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.