Diocesan News

Ask the Register: altar servers?

Q. Why can’t girls be altar servers in the Diocese of Lincoln?

A. Thank you for asking that question.

In liturgical law, an official interpretation of Canon 230, Paragraph 2, of the Code of Canon Law on the possibility of delegating certain liturgical offices led to a 1994 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments clarifying that girls may serve at the altar. However, that letter left the decision up to the local bishop.

A follow-up, clarifying letter published in 2001 said priests are not compelled to have girls serve at the altar, even when their bishops grant permission.

The 1994 letter says: “It will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.”

The Holy See’s recommendation is to retain, as far as possible, the custom of having only boys as servers. But it leaves to the bishop the choice of permitting women and girls for a good reason. 

When the 1994 letter was published, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, building upon the blessings of the Lord in terms of priestly vocations in our diocese, decided to retain the all-male approach to altar servers. His thinking was that almost all priestly vocations came from men who had served at the altar in their youth and their proximity to and observations of their parish priest. He also noted a large number of young men who became priests for the Diocese of Lincoln had attended Catholic schools.

When Bishop Conley became Bishop of Lincoln in 2012 he retained this practice of all-male altar servers. I know this is difficult for some to accept, especially those who have moved to the Diocese of Lincoln from other dioceses were girls were allowed to serve. The reasoning of Bishop Bruskewitz and Bishop Conley seems to have validity – that serving at Mass awakens a vocation in young men. The Diocese of Lincoln, in comparison to other dioceses, has been blessed with what I consider a more adequate number of vocations – not ample, but adequate – as we could always use more priests.

Even though some may disagree with this decision, I encourage them to pray about it and support the decision.

It is important not to focus this debate using political categories such as rights, equality, discrimination, etc., which only serves to fog the issue. We are dealing with the privilege of serving in an act of worship, to which nobody has any inherent rights.

At the same time, pray for vocations to the consecrated life. I know there are many young women among us being called to be women religious.

This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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