In 2011 and 2012, I noted and voiced support for the decision of Father John Lankeit, rector of the Cathedral of Ss. Simon & Jude in Phoenix, AZ, to end the cathedral’s two-decade experiment with allowing female altar servers. See Straight talk on altar girls, 1 MPA 60 (2012). The idea was to stimulate vocations, and initial returns were promising. See An update on Father Lankeit’s vocations program, 2 MPA 24 (2012). But the internet has a short memory, and I haven’t heard anything more, so I thought it worthwhile to contact Fr. Lankeit and ask how things are going.
Good news, everybody! With his permission, I reproduce his reply. He writes:
We have definitely seen an increase in the number of boys serving, particularly at our school Mass. Prior to the change, it felt like pulling teeth to get a half-dozen altar boys to serve the school Mass. During this past school year, I had 23 altar boys at one Mass. But it’s not only about numbers. I am confident that we have the most reverent, most well-trained altar boys in the diocese. There are “sparks” of interest in vocations among some of them. But you are correct to suggest that what we are doing is preparing the soil and planting the seeds. Vocations are not a direct result of “programs” or policies, but rather, a call from the Lord. To the extent that we can pave a clearer pathway from the Lord to the heart of a young man by helping him discern the full gamut of vocational possibilities, we are on the right track.
Some other wonderful developments:
1) We have a girls intercessory prayer group for young ladies aged 11-18 called the “Little Flowers of St. Therese”. These young ladies intercede regularly for me, for the parish, for the Church, etc. They were instrumental in supporting my efforts to establish Perpetual Adoration at the Cathedral. The past couple of years, they are the only representative group of laypeople (aside from those serving in the sanctuary) who participate in our (small, modified) procession during our televised Corpus Christi Mass. They are also part of the representative group (aside from those serving in the sanctuary) who venerate the Cross during our Good Friday televised liturgy (along with professed religious sisters). I had one little girl who made it very clear to me in the three months leading up to her 11th birthday that she couldn’t wait to join. So, it has not just been an effort to put the possibility of a consecrated vocation in the Church on the boys’ radar screen. The Little Flowers does the same for girls, without violating God-given sexual differentiation. These girls are truly prayer warriors (see below).
We have a very large diocesan event each October called the “Arizona Rosary Celebration”. The event begins with a very large procession of “altar servers” followed by the minsters and the bishop(s). There were hundreds of “altar servers”—boys and girls—processing in together. To see many of the girls in surplice and cassock (a clerical vestment), next to many boys in plain albs—all mixed together—was truly a picture of confusion. But here was the beautiful thing. Following the “altar servers” and immediately preceding the bishop(s) and ministers, was a group of our Little Flowers in black tops/skirts, white veils, with hands folded in prayer wrapped in Rosaries. The exaltation of feminine dignity could not have been clearer.
At one point, just prior to the procession, it was reported to me that a female “altar server” approached our Little Flowers and said something along the lines of, “Like, is that, like, what you wear when you, like, serve at the altar?” One of the Little Flowers responded politely, “We don’t serve at the altar.” The female “altar server” said, “Then, like, what are you?” The Little Flower responded, “We’re prayer warriors!” I wasn’t there to witness the exchange, but could not have been prouder of the Little Flower.
2) In addition to the increase in boys serving at the altar, we have also had an increase in adult men, including fathers of some of the altar boys who serve with their sons, and college students from a nearby university. There has been an emasculation of the Church in so many places in recent decades, which is, frankly, unfair to the wives/mothers who must assume spiritual leadership in the family when there is a (spiritually) absentee father. The fact that men are attracted to serving at the altar is an antidote to more than just the priestly vocation issue. It encourages men to be true men in the family as well.
So, we simply provide the avenue for the Lord’s still, small voice to reach more of our boys and girls by providing them ways to serve the Lord in ways that honor who they are. Whether or not I am here to share in the harvest is really out of my hands. But I have a duty to till the soil and plant the seeds. And, so far, some of the seeds are showing signs of sprouts.
It’s a thing of beauty. God bless you, and please pray for us.
This is delightful to read! Hats off to Fr. Lankeit, and let us pray for the continuing success of his work.