Monday, May 23, 2011

The great Catholic blogosphere altar girl debate

Of all of the questions about the Ordinary Form of the Mass I've ever discussed here, one of the many I'd rather not get into too much concerns the use of female altar servers, commonly referred to as "altar girls."

This is because I'm torn about it all. I do think that there may well have been some shady business leading to the initial indult permitting their use; I do appreciate and recognize the value of having young men serve at the altar, as many priests trace their initial awareness that God might be calling them to His service as a priest to their early days of serving Mass; and (and this one will get me in trouble, I know) I think that many boys do mature more slowly than girls and are thus much slower to embrace "co-ed" activities--which means that letting girls serve at the altar has had the effect of driving the boys away. I also respect those whose innate traditionalism leads them to dislike the use of altar girls; I myself did not encourage my girls to seek that opportunity in any of our parishes (and, frankly, they're much more greatly needed in the choir), and I respect mothers who decide not to let their sons serve at parishes where they will have to serve with girls for various reasons.

That said, I'm friends--both online and in real life--with people who have no problem letting their daughters serve at Mass. I'm also aware of how terribly hard it is for the gentleman who coordinates altar servers at Mass at our parish to get anybody to serve; he gave up making a schedule, and calls families the week before to find out a) who will be at our 8:30 Mass and b) which of their children who are trained altar servers will be present. The biggest competition on Sunday for children's time and attention these days appears to be organized sports, with mandatory Sunday games scheduled at times that can interfere with even the earliest Sunday Mass--but that's a post for another time and another person (let's face it: we're not a sports family, so it would most likely be better if I didn't write that post).

So this is one of those things which I simply accept, for the most part. I do not find a well-trained and respectful female altar server to be an abomination against God, or any such thing; the Church permits her to serve, and even if there were shenanigans around getting that permission in the first place, it's the Church's business to sort it out, not mine--and it's certainly not the fault of the young lady, her parents, or the parish that gratefully accepts her voluntary service. I do wish that female altar servers would be required to wear appropriate clothing and footwear--because you can tell when a young lady has a very short skirt under a cassock, and wobbly heels or shoes designed to showcase painted toenails seem inappropriate; but then, I don't like to see altar boys serving in shorts under a cassock, either, or wearing grungy gym shoes or crocs when they serve Mass.

Would it be better, all things being equal, for the Church to go back to the rule of only male altar servers, and perhaps encourage girls to take part in different acts of service? Possibly. But, again, that's the Church's decision to make--and, in particular, as far as I'm concerned, it's a decision both my local ordinary and my pastor (in obedience to the bishop) can make. No diocese is required to have female altar servers at every Mass, or at any of them. No pastor is required to permit girls to serve even if the bishop says it's okay. (For that matter, no pastor is required to permit lay readers or required to make use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, male or female--but that's also a topic for another day.) So if you really have a problem with female altar servers, the person to approach first is your own pastor; if he's unwilling to consider banning them, you can try the bishop next--but only if you're willing to be obedient to whatever he says, since it is, after all, his call.

Now: why write about all of this? Three recent blog posts--and their comments, especially their comments, brought this topic to mind.

The first two are Father Z.'s post here, and its follow-up here. Father Z. says that the rules of Universae Ecclesiae (paragraph 28) forbid female altar servers at the Extraordinary Form Mass. As I'm not an expert in the Extraordinary Form I have no particular comment to make about that--but it was distressing to read the number of commenters who just wanted to bash the whole idea of altar girls as they've experienced them at the O.F.--because they're still allowed at the O.F., regardless of whether the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” ultimately says (since they're the final authority) about their use at the E.F. Mass.

The third is Matt Archbold's funny story here about how his first crisis of faith came when, at age eight, he made the shattering discovery that human beings ring the bells at the consecration, not God Himself. You would think that a light-hearted, amusing story like this would be immune from the debate over whether or not girls ought to be permitted to serve at the altar at Mass--but you would be wrong, as the gentleman who shouts in all caps that WOMEN DO NOT BELONG IN THE SANCTUARY.! (sic) will tell you.

