Sunday, 25 September 2011

Music and Silence at Mass

I went to the Extraordinary Form Mass at Lancaster Cathedral this morning, and was struck by the music, and the silence - and particularly the way the two interacted.

The Mass starts with the chanting of the Asperges and the priest sprinkling us with Holy Water in preparation for celebrating the Sacred Mysteries.

Then there is the Introit, proper to the day, followed almost immediately by the penitential Kyrie and the joyful Gloria.

After a brief pause (for the duration of the Epistle) there are then the Gradual and Alleluia, both typically quite long and elaborate pieces of chant.

The Gospel (and possibly homily) follow and then there is the Credo and the Offertory verse.

That's a huge amount of very varied music in the opening part of the Mass. And suddenly it slows right down. After the Offertory there is nothing till the Sanctus, and then silence.

And more silence.

And then, with only the bells to hear, the consecration.

And then more silence. And a bit more.

Then the conclusion of the Canon and the Pater.

Then a bit more silence, before the Agnus Dei and the Communion verse. There may also be a communion motet (there wasn't today). But there is far more time for reflection and quiet prayer around the reception of Holy Communion and beyond, until the Last Gospel is proclaimed.

After that we had the prayer for the queen, and then the Salve Regina, followed by a stirring voluntary. We were re-entering the world of the here and know.

The wisdom of ages...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Male and female he created them...

This post is a continued reflection on a comment I made when discussing the inappropriateness of women on the sanctuary during Catholic liturgy with Part time Pilgrim (see here and here for the discussion).

I mentioned that I did not know why women should not be on the sanctuary: in these rationalist days, a damaging admission to make in any argument; however, it is the truth.

I could also add that I don’t know why women can’t be priests.

But Ben, you are completely undermining your own positions! you gasp in horror.

Not so.

For though I do not know the reasons, I know the second as a simple fact, guaranteed by the teaching authority of the Church, following the example of Our Lord Himself. And the first I am pretty sure of due to the constant practice of the Church through the centuries (and see the previous discussion for further reasons).

So are we called to blind obedience?

No. But there are times when we are called to obedience first, and to seek understanding second; and I think this area may be one of those.

Let’s take the issue of women’s inability to be Catholic priests. If we are Catholics in the traditional sense of that word, we accept the teaching of the Church (by constant practice, Papal teaching, successive Catechisms etc) that women cannot be priests.

We may then seek to understand why that may be the case. In the first instance, it is clearly because of the example of Christ, and the constant tradition of the Church. But that only gives us the reason for the teaching and the obedience. We may legitimately wonder why Christ instituted a male priesthood. And then we are in the realm of speculation.

But if we read the Bible with a Catholic intellect, we will notice right at the start: male and female he created them. There is a difference there. And this difference is clearly of sacramental importance: matrimony is the way by which the race is to be propagated.

Anna and I have been discussing the male-only and wondering if there is any link with the damage due to Original Sin. Immediately after the Fall, Eve is told that she must submit to Adam, and Adam that he must work.

Is there a sense in which the damage to women and the damage to men is different? Is it that women need to learn obedience and men to learn to be industrious? I notice that Our Lady is particularly honoured for her unquestioning fiat: obedience. And that until political correctness put the boot in, women were required to obey their husband in marriage.

Of course, one can easily think of men who are extremely industrious - workaholics, even - and women who are so obedient as to be too passive: but maybe both of those are simply the other end of the same damaged stick.

And I love the idea that woman is the higher in the order of creation, and that Christ became Man so as to enter the race in its lowest condition...

As I say, that is all speculation: I am thinking out loud and have reached no conclusions.

But that man and woman are different - and not merely biologically as some would have us believe, seems to me to be a clear and observable fact.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Phoenix turns back the tide on 'both kinds'

The diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, under the leadership (and I use the word advisedly) of Bishop Olmsted, is really moving!

Recently, they announced the restoration of a male-only sanctuary for the celebration of Mass in the Cathedral.

Now, they are implementing the norms on the reception of Holy Communion under both kinds.

This is from their excellent Q&A on the diocesan www site:

12. What are the conditions that must be met when both forms are offered?

The conditions are:

  1. The faithful have been well instructed (especially on the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist), and
  2. There is no danger of the profanation of the Sacrament or that the rite would be difficult to carry out on account of the number of participants, or for some other reason.

