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Speaking Out: I cherish the heart of service

By  Mary French, Youth Speak News
  • November 18, 2020

I would hold my mind and body in complete reverence, knowing the supreme importance of the opportunity: I was standing next to God, serving Him. I became both a servant and a friend in God’s house, and I cherished that deeply.

But at first I was very hesitant to become an altar server. The reason was simple: I was afraid to disappoint God. What if my clumsiness caused me to drop a chalice or trip with the water?

When I finally decided to begin my training as an altar server, hours of instruction and memorization of holy items followed. “Servers must know all the responses and parts of the Mass” and “do not look out at the pews, keep your focus on the altar” were just a few of the many instructions I studied hard to understand and honour. 

It wasn’t until much later in my life that, much to my surprise, I discovered that female altar servers like myself generated heated debate in some Catholic circles. The issue at hand is not if altar serving as a girl is allowed (in 1994, bishops were given the authority to decide whether or not to allow female altar servers in their diocese), but rather the question revolves around whether enabling a role — traditionally given to young men considering priesthood — to be shared with women is a good idea.

Due to this rich tradition, some Catholics find it both counterintuitive and disruptive for girls to altar serve. Though the Church clarifies that the existence of altar girls will not lead to women priests, there are other issues some consider. What if having girl servers on the altar distracts the boys from the liturgy and vice versa? Some fear that the initial purpose and value of altar serving — to help men dive deeper into their faith in their own unique way, while opening doors to vocations to the priesthood — will be watered down.

Still, other Catholics find that having altar girls will not necessarily detract from the purpose and value that serving on the altar has for young men. It is not a sin or offense to altar serve as a girl. Some find that continuing the tradition of boy-only servers, at the expense of denying girls the opportunity to serve Christ in this way, is unnecessary and short-sighted. Both views undoubtedly have the youth’s relationship with God foremost in their concern. 

One thing is certain, now more than ever altar server training should be focused and diligent. I know my intense training which centralized its focus on Christ not only kept the sacredness of the role intact, but also helped me grow closer to God as well. 

I remind myself of the guidance my instructor gave me: “When you serve, you must be invisible to everyone and present to God.” This is the focus of altar serving and the goal of each altar server.

Personally, I would not choose to altar serve in a parish that only had altar boys because I know it may distract some parishioners — and that is the opposite of my goal as an altar server. Since it is a matter concerning something that is already licit, we must leave room for understanding, while doing our best to honour God by our own decisions and respect the laws the diocesan bishop or priest has put in place.

I cherish my time as an altar server. It helped me come closer to God, appreciate and understand the order of the Mass better and challenged me to grow as a person of faith.

However, I do understand better now why many are hesitant to allow girls to be altar servers, and I believe it is a decision that must be made with thoughtful consideration of your intentions and circumstances. There are many ways to serve God, and each one is important.

(French, 22, has a Bachelor’s of Catholic Studies from Seat of Wisdom College and lives in Barrie Ont.)

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