Once again, to sum up: I'm aware of the good arguments in favor of keeping altar service exclusively male; I'm also aware that fine young ladies serve at Mass and are permitted, by the present rules, to do so; I'm absolutely fine with this particular battle, such as it is, being "fought" only by pastors and bishops: that is, I think bishops make the rules regarding female altar servers for their dioceses, and provided they're following these rules pastors then make them for their parishes, and that's that. I'm not fine with people shouting at women to get out of the sanctuary and stay out! (at least, until it's time to mop the floors and dust the statues and do, you know, women's work up there--which some commenters on these posts have come right out and said). The problem isn't that women want to serve the Church; the problem isn't even that the Church has decided to permit women to read, serve, or act as EMHC's. No, the problem, in the minds of the few, is that women don't know their place, and that regardless of what the Church herself says about any of this any decent woman should shudder at the mere thought of setting foot on the sacred ground of the sanctuary. Unless, of course, she's there to vacuum it.

And that, I think, is what underlies a lot of the great Catholic blogosphere altar girl debate, which is why it's hard for me, even when I think there are really good things about having boys serve at the altar exclusively, to say so. For every reasonable person who sees altar service as a garden of vocations, you will find two or three more who see "getting rid of those d***ned girl altar-boys" as step one in a program to do away with what they like to call, sneeringly and insultingly, "readerettes," "lectoresses" "cantorettas" or "wanna-be priestesses handing out Communion left and right." To that sort of person, all of the problems with the Catholic Church today all go back to those blankety-bleep feminists coming in and liturgically castrating all of the men, taking over once-gloriously masculine roles and infecting them with cooties, pink glitter, and giggles, and driving decent men away from once-honorable service. Of course, back in the Good Old Days there were enough clergymen always and everywhere that no lay person of either gender was ever needed to fill in for anybody lower than a subdeacon, and his lay substitute was always male, so that ought to be enough to tell us that the Church really doesn't want women reading, or singing, or acting as EMHCs, let alone being altar girls--even if the Church herself has said otherwise for quite some time now.


Alisha De Freitas said...

Wow, I had no idea this was such a heated debate for Roman Catholics. So here's my question: how did altar girls began to serve? Not coming from a RC background, I'm curious.

Red Cardigan said...

Alisha, girls began serving at the altar prior to permission from Rome, which came in 1994. This is why some people (myself included) think that there might well have been some doubtful maneuvering going on--was the matter presented to Rome as, "Oh, this has become local custom, so please approve it?" when it hadn't really been "local custom," but deliberate rule-breaking by people who had a feminist agenda for the Church--including women priests, which Rome has clearly said will never happen.

Whatever the case in 1994, I've not run into a female altar server in years who thinks that the Church will open the priesthood to women. Ironically, the girls I've met who serve seem to come from relatively traditional/conservative families. Perhaps this is because people who really want female priests have moved on to other religions--who knows?

Patrick said...

Question: were there *ever* female alter servers in the first 20 centuries of the Church? Or is the all-male alter servers a rule considerably older than priestly celibacy (which is only 17 centuries old)?

I'm not saying female alter servers is theologically *impermissible*; but isn't it more likely that our society is infested with gender confusion than us having discovered a better way to do it after 20 Centuries?

I think I'd oppose it on those grounds alone; I don't trust myself or anyone, frankly, in 21st century America not to be so rotted by so-called "feminism"* that we don't see the problem with too-much-blurring of gender roles. Reactionaries and misogynists aside, the whole thing seems really imprudent having been done one way successfully for two millennia.

* By "feminism", I mean women adopting the worst parts of masculinity (ambition, competitiveness, careerism).

Red Cardigan said...

Patrick, as I understand it the altar server role developed this way, more or less:

1. People responded in various ways to some of the prayers at Mass (depending on the liturgy; some Eastern liturgies are much older than what gets called the Tridentine or the TLM or the Extraordinary Form); they were praying in the vernacular.

2. Even when the Mass began to be in Latin (which was the vernacular) the people continued to make some responses at certain points.

3. The clergy took over the role of responding at Mass (in the Roman Rite, anyway) over time as Latin stopped being the spoken language of the people. One clergyman at least would be designated to do this.

4. A lay man or lay men could make the responses if not enough clergy were available. If the congregation were all women (such as at a convent) a woman might make the responses (say, the Mother Superior)--but from a bench in front of the Church or from behind the altar rail, as she was not allowed on the altar itself (and recall that at the time men and women weren't even allowed to sit together at Mass, but sat on different sides of the Church).

