Should We Have Girl Altar Servers?

We have girl altar servers at our parish of Our Lady of the Rosary. They do a good job. I think there are some good arguments for boys only, but when I came as pastor there were girl altar servers and I sure as heck wasn’t going to fire them.

Here’s what we do at our parish–which may answer some of the problems traddies have with girl altar servers and address some of the current issues.

First of all we don’t have unisex robes. The boys wear cassocks and surplices. The girls wear white cassock albs. Why is this? Because boys and girls should dress differently. They’re not the same and so different robes help them identify with each other and boosts their proper gender development.

Second: the boys and girls serve at different Masses. We have two masses a week–a vigil and a Sunday morning. Girls serve the vigil one week and boys Sunday morning. The next week vice versa. This helps to avoid the problem of the boys leaving because serving is ‘girly’. The boys serve with boys and the girls with girls. The kids seem to like this too, and we’ve had no complaints.

Third: there’s a dress code. Boys and girls must wear black shoes–boys dress shoes and girls flat black slip ons. Girls have their hair tied back. Nothing should draw attention to itself for either boys or girls. Wacky haircuts, tattoos, nail polish or jewelry are out. That goes for the priest too…

Fourth: we train the altar servers carefully. Everything they do contributes to the beauty and solemnity of the liturgy. They therefore take pride in being servers.

Fifth: they are there at least fifteen minutes before Mass to help set up . They assist deacon before and after Mass.

Finally, their service is given symbolic and spiritual significance. I explain the invisible side of serving and what symbolic role they play in the Mass. Here is what I say to my altar servers. You can borrow it if you like. Here another parish priest explains why he’s switched over to all boy servers.

For a bit of fun you can go here if you  want to read what Caitlin O’Rourke thinks of girl altar servers. Remember–she’s biased.

  • Robyn

    I just read “What I tell my altar servers.. I LOVED IT!!!!.. You sure don’t wanna come up to the Conway/ Myrtle beach Area? We at St James sure could use another good priest! LOL

  • Andrew

    Just say no.

    Grandfather the existing girl “altar servers” out. They are needed in the quire loft!

  • Ryan Ellis

    Preamble: I am a father of two beautiful girls who I would never want to cross the altar rail.

    Bad, bad idea. I am a former altar boy, and was late in my service career when the girls were brought in. What had been a strong fraternity of young men drilled like Marines became smaller, sloppier, and entirely girls within a very short period.

    Here’s my advice to a new pastor (if I may be so bold) who inherits such a mess. Any siblings, male or female, of current altar servers may become servers. But new families are boys-only. Takes care of the problem in 5-10 years without a mutiny.

    I also like the segregation of clothing, service, etc. That could be a part of the interim.

    • The Ubiquitous

      Good suggestions!

    • Martin

      And you’d have been rid of the Mother of Jesus and the women at the foot of the Cross too I am sure.

      Where were all the ‘boys’ then, eh ?!! :-)

      When the goin’ gets tough……….. the tough…….

      Bring on the girls.

      There is a young family here from India and the children, two girls, serve at Mass. Angels.

      Anyone who has a problem with this needs shootin’ :-)

      And I am sure I am older than you are. 76 ?

      Martin Featherstonehaw

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Not exactly a well reasoned response, but cheerful! Thanks for commenting.

      • Paul

        The Mass was instituted at the Last Supper by Jesus before his Crucifixion. The Last Supper was the first Mass. When we celebrate the Mass, we repeat the Last Supper, as Jesus commanded us to do. There were no women at the Last Supper.

        • Liz

          How on earth do we know there were no women at the last supper? Just because they didn’t bother to mention them because they never mentioned women doesn’t mean there were none there!

  • marlon

    Father, I like the direction in which you are moving. I think you should gradually phase out the girl altar servers. As you are doing that, encourage the girls to give service to the Church in other ways. Eventually I think we will see a return to only-boys when it comes to serving at the altar.

  • Vladyk

    I think that those who are against girl servers shouuld also be against women lectors, women extraordinary ministers of communion, women touching the host and women singing in liturgical choirs in order to be consistent. All of these were denied women on the grounds that women cannot fulfill clerical roles, and except for singing in choirs, the others could today be denied women on the same grounds that serving can be denied girls.

