Tuesday, July 5, 2016

When My Girls Become Altar Servers

Editor's Note: Today's piece is brought to you from all the way up in Canada by Jane Korvemaker! You need to check her out at her website and on Twitter right now!

I was an altar server when I was a girl, and it was super exciting. The church was attached to my school, and once every month myself and another boy in my class were the only ones who received a special message from the church: the next month's altar server schedule. For an 8 year old, it was absolutely thrilling to look up at that boy, give a knowing glance, then open that schedule up for me to see where I was placed to serve a couple weekends a month. To be completely honest, part of the thrill was because I had a crush on that boy and I always had a slim hope that we might serve together (usually did not), but that was not the reason I chose to serve, nor the reason I loved it. Through this process, I became known and loved by my community, I learned important things about the Mass (and peculiar customs of certain priests), and I had a sense of responsibility toward my faith community. It's also not to say I loved it every time I served. I seem to recall several times being coaxed (read: threatened) by my mother to step up to the responsibility to which I committed, but often once I was there, with the alb on, cincture tied properly, things usually rolled out pretty happily (unless the sacristan forgot to refill the water cruet...that was an embarrassing day).

There's rhetoric out there against female altar servers, in large part because (I think) it is believed that little girls will get it into their heads that if they're serving the priest and community on the altar, it will obviously ensue that they will think they can be a priest. I find this argument fallacious.

I have found that this stance seems to stem from what are formerly known as the minor orders, where seminarians (young boys and men) were instituted to certain positions (acolyte, exorcist, doorkeeper and lector) prior ordination. These positions were reserved for the male gender because they were steps to ordination. Just so that we are clear about these minor orders now- they were abolished (see Ministeria Quaedam) and the positions of lector and acolyte, specifically, were redefined. The ministry of acolyte and lector are still instituted ministries (reserved for men only [as instituted], typically only those in formation for priesthood), but the General Instruction for the Roman Missal, 3rd edition (GIRM for short; the Roman Missal is the book the priest says the prayers from at Mass), states about this ministry, "In the absence of an instituted acolyte, there may be deputed lay ministers to serve at the altar and assist the Priest and the Deacon." So, why all the fuss? Really, there's no need.

I'm really looking forward to when my girls become altar servers (likely with my son), helping our community to experience the living God through the Word and the Eucharist. Perhaps they'll forget to ring the bell during the words of institution like I used to (and get that glare from the priest as he turns my direction), perhaps they'll forget when to bring up the water for washing hands or mix it up with when to bring the water and wine, like I did so often. Or maybe they'll grab the alb for the short kids and have to endure wearing a knee-length alb knowing it looks awkward and embarrassing but also knowing that they are there to serve, even if the dress-code got messed up a bit, like I did. It doesn't really matter what mistakes they end up making (and all the boys made those same mistakes too), they will be serving the community, which is more than most of us do at our churches. If we are able to help cultivate an attitude of service to neighbour, then I think we're working towards that kingdom that Jesus kept talking about. And knowing God, even as little as I do, I know his preference is to work through the little ones, the anawim (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column/the-anawim-who-are-they-2386/), like children. They'll change us, these little ones, if we'll let them.

Did you altar serve when you were younger?

1 comment:

  1. I see that because you served, you are bringing up your children to serve. From one we have many.