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. 324 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 😛 it’s lost alot of air and will hopefully be flat soon and tossed in the garbage.

    • At the first Holy Sacrifice, Jesus was up there crucified, and down below was-traditionally-a group of sorrowful women and the disciple that Jesus loved. Women were close. In another vein. Yes, Jesus founded the Church, and it has grown: current stats have over a billion Catholics on the planet. “…flat and soon tossed in the garbage”? Not!

  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.

      • “None of us have a right to serve, no matter how it makes us feel.”

        It is remarkable, however, just how many laity have adopted such an attitude of entitlement about so many things in the liturgy.

        Such is life in a modern “rights” obsessed culture.

    • protectionfromevil

      So, what does it say about a person who will not accept an argument and already accepted the apology? Personally I think it comes down to individual not open to the truth and is going to close themselves off to any type of reply and finally, they do believe that they are right now matter what anyone else believes.

      In your mind you will always be right. No matter what anyone else might bring to counter your argument, your pride closed your mind.

      I have noticed this is a problem with younger generations. Just pray that time will bring you some wisdom.

    • Dominik Agejev

      Hello Lindsey, I can’t imagine how God can show you your future vocation through being an altar boy since as a female you can not be a priest or deacon. I really don’t understand the other nonsensical things you wrote, such as alleged grace you received through violating the traditional order of things.
      Go read the Baltimore Catechism (http://www.baltimore-catechism.com/), this article: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/girls-should-not-be-altar-servers and this one: https://onepeterfive.com/opposing-practice-altar-girls-not-disobedient/

      Accepting an apology before it is offered is just petty and arrogant. Just like a little girl wanting to do a man’s job.

      God love you.

  7. Perception is reality. I agree on the 80 percent rule, but allowing no women or girls in the sanctuary conveys even further the impression that our faith is not welcoming to women. We Catholics might understand the need for male-only altar boys, but the rest of the world would not. What conveys spirituality among boys AND girls is a spirit-filled priest at the altar.

    • Given that the Church cannot ordain women, though, this is an “impression” game that the Church is never going to win with dedicated gender equality cohorts. As it is, you will hear the complaint that allowing female servers and lectors (and EMHC’s) is a mere “sop” to women, since the priesthood is where the action is really at, and that remains off limits.

      If vocations and the Church are viewed only through a materialist prism of power and equality, it’s simply not the faith that is being embraced. It’s something else.

    • I disagree about the welcoming aspect to woman. As a woman, when I am at Mass, I am treated as an honored guest at the wedding banquet of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Complaining that I can’t serve at altar or in the sanctuary would be like complaining that I can’t wash dishes or sweep the floor.

      • protectionfromevil

        I agree. All the people who feel that the Catholic Church is not welcoming for a woman don’t know the history of the Church. There are so very many women that accomplished so much, like St. Hildegard of Bingen.

        If one believes that a woman roll is limited within the Catholic Church is only limited by what they know and believe.

  8. I find the obsession with only boys to be a bit perculiar in this day and age. How quickly we forget the past. I seem to recall that the altar boy thing didn’t work out well in some dioceses in the Church not too long ago. I think a Godly mix of both men and women, boys. and girls on the altar keeps things balanced and reflects the beauty of God’s creation, male and female alike. If a man is called by Jesus to be a priest, he shoul know it and discern it, not be formed into it by forces outside of himself and the Lord. Otherwise you are going to wind up with some very unhappy priests. Anyone old enough or mature enough to look beyond the pedestal many put priests on can see it and recognize it. It’s not the numbers,it’s the quality of priests that’s important. We have all come across good priests and lousy priests. Let us pray for good priests who serve the whole of Christ’s church, unhappy old school traditionalists and those of us who love and whole-heartedly embrace the Church of Vatican II and all of its reforms.

    • That’s another excellent perception. Holy Mother Church is pure but not everyone in the church is. Over the centuries evil has crept within her walls. Not everyone is capable or even willing to address such wrongdoing. A healthy mix of people from other walks of life are more likely to look out for the interests of children.

    • Here’s an idea: suspend your preconceived ideas and actually go back and read my three blog posts on altar serving. They, along with many of the exceptional commenters, address & refute your statement.

