I have wanted to write about a story that was published in the St. Louis Review back on April 8. It is the heartwarming story of a little boy fighting cancer who, when approached by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, said he wanted to be a priest. His Grace, Archbishop Carlson, along with Master of Ceremonies Fr. Nick Smith, made that dream come true by, among other activities, involving him in the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass at the Cathedral.
Like I said, great story. God bless this boy (there is a gofundme page set up by a family friend to cover medical expenses here), Archbishop Carlson, and all those who helped.
However, I think the most important element of this story was completely overlooked by the Review. They buried the lead, as they say.
I ask you, how did the Archbishop make this boy's wish to be a "priest for a day" come true? By dressing him in the cassock and surplice. By allowing him to serve at the altar.
Actions speak louder than words. And here is an action that speaks volumes. Altar service is inextricably linked to the priesthood.
This act of kindness occurred in an Archdiocese, like nearly every other Archdiocese in the world, that still allows girls to serve at the altar.
We are told that altar servers aren't "little priests". We are told, despite studies and the evidence of our own eyes, that allowing girls to serve at the altar does not discourage boys from serving, and does not discourage priestly vocations.
Yet it was instinctive, so instinctive that no one publishing or reading the Review even questioned it, that when a boy wanted to "be a priest for a day" he served at the altar, wearing the traditional attire of the acolyte.
So it seems to me that you can have it one of two ways: either limit altar service to males, or advocate the impossibility that females can be priests. Because that is what our actions say, louder than our rationalizations. The only question facing the Church today, if she will be honest enough and brave enough to face it, is which will it be?
As a thought experiment, I have taken the liberty of rewriting the Review's headline:
Little Boy's Wish, Archdiocesan Response, Link Altar Service to Priestly Vocations
I don't know, it sounds right to me.
And, in a perfect world, that issue of the Review could include an editorial calling for an end to the novelty of altar girls. Cite this feel-good story, cite Pope St. John Paul II (among other popes), and draw the necessary conclusions. See, it writes itself.
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