commenting on the fact that Father’s skin was a different color than he had ever seen before.

                      9 year olds are like that.

                  • Theodore Seeber

                    I do understand that. In fact, I happen to like robes. But that doesn’t change the perception my 9 year old son has when 3 Masses out of 4 *every* altar server is a girl, and 75% of the extraordinary liturgical ministers are women.

                    • pagansister

                      Didn’t mean to give you another son, Theodore. :-) Obviously I misread. Your son is 9—he might understand the robes etc. when he is older. As to being an Alter Server—-IMO, that is a choice that should be made by the child—if he doesn’t want to, no big deal.

                    • Corita

                      What I don’t understand is why you aren’t trying to disabuse your son of his stereotypes. Our brains– especially young ones– can make some strange categories but we are bound as parents to lead our children in questioning them! I have fours sons. If one of them said, “um, no, that is obviously something *girls* do” then I would say, “Oh I can see why you might think that because there are so many girls doing it but actually you are wrong. Here is why….”

                      I totally get how the camaraderie thing might influence some boys but to my mind, they serve or they don’t! It’s about the Mass and you just do your job; it’s an important one!!

                      And I don’t think parents ought to force their child to be altar servers, either. But, Ted, I respect your comments quite often and I have to ask: Don’t you agree that we darn sure have an obligation to tell and reiterate why gender stereotypes are wrong and destructive? NOT truths about male and female differences, or vocations…but stereotypes that limit how our sons and daughters feel they *can* interact with the world!

                    • Ted Seeber

                      I feel that the lack of gender stereotypes harmed me greatly growing up. Gender stereotypes are good and constructive from my point of view- they exist to tell us the truth, that there is a difference between the sexes and there *should* be barriers to create the freedom to do what we are good at.

                      I was harmed greatly by feminism growing up, to the point that it took most of my 20s and 30s to reverse the damage- why would I want to inflict that on my son?

      • Cynthia

        In working at a number of parishes comprising both Hispanics and “white people,” I notice that there are no problems in getting Hispanics to be altar servers, at any Mass, in any language, with or without girls, wearing ill-fitting robes or a complete cassock and surplice. The “white people” is where we have a problem. I think it has more to do with an attitude of being a servant, versus an attitude of “being right.”

        • Corita

          Yes. Absolutely the shortage of altar servers has *everything* to do with parents who don’t consider it, and don’t offer it as even an option for their kids. Which it is not just “community service” or a way to be better than other people; it is an important job of service to Our Lord and His church.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I’m not normally worried about such things- I grew up in a parish that had altar girls 3 years before the rest of the Archdiocese.

    But as I get older I have noticed one bad effect: The more women that are in positions of power in a given parish, the fewer men bother attending Mass with their families.

    Yes, it’s correlation, not causation. I can easily think of the alternate explanation that the reverse is true- that men are dropping out of the religion and women are *needing* to step up. And “Father is as queer as a six dollar bill” certainly has something to do with it too, in some parishes, as I know I’m not comfortable around Dignity priests (oddly enough, Courage priests don’t strike me the same way, even though they’re often gay as well).

    But if this trend continues I could easily see certain parish communities becoming *all women* except for Father.

    And that worries me, because the first experience we have as human beings as an example of what our relationship with God should be- is our relationship with our human fathers.

    • S. Murphy

      Ever been to Italy? he only way to get an Italian man between 14 and 74 to go to ass is to let him be in charge. ;-}

      • Ted Seeber

        I certainly hope that was “to go to Mass”!

        Though likely the other is true too, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for a Catholic blog.

        Yes, evangelizing men is a major problem in the modern church worldwide.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Ted, what kind of man stops attending mass with his family? This is a serious spiritual problem on his part and no one else’s. If a lot of men are doing this, it says something really sad about them. Are you trying to say in a backward way that more women than men are going to end up going to heaven?

      • Dave

        “Are you trying to say in a backward way that more women than men are going to end up going to heaven?”

        I don’t know about Ted, but if I was forced to bet on this, I’d say “Yes. A higher percentage of women will go to Heaven than men.”

      • Theodore Seeber

        The kind of man who sees religion, and religious duty, as a “female” thing, rightly or wrongly. The same type who later in life becomes an atheist saying bad things about “men in dresses”.

        And yes, I do think a much higher percentage of women end up in heaven. But don’t base this on OUR twisted culture- or even our Church. Worldwide, in all cultures, in all religions, getting men engaged is a serious issue, one that does require at the very least male-to-male mentoring. In extreme cases- there have always been religions that resort, like the Mormons and Islamics do, to gender-segregated services. I think such an extreme would be a step too far for Catholicism and would go against the Catholic part of the creed, but then again, so would the rush to provide “equality” for women to the detriment of the men.

  • Fiergenholt

    I have commented on some of this nonsense before and it looks as if I have to do it again:
    –There may be a shortage of priests but there is absolutely no shortage of seminarians for the priesthood. I am in close contact with officials at three major national seminaries and all three of these sites are at capacity and one is building new dorms to account for the influx. We do have fewer seminaries but the “Apostolic Visitation” of the late 1990′s-early 2000′s closed a lot of them because they were way short of standards.
    –You may want to argue whether Phoebe, in the Letter to the Romans, was a “deacon” in the same meaning we have deacons today or not but she clearly served as the pastor of that “house-church” that met in her home. Those early Christian communities never had permanent separate buildings for their Lord’s day gatherings so they gathered at the spaces they had. Private homes (and YES, that means “home masses”!) were the places of choice in those cities like Cenchreae.
    –Finally, someone told me this fact — and I have no reason to doubt it — that if we add up all of the locations where Roman Catholics gather for Sunday worship, over half of those locations even today are pastored by lay women — maybe not so much here in North America but certainly in South America, Africa and areas of Asia.

    • Ronk

      Private homes have NEVER been the “places of choice” for celebration of Mass. The only reason the early Catholics (and many others in modern times) celbarted Mass in private homes was because Catholicism and Mass were ILLEGAL and had to be hidden by pretending it was just a group of frineds who happened to be gathered at somebody’s house. If they could they would have celebrated the rites of their religion in purpose built buildings just like those of legal religions always have done. And the moment that the Edict of Toleration was issued (1700 years ago this year!) Catholkcis in the roman empirte began building churches where they could celebrate Mass in the full knowledge of the authorities.

      And those Sunday worship services presided over by lay women (or lay men) are a sad sign of the shortage of priests, not something to be celebrated.

      • Ted Seeber

        I read recently that the Japanese Tea Ceremony, was invented by a Jesuit and *specifically* designed to mimic the Mass when shadows were cast on a rice paper screen.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Ted, what ARE you talking about? :-)

          • Theodore Seeber

            I should have added the quote so that my comment makes sense.

            Ronk wrote:
            “The only reason the early Catholics (and many others in modern times) celbarted Mass in private homes was because Catholicism and Mass were ILLEGAL and had to be hidden by pretending it was just a group of frineds who happened to be gathered at somebody’s house.”

            That linked in my autistic mind to Jesuits in Shogun Japan where State Shintoism was the legal religion and Buddhism or Catholicism barely tolerated, which reminded me of
            “I read recently that the Japanese Tea Ceremony, was invented by a Jesuit and *specifically* designed to mimic the Mass when shadows were cast on a rice paper screen.”

            It does kind of lead back to the original topic- because the Tea Ceremony is done by women (the idea being that after the Shogun’s priest-hunters broke into a few hundred tea ceremonies, they’d expect that outline to be a kimono instead of a cassock and not bother- and it largely worked. When Commodore Perry came into port, he found Catholics still living and saying Mass underground 400 years later).

