by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — Women and girls serving at the altar is becoming an issue in some parishes that have high numbers of migrants attending Mass, Auckland diocese’s liturgy centre says.
Many migrant populations have not been used to women and girls serving in this way, a statement from the liturgy centre to NZ Catholic noted.
“This matter has to be handled with pastoral sensitivity, and catechesis provided, so that people understand the equal role of men and women in the Sunday assembly,” the statement continued.
“While noting the historical practice of altar boys, and that it is ‘laudable’ that this is retained [Redemptionis Sacramentum 47], it should be noted that this ministry has been renewed and developed since the Second Vatican Council, and that the norms and practices of the local Church where one chooses to live must also be respected,” it added.
NZ Catholic had asked the liturgy centre for a reaction to media stories about the preference of the newly installed Archbishop of Hobart, Archbishop Julian Porteous, for male altar servers once the server is of high school age.
Archbishop Porteous reportedly said: “Altar servers, generally speaking, are primary school age, around that age, and so there’s always been a tradition of having altar boys around that age, and so girls can also be at that age.”
But he added: “When you move into high school, I think it’s more appropriate that we have men, young men, who are serving on the altar.”
The Auckland liturgy centre referred to statements by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on this matter in 1994 and 2001. In 2004, the congregation stated “ . . . girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan bishop and in observance of the established norms” [RS 47].
“Therefore, Archbishop Porteous is acting within his rights and in accord with canonical and liturgical norms,” the centre statement added. Media reports questioned whether Archbishop Porteous’s position contravened Australian anti-discrimination laws.
Many parishes in New Zealand have altar servers at primary and intermediate school age, so have boys and girls in this role. But some parishes have families assist at the altar at certain points in the Mass instead of altar servers.
In his interview with journalists on a plane after World Youth Day, Pope Francis reportedly noted that women could be altar servers, readers at Mass and even president of Caritas, but said “there is more” and called for the Church to develop a more profound theology of women.
In a recent interview with a fellow Jesuit, Pope Francis was asked “What should be the role of women in the Church?” Francis replied: “It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the Church.”
This sentence was left out of the first publication of the interview in America magazine’s print and online versions. This has been corrected in later versions.