Skip to comments.Eight Reasons Why Men Only Should Serve at Mass [Catholic Caucus]
Posted on 10/21/2010 3:06:48 PM PDT by NYer
To raise the possibility of an all-male liturgical ministry is to invite tribulation. Those who prefer the traditional arrangement of male altar servers, lectors, and so on are nervous about vocalizing their convictions, let alone acting upon them. This in itself is significant: Regardless of where one stands on the issue, it should give us pause that many Catholics, from the pious in the pews to prelates in the Vatican, stand in fear of being stigmatized as supporters of a 4,000-year-old tradition, faithfully kept by God's chosen people from the days of Abraham until the Catholic Church began changing its practices in the 1970s.
But let us have courage and look again with fresh eyes. Such an investigation is necessary, especially if we wish to continue admitting women into the service of the sanctuary. G. K. Chesterton once complained of would-be reformers that they "do not know what they are doing because they do not know what they are undoing." His grievance was that reformers either do not sufficiently study the original rationale for the thing they are dismantling, or they assume "all their fathers were fools." Yet advocates for female liturgical ministers might go further and say that our fathers were not fools but worse: oppressors, sexists, misogynists. This forces us to ask: Are sins of bias the real reason behind an all-male liturgical ministry? What precisely are we undoing?
To address these questions, we turn to eight distinctions.
1. Allowed vs. Encouraged
The Holy See allows female lectors, extraordinary ministers of Communion, and altar servers, but it does not necessarily encourage them. Despite the fact that papal Masses have female readers, permission for this has an officially optional, provisional, and exceptional nature (see Canon 230.2). Strictures surrounding altar girls are particularly tight. According to the Congregation for Divine Worship's 2001 letter "Concerning the Use of Female Altar Servers," the general law prohibiting them remains in effect except in those places where the bishop uses the indult allowing them. A bishop cannot compel his priests to use female altar servers; and every bishop, even when using this indult, is obligated not to undermine the "noble tradition" of altar boys.
2. Liturgical vs. Non-liturgical
Saying that women shouldn't serve in the sanctuary says nothing about women's leadership elsewhere in the Church or other ministries open to them. Liturgy is a unique animal: It has its own rules, logic, and, as we shall see, symbolic demands.
3. Holy vs. Sacred
"Holy" and "sacred" are not synonymous. To be holy is to be filled with and transformed by the Holy Spirit, whereas to be sacred is to be consecrated for special use. The opposite of "holy" is "wicked," but the opposite of "sacred" is "profane," a word that literally means "outside the temple" and has no necessarily negative connotations.
Both sexes are equally called to holiness, while they are called to different roles regarding the sacred. These roles do not prejudice the ability of one sex to become holy: As all the bad popes writhing in Dante's Inferno amply attest, having a particular access to the sacred and becoming holy are two different matters.
Per Alice von Hildebrand's The Privilege of Being a Woman, one way of describing the difference is that men are called to be protectors or keepers of the sacred, whereas women are called to be a particular embodiment of the sacred. Von Hildebrand, for instance, writes eloquently on how the female body is sacred in a way that a man's isn't.
The distinction between holiness and sacredness also explains how the same St. Paul who declares that there is "neither male nor female" in Christ (Gal 3:28) can also prescribe very different kinds of comportment for men and women in liturgical worship regarding headdress, lectoring, etc. (1 Cor 11:3-12, 14:34-35). Contrary to popular historicist readings, Paul's writings are not contradictory "products of their age" but a practical instantiation of the perennial distinction between holy and sacred.
4. Function vs. Symbol
The sexes' differing relations to the sacred is connected to the innate typology of the Mass. For if men are the custodians of the sacred and women the embodiment, we should find this in the Church's supreme act of worship.
And we do. Since every Mass is a mini-Incarnation, a re-actualization of the great event that took place when the "yes" of the Blessed Virgin Mary ratified the divine initiative and made God really present in her womb, the sanctuary in which the Mass takes place is effectively a womb. This is why the traditional configuration of a church sanctuary is uterine. With its demarcating border of altar rail or iconostasis, it is an "enclosed garden" (Sg 4:15), a traditional image of maidenhood. And whereas the sanctuary is feminine, her ministers, as representatives of the sanctuary's divine Husband, are masculine. (For more on this crucial point, see Jacob Michael's outstanding "Women at the Altar.")
This is obvious in the case of the priest, the indispensable stand-in for the Groom who fructifies the sanctuary-womb by consecrating the Eucharistic elements (whereas a female priest is as impossible as the conjugal union of two women). But is it true for the other liturgical ministers? No and yes: No, it is no more essential for a priest to be attended by males in the sanctuary than it is for a groom to be accompanied by groomsmen in order to validly marry. On the other hand, yes, it is highly appropriate for a priest to be assisted by males in the sanctuary, just as it is highly appropriate for groomsmen to accompany a groom.
And thus our fourth distinction, between function and symbol. From the very first Mass in the Upper Room, which deliberately took place during the ceremonially rich Passover, the liturgy has never been a matter of pure utility. Everything in liturgical tradition has deep significance: In this case, the maleness of its ministers is an icon of the nuptial embrace between Christ and His Church, a dramatization of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
5. Mars vs. Venus
Male custodianship of the sacred is also linked to sacrifice. Although offering oneself as a sacrifice is equally incumbent on both sexes (Rom 12:1), men are the only ones in the Bible who offer physical immolations. Scripture doesn't say why, but we may hazard a guess. Men after the Fall are the violent sex, more likely to have recourse to bloodshed as a means of obtaining what it wants. While this does not deny that women can also be violent, it does explain the causes of war, the population of our prisons, and the consumer demographic of video-game players.