  • Matthew

    I came across this article through a link on Facebook and I clicked on it, prepared to be impressed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

    Now, it could be that I simply haven’t encountered Catholics of the “stripe” described in this article, which makes sense, since I grew up in a pretty liberal place. I have never encountered people who were against female lectors or extraordinary eucharistic ministers. However, I have encountered people who were opposed to allowing girls to be altar servers. While I don’t agree with them, I think that their arguments do make some sense and that this article did not even attempt to confront them head-on. I imagine that it would be frustrating to deal with the sort of people described in this article, but I don’t think that one should assume that everyone with such and such a stand on such and such an issue must be ignorant and crazy.

    As for why girls shouldn’t be altar servers, I’ve come across two arguments.

    1) The argument from the purpose of altar serving.

    Altar servers, before Vatican II, were boys who were considering the priesthood. They helped out at mass in order to participate in the work of the priest and get a feel for what it would be like to be one themselves. Girls, therefore, shouldn’t be altar servers, since they’re not going to become priests, ergo etc.

    I don’t agree with this argument because that function of the altar servers was practical and not essential. It could be changed without any problem in order to allow girls to participate in the mass more fully.

    2) Argument from psychology

    I have heard it said that, once girls in a parish start to become altar servers, then the boys begin to think of altar serving as being a girly thing and no longer want to do it. While I think this makes sense, because there is a certain psychological repulsion that each of the sexes possess towards things that they associate with the opposite sex, and that this repulsion is stronger in boys than in girls (check out Eleanor Maccoby’s book “The Two Sexes: Growing up Apart, Coming together” for more on this), I don’t agree with it because, as I said above, the function of altar serving is no longer an office which can be used by boys to explore the possibility of a priestly vocation. There are vocations meetings for that.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I don’t mind that you weren’t impressed Matthew.
      Your arguments are somewhat non-sequitur in that they do not address a core issue. They are also pretty much commonplace on web sites and blogs where things like girls being altar servers raise hackles. I haven’t checked it yet, but I think Robert King provided a link that may answer the question of altar girls.
      As for boys shying away from being altar servers because girls are doing it, I would think the problem may lie more in the lack of good male models in the home, especially Christian fathers who attend mass with their families, than any fault female altar servers. Boys need their dads to give them a healthy sense of themselves as young men. Young men are having a lot of problems throughout our society, and absentee or even unknown fathers are a large part of this.
      We don’t need to attack young girls and limit them to make better young men. We need better adult men for them to emulate.

      • Theodore Seeber

        One of the huge reasons though for absentee and unknown fathers, is the assumption in feminism that men aren’t necessary, because “Anything a man can do a woman can do better”, which is what I was taught in grade school in the 1970s and 1980s. That was replaced with “men are evil, cause all the wars, and are rapists” in high school.

        I do not find it odd that men check out of such a society, never to return.

        • Cynthia

          I think you’re making a gross oversimplification of what feminism means, though I agree that some women do believe it (and, sadly, perhaps rightly so).

          • Theodore Seeber

            It is the oversimplification that was common back then. From TV specials such as “Free to Be You and Me” to classroom instruction (including my rural school’s rather laughable 5th grade sex ed, in which the girls got textbooks and the boys got to watch a movie on “how to be decisive”, I still don’t understand what choosing what to have for breakfast had to do with anything!) the rush was to get girls more education than boys throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

            I actually really wanted the Equal Rights Amendment to pass- because I thought it was grossly unfair that I had to sign up for Selective Service and women didn’t (an early version of the no-women-in-combat debate).

        • Corita

          Ted, why does it seem like all your comments are basically some version of, “Well, men don’t want to do stuff because women are doing it all uppity!”

          • Ted Seeber

            Because that’s the way feminists taught me in the 1970s- that anything a man can do, a woman can do better. The unintended consequence of that message is- well, if the woman wants to do it, let her, I’ve got other things to fill my time.

            • Corita

              I know it’s been a few days, but I actually thought about this discussion while I was out of town this weekend, and talked about it with friends.

              So I can’t help but ask you, how can you be aware that your attitude is a direct response to destructive types of feminism, and suggest that it is even an extreme response…and yet feel no obligation to question it? Why do you not feel obligated to find the truth between the two extremes?

              You can do just as much damage to your son with the opposite end of the spectrum! AND BTW, Gender stereotypes do NOT teach truths. Stereotypes reflect something that is true, but are categories of the mind and therefore limited. The truth about gender is that there are differences but they are not prescriptive beyond certain basics.

              In short, I think you are copping out on this. And I only have sons but if I had any daughters I would be teaching them to be careful when looking for a husband that they stay away from boys whose fathers had attitudes like this.

              • Rebecca Hamilton

                Let’s be careful and not go at people here. There is no way for any of us to know much of anything about one another based on things we say in a combox. Be gentle with one another.

              • Theodore Seeber

                I just want my special needs child to try and not cop out.

                If taught that men are less than women, even if they really are, why should he even try? With his CP, he can just live on SSDI and never even hold down a job.

                Even if taught that men and women are equal in the eyes of the law, without mentioning that the genders hold gifts *for each other*, why should he try? He already has a ton of messages that he is less than other boys his age, starting with standardized testing that doesn’t take his IEP into account.

                I still see this as oppressing boys.

                • Rebecca Hamilton

                  Ted this is all nonsense. Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. We are both necessary because we are made for one another.

                  Your son — and you — are the beautiful people God intended. So am I. So is everyone. We don’t have to “do” anything for that to be true. It is a factor of our existence as human beings. We are made in the image and likeness of the living God who made everything, everywhere. There is nothing more beautiful than that. Original sin blights us in this life, but in the next, we will be what we were always intended to be by the God Who made us.

                  Your son is not inferior, to women or anyone else. Women are not inferior, to men or each other. It is the stuff and nonsense of original sin that creates these false notions of superiority and inferiority. They are not real.

        • Robert King

          I think everybody can agree that there is a lack of good male role models for boys in many homes these days. It seems that Theodore Seeber considers the cause to be systemic, that is, part of the educational system and perhaps part of other social systems.

          If the cause (or a major cause) of male disengagement with the Faith (and with family and society) is systemic, then the solution must be, at least in part, systemic. The question is, which systems are causing the problem, and what systemic solutions best alleviate or solve the problem.

          I understand the argument that allowing girls to serve at the altar discourages boys from doing so. But I have not seen any studies supporting it. It certainly would be worth studying, so that we could base arguments on broader evidence than mere anecdotes. Meanwhile, an otherwise valid argument can be and in practice often is used as a cover for misogyny, which has no place in the Church.

  • Subsistent

    In this connexion, FWIW: In Rome on March 2, 2006, Pope Benedict responding to a question-comment said that “at a charismatic level, women do so much, I would dare to say, for the government of the Church, …. I would say that this charismatic sector is undoubtedly distinguished by [i.e., from] the ministerial sector in the strict sense of the term, but it is a true and deep participation in the government of the Church.”
    Benedict continued: “How could we imagine the government of the Church without this contribution, which sometimes becomes very visible, such as when St Hildegard [of Bingen] criticized the Bishops or when St Bridget offered recommendations and St Catherine of Siena obtained the return of the Popes to Rome? It has always been a crucial factor without which the Church cannot survive.” (The Vatican’s translation.)

  • Timothy Putnam

    Representative Hamilton,

    Greetings from Tulsa. I often enjoy your blog and am grateful for your pro-life positions.

