Father John was recently asked this question and he wrote the answer to it in this week's bulletin. I thought that some of you might find it interesting.
Question: Why can’t girls serve in the altar?
Answer: Great question! Especially for today when there is a tendency to confuse “equality” with “sameness” when looking at gender related issues. First, we have to say that just as apples and oranges are both equally fruits and they are not the same, so too men and women are equal but not the same. In the Church, men and women are equals in that both were created in the image of God and both are called to become like Him by being filled with the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 3:28, St. Paul even writes that “there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Please pardon the expression but when it comes to giving His grace, God is an “equally-opportunity lender.” Now, though God made men and women equal, He obviously didn’t make them the same. For instance, with the exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had a baby in the movie Junior, men cannot give birth to children. Only women have been given the amazing opportunity to carry a child in the womb; nurturing it, caring for it, being in a very real sense “one” with the child in a way that fathers can never experience. Of course, this doesn’t make women better than men, just different. In a similar manner, though men and women are both equally part of the “royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9), God has given the responsibility of the sacramental priesthood to men. Perhaps because a male priest more easily represents, the God-man, Jesus Christ, Who is the Great High-Priest. Or perhaps because the Lord chose twelve men to be His apostles. Whole books have been written on this subject, starting with the Scriptures themselves. But, honestly, when it comes down to it, we really don’t know why God has chosen men to be priests. All we know is that He has. Why did God make it so that women can bear children and men can’t? Who knows! All we know is that God made it this way. This is His world and His Church. And, by the way, thank God for that! And so, since women don’t become priests, the Church doesn’t train them behind the altar as servers. Girls usually apply their talents to other forms on ministry: in the choir, as church school teachers, caring for those in need, and perhaps most importantly, raising children in the Lord. I am reminded of the words of St. Theophan the Recluse, “Of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” Finally, I will mention that in most women’s monasteries, where there are no men to assist the priest in the altar, the nuns fulfill this responsibility. Likewise, in most churches it is a woman – the Virgin Mary – who is depicted on the main wall in the altar above the Holy of Holies. She is depicted in this spot be-cause of both her great holiness as well as her special role in salvation history. After all, according to Church teaching, she not only entered the Holy of Holies as a little girl, but she also became the Holy of Holies, bearing the living God in her virginal womb. This is why of all the saints, men and women from every generation, she alone is called “full of grace”, “blessed by all generations,” and “more honorable than the cherubim, more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.” How did she achieve such heights? Because, like with the priesthood and pregnancy, this was how God ordained it, and she wholeheartedly embraced His will. What a great example for all of us - men and women alike!