      • I will be glad to. Which specific ones are they? I would love to read all of the commentators you are referring to and see what points they are making. It’s a pity though that we all can’t live and let live. If the TLM crowd want to do things the medieval way ala the anathamizing everything Council of Trent, go at it. I am sure the Church can find a place of them, just like the Greek Catholics, the Ukranian Catholics, the Marionites, et.al. And of course you would always be welcome at Mass, where you could freely experience the joy the Lord is blessing His people with as we share in His Body, and drink from the cup of His Most Precious Blood.

      • “If the TLM crowd want to do things the medieval way ala the anathamizing everything Council of Trent, go at it.”

        It’s not just Trent or just medieval. It’s the way the Church (in both East and West) operated through its entire history, from Pentecost to….well, at least the 1960’s. That is what the Magisterium is for: to define truth and error in such matters for the faithful.

        The alternative is Protestantism.

      • Precisely.

    • “If a man is called by Jesus to be a priest, he should know it and discern it, not be formed into it by forces outside of himself and the Lord.”

      In past ages, one could see young men being pressured into the priesthood by social pressures, but it’s very hard to see how this could possibly be the case today. Serving in an all male altar crew does not constitute such pressure.

      The reality remains that the employment of all male altar server corps is still normative in a way in which girl servers are not, and are to be preferred. As John Paul II’s 1994 permission for the use of female servers says, “”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.”

  9. Jennifer Lovesee-Mast

    Really?! I am 38 but I fought for YEARS for girls to be allowed to be altar servers, finally when I was 15 and too old to become one myself, it was allowed. Instead of pushing girls off the altar maybe we should be more welcoming to them, and allow them to become priests. I am not expecting that to happen in my lifetime, sadly. It is sad that so many women have been called to become priests but are not allowed to follow their own calling. (I personally know this to be true). So instead of allowing women to follow what Christ would like to do with their lives, they are shut out, and ignored by the church. I can guarantee that this has pushed at least one woman away. Why? because we have to follow church tradition, which really isn’t tradition after all, instead we are following 2,000 year old Jewish Tradition, which put woman as wives and mothers only. If Christ was alive today I can guarantee his apostles would be men and woman. But I guess we must go on being narrow minded.

    • A very uniformed and unfortunate comment, neither grounded in theology, history, or ecclesiology. You have not been “pushed away” but rather, in the truest sense of disobedience, simply chosen your way over The Lord’s and that of His Bride, the Church. Female priests are an impossibility as they cannot literally be an “alter Christus”.

      By the way, Christ is alive today. In addition, He gives us His Church, which has already spoken on this topic. Our Lord also demonstrated His will by choosing only male apostles.

      Any Catholic women who believes her calling is to be a priestess in the Church is not following God’s will for her, but rather her own. I am reminded of Lucifer’s defiance against God when, just before he was cast out of heaven and into hell, cried to God, “Non serviam!”(I will not serve!).

    • “If Christ was alive today I can guarantee his apostles would be men and woman.”


      Was Christ any less Christ in 30 AD than he is today?

      If not, why did he not select women for his Apostles then – during his actual earthly ministry?

      Was he bound by cultural norms? If he was, why did cultural norms not keep him from healing on the Sabbath…or breaking dozens of other taboos or rules of the Mosaic Law?

      If he was bound by cultural norms, doesn’t that suggest he’s not as godlike as he claimed?

      Or is it possible that there’s a significance to sexual difference that has bearing on vocations after all?

      The Church has up until now claimed, following this same example of Christ, that it is impossible for it to ordain women. It has even insisted that this belongs to the deposit of faith. This has been its consistent position for 2,000 years. So was it wrong all that time? Or would it be wrong now if it suddenly claimed that it could do so after all?

      • Richard, I think you’re asking some really good questions. The answers appear to point to: yes, there must be something different with women that made Christ choose only men.

        Being a woman myself, I’m reaching deeply inward to discover WHAT that is.

        Haven’t found anything THAT different except physiological differences. It’s not personalities, because there are plenty of “feminine” men and “masculine” women. Brave women and wimpy men. Level-headed women and moody men. Give me a hard-and-fast rule defining what exactly “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics are, and I’ll show you thousands of exceptions.

        Just speaking hypothetically, if Jesus were literally bodily walking on this earth today picking apostles, would He choose a transgender man (man who manipulates his reality to be womanly) over a biological woman?…. somehow I doubt that, but its His decision. Since bio males have some sort of *essence* that makes them the ONLY possibility for priests, that might be more realistic.