    I have to admit, I was a little disheartened by this post. What distresses me most is the assertion that any who hold those 4 opinions can only do so out of some misogynistic opinions. There are some who hold the 4 opinions above because of their own understanding of historical liturgical and doctrinal practices.

    Charity requires that you concede the point that they MAY actually believe it, and for non-misogynist reasons. They may be wrong, but it doesn’t mean they’re hateful.

    There are two other points I’d like to make.

    Some folks, myself included, would prefer to do away with ALL Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and it has nothing to do with “women handling the host.” Rather, it has everything to do with the recognition of roles. Laity do not need to “priestly” things to be important. The role of active participation doesn’t mean usurpation of the priestly faculties.

    There are very clear guidelines for when Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may be used, and quite frankly the vast majority of cases do not meet the requirements.

    GIRM 162. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.

    RS 88 Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law.

    Sadly, every parish with an aisle has 12 EMHCs because “We need them.” Hogwash. My distaste for EMHC has nothing to do with fearing that a woman might hand me the host, I always avoid EMHC lines even if the EMHC is a man.

    Tom Hoops wrote a good article addressing the wider issue (roles, not EMHCs) which can be found at

    Lastly, you brought up the vocations shortage, and I wanted to add my two cents. You brought up that some say Altar Girls affect that, you also mentioned homosexuality as correlating, and you mentioned that Humanae Vitae coincided with the beginning of the decline. Perhaps you meant that tongue in cheek, but there is more there than you addressed.

    Certainly the Liturgical Purists have a point that traditionally being an altar server was a boy’s first introduction to the idea of priesthood. But ultimately it is the job of the parents to instill in their children that idea, so for the sake of the discussion, I agree that it is largely a correlation and not a causation. The 400 lb. gorilla, however, is not homosexuality, it is contraception.

    Catholic Family sizes have shrunk considerably since 1968 and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because everyone was too busy reading Papal Encyclicals. We have become a nation of self-gratifiers. When we only have 2.1 children, and we need our grandchildren, why would a parent encourage their children toward religious vocations? The statistics are staggering. over 50% of women who enter religious life (a major source of Catholic Women in Ministry, btw) were discouraged by their families from pursuing the vocation. Those are the ones who bucked their families and entered anyway. How many vocations (both men and women) do we lose because their families either discourage them, or never brought it up as a possibility in the first place.

    So, those are my three points.
    1) Who are you to determine the inner motives of a person’s belief? Why would you accuse someone of Misogyny just because their views are counter to yours?

    2) Some who are against EMHCs are against them ALL.

    3) An increase in the priestly vocations has to start with a reclaiming of the marriage vocation.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Timothy, walk a mile in my shoes and you’ll be calling them misogynists, too.
      I agree that we desperately need to reclaim the marriage vocation. As for priestly vocation, I have no doubt that God is going to take care of that for us — no doubt whatsoever. Pray for holy priests and trust God. The rest will come.
      BTW, if you don’t agree with Bishop Slattery’s teachings, you should take it up with him. I’m a pew-sitting, grateful-to-be-here member of the laity.

      • Timothy Putnam

        Frankly Rebecca,

        I reserve the term Misogynist for… Misogynists: People who hate women — Not for sexists, not for people who are a little too old fashioned, not for patriarchal types, just for people who hate women.

        Nothing you’ve described rises to that level.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Tim, the term may not describe you, but the response I’ve gotten to this post — much of which will never see the light of day on this blog since I delete mindless nastiness — convinces me that what I am describing is, in fact, misogyny.

          • Mike

            Yes it might be BUT it might also be coming from TROLLS and incognito anti-Catholic bigots .

    • Dave

      Good post, Tim. I have declined to become a “Eucharistic Minister” because I don’t feel that it is justified by the rubrics. Personally, I receive the Eucharist on the tongue, and so I try to go to the priest or deacon whenever possible, because the EM’s get tense about having to place the Eucharist on the tongue.

      This brings up a pet peeve of mine. Last week, for example, promoting our parish school, it was announced that “many of our graduates are now lectors and Eucharistic ministers, etc.” That made me really agitated. So what? The mission of the laity is to serve and evangelize OUTSIDE THE CHURCH, to bring the Gospel to every nook and cranny of the world. Way too often, we act like we should aspire to being a “visible helper” of the priest in Church, when that is not the mission of the laity at all. Now, if they had said, some of our alumni are raking yards for the elderly, helping the mentally ill, and started a theology discussion group, THAT would actually be impressive.

      • Rebecca Hamilton

        The only quibble I have here — it’s certainly your right to decline — is with the implication that the bishops don’t have the authority to decide these questions.

        • Dave

          Certainly the bishops have the right to decide…but I can also read, and the rubrics are pretty clear. I figure the bishops think they have bigger fish to fry, and don’t want to cause practicing but faltering Catholics to leave because the time after Communion gets extended by an extra five or ten minutes.

        • Connie Rossini

          No, the bishops don’t have the authority to contradict the GIRM, which is the official teaching of the Church.

          • Rebecca Hamilton

            Connie, I know some priests preach this, but I don’t think it is entirely true. My understanding is that the Holy See does allow local bishops to make adjustments in the liturgy because of what is called “inculturation.” Also, unless I am mistaken, the “girm” (I truly am unfamiliar with these terms) is not a “teaching” in the way that those of us in the laity think of Church teachings. It is “an instruction for the right application of the consiliar constitution of the liturgy” and as such it can and has been modified many times.

            The particular document I read is called “Instruction: Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy.” I don’t have the background to fully understand it, but it certainly seems that local bishops are given latitude in certain areas of the liturgy. I haven’t read them, but the two documents that were cited in this instruction were Sacrosanctum Concilium from the Second Vatican Council, and Vicesimus Quintus Annus by Pope John Paul II.

            I am not a theologian or a liturgist, but when I see three popes (Pope Paul VI and Pope John I may also have done this, I didn’t look) celebrating the mass with female altar servers assisting them, I can only conclude that those who say that female altar servers are not allowed by the Church are mistaken.

            Again, I have become aware in the past 24 hours that there are priests out there in the blogosphere who seem to be committed to saying that both the Popes and the bishops are violating the “norms” or “girm” or whatever you call it by doing this. But, for a priest to lecture the bishops and the pope about the order of the mass seems like the depth of hubris to me. It also seems a violation of our Catholic identity which is united under the Pope.

            We are a universal Church united under the See of Rome through our bishops.

            • Dave

              I thought we were talking about Eucharistic Ministers here. Clearly altar girls are allowed now, though the way it happened (as with communion in the hand) galls me.

              Here’s the recipe:
              (1) Growing disobedience to the norms specified by Rome on some new practice.
              (2) Later, after this disobedience is widely entrenched, appeal to Rome for acceptance of the new practice on grounds that it is a local tradition.
              (3) Rome eventually approves the practice.

            • Connie Rossini

              Rebecca, I am not talking about “what some priests teach.” I was talking about whether bishops can change doctrine. I don’t challenge you on altar servers. A bishop can decide whether they are allowed in his diocese, but ONLY because the Vatican has allowed them to. They can never decide things like that authoritatively without Rome’s approval. This goes for Extraordinary Ministers of Communion and washing women’s feet during the Holy Thursday Mass. Neither is allowed. I spent a few years as a Catholic apologist. This is the teaching of the Church.

              Also, my husband in charge of the entire lay staff of our diocese and is writing the new diocesan pastoral plan. He has to challenge this mistaken notion all the time. Bishops conferences are a modern invention. They have no authority to define doctrine. The bishop backs him up when staff under him protest, “Oh, but the USCCB says…” The USCCB (or individual bishops) is totally irrelevant if it is teaching something other than what Rome teaches. Otherwise, we would have chaos–each bishop in the world teaching a different faith and having to be disciplined or corrected.

