Saturday, July 10, 2010

Women as Extraordinary Ministers, lectors and Alter "servers"

"Lay people and Nuns giving out Holy Communion during Mass was rightly considered an unthinkable act of sacrilege and irreverence only 30 years ago, and for centuries preceding. But now, lay people administering the Blessed Sacrament is an ordinary sight in the average Novus Ordo parish Church, and most Catholics think nothing of it - for they have been desensitized to desecration.

The terms "lay minister" and "Eucharistic minister" have been used rather loosely up until this point, because this is the terminology often found in parish bulletins. In actuality, there is no such terminology as "Eucharistic minister", the proper term is "EXTRAORDINARY MINISTER"."

On January 29th 1973, an Instruction was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship that authorised the introduction of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist called Immense Caritatis. This document does not grant some revolutionary indult for any and every parish to permit lay people (including Nuns) to administer Communion, it authorises the use of extraordinary ministers in CASES OF GENUINE NECESSITY which are listed as:

* When there is no priest, deacon or acolyte. * When these are prevented from administering Holy Communion because of another pastoral ministry or because of ill health or advanced age. * When the number of the faithful requesting Holy Communion is such that the celebration of the Mass or the distribution of the Eucharist outside Mass would be unduly prolonged.

The Instructions stipulates that:

"Since these faculties are granted only for the spiritual good of the faithful and for cases of genuine necessity, priests are to remember that they are not thereby excused from the task of distributing the Eucharist to the faithful who legitimately request it, and especially from taking and giving to the sick."

First of all, it is not an act of disloyalty or disobedience to question the wisdom of the document in the first place, particularly when this permission is a revolution against all pre-Vatican ll rubrics that existed for centuries, rubrics that existed for reason of reverence, to safeguard against desecration and that were a matter of Catholic common sense. But even taking this document at face-value, it is difficult to envisage circumstances that would justify the use of extraordinary ministers. Today's so called Eucharistic ministers are actually operating in defiance to existing Vatican norms.

The bishop and priest alone are the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The deacon is the extraordinary minister, but he must have the permission of the local ordinary or of the pastor which may be given for a grave reason, and may be legitimately presumed in case of necessity (Canon Law 844) Article 1 - of the Minister of Holy Communion. In Pope John Paul ll's Encyclical Inaestimable Donum, he clearly states the role of women in the Celebration of the Mass. His Encyclical FORBIDS WOMEN TO BECOME ALTAR SERVERS.

In Inaestimable Donum it says:

Eucharistic Communion. Communion is a gift of the Lord, given to the faithful through the minister appointed for this purpose. It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice, still less that they should hand them from one to another.

10. The faithful, whether religious or lay, who are authorized as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist can distribute Communion only when there is no priest, deacon or acolyte, when the priest is impeded by illness or advanced age, or when the number of the faithful going to Communion is so large as to make the celebration of Mass excessively long.(20) Accordingly, a reprehensible attitude is shown by those priests who, though present at the celebration, refrain from distributing Communion and leave the task to the laity.

This means that ordained ministers are first in line to distribute communion. My husband and I constantly shake our heads when women march up to "help" Father distribute communion when there is a deacon or even another priest there to do the job. And again, this "help" comes when there is a mere handful of people in church for a weekday Mass in the first place, even on most Sunday Masses would an extra 5 or ten minutes "unduly" prolong the Mass enough to require Extraordinary Ministers? The honest answer is no.

1 Corinthians 14:34: As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, even as the law says.

Another thing to consider is Biblical, Corinthians clearly states that women should "keep silence" in church. Does this mean they cannot say prayers out loud? No I don't think it does but in Timothy it also states

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Going back to submission, it seems all my posts lead back to this, but women aren't meant to teach men or be in the front of church, leading.

