The bishop of the Arlington Catholic Diocese announced last week that girls and women will now be allowed to serve at altars during high school and parish Masses, a landmark change for one of the country’s most traditional diocese.
ARLINGTON HAD been one of only two dioceses in the country — along with Lincoln, Neb. — that had prohibited girls from partaking in altar ceremonies during Mass.
The Vatican, and subsequently the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, granted dioceses permission to have altar girls in 1994. The Arlington Diocese has previously let girls perform altar duties at services in college campuses, nursing homes and hospitals.
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde told a gathering of priests on March 21 of the change in the altar policy, and said he would permit two parishes to celebrate the 1962 Latin Mass.
"I have come to the conclusion that I must extend to you, the people of God in my care, those liberties permitted by the Catholic Church," Loverde wrote in a letter to members of the diocese.
"The riches of our Catholic faith may be available to an ever greater number of our faithful," he added.
More than 400,000 Catholics belong to the Arlington Diocese, which has 67 parishes across Northern Virginia.
Individual pastors will make the decision whether or not to allow female altar servers in consultation with parochial vicars, deacons and pastoral councils, Loverde said.
Rev. Horace Grinnell, pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Falls Church, lauded the Bishop’s decision and said his church will soon begin recruiting and training female servers.
"We have consulted with all of our pastoral council and everyone is very enthusiastic about including girls and women as serves," Rev. Grinnell said.
Many within the diocese have been hoping the bishop would alter the policy since he assumed the position seven years ago, said Rev. Paul deLadurantaye, director of sacred liturgy for the diocese.
"When the bishop first came it was a question on people’s minds," he said. "The bishop considered it very carefully and listened to all sides of the issue."
THE IMPETUS for the decision was the conclusion of the Year of the Eucharist, during which time the bishop and members of the diocese reflected on how the liturgy is celebrated in the community, church officials said.
Students interviewed at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax City said they were excited by the shift in the diocese’s altar policy, but expressed regret that they were too old to serve.
"I wanted to do it when I was younger," said Karly Gardiner, a sophomore from Vienna. "I couldn’t understand why my cousins in Maryland were allowed to serve and I wasn’t."
Danielle Kijewski, a junior at Paul VI, said the new policy would create "one less stigma against the church."
"It’s an equalizer," Kijewski said. "People thought it wasn’t fair that girls couldn’t do what boys could."
Kijewski predicted that at first a large number of girls will sign up to serve during Mass, but that the numbers would drop off after the initial boost.
The diocese will continue to encourage boys to perform altar duties so that they can become "inspired" to join the priesthood, Rev. deLadurantaye said.
Bishop Loverde also granted St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria and St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal to offer the Latin Mass in addition to regular services.