5. In pre-seminary days as young men trained for the priesthood it became customary for some of *them* to be the designated response-givers at Mass, and they began to help out in other ways when some clergy (for example, subdeacons) weren't available. This was sort of like an apprenticeship for young men who wished to become priests.

6. Even when seminaries began to be the formal, official way for men to enter the priesthood (including minor seminaries which took quite young boys to begin this education and training) it remained customary for young boys/young men to be the "official response-givers" and further to assist in handling the sacred vessels, ringing the bells, etc. at Mass, especially when there were not enough men who had received the minor orders to take over their appointed roles at Mass.

This situation remained until, following the Second Vatican Council, the Mass began to be said in the vernacular; of course, unofficially it began to change as literacy rates improved and people began joining in audibly with the prayers (even in Latin) at Mass, but in reality as the people began to make the responses formerly said only by the servers who were themselves filling in for men ordained to minor orders who were filling in for the clergy who originally took over making the people's responses when the people could no longer reasonably do so, there was no longer a need to have designated, official "response-givers" to say the right words at the right times on behalf of the people.

This is long, so I'll continue:

Red Cardigan said...

Part two:

Now, I've heard various traditionalists say things which indicate that they really think of the altar server's role as quasi-clerical in nature, and that's why they are scandalized by the idea of girls doing it. I think that this is half-true: the *actions* of the servers are things that were once done by men either in minor or major orders (counting subdeacon as a major order, which I'm not sure about, but someone will set me straight). But the *words* of the server went from laity to clergy to minor clergy back to laity again; since, in the O.F., the whole congregation says what the servers do along with them at Mass I think it's clear that this half of a server's responsibilities is now shared with the people.

So, to me, the crux of the matter is this: is the altar server performing an inherently *clerical* role which has been allowed to be done by lay people for many centuries, or is the altar server performing an inherently *lay* role which was performed by boys or men for centuries for reasons of practicality, pragmatism, and the need to avoid scandal in an age where even married couples weren't allowed to sit together at Mass, but the two genders separated completely to satisfy the decorum and propriety of the times? One of the reasons I find this whole debate so complex is that I think you could answer *both* of those questions in the affirmative, depending on which aspects of the server's role you are focusing on, and which historical realities you are considering, as you ponder these questions.

Kate said...

Wow. Thanks so much for your post. It sums up so much of my own feelings about the matter. To be honest, I used to be a reader at Mass, but with all this hullabaloo about female service at the altar, I stopped and honestly would not volunteer for any liturgical ministry again. Your last paragraph in particular says far more eloquently than I have been able to what I feel so strongly. It's discussions like these that make me want to just leave the Church to men only. Ugh. Sigh. When I was a girl, I wanted so badly to be an altar server. I loved the Mass and wanted to understand it inside and out and serving seemed like the best way to do that. My parents preemptively kicked me upstairs into the choir to preclude that difficult discussion once I made my First Communion (this was well before female altar servers were seen or permitted). But then, I've seen discussions about females singing in choirs too, just like the ones about altar servers and couple that with the snide "cantoress" and "priestess" and other charged and slanted, mean-spirited language, and the nail has been driven into the coffin of any liturgical service on my part at all. It's gotten to the point where I just close my eyes, don't hold hands, barely try to shake hands and watch my posture and voice so as not to offend the liturgical police. I'm sick and tired of having all the Church's problems being laid at women's feet. Because that's what it feels like more and more. If it's my fault anyway, why not just leave it to the men only. At least they couldn't kick me around for their laments anymore.

Seriously, my faith isn't so weak that I'm planning to or have walked away. It's just how this kind of talk makes me feel.

I'm tired of being seen as an occassion for sin just because I'm a female. Ugh.

Tarcisius said...

Acolyte is technically a minor order; part of the discernment for the priesthood. However, as more and more priests began to be needed, the minor orders faded into the background, and laypeople were permitted to fill in.

There were many such minor orders; I think that even the porter was a minor order. One of the more important ones was acolyte; the priest does need assistants for anything above a Low Mass, and can use them even then. So altar boys were improvised to cover the role of acolytes. Though people tried to stick as close as possible to the standards by using boys and men to fill the roles of minor orders, someone decided that when even boys were lacking, girls could also fill in. Thus began the implementation of girl altar boys.