As highlighted in the GIRM, the practical need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary (or lay) ministers might in some circumstances constitute a reason for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species. This is explained in the GIRM, paragraph 24.

For example, let's say a pastor deemed it appropriate to have Holy Communion under both species on the feast of Corpus Christi, but his particular situation would necessitate a dozen extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. While he and a deacon would be the only ordinary ministers, it is common sense that he would not be able to judge the necessary conditions as met.

13. You say this is a "relaxing of restrictions," but my parish "has the chalice" at every Mass, and under these conditions, we won't. It seems more restrictive, even extremely restrictive. Is there some sleight of hand happening here?

From one perspective, you're correct — for the Catholic Church in the United States. We have had special permission to experiment with Holy Communion under both forms for 25 years. The practice of both forms became very common in certain parts of this country, including parishes in Arizona. However, the vast majority of the parishes throughout the world have not had Communion under both forms. From the broadest, most inclusive perspective, the new norms are a great expansion of the practice. But it is true, from the more narrow perspective of a very small segment of the Catholic population, the norms could seem like a restriction. You can see, then, how the new norms will promote unity of practice around the world, even as it challenges almost every parish in the world to update its normal liturgical life. The norms invite us as U.S. Catholics to a more global and inclusive perspective, especially with those poor countries which cannot afford large amounts of wine for frequent usage.

Not only good praxis, but good catechesis (or 'communications' as I should say, doubtless...)

The good bishops of England and Wales will surely be equally diligent in applying the current liturgical norms in this country...

H/t @DeaconsBench on Twitter

Interesting (relatively) new blog

I have just come across New to the Extraordinary Form - a blog which explains the EF to interested or perplexed Catholics.

I've only had time to glance at it, but it looks helpful, well laid out, visually interesting (photos, video clips etc) and so on.

It is clearly written by an intelligent and discriminating man, as it includes a link to this blog.

On further reading, I find that he is just off to start as a seminarian with the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska: remember him in your prayers, and if you have any spare cash, drop over and support him in that way too (he has to pay some of the costs of his formation, as the Fraternity receive no diocesan support).

Support Good Counsel Network and this intrepid walker....

David Aron wrote to me:

I am doing a solo long distance walk to raise money for the Good Counsel Network. I am walking the Thames Path Way (184 miles) in eight days (Fri 07 Oct 11 - Fri 14 Oct 11), carrying all my own kit and provisions.

As David says, the walk is to raise money for the Guild of Our Lady of Good Counsel, and any money you were thinking of giving to CAFOD would be used by GCN in ways that fully accord with Catholic teaching... Here's what they say:

The Guild reaches out to help expectant Mothers and new Mothers in difficult circumstances, through a helpline, a free advisory service, practical help, friendship and moral support. It also promotes the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on the sanctity of human life and love through education.

The web link is:

You don't have to support David: the full range of options is:

Fruits of feminism?

Independence - frees men from responsibility - leads to abused and abandoned women

Contraception - frees men from responsibility - leads to...

Financial independence - frees men from responsibility...

Sexual ‘liberation’ - frees men...

Easy divorce - frees men...

(is there a trend here?)

And... careers as the primary way for women to find meaning and value in their lives- leads to abortion as a perceived necessity so that careers are not disrupted - leads to abortion as a perceived universal right to justify women who have had abortions - leads to aborting of girls because they are girls (what a tragic own goal!) and the inability to comment on that because abortion is every woman's right for whatever reason she chooses..., and also leads to the incidental corruption of medics and medicine (which used to be at the service of life), leads to ...

Careers focus also leads to the abandonment of children by their parents to professional child rearers, contributing to the fragmentation of family life and disaffected and damaged youth.

The whole project - springs from and reinforces a human-centred view of reality that excludes God and even in Catholics makes it unlikely they will accept and follow Church teaching.

Have I missed anything?

Monday, 19 September 2011

You Can Believe Anything You Want

In the recent debate between me and Part-time Pilgrim over the presence of women in the sanctuary, I was reminded of Blessed John Henry Newman's words:
We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.
Part-time Pilgrim had a particular belief about the issue. I had a different one. Each of us was able to interpret history, tradition, praxis and so on in the light of our existing belief - and do so in good faith.

C S Lewis makes the same point: It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

What I mean is this: any intelligent person can construct an interpretation of anything he encounters that fits with his pre-existing beliefs. More often than not, we do this without even noticing: we interpret reality through the lenses of our beliefs and assumptions about the world.

