It's a strange-looking equation, I know, but another priest has used it to justify his decision to ban girls from serving at Mass. Father John Lankeit, rector of the Phoenix diocesan cathedral, SS. Simon and Jude, argued, "The connection between serving at the altar and priesthood is historic. It is part of the differentiation between boys and girls, as Christ established the priesthood by choosing men. Serving at the altar is a specifically priestly act," according to the Arizona Republic. Girls will be allowed to be sacristans, preparing things for Mass like the altar societies of old.
Lankeit points out that not permitting girls to serve is part of the pastor's prerogative, but I wonder what would happen if he started restricting the ministry of lector to men, since that office, like the instituted ministry of acolyte, was also formerly part of preparation for priesthood. For that matter, "porter" was once the first step to holy orders, so by that logic hospitality ministers should all be men, too.
Those who took this practice too seriously for their own good are of course, going crazy (or as Fr. Zuhlsdorf likes to say, "throwing a nutty") over it. Before I respond, I always like to check the history of a situation. What has the Vatican said regarding altar girls to serving Mass? When did it happen? Why did it happen?
I found a few things. First, a helpful explanation on EWTN's website:
Many Catholics are perplexed by the authorization of girl altar servers by the Pope. They are uncertain about the pastoral wisdom of this decision given 1) the shortage of vocations to the priesthood, 2) the traditional place of altar boys as a source of vocations, 3) the tendency of some younger boys to not want to share activities with girls and 4) the natural religiosity of the female sex which results in their saturating non-ordained offices in the Church. Yet, it is a decision which has been made by the highest authority in the Church and to which Catholics must defer and make their peace.
It is important to make some theological distinctions, too. This is not a matter of faith but of Church discipline. While having boys serve at the altar is a long-standing ecclesiastical tradition it is nonetheless a human institution, NOT divine, and therefore capable of change for sufficient reason. The judgment about what is sufficient rests with the Holy See.
What MIGHT have been those reasons? Since the Church had already opened other non-ordained offices to women (Reader, Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister, chancellor, marriage tribunal official and so on), all of which were previously excluded to women, and in some cases lay men also), the exclusion of girls from the unofficial office of "altar server" was something of an anomaly. In fact, it was on canonical grounds which the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts proposed ending this exclusion. For his part, the Pope may have been looking ahead to the publication only a few weeks later of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, his letter affirming the male only priesthood. The two decisions taken together amount to drawing precise theological lines between what is Church tradition and what is Apostolic Tradition, allowing women all offices in the Church not excluded by Divine Law (such as the priesthood).
* The letter to Catholic Dioceses from the Congregation for Divine Worship was released March 15, 1994.
Then I found on the Vatican's website, the Congregation for Divine Worship And The Discipline Of The Sacrament Instruction index, which included this section (Chapter II, The Participation of the Lay Christian Faithful In the Eucharistic Celebration, 2. The Ministries of the Lay Christian Faithful In the Celebration of the Holy Mass) Emphasis mine:
[47.] It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension. Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these. Associations for them, including also the participation and assistance of their parents, should be established or promoted, and in such a way greater pastoral care will be provided for the ministers. Whenever such associations are international in nature, it pertains to the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to establish them or to approve and revise their statutes. Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in observance of the established norms.
What I find interesting in section 47 is that the entire section speaks mostly of using boys or youth as servers because it bears the fruit of sacred ministers. This is the focus of Fr. Lankeit. In an age of dwindling vocations, he simply wants to create an environment in which a young boy has the opportunity to experience service at the altar, which may allow him more opportunities to discern a vocation to the priesthood or diaconate.
Here is where presumption entered: Many parishes looked at this new practice of using altar girls as a right, as though young girls were entitled to it; evidently under the guise of "fairness." But it was never to be received in that way from the very beginning. The Congregation for Divine Worship made it clear from the start that this practice was under the authority of the Bishop and he was to use discretion whether to make it available or not.
Furthermore, the practice was to be done in observance of the established norms. What are those "norms?" The Traditional Latin Mass is a good example. Just recently, the Vatican came out and said that female servers were not allowed to serve at the Extraordinary Mass.
Permission for female altar servers came with the Circular Letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments of 1994. However, the rubrics of the 1962 Missal did not allow for females on the sanctuary during Mass.
The letter, signed by Mgr Guido Pozzo, Secretary of Ecclesia Dei, said that "permitting female altar servers does not apply to the Extraordinary Form".
All I know is that the young boys at our local Traditional Latin Mass loathe putting on their long black cassocks and smelling perfume, obviously from when a girl wore them when serving the Ordinary Form Mass.
Do I blame them? Of course not. I can also say from observation the results of allowing young girls to serve at Mass are telling. Whenever I attend an OFM, and girls are serving, they are either the majority of the servers or the entirety of them. Boys at that age typically don't want to be involved if girls are doing it.
On the other hand, I observe my local EFM, where we have a large processional. In fact, there are usually no less than 14 boys and young men serving at the altar. We have boys as young as 6, high school boys, and a few in their late twenties and early thirties who serve. When the seminarians show up, it gets pretty crowded!
Does this exclude girls from contributing to the parish? No. There are other areas of service available but since they're not as prominent as serving at the altar, often they're overlooked or minimized. These services can be within the sacristy or outside of it within the many activities of a parish. It can be involvement with CCD or a ministry to the poor and invalid. We have a hurting world that is desperate need of the saving graces of our loving heavenly Father and there are a myriad of ways to respond. Serving the altar during Mass is just one part of it.
However, I will say this: our parish that celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass has produced more vocations than I've ever seen in my life from any other parish. These young men are responding to the more traditional expression of our Catholic faith and the proof is in the numbers.
I would love to learn how much the vocations have increased since 1994, in the parishes that have used altar girls. I'm suspecting -- not much. But such logic seems to fall upon deaf ears for those who insist upon "fairness" but have no understanding of the larger issue at stake; I'm sure such a statistic will never be shared.