Monday, May 12, 2008

Male Altar Servers

The following excerpt is taken from SACRED THEN AND SACRED NOW - THE RETURN OF THE OLD LATIN MASS by Thomas Woods, Jr., Roman Catholic Books,, Copytright 2008. (My emphases and comments appear in bold type.)

In 1994 female altar servers were suddenly permitted for use in the ordinary form of the Roman rite. But the concession...came in the form of an indult - that is, an exception to a general rule - and one that bishops were at liberty to forbid in their dioceses. "The implication is that the general liturgical norm prohibiting female altar servers remains in existence, so that in general women may not serve at the altar undless a local ordinary intervenes by a positive act and grants permission for his territorial jurisdiction. Thus, the Congregation [for Divine Worship] has clarified the authentic interpretation to mean that an indult is given to diocesan bishops to permit the use of female servers." Instruction number 2 of the indult itself urges that "it will alway be very appropriate to follow the noble tardtion of having boys serve at the altar."

[While Rome of course is within its right to do this, I have always felt that such "indults" place the bishop in an awkward position, evidenced by the fact that most of the bishops eventually "cave". However, today's bishop is the one clamoring for more autonomy and local authority in manners of church discipline. So with that freedom has come the responsibility to be the "bad guy" once in awhile. Much praise to the bishops who stand up to popular opinion and, despite indults, continue with what the Church actually prefers.]

...The very fact that the exclusively male preserve of altar service can be traced back to the beginning of the Church weighs very heavily in the equation, particularly for a Church that values Tradition as one of its pillars. ..."In the case of religious tradition which has not only existed, but has been consciously, continuously, and emphatically reaffirmed and insisted upon for two millenia, there must be an enormous and overwhelming presumption that such a traditon reflects the will of Christ." ... the "general discipline of the Church [against female altar service] has been set in stone by canon 44 of the Collection of Laodicea which dates generally from the end of the 4th century and which has figured in almost all canonical collections of East and West."

Many of the arguments against female altar servers are similar to those that justify the reservation of the priesthood to men alone, particularly since altar servers are often considered extensions of the priest (Arguments in defencse of a male-only preisthood are well summarized in Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the Congreagation for the Doctirine of the Faith's 1976 document Inter Insigniores, both of which are available online.) We see this close relationship between altar service and its culminationtion in the priesthood not only in that both the priest and altar servers wear the cassock and surplice, but also in certain linguistic conventions. The Spanish word fo altar boy is monaguillo, which means a "little monk." In Italian, ... "the word for altar boy is chierichetto - a "little cleric," which means that the term used naturally for "altar girs" in Italian is in itself an affront to Catholic doctrine: they are called donne chierichettoa, "little female clerics."

A married person, according to Catholic teaching as well as common sense, may not flirt or become involved romatically with a member of the opposite sex even if their relationshiop should remain technically chaste. Their behavior toward each other is logically ordered toward physical consummation even if such consummation does not in fact occur.

..."From this perspective...we could say that a woman or girl serving at the altar, no matter how devout her personal intentions, no matter how reverent, recollected and modest her deportment and dress, is by her very presence in the sanctuary engaging in what is objectively a kind of spiritual immodesty. She is flirting, as it were, with priestly ordination-mimicking it, drawing as near as she can to it with an indecorous familiartiy and an intrusive intimacy. Her liturgical role insinuates and suggests ordination as its proper goal or fulfillment, even though this is absolutely excluded by the Law of Christ."

Female altar service, in short, introduces a deep tension, an inner contradition, into the sacred litrugy. It makes an ideological statement which both politicizes and secularizes our Eucharistic worship. Instead of reflecting the sublime harmony of the communion of saints, a foretatste of Heaven itself, the sanctuary comes to symbolize an earthly battlefield in the new cold war against "patriarchy."
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