Sometimes we have to work harder to do so: faced with great pain or distress, we may have consciously to call to mind the image of our Crucified Saviour having trod this path before us.

Which raises the interesting question of how do we know what to believe? I find it very hard to imagine the way an atheist makes sense of the world - but that is not evidence, merely habit of thought. He finds my God-bathed view of reality equally incomprehensible.

Finally, for me, it comes down to a question of trust: in whom do I choose to place my trust? And the answer is, immediately, in my parents but ultimately in the Church.

Of course I can construct all sorts of rational reasons for this - but rationality only goes so far...

Or to put it another way, you can get nowhere by relying on evidence alone, because that reliance on evidence already assumes a philosophical position, and even more fundamental than that, a belief that evidence is really out there, and not merely a figment of our own insane imaginings.

Coming Soon...

Coming soon to a blog near here (well, right here, actually):
  • You can believe anything you want
  • Male and female he created them
This is partly a trailer, but mainly a reminder to myself, so I don't do a Mac (again) and think I knew there was something I was going to blog about...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

I knew there was something else

At today's Mass, we had a visiting priest, and he was, (how can I put this?) grand-standing.

He was a big personality, and clearly saw it as his role to stimulate a response, from his initial booming Good Morning Everyone, through to lots of (not-rhetorical) questions both in his introductory remarks and his sermon.

And there was an elusive thought at the back of my mind after Mass, apart from the obvious reflection that such patronising behaviour (reminiscent of junior school assemblies) could not happen at an Extraordinary Form Mass. Then I remembered: a year ago today, we had the Holy Father in this country, offering a startling contrast to this approach to liturgy.

Change and Liturgy

With the implementation of the new translation fully this week, I was struck by two things.

The first was what a huge improvement this is on the previous translation.

But the second was, how distracting changes to the liturgy are.

Don't misunderstand me: I think this was a valuable and important change - essential even. However, it was also a distraction: we were suddenly paying attention to the minutiae of the words, and getting thrown when either we or our neighbours (or the priest, come to that) got it wrong.

The Liturgical Experts of the 60s and 70s seemed to think this was a Good Thing: that constant change woud keep us on our toes - and perhaps it did, but it certainly kept us off our knees...

And many priests still seem to believe that worn-out view: constantly ad libbing and trying to make the liturgy relevant: as though adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication can ever be anything else.

So I would vote for no more changes for a while: and then for a restoration of Latin as the primary liturgical language of the Church (as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council clearly mandated, in line with centuries of tradition) and the restoration of the Extraordinary Form as normative for the Western Church.

The New Translation - Rubrics?

As today is the day for the official implementation of the new translation of the Mass, I thought it opportune to remind my readers of the interesting issues surrounding the rubrics (or are they?), about which I posted in July...

I intend to post something more a bit later, but the dog needs to go for a walk now!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Fish and chips

Anna and I were out last night, and had fish and chips. It was delicious - and it tasted even better knowing that many other Catholics would be joining us in abstaining from meat as it was a Friday.

We have always abstained on Fridays, for several reasons:
  • I knew that if we didn't, it was unlikely we'd remember to do some other penance
  • I think it helpful to retain a Catholic identity by doing what those who preceded us (and those who think like us) did and do
  • I tend to hang on to traditions anyway.

But I think we'll add abstaining from alcohol to our Friday practice, just to keep it fresh - and penitential (those fish and chips were really good!)

PS I blogged about why this was a good idea here - all credit to our bishops!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Our Fathers’ House - A short fable...

Our family - one might almost say dynasty - had been established centuries ago - the origins almost lost in the mists of time. But by the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, the dynasty was firmly established in Rome and with offshoots across Europe.

One of the ways in which the family retained its identity was through architecture. All over Europe, the Family Houses were modeled on the one in Rome. Over time, of course, and with variations in local materials and habitats, local styles were introduced, but always maintaining the clear inspiration, structure and shape of the Roman Mother House. Among the dominant themes of the style were a stress on the vertical, to point to our destiny, an emphasis on the aesthetics of beauty, to stir our souls, and a degree of mystery, to remind us that we don’t know everything.

Somewhere around the 15th century, some pointed out that their local house - and even the Roman Mother House - sometimes leaked, that parts of it were uncomfortable and of dubious origin. Some set about suggesting some modest improvements, but others decided we didn’t need all to live in Houses. We could build our own huts as we saw fit. Many moved out, and became known as the Separated.

