Altar boy from yesterday, photo: Michael Ledesma, Facebook

Today, we’re going to grab ahold of a liturgical third rail: altar girls. Yea or nay? A progressive innovation employed by hip and street smart pastors? Or yet another failed, self-sabotaging attempt at secular relevancy?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s the second one.

There are a lot of orthodox Catholics who are cool with girl altar servers. In fact, some of you may be reading this article with an eyebrow raised. Well, as 21st century Americans (or at least English speakers), we need a bit of deprogramming. We have been taught from birth that men and women are equal.

But what does equality mean?

The problem is that our 21st century notion of equality is very different than that of the Church’s, which is 2,000 years old (actually, it’s timeless). Today, equal means a woman can and should be able to do anything a man can do. In many categories, this is of course correct. But not all of them.

The Church’s understanding is that men and women are equal and different. Men and women are equal in dignity, but have different roles, and these roles are complementary. The Church also teaches that both men and women function best working together, each in their special areas of competence.

The point is, while our secular professors in college insisted that, to be truly equal, women have to have the same responsibilities and access to the same leadership positions as men, this ain’t necessarily so.

This narrative is framed in terms of a power struggle and antagonism. Women must be more than just valued and respected. They must be powerful, and this fight for power is a struggle against men. To be equal, women must have power in the Church. This means access to positions of power.

Any couple that is even moderately happy together knows that framing a relationship between a man and a women as a power struggle is a terrible idea. But this struggle against patriarchy is a defining, essential component of modern-day feminism.

This feminist attitude gets even worse when applied to the Church. The Church hierarchy isn’t (supposed to be) about power. It’s about service and sacrifice. This is why the pope is sometimes called “the servant of the servants of God.” Those pushing for women’s ordination (it’s relevant. I’ll explain in a minute) don’t understand how the Church operates.

When you think about it, the standard attitudes regarding the Church and the role of women are doubly warped.

So, the takeaway: The Church understands equality in a different way than the 21st century West. Arm yourself with this insight before we dive in.

Altar boy


Okay, so, with that quick briefing, let’s get back to the topic at hand: altar girls. Altar girls have been banned before numerous times, and even after Vatican II. Despite this, dissident bishops began introducing them and pushing for their formal acceptance and integration. Eventually, in the 1990s it was clarified that women could serve as altar servers.

It’s interesting to note how reluctantly the Church allows altar girls. They can never be required, only banned. A bishop cannot make a parish priest have them at his parish. They can, however be banned at any point at the national, diocesan, and parish levels. The Church still prefers men to serve at the altar.

Why is that? Well, there are several reasons why, up until twenty years ago, women were not allowed to serve.

Altar girls are very awkward theologically speaking. Being part of a horribly catechised generation, we have a tendency to view altar service like some kind of club. But an altar server is not just a functionary, like an usher or lector. They are considered to be minor clergy in a sense. In fact, in the old system, they were considered “Acolytes,” the lowest clerical rank. Since the formal ministry of the Church is reserved only for men, female altar servers by their very existence imply that women can be ordained.

They can’t.

Secondly, the vast majority of priests were altar servers when they were young. It has always been seen as a gateway to the priesthood, and for good reasons. Girl altar servers at that gateway is…weird from a vocational outlook. There is no place to move on to bigger and better things. Nuns often lector, but they do not assist the priest at the altar during mass. Religious life is a completely different charism, one that altar service poorly prepares you for.

Thirdly, for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that boys don’t like hanging out with girls, the presence of girl altar servers cleans out server groups of males in parishes. This happened in my own parish, and we’ve all seen masses where there are only girls serving. The effect is that this important gateway to the priesthood is sealed off, and vocations suffer.

So altar girls are theologically bizarre. The practice doesn’t provide an opportunity for girls to discover a vocation, and closes down an important waystation to the priesthood. It’s impractical, it’s weird, and it really doesn’t serve any purpose than satisfy our malformed 21st century notion of gender equality.

So why is the sanctuary exploding with altar girls?

When the feminist movement smashed into the mainstream, progressive clerics, instead of taking this opportunity to teach on the authentic dignity of women, instead opted out in an attempt to win praise from the world. So they tossed the feminists a bone and started flooding their dioceses with altar girls, either because they wanted to avoid controversy, or be perceived as cutting edge, or because they were feminists themselves.

Far from silencing feminists, this only emboldened them. Because altar girls imply a possibility for women priests, feminists have been and are pushing harder than ever before. This is just one of the innumerable ways that progressive bishops have demonstrated that they are really disconnected from how the world actually works. Judas at least got his 30 pieces of silver. Dissident bishops today sell the faith for confederate money.

Furthermore, allowing this concession by opening the door to serving at the altar, far from pleasing the world, enraged it. Remember how feminists are fixated on power? Imagine how insulting it must be to a feminist for a priest to grant a woman the “powerful” Church position of … “altar server.”

It’s an extraordinarily condescending action, and it still doesn’t come close to making women “equal” in the sense that the world wants. Once again, dissident bishops and priests think they are experts at reading “the signs of the times” but they are incredibly out of touch with the world.

You want to get catechesis and vocations back on track? Then altar girls have got to go. You will be loudly condemned by the world, but that is the price of sanctity.