Titus 2 states our job is:

"Similarly, older women should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good,
so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children,
to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers, under the control of their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited."
So that the WORD OF GOD may not be discredited. There is your job, fellow wives and mothers. To be " self controlled, chaste, good homemakers and under the control of your husband"

Vatican II is where all this started, women lectors, Extraordinary ministers, Altar "girls" or "servers" (new words, invented for the times)

Pre Vatican II NO ONE was allowed on the altar but the Ordained Ministers, Priest, Deacon, and acolytes. I'm not saying anything against the post Vatican II Mass but it allowed a lot of confusion. A reason for allowing un ordained "lay" altar boys was to foster the desire for the priesthood, but that quickly eroded into allowing girls, which was never supposed to happen. Allowing women on the altar just opens up more and more questions about Ordaining women to the priesthood.

Many woman complain that they want to "participate" in the Mass. We good news! You can! Your participation is this...

From Divine Intimacy, by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.:

The best way of assisting at Holy Mass is the one which makes us participate most in the sublime action taking place at the altar. The liturgical method is especially recommended; by having us recite the same prayers as the priest, it makes us follow more closely the various parts of the Holy Sacrifice. However, instead of being preoccupied with the exact rendering of the words, which is obligatory only for the priest, we should penetrate the meaning of the different prayers, especially those said at the principal parts of the Mass, such as the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion.

Although the liturgical method is very good, it is not the only one; the Encyclical Mediator Dei expressly says, "The needs and dispositions are not the same in all souls, and they do not continue to remain the same in each one." It is not uncommon, for example, that, after the following the liturgical method for a long time with fruit, a particular soul might feel the need of closing the Missal in order to taste a little more profoundly the very substance of the Mass and to "penetrate" it further. This is not going backward but forward. Instead of focusing the attention in a special way on the various ceremonies and prayers, the soul feels the need of "getting into intimate contact with the High Priest" (ibid.), in order to unite itself interiorly with His action, His offering, and His immolation. By doing this, she follows the Mass in a simple "loving attention" which is the characteristic of contemplative prayer. Without necessarily following the development of the Sacred Rite in all its various parts, the soul fixes the mind and heart upon the Mass drama with a general glance, made keen by love. Thus we advance in an ever clearer understanding of the Holy Sacrifice.

However, it will be well to return to the Missal from time to time, especially to follow the liturgy on Sundays and feasts; each time our soul does this we will find new light, and a new sense, which will help us to penetrate the very substance of the Holy Sacrifice


Inaestimable Donum
The Abuse of Extraordinary Ministers


  1. Well, you did it again! Another excellent topic, thoroughly researched. What a blessing you are to spend your time looking into these topics and presenting them for us.

    Last summer, my husband and I attended a Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland, and were shocked and sickened to see a female deacon. We were a little unclear what was happening at first due to the language barrier, and kept trying to explain things away and give the benefit of hte doubt, but by Communion there was NO doubt. She was a deacon. After we got home and researched it we realized that the diocese does not recognize that Church. Oy...

    Fastforward to a Church here in the States several months ago- where there is a grown woman acting as an altar server. It immediately made the hairs on my neck stand up- but when I tried to think it through logically I had to ask, "What is the difference between a 12 year old and 60 year old woman? Should women be altar servers at all? If not, should women be on the altar at all?" Then in the course of my readings, I read with new eyes 1 Corinthians 11: 3-16 (which you addressed last week) and 14:26-40. These have given me such pause, that I asked that my name be removed from the list to serve until I discern further.

    All that to say, I'm so grateful for this topic.

    Can I add my two cents to this passage's interpretation? In v26 it makes the context clear- "when you assemble" and then describes the Mass. The Corinthians were going crazy in their abuses of the Mass, so Paul is straightening them out. He's saying things must be done in the proper order- and gives a few examples including speakers of tongues and prophets. THEN he moves on to women. All three are commanded to keep silent for that time- not forever! He's not saying don't sing or say amen...just don't prophesy or speak in tongues. Where? In Church! Not at home! 1 Corinthians 11:11 says man and woman are equal- neither is superior. But it is the proper order of things that men lead- men serve- and woman respond.