              • Connie Rossini

                Rebecca, please remove or ignore “neither is allowed” in the above comment. Of course EMCs are allowed, but in limited circumstances. What I meant was, the bishops can’t change Chruch directives on EMCs. Neither can they change the directives on the washing of the feet.

              • Connie Rossini

                And not just doctrine–also the official practice of the faith in the liturgy.

                (Honestly, I need to slow down and read through my comments better before I submit them. Sorry. I’m supposed to be making supper right now–kind of scatter-brained.)

              • Rebecca Hamilton

                Connie, whether or not this is “doctrine” is something I can’t answer categorically, but I kind of doubt it. I do know that I have photos — photo(s), plural — of our current pope doing this exact thing.

                • Connie Rossini

                  Yes, but the first thing I would ask about the photos is: were these taken during Mass? It’s not clear to me that they were. It’s perfectly fine and honorable to wash the feet of the poor, prisoners, etc. outside Mass. If it were during Mass… oops! But I don’t judge him for it. Lots of bishops have made mistakes before. And if he does it as pope, we can’t call him on the carpet, because his only authority is Christ. He’s not like a president that is subject to the law. But the rest of us will still be subject to it, unless he (Pope Francis) or his successor(s) change it.

                  As far as doctrine vs practice: the washing of the feet is definitely the latter, which means it could change, just as the rules about altar servers has changed. But we shouldn’t try to force a change, or ignore Church directives with the thought, “Oh, well, it’s going to change someday anyway.” Please note: I am not accusing Pope Francis (as Bishop Bergoglio) of any such thing.

                  • Rebecca Hamilton

                    According to this link, the photo of Cardinal Bergoglio washing the foot of the woman with the baby in her arms was taken Holy Thursday, 2005.

                    According to this link, the photo of Cardinal Bergoglio washing the feet of a mixed group of young people, was taken March 20, 2008, which was Holy Thursday.

                    Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis.

                    Connie you say that you “don’t judge him for this” and that “lots of bishops have made mistakes before” regarding this issue. Is it impossible for you to consider that “lots of bishops” including our current pope may know more about the liturgy and the mass than you do?

                    I don’t want that to sound mean, because it’s not how I intend it.

                    But maybe EWTN and the other sources which have convinced you have taken documents and quotes out of context and given people a wrong idea and “lots of bishops” including Pope Francis when he was Cardinal Bergoglio, are right. Have you thought of that?

                    • Connie Rossini

                      Rebecca, I think I have made my case pretty clearly by now–using actual Church documents, which were not taken out of context. I am not making myself some arbiter of right and wrong liturgy, as you seem to suggest. The Church has laws for a reason. They are in print and you can read them–as I have. When I quote them, you dismiss me. If you think I’ve taken these quotes out of context, read the documents yourself. Or ask Patrick Madrid, Jimmy Akin, or any of the other apologists at Catholic Answers. They will tell you the same thing, more concisely and eloquently. The USCCB in their explanation of bishops’ authority also acknowledges their authority to change or adapt the liturgy is limited, and they don’t list the Holy Thursday Mass as an exception (note: you still did not say whether any of the photos were from Mass–the day on which they were taken is irrelevant, if it happened outside Mass, which is what I assumed when I first saw the photos; maybe you have more information).

                      Also note that you misquoted me. I did not say “lots of bishops have made mistakes before regarding this issue.” I simply said “lots of bishops have made mistakes before.” Surely this is obvious in the history of the Church. An individual bishop other than the pope is not infallible, even if he later becomes pope. You seem to think that Pope Francis’s protection from error extends backwards in time to before his election to the papacy. I don’t know if he broke the rubrics or not as bishop. Whether he did or not has no effect on the law. And anyway, infallibility only applies to official teaching, not the actions of an individual. Individual bishops are human. They can err. They are not (in isolation from the Vatican) the magisterium of the Church. Cardinal Arinze (then head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments) officially wrote on this matter back in 1988, as I have already mentioned. Case closed.

                      And closed for me too, as you’ll be relieved to hear. :)

                    • Connie Rossini

                      One more thing. Jimmy Akin has discussed this online here, so you don’t need to ask him yourself:


          • Theodore Seeber

            Subsidiarity- Rebecca is right. The Local Ordinary is the lowest competent authority when it comes to interpreting, or even outright suppressing, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The Rubrics are an instruction, not a commandment, for a reason.

            Having said that- it is not within the purview of any celebrant to contradict his local ordinary on this.

            • Connie Rossini

              Nope. Read this:
              “Although translated for use in the English speaking countries these norms are the universal law of the Church for the Latin Rite. If in specific rubrics they are modified for a particular country, with the approval of the Holy See, such emendations will be included in a Appendix to the General Instruction and found together with it in the Sacramentary (altar missal) published for the nation in question.”


              • Rebecca Hamilton

                Connie, EWTN is a television network. It is a fine television network. I was confined to my house for a couple of months last fall and watching the mass on EWTN was like a lifeline. However, I do not accept their primacy over that of my Archbishop or of the American bishops or of the Pope.

    • Cynthia

      Having witnessed a number of people who said, out loud, that no way were any of *their* children becoming priests or religious because, you know, grandchildren, I brought it to the attention of my priest–who had never heard of such a thing in his life. Obviously, he was sadly mistaken (but perhaps, having returned from many years in the mission field, that’s understandable).

      I don’t think it’s always the evils of contraception. It might be, but again, correlation is not the same as causation. I think it’s much more likely to be plain old selfishness.

      • Theodore Seeber

        What, in your mind, is the difference between the contraceptive mindset and selfishness? These seem to be synonyms to me.

    • James

      Interesting point, Timothy, but it makes me wonder just how many vocations were poorly chosen in the “old days”?

      It is well known that the priesthood (and probably the convent as well) was a socially acceptable way for a gay man to not be married. Dan Savage considered the priesthood when he realized he was gay, but a gay priest talked him out of it. Not all of them held to their vows of celibacy, which has caused the Church many problems over the years. Now that gay people have more options, they don’t need the cover of religious life.

      Likewise, how many people from large Catholic families joined religious life because they didn’t want a large Catholic family of their own? Not every large family is a happy large family. For some people, the experience makes them never want to have children. (For example, Margaret Sanger was one of eleven children.)

      So yes, I would agree that gay rights and contraception has reduced vocations, but on the other hand, people who look to such a life to avoid dealing with their problems are not what the Church needs.

  • MattB

    Honestly, when I read this article, I think there’s something behind it that’s very valid crying out for an answer. For the “Catholics of a certain stripe” she describes, I think the fundamental question is, “What is the unique role women ought to fulfill in the Church.” I could point to any number of incredible contributions beyond motherhood. Probably the first, and arguably one of the more important. Look at the staff of your average Catholic School or Religious Education Program, and I think you will find a majority of women working to teach our Children the truths of the faith. I have known many women who excel at that work, who bring the care and concern of a Mother to the classroom. For generations, our Catholic Schools were run by good faithful sisters who passed on the faith clearly for generations. Even when it passed to laypeople, many women do incredible work with our Children, often with very little formal training. In our diocese, even the department heads for Religious Education, Catholic Schools, Youth Ministry, RCIA, and Family Life are all women. I think the real mistake is limiting Church roles to just the liturgy. Women make an incredible contribution to the Church. So what if there are a few gender roles. The gifts that women have given to teaching our Children the faith seems to me an equally important if not more important task than assisting in the liturgy.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Actually Matt, I wasn’t crying out for any answer at all. I was giving one.