God's strategy appears to have been to channel the postlapsarian male's propensity for violence away from murder toward animal sacrifice as a way of helping him recognize his devious impulses and repent. "God in his seeming bloodthirstiness," Patrick Downey writes in his superb Desperately Wicked, "is actually more concerned with curing us of our own." This strategy culminates in the New Covenant, when its High Priest, rather than committing violence, allows Himself to be victimized by it. God's final solution to the problem of man's deicidal heart is to give him exactly what he wants.
But the cross is a true sacrifice, as is the sacrifice of the altar which re-presents it. Thus, it remains linked not only to the darkness of the human heart but to the specific problem of male violence. Serving on the altar is actually a healthy form of humiliation for men and boys, for it constitutes a confession of their wicked hearts; God's restriction of sacrifice to males in the Tabernacle, Temple, and beyond is a back-handed compliment.
6. Good for the Goose, Not the Gander
Altar service is also good for males because it encourages religious vocations and teaches all men to serve chivalrously and to respect the feminine, which is sacred, with reverence and awe. It is not so for girls. Let us be honest: When we allow a girl to serve at the altar, we are lying to her. We place her in the courtly role of page and tell her she can never be a lord. And we are not encouraging vocations to the convent: For a nun, as Rev. Vincent Miceli persuasively argues in "Sisters as Symbols of the Sacred," is called to be sacred, not a knightly protector of the sacred.
7. Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up
But wouldn't the Vatican's prohibition of female liturgical ministers invite howls of protests from those keen on tarring the Church with the dread label of sexism and the terrifying metaphor of "turning back the clock"? Undoubtedly, but change needn't happen by centralized proscription. There could be a grassroots movement in which parishes or dioceses restore the nuptial signs of the Eucharistic sacrifice for themselves. Such a movement could grow organically until it transformed the way the faithful approached liturgical worship.
8. Thermometer vs. Thermostat
Some think we should downplay our hoary traditions in order to fit into our democratic, egalitarian society, as this would render us better citizens. But the opposite is true. The more we differ from society, the more we have something to contribute to it. The last thing our culture needs is more Yes Men bowing before the gender idols of the age; it needs Dutch uncles informed by a loftier view of things. Borrowing a distinction from Martin Luther King Jr., Catholics need to be a thermostat setting the temperature rather than a thermometer reflecting it. An all-male liturgical ministry would be an effective way of preaching the Good News about the higher meaning, so tragically overlooked now, of the noninterchangeable dignity of our sexual natures.
A more detailed version of this article, "Male Subjection and the Case for an All-Male Liturgical Ministry," will appear in the upcoming issue of Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal.
How about cantors and choristers?
Can we start with Altar Girls?
The last time I was at Mass was about 18 years ago. A woman read from the Bible at the altar. I never went back. The Deity in charge understands.
>>How about cantors and choristers?<<
How about we ditch the Cantors all the way around?
I don’t need anyone to stand up on the altar and “bring me up”. I can read, I know what to respond and the solos by these people, remind me of bad off-broadway productions. I went to a parish a couple of weeks ago that had a Duo. It was borderline sap.
Bring back an organist, ditch the piano and the congregation can handle the responses.
Whatever my bishop/pastor decides is fine with me.
I can truly appreciate how liturgical abuse might have this effect on you; I have been there, as well. 18 years is a long time to deprive yourself from receiving our Lord, truly present, in the Eucharist. In turning your back on the abuse at that particular parish, you are punishing only yourself. Please take a moment and visit the following link. Then, look around your community and seek another catholic parish. Regardless of the abuse, the words of consecration remain valid, as disturbing as that may seem. Look around and test the waters at a different parish. Much has changed over the past 18 years.
I only need one reason. Women are not allowed to be priests. Altar boys have historically proven to be an excellent source of vocations. Every girl who serves as an altar server is replacing a boy who just might be inclined to enter the seminary as a result of his altar service. I say this as one who served as an altar boy for 8 years.
Hate to report this NYER
At my local Childhood Cathoic church only people want serve in the mass are Altar female servers
I think reason why the boys lazy
6. Good for the Goose, Not the Gander
Altar service is also good for males because it encourages religious vocations and teaches all men to serve chivalrously and to respect the feminine, which is sacred, with reverence and awe. It is not so for girls. Let us be honest: When we allow a girl to serve at the altar, we are lying to her. We place her in the courtly role of page and tell her she can never be a lord. And we are not encouraging vocations to the convent: For a nun, as Rev. Vincent Miceli persuasively argues in “Sisters as Symbols of the Sacred,” is called to be sacred, not a knightly protector of the sacred.
“To raise the possibility of an all-male liturgical team is to invite tribulation.”
Yes, the PC crowd in your diocese will cause you great “tribulation” (suffering) if you question gender integration in the Liturgy. But IMO the writer meant that “retribution” (revenge) will descend upon traditionalists who dare to question the “non-sexist inclusive integrative” agenda, or whatever they call it.
Watched this cr@p unfold for more than four decades. Tambourines, do-your-own-thing liturgies, it’s very, very old.
I agree with the exception that I do not like women reading the scripture, either.
For some reason, women who read the scriptures somehow think they are “specialer” than others. I don’t like men playing the music, either.
I just don’t want the women to serve in any role. It is wonderful to have an all-male mass.
Having the girls there discourages the boys. The boys eventually think it is a ‘chick’ thing and won’t do it. But when they see other young men up there, they want to emulate them. It becomes a manly thing to do and they are attracted to it.
The same thing seems to be happening with politics.
Careful now... next stop "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" :)
Was that a Catholic Church?
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