Where the Separated were in the majority, they even attacked the local House and tore it apart, revealing in some cases a terrible hatred of everything related to the family from which they were seceding. There was also some lamentable counter-attacking by members of the family and this feuding lasted for generations.

In response to this, the Roman Mother House called a meeting of the Heads of Houses around Europe. They agreed that the Roman Mother House should be tidied up, and that other Houses should conform to it, to ensure they were really fit for purpose. However, they also recognised that some local variations had been around for centuries and were certainly sound, so they did not impose uniformity on these, out of respect for local culture and tradition - and the fact that these Houses were time-hallowed. But of course, even with these variations, the fundamental structure and layout of these Houses corresponded to the Roman Mother House.

By the middle of the 20th century, there were once more a few leaks and draughty corners. There were some lumber rooms that hadn’t been used for ages - indeed it wasn’t clear if they had ever had a use. There was also an urgent desire to reach out to the Separated.

Another meeting of the Heads of Houses from all around the world was convened, and these agreed that the Roman House should be brought up-to-date. They envisaged repairs, a bit of re-decoration, to make the place more weather-proof, more welcoming and lighter, and so on - but nothing too drastic: they explicitly said that nothing should be changed unless the sure and certain good of the family required it. In response to requests from some European countries, they allowed for the possibility of some horizontal structures, though Vertical was to remain the guiding principle.

They then handed over the practical details to a committee, and family members the world over awaited the repairs and refurbishment with eager anticipation.

However, to the astonishment of many, including my parents, what the committee came up with was a totally new building, as an annexe to the House. Where the old had stressed the vertical, the new stressed the horizontal, ‘to emphasise the sense of family,’ (it seemed that the permission for the horizontal had somewhere in the process been taken as outlawing the vertical); where the old had built upwards to the skies, the new was low-level, to be more like the huts and hovels of the Separated (some of whom had in fact been consulted about the design); where the old had seemed mysterious, the new was functional, so it needed no explanation. Where the old had an aesthetic of beauty, the new had an aesthetic of ease, ‘so that everyone can participate.’

The colours were simple and warm, to invite people in - but failed to allow for much reflection once inside; the furnishings were practical, but ugly; the sense of mystery was replaced with a sense of the everyday; the candles with fluorescent lights.

There was no longer a Banqueting Hall, where we could have high feasts and listen to the Family History told by a venerable Story Teller. Instead, there was a large communal kitchen where we were expected to eat in groups, chatting amongst ourselves. Many said that it felt more like a Separated Hut than a House. The Head of the House in England, on seeing the new Roman Model for the first time, declared it fit for women and children, but added, prophetically perhaps, that the men would not feel at home there.

Moreover, the Old House was suddenly declared dangerous, and all were banned from using it. All over the world, Heads of Family, some from a sense of enthusiasm, some reluctantly but loyally, set about building in the new pre-fabricated style. Skips appeared outside, and were soon filed with countless heirlooms that the renovators laughingly threw in, saying they were no longer needed, and merely reflected ancient superstitions.

The new library was found to contain mainly new books. Even the complete Shakespeare had been re-written. Macbeth, Lear, Romeo and Hamlet were nowhere to be seen, as ‘they were too gloomy and nobody would want to read stuff like that any more.’ The comedies remained, but in modern English to make them more accessible. There was Much Ado about Nothing, but Twelfth Night or What You Will had (for some inscrutable reason) become Twelfth Night or the Nearest Sunday. But for the most part, the new Library was full of glossy picture books, and dense modern texts translated from German.

A huge educational programme was put in place for the Heads of Houses, to help them to understand how much better the New was than the Old. Their love of the Old was a personal, sentimental thing: in order to accommodate people today, and also to accomplish a rapprochement with the Separated, the New was essential.

When ordinary family members raised questions or expressed their concerns, they were told not to be so resistant to change, and that the Heads of Houses had ordered these changes. When they pointed out that new building was not the renovation originally agreed in Rome, they were vilified. The newly educated Heads were keen to demonstrate their new learning, and gathered around them others who were enthusiastic about the project, and drove the changes through.

Those who loved the Old Houses suffered a lot at this time. They had grown up exploring every nook and cranny of those dusty lumber rooms that ‘served no practical purpose.’ They had understood the language of the vertical, and had responded to the call of the mysterious. This was their home, a central part of their identity as family members. It pained them to see the skips being carted away full of ‘worthless junk’ that felt to them like their patrimony - and to hear the dismissive laughter of the renovators.

