Thursday, August 25, 2011

Phoenix Cathedral Limits Altar Serving to Boys to Promote Vocations

The rector of the Diocese of Phoenix’s Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral has decided to allow only boys to be altar servers, while girls will be sacristans. He hopes the change will help avoid “gender confusion” and will help promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“There’s evidence that shows that when we honor that God-given differentiation of male and female, both men’s and women’s vocations flourish,” Fr. John Lankeit told EWTN News on Aug. 22. “We don’t discourage one or the other, but we honor them for what they are, both male and female.”

“We live in a society where there is deliberate gender confusion. I want to make sure that we don’t allow that to happen, especially in the Church.”

Fr. Lankeit said he had “felt the brunt” of the priest shortage in his own life, since he was made rector just before the fourth anniversary of his ordination. “That’s a sign of how deep the issue is. You get thrown into the fire that quickly,” he said.

He noted that boys’ service at the altar has long been “part of the apprenticeship for the priesthood.” The “vast majority” of seminarians have served at the altar, which he said was a “very important factor” in his decision.

“A particular service points to a very particular vocation. That’s why I think it’s important that we’re very clear about that,” he said.

Altar service for boys exposes them to the ministry of the priest “very closely,” he explained. “They can see what happens on the altar. They can see the importance of fatherly leadership.”

The priest at Mass stands in the person of Christ and in the role of father. Altar boys “get to see that modeled in a very clear way,” Fr. Lankeit said.

Girls will be offered the role of sacristan, the person who prepares the church and the altar area before Mass.

The sacristan plays an important role because he or she helps provide a “smooth liturgy” without distractions because things are not set up properly.

That allows the focus to be “where it needs to be: on the proclamation of God’s word and on the body blood, soul and divinity present on the altar.”

The sacristan is “an incredibly important role,” the rector said. “When you have somebody that has great attention to detail and great care, and really sees the important of that service, it enhances the liturgy amazingly.”

“We have very good sacristans at the cathedral. It makes me privileged to be a priest to celebrate Mass there, because I can concentrate on sharing the Gospel and making Christ present for the people, and I don’t have to worry about the details,” he added.

Fr. Lankeit noted that girls’ earlier maturity and their “great attention to detail and conscientiousness” at an earlier age means the role is “perfectly suited to them.”

Although the cathedral is the home church of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Fr. Lankeit explained that he made the decision on his own authority.

Phoenix resident Bob Lutz, a Catholic with three grown daughters, was critical of the move.

“It is a shame on how the church continues to abuse the females,” he told the Arizona Republic. “Church attendance is shrinking now, and this adds more fuel to the fire on how females are treated as second-class citizens.”

Fr. Lankeit responded to Lutz’s criticisms in his remarks to EWTN News.

“I would encourage him to hesitate (in) saying something like that that to the adult women who serve wonderfully in my cathedral as sacristans. I think they would take great offense at that to be belittled.”

The priest suggested that society sometimes shows a “backlash” against decisions like his because it views the change as a denial of rights. However, it is an error to think that serving at the altar is a right rather than a privilege.

“Starting with the priest, there is no right to serve in any particular ministry,” he added. “As a single Catholic man, I had no right to the priesthood. When I went in believing to be called by Christ to be a priest, the Church could have said ‘no’ at any moment.”

He repeated his belief that there is “an incredible amount of gender confusion.”

“We live in a society where there are some people who would say that a man can be a wife and a woman can be a husband,” he said, cautioning against allowing that mindset to be the paradigm for the Catholic Church.

The Diocese of Phoenix also explained the change in an Aug. 22 statement.

“The first girls to train in the cathedral's sacristan program are learning quickly, serving well and enjoying the important responsibility of sacristan,” the diocese said.

The cathedral parish is also working with a contemplative women’s religious order to hold a vocation event at their monastery for interested women.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! Hopefully more Bishops will follow suit.