02 May BRING BACK THE LOWLY ALTAR BOY
by Beverly Stevens, REGINA Editor
With all the hullabaloo on this topic, I have tried valiantly to avoid having a knee-jerk opinion on altar girls. Now, however, I have actually spent some time thinking about it. And I do have an opinion, based on my personal experience both as a Catholic mother and REGINA's Editor.
I raised a son and a daughter in the Catholic Church in Connecticut in the 1990's and 2000's. My daughter had zero interest in being an altar ‘server' and I was somewhat dubious about then-popular claims that serving the altar would somehow prepare her to have a successful career.
In my own career on Wall Street, I never noted any former altar boys being Masters of the Universe. In church, the (mostly) women I saw who were ‘Eucharistic Ministers' were inevitably housewives or stern-looking nuns in pantsuits, because of course that's who had the time on Sunday mornings to ‘participate' in this way.
So, my daughter escaped being an altar server, and went on to a successful career nonetheless, as a lawyer.
My son was not so lucky.
I say this because although my 8 year old son had a great priest whose Mass he served and a terrific young male altar server leader, he nevertheless became a victim of the Terrible Twins. Teenage girls whose parents were non-amicably divorced — and whose ferocious mother insisted that her girls had a right to serve Mass — they haunted his Sunday mornings.
Despite Mama's claims that altar serving was key to their future success, her daughters hated it, as only teenage girls can. Hated getting up early on Sunday. Hated attending Mass. Hated serving the Mass. Hated the priest. Hated the whole shooting match, didn't see the point of any of it — but didn't dare tell Mama. So every Sunday they would stuff their mini-dresses under their serving outfits, and clonk around the altar in their impossibly high heels.
With my third-grader, like a clumsy puppy, in tow.
But they didn't think he was cute. One simply ignored him, as she gazed incessantly around the church in a bored way. The other, however, had a more, er, active personality. She decided that she was going to take out her frustrations on my hapless son.
For about six weeks, he tried manfully to ignore her vicious, derisive whispers, mostly because he loved getting to ring the bells at the Elevation. Finally, she kicked him. Yep, with the high heels. Right in the shins.
When I told the priest about it, he looked pained. I couldn't blame him, given the timbre of Ferocious Mama's remarks, but I reminded him that if he didn't discuss this with her, I would. The scene this conjured up in his mind was enough to convince him, and sure enough, on the next Sunday Ferocious Daughter seemed to have gotten the word. She stared stonily at us when we arrived in the sacristy.
Undaunted, I gave her several bright, glassy-eyed smiles, and chirped pointedly about how glad I was that everyone was working together so well as a team. From then on she subsided into gloomy silence. As for my son, he served the Mass for another four years, just long enough to serve family funeral and wedding Masses and to learn reverence from the excellent priest.
For my family, then, this relatively minor business of altar serving seemed to be over — until I started REGINA Magazine three years ago. Since then, I have edited more than a dozen editions covering the Church in ten countries.
What's it like to have no priests? Imagine a country where there is one elderly priest for every 10 parishes. Or one where all the priests are ‘rented' from the developing countries. Or where it's impossible to have your child baptized — that is, if you are so lucky as to have a child. Or where the churches are closed, shuttered, and filthy from neglect.
What am I describing? Huge swathes of Western Europe today. And I have to say it: no altar boys means no vocations. Where liberal churchmanship prevails and altar girls are the norm, vocations are almost non-existent.
And like it or not, boys don't like serving alongside girls. Now, feminists would have us believe that this is due to some innate prejudice against girls held by pre-pubescent boys. (I'm here to say that based on my son's experience, it may well be due to fear.) In any case, it's a fact.
It's also a fact that 80% of recently ordained priests in the US were altar boys. I'll say it again: altar boys = priests.
Of interest is the fact that when you bring these facts up to the pro-altar girl crowd, their eyes glaze over with a kind of righteous fury. Basically, they will inform you grimly, it is their right to have their daughters serve. Never mind that this ‘right' is driving away potential vocations. Well, they will insist with a triumphant smile, then the Church just needs to let women be priests.
This kind of conversation fascinates me because it is evidence of two distinctly different mindsets — and some would say distinctly different Churches — in Catholicism.
Their mindset is that the priesthood is a job, and that all jobs are opportunities to gain economic and social privilege. Hence, women must be permitted to be priests. Speaking as a former senior vice president of a global bank, I just want to say that this is deeply wrong-headed thinking.
The priesthood is not a job. A priest is not a ‘community leader.' He is likewise not social worker. He is not a shoulder to cry on or a jovial guy to preside over your family weddings. Also, he is not a facilities manager. He may act in these capacities, but it is a fundamental error to see him as a mere functionary in a collar, because of course a woman can do all of those jobs.
That's not the point.
For 2000 years, the Roman Catholic priesthood has been understood as a spiritual vocation, wherein the priest stands in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”). Hence, his hands and indeed his entire person are consecrated; he is a man who exists entirely for his people. He is in fact married to the Church.
It is this understanding of the priesthood upon which the Church was founded, and upon which she has built the civilization of the West. Only those who are clueless about the benefits that this civilization brings which is in fact the mother of all of their liberties would want to destroy this for feminist ideology.
Isn't it incredibly ironic that the future of the Church should rest upon something that has gone un-noticed through all the high-flown rhetoric of the last 50 years?
The lowly altar boy.
Bring him back. He is the future of the Church — nay, the future of Civilization.
After a 25 year career in banking with Citigroup and Bear Stearns, Beverly Stevens started up REGINA Magazine, working mainly from Europe. A wife and mother, she speaks four languages and has an MBA from Dartmouth College.
PHOTO CREDIT: John Briody