        Just thinking out loud… I wonder if Jesus only chose men as apostles because He knew that any women that were chosen might be stoned for “hanging out” socially with other men (that’s a cultural norm he couldn’t change at the time–God or not). Maybe He saw that adding women to his group would cloud his message and mission, since there would just be a constant string of “appointment and removal by execution” of His woman apostles, not to mention the inevitable hailstorm of allegations that might follow regarding romance. At the time, He had more to accomplish (conquering sin and death, being crucified, performing miracles, etc) than taking a stand on behalf of women’s societal equality. It just wasn’t time yet.

        And He also made the promise “I have not lost any of those you gave me.” He wouldn’t want to be indirectly responsible for the killings of women, so He left them out for the time being.

        So I’m led to surmise that now that society’s changed enough to be more inclusive of women (now we make *almost* 4/5ths of men’s salaries doing the same work!) Jesus would have chosen women as priests and apostles too.

        The thing that’s holding up the line now is the millions of Catholic men and (to be fair) women slinging the entire 2000-year-old card catalog of reasons not to, while never really seriously considering the MERITS in modern day. Jesus was a man, and that leads many male Catholic leaders to aggrandize their sex to the point of literally calling a woman “Lucifer” if she says she feels called to be a priest. Unlike Jesus, the people of our modern Church appear NOT to be aware of the times.

      • Richard, what Jennifer is railing against is the truth. There is a place for her, but it’s down the street in the Episcopal church. Or maybe the Lutheran church across town. There she will find women at the altar, and not just there either — there are women bishops too! What Jennifer won’t find in these faux catholic churches is the Body and Blood of Christ. She will find other things though — beautiful liturgy and music, and powerful preaching. That’s because Protestant churches, having deprived themselves of apostolic succession, cannot confect ordinary bread and wine into the Real Presence of Christ. Does that mean Christ isn’t present in those churches too? No. While Jesus absolutely is present in the Word and John Wesley’s hymns too, the “fullness of faith” is found in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Jennifer simply needs to sort out in her own mind where she belongs.

    • (Sigh) Jennifer, you’re laying down the rules for Holy Mother Church. I would like to be much younger, more handsome (or just handsome period!), and have fewer bills and more money in the bank. I would also like to fly like a bird and maybe even bear children. It ain’t gonna happen. God in his wisdom didn’t send a woman to die on the cross for our sins. He didn’t send a man to bear a Son to die on a cross for us. I don’t know why he did it that way, but I accept it. Priests act in the person of Jesus, who was a man. Jesus, while he was here on earth, prayed to God the Father. Is God a man? I don’t know but Jesus the Savior apparently thought so. Who am I (or you) to try and change that? I urge you to accept the way things are and (believe me!) you will be much happier.

    • Don’t expect it to happen in anyone’s lifetime. It’s a settled issue.

      • protectionfromevil

        Men are different than women. We have different roles in life. Both social life and church life. The two can never cross.

  10. And how many of those girl alter servers go on to become pastoral associates, catechists, Eucharistic minister’s, liturgical ministers, and all of the other women who serve the church and many, many ways? I’m sure that being an alter server prepares both boys and girls to serve the church as adults.

    • There’s no doubt that both boys and girls benefit from serving in any capacity. But the last time I checked, there was no shortage of pastoral associates, EMHC’s, catechists, etc. But there is a shortage of priests. And so it is fitting that we should prefer boys serving at the altar, in the hopes that in so doing some of them will discover a vocation to the priesthood. The future of the church depends on it.

      • There is no shortage of people called to the priesthood, there is a shortage of those who are accepted. The first black Catholic priest was ordained in 1886. I’m sure that there were many black men called to the vocation of the priesthood in the previous 1886 years. So sad that they could not live out their vocations.

      • I’m not sure the “future” of Holy Mother Church depends on more priests — the future is up to the Holy Spirit. But there is no doubt that the church will suffer as she has throughout the centuries. I would much prefer holy priests to more priests. Priests who do more than just say Mass and think that’s all there is. Priests are desperately needed to reach out and touch people where they are. We’re being beaten over the head by the secular world and the church needs to find some way to break through the noise.