    • Dave

      Thank you, Matt. Who gets to “help” during the liturgy is a distraction from the real mission the laity has been given. Personally, I think it would be a good idea if the priest/deacon assumed all liturgical roles so that the focus of the laity can go back where it belongs, to spreading the Gospel to every nook and cranny of the world. When we put focus on highly visible roles like lectoring or being a Eucharistic minister, and away from far more important tasks like teaching CCD, serving the poor, etc. we fall into a Pharisaical attitude.

  • Dale

    Quoting Matt”
    ‘I think the fundamental question is, “What is the unique role women ought to fulfill in the Church.”’

    Implicit to your statement is the assumption that there is a role in the Church which only women can provide. I think that is an interesting assumption. I am not sure that assumption is accurate, so I would be interested in reading why you believe it to be so.

    You mention the role that women often provide in teaching children, yet surely men are able to provide such teaching. I can’t believe that you are suggesting that men be barred from teaching roles in the Church. So why would women be barred from assisting at Mass?

    • MattB

      No, I’m certainly not implying that Men should be barred from teaching children. I only want to probe discussion. I think it would go a long way toward dealing with what I think can sometimes be legitimate claims of sexism in the Church for us to put some real time and thought into the unique roles that women can and do play in the Church. We have plenty of examples of roles reserved to men. Are there no roles reserved to women? Or roles that ought to be reserved? Have we really delved into the question? Are there answers? To me it’s a logical response to most of the controversy seen here. I’m not sure I have an answer, but I would certainly like to hear some thoughts.

      • Dale

        Hi Matt, I think you have raised some good questions. They seem to touch upon the different natures of men and women, which the Church teaches as being equal but complementary. But the exact difference between male and female nature seems hard to pin down, without falling into stereotypes based on cultural prescriptions. Obviously, only women can become pregnant and breastfeed, but aside from biological differences, how does female nature differ from male nature?

        The Church is clear that the nature of being male makes men suited for being priests, whereas a female nature does not. The same is true for deacons. However, beyond that (and the functions which are limited to priests and deacons) I am not sure that the Church has any other gender based limitations. Of course, only women can become sisters but the religious life is also open to men who wish to be brothers (if not called to the priesthood.) So are there Church roles which are restricted to women?

        • pagansister

          Dale, you have tossed in an interesting topic– what is the “nature” of being male that makes men suited for being priests, and that the nature of a female doesn’t make them suited to the priesthood? I find that an interesting term—the “nature” of the 2 genders means they can’t do the same job? How is it that there are ministers in other Christian churches who are just as effective as men—in some cases better, I think. Is it because the Church has decided that men have to be priests because Jesus was male? If that is the reason—that is the rule. There was a time when women were not allowed to be in combat—I suppose because that wasn’t the nature of being female, to fight and kill if necessary. That has been proven untrue. Just thought I’d ask—-women are both very strong mentally and physically, as well as compassionate and understanding. Perhaps those characteristics are male also? IMO, if the Church rules permitted it, I think women could fill the shoes of the priesthood. Yes, women religious are an important part of the Church—but there is still the submission to the male establishment.

          • Dale

            Hi Pagansister! :)

            Yes, the topic of the different natures of men and women is interesting, but the Catholic Church seems vague about spelling out the details. In earlier centuries, and perhaps as recently as 75 years ago, priests and others in the Church may have argued that it justified a strict division of work roles: women in the home, men in the wider world. The argument would have been that, by their nature, women are nurturers and men are builders (or destroyers.) I think that notion still has appeal to some Catholics, the Church doesn’t seem to push it (and perhaps wisely so.)

            What exactly constitutes the difference between male and female natures is unclear to me. However, the influence of the notion goes beyond the male-only priesthood. The sacred quality of marriage is in part because marriage unites persons with equal but complementary natures. Together, in marriage, a couple will find a completeness to themselves that they would not find as a single person. The union of complementary natures is why marriage is uniquely between a man and woman. Two men or two women are incapable of marrying because the union of complementary natures does not take place. This is why the Catholic Church considers the idea of same-sex marriage to be so dangerous: it fundamentally changes the definition of marriage.

            • pagansister

              HI! Dale, Thanks for your response. Guess if we could figure each other out totally, then life could be easier sometimes! :-)

          • James


            Some Catholics advance arguments against women priests that are not official reasons the Catholic Church does not have them. These arguments are often based on sexism or gender stereotypes.

            The real reasons why women are not ordained as priests in the Catholic Church is that the Church “does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.” Specifically:

            1. None of the Apostles were women.
            2. The Church hasn’t ordained women for 2000 years. (i.e. The Holy Spirit would have clued them in before now.)
            3. The holiest woman who ever lived, the Blessed Mother, was not ordained a priest.

            The Catholic Church actually seriously considered ordaining women in the 1970s, but when they studied the issue, they found that they couldn’t do it without saying something heretical about Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the sacramental priesthood, or the Church.

            They did, however, find that many offices in the Church were being denied to women because of sexism, and they opened them. That is why we see altar girls.

            The official document can be found on the Vatican website.


            • pagansister

              Thank you, James, for the interesting information.

  • Kate

    Representative Hamilton,

    A million times thank you for this post! You very aptly describe how it feels from the female in the pew point of view. I have striven mightily to understand and respect the variety of perspectives and most importantly Church teaching and rubrics on the various issues you raise here. I have really had it with lay liturgical snobs of either the “progressive” or the “traditionalist” stripes. I go to a parish which only washes men’s feet on Holy Thursday. I grew up in parishes (we moved around a lot) where both men and women’s feet were washed. In fact, I didn’t even know that it was officially “wrong” to do that, until after I was married and sometime in the 2000′s. All I heard and experienced at those “wrong” liturgies told me that foot washing was about service (not just priesthood). The message I’ve gotten at our current parish is totally different and one that is unintended – that the Church ought best be just for men. I’ve since learned that the foot washing rite is actually optional, so if this controversy is the result and what gets heard and experienced by people in the pews is apparently opposite of what Jesus’ intended, then maybe we should just not do it anymore at the local parish level. The diocesean Chrism Mass, which really is all about the priesthood, might be a better place to use that rite. Then it won’t be contaminated by the female component which seems to get so many lay liturgical snobs. I have no problem whatsoever with the great variety of liturgical expression and practice, from the Tridentine Mass in all its glory, to the regular reverently celebrated ordinary form. I know that there are all kinds of crazy stuff people grouse about that happen. I’ve seen some of it. But the constant harping on the apparent “feminization of the Church” because females actively participate in liturgical roles just has become so disheartening and discouraging. I’ve personally backed away from any liturgical involvement because so many of those varied expressions at liturgy are being discouraged by those lay people who think that liturgy needs to be entirely uniform and that Catholics need to march in lock step to the rules they want followed and actually attempt to enforce in some cases, like in my current parish. So, to avoid that kind of painful difficulty during Triduum this year, we are traveling to other parishes where their celebrations are more spiritually accessible for my spouse and I. We’ll be back at our regular parish for Easter Sunday. When it comes down to it, I just want to be able to have a spot in the big Catholic tent too. I love our Papa Benedict but I also love our Papa Francis, because I see a chance to focus on other things than all the internecine battles over liturgical practices, like serving others in need and protecting all the poor, weak and vulnerable in our midst – from the unborn, to the disabled, the elderly, migrants, and so many of those others we wish we didn’t have to help, as evidenced by our budget priorities in government at all levels (after all, we don’t want to pay anymore taxes) and our charitable giving (or non-giving) priorities.

