Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI Continues to Push Female Altar Servers

An article in German just came out concerning the Pope's use of female altar servers. It appears that he will use them in his upcoming papal visit to Freiburg in September. Given the problems that this practice has caused in regard to vocations to the priesthood, as well as theological continuity, I find it a bit perplexing as to why the Pope sees this practice as a benefit to the Church. Although in 1994 a change was made allowing for female altar servers in the Church, as far as I know not even John Paul II used them in his papal visits. Correct me if I am wrong here. I could find no papal Mass by JPII using them. Again, one wonders why Pope Benedict XVI, who is largely viewed as being much more conservative regarding liturgy, has pushed this envelope even further.

If we look back into history we see several Popes condemning this practice. It seeped into the Greek Church back in the mid 1700s, and was out rightly condemned by Pope Benedict XIV. An encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV promulgated on July 26, 1755 titled Allatae Sunt, addressed problems with the Oriental Churches. Female servers was one of the problems addressed.  Pope Benedict XIV plainly referenced two of his predecessors who also condemned this practice, "Pope Gelasius in his ninth letter (chap. 26) to the bishops of Lucania condemned the evil practice which had been introduced of women serving the priest at the celebration of Mass. Since this abuse had spread to the Greeks, Innocent IV strictly forbade it in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum: "Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry." We too have forbidden this practice in the same words in Our oft-repeated constitution Etsi Pastoralis, sect. 6, no. 21." So we have here at least three Popes calling this practice, "evil" and an abuse, yet we have the Pope today plainly contradicting his predecessors. I am aware that this is an issue of praxis, and is not strictly dogmatic in nature, nonetheless it seems to me to be quite perplexing for the Pope to be furthering this practice rather than taking it back in the other direction. Any thoughts?

Freiburg im Bresgau, 8.26.11 (KIPA) The Vatican has given a green light for female altar servers for the papal visit to Freiburg (Germany). Nine female and eight male servers from the Freiburg Archdiocese will minister at the youth prayer and the closing liturgy on September 24-25, the diocese announced on Friday. It is customary that no female serves are used at papal liturgies in the Vatican. By contrast, there were female servers at the liturgies for Benedict XVI’s visit to Bavaria in 2006.
Link to German article


Alan Aversa said...

Although this may not be directly related to this article, you might be interested in Faith Imperiled by Reason: Benedict XVI’s Hermeneutics by Msgr. Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, SSPX, one of the 4 bishops that Pope Benedict XVI "un-excommunicated" in 2009.

bill bannon said...

You quote long ago Popes but you do not cite their reasons. What were their reasons? Aquinas wrote in his ST that a woman's voice itself was tempting. In his culture it perhaps was. Yet if you said that today, folks would recommend therapy. Was a like reason to Aquinas' behind the statements you cited....for which as I said you nor those Popes supply a reason to the prohibition.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Hi Bill, I am unsure as the exact reason why the Popes had this view. I linked in my article the entire encyclical that my quote came from. You can read it online. It does not however go into an in depth theological explanation. It seems to me that since serving at the altar has always been tied to the priesthood theologically, that women were never permitted to serve. In fact servers were allowed to encourage and discern vocations to the priesthood. So it makes for a consistent theological consistency not to have female servers. It only muddies the waters as to the what is happening on the altar, and to the ministerial priesthood to which it is tied to.

As far as Aquinas goes, there was nothing perverse or radical in his view on women. Nothing has changed in the DNA of mankind, and judging by today's corrupt moral culture, our view on sexuality as whole is in the sewer. Folks today would also send Jesus himself to a therapist for things which he preached and did.

bill bannon said...

Benedict may be more thinking along other lines since I'm sure he is aware of what you cite and how you explain (that serving had always been tied to the priesthood). Given that he knows those considerations, something you are leaving out must be affecting him. It could be Galatians 3:28..."there is not male nor female, you are all one in Christ". Or it could be data related...he may have seen stats that modern altar boys are not appreciably going on later to Holy Orders anyway. But since he told Islam at Regensburg that faith should not drown out reason, he has to live that in his own choices which means he has to come up with reason if precedent seems to have few explanations. And he has to come up with a reason that supercedes Gal.3:28....or he is better off following that verse rather than tradition since Christ told the pharisees that they had voided God's word with their traditions.
Which means Benedict has to come up with one very good reason or explain after death why he didn't follow the verse from Galatians. Now another Pope might say with Aquinas and with a separate scripture that "man is the image and glory of God but woman is the glory of man"(I Cor.11:7) in regard to which Aquinas affirmed that woman too is an image of God but man more so in a secondary
way. But Benedict may be more persuaded by Galatians use in most matters while not denying Corinthians.
In short, it is not a slam dunk in either direction and Benedict unlike us must answer to God soon on such matters so I suspect he is sincerely seeking to do well.
He may feel that Galatians was neglected too often....or again non scripturally, he may have stats that women are more likely to attend Church and now are better supporters of the Church in some cultures than men are.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Hi Bill. I am sure there could be a myriad of reasons why he is choosing to do this. I am not sure if he is using one particular Scripture verse to uphold his line or thinking or not. Anything is possible.

As for allowing female altar servers, even the clarifying letter to the first 1994 change referenced my theological take referring to the priesthood. Even the Pope told the bishops that they could not force priests to use altar girls. The 1994 letter states: "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."

So even in the Pope's allowance of female altar servers, he recognized that vocations are too important to force priests to use females, since they will never be able to function in the ministerial priesthood. You are correct that he will have to answer for his actions. I am glad that I am not responsible, I already have too many things to answer for as it is! Thanks for your thoughts.

bill bannon said...