I wrote a while back that I needed to stay away from Father Zuhlsdorf's blog, particularly because of his commenters; in light of yesterday's post I hope it will be clearer why I felt the need to take such a step. What is a temptation for me (to superiority, liturgical snobbishness, and so forth) is not for everyone.
That said, though, I do end up there from time to time; usually I will click a link from someplace else and find myself on WDTPRS. Which is fine; like I said in the earlier post, so long as I stay out of the comment boxes there I'm avoiding unnecessary temptation. Sure, I don't always stay out of the comment boxes--but I'm getting better at it.
That's how I noticed this poll that Father Z is running (on a totally-safe, no comment box post!), and which he has asked other Catholic bloggers to link to:
Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood?
You can click on the link to vote (and if it doesn't work for some reason, let me know). But before you do, may I ask that we take a look at that question?
In light of the recent decision by the pastor at the Phoenix cathedral to limit the role of altar server to boys only, many people will probably click the "yes" button on that poll without really thinking about it--as in, yes, having only male altar servers does foster vocations to the priesthood. I tend to think that is true, myself. I don't know that having only male altar servers is the only or best way to foster vocations to the priesthood, but it is a time-honored way to do so.
But that's not really what the question is asking. It is asking whether an "all-male sanctuary" fosters vocations to the priesthood. As in, no women on the altar. No female lectors unless they can read from somewhere other than the altar (if that's even permitted, which I don't know). No females making announcements before or after Mass; no females serving as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (which would be one way of getting rid of EMHCs, as the handful of men still willing to show up would not be enough to increase the speed at which Communion is distributed, let alone to offer Communion under both species). No women, period, in the sanctuary, just like back in the "good old days," when women were only permitted up there outside of Mass to clean.
(Of course, that's where I do bristle, just a little. If the Church in her wisdom decides to let only men be present in the sanctuary, that is absolutely fine and dandy with me, so long as the men also take over all of the responsibilities of sweeping and dusting and removing candle-wax from floors and furnishings and washing and caring for the linens and washing the stained-glass windows and polishing the wood and vacuuming or cleaning carpets or rugs and decorating for the liturgical seasons as appropriate and everything else that needs doing. "No women in the sanctuary" should NOT mean "No women in the sanctuary except when there's 'women's work' to be done and nobody is going to see them doing it and get offended that they are there." You can't have it both ways, gentlemen, in my opinion.)
Now, if the Church in her wisdom decides to have an "all-male sanctuary," in order to foster vocations, I think it's fair to ask how, exactly, having married adult males in roles such as lector etc. does this. It is my understanding that the reason these roles were taken over by adult lay men who were not pursuing priestly vocations was that there simply weren't enough men who were pursuing vocations to do them. That is, there was a time when the "all-male sanctuary" was made up of both clergy and lay men--but the lay men were on their way to becoming clergy in a real sense, having received the minor orders and so forth. True, not all of them would reach that goal. And true, the youngest altar servers were not on that path--yet. But if a seminarian reads the readings and the deacon proclaims the Gospel and gives the homily (his proper role) and the priest recites the Canon and confects the Eucharist--is that really the same draw to the priesthood to the young men serving at the altar as having Mr. Smith (Tommy's dad) read the first reading and Mr. Brown (Amy's father) read the second reading and Mr. Thomas (the second-grade teacher at the parish school) read the Prayers of the Faithful and, after Communion, having Mr. Gray from the parish council (a grandfather of many!) read some brief announcements before the final blessing?
In other words, is there something mystical about having males only on the altar that makes young boys want to grow up to be priests--or must those males be predominantly clergy or on their way to ordination for that beneficial effect to occur? In the second set of examples I give, might not the young man serving at the altar be just as likely to think that he'd like to grow up to be a husband and father (and, eventually, grandfather) like most of those other men as to grow up to be a priest? Without the seminarians and deacons and associate pastors and pastor, in other words, will removing women from the sanctuary be enough by itself to cause young men to open themselves up to God's call to the priesthood?
Please note: I think this is a very different question from the question, "Should we go back to the practice of having only altar boys, and not female altar servers, at Mass?" There might be many good reasons to encourage young men to be altar servers as a possible doorway to their contemplation of a priestly vocation. I'm just not sure that widening that idea to ban all women from the sanctuary will indeed bring about the beneficial surge in vocations to the priesthood which some seem to think will happen.
Whatever you think about this, I hope you'll share your "vote" over at Father Z's blog, and that you'll also let us know in the comment box what you think of this whole issue!