    Sorry to be so long. You hit a nerve and I felt compelled to respond.

  • Edward Wassell

    Don’t you think that the largest problem in our society is with men? How difficult it is to raise boys in this culture. Hollywood has been attacking the role of the father for decades. Schools and colleges are built to help women succeed and compete in the workplace. Women have already taken over as the majority of the population in colleges and in post graduate education. They are now more and more assuming the role of provider for families. And yes, if the men of a society are corrupt, that society will have all the horrors and abuse of girls and lack of respect for women that you mention in your post. So I agree with the comment that the Church needs to actively minister to boys and men and find ways to prepare them for ministry, and if competition with females becomes an obstacle, then it needs to consider what is best in terms of preparing young men for the priesthood.

    • Theodore Seeber

      “if competition with females becomes an obstacle, then it needs to consider what is best in terms of preparing young men for the priesthood.”

      I think that yes, that is what scares me the most about feminism. Rebecca is right, but for the wrong reasons.

      Men are the weaker sex.

  • Rodrigo Guerra

    Interesting article, making some good points about altar girls but it’s also important to recognize and be at peace with the fact that women will never be validly ordained priests in the Holy Catholic Church. In 1994, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he infallibly declared once and for all that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” Please, let us once and for but behind us this very divisive issue and humply recognize that women’s ordination is an impossibility that will not happen. It is not a “glass ceiling” or the Church’s attempt to hold back women. Instead, it is an infallible recognition that men and women have different roles and that Christ instituted a male priesthood.

    I have the impression that catholics who push for altar girls, female deacons, etc are (maybe subconsciously) trying to advance the cause of women priests, which is something that will definitely never happen as explained above. In addition, I believe that having altar girls, although allowed, brings unnecessary confusion to the minds of young boys and to the girls themselves regarding the fact that the Catholic priesthood will always be all-male. Why not have the girls serve in a different fashion as lectors or sacristans ? To illustrate my point, I found it curious that altar servers in Italy are called piccolo clero (small cleric) because one of the main reasons to have them is to promote vocations to the priesthood among the boys. Why torture girls with the thought of wanting something they will never have. Instead, lets promote women religious vocations among the girls. Lets give them realistic dreams to be a holy women of God like St. Teresa of Avila or St. Catherine of Sienna who have been honored as Doctors of the Church. There is no discrimination of women in the Church, but simply a recognition that our Lord Jesus, as is witnessed by the New Testament, called only men, and not women, to the ordained ministry, and that the Apostles “did the same when they chose fellow workers who would succeed them in their ministry” (n. 2; cf. 1 Tim. 3:1ff; 2 Tim. 1:6; Tit. 1:5). There are sound arguments supporting the fact that Christ’s way of acting was not determined by cultural motives, as there are also sufficient grounds to state that Tradition has interpreted the choice made by the Lord as binding for the Church of all times. God Bless !

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      This post is not about the all-male priesthood, which I do not dispute.

      • Rodrigo Guerra

        Thanks for the reply. As a catholic heterosexual male, that attended catholic schools and university all my life, I can tell you that the main reasons why I never considered the priesthood as an option for me was the blatant feminization of the Church that occurred after the Vatican II. The vast numbers of effeminate priests plus the use altar girls at Holy Mass definitely didn’t make the priesthood attractive for me or for my friends. In my Jesuit high school, there hasn’t been a vocation to the priesthood in over 30 years. How is that possible in an all-male “catholic” high school ?

        • Mike

          You have a point.

        • Kate

          I understand what you’re saying above, but priests still have to work with and minister to women. That’s part of their job. Maybe it was a sign that you were perhaps NOT called to the priesthood. Unless, what you’re really saying is that the Church should be of men, by men and for men exclusively. Somehow, I think that misses what Jesus did in His own earthly ministry. From what scripture says, Jesus certainly dealt with men, women and children. I’ve been watching and experiencing this backlash of sorts against women in the Church. Like Representative Hamilton, I too am a wife and a mother to sons. I’m the only female in my household. We all have to live with each other, male and female, and learn how to get along for our common good. N.B. I discerned and seriously considered a vocation to religious life, only to discover my true calling. My husband and I always talk of vocations and serving the Church with our children. Fortunately, we have a relative and a friend who are priests, so our sons are exposed to their examples and lives. It comes down to the importance of both mother and FATHER in our children’s lives. Children learn what they actually live.

  • Connie Rossini

    I’m going to modify that a bit. From a link someone posted above, I find that the USCCB website still posts claims that the Vatican did not respond to the liturgy committee’s 1987 teaching that women could be allowed to take part in the washing of the feet. What we have to realize first is that the USCCB has no authority to alter official directives of Rome. A bishops’ conference has very limited authority. All proposed changes to Vatican directives are supposed to be submitted to Rome and approved before being implemented. This one was not. In fact, the Congregation for Divine Worship released new instructions about Holy Week that contained this statement:

    “The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day [Holy Thursday], represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve.’ This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.” (Congregation for Divine Worship, “Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts,” January 16, 1988.)

    The USCCB website is wrong. I’m not sure who maintains that particular page, but it directly contradicts what the Vatican has said. You can find more information here and here

    My point is that many of us who insist on only men having their feet washed do so because that is what the Church says, not because of some misguided personal feelings about women.

    Sorry if my former comment was a bit caustic. I am more reasonable now.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      We all have our caustic moments Connie. :-)

      “Sorry if my former comment was a bit caustic. I am more reasonable now.”

    • Jason

      Well put. I think this discipline has fallen off the rails. Get back on tack folks.

  • Mike

    PLEASE let’s not resort to name calling people misogynists if they have a very strongly held belief about the mass! Let’s NOT resort to the ad hominen attacks that are so much a part of the leftist culture.

  • Deacon Tom

    Rebecca: I am a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church and a fan of your blog. You usually have thoughtful reasoned comments on some very hotly contested issues. I appreciate your perspective on most occasions. I think here you have blended several issues of different degrees of complexity and canon law. I am disappointed to read such a broad-brush indictment of “Catholics of a certain stripe ….” by you. There are many issues involved in the different matters you raise. To suggest that someone who disagrees with you must hate women is a very, uncharitable way to address these matters. My daughter was an altar server in another state when we moved to the Arlington, VA diocese in 2000. Although the Vatican had approved female altar servers, they left it to local bishops to decide. The bishop of Arlington at that time limited altar servers to males. I would suggest to you, although I did not agree with his policy, he was allowed to make such a policy and I do not think his goal was to diminish women. And as you have read in these responses, there are others who may have problems with washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday that are unrelated to hating women, but have more to do with obedience to Church law. And by the way, you should look up what the GIRM really is, the Instruction on the liturgy issued by the Vatican to correct liturgical abuses, and JPII’s enyclical on the liturgy of the same ilk. The bottom line, contrary to your suggestion the GIRM is not just some general guidelines for the liturgy that can be changed by the US bishops when they feel like it. To change the GIRM, or obtained exceptions, that must get Vatican approval except where the GIRM itself has given individual bishops or bishops’ conferences some flexibility.
    I think you could have raised the same issues for an intelligent discussion without the unfair indictment of all Catholics who might disagree with the specifics of some of your arguments.
    “Catholics of a certain stripe look for holiness in anything that diminishes women. Righteousness is wanting to do away with altar girls, ending the service of women readers and extraordinary eucharistic ministers. These same folk are adamant that only people with y chromosomes should have their feet washed by a priest on Holy Thursday.
    In each of these cases, they will insist that no, absolutely not, misogyny has nothing to do with their insistence that women’s participation in the life of the Church be diminished to spectator and held there. No. They are only making these claims because their liturgical/doctrinal/moral purity commands that they, “in charity,” do so.”