    I LOVE Christopher West's explanation of this in his cd "Woman: God's Masterpiece."

    So once again we're left to ask, "WHY? If the teaching is clear- EXTRAordinariy ministers- then why is it not carried out?" Where are the Shephard's rods???

    That being said, I do want to include a quote from my high school theology teacher. I have GREAT respect for this man and emailed him while I was discerning this. He wrote,

    "When Pope John Paul II was being wheeled in to the hospital for some surgery, he was handed a document to sign that basically does not forbid girl altar servers. Though it is scriptural it is not normative and so women are not forbidden from exercising the various ministerial roles. Keep in mind that the ministry belongs to the priest alone by virtue of his ordination. All others are participating in his ministry by deputation but the particular ministries (i. e. lector, ex. min. of the Eucharist, etc.) are the priests and do not belong to any layman, be he man or woman. That being the case, it does not forbid women from participating in the ministry, since there is no claim to the ministry itself."

    Though he agreed that in the future, the reform will probably be reformed and men will replace women on the altar. But he said until then to feel free to serve in humility and love.

    But if for no other reason, I will not serve so that men will be more willing to. If more women don't sign up, men (or the priests!) hopefully will step up and serve- and then lead in the homes as well.

    (Though I do still lector at daily Mass when no other men are there.)

    Sorry I wrote so much, Barbie! I'm excited by your topics!

  2. OH geez...I wrote more than I thought. I'm sorry!!!

  3. Dont' be sorry! Your comments let me know you are reading!! :)

  4. ok, so I am confused here....I am a lector, Eucharistic Minister, and Eucharistic Minister to the sick, and I take my job VERY seriously and VERY intently. So you are saying that according to Pope John Paul II that women should not be doing this at all? Or just lay people in general? Nuns? Please clarify for me. thanks!

  5. Hey Barbie! So I just got the book Mass Confusion by Jimmy Akin and he addresses these very topics. In regard to Altar servers he notes that according to Notitiae (1994) and a clarification by Cardinal Javierre Ortas that girls ARE legally allowed to serve on the altar. Legally. Now whether it's prudent or not is left to be discussed. I can't find where JP II forbid girls as altar servers.

    1971's Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship said that women can proclaim the readings (except the Gospel), read the intercessory prayers, lead the singing, serve as an usher and so on. It says that really the only thing women can't do (that lay men can) is participate in the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday.

    And with serving as an EXTRAordinary minister (I'm so with you on the EXTRAordinary part!) it says the Holy See ruled in 1969 it specifically says that "a woman of outstanding piety may be chosen in cases of necessity, that is, whenever another fit person cannot be found [FC 5, DOL 2048]".

    I interpret all of this through the spirit you explain. That women ARE permitted, but is it encouraged? I don't think I'll serve unless necessary. I frequently read at daily Mass where there are just a few of us and often no men (other than the priest!).


  6. Allie and Lauren. I think it goes back to what happened when the "spirit" of Vatican II took over our churches. Before Vatican II, there were NEVER any women on the altar much less distributing communion! But after Vatican II, many things were "allowed" but you have to go back to WHY, why were things done a certain way for so many years, decades and centuries and suddenly changed overnight? Has the Church gotten better are worse since these changes came about? Are there MORE Catholics in the pews? Are people MORE reverent?

    Honestly the answer is NO, since Vatican II and the "reforms" there has been a mass exodus in the Church, less reverence less attendance etc. One by one they've chipped away the mystery behind every movement, every word and every custom. Woman being on the altar is one of those things. For centuries woman have not been on the altar, not because women were less than men but because that wasn't their place! Men, priests, altar BOYS, Deacons etc are the ones meant to do those jobs, not us. I used to read myself, but I no longer do this because it's not my place. There are plenty of men in church that can read! But, you say they don't and so I step up! Yes, and therefore religion has because a feminine thing! Women stuff! IN every church the more girls they have on the altar the less men and boy's you'll see ! Everytime!

