Monday, March 30, 2009

Identity: Male Altar Servers

Once again I must beg the indulgence of my dear Readers for my long absence from posting. Much of the goings-on in our economy have hit hard in the Banking industry of which I am remain quite proud to work for. That said, I may have a few future posts that will express my absolute horror of the governmental direction of this country, but that is for the future if I decide I want to wade into potential political controversy.

Although today’s posting may not be so uncontroversial either, but it goes to the heart of a key element of Catholic identity that we have lost: Male-only altar servers! No I am sure this will upset some folks who will immediately take issue with the central thesis of post, but to you say in advance, get your own blog and share your failed ideas there (I know, perhaps I bit uncharitable there, but I feel strongly on this one.)

Young men and boy altar servers were once the norm of our Faith. Unlike what you see in most parishes today, it was the only norm, and it was often the key to the call of a sacred priestly vocation. The development of a bond between priest and server in the old rite was very important in sparking the instillation of education and understanding of the priest’s role in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The boys who had to get up early before school, even on Saturdays to help serve Father at Mass, especially for private Masses, was key to showing the young man that even without a church-full of people, the offering of Mass was a constant need to be lifted up to God! It gave new meaning to Christ’s words “where 2 or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I also!”

The server’s role at Adoration and Benediction, his preparation of the priestly attire and holy accruements, the server’s responses on behalf of the people naturally brought the young man into a role as an intermediary not unlike that of the priest, but obviously to a lesser degree. However it was in these encounters of serving and assisting the priest in the mystery of the sacraments, that if there was a calling, the young man could begin to explore it, advancing his involvement in serving and more importantly, sharing his discernment with his pastor.

Now, some folks will say… “Yeah right, so if I even agree with your principle premise that proximity to the priest in the offering of the Sacraments leads to vocations, then there are still male altar servers who can have that calling take place.”

And now we get to the crux of the controversy. (Disclaimer: I am not a researcher, and I will not for the sake of a part-time blog bother to find the citations that will prove my point, because what I will be stating is all too readily known by those who have or know young people.) When we think of the typical age of an altar server, perhaps 8-18 years old, we all know a couple of facts…1) girls develop faster at younger ages that do boys, and 2) boys want very little to do with girls at these younger ages. We must clearly face the facts that boys and girls are different (so are men and women, and that is the way in which God made us!)

By allowing girls to serve at the altar, we cause harm to the cause of vocations and general confusion of the faithful in the following ways:
  • The faster developing girls “catch on faster” to the tasks of serving and fill a natural leadership role which leads to the girls being “in charge” and that boys, who want little to do with them in general at this age, will decide not to be a part of a group where the girls are doing and leading.
  • By having girls at the altar, they too, as with a boy, get to see up close the priest’s life and have a natural desire to want to emulate or become it (as we would hope for a boy) but which is a totally false vocation for the girl. It sets her, and the faithful that see her at the altar, up for a confusion of roles.
I am not out of my tree or in another universe here. And those individuals who are honest with themselves and have seen parish life outside of the comfort of perhaps their own parish know what I am saying is true. A mixed server parish has a majority ratio of their servers as girls, and the excuse is always “we cannot get enough boys who want to serve.” (hmm, I wonder why?)

Parishes that use boy-only servers are full of young men and boys willing to serve. Why at St. Michael’s parish in Gastonia, NC, near Charlotte, the 10.00am Sunday Mass (Novus Ordo) can have as many as 17 servers for that one Mass alone! All dressed in their cassocks and cotta, and the mother of 3 of the boys has told me that her boys love to serve because “it makes them feel like men”. Isn’t that a nice thing to see… a positive role model for your young men in today’s society?

Also, at the weekly Mass in the Extraordinary form held at St. Ann’s parish at 6.00pm on Wednesday nights, while it is a still a Low Mass with only two servers, there can been as many as six additional boys “sitting in choir” (a total of 8), ready and waiting for the time that Father Reid can progress the Low Mass to a Missa Cantata. And listen to this...there are boys standing in the back of the church longing for their opportunity to be serving the altar…LONGING to be closer to the priest and to Christ on the altar. My dear Readers… this is from where our future priests will come!

If you doubt the power of God’s call on our young or of those you who consider it an honor to serve the priest, I would ask you to go over to the blog of an incredible young man whom I have referenced before. His journey of discernment and his call to faith is heart-warming, and I ask all of you to pray for him that God’s Will be done, whatever path that may be for him.

Lastly, if anyone doubt to power and draw of serving at God’s altar, and being around other religious and reverent minded boys, please take the time to read St. John Bosco’s biography on the life of St. Domenico Savio. As part of my Lenten journey this year, I was moved to read it again, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes when one sees the faith and innocence of this saintly youth, who grew up in as difficult and evil a time as what we feel now, but managed to live by his motto of “Death, but not sin!” I feel so unworthy when I measure myself against this young boy!

But the key to my point regarding St. Domenico Savio is not just his holiness, but through his closeness of serving St. Don Bosco, and inspiring others of his age to also participate, vocations grew, from which came the entire Salesian order! The key to any generation’s future is dependent on its youth. The future of our priesthood is likewise dependent on the male youths of our parishes. We must do all that we can to help any calling that God may be sending to be heard amongst the din of debauchery that society surrounds our youth with…the true work of the Devil to deprive us of the lifeblood that the sacred hands of priest are concentrated for… the Eucharist!

Ss Domenico Savio e Luigi Gonzaga, Patrons of Catholic Youth, pray for our young people and for holy priests!