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Deacon, I am grateful for the comments you’ve made on this blog in the past.

      I also am always willing to correct mistakes when I make them. Just go back through these posts and see the many times I’ve corrected myself when I was wrong. But I am not going to do that with this post because I do not think I am wrong. In fact, the deluge of angry comments I’ve gotten has convinced me that there is quite a problem here and it is far broader and more serious than anything I thought when I first began writing. I am referring here to the lack of respect for and trust in the bishops and their teaching authority that I’ve seen.

      As for the word misogyny, I answered another commenter about that and will just reproduce it here to save time. Again, I welcome your comments and I am not angry with you. I just don’t agree.

      Here is my answer to the other commenter:

      “____, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about extraordinary ministers of eucharist except that they often appear to be a practical necessity in large parishes with one priest. Frankly, I realize that the bishops lost a lot of their moral gravitas with many Catholics because of the sex abuse scandals, but we can’t have a Catholic Church if everyone is going to go off and follow their own teachings on these matters. I do not understand this complete lack of trust in the bishops to govern the liturgy. I also do not understand the near-obsession that some people appear to have with patrolling their priests and bishops.

      If I distrusted the Church that much, I don’t know how I could live with being Catholic.

      Also, what I was referring to with the word “misogyny” is very ugly things I’ve read on certain blogs about “getting women away from the altar” and other statements that were appalling to me. One of the things about this post that I have found fascinating is that so many people I don’t know, have never met and have no idea about how they live their lives have responded to the word misogynist by saying in effect, “I am not!” as if I was addressing them personally. Many of them go on to lecture me as if I was a misbehaving child about “ad hominem” attacks. To have an ad hominem attack, somebody has to be the hominem. Since I named no one, that whole charge is off the mark.

      In truth, if I want to say something about someone, I usually say it, and there’s no reason for guessing who and what I mean. If that was the case here and some commenter on this blog was who I meant, I would say so. In fact, considering what I think of the comments I am referring to, they would have been banned, long ago.

      I wonder what is going on here, and I mean that literally. It’s as if I said there was a hit and run on the interstate and a bunch of people started yelling angrily “How dare you say that! I was nowhere near the interstate!’”

      • Deacon Tom

        Fair enough. We disagree, not necessarily on substance, but certainly on your approach. I would hate to see your heretofore excellent blog turn into just another blog that relies on labeling and stereotypes to make your points, especially when you are reacting to a few fringe “Catholics” who respond to your blogs with ridiculous arguments like” men can’t compete in the world because women are there.” I also think you step into dangerous territory when you try to judge what motivates someone based on your uneducated view of the authority of bishops or the legislative impact of the GIRM. Maybe you would be better to look to the many men who see the value of women in the Church and the world. A good start would be the thoughts of Blessed JPII—see Or perhaps Helen Alvare’s recent book in collaboration with several other successful women who love the Church and accepts its teaching. The Church I know and love is not populated with the misogynists you appear to encounter on the fringes of your blog.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Deacon, are you seriously maintaining that I have no knowledge of the “many men who see the value of women in the Church?”

          I’ve read Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical about women, and found it deeply moving, so there is no reason to wave this article (which I had also read btw) around.

          You are right in one thing: I am ignorant of the girm. I am also ignorant of medical texts. That’s because I trust my bishops to understand girm and make decisions about the liturgy in the same way I trust my doctor to know what’s in the medical texts. If that makes me a poor Catholic in your eyes, then, so be it. I’ve been called a lousy Christian, terrible Catholic and much worse many, many times.

          • Deacon Tom

            I am suggesting that your blog deteriorates if you turn it into railing at the few weird apples who present preposterous views about women. To me it is like focusing on the Catholics who find fault with Pope Francis because his liturgical style is more simple than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Those radical “trads” exist, but they certainly are not “the Church.” I never said you were a “poor Catholic” or “lousy Christian.” I did not attack you as a person in any way,please read what I said again–I disputed the method of your blog. I pointed out your apparent ignorance of the GIRM because you seemed willing to judge an individual’s “misogynist” intent if they pointed to the GIRM for positions objectionable to you. Frankly, this post and your next one, and your very defensive and personal response above, suggest you are blogging out some personal anger. You are entitled to do what you want, its your blog. But that is not the type of thoughtful insights and concern that brought me to your blog.

            • Rebecca Hamilton

              I was angry when I replied to your comment, there is no doubt about that.

              What made me angry is that you are focusing on me instead of the issues, to the point of now psychoanalyzing me — ” this post and your next one, and your very defensive and personal response above, suggest you are blogging out some personal anger.” I have a low opinion of that sort of thing.

              I have never had the expectation that everyone would agree with me about any topic. That, to me, would be an absurd expectation. But I will not tolerate personal comments of this type leveled against anyone on this blog.

              I usually just delete things when people get off into personal rejoinders, and I should have this time. But my anger — you are correct in that; I was flat-out angered by your comment — got the best of me.

          • Deacon Tom

            Perhaps we both can take a deep breath, and reflect on the wonder of the coming Holy Week, especially the Triduum.

            • Rebecca Hamilton

              That’s an excellent idea.

  • pagansister

    When I was teaching in the Catholic elementary school, some of our girl students were alter servers. I was pleased to see this. I think the priest (not sure of this) would pick out the boys and girls with the help of their teachers—and of course, asking the children if they wanted to be servers.

  • GaryB

    I just read an interesting book on the feminization of the Church. Written by Leon Podles, the book is free as a pdf, available here:
    He points out that today there are more women attending church than men, but it wasn’t always that way. The early Church had more men than women in it.
    I’m a Sacristan, and my Church has both girls and boys as altar servers and they get along just fine.

    • Deacon Norb

      Just an observation

      In 2004, I had the opportunity to visit Poland, considered by the “conventional wisdom” of that era to be one of the most Roman Catholic countries in the world. During my ten days there, I attended at least four masses: one at the Shrine of the Black Madonna; a second at a small orphanage chapel in a Warsaw suburb; the third was at a large Warsaw parish celebrating their patronal feast; and the last one was at the “Sanctuarium” — the large modern basilica on the grounds of the convent of Sister Faustina — of “Divine Mercy” fame.

      In every one of them, the general congregation were always 90% women. In fact, if you saw any Polish men who were seated in the congregation, they were either under 16 or over 60. The only exceptions were foreign tourists — and you can spot them a mile away. Folks I know who have traveled to Central or South America say that this pattern is evident there also.

      Here in the United States, even in parishes with strong Polish or even Mexican cultural populations, the gender ratio is much more balanced and there are far more young fathers attending Mass here than in other areas of the world.

  • Joanne

    The first assertion against allowing female altar servers is probably true, ie, if girls serve, boys won’t want to. That doesn’t meet my definition of sexist or misogynistic; it’s just kind of an observation, probably accurate, about human beings. What I disagree with is the assertion that usually follows, ie, therefore if we allow female altar servers, we’ll have fewer vocations to the priesthood because young men haven’t had altar experience and therefore won’t know/won’t be sure, etc that they have a vocation. I have to think though that God puts our vocations in us. If a man “doesn’t know” or isn’t sure or is afraid, I would have to say that man doesn’t have a vocation to the priesthood and he certainly isn’t someone who should be ordained. And yes, we appear to be having something of a crisis of fatherhood in this country, but that doesn’t mean that people who oppose female altar servers are wrong.

