Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Holding girls up for ridicule

Ordinarily, I love the Eye of the Tiber humor website.  But I didn’t find today’s post funny:
The last male altar server in the United States has officially called it quits, the boy’s family is reporting this morning.
The 3-year altar server veteran, who remained at his post as cross bearer despite pressure from the community to wear heels or quit altogether, served his final Mass on Sunday morning.
Devin McAlister, who claims he was made fun of by friends at school for doing a “girls job” told EOTT that many in the community began to question his sexuality as the years went on.
“People used to say stuff,” McAlister said. “I could hear them saying things as I walked down the aisle. Every Mass, for instance, I would hear this guy poking fun at me, saying that the only reason I served was because I got to wear a dress. Or him saying things like ‘shouldn’t you be carrying a barbie doll?’ But it wasn’t always Father Brian who be picking on me…sometimes it was other people too.”

Now, why don’t I find this funny?  None of my daughters ever served at the altar (we’re too busy with the choir, which was also--once upon a time--a role restricted to males in the Church, and it’s not something my girls ever wanted to do).  I’m sympathetic to the idea that many priests trace their first consideration that they might be called to the priesthood to their childhood service as altar boys.  And I am not someone who brushes aside tradition for the sake of innovation, either.

So what is it about this that bothers me, then?  Perhaps a list is in order (though the list is in no particular order):

1. It reinforces the idea that the Church is, at heart, a boys’ club complete with a “No Girls Allowed” sign that only the Truly True Catholics can see.  The secular world likes to portray the Catholic Church as being out of touch with women because the Church doesn’t allow a female priesthood.  Faithful Catholic women reject the idea that a female priesthood is in any way a good idea (let alone being necessary), but many of us are perfectly willing to consider serving in any capacity the Church does permit to us.  As disheartening as it can be for Catholic women and girls to come across screeds written by Catholic men accusing us of destroying the Church and stopping boys from becoming priests by cluttering up the altar area with high heels and estrogen and whatnot, these things are seen by non-Catholics as proof that the Church--at least as measured by Catholic laymen--really does hate women.

2. It fosters a spirit of dissent and disobedience to the lawful authority the Church has over the liturgy.  It is up to the Church--and only up to her--whether lay people can serve during the liturgy at all, let alone in what roles or whether they must be male.  At present, the Church permits lay people to serve in various liturgical roles, and she permits both boys and girls to be altar servers. Thoughtful discussions about whether it was wise to open altar service to girls or whether having female altar servers makes fewer boys decide to be priests and the like have their place, but too often no discussion takes place at all: it is just declared that girls spoil everything, that they take over and are bossy and make it impossible for boys to serve with them, that no good or decent or manly boy will ever agree to serve alongside girls (as the Eye of the Tiber post suggests throughout), and so on.  And anyone who disagrees is labeled a feminist or a liturgical destroyer (or both), with no regard for the fact that the reason we have female altar servers is precisely because the Church--and particularly the men in charge--allowed it to happen!

3. Building on some of the points above, the Eye of the Tiber piece illustrates (though I do think the writer meant to do so humorously) a belittling and disparaging attitude toward women and girls--and what is not particularly funny, to me, about this is that I have encountered that belittling and disparaging attitude from my fellow Catholics before, particularly from those fellow Catholics who happen to be male.  There seems to be a subgroup of traditionalist Catholics in particular who trace all of the problems in the world and in the Church to the unfortunate modern tendency to treat women like real people, and who are always ready to blame women for every problem that has arisen in the modern age.  The most extreme among these men say and write that the first step toward correcting the problems of modernity is to rescind the “gift” of female suffrage, something that no decent woman wants in the first place; and I’ve seen more than a few such men declare that the reason we have abortion is because we made unwed motherhood socially acceptable--apparently, reinstitution a culture of shame where one’s unwed pregnant relatives are tossed out of the home and forced to beg on the streets for their sustenance is the right, morally sound Catholic thing to do, while letting unwed mothers have and raise children without being made to kneel in the mud while begging for their daily bread but, instead, allowing them access to social safety-net programs which don’t require them to grovel or embroider a scarlet “A” on their clothing or find any similar approved way of signaling their perpetual guilt only leads to a Venn diagram of hussies, abortion clinics, and Democrats.

4. The thing that bothers me the most is that there are real, actual girls who serve at the altar at Mass on Sundays, and these kinds of unthinking and cruel “takedowns” of those high-heel wearing, Barbie-doll (tm) carrying, mini-feminists-in-training ignores the fact that most of the girls who serve at the altar are devout Catholics engaged in their parishes and serious about the practice of their faith--just like the altar boys are.  Some of them make great sacrifices to serve at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation--also just like the boys.  Many of them have a great love for the Mass and are eager and willing to serve even on Sundays when they haven’t been scheduled to do so--again, just like the boys. Why do so many people tend to assume that when girls--or women--do something, we’re just doing it to be bossy, to run things, or to show off? Isn’t this assumption that women are shallow attention-seeking dictators sort of the opposite of Christian charity?

5. The final thing (for now, anyway) that bothers me about the Eye of the Tiber piece is that even as exaggerated humor it fails.  There are plenty of places where girls aren’t allowed to serve at the altar during Mass, and if your faith requires an environment where women may only set foot near the altar in order to mop the floors, dust the various furnishings, water the plants and change the linens (but never when anybody can see them doing any of these things, because that would be unseemly), you can probably find such a place: a local monastery (where no lay people of either gender will be near the altar because there will be plenty of ordained men to take all the roles), a local E.F. Mass (where, according to at least one traditionalist priest, boys aren’t sissified like they are at O.F. Masses where all they get to do is putter around and hand people things--no, E.F. altar boys do real, manly service at real, manly Masses!), or even (in some parts of the country) whole dioceses where the bishops have decided, as bishops may do, that girls aren’t allowed to serve at the altar.  So it’s a bit stupidly over-the-top to write a piece the humor of which depends on the idea that altar boys are a dying breed--there are, even in those gaudy sissified O.F. Mass parishes, both boys and girls serving at the altar.  And nobody’s carrying any Barbie (tm) dolls.

If you don’t like female altar servers, then go somewhere where you won’t have to see them, by all means.  But don’t hold good, decent girls up for ridicule because they are filling a role the Church says they may fill.


Saphira said...

I actually thought the author of that was on your side, Red. I didn't think it was really funny either but I thought it was poking fun at those who spend a great deal of energy being up in arms about girls on the altar and saying there will soon be no boys left. Maybe I was completely misreading it.

David Sharples said...

"It reinforces the idea that the Church is, at heart, a boys’ club complete with a “No Girls Allowed” "
- Respectfully disagree, it does not. It reinforces the Sense that there IS a vocational aspect here, that would not apply to a young woman.

"It fosters a spirit of dissent and disobedience to the lawful authority the Church has over the liturgy."
- It does not. Having female altar servers is not wrong, it's simply imprudent, for the reason stated above-