    • Ryan Ellis

      You’ve got yourself a deal, @Vladyk. I will stipulate to being against female lay lectors, ex mins of communion, host-touching by lay women, and women singing in choir (as opposed to the loft, which is not the same thing).

      You should know, however, I am against lay MEN doing any of those things, either.

      Try again.

      • The Ubiquitous

        Hear, hear!

      • Bryan

        Amen, amen!

  • Pam

    Given the fact that many parents of male children are leery of allowing their
    boys to spend much time with priests, I think girl servers are a good idea as
    they provide a balance to the boy/man issues that could develop.

    • The Ubiquitous

      … because girl/man issues are less likely?

  • Seminarian

    As a second career later vocation seminarian, I have often though how I would handle this situation. As an altar boy in the early 1970s, I was strongly against it. But I think the way Fr. Longenecker handles it is wonderful. It was Pope John Paul II, who allowed female altar servers. So this has Papal backing despite what people like or think about the issue. Fr. Longenecker’s way allows the boys to build this comradery and to foster any vocations. It also allows the girls to serve at the altar, fostering participation at the altar of lay folks which is encouraged by the Vatican II documents. If someone thinks it should be only boys in order to foster vocations at the sake of Vatican II’s encouragement to have the laity to participate at Mass, one really needs to look at who discourages young men from entering the seminary. And it’s not girl altar servers. According to statistics provided by vocation directors from around the country, it’s parents and primarily mothers, nowadays, who are encouraging their sons not to become priests. I say there isn’t a lack of God calling males to the priesthood, there is a lack, however, of family and faith community encouragement, asking and recommending these males become a priest. So if you know of a male, who you might think would be a good priest, ask him, encourage him and promote the priesthood to him.

    • Matthew

      So I guess John Paul II is not as “Great” as some would have him!

  • Laura

    When were women ever denied from being in a choir??

    And for the record, I don’t think women should be extraordinary ministers OR lectors. And I am a woman who used to be a lector.

    • The Ubiquitous

      When the choir is in the holy of holies. (As opposed to the loft.)

  • Catherine

    I think that having boys only at the altar encourages vocations. As the commenter Marlon says, it would be good for girls to find the other ways in which they can serve the Church – because of course they are obviously not going to be serving at the altar as priests.

    I like Ryan Ellis’s idea for gradual change.

  • terry nelson

    If they are properly trained and properly dressed – I love the idea of separate dress for boys and girls, as well as separate groups as you do it Father – I see nothing wrong with it. I like how you do it Father.

  • Maggie White

    I am about as traditional as they come but at some point we traditionalists need to acknowledge that this is the 21st century. I have observed female alter servers to be both reverent and unobtrusive, and often more pious than male alter servers. We need to encourage more women to enter religious vocations as sisters of hope and charity – isn’t this a good avenue for promoting religious life for women?

    • Ryan Ellis

      This proves you actually are not, in fact, “as traditional as they come.” No one who is a traditional Catholic would ever support the feminist absurdity that is altar girls. Not in a million years.

  • AnneG

    I think this is a great way to handle the situation. I’ve noticed that the girls do a good and sometimes better job than the boys, but if women and girls do something the guys just stop doing it, in the Church or even cutting grass.
    For the record, I’m against EMHC’s at all because there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about them. So what if communion takes 20 minutes it would give extra time to pray.

  • flyingvic

    OK, Father, be honest. Just how long is it since you were even capable of having a wacky haircut?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      My present haircut is wacky.

  • Margaret Vasquez

    And we WONDER why we have a shortage of great and holy Catholic Priests.

    • Seminarian

      Margaret, it’s not girl altar servers. It’s mothers discouraging their sons from becoming priests, and that’s straight from a survey conducted by diocesan vocation directors, the priests who recruit men to the priesthood. So ask your woman friends to encourage their sons…

  • J. Roman

    In contrast to the experiences of AnneG and Maggie, girls serving at Mass have consistently been much worse than boys (e.g., less reverence, more giggling, more sloppily dressed), and thus much more distracting at Mass in my own experience. If all altar servers, regardless of gender, received better training and followed guidelines similar to the ones used by Fr. Dwight, I think these problems could be remedied. I’ve just seen far too many poorly prepared altar servers of both genders, but especially girls.