    I was an altar server when I was younger, but at this point, in spite of rejecting the particular arguments against female altar servers that traditionalists use, my preference is for all males on the altar. At one parish I used to go to, the pastor used males only for altar service, but males of all ages. So sometimes the servers were young boys, but were sometimes also men his age or men old enough to be his dad. I really liked that.

    As far as extraordinary ministers of holy communion, I agree with most traditionalists that their use should be very limited. (And honestly, I don’t think most people who disagree with the ubiquitous use of emhc’s dislike their use MORE when the emhc is female, I really don’t.) I always go to a priest for Communion and always receive on the tongue. emhc’s are great for hospital service or homebound people, but I think that the use of emhc’s does have a detrimental effect on our sense of reverence for the Eucharist.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Joanne, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about extraordinary ministers of eucharist except that they often appear to be a practical necessity in large parishes with one priest. Frankly, I realize that the bishops lost a lot of their moral gravitas because of the sex abuse scandals, but we can’t have a Catholic Church if everyone is going to go off and follow their own teachings on these matters. I do not understand this complete lack of trust in the bishops to govern the liturgy. I also do not understand the near-obsession that some people appear to have with patrolling their priests and bishops.

      If I distrusted the Church that much, I don’t know how I could live with being Catholic.

      Also, what I was referring to with the word “misogyny” is very ugly things I’ve read on certain blogs about “getting women away from the altar” and other statements that were appalling to me. One of the things about this post that I have found fascinating is that so many people I don’t know, have never met and have no idea about how they live their lives have responded to the word misogynist by saying in effect, “I am not!” as if I was addressing them personally. Many of them go on to lecture me as if I was a misbehaving child about “ad hominem” attacks. To have an ad hominem attack, somebody has to be the hominem. Since I named no one, that whole charge is off the mark.

      In truth, if I want to say something about someone, I usually say it, and there’s no reason for guessing who and what I mean. If that was the case here and some commenter on this blog was who I meant, I would say so. In fact, considering what I think of the comments I am referring to, they would have been banned, long ago.

      I wonder what is going on here, and I mean that literally. It’s as I said there was a hit and run on the interstate and a bunch of people started yelling angrily “How dare you say that! I was nowhere near the interstate!”

  • Jennifer

    Gender roles have become very muddled in our times. Men and women are different and have different roles. We all have inherent dignity as human beings. To have men do certain things and women do others does not diminish either one. Why don’t I invite my husband out with me to lady’s night? Because I hate him? No, his husbandness just doesn’t mesh with our ladyness. Likewise, I don’t invite my lady friends to dates with my husband. That wouldn’t mesh either. There is a camraderie that springs up when you divide the sexes in certain ways. That’s just a fact. And intimacy between the sexes is something only for certain contexts and relationships. Something I don’t see mentioned here is the pragmatic appropriateness of a priest washing a woman’s feet. The ritual in general is a great reminder of the servant nature of the priesthood. But in my opinion it is too intimate of a gesture to cross the gender line. I would submit that in our gender bending, anything goes culture we have lost our sense of propriety. Part of why I love catholicism is the historic precedent within the Church to revere women and treat them appropriately in their human dignity–not treat them as property as in the past, or as on object to be used, as in our present culture. The Church gives us the most freedom to be women–guided and cherished and cared for by our priests, bishops, fathers and husbands. I am most comfortable in my many roles as a woman when I know that the men around me are serving faithfully in theirs. I don’t believe it demeans women in any way to say that we are not allowed in certain roles. Nor does it demean men in any way to not allow them into our domain. These are thoughts just forming. Thanks for the post as a thought provoker anyway.

  • Manny

    With you 100 percent Rebecca on this. Women can’t be priest but where ever we can find a role in church life they should be allowed. Unfortunately I can’t elaborate or get into the debate, and what a lively debate. I’m living off a blackberry for the next few days.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Manny. That’s especially meaningful, coming from you.

  • Melia

    Thank you! While I can respect the fact that some Catholics prefer a more traditional form of worship, and do not have any kind of prejudice against women, I do feel disheartened at some of the opinions I have heard. Some do seem to borderline on the offensive, because they imply that being female equals being weak, whereas being male equals strength and the presence of females ‘feminizes’ the church. It’s a false dichotomy – we’ve had Joan of Arc who led armies, and Cardinal Newman who was accused of being effeminate over his desire for celibacy. Masculine and feminine cannot be defined in such stark terms.

    However, I think the whole feet-washing thing is a bit of a mountain-molehill issue. I mean, the reason men’s feet are washed is because it’s meant to be a re-enaction of the Last Supper, and the disciples were all men. I think having only men’s feet washed in this circumstance is as discriminatory as only having girls play the Virgin Mary in the nativity play. But I also understand that looser interpretations allow for more diversity.

    I think all in all, we have to avoid both the extreme of tokenism (having women serve just because they’re women) and upholding one sex to the degredation of the other. Male and female are complementary forms of the same humanity.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Actually, it’s not a molehill to me. I see it as the foundation of the Church. Holy Thursday is when Jesus gave us the Eucharist and commissioned the priesthood. If the Holy Thursday mass is just for priests, then it should be just priests and there really isn’t a reason to have a public mass at all. If it is for the universal Church that includes all humanity then excluding women denies what it means.

      Men and women are different in some ways, but we are all made in the image and likeness of God. I see this insistence on washing men’s feet only as a denial of the fact that Jesus came for all of us — women included.

  • fats

    it was a woman that washed Jesus’ feet, with her tears. That seems to me, to be the essence of what Christ intended.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I agree.

  • Peg

    I am uncomfortable with this post somewhat and agree with Deacon Tom. I know home school families who are not for female altar servers and while I disagree, I respct them and they have very enlightened views of women and service. I wouldn’t want to rush to label . How often are we labelled homophobes? Rebecca its hard to understand here because we do not see tbose comments you delete, thankfully. You have my sympathy and prayers here and are no doubt right on in your assesment. I suppose there is a tonal difference here that I struggle to understand.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Peg, I don’t have any problem with families who are not for female altar servers and decide their daughters shouldn’t do this. None. That isn’t misogyny or anything like it.

  • SL

    I don’t really understand the argument against washing women’s feet that says Jesus only washed his disciples feet and they were all men… If that argument is valid, then only men should receive the Eucharist because Jesus gave the first Eucharist to only men… Right? If the argument is that it is honor the institution of the first priests, then it should only be done at a Mass with other priests having their feet washed by bishop… Such as the Chrism Mass … I am a fairly new Catholic and am coming across these “controversies” one by one and trying to understand the different sides. Also in regards to female altar servers, in my parish they are allowed but there are more males then females who serve… That pretty much debunks the idea that allowing girls to serve discourages boys but I would be interested to see research on this. I guess what bothers me is the idea that women near the altar or involved with the liturgy somehow makes it less holy and less reverent. Though Jesus did not ordain women, he held them in very high esteem even though that was against the cultural and religious norm of the time. I just don’t see Him agreeing that the participation of women in the sacred liturgy is less holy… At least not the way I understand Jesus

  • fats

    the woman who washed Jesus’ feet is a good example of loving God, and Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is His response, and the example we are given. so when i read about the division of roles in the Church that people try to turn into some form of discrimination, i have to think that without ALL the roles, the Church would be diminished. Those ” little old ladies” praying at Church during the weekdays, are the backbone , and example of, what we should strive to be. God Bless them and all women that hold the Church together, it was my wife that brought me into , and brought me back to , the Church, despite my ability to try her patience ..