Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

In defence of girl servers
August 30, 2011, 11:05 am
Filed under: Opinion | Tags: , , ,

William Oddie (whom God preserve!) has recently in the Catholic Herald expressed his view that Rome’s permission for female altar servers has been a mistake, and has led to a drop in priestly vocations. His argument is (broadly speaking) that once girls are allowed in to areas once exclusively open to boys, the boys drop out. As a matter of observation, I think that this is sadly true, and needs to be addressed. However, I do not at all agree that this should mean returning to the exclusion of girls as servers.

The drop in priestly vocations over recent decades needs remedying, but I question the wisdom of regarding altar servers as the most appropriate target for recruitment, especially when priestly vocation is held to imply also a vocation to celibacy. The vocation to marriage and the vocation to celibacy are each worthy of honour; but neither is intrinsically connected to the vocation to priesthood. While I quite understand recent defences of priestly celibacy in the face of widespread criticism, I hope such defence does not carry the implication that priests who have a vocation to marriage (and as well as the Orthodox and Anglican tradition, even the Latin Church has not a few married priests) are in any way “second-rate”. The vocation to celibacy (in those who have it) can enhance their priestly ministry, certainly: but no less truly (for those who have it), the vocation to marriage can enhance priestly ministry, but in a different way. I believe that a healthy Church can recognise both vocations as entirely compatible with priesthood; though according to circumstance the authorities of the Church may, as a matter of policy, call to the priestly ministry normally only those who have genuinely a celibate vocation.

And here is my point about servers: boys have often had the priestly ministry held up to them, and have been asked whether they think God is calling them to it. It is painted (rightly) as a great privilege and honour. If they respond to this call, it is assumed that they have implicitly accepted a vocation to celibacy. My point is that they are at this stage too young to consider seriously either marriage or celibacy. I do not think the question of a priestly vocation should even be raised until they are old enough to weigh up the choice between the other two.

Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a valid and noble option. It is open to both men and women. Much more should be done to present it to young people who may be pondering the course their lives should take. If the Latin Church then wishes, normally, to look for priests from those men who have embraced celibacy for its own sake, well and good. I still think it would be better to have a “mixed economy” including both the “domestic” and the “monastic” patterns of priestly ministry.

Meanwhile, altar servers should not be seen as “apprentice priests”, and long may girl servers flourish!


2 Comments so far
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I think this is not just about celibacy.
Girl servers is another innovation.
And innovations and vocations (of all kinds) don’t go together.

Comment by Antonio

I tend to agree with Chesterton that to keep things the same you must constantly renew them: a white shirt does not stay white without regular washing. Our Lord said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Of course, we need to discern what is genuine renewal, and what is real change. Servers (male or female) are not clerics, they are layfolk. I do not see why ministries open to layfolk should be the preserve of one sex only.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

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