In the English-speaking world, in particular, there was a fashion for long, low windows, to give a simpler view of the world. Those who complained that these limited our view of the sky were ignored or laughed to scorn.

Many, through obedience and love, tried to learn to love the New, and some succeeded. Others suffered on in the New, and many who no longer felt at home in the New Houses moved out. The promised reinvigoration of the worldwide family failed to materialise. The Separated moved further away, rather than closer. The children, who were meant to be especially catered for by the New Houses, left in alarming numbers.

But recently, the new Head of the Roman House has taken action. He has declared that it was mistaken ever to think the Old Houses were unsafe: they may be used again (some local Heads of House in various countries disagree with him, and still maintain the Old to be dangerous - but curiously many of the children have been scampering around exploring the Old and discovering their dusty rooms with delight); the Roman Head has also declared that the vertical is indeed an important principle, and he has implemented a programme of replacing the constricting horizontal windows with vertical ones in the English-speaking world.

He has made it clear that the benefits of the New can be incorporated into the Old, to lessen the draughts and so on; but likewise that the wisdom of the traditions and experience of previous generations made manifest in the Old should be incorporated into the New.

And paradoxically, it is those who so welcomed the change to the New who are resisting this development; and those who are too young to remember it who are delighting in exploring their patrimony in the Old. But perhaps those suffering the most now are those who grew up loving the Old, and through obedience and re-education applied themselves to the New, turning their back on the Old and loyally standing up for the New whenever it was criticised. To expect them to do a second volte-face is perhaps to ask too much - but to allow them to block the restoration of the Old is even more problematic.

And yet, somewhere above the door of Houses both old and New, the family motto, too often ignored, remains: In all things, charity.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Continuing the debate about a male-only sanctuary

Part-time Pilgrim answers a number of my observations and raises some fresh questions in a series of comments on the last post.

I will answer them here as I suspect posts are more read than comment threads, and I think this is important stuff.

I should mention in passing that Triduana also made a very useful contribution to the debate in the same comment thread (which you can read here)

Here's (some of) what P-t P had to say with my comments interspersed. The full comment thread is of course on the previous post. P-tP quotes me and responds: I have tried to make this clear by prefacing the quotations of my words with BT and putting his comments in italics.

[BT: I think that this slightly misunderstands my point. I was not claiming authority from the Old Covenant, but example. There is a difference. I think the Jewish people were formed in this way for a reason, even if we do not fully understand it.]

Yes, I did misunderstand your point. Claiming authority was exactly what I thought you were doing. If it’s an example you are presenting, it’s worth considering whether this example is a good one to follow. It is one where access is restricted according to status – Priests are more important than male Jews, male Jews more important than female Jews and gentiles least important of all. This, very human way of organising things seems to me like another example of humankind being “unteachable” rather than a good pattern for current practice.
It may seem like that to you, but I am not convinced by that argument. In broad terms we see the formation of the people of the Old Covenant as preparation for the New. Clearly there is much that was rendered unnecessary by the New Covenant (eg the animal sacrifices, the dietary laws etc). But the male-only priesthood is not in that category, so I have to wonder on what basis you decide that the male-only approach to the altar is. For centuries the Church, in practice, has decided the other way.
[BT: There has never in the history of the Church, as far as I am aware, been any move to exclude women from reception of Holy Communion. The issue is about ways of service, and there is an unbroken tradition, instituted by the Incarnate God Himself, of male-only priesthood.]

Here, I think you have misunderstood my point. I am certainly not arguing for women to be admitted to the priesthood. Whilst there is an unbroken tradition of male-only priesthood, there is not an unbroken tradition of reserving part of the church for men only.
I am glad you are not arguing for women to be admitted to the priesthood.
We don't know early practice in detail: what we do know is that the earliest Masses were male-only: the Last Supper and the Road to Emmaus. Women were clearly admitted to the mysteries early and uncontroversially (or we should surely have heard about the controversy!) but given Jewish formation and sensibilities it seems at least as likely that they were kept separate and at some distance from the sacrificing priest as that they were at the altar. But we don't know. But for as long as we do know, we have a history of male-only sanctuaries, unbroken (except for the ceremonies of matrimony) until very very recently.
[BT: So the question becomes: does service in the sanctuary follow the traditions and laws associated with admission to the priesthood or those associated with admission to the reception of Holy Communion?]