  • Catholic Dad

    Like my four brothers before me, I was an altar server for six years. Could not have been more proud to serve, and what an incredible and inspiring experience as a youth to see the Mass from that perspective. Once I reached junior high and high school, however, I was brutalized by my Catholic peers – boys and girls – for continuing to serve. Think of any slur – I heard it. My arms had bruises from being punched by other boys before CCE – always with reference to my having just served at Mass. My opinion, formed I think in large part from these highs and lows, is that any child old enough who wants to be an altar server ought to be fully supported and encouraged!

  • Ruth Ann Pilney

    If girl altar servers were good enough for Blessed Pope John Paul II then they’re good enough for me. I like your ideas concerning altar servers, Fr. Longenecker.

  • Arnold

    Personally, I find the robes shown in the picture preferable to cassock and surplice. In France and many other countries the male servers also wear them.

  • Ken

    I am from Louisiana originally and I am not young. When I was a young man aka a boy, we attended the Mass (Latin Mass) and there was no such thing as a girl altar server. Altar Servers belonged to a group call Knights of the Altar. Women and girls have never been Knights, only Ladies of the Court and the Knights of the Altar were not married so their mothers were the Ladies of the Court Or in some few cases their oldest sister was the Lady of the Court for the Knight. There were the rules (Rubrical) guide for alter servers that had to be followed and boys and young men were the only people allowed by the rubrics. Like I said there were rules. Of course this was all before Vatican II and all the mis-interruptation that happened. No where in V-II was vailing of women ever disculled (or done away with) and it should be noted that it is still in canon law that women vail when they are in the church or attend mass or whatever. Nothing from V-II changed the rules concerning altar servers and “legally” they should be boys or young men or other men of the parish and they must be trained ti properly serve at altar and not just be some one from the congregation who would be asked to make him feel good. Another thing, Women, according to the rubrics are not to serve in ministrial rolls at the altar—they cann’t be eucharistic ministers or lectors in the church. Choir members and director or the like is allowed. The same goes for ushers–men only by tradition. The Church was much better off when Tradition and tradition were followed. There are some Parishes that have women in positions of authority in the administration of the parish and are telling the parish priest what he is allowed to do. This is an usurp of authority in the churchand is a grave violation of natural order in the church. I am not against the hiring of women to work for the church or even having women to volunteer their time to the many needs in the parishes today, But when the women who wark at the parish start running he parish, it is time for a dhange and the priest should be able to remove someone like that at his convienence. In other words, it doesn’t matter who is oversteping their position, man or woman, The priest/pastor of the parish is the boss and anyone working for or volunteering at the parish has the obligation to OBEY the priests and decons of the church and not the other way around. I thought if someone from the faith wanted to see a priest to make a confession, the priest should be notified as this could be the person’s only chance to make a confession as we don’t know what even 5 minutes from now will hold for us. A parish secretary once told me that I would have to wait til Saturday for confession—this was Monday—and then I would have to be at the church for confession. I was told she would not allow Father to be bothered by everyone wanting to confess out of the blue. I was raised in the church and true I was away for some time which was my fault but, I should not have been turned away like that. Today the churches are NOTHING like they were when I was younger and that is a shame. I am sure things would be a great deal different if they were. Women do hav a place in helping administer the parish—NOT RUNNING IT.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    Would you recomend that the Holy Father implement the same practice at St. Peter’s and adopt your rationales?

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    …and besides, boys from about age 8-12 do NOT like to be associated with doing things that girls do. Thus, serving is less appealing to those boys moving forward in their masculine identities.

  • Romulus

    The sanctuary should be reserved to males, for many reasons. One rarely considered is the maleness of the priest himself. Very important among the reasons for the impossibility of female ordination is that a woman cannot be the image of a man. As we know, the priest’s maleness is not merely accidental; it’s essential to his vocation. When females are allowed in the sanctuary during liturgy, the priest’s maleness is still there, but diluted and obscured bit by bit, till it no longer signifies. Why would we want to impose countersigns on the liturgy, unless it’s because we’ve lost the ability to see? What I am trying to say is that the altar serving is not merely functional; it can and should be a sacramental. It contains sign value, or should, as does practically everything else in the liturgy. Scripture reminds us that the Lord himself never taught except in parables — viz., signs. The maleness of altar boys (or men — don’t forget the men father, for whom altar service can be a powerful bond and path to holiness through the trials and temptations of these days) reflects and amplifies that of the priest, whose maleness now is seen for what it is: not an unimportance accident unrelated to the mechanical business of proclaiming, preaching, and offering the Sacrifice, but an intimate and profound imaging of the Man of Sorrows, the Divine Spouse, the Paschal Victim (recall that Exodus insists the lamb for the meal must be male), the New Adam victorious over temptation and death.

