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Busting the Myth of Altar Girls and Female Vocations


In the past my posts on the correlation between altar boys and increased vocations to the priesthood have generated quite a bit of discussion. At times those who most vocally support the modern practice of girls serving express little concern over its potential detriment to priestly vocations. Proponents often assume that altar serving impacts female discernment in a manner very similar to that of men’s.

But is this really the case? And ultimately, is it even relevant to a discussion about altar serving?

The most recent CARA study of men and women religious making their perpetual vows in 2015 reported only 20% of women having ever served altar. Compare this to teaching faith formation (48%) and singing in choir (33%), and you can see that altar serving impacts female discernment much less than other ministries.

Women surveyed by CARA in 2013 and 2012 responded in a similar manner. In both years only 15% of those making their perpetual vows had ever been altar servers. Religious education, music, and social service ministries were all much more common formative experiences among the women surveyed each year.

Likewise, we can contrast this with men ordained to the priesthood each of the last five years, where we see between 70-80% having served at the altar. Of course this only makes sense as the altar boy is an extension of the liturgical function of the priest, something that inevitably contributes to the ongoing process of discernment through involvement.

Now think about this: the Italian slang word for altar boy is chierichetto, which means little clergymen. That about says it all.

We need not make this more complicated than it is. Vocations boom now just as they did in the past, where Catholicism is authentic and where truth, beauty and goodness are demonstrated. This tends to be where the sacred is winning over the secular.

Girls will continue to discern their vocation, either to marriage or to the consecrated life, the same way as they have for centuries-when marriage and female orders flourished: through personal piety and through authentic role models.

If you want to help young women discern their vocation, increase their exposure to thriving, orthodox, female religious orders, and not by involving them in a liturgical role intended to foster vocations to the male only priesthood.

Photo Credit: Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

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