      • “There is no shortage of people called to the priesthood, there is a shortage of those who are accepted.”

        That could well be – actually, it *has* been true – and it is fodder for another, lengthy discussion.

        But that a priest shortage exists in many diocese is impossible to dispute. Here in Baltimore, we’re going to see a drop in active priests by over a third by 2025 on current projections and current ordination rates.

    • “And how many of those girl alter servers go on to become pastoral associates, catechists, Eucharistic minister’s, liturgical ministers…”

      Not to be too snarky, but I’d hope it was clear by now that many of us dread the very existence of “pastoral associates, catechists, Eucharistic minister’s, liturgical ministers,” often having suffered from the badly formed arrogance of such clericalized laity.

      The Church did not permit female altar servers before 1994. Is it really true that before that moment, throughout the previous nineteen and a half centuries, that it had no means of preparing young women to serve the Church and live out their vocations, and find holiness? Indeed – to turn it around – isn’t it even true that most of the women currently serving in these positions could not have possibly served as altar servers in their youth, given their age?

      • There is no doubt that women are able to serve the church nobly and well in many ways. They just can’t be priests any more than I can be a mother to my children. The church should worry whenever anyone has an agenda of his or her own. I have personally seen a female liturgist try to steer young men away from the priesthood by ridiculing them. This particular woman ripped out statuary and redesigned the sanctuary to fit her idea of the way it should be more inclusive. But again, there are men too who have not served the church well, so wrongdoing exists across the board. Satan has many ways of attacking Holy Mother Church and I can only glory in the promise that the “gates of hell will not prevail against (her).”

  11. When I was a kid, our parish had c. 20 altar boys (Catholic parish school). Every year, one of the priests would take all of us to the diocesan seminary. Looking over the facilities was an experience. Several guys went on to ordination.

  12. The tittle should be What Altar Boys are allowed to do that Altar Girls are not allowed to do.

  13. The previous comment about how Vatican II is failing the church is off base, since most of the conservative clergy fought the proper implementation of the council and are still fighting against the Pope. Deacons and lay ministers have done a wonderful job from my experience in several parishes. Altar Girls are a good start in making the church more humane.

  14. What are the girls supposed to do, then?

  15. Catholic Woman

    As a cradle Catholic woman who left the Church for 35 years, then returned last year, all I can say is: Get the girls and women off of the Altar. They do NOT belong there. It was the gradual feminization of the Church that put me off, and helped to make me question what was so different or special about Catholics vs others. The era of “relativism” was well on its way.

    So, for you ladies who are questioning from a secular point of view as to “why can’t the girls be part of the boys’ club?”, here it is: Women are too damn much like women. Everything has to be “fair”, and “feelings can get hurt”, and “we’re being excluded” type nonsense. The same goes for those who are pushing to permit priests to marry. Don’t ever do it, because you will be giving women yet another door into the Church via the priests, and it will be nasty.

    I know how women think and operate. They are very good at both supporting other women and tearing them down at the same time. Men compete and act on a different level than women do. As someone who grew up with both brothers and sisters, I can personally attest to the fact that they handle conflict, stress, and emotional situations quite differently. As a general observation (and no, it doesn’t apply to all males), boys and men can fight each other like boxers one minute and then go for beers the next. The problem has been resolved, decided, and it is time to move on. Girls? Not so much. They hash over and rehash and look for social support to support their own view, because they want the affirmation.

    The Church needs to get the women out of the Altar services, and get the men back in. Women have a role — support the Church in its wisdom, and support God as the women He made you.

    I am a baby boomer, so I had the privilege of growing up in the area of “I’m okay, you’re okay” and “If it feels good, do it.” I have news for you: If it feels good, then you’re only thinking of yourself. God is love, and love means to wish to better for the other, and to do the better for the other in service of the other, not the self. Hence, if we love God, we love His Son, and His Son’s Church, so our role is to *serve God*.

  16. I have seen alter girls in dresses so short they could not bend without showing their underwear. The practice needs to stop. In my teenager years I did help to answer the mass in from the communion rail because I was living with the Salesian sisters and there was no boys to help the mass. I did not help at the altar.

  1. Pingback: Why The Church Should Reconsider Allowing Altar Girls |

  2. Pingback: What Altar Boys Can Do That Altar Girls Can’t – sanctusdominusdeus

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