    I urge you to add no more girls to your altar servers, to give special catechesis to the boys and young men about the sacramental weight of their presence in your program, and to make that weight manifest in privileges reserved for them. The fact that many of your faithful, proud parents and grandparents, will resent this and kick up a fuss is a difficulty — but you will have to man up and deal with it, as you’re personally, pastorally, and intellectually well equipped to do.

  • Commenter

    You say girls should wear their hair tied back… but not in the picture you included! :)

  • Strahan

    I am a female alter server at my church. I’m months away from making my comfirmation and enjoying my last months of being an alter server. I say this because in my parish girls are allowed to serve on the alter until their confirmation. This is because we’re still considered children in the church and your comfirmation is like commiting to the church as an adult on your own accord. In our parish we have unisex ropes and have masses in which we both serve. Most of the girls are teenagers like myself, while the boys range from 4th graders up to 12 graders. But I sometimes have to serve 3 to 4 times a month since we have such as small parish with many masses, but I don’t mind!
    I think as long as girls aren’t serving after their confirmation they should be able to serve with the boys as child servers for the church and Lord.
    Personally, becoming an altar server has strengthen my faith in the church and I’m thinking about becoming a Eucharistic minister or lecture after I’m confirmed! I’ve made new friend (both Boys and girls) who are just invested in the faith as me. Which helps me surround myself with people of my values!
    I don’t think using girls as alter servers is hurting the boys at all. I mean, I could see how it could affect boys being “called to the priesthood” but that’s just the thing, your called to ministries. Ive seen boys who serve only to please their parents, which isn’t going to make them a priest no matter how much their parents push them. Just as much as men are called to serve the church, so are women. We need teachers, lectures, euchreistic ministers, nuns, and strong faithful women in the church and letting girls serve at the alter helps influence that!

  • Rdc

    First of all i say,that altaar server should stay boys,our priest at our church says; we should adapt at the time we are living in, so let there girls be altaar servers,there is sow many things that girls can do in the church,besides altaar servers. My question is if we are adapting to our time that we our living in,then should we have a female pope????

  • G-Veg

    We struggle with this issue because we travel in very traditionalist circles.

    Our daughter is an altar server. Her service has greatly enriched her Mass participation. She is much more focussed on the altar when she sits with us, better understands what is happening in the Mass, and is more forceful in defending the faith with nominally Catholic peers.

    I appreciate your efforts to strike a middle ground Father. God knows administering a parish must mind-bogglingly difficult withthe strongly-held and opposing views.

    I wonder though if what is missing in the discussion is charity.

    Traditionalists and Leftish Catholics can be terribly uncharitable to one another. We care so much for our faith and know enough about it that we tend to be fully convinced that everyone who has reached an opposing view is either deluded or dishonest. In most cases they simply disagree.

    This issue illustrates my point well.

    The fact that we at the Mass often enough to notice speaks volumes about our prayer life. But we find insult where there should be comraderie. Which would we rather have, Traditionalist and Leftish Catholics segregated from the common parish life or a rich tapestry of faith? I’ll take the latter.

  • Jean

    Having girls as servers is nonsense.because modernist came up with this mess to make political correctnes.and it makes a devastating impact on vocations to the priesthood.traditionally in the church the priesthood and altar boys are linked can’t make a woman a priest, so why start it anyway?

  • Anon

    Well I happen to be a girl, but even I think having female altar servers is a bit odd. I honestly do believe that might drive the boys away, at these times where it’s crucial to find new priests to take the place of those before them which of course the girls won’t be involved in. I think it’s one of those things where we think we’re taking a step forward but we’re actually going backwards. xx