Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Are there in heaven no women?



Over at Cath Blog, Michael Mullins has highlighted my critique of newly appointed Australian Bishops' Conference bureaucrat Donella Johnston's post for International Women's Day. 

And it, together with a post over at Rorate Caeli suggest once again to me the vital importance of those on both extremes of the Church to regain a proper perspective when it comes to the position of women.

Progressives need to get past secularist ideas of gender equality 

Mr Mullins notes that my post:

"...does not deny the assumption that Church injustice towards women is rife.."

Well that's technically true.  I didn't deny it - but I didn't suggest that injustice towards women is rife either! 

The real difference in my position to that of Ms Johnstone though, is that the 'injustices' I pointed to are not inherent in the structure or teachings of the Church.  

Women's ordination can never happen in the Catholic Church.

By contrast, the problems that I pointed to are ones that are not inherent to the Churches teaching or hierarchical constitution, but are rather the result of contemporary modes of operations and can be changed. 

My list included things like the denial of opportunities due to the collapse of religious life; over-professionalization of some functions (usually due to the quest for Government funding of things previously paid for by charitable contributions) that has squeezed out and devalued the role of lay volunteers; and the effects of an unfortunate clericalism practised by some that rejects the value of lay input (unless it happens to agree with their own views) and defines importance by reference to ministry.

By contrast, Ms Johstone I suggested, rather gave aid to the cause of those advocating the ordination of women by expressing her 'frustration' at being a women in the Catholic Church.  She didn't explicitly say just what it was that frustrated her about the position of women in the Church, but was was implied was clear enough, as the combox support from such as well-known supporter of women's ordination, Auxiliary Bishop Power of Canberra-Goulburn makes clear.

Traditionalists engaging in the Church

But it has to be said that the issue of the position of women is equally problematic in the attitudes of many 'traditionalists'. 

There is an interesting, though not particularly edifying, debate going on over at Rorate Caeli over the stance the traditionalist movement should take to possible changes to the Missal, sparked by some work done by the international representative body for traditionalists, Una Voce.

The International Federation Una Voce is in the process of putting together a series of position papers on various topics related to the Extraordinary Form.

The idea is to provide catechetical material to aid traditionalists in defending aspects of their preferred form of the rite (such as the restriction of service at the altar to men), as well as input to proposed changes (such as the inclusion of new prefaces, and changes to the calendar).

Sounds sensible to me, though many over at Rorate disagree strongly! 

By putting up good rationales for traditional practises, traditionalists can advance that 'mutual enrichment' process advocated by the Pope, and assist in the restoration of the liturgy, as well as fending off the usual liturgical shenanigans at the local level, not to mention pre-empting any changes of policy under a future Pope.

Moreover, given that there is already a process underway to look at the prefaces and calendar, seems to me entirely appropriate for the laity to make their views known rather than just leave it to the priestly societies and others.  Most traditionalist laity would, I suspect at least like to see a little more alignment between the OF and EF calendars in the form of the addition of some saints to the EF.  And who knows, maybe we could even hope for some restoration to the OF given that the newly approved Ordinariate calendar, dispenses with 'ordinary time', restores the Pentecost octave and more!

Unfortunately the traditionalist movement, as its wont, is deeply divided on these issues, with some wanting to take a head in the sand approach. 

Why altar servers should be male

But the problem for the traditionalist movement is to find ways of explaining its position that do take into account (one way or another!) the teaching of the recent Magisterium, such as Pope John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitatem, while staying true to the continuity of teaching and language of the Church.

The first of the Una Voce papers is an attempt to explain why altar service should be restricted to men.

Let me be clear that I strongly agree that it should be.  But not for the reasons, or at least not only for the reasons, the Una Voce paper suggests!

The paper's argument, summarised in the abstract is that:

"Women, more perfectly than men, represent the Church as Bride; men, more perfectly than women, represent Christ as Bridegroom, particularly in his priestly role. This teaching is manifested not only in men, to the exclusion of women, being ordained to the priesthood, but also in those closest to the priesthood in the service of the liturgy, also being exclusively male."