If we followed your recommendation the answer would be neither, wouldn’t it? As a married man I am barred from the priesthood but would be permitted to serve on the altar. My wife and daughters (all unmarried) would be barred from both the priesthood and the sanctuary.
No: celibacy is not an essential requirement of priesthood: maleness is. You are not comparing like with like. A male altar server is permitted as a substitute for an acolyte (a man in minor orders) if one is not available.
[BT: I do not know of any evidence that demonstrates female ministration at the altar, or at the ‘breaking of the bread,’ even at the earliest times.]

Neither do I and I am not arguing for women priests. I know of no evidence that in the earliest times women were excluded from a particular area of the place where the Eucharist was being celebrated either.

As I said above, I am glad you are not arguing for women priests. With regard to 'earliest times' we have no evidence either way, as I have noted above. However, we have centuries of tradition since...

[BT: I think the idea that this 'emerged' is speculative. I have noticed that those who challenge traditional practice often make claims about earlier practice in absolute terms, when they are in fact speculation.]

I would argue it is self-evident, rather than speculation. There could be no notion of a sanctuary before there was a church building for the sanctuary to be in.

I dispute the self-evidence of this, for the reasons I noted earlier about Jewish formation and sensibilities. Women could well have been kept at a distance from the table (or grave) that was serving as a sacrificial altar, even before church buildings were raised and sanctuaries constructed. The most you can say is that we don't know. It may equally have been that allowing women to be present at all took a while to 'emerge.' (As did allowing the non-baptised to stay beyond the Mass of Catechumens, for example).

[BT: I don't blame P-t P for this, as I suspect he or she has 'learned' this from someone else... There has been a lot of dubious misinformation put about to support some of the 'progressive' changes.]

I am upset by this – partly because it is condescending not to blame people for their ideas (or typos) if those ideas (or spellings) are wrong but also because I hate being lumped in with people who use ideas about the “early church” to challenge what the Catholic church teaches, a group that includes both “progressive Catholics” and Protestants but not me.
I apologise for the condescension (and I do hold you responsible for typos, though realise that my putting [sic] after them may irritate - but I am pedantic, and it's my blog, so if I can't sic all over it, what's the point...?)
There's a bit of history here that may help explain the background to that comment. Many years ago, when I was an altar boy and patens were being suppressed (de facto but not de jure) I raised concerns about fragments of the consecrated Hosts being dropped with the Benedictine monk in charge of my religious education at school. He ridiculed me in front of the class for my concern, saying that in all probability after the Last Supper, the crumbs were thrown to the birds. I found this humiliating at the time, and in retrospect I find it much worse. I therefore have a strong visceral reaction to that type of speculation posing as fact, and to rein in my irritation, I had to remind myself that you were probably not in the same category as him, and [wrongly it transpires] differentiated you from him in my mind (and condescendingly in type) by guessing that you had heard this line of argument from some such liturgist as him.
As for being 'being lumped in with people who use ideas about the “early church” to challenge what the Catholic church teaches' - well not what the Church currently teaches perhaps, but you did seem to be taking that tack in questioning immemorial practice, unless I really misunderstood. We don't know that the idea of a 'sanctuary' emerged, as you speculate. It seems at least as likely, to me, that the sense of a sacred space around the sacred actions was there from day one. The formalisation of that in architecture may have come later, but that's a separate issue.
I agree – allowing women on the sanctuary no has connection with the Second Vatican Council.
That's not what I said: I said it had no connection with the official teachings of the Second Vatican Council. I think it has a lot to do with the changes unleashed after the Council and in the name of the Council. To put it the other way about, without the Council and its aftermath, it would have been unthinkable.
I visited Margaret Clitherow’s shrine on Saturday. When she was executed in 1586 someone could have described the Tridentine mass that was regularly and secretly celebrated in her home as “a fad of a few decades.” Time proved that this was not the case. Similarly if you are right about keeping women off the sanctuary, the church will revert to its former rules and will do so soon. If I am right, it won’t. Either way, you can’t blame that rule change for all the ills in the church, which is what it seems to me, the above paragraph does.
I don't think anyone could have described the Tridentine Mass as the fad of a few decades. There seems to be a modern myth that Trent re-wrote the Mass in the way that the Consilium did after Vatican 2. The reverse was the case. Trent codified what was already the practice, and did away with many new innovations. However, old innovations (ie rites that could prove their currency for, I think, 200 years) were permitted to co-exist - such as the Sarum use. Thus the Tridentine Mass that was celebrated in 1586 was nothing new, no fad of a few decades...
If you re-read what I wrote you will see that I was not attributing all the ills of the Church to this one rule change, but to the de-sacralisation of worship, of which this is one example.
I am still not convinced. I don’t think I understand your case beyond “Women ought not be allowed on the sanctuary because they were not allowed there for hundreds of years.” On this basis everything we have done for a long time should be preserved and nothing changed. For the church to go back on a decision already made, I want to hear a compelling argument why the presence of women on the sanctuary makes it less holy.
But I think the burden of proof is on those who made the decision to reverse the immemorial practice. As Vatican 2 said in Sacrosanctum Concilium: nothing is to be changed unless the good of the Church certainly requires it (or words to that effect - my copy is not to hand, but if you want I'll dig it out and ferret out the exact reference...) The Church's practice is always on the side of tradition unless there is compelling reason to change: Hold fast to that which is good, as St Paul said.
It is not my case, incidentally, that 'the presence of women on the sanctuary makes it less holy.' It is my case that the presence of women on the sanctuary is at odds with Catholic tradition, and is part of a large number of changes, some large some small, that have resulted in a catastrophic crisis in liturgy, worship, practice and faith.
If I am honest, I don't know why women should not be on the sanctuary. But an architect once told me that in dealing with old buildings, if one came upon a part of the structure whose purpose one did not understand, one has to proceed with great caution. Pulling it out, because it seems pointless, nearly always results in disaster. I fear modern liturgists never learned that lesson...
[BT:We attend the Extraordinary Form of Mass (typically once a month) and the Ordinary Form the rest of the time. They observe, and they draw their own conclusions. None of them would venture onto the sanctuary, and none of them feel ‘excluded’ or ‘de-valued’ or anything else negative as a result. They simply recognise the wisdom of the Church’s historic tradition in this area as in so many others. It works - and they all prefer the Extraordinary Form, as they find it more prayerful, more sacred.]

