Skip to comments.Sacrosanctum Concilium: A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes
Posted on 08/25/2003 8:33:35 AM PDT by Maximilian
For nearly 30 years, traditionalists have listened to "conservatives" argue that the postconciliar devastation of the Roman Rite has nothing whatsoever to do with language of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council's document on the sacred liturgy. (I shall refer to this document throughout as SC)
A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes
by Christopher Ferrara, Esq., American Catholic Lawyers Association
As we know, most "conservatives" are constitutionally incapable of recognizing that Vatican II opened the way to the greatest debacle in the history of the Catholic Church, producing a state of affairs which makes the Arian heresy look like a Catholic revival by comparison. To this day, the "conservatives" steadfastly maintain that Vatican II - with its peculiar "pastoral" purpose and its strangely fuzzy documents, the likes of which no other Council had ever produced - did not in any way cause the unprecedented ecclesial crisis which followed. Sure.
This denial of reality is why "conservatives" continue to insist that if only SC were implemented "as the Council intended," why then we would have an "authentic reform of the liturgy" in the "true spirit of Vatican II." But "conservatives" have little to say about Paul VI's declarations in November 1969, echoed by John Paul II on the 25th anniversary of SC, that the New Mass is precisely what SC authorized and therefore precisely what the Council intended. This fact is very difficult for "conservatives" to acknowledge. For if both Paul VI and John Paul II agree that the provisions of SC warranted creation of a new vernacular rite of Mass, then the "conservatives" must either agree with the Popes' reading of SC - in which case the "authentic reform" of the liturgy has already occurred - or they must accuse two Popes of erring gravely in their authoritative interpretation of a Conciliar document. Quite a quandary.
A few years ago, having grown tired of hearing the "conservative" line on SC, I did what I should have done long before: I sat down and read the document - line-by-line, word-by-word. It was a classic jaw-dropping experience. Anyone with a modicum of perspicuity can see (at least in retrospect) that SC was designed by its principal draftsman, Annibale Bugnini, to authorize a liturgical revolution, while giving the appearance of liturgical continuity. It is a nest of deadly ambiguities which the Council Fathers can only have approved in the confidence that the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite could not possibly suffer a dramatic rupture, because it had never happened before.
A lawyer knows that the dangers in a contract from his client's perspective lie not so much in what the terms of the contract provide as in what they permit the other party to do. The danger is in the loopholes. Quite simply, SC permits all manner of drastic things to be done to the Roman liturgy. It is one long collection of loopholes. If a lawyer entrusted with the task of protecting the Roman liturgy from harmful innovation had drafted this document, he would be guilty of gross malpractice.
It is amazing that anyone who claims to have read SC thoroughly could still maintain that its "true" interpretation precludes the liturgical innovations which have been inflicted upon us. Paul VI and John Paul II certainly did not think so. Neither did I, once I had actually studied the document instead of simply accepting the "conservative" line at face value. Ladies and gentlemen, we've been had. And so was the Council.
The following, then, is a brief discussion of what can be called the "conservative" and "liberal" norms of SC. This discussion does not pretend to be authoritative; it represents only a commonsensical analysis of the document from the perspective of a prudently skeptical reader, looking for loopholes and trying to figure out the real intention of its draftsman - in this case, Bugnini, who was also given the task of supervising SC's implementation as Secretary of Paul VI's Consilium.
I ask the reader to focus on the two themes of the SC which are apparent from the quoted provisions: (a) open-ended authorization for liturgical reform on what is potentially a vast scale, but without requiring that any particular reform of the liturgy be enacted or avoided; and (b) "democratization" of the liturgy by ceding effective liturgical control to the "ecclesiastical territorial authority" of each country, and the liturgy