Girls no longer will be allowed as altar servers during Mass at the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, SS. Simon and Jude.
The Reverend John Lankeit, rector of the cathedral, said he made the decision in hopes of promoting the priesthood for males and other religious vocations, such as becoming a nun, for females.
Nuns Are “A Dying Breed”
This is especially ironic in light of a story in The New York Times last Sunday, calling nuns “A Dying Breed,” and focusing on the story of Sister Mary Jean, who entered her convent as a young nurse in 1960.
Even as the country’s Roman Catholic population surged by nearly 50 percent over the last half-century, the number of nuns dropped precipitously, to 56,000 today from 180,000 in 1965, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. In 2009, 91 percent of all nuns were at least 60 years old.
Sister Mary Jean’s order has dwindled to about 100 from a peak of more than 500. Most moved out of their convent last year and into a retirement and nursing home. There has not been an initiate for 25 years, and several years ago the sisters reluctantly stopped looking.
Memo to the Reverend John Lankeit: becoming a nun is not such a viable option for girls these days.
Who Are Altar Girls?
The altar-server group in American churches is made up primarily of fifth- through eighth-graders and has included girls since 1983 in many places. Girls and boys regularly serve together at churches throughout the Phoenix Catholic Diocese.
Bishops and pastors always have had the option of restricting the role to boys, but only one diocese, Lincoln, Nebraska, and scattered parishes have done so. Before 1983, when church law was revised, girls were not allowed to serve.
At SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, the girls will be offered the role of sacristan, the person who prepares the church and the altar area before Mass.
SS. Simon And Jude The First Church In Phoenix Diocese To Ban Girls
SS. Simon and Jude is believed to be the first church in the diocese of Phoenix to ban girls from serving Mass.
Altar servers have a direct role in the Catholic Eucharistic ceremony. They assist the priest, and are the only lay people directly involved throughout the entire service. Other lay people may serve as lectors or Eucharistic ministers, helping the priest distribute communion.
As first reported in azcentral.com, “The connection between serving at the altar and priesthood is historic,” Lankeit said. “It is part of the differentiation between boys and girls, as Christ established the priesthood by choosing men. Serving at the altar is a specifically priestly act.”
There appears to be little if any research connecting altar service to a later decision to enter the priesthood — or connecting other types of service for girls to religious life as a nun.
Why Does The Church Continue To Abuse Females?
“It is a shame on how the church continues to abuse the females,” said Bob Lutz of Phoenix, a Catholic with three grown daughters. “Church attendance is shrinking now, and this adds more fuel to the fire on how females are treated as second-class citizens.”
Carole Bartholomeuax of Phoenix, who attended St. Joan of Arc parish, said girls outnumbered boys as altar servers there.
“I believe Mary Magdalene set the example for women to be altar servers. I am so sorry to hear of this going backwards,” she said, adding that she still loves her church, “warts and all.”s
Wake up, Reverend Lankeit. In 2011, many branches of the Christian Church have female ministers.
Excluding girl altar servers may stir up more controversy than you anticipated.