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.
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!)