Altar Serving at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral
PHOENIX (Aug. 22, 2011) — Experiencing personally the consequences of the priesthood shortage and noting the absence of strong fatherly presence in society in general, and religious practice in particular, Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, recently restructured the program for boys and girls who serve at Mass. At the Cathedral, boys can train to serve at the altar, and girls can train to serve as sacristans.
The decision was made in order to encourage young men and women to honor their God-given differentiation and complementarity, and to discern more clearly how such differentiation points to specific vocations in the Church.
Boys' service at the altar has roots in Church history prior to the creation of the modern seminary system where men are formed for priesthood. Before seminaries, serving at the altar was part of an apprenticeship for priesthood. Fr. Lankeit's decision was made primarily in response to the shortage of priestly vocations, since serving at the altar points very clearly to the specific vocation of priesthood.
He cites examples where limiting altar service to boys in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and in Ann Arbor, Mich., has borne the fruit of many priestly vocations. The Diocese of Lincoln is considered a vocations "powerhouse." In a single parish in Ann Arbor, in 2008, there were 22 new seminarians and five women in formation for religious life. The same parish is also home to 16 sisters in the Servants of God's Love religious community.
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, also based in Ann Arbor, are receiving so many inquiries from young women interested in entering the order that they cannot build facilities fast enough to accommodate the surge in vocations. Their order offers clear evidence that when the God-given differentiation between male and female is honored, both men's and women's vocations flourish.
The first girls to train in the Cathedral's sacristan program are learning quickly, serving well and enjoying the important responsibility of sacristan. The parish is coordinating with a contemplative women's religious order to provide these young sacristans with a "come and see" event at their monastery and to learn from one of the sisters who served as the official sacristan of their mother house in Alabama.
Related: Cathedral's policy change on altar servers ignites discussion
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