This is all fine as far as it goes, but, like many of Pope John Paul II's phenomenological arguments which it encapsulates, I don't personally find it all that convincing as an image of the sacrificial elements of the Mass (as opposed to the over-emphasized meal dimension).   

But far more problematic in my view, is the rationale for the exclusion of women from the sanctuary:

"This distinction is reinforced by the identification of the sanctuary of a church as heaven, the liturgy carried out there a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, and the nave of the church as earth, the dwelling place of the Church militant."

Are there then, no women in heaven?!

I think I know what they are trying to get at, but personally, I think the better arguments for male servers go to the history of the Temple liturgy, and the continuity between Old and New Testaments; to the need to send clear messages early that women cannot aspire to be priests rather than lead young girls on to nurture false hopes; and above all the best means of promoting vocations to the priesthood.

Twisted theology

Over at Rorate though, comments have predictably degenerated into ill-informed rants.

One person suggests for example, that "the response of traditionalists should be to go beyond the matter of the liturgy and to insist on the traditional Catholic family, in which the father is the ruler...The matter of sexual division cannot be limited to the liturgy! It is only figured in the Liturgy.”

But is this really what is figured in the liturgy?  Christ is priest, prophet and king, but I would argue that in the liturgy he is acting as priest, not ruler!   Christ as High Priest offers himself on the Cross, obedient to his Father, even unto death.  Indeed, this is why Cardinals remove the cappa magna before Mass, in the vesting prayers, stripping away the symbols of their ruling Office.  It is why we insist that the priest be obedient to the rubrics and text set down for the Mass, not make it up himself. 

Nor, in my view, should we get too carried away, as another poster does with the idea that 'liturgy indicates hierarchy', reflecting the proper order of things.  I've certainly encountered some priests who take this view, seeing it as beneath their dignity to act as servers for other priests masses, or as deacons for solemn masses for example.  Personally, I find it a pretty unattractive over-reaction to the excesses of the 'servant leadership' paradigm. And it fails to take into account that though the Church is hierarchically constituted, and though the husband is the head of the family, yet 'both men and women are human beings to an equal degree', all one in Christ.

Another poster says that "But not one of Christ's disciples was a woman".  Really?  What about St Mary Magdalen, often dubbed 'Apostle to the Apostles', and the many women explicitly mentioned in the Gospels?  I imagine the poster really means that none of the Apostles were women, but still.

As one of the posters over there suggests, there is a strong streak of misogynism prevalent in the Church as in society more generally: I was once told by a traditionalist priest (albeit before her canonisation) that St Mary McKillop was not a suitable model for us to look to because of her clash with priestly and episcopal authority.  And though often particularly evident there, this misogynism is far from restricted to traditionalists, it just tends to be more overt!

Perhaps traditionalists need to reflect a little more on the model provided by some of those troublesome women down the ages who have had the nerve to speak out publicly, to preach and teach, such as St Catherine of Alexandria and many more, and yet been recognised as saints.

Meanwhile, progressives need to perhaps reflect a little less on those female saints who have had a prophetic charism, and a little more on those who have modelled for us all great docility and fidelity to the Church!

And all of us need to rediscover true devotion to Our Lady, Queen of Heaven.

Through such reflection, I would suggest, we can better arrive at reasons to support our traditions, such as the restriction of service at the altar to men, that can appeal to all perspectives within the Church.

(PS I would welcome reactions to my arguments or on the broader issues raised by this post, but please, avoid the use of the derogatory epithets for female altar servers and others so popular over at Rorate Caeli and elsewhere!) 

7 comments:

A Canberra Observer said...

I would never send the uninitiated to Rorate caeli - the comboxes are full of nutty comments.

Kate said...

Unfortunately Canberra Observer, such nutters are everywhere, and Rorate stands as a good proxy for views all too prevalent in communities in Australia.

It is true that Rorate does attract a fair number of SSPX and even sede commenters and thus extremist views.

And yet the Australian traditionalist movement has no national level representative body able to participate in the FIUV discussions in part because of personalities, in part becuase of extreme differences of opinion on some of the very issues being discussed by Una Voce, such as the use of new prefaces.

