In the summer of 1998, a few weeks after I donned a pure white First Communion dress with a pretty awesome veil, I went to altar server training. For three years I served my parish community alongside my older brother every Sunday and for several more years I continued on and helped (and by help I mean tell then after Mass “Ringing the bells is all in the wrist. Here I’ll show you.” I was ten give me a break) other young girls and boys fulfill their role as an altar server. I loved it. I loved bringing the priest what he needed throughout the Mass, I held the book for him as he read blessings and when I was strong enough l carried the cross, leading the procession of altar servers, lector, deacon and priest in and out of the sanctuary. I took my job setting up for the next Mass seriously. Once I hit high high school I followed in the footsteps of mother and sister and became a lector. I had the wonderful experience of Sunday after Sunday listening to either the bold, authoritative voice of my mother or my sister’s kind, assertive voice over the pulpit, reading the Word of God from the lectern. It was not uncommon for people to recognize our family, which included my brother (who became an usher) and father, a Eucharistic Minister at the groceries or restaurants, etc.
Despite what Michael Voris claims in his recent installment of the Vortex, The Feminization of the Church*, my presence and the presence of women in leadership positions have not deterred men from taking active roles in the parish. Along with seeing my mother and older sister read to our congregation I also saw men do the same. I served alongside boys my age on the altar too. My father served shoulder to shoulder with women when distributing Communion. All around me I see men and women playing their part to serve our parish family and Heavenly Father.
Voris is right, however, men typically do not enjoy taking direction from women. Doesn’t that say more about men than it does about women? He is also right that men attend church less frequently and serve in ministries less frequently too. But when I look at my home parish it feels very 50/50.
We have a pastor (the head priest, my childhood priest is now a Monsigeur but we all still call him Father) and two parochial vicars (a fancy way of saying priest), and four deacons. These guys are the top dogs followed closely by our very capable and organized female parish office manager. Our religious education director is a nun and the mother superior of her convent. By the way, her office manager is a lay man. For a period of time growing up the RE director was a young charismatic priest. I attend 8 am Mass (which means the church is not packed and we’re always looking for more people to serve in every capacity) and when I was younger my brother and I were the only altar servers. When I go to Mass with my parents most of the alter servers are girls with a few boys now and then. Most lectors at 8 am are women, however in my parish in New York it’s practically even. The choir director is female and has a couple of men and four or five women under her stewardship. The head usher and altar server trainer is a man. In terms of RE teachers I have had a variation of male and female teachers. The ushers are predominately male but I know of a family of girls who have all served in this capacity at Masses later in the day. The leader of the ACTS retreat community is a woman (my mom!) and she serves with both men and women.
I see a vibrant community at my home parish, my NYC parish and the new parish I will be attending in the Summer.
Voris’s assertion that the presence of female altar servers “blurs the distinction” between masculinity and femininity just ain’t true. My days as an altar server are a defining part of my life as a Catholic. What equitable experience of service during the Celebration of the Eucharist is there for an eight year old?
I was a fabulous altar server and if my female presence on the altar deterred boys from serving their faith community that says more about them and their parents than it does about me.
The bigger problem in my Church is the education of the laity (both young and old) and retention, not little girls who are awesome at ringing bells and lining up purificators.
*He also says some stuff about it’s feminie to run out of a room crying and other things that are pretty darn sexist. Voris is right in saying there is something intrinsically different about males and females but the things he decided to point out were sickening.