Your family’s agreement with your position has allowed you to duck the question, so let me ask it in a different way. How would I explain to my wife (who reads at Mass) and my daughters (who have all served at mass when younger) how their presence defiles the holiness of the sanctuary? They can speak for themselves but I imagine they might feel excluded and would certainly feel devalued, for if women are of equal value with men why is there a place in church where men are allowed and women are not?
I had no intention of ducking the question, but of answering it honestly. My point is that if people are formed in a traditional Catholic way, it is a non-question. I have never said (or heard it argued anywhere) that women 'defile the holiness of the sanctuary.' It is only when a modern secular and feminist-influenced worldview is applied that these notions of 'exclusion' and feeling 'de-valued' apply.
One could as well argue: 'if women are of equal value with men why is there a role in church where men are allowed and women are not?' But we know that there is such a role, (priesthood) and that it does not mean that women are of any less value than men.
As to how you could explain it to your wife and children, it might be impertinent for me to answer - but rather than seem to duck the question again, I will have a stab at saying how I might address this with women and girls beyond my immediate family. Firstly, I would accustom them to the Extraordinary Form and help them to understand traditional Catholic worship: our heritage. Secondly I would instruct them in the history of the changes: Michael Davies' comprehensive account in his trilogy Cranmer's Godly Order, Pope John's Council and Pope Paul's New Mass would give the context. Thirdly, I would introduce them to many other Catholic women and girls who recognise that participation is more about interior life than exterior action.
Forgive this long and rambling reply and feel free to tell me to “butt out” if my comments are not welcome.
There is nothing to forgive: I found your comments thought-provoking in content and civil in tone. You have caused me to think more about something I believe to be important, and I hope it has given you some food for thought too. Feel free to raise any further questions, nail any evasions you detect, etc etc.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Blighter Unrocked

Just when I was wondering what to write, whether to bother continuing with the blog and so on (see my last post...), a commenter, Part-time Pilgrim, posted a comment that I thought worth a reply. And a reply can become a post, if one rambles on for long enough...

