Monday, May 12, 2014

What will they think of next?

          There’s always something interesting going on at Fr. Z’s blog.  Today an alarmed  reader wrote in [link] about a mass in an unnamed diocese in which teenaged, female altar servers doubled as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  The reader wanted to know whether it was appropriate to write to the new bishop of the diocese about the situation.  The good father responded that, “Leaving aside the issue of females serving at all,” it was probably permissible (although one receives the impression that he thinks it’s a bad idea indeed), and that the bishop of the diocese in question has more than enough weightier matters to grapple with at present.  He recommended against complaining to the bishop, and instead relying on prayer.

G.K. Chesterton: not an advocate of being a child of one's age
      I have no argument with Fr. Z’s answer; he’s certainly more qualified to comment on dealing with the hierarchical Church than I am.  I will have a go, however, at the matter he is” leaving aside”, the issue of female altar servers.  Let me state at the outset that I recognize that the Church has authorized the use of girls as servers, and I’m not telling anyone that they’re “bad” Catholics or any such thing if they favor altar girls or have daughters who serve in this capacity.  I’m merely offering a few reasons why I think it’s better to have only males serving mass. 
      I touch on this topic briefly in an earlier post (“Where Have All The Fathers Gone”, here), and my main concern has to do with confusing the symbolism of the priest, who is present at Mass In Persona Christi, in the person of Christ. While we know that God is pure spirit and  is neither male nor female, he has chosen to relate to us in the role of “Father”, and in the second person of the Trinity in the form of the man Jesus.  I’m not getting into the rich theological meaning of all this: for that, see St. John Paul the Great's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (here), and Inter Insigniores (here) from the CDF under Pope Paul VI. Taking that symbolic meaning as a given, however, this is what I said in that earlier post: 

Among the various other things that a priest does, he is an iconic representation of the fatherhood of God. When he is surrounded by women in the sanctuary, that image is diluted. As a more practical matter, the more something is dominated by girls, the less attractive it is to boys. That may be a regrettable reality, but a reality it remains. Over the last dozen years we have seen the male/female ratio among altar servers tip ever further in the female direction. Altar serving has historically been a first step for many men in discerning a vocation to the priesthood, so as fewer boys become servers we can expect fewer “father figures” to preside at Mass and consecrate the body and blood of Christ; also, more generally, the more the Mass is seen as a “girl thing”, the more religious belief and practice themselves will seem to be “unmanly” (lex orandi, lex credendi – “the law of praying is the law of believing”), and the fewer men will bother to show up at all. 

          The case from Fr. Z's reader raises even more concerns. For one thing, the sheer incongruity of altar servers distributing communion, which is likely to make people uncomfortable and draw attention away from the sacrament everyone is there to celebrate.  There are also more serious concerns.  For instance, here the girls are not merely in the sanctuary, they are performing a function that has historically belonged to the priest.  The Church has taught infallibly that women cannot be ordained (see the Magisterial documents cited above, and Cardinal Ratzinger's Responsum [here]; also, this excellent discussion here about the status of the Church's teaching).  If the mere presence of altar girls encourages the impossible  expectation that women might be ordained, how much more so when these girls in clerical clothing, who accompany the priest throughout the liturgy, are distributing Holy Communion?  In such a role they would look much more “priestly” than women in ordinary dress who come out of the congregation only to distribute Communion and then return.   Beyond its effect within the Church, what iconic  image is presented to us before we are sent out into the world? Instead of the complementary sex roles as intended by God ("Man and Woman he created them", Gen. 1:27), we see something closer to the spirit of an age that imagines 58 different self-determined "genders" (see here). That way lies madness.          
     This is the month of May, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mother, in which we are reminded that the Catholic Church honors a woman as the greatest saint of all; we esteem other women (Theresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux) as highly as any male saints: we don't need to take on the false ideas about gender that are currently fashionable out in the world.  G. K. Chesterton famously said that being Catholic "is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."  Of course. As Christ says, "The Truth will set you free" (John 8:32), and where should we look for the Truth: in the conventional wisdom, or in  Christ's Church?