Girls as Altar Servers

The Congregation for Divine Worship issued a response to a bishop’s question concerning the admission of girls as altar servers. The Congregations response stated the following:

  1. Bishops are free to admit female altar servers
  2. Only a diocesan bishop can decide whether to permit female servers in his diocese
  3. No priest is obligated to have female servers, even where the diocese itself permits it
  4. No one has a “right” to serve at the altar
  5. The obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain due to the well-known assistance that such programs have provided in encouraging future priestly vocations

On November 17, 1999, the Latin Rite de iure members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved complementary legislation for canon 230, §1 of the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States. The action was granted recognitio by the Congregation for Bishops in accord with article 82 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus and issued by decree of the Congregation for Bishops signed by His Eminence Lucas Cardinal Moreira Neves, Prefect, and His Excellency Most Reverend Franciscus Monterisi, Secretary, and dated June 14, 2000.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 230, §1, hereby decrees that a layman who is to be installed in the ministries of lector or acolyte on a stable basis must have completed his twenty-first (21) year of age. The candidate must also possess the skills necessary for an effective proclamation of the Word or service at the altar, be a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church, be free of any canonical penalty, and live a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken.
When girls are barred from serving at the altar, they miss out on an important part of faith formation—and the church does, too.

Altar serving is a key tool in hooking children’s interests and getting them involved in the Mass. The way to get kids and teens to take ownership of their faith is to give them responsibility, and altar serving does just that. In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.  
Formerly, it was generally forbidden to have women serving near the altar within the sacred chancel (infra cancellos), that is, they were prohibited from entering the altar area behind the altar rails during the liturgy. However in convents of nuns women did serve within the chancel.