Here’s what P-t P (to whom thanks for an interesting and thought provoking comment) had to say, with my comments interspersed.
I think you have a point when you call for an increased respect for the sanctuary and it is easy to see how the removal of altar rails may have resulted in a lack of reverence for a holy place within a holy place. I have no argument with a call for more reverence on and for the sanctuary.
A civil post, starting with points of agreement: always a courteous strategy, and one I could adopt more often, perhaps...
However the call to keep the sanctuary all-male is dubious. You claim authority from the Old Covenant but in the Old Covenant the Holy of Holies was only accessible to a select few.
I think that this slightly misunderstands my point. I was not claiming authority from the Old Covenant, but example. There is a difference. I think the Jewish people were formed in this way for a reason, even if we do not fully understand it.
When Jesus died the veil of the temple which divided the holy of holies from the court of the priests was torn from top to bottom marking the end to this exclusive access and the beginning of the New Covenant. In this New Covenant, all, Greek or Jew, woman or man, slave or free can receive the incarnate God body, blood soul and divinity.
Indeed, but the question here isn’t about reception of the incarnate God. [NB Another tradition I like is not using the Holy Name in normal conversation: we always used to talk about 'Our Lord' when mentioning Him in this kind of context.] There has never in the history of the Church, as far as I am aware, been any move to exclude women from reception of Holy Communion. The issue is about ways of service, and there is an unbroken tradition, instituted by the Incarnate God Himself, of male-only priesthood. So the question becomes: does service in the sanctuary follow the traditions and laws associated with admission to the priesthood or those associated with admission to the reception of Holy Communion?
Neither can you argue the idea of a sanctuary can be traced unbroken down to the institution of the New Covenant. It is something that emerged under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the Church grew. If we accept that God guides the Church are we to beleive [sic] that he stopped guiding it so that it could go astray and allow women on the sanctuary? Is it not more likely that this, too, is part of God's guidance?
I do not know of any evidence that demonstrates female ministration at the altar, or at the ‘breaking of the bread,’ even at the earliest times. I think the idea that this 'emerged' is speculative. I have noticed that those who challenge traditional practice often make claims about earlier practice in absolute terms, when they are in fact speculation. I don't blame P-t P for this, as I suspect he or she has 'learned' this from someone else... There has been a lot of dubious misinformation put about to support some of the 'progressive' changes.

The second point here, about God’s guidance, is more thought-provoking. However, we know that the Church has never claimed to be inerrant in terms of practice. Indeed, the urgent need for a better translation of the Mass than the very poor one foisted on us by ICEL in the late 60s and early 70s demonstrates that the Holy Spirit allows the Church to wander off-track for short periods in areas that do not directly contradict Faith and Morals. I believe that admission of women to the sanctuary (and many other aberrations permitted since the Second Vatican Council, but never authorised, let alone mandated, by it) is an example of such an error.

If forced to choose between the Church’s tradition for centuries and a fad of a few decades, I will give the tradition far more weight. When one looks at the cumulative effect of the de-sacralisation of Catholic worship in Europe, I think it is hard to argue that this is all under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our children are abandoning their Faith in catastrophic numbers, our priests and nuns are in decline, our Catholic population is barely Catholic (given the numbers contracepting, the paucity of attendance on Holy Days of Obligation, the lack of queues for confessionals, and the appalling irreverence and ignorance betrayed by so many who wander round our sanctuaries - or indeed any other measure you care to look at...). I think most of this is in accordance with the permissive will of God (ie allowing us to make mistakes and to sin), not His active will.
I don't think you have made your case (and neither did William Oddie - the decline in vocations preceded the introduction of female altar servers)
Yes, I think Dr Oddie’s case was poorly made, too. As for mine - clearly I think I have made it, but then I am not precisely an unbiased observer... What I would say is that the decline in vocations may have been (and causality is always hard to prove: post hoc propter hoc and all that...) a result of the cumulative changes made in the name of (though not in strict obedience to) the Second Vatican Council.
What I am really interested in, though, is how you explain to Mrs Trovato, Antonia, Bernedette [sic] and Dominique how their presence on the sanctuary (without a vacuum cleaner) desecrates it. And assuming you are ever that reckless, how they respond.
A great question, and the one that really provoked this response (the rest, as I was candid enough to admit early on, was largely a ramble...)

The answer is actually very simple. We attend the Extraordinary Form of Mass (typically once a month) and the Ordinary Form the rest of the time. They observe, and they draw their own conclusions. None of them would venture onto the sanctuary, and none of them feel ‘excluded’ or ‘de-valued’ or anything else negative as a result. They simply recognise the wisdom of the Church’s historic tradition in this area as in so many others. It works - and they all prefer the Extraordinary Form, as they find it more prayerful, more sacred.