Fr. Joseph Illo is in the news again about only having altar boys at Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco where he is the new pastor. It just happened to be that Fr. Illo was here in Phoenix visiting Fr. Terra (of Mater Misericordae Mission) and myself last Thursday, while all this news ordeal was going on. Fr. Terra is the priest who was brutally beaten by Gary Michael Moran last summer when Fr. Walker was murdered. Please remember to pray for Gary Moran’s conversion.
Fr. Joseph Illo is a very good friend of mine and we were together in a priest fraternity for over 17 years. Even though Fr. Illo is in San Francisco and myself here in Phoenix, we still belong to the Stockton Diocese in California. Fr. Terra use to be with the Stockton Diocese until he joined the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter around 20 years ago.
The controversy comes from altar girls feeling that they have a right to be altar boys and if not, it is sexism. They feel discriminated against. At Star of the Sea Parish in the Mission District of San Francisco, the only girls that serve now are from the School attached to the Parish. They only serve at the school masses.
The idea came from the other priest there at Star of the Sea who suggested to Fr. Illo that they should only have altar boys to help get vocations to the priest and because altar girls are only allowed if the pastor wishes to have them. Altar boys are the norm. So when the other priest suggested this, Fr. Illo knew what he was asking was correct and came up with a policy of in the future no more altar girls. This are the reasons he gave:
- “boys usually end up losing interest [in altar service] because girls generally do a better job.”
- “altar service is intrinsically tied to the priesthood and serve as feeder programs for the seminary.”
- “If the Catholic Church ordained women, altar girls would make sense, but the Catholic priesthood is a male charism,”
- “Nothing awakens a desire for the priesthood like service at the altar among the brotherhood of young men.
- At the risk of generalizing, I suspect young men serving with young women might just distract them from the sacrifice of the Mass, and perhaps even from a priestly vocation.”
“The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time. I want to emphasize that the practice of having exclusively boys as altar servers has nothing to do with inequality of women in the Church.”
In communicating the above information to your Episcopal Conference, I feel obliged to clarify certain aspects of Canon 230 #2 and of its authentic interpretation:
1) Canon 230 #2 has a permissive and not a preceptive character: “Laici . . . possunt.” Hence the permission given in this regard by some Bishops can in no way be considered as binding on other Bishops. In fact, it is the competence of each Bishop, in his diocese, after hearing the opinion of the Episcopal Conference, to make a prudential judgment on what to do, with a view to the ordered development of liturgical life in his own diocese.
2) The Holy See respects the decision adopted by certain Bishops for specific local reasons on the basis of the provisions of Canon 230 2. At the same time, however, the Holy See wishes to recall that 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.
3) If in some diocese, on the basis of Canon 230 #2, the Bishop permits that, for particular reasons, women may also serve at the altar, this decision must be clearly explained to the faithful, in the light of the above-mentioned norm. It shall also be made clear that the norm is already being widely applied, by the fact that women frequently serve as lectors in the Liturgy and can also be called upon to distribute Holy Communion as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist and to carry out other functions, according to the provisions of the same Canon 230 #3.
4) It must also be clearly understood that the liturgical services mentioned above are carried out by lay people ex temporanea deputatione, according to the judgment of the Bishop, without lay people, be they men or women, having any right to exercise them.
Here are some excerpts from this letter Litterae Congregationis;
“In accord with the above cited instructions of the Holy See such an authorization may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar, nor require that priests of the diocese would make use of female altar servers, since “it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar” (Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conference, March 15, 1994, no. 2). Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain, not least of all due to the well known assistance that such programs have provided since time immemorial in encouraging future priestly vocations (cf. ibid.)
With respect to whether the practice of women serving at the altar would truly be of pastoral advantage in the local pastoral situation, it is perhaps helpful to recall that the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors (cf. Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, March 15, 1994, no. 4, cf. also can 228, §1, Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio August 15, 1997, no. 4, see Notitiae 34  9-42). Therefore, in the event that Your Excellency found it opportune to authorize service of women at the altar, it would remain important to explain clearly to the faithful the nature of this innovation, lest confusion might be introduced, thereby hampering the development of priestly vocations.”
- Canon 230 §2 is permissive and not a precept. Bishops are free in their territories to judge if there is a need for females to serve at the altar.
- Bishops have the obligation to support groups of altar boys as they promote vocations to the priesthood.
- A diocesan bishop who permits females to serve at the altar must give clear reasons for doing so to the faithful entrusted to his care. He may point to the (then already existing) norm of women serving in other functions as permitted in canon 230 §3.
- Any service undertaken by the lay faithful are not to be understood as a “right” but as a temporary deputation (ex temporanea deputatione).
You can see all the confusion that has been sown since Vatican II. The pope is just one more bishop, the priest is not better than a layperson, everyone, ordained or not is a priest from his baptism.
If you should happen to say that there is a difference between the confused roles of priest and laity, you will be crucified for it.
It is a privilege to be a priest, we do not deserve it or are we worthy of it. But we are ordained to be priest and lay people are not ordained.
How wonderful that the rubrics of the 1960 Roman Missal only allows altar boys. So when Pope Benedict gave permission to any priest to offer mass according to this missal, they can not have altar girls, only altar boys.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.