Why did the Holy See ever allow female altar servers.

Since the Church for almost 2000 years never allowed women to serve at altar and there are numerous Papal writings pertaining to this practice being forbidden, why did Pope John Paul II allow this in 1994?

Good question…good question.

Because in the Latin edition of canon law, the language about servers that used to include “vir” - as in the male sex - was not present. A request for clarification was sent to Rome and they said there was nothing making it illegal.

My understanding is that it was left up to the local bishops to decide.

Traditionally the roles of lectors and acolytes/servers were carried out by either ordained men or men in minor orders. When the modern parish began to develop and this wasn’t practical anymore it was allowed for young men to serve as a way of possibly keeping them interested in ordination. However in our times a very small percentage of altar boys entered seminary. And, in fact, it became harder and harder to get enough altar boys in some parishes. When the 1983 code of canon law was written it was recognized that most roles in the average parish had little to do with fostering vocations in a practical sense, thus the roles of server, lector, EMHC were opened up completely to the laity (men and women).

Thank you.
This has a lot say about the abysmal state of catechesis and orthopraxy in many worldwide parishes today.


I’m not sure about the answer to this question, but in my experience, until a few days ago, I have not seen any female altar servers. However, when I was in Israel, I attended a Spanish vigil Mass on Saturday, where the altar server was female. I do remember wondering about that, but didn’t think too much of it at the time.

Not only that, but we also live in a world in which “Girls just can’t do that, silly” is no longer a good answer to questions of this sort. The Nineteenth Amendment was only ratified in 1920. It’s not as though the system of male-only suffrage that existed before that rested on some complex and convincing set of political justifications for not allowing women the vote; that’s just how it was and had always been – “Women can’t vote, silly.” Sixty years ago I doubt you would have found any “girl postmen,” nor forty years ago any “women firemen.” The reasons for these societal changes, and for the pace with which they have come, are manifold and could only be explained at great length. Certainly one must look to the era of World War II, since it made many people realize that if Rosie was qualified to rivet tanks and aircraft for men on the fighting front, it made no sense to say three years later that she was unqualified to rivet cars.

The reasons which are proposed nowadays for deprecating girls as altar servers (vocations for boys; boys can’t get along with girls; etc.) all seem to be post-hoc rationalizations. As far as I have been able to determine, the main reason 100 years or 300 years ago was, you guessed it, “Girls can’t do that, silly” (well, mixed with “Ew, girls near the altar?!”). Those reasons just don’t hold any force anymore. Therefore, either better reasons must be convincingly put forward (which they haven’t, by and large), or the previous structure become unsustainable.

Incidentally, my views on the question of girl altar servers remain substantially those that I expressed here two years ago.

Well I know people objecting to it,so I ask the objectors: Why do women hand out Communion?

Better question, what’s wrong with them? If the pope changed it, he changed it. I’m sure God wouldn’t mind.

That is not what I asked.
I asked why girl altar boys were allowed.
What is the reason for it.
Not if it is a good thing or bad.

NB: Just because the Holy Father allowed it, it does not follow that it is pleasing to God.
The Pope is only impeccable in matters of Faith and Morals, not Church discipline, which this issue most assuredly is.

What is your point?

If you really want to have a glimpse of the why then read the writings of Bl. JPII and you will probable get an insight of his thinking. In this forum you will just get opinions, after quite a few years I have seen a huge amount of posts but I have not seen any real references to the thinking of the pope.

I am a 20 year-old female. For approximately seven years I served on the altar at several churches (I became an altar server almost straight after receiving my First Holy Communion). Just over two years ago I became a Minister of the Eucharist, and have also been trained to take Communion to the sick.

I have always treated these roles with the absolute respect, reverence and importance they deserve. They allowed me to experience a new closeness to God, and they have instilled in me a greater love and enthusiasm for Mass and for the Church - a deep desire to learn and to understand.

Thinking about the situation, I can understand why people would have problems with it. In some respects, allowing female altar servers and Eucharistic Ministers could be seen as illogical and could provoke feelings of disappointment.
But for me, the opportunity to serve God in this way has always filled me with joy.

Maybe he was concerned that when he died and met God, SHE would be really peaved about excluding women from service to HER church.:smiley:

Actually the Pope is not impeccable at all.

As to matters of the law and discipline where he is not constrained by doctrine, he has the final word - good, bad or indifferent.

My point is, I was just asking a straightforward question that I hoped someone could help direct me to information as to why the HF allowed girl altar boys.

One of the reasons I ask, because I personally know of several parishes where they use a majority of altar girls, yet there are many boys, in these parishes, who would like to serve but they do not want to serve if they have to serve with girls.
I have been told by many others that this is the case in other parishes.

Kinda like having boys do Nun things…


What are “Nun things,” exactly? Teaching classes? Praying the Divine Office?

I saw altar girls in the Boise diocese in the mid '80s, well before the '94 date given above.
I would guess that, like Communion in the hand and sacrilegious sacred music, this abuse had become so common that it would have caused a great deal of dissention to abruptly set it straight. It was a battle that the Holy Father did not think was worth fighting at the time.
It is darn hard to put toothpaste back into the tube.

Actually I do not think we have any hard evidence as to what was done in the first couple of centuries.

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