A Shift at Arlington Altar

Server Angela Barbieri, 26, watches the Rev. Leonard J. Tuozzolo during the consecration of the Eucharist.
Server Angela Barbieri, 26, watches the Rev. Leonard J. Tuozzolo during the consecration of the Eucharist. (Kevin Clark - Twp)
By Caryle Murphy and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 27, 2006

Despite the short notice, they were more than ready to make parish history yesterday at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington.

Emily Wallis held the lectionary open while the priest read from it. Angela Barbieri brought the ceremonial vial of water to the altar. And Margaret Lister followed the priest down the aisle to shake hands with her congregation, just as she'd always seen altar boys do.

"It was fun," Margaret, 7, said later. "I always wanted to be on the altar. I wanted to see what it was like to be helping the priest."

This particular priest, the Rev. Leonard J. Tuozzolo, was just as excited as his female helpers in their floor-length white robes called albs.

"This is very historical," the pastor, vested in Lent's penitential purple, said at yesterday's 9:30 a.m. Mass, during which female servers directly assisted in the liturgy. "We're no longer gender-restricted."

His assembled parishioners, including squirming children, young families and elderly couples, responded with loud applause and "Yays!"

"We're accepting applications" for altar girls, joked Tuozzolo, who then hastened to reassure people such as Bryan Burgess, 10, a red-headed altar boy also serving at yesterday's Mass.

"We want young men to know," said the priest, "that they're as welcome as they used to be."

Until now, the Arlington Diocese had been one of only two dioceses in the nation -- the other is in Lincoln, Neb. -- that forbade females from assisting at the altar during Mass. But in a surprise announcement Tuesday, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde lifted the ban.

When the Vatican ruled in 1994 that girls could assist at Mass, Loverde's predecessor, Bishop John R. Keating, declined to take that option for his diocese. Loverde had maintained Keating's policy until last week.

Diocesan spokesman Soren Johnson said calls and e-mails responding to the change were mixed but declined to say which side had a heavier volume.

Michael Flach, editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocese's newspaper, said he was surprised at the sparse feedback. He said when Keating refused to allow altar girls in 1994, there were "real strong feelings on both sides."

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