    Let tradition stand, the mystery and the beauty. You don't have to DO something to GET something out of Mass. Sit, quietly and pray. Support your priest and altar boys! That is our job.

  7. I am a little late to the party, but this is a very interesting post. I agree with your points, but I will say that we belong to a huge parish, and with 1 vigil Mass and 5 Sunday Masses that are all packed full, it would probably take at least 30 minutes extra if only a priest and a deacon were the only ones distributing Holy Communion. However, I do agree that men are probably the best choice for extraordinary ministers. I have served in this role as well, but after reading your post, I probably will not sign up again.
    Interesting stuff!

  8. Thank you so much for posting all of these articles. They have reinforced my reasons for never returning to the Church.

  9. Sigh...what a shame. Praying for that soul- that they will find the true beauty and love that exists within the Catholic Church as Christ loves and serves His bride.

  10. I am IN love with this blog Barbie! I am NOT a fan of girls on the alter. In fact, we belong to a parish that does not allow girl alter servers, but does allow girls to do the readings and allows the nuns to distribute the Blood of Christ. Our parish has 2 English (Ordinary Form) Masses and 1 Latin (Extra Ordinary Form) each weekend. Our Church is overflowing with faithful and reverent Catholics who desire to really LIVE their faith. I have to say that we have about 10-15 alter boys at every Latin Mass and 5-10 alter boys at every English Mass. When there are no girls to do it, the boys step up! As far as the girls in the parish, the choir is about 75% girls so they are participating in the Mass in a great way without taking over the role of boys/men in serving (which is an important aspect of influencing these boys to become priests). We have a lot of vocations...both to the priesthood and religious life! I am so happy to be able to go to such an awesome parish and to raise Bella up to love our Catholic Church!

  11. I must admit that it is wierd to me to see girl altar servers and extraordinary ministers line up to give communion. The girl servers do not help during communion either. This is all to say nothing of the nun who I could never figure out WAS a nun due to her non-habit wearing, typical people dressing ways. Ugh.
    I came from a very traditional diocese, but have no other options for church, as these patterns are typical in my new diocese. I am "old-fashioned" and believe that men and boys only should be on the altar.

  12. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I found this post! I have been discerning whether I should step down from lectoring and being an extraordinary minister for the past two months. Today the sacristan, who does now know of my discernment, approached me just before Mass started as she was desperate to find someone to take the C2 position. Quickly I had to decide and chose to help. All afternoon I've been contemplating what my final decision should be and was sending up ejaculations asking for direction. And now I find this post! All of the Scriptures Barbie used I am very familiar with and those were the exact Scriptures that got me to thinking in the first place about my earlier decision to become those things because everyone expected me to do them if I was to be a good Catholic woman. I judge no one else's choice, but as for me, this was the answer to much soul searching and prayer. Thank you to all who posted and helped me to come to my final decision. God bless you all!

  13. If Mary where here today would you tell her to be "silent" in the church?

  14. Being the reverent Saint that she is, if Mary were here today she would be "silent" by choice. Where in the Bible does Mary accept the ministry and duties of men? You might feel you are "speaking up" for women but don't be fooled... feminism is a lie which has eaten away at the souls of many and led many people to heresies,liturgical abuses and outright rejection of truth. If there is a Theological basis for such rulings - who are you to question them? Please respect the natural order and gender division as determined by God. As a woman may I be the first to say - [to Bo Bird and others that oppose this post] - when you speak of the oppression of women I am deeply offended. It tells me that you cannot accept me as I am- a feminine woman... that we must masculinize ourselves and adopt the duties of men in order to satisfied. I tell you- surely you do not speak for me. My voice is not "silent" but it is accepting of the fact that God has made us different and expects us to act according to our nature. I say to anyone that stumbles upon this post ... Let women be women and let men be men. ****** Excellent post by the way. God Bless!