I don't think feminism played any major role in this development, excepting the substitution of the term "altar servers" for "altar boys." A priest said once that there really isn't such a thing as an altar "server," and that the so-called "female altar servers" would be “girl altar boys.” When you trace the development of the role from acolyte, this makes more sense.

The only hint that feminism would have played any role at all would be the removal of the term "girl;" it might have sounded "demeaning" or something, and could have been altered for something as trivial as to avoid the awkwardness of the previous phrase. That's the main reason I once used the term, because "girl altar boy" sounded like a self-contradiction. The heritage, on the other hand, is what makes the awkward phrase meaningful.

As far as other minor orders, not many of them are quite so prominent. I’m not sure exactly what a “cantor” does, but I am sure that it is just one person, and not the entire choir. Though the term “choir” originally referred to the clergy sitting (and chanting; thus the cantor) before the sanctuary, performing no other role, it has come to mean the lay singers/chanters as well (the people in the choir loft). I learned this when I asked why we weren’t supposed to incense the choir (oh, that choir) prior to the preface. This is also where I believe the phrase “preaching to the choir” comes from.

Anonymous said...

My husband would never allow our now 15 year old son to become an altar server because 30 some years ago, when he was one, he was propositioned a couple of times by a few different priests (in his parish and at his all boys Catholic school). Of course he never told anyone. There may be a lot of men out there like my husband who won't let their sons become altar servers for the same reason. Just a thought. I think the female altar server is here to stay. None of our daughters have expressed any interest in doing it.

Anonymous said...

Kate, please stay in the Church. People who are "liturgical police" really are rare, just not in the blogosphere.

Patrick, I must respond to your definition of "feminism", which is baffling to me. If you think that women, even very traditional women throughout history have not been competitive,ambitious and career minded, you are either not paying attention or you are very misguided. Women have been obsessed with these things, but only just recently for themselves instead of brothers, fathers, sons and husbands. Women FAR outstrip men on all of these qualities, they (obviously) do it on a level of which you are not aware. (which has been and is one of the true gifts of femininity) We can masterfully get our way, and make an unwitting man think it was all his idea. It's insultingly easy to puff up the male ego.

I am a stay at home mother, a traditional role, but I am an ardant feminist, which means (for me) that I should not be forbidden to do anything I am capable of doing simply because I am a woman. There may be physical limitations for me because I am a woman. That's different. I accept that there are fundamental differences between the sexes. The Church, as a private and separate religious group can make whatever rules it wants regarding women, it's not the law, people are free to join or leave as they will.

I was not aware that people took such issue with woman playing any role whatsoever in the Mass. I've only ever seen women in choirs, etc. I will say that many teen boys don't want to appear as a priest's helper because it insinuates that they might want to be a priest, and therefore celibate. I think that inference is embarassing to some and emasculates them. Maybe getting to the boys/young men and making the priesthood something to celebrate and look up to is the real issue. Kate is right. This should not be laid at the feet of women.


Patrick said...

@ Red Cardigan:

Thanks for the history; it really clears things up. Even if it isn't a clerical function, I'd rather keep the custom of boys only as a slight counterweight to an already overly co-ed, overly blurred gender-wise, overly "girl power"-deluged modern America. Were we in Saudi Arabia or Iran, perhaps it would be prudent to highlight the humanity of little girls; as we are in America where that isn't questioned, it's more prudent to preserve customs like this one even if they are anachronistic throwbacks (perhaps *especially* so) rather than theological requirements.

Kate's comment illustrates the point: "I loved the Mass and wanted to understand it inside and out and serving seemed like the best way to do that."

You see where the focus is. We're suffering from too much self-fulfillment rather than not enough; and keeping these customs might remind people that the universe ISN'T ABOUT THEM.

Patrick said...

@ Anonymous:

"Women FAR outstrip men on all of these qualities, they (obviously) do it on a level of which you are not aware."

Haha. Were I to say that to you, I'd be pilloried as a condescending misogynist.

"Men do this on a level which you are not aware." See? But of course, women can "get away" with it and have the audacity to ask for more.

