Is there a "half-way" between the Church's preference for having men serve on the altar and the desire to incorporate women? A dialog is necessary if the Church is to sincerely act as well as speak in favor of vocations to the priesthood.
A corps of altar boys that truly reflects the priesthood is the authentic and immemorial means to offer young men the opportunity to begin their discernment of the possibility of a priestly vocation. Can we not ask for sacrifice on the part of some in favor of a good for all?
One parish has taken action which calls for sacrifice on the part of some in favor of a more virile support of nascent vocations. From The Capital Times of Madison, WI:
Mazomanie church nixes altar girls
Pat Schneider — 6/25/2008 5:07 pm
Members of St. Barnabas Parish in Mazomanie say they are stunned to learn that the priests leading their Catholic community will no longer allow their daughters to be servers at Mass. From now on, only boys will be able to assist priests in the ancient religious rite.
The new policy was announced at a meeting with parents Tuesday by Rev. John Del Priore, who was assigned to the parish on June 1.
"It's an outrage," said Tammy Parks. "They said it was a good way for boys to be indoctrinated into being a priest." After letting her 11-year-old daughter know that she would no longer be allowed on the altar, Del Priore asked her 8-year-old son about his interest in becoming an altar boy, Parks said in an interview. "Not only is the priest discriminating against my daughter, he's teaching my son that that is appropriate behavior," she said. Parents at St. Barnabas are so distressed that there is talk of having the boys boycott altar duty.
The Catholic Church broke with centuries of tradition in 1994, when the Vatican said girls would be allowed to join "altar boys" in assisting priests at Mass.
It is up to the local bishop to decide whether to allow lay women, or girls, to serve when needed, said Brent King, director of communications for the Madison Diocese. Female servers have been allowed in the Madison Diocese, King said, but it is ultimately up to each individual priest to decide whether he needs help at the altar. Priests may ask whomever they wish to assist them, so long as that person is a Catholic in good standing, King said.
He stressed that servers take on the duties of acolytes, traditionally a low clerical rank.
"Neither lay women nor lay men have the right to carry out the function of acolyte," King said.
Altar service is being reserved for boys to promote vocations to the priesthood, Rev. Jared Hood, one of a group of priests that serves the St. Barnabas cluster, said in an interview. Hood said he is a member of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, a religious order that ministers to boys to inspire them to become priests. The order offered its services to the Madison Diocese, which is consolidating parishes because of a shortage of priests.
"Very many priests began as altar boys," Hood said. "Without contact with a priest it's difficult for boys to even think about a vocation as a priest." He first learned about the order of which he is now a member as an altar boy in New Jersey, he said.
Four priests from the order now oversee a cluster of five parishes: St. Barnabas, St. Aloysius in Sauk City, St. Norbert in Roxbury, St. John the Baptist in Mill Creek, and St. Mary in Merrimac. Hood said boys only will be servers for each of the parishes.
That's been the case at St. Aloysius for more than a year, and the furor that met the change in policy has evaporated, said Ann Cicero, a secretary for the parish whose sons serve as altar boys.
The commitment by parish boys to altar service is proof that it's right to reserve it for boys, she said. When girls were allowed to be servers, it became less popular among boys. Now that it's a thing for boys only, they revel in it.
Besides, having girls on the altar is misleading about what the church is about, she said.
"Women are not ordained," Cicero said.
The boys meet weekly with priests for training, spiritual growth and outings as the group, St. Michael Altar Guild, a practice that strengthens their ties to the church and parish community, she said. Girls, too, meet regularly and do things "more appropriate for girls."
Cicero said several young boys have begun to talk about vocations to the priesthood.
Jim Schmitt of Mazomanie said that for his 11-year-old daughter, being an altar girl was a way to give back to the church.
Today a Madison firefighter, Schmitt said he was an altar boy at Queen of Peace parish in Madison. He took pride in that role, but never thought of it as preparation for a vocation as a priest. It was a tradition, though. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all had served as altar boys.
"If someone has a vocation, how does serving with a girl interfere with that?" Schmitt asked. "I don't see why we're regressing."
Parks, an attorney, said discrimination is significant issue for her personally.
"To have it in my own by parish, by my own priest, is repugnant," she said.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori, patron of priestly vocations, pray for us.