What Altar Boys Can Do That Altar Girls Can’t


This past week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the findings from the 2014 Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood. Prepared by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) for the USCCB, the survey was completed by 365 ordinands, which constitutes a 77 percent response rate. At nearly 30 pages, there is a great deal of data to digest.

While the USCCB press release focused on areas such as the ethnicity and median age of this years ordinands, something far more interesting was tucked in at the bottom of the release.

Of the 365 men surveyed this year, a whopping 80 percent had been altar boys during their formative years. In comparison, only 52 percent of ordinands had been lectors, less than a third had been youth ministers and only 15 percent had ever attended a World Youth Day or a Steubenville Youth Conference.

Don’t just read that and move on. Truly ponder the implications of this statistic: eight of ten ordinands surveyed were altar boys growing up. 80 percent. This is the stat everyone needs to know. In all honesty we must acknowledge the very real correlation between serving and discerning. The survey has revealed this to us in the past, and confirms it yet again this year.

Now consider this. In August 2010, Rome hosted the International Pilgrimage for Altar Servers, an event organized by Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium and held every five years. For the first time ever, the 2010 turnout had more girls than boys attending. Much like the statistical representation found in many parishes today, the pilgrimage of servers resulted in a 60:40 ratio of girls to boys.

Now here is another number to consider: zero. That’s the number of altar girls who will go on to become priests in the Catholic Church.

As I have written about before, the exclusive use of altar boys serving at Mass is helping to facilitate discernment and vocations within many parishes, often where both forms of the Roman Rite are reverently offered. This is in many ways one of the fruits of Summorum Pontificum, and it must continue.

As stated earlier, we must honestly acknowledge this correlation between altar boys and vocations to the priesthood. Understanding this, shame on us if we do nothing to reverse the trend in parishes where fewer and fewer boys are serving.

80 percent or zero? Think about it.

Posted on May 17, 2014, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 281 Comments.

  1. Well, just an observation, but seeing as how there are so few vocations in the new mass crowd, and so many among the traditional mass crowd(so many that alot of men are actually turned away for lack of space) then I think it’s only a matter of time before the new mass and its ways are lost and forgotten, and tradition once again takes it’s rightful place as the ordinary, and then we won’t have this problem anymore of altar girls, or Eucharistic ministers, or laymen leading parishes…we already can see this becoming a reality with the closing of so many parishes,

    I think we’ll soon reach a point where everyone will be forced to admit that these new ideas for the church have failed from day one.

    Jesus started his Church and it grew and grew from then on the right way, it wasn’t until Vatican ll that things went downhill, why? Because instead of keeping the ball rolling that Christ had pushed, they created their own ball to push….and quite frankly, it hasn’t gotten very far :P it’s lost alot of air and will hopefully be flat soon and tossed in the garbage.

  2. What seems to be absent in the stats given above is the number of ordinands that attended churches where there were girl altar servers as well.

    • Very true. There really is limited data since neither Rome, nor any diocesan bishop, seems to want to research this. Fortunately, we are seeing more pastors simply exercise their discretion and authority to deny altar service to girls.

  3. Another missing piece of data is what percentage of altar servers (male only mind you) went on to become ordinands? And of course there is the encouraging home environment that fosters vocations. And not least of all, ere we forget, the actual call from Jesus to Come follow Him, the call we hope all of our priests actually hear.

  4. While I do not necessarily disagree with the article’s conclusions, I think the interpretation of the statistics is a bit misleading (as has already been observed). I would argue that a similar survey among faithful members of the laity would reveal similar statistics – in other words, Catholics are more likely to be altar servers, than they are to be lectors, youth ministers, or attend a Steubenville conference. Because you have more Catholics that serve in the former capacity, it makes sense that more ordinands have been altar servers than fit into any of the other categories.

    • It’s important to note that Rome has always acknowledged the connection between boys serving and then discerning a calling to the priesthood. That can’t be said for those other activities.

  5. How exactly does one follow a blog, getting it in your email or how?

  6. So if you can’t become a priest, then get off the proverbial stage? What a terrible article and argument. This is what the unbelievable world finds unbelievable. What if being an altar server provides God another opportunity to bless us (it does and He does) in our lives to show us our vocations, whichever they may be? I was a girl alter server who recieved many graces, so did God “waste grace” on me? Go read Romans 6 and pray on it. Apology accepted.

    • “The Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.”

      Congregation for Divine Worship & Discipline of the Sacraments

    • 1. Diocesan Bishops can choose to authorize, or not, service at the altar by females.
      2. Just because another diocese has service by women, that doesn’t mean any other diocese has to have it.
      3. Priests cannot be forced to have females serve their Masses.
      4. Pastors cannot be forced by bishops to have female servers.
      5. There is an obligation to support the service at the altar by boys.
      6. There is a connection between service at the altar by boys and vocations to the priesthood.
      7. No lay person has the right to serve at the altar for Mass or any other liturgical worship.

      Sadly, many today fail to understand #7. None of us have a right to serve, no matter how it makes us feel. Serving at the altar was historically a role for the minor orders (males) on their path (though not always) to major orders (priest, deacon, subdeacon). In the parish setting that role was given to young men.

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