And on the issue of attitudes to women, I've certainly been on the receiving end of similar views to those expressed over there!

Indeed, just last week someone told me to stop blogging and "leave the teaching to priests", and then the week before there was the person who aggrieved at the post I wrote on Ash Wednesday on psychopaths, demanded that I stop blogging for Lent at least...

Of course, I often find Mr Mullins's pieces over at blog watch similarly patronising, and some of the stuff written by the progressives down right disheartening, so it comes from all sides...

GOR said...

Though I have always been a conservative and a traditionalist, the attitude of some in the traditionalist ranks has frequently left me cold. One had the impression of a closed group, inwardly-looking, locked in time and in their own world. That was precisely one of the criticisms the Holy Father had for some of the aberrations in the Novus Ordo!

The attitude also demonstrates an ignorance of Church history, not to mention the history of the Liturgy. As with all Church doctrine, the essentials don’t change but our understanding and presentation of them does evolve over time. But, as Pope Benedict has pointed out, the evolution is gradual and it should also be a continuity and in line with history and Tradition.

The issue of women in the Church is more complex. Given the feminist agenda of recent decades – many of whose goals were good and necessary – it is small wonder that some arrive at the conclusion that nothing and no role should be closed to them. Hence the ‘women-priest’ movement, among other things. But this runs counter to tradition and, more importantly, Tradition - not to mention Doctrine and how Our Lord constituted His Church.

It is pointless to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” as if He was somehow oblivious to future history. We know what He did - and that is our starting point in everything that relates to our Faith and Tradition.

Two of my favorite saints are Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena. Both were strong women, unafraid of confronting the powers and issues of their day - both within and without the Church. Granted, each received Divine revelations and mystical experiences that most of us will never have, so you could say they had an advantage. But the advantage didn’t come from being outspoken or confrontational, it came from humility, obedience and a lot of self-denial. A lesson we all need to re-learn.

Kate said...

My outraged-by-Ash-Wednesday correspondent has written to assure me that he is an equal opportunity carping critic, who has equally antagonised many male bloggers and been kicked off internet forums that he has engaged with because he 'was trying to understand how the minds of these people work'...

Hmm, so just an internet troll then, not necessarily misogynism into the bargain...

I recant.

Antonia Romanesca said...

Some reactions around the traps vis a vis male altar servers only, at the Trad. Latin Masses...its as though there is a subliminal conspiracy, which shall be unveiled 'at some horrific point along the trail', where suddenly all the Novus Ordo Masses shall be required to have male servers only...which is daft, cos that is just never going to happen, surely??
I wonder that many can't just relax about the fact that 'this is the way the Mass was', before Vat 2 [viz male servers]and that ipso facto, this is always going to be the way the Trad. Latin Mass is..

Mac said...

I don't feel competent to add much to your postings Kate; I rather treat your blog as a sort of "teaching moment". Some seem to find that difficult when you are a female, but so what? The Liberal elements don't seem to have a problem with the likes of Elizabeth Harrington here in Brisbane but yet find fault if you don't fit their mould. Keep at what you are doing. Prayers and thanks.

Kate said...

Thanks (I think) for your support Mac (not exactly a flattering comparison but I think I know what you are saying!).

Personally I write largely in order to help me think through things for myself and to convince myself. It is one thing to have it in your head; but it is only when you write it down that you can really see whether it hangs together or not, what gaps in knowledge need to be filled in, etc. And outside eyes are pretty helpful to that testing of ideas process, so I have to say I always feel that I have failed when I stun people into silence rather than a comment-reaction of some kind! But never mind, I tend to have that effect in person as well...

On the liberals such as Ms Harrrington, it has to be said that most of their attitudes towards women - and to lay activism in general - are, in my view, completely hypocritical. Lay activism in their view, is only good if it happens to support their views - if not then those involved are derided as restorationists, taliban catholics or temple police and so forth. Similarly, women actively engaged in the Church are great if they are of the ilk of Sr Carmel Pilcher's would-be deaconesses and priestesses - but you won't see her lauding the women on the barricades for the 40 Days of Life campaign for example!

I agree with GOR that some changes had to be made, but the problem is one of balance.