Intimate connection between Priesthood and Altar Serving downplayed?


Do you think the relationship between the two has been de-emphasized greatly in our current time period? Most of the diocesan seminaries I know of usually bracket altar serving along with EMHC, lector, and other liturgical/Church roles when it comes to looking at statistics for current seminarians. They will say “80% of our men lectored, 75% altar served, and 70% distributed Communion as an EMHC.” Trust me, those other liturgical functions are important too; nonetheless, as a young man who has considered the priesthood, I have to say that based on my own personal observations, there is a huge connection between priestly discernment and altar serving, and I think it deserves its own unique genus or category. I feel like over the years, there has been a watering down of the sacred privilege of serving the Lord at the altar; it is almost as if it doesn’t have anything to do with discernment to the priesthood anymore.

Now, I am not trying to start a second debate as to EF vs. OF or “Knights of the Altar” vs. “altar servers.” This is simply my observation as a male Catholic in college. I feel like if we did a better job with encouraging reverent service to the altar, more young men would consider priesthood.

Please let me know your thoughts. I occasionally serve a Low Mass at 7am on Tuesday mornings, and I was shocked at the number of high school men we get to show up; most of them if not all have considered the priesthood and religious life.


I think this “intimate connection” you speak of is essentially de-emphasized, in a certain sense, with allowing girls to serve. Since women will never be allowed to become priests, yet they are allowed to serve at the altar, there is certainly the implicit conclusion to be drawn that there is no connection between priesthood and altar serving.

I guess the interesting discussion to be had, then, is, What is the purpose of altar serving? There are probably a number of ways to answer that. I am not sure I’d say that discernment of priesthood is the purpose - i.e., the only purpose - because otherwise then we wouldn’t allow married men to serve. Although I don’t know, maybe to be consistent, I’d be open to the idea that married men shouldn’t usually be serving - but discussion would be needed to expound on that idea.

I was literally just talking to someone yesterday who mentioned his son refused to serve because the girls that were always serving were “too bossy”. Lol. Though that is “just an anecdote”, I think it’s still accurate to say that allowing girls to serve does, in some cases (obviously not all), “scare off” boys from doing it. And someone might say “well that boy’s attitude needs to be fixed” - and I don’t know, maybe there’s some good discussion on that point as well. Or “that girl’s attitude needs to be fixed”…lol. I mean, my first two years of serving I served with girls periodically, in fourth and fifth grade. I guess that didn’t scare me away. But since Catholic grade school I have never done so, since when I was scheduled on weekends I was always scheduled with one of my four brothers. The college I attended (Ave Maria) did/does not allow female altar servers, and my current parish and another parish I frequent (FSSP) does not allow them. So obviously this is just because I haven’t done it since 2003, but to me now it would seem extremely odd to serve with a girl, and when I am on occasion in a different parish, it is always odd to me to see them serving.

I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t have made this all about girls serving, but I think it is probably one of the most important aspects of the discussion on whether there is/ought to be a connection between serving and the priesthood. There is also probably the related question of whether anyone who “serves” in the sanctuary should also be all-male. In my mind, to be consistent with the idea that serving should be reserved for boys, I would probably have to make the argument that lectors and EMCHs (though those should be rare…) should also be male. I don’t know.

Regarding low amounts of vocations, I’m all with you that in general, a reverent Liturgy would attract more men to the priesthood. If the Liturgy, the context in which we receive the source and summit of our Christian life (the Eucharist), is not something sacred and beautiful, men will have a hard time perceiving it to be something for which they would want to fight and give up the goods of the married life. In short, if there is not the fullest of the Catholic faith expressed in the Liturgy, if there is not that example for men, they will be much less inclined to fight for it and give up their lives for it.

Edited to add: kind of to re-word some of that last sentence, with regards to “giving up their lives for it” - I mean to say, they will be much less inclined to perceive the good things the Lord has in store for priests which result from choosing to forego the goods of marriage.


100% of the priests that I have worked for say that their decision to become a priest was initiated by a great relationship with and the inspiration of their parish priest.
As the scandals have made people leery of even the most wonderful priests, I think vocations have suffered because people just don’t allow their sons to spend time around the parish priest in any capacity for any length of time.




Two points: first, substantially fewer men enter the seminary straight from school and none enter at aged 12. On the contrary many (if not most) present seminarians have worked or studied for at least several years prior to their admission. Thus, the connection that once existed between priesthood and altar serving has now significantly diminished in terms of time.

Secondly, emphasising (or perhaps over emphasising) such a connection tends to exclude the significance of, and value brought by adult converts to the faith who go on to be ordained.

I guess what I’m saying here is that the “intimate connection” is more reflective of a past era than of the present era. granted, any seminary / order will expect applicants to have had some involvement in their parish but the traditional idea of altar servers as “priests-in-waiting” is not really a thing anymore. In the interests of full disclosure however, I say this as a seminarian who was inspired as an altar server by a priest I served for!

Having said that, I believe that young men should be encouraged to continue serving into their teens and all should, along with others, be encouraged to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.


Only speaking from my own experience----I never felt any particular connection between being an altar boy and moving on toward the priesthood. I thought it was kinda cool to be behind the scenes of the Mass, to be a part of the “production.” I didn’t have a strong connection to any of the priests at our parish.

I guess I regarded them as I did classroom teachers: an adult in a position of authority, who was there to do a job, and who wasn’t my friend. In any case, I don’t recall any of them mentioning anything about the priesthood as a vocation.

This was the late 1970s–girl altar servers were a few years away.


I thinking calling the connection between the priesthood and altar serving “intimate” is overstating it…by a lot.

Is there a connection? Sure.

But an “intimate connection”…not so much.


Yes, 100% of priests and seminarians I know served and attribute it as at least a factor in their discernment.


I think you’re right on this. And related to that: I was an altar boy for 8 years before the Council, and the various tasks we were responsible for, especially including the numerous Latin responses, did provide a deeper connection between the server and the priest, between the server and the Mass, than do today’s much more limited server tasks. One server’s carrying the processional cross, and servers bringing over the cruets, are pretty much all that today’s servers typically do. (Certainly in the parishes I’m most familiar with; other parishes may differ.)




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