Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Altar Boy Program - Post 1

I could not surpass the beauty of this Good Friday 2006 Photo in 2007! It remains my lead photo when discussing altar boys at Grotto.

In the comment box of the linked post, Andrew St. Hilaire asks about the Assumption Grotto altar boy program and how we managed to get so many involved. It's a frequent question. It's a good opportunity to explore this question more openly. I'll invite others to offer thoughts via the combox. I ask everyone to remember: Charity in all things.

This will have to be broken up into multiple posts made over time. If you choose to comment, try to keep it within the context of each post I make, which will be based on the list below. If you think my list could be expanded, please let me know in the combox and I'll consider adding it as another point of discussion in a future post. For now, lets keep discussion confined up to Point-1.

Approximate number of families at Assumption Grotto: ~800
Approximate number of altar servers: ~65

Anyone who has seen the average family at Assumption Grotto knows that 700 or 800 families at this parish is like 2000+ families at some other parishes. Why? Come to the 9:30am Latin Novus Ordo, and the Noon Mass on one Sunday and look at the families. While you are at it follow the crowds to the social that takes place weekly and buy a hamburger or hot dog. It is a parish which has heeded the sermons of it's pastor and priests to be open to life. Contraception is considered a sin not something to fluff off (and for those who do not know - things like the pill are actually abortifacients!). While the culture at Grotto can be very open to life, Our Lord may only bless a couple with one or two children. I've seen some of those couples adopt more children who were in need of loving families.

What is above answers the first part of Andrew's question of how many families we have. As you can see, with many large families, there is a very large pool of young men.

I have no scientific data to back up my beliefs in why so many young men serve at the altar at Assumption Grotto. Therefore, I can only offer my theories, based on observations over a 2 year period. I may edit this over time with additional thoughts, or I may simply add them into the combox. Here is a brief list, which I will be expanding on.

  1. All Male Program.
  2. Masculinity of Discipline and Precision Required
  3. Liturgically traditional parish with orthodoxy in doctrine.
  4. Strong Catholic identity within the family
  5. Headed by the pastor; priestly involvment.
  6. Large homeschooling population

Now, let me tackle these one at a time.

1) All Male Altar Server Program

I know this will ruffle some feathers, especially from parents whose daughters faithfully serve each week in parishes across the US. In no way do I want to diminish or criticize the work that they do. In no way do I want to say that girls are incapable of serving as this would be silly. Some have a weak argument of girls fluffing their hair during Mass, but I've seen boys at other parishes staring at the ceiling and cracking grins at people they know in the congregation. So, the hairfluffing thing isn't the reason for me. Rather, it comes back to two simple principles in my mind: A) All male priesthood and, B) boys and girls develop differently and I believe opportunities for male bonding are beneficial.

For the record, I consider myself a feminist - a new kind of feminist and I know I'm not alone. I am the kind of feminist who asserts my right to a feminine identity and who believes that God made man and woman with unique and distinct gifts which compliment each other. I have no desire to do all that a man can do because I am a female. I am the kind of feminist who was taught by popular Catholic culture in the 70's and 80's to shun all things Marian, but who now asserts my right to have the Blessed Mother as a model. I am a Marian Feminist!

Let's get a few other things out of the way.....

All Male Altar-Server Programs are the Norm

Many mistakenly believe that having girls serve at the altar during Holy Mass is the norm. It may be common, but it is not the norm. This is easy to understand given the vast number of dioceses and parishes which use them. In March of 1994, a letter was issued from the Congregation of Divine Worship, giving bishops permission to authorize the use of female altar servers in their dioceses. In July of 2001, Prot. N.2451/00/L was issued by former Prefect of the CDW, Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez, further clarifiying that 1994 letter. In it, he explains that a bishop may "permit service at the altar by women within the boundaries of the territory entrusted to his care." I don't know about anyone else who reads this document, but it seems to me to convey that female altar servers should be the exception, not the rule.

Furthermore, Cardinal Medina Estevez states that priests cannot be "required" to admit women to serve and that men and boys should not be in any way exluded. He goes on to discuss the link between noble sevice at the altar and priestly vocations. Recall that this all began with the March 1994 letter - a time when I have vague recollection of feminists rejoicing over an apparent opening of a door. However, my next background point in this discussion is the sound of that door slamming shut - for good. It came only two months later.

All Male Priesthood

In May 1994, Pope John Paul II released the Apostolic Letter to the Bishops, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (on reserving priestly ordination to men alone). In that letter, the Pope explains very eloquently, that not even he, nor the Church, has the ability to authorize women to the priesthood. In a 1995 Responsum ad Dubium letter, Prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger - now Pope Benedict XVI - clarified that the Pope's letter belongs to the Deposit of Faith and requires definitive assent (in other words, it's no longer open for "dialogue").

Why do I raise this point? Because I believe that some who were promoting the notion of women priests long before that apostolic letter was issued may have saw the altar girl issue as a stepping stone from the bottom up. Why? Because serving at the altar had always been considered a place where young men could discern if God was calling them to the priesthood.

Back to the Point

This makes point 1 of 5 in my list easy to explain now. While the Archdiocese of Detroit permits the use of altar girls, Fr. Perrone - exercising his right as pastor of the place - chooses to use only males in his program. In the two years that I have been there, I have never heard one girl complain or even express a desire to serve.

I can't speak for any other parishioner or priest at my parish, but I believe very strongly, that if girls were admitted, the boys would lose interest very quickly. Why? It's not because they are prejudiced or biased. It just is. This thing is their baby and they command control of it in a highly disciplined way with precision (which I'll discuss in more detail in my next post). There is male bonding going on and only a fool would suggest otherwise. Furthermore, "Father" is not some distant guy "up there" on the altar, but someone they get to know. It is here that they get a closer look at priestly prayer and liturgical life and where the seeds of vocation can first begin to grow if it is the will of God.

As Cardinal Medina Estevez rightly pointed out in that 2001 letter, "it is perhaps helpful to recall that the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors"


And, what about vocations? Grotto is yielding vocations - male and female. There are young men in various stages of the path to ordination - diocesan and religious order. There are young men - not yet old enough to depart who are discerning. But, there are also young women discerning religious life. So, an all male altar boy program can't possibly discourage male and female vocations. Rather, I think it is one factor out of many enhancing it. I think other items in our list have as much to do with a steady vocation rate as they do with significant involvement in the altar boy program.

In another nearby parish which uses male-only servers - Sts Cyril & Methodius - they too have a very large program involving over 100 boys and they have a solid vocation rate. I can't speak about their numbers, but someone can offer that in the combox - without getting into personal info of these young men.

I would also like to hear from others who are aware of parishes with large all male altar server programs. Are there vocations coming from those involved?

I'll continue in a subsequent post with my second point in the list.