As to the point; what I meant was *self-seeking* ambition, careerism, and competitiveness *with men*. Women didn't have that until recently. I miswrote for sure.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes....women get away with soooo much. Poor, poor men. What are they to do with these women who are intelligent, who actually want to work for money and fulfill themselves with a career? It's just so unfair when the playing field is leveled. (sniff, sniff)
Patrick, many women throuh history and STILL have felt marginalized, put aside, and literally treated as property. Women have thought about getting these things (career, etc.) for themselves for a long, long time, but you are right, it's only recently we started demanding these things, standing up for ourselves and getting them.

Sarcasm aside, I do feel (a bit) for men who feel that they are stuck in the middle of this transition, but the women's movement began (in earnest) in the 1960's, and that was a while ago now. get over it. it's different now. Women will have a voice. Why shouldn't we? If we go a little overboard....over compensate a little, forgive us, we have a lot of making up for lost time to get out of our systems... The happy medium is getting closer and closer.


Patrick said...

@ Anonymous:

"Yes, yes....women get away with soooo much."

Oh, I was just pointing out that it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to be a brute. Rather than upsetting, I'm actually happy about this as it proves there is still a strain in the culture that doesn't take insults from women terribly seriously.

"get over it."

I take a longer view of history than that. Just because so-called feminism is the rule today doesn't mean it will be for ever. There is even evidence that some of the traditional gender roles are re-asserting themselves (when is the last time you met a Betty Friedman-type under age 50?)

No; I'll contentedly oppose (or more likely *avoid*) "female brutes" until I die. I don't think that is an improvement, and while it is upon us today it doesn't mean it's settled forever.

Kate said...

My comment about learning all about the Mass as a reason to serve wasn't about me, as if I thought I was the center of the universe and not God. Sheesh. Why else would a young person find serving at the altar to be desirable if not to understand and learn more about God/Christ, the primary focus of the Mass.

Patrick, I certainly can appreciate your point of view and perspective. One of the hardest parts of any discussion of this nature is that it is impossible for men to understand women's experience and for women to understand men's experience. I get your points about Tradition, tradition, and history, but what we know of the history we haven't been alive to experience is through the eyes, ears, experiences, and words of others. History is written by the victors, and honestly has been written about mostly by males. That's not a bad thing, it is what it is. However, it does mean that we only have ever gotten part of the story. We don't have a complete picture. So, we really don't know what women really thought and experienced during that history you've kind of glossed over in support of your premise.

So, please don't project your concept that my desire to serve as a child at the altar is "selfish" and "all about me." You don't know me. You can't possibly know all that one simple sentence was meant to convey. So in reality, your point is about you rather than me. What's funny is that, there is much in these kinds of discussions that is very distasteful to me as a person. It certainly negatively impacts my view and experience of Church. But I would never presume you are misogynist because you support traditional gender roles in liturgy and life. I would appreciate that same consideration from you. Thanks.

Barbara C. said...

First, I would direct everyone's attention to Simcha Fisher's latest article about Catholic Feminism at the National Catholic Register.

Secondly, one reason that there were large number of priests in the past was that a lot of men were pressured by family if they showed the least inclination (as a sign of prestige) and the seminary doors were wide open--not very much discernment about true callings/psychological issues. And I really think that this was a major contributor to the sex abuse scandal---more quantity, less quality.

Third, I wanted to be an altar server when they called for volunteers in sixth grade (1988) partially because the boys got to do special activities with the much beloved Brother Tom. I was told that girls were denied because they hoped altar serving would lead to priestly vocations. But starting in 1991 they allowed girls (obviously before it was okayed).

This is the same parish school, though, that gave us FHE in 2nd grade but held off first Reconciliation until 4th. Is it any wonder that Reconciliation seemed like a pretty pointless sacrament and I didn't go back for a good 15 years after I graduated grade school.

Fourth, I too can understand some of the reasons for all-male altar servers. But if a parish is going to do that, they need to offer an alternate group for girls. Maybe it was just my parish, but altar serving just seemed like one more way in which girls got the shaft (the boys sports got new uniforms every year while the girls teams had to beg and plead for everything).

Tarcisius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Red Cardigan said...

Just back from the dentist, and I'm finding comments stuck in the "spam" folder for no reason (even some that published fine earlier). I'm guessing it's a Blogger thing.

If you publish a comment and it won't go through or disappears, shoot me an email and I'll look for it. Sometimes, of course, they're just...gone. But if they get dumped in the "moderation" or "spam" folder I can usually find them and free them up.

Barbara--I did see that, and am posting about it now! :)

kkollwitz said...

Some observations about my 2,000-household parish regarding vocations:

We have had a boys-only corps of altar servers for at least the last 10 years; currently there are 49 servers, ranging from 6th grade through college. To have ten at the 11am Solemn Mass is not unusual.

We had one ordination in 2005.

We had another in 2007.

We currently have two seminarians.

Two of our college-age men (including my youngest son) will live in the diocesan discernment house next Fall. That's 2 out of a total of 8 for the whole diocese.

And of course there are also highschool-age servers who are explicitly considering vocations; one of our senior servers plans to go straight from highschool into the seminary.

I do not suggest a direct cause-and-effect here; nonetheless, the boys-only approach has a positive influence on vocations, and is a critical part of an overall conscious intent in the parish to nurture them.

Patrick said...

@ Kate:

"So, we really don't know what women really thought and experienced during that history you've kind of glossed over in support of your premise."

And who bears the *ridiculously large* burden of proof here? It is the agents of innovation who have discovered - after several hundred years and after several hundred *FEMALE* saints and martyrs - that only by changing institutions to suit their convenience can they understand God better. Several little girls for several centuries have been *quite* close to God without changing any institutions, and yet somehow the burden is, as it usually is, placed on the defenders of the status quo to justify an institution that has up until very recently been all male. Moreover, it takes place in a culture that isn't exactly *wanting* in opportunities for little girls, as I mentioned before.

If St. Therese or St. Agnes of Rome, etc. (let alone all of the righteous Jewish women who weren't even sitting with the men in the temple) can be holy without being alter girls, so can little girls of today. *Much more importantly*, however, the people who want to change a hundreds-of-years-old custom bear the tremendous burden of proving the need for a change, not, in my view, the defenders of the status quo - no matter how odious reactionaries and misogynists are.

Finally; my apologies for insulting you. You're right; I don't know your motive for wanting to be an alter girl.

Kate said...

Peace, Patrick. Believe me I understand what you're saying there. I really do. And you know what? When it comes right down to it, it just doesn't matter to me. I related a childhood experience the post made me remember, I agreed with letting the Church powers that be deal with these issues and I would respect what they decide whether I agreed with it or not. I understand your frustration with "innovators". As a former parish RCIA director, I was the one who had to listen to and comfort those deeply wounded by all those "innovations" because our "progressive" pastor told them he was in charge and they needed to obey. In my limited personal experience, that's been how every priest I know handles things, no matter what their place on the Church political/liturgical spectrum is.

As for your history response about burden of proof, I get what you're saying there too. I certainly appreciate your examples. I agree with them too, in the sense that I don't look to liturgical ministry to make me more holy. I find and experience holiness in my daily life, where the rubber meets the road.

I go to a very reverent, well-celebrated OF Mass in a local Portugese National Parish in my city. We are not Portugese, but we attend there because they are the most welcoming to our son with autism. Since I am a parent and it's incumbent on me to hand on Faith and Tradition to my children, that drove my husband and I to find a parish able to support us in educating our children. God has called me to be doing what I am doing right now. My work is not in any official capacity of any kind in the Church.

You can call off the hounds now : ) or at least not come across as so angry. I truly believe the defenders of the status quo are well capable of defending themselves quite well, without resorting to subtle and not so subtle charged and slanted words. It's the employment of negative and hostile words that cheapen and backfire on their arguments.

I have no quarrel with you Patrick. I appreciate your perspective and I truly wish you peace.

Bathilda said...

Hoo Boy, I take a few days off, and missed the whole discussion of my favorite topic! I have a daughter who has entered the age of serving. Our parish just lowered the age to "fifth graders" from "sixth graders" to get enough kids to do it. We have four masses each weekend, with about three servers each. it's a large parish with a school, and we still can't scrounge that many boys? Not just boys, but all kids? At first, my daughter wasn't interested because she is somewhat shy and was afraid that she would make a mistake, fall, or drop something, etc... Also, we just had a priest changeover, and she didn't know them well enough to not be intimidated. Now that she has seen her friends participating, she wants to do it. We will let her. I have no qualm with girls on the alter, but I'm a pinko liberal convert. I told my daughter that girls didn't use to be able to serve, and she said, "back in pioneer times?" I said no, in the 1990's... She wasn't shocked or incredulous. Just puzzled. She said, "That just doesn't make sense." Patrick, the times they are a'changin'. I can see how all boy servers could lead into more vocations. all boys clubs like to morph into all mens clubs. (I'm really not knocking that) It really does make sense in an organization with an all male heirarchy, to have things that are exclusive to boys. Like Kate says...It is what it is.

I would like to put a toe into the water of the feminism debate. I once had a priest (on Mother's Day, mind you, preach that the blame for the crisis in vocations rests squarely on the shoulders of women. He went on to say that boys become priests when they are encouraged by their mothers. period. and Mothers, why are you denying the Church your sons? seriously. I was deeeply offended, and I didn't even have a son at the time. How dare he say that women were to blame when we were smack in the middle of a scandal involving a priesthood riddled with child rapists and male bishops involved in illegal coverups? This is the heart and soul of why women are still defensive and indeed (admittedly) overcompensate in our zeal for equality. Just when we get as many girls graduating from college as boys, we get title 9, etc....then we get hit on the head with the very real and very thick glass ceiling. We get blamed for the troubles in an ALL MALE club of the Church heirarchy.

I am also a "traditional" woman in that I stay home and take care of the home and my husband earns the money. It works for us. He prefers me home, as it frees him to advance in his career (for the benefit of all my family). I prefer to be home, as I am good at it, and in the end, we are more sucessful as a family this way. I do recognize the differences between the sexes and I revel in those. I just think that before people start sneering at feminists, please look back at what was, what is, and how far is yet to travel. Someone above said something about a "happy medium", and I agree that we will find it. I think that Patrick said something about young Betty Friedans...and the lack thereof. Patrick, I don't know where you live, but there are plenty of young and active radical feminists. I love the fact that we don't have to be that radical any longer. We can temper it a little... but most feminists know better than to let our guards's too soon, and we can't afford to lose footing. It's still a battle. It hasn't been that long.

sorry for the length of this post.

Patrick said...

@ Kate:

"I understand your frustration with 'innovators'. As a former parish RCIA director, I was the one who had to listen to and comfort those deeply wounded by all those "innovations" because our "progressive" pastor told them he was in charge and they needed to obey."

It sounds like you've got *much* more experience with it than I. What gets me is the "instant equivalence" that a proposed innovation has with the status quo. The status quo, for better or worse, has been an "organic" accumulation of years' worth of human experiences, and here comes someone who proposes their idea of "progress" - which may or may not be a good idea - and expects it to automatically be treated with *equal weight*, as if the one person's opinion - no matter how virtuous - is anywhere close to the gravity of millions' experience over the ages. Yet here we are weighing these ideas in a balance with an equal measure, as if we were the first and last generation of people who had some life experiences. It seems arrogant and dare I say, *insensitive* to peoples' customs and the experiences of the dead with whom - I need not remind you - we are still in communion.

" the sense that I don't look to liturgical ministry to make me more holy. I find and experience holiness in my daily life, where the rubber meets the road."

Yeah, exactly! That's what I mean; the holiness never was a function of the ministry; it was between God and the person themselves. That's all I meant, under the sarcasm and talk about female saints.

"or at least not come across as so angry."

I've never been quite able to control my "Irish Temper" to my discredit - my dad used to call me "Raging Bull" (of course, that made it worse). People with web-logs like to say, "Act as if you were in my living room in the comments" - sadly, I'm irascible and off-putting in peoples' living rooms, too, even friends'.

Peace to you as well; I will pray your intentions at midday Mass.

Patrick said...

@ Bathilda:

Your story about Mother's Day is funny; it seems that some women want the *social standing* of equality without the responsibility and oftentimes nasty criticism (fair and unfair) that goes with it. Little doubt you'd be equally offended if the priest said "Mother's aren't really important to vocations", wouldn't you? So either the guy says "mothers don't count" and offends the feminists, or he says, "mothers count a lot and are failing horribly at this" and offends people who like the status of social personhood without the responsibility or nasty criticism that it entails when things don't go well.

Haha. Yep; the times sure are a-changin', and a-changin' in a way with which I want nothing to do.

beadgirl said...

Patrick, are those really the only two options? "mothers are irrelevant to the vocation of priesthood" and "mothers are solely to blame for the decrease in vocations" (which is what Bathilda's priest said, if I understood her correctly)? How about the middle ground -- mothers AND fathers AND priests AND a whole host of other people and factors are influential in nurturing vocations?

That's what feminism is about for me -- the happy medium, where women are not inferior or superior to men, where women don't have to stay at home are raise a bunch of kids nor do they have to focus exclusively on a "high-powered" career, where women are neither ignored nor vilified nor placed on a pedestal. Women are, fundamentally, humans, just like men, with all that that entails.

Patrick said...

@ beadgirl:

Ok; you've got the weight of human experience against you, but whatever - I'm sure everyone who lived before 1960 was "wrong" and the most modern people are right. Whatever.

I'll never be convinced that this isn't "women and men are equal except where women are slightly better." The example of presumptive child custody in favor of the mother comes to mind- because women and men are equal except women are slightly better parents for kids, amirightgals? The example of the possibility of a woman being the new head of the IMF and saying she brings something to the table "as a woman" comes to mind - it can only mean that apparently she thinks "being a woman" has some value to it that being a man does not (of course we all know the background IMF story: those men just can't help themselves sexually, amirightgirls?)

Let me give one more insidious example: Hillary Clinton choking back tears before the '08 New Hampshire primary. If Obama or Edwards would've done that when they were "on the ropes", they'd be ruined. But of course women not only want to compete with the boys, they want to retain the advantages of femininity: sympathy when the boys are attacking them without mercy.

I'll have none of it, beadgirl. Have a good holiday weekend; I'm off to relax in a weekend full of hiking, beer and oysters. Ernest Hemingway, eat your heart out! I'm done with this stuff...

Bathilda said...

Patrick, please. Men these days seem to cry more than women...boehner, anyone? Not to mention that congressman half naked on the cover of men's health. Can you imagine if a female representative posed in a skimpy bathingsuit? Shed be called unprofessional at best and a whore. The double standard swings both ways. Custody laws are swinging back to the middle and kids are going to whomever is the custodial parent. It wasn't that long ago when women never got the kids in a divorce because they had no legal standing. I am sure that fact alone kept many women imprisoned in abusive relationships.

Oh, and Patrick, your little "amirightgirls?" make me dismiss you as a petty, insecure man. I am not a girl. I am a woman. Don't call me a girl unless you spell it thus: grrrrl.

Have a great weekend. Go to a drum circle, pound your chest, go to a bullfight and read some hemmingway.

beadgirl said...

Patrick, I take issue with so many of your statements I don't know where to begin.

For one thing, you're "amirightgals" is highly condescending and not at all merited by anything in my post. What does it say about the strength of your argument that you have to resort to such tactics?

For another, please point to anything I have written anywhere that implies "women are equal to men except when they are slightly better."

As for the custody issue, I don't know what your background is, but I used to be a lawyer and I can tell you that there are a huge number of factors that affect custody, not just on an individual level but on a societal one. I don't have the space to go into it here, but I will confirm what Bathilda said, that in the 19th century custody was NEVER awarded to women because it was assumed that the husbands would be better all around as parents, and that even today, when you look at cases where both the husbands and wives genuinely want custody, and where all other factors are equal, custody is slightly more often given to the men.

Finally, you keep making assumptions about my feminist beliefs that are flat-out wrong. To wit, I don't think that Lagarde would bring something because of her gender to the IMF, except insofar as it would help some people realize that women are just as capable at this kind of job as men are. But even if she did have a stereotypically female quality that the IMF could use, that does not mean that women are better than men. Rather, it is an indication that there are good traits that stereotypically (but not always) show up in women, and ditto in men, and that those good traits should be valued, and that we should encourage them in both genders. In other words, each gender should learn from the best, not the worst, of the other.

Your "insidious" Hilary example is on point -- it is not that I think Clinton should have been spared ridicule because she was a woman, but that men should not be ridiculed in the same situation because they had the temerity to have an emotion. That's one of the things I am fighting -- the notion that all men are unemotional and if they aren't they should be mocked mercilessly, that all women are gentle maternal yielding types and if they aren't they are man-hating feminazis.

How about not worrying too much about gender, and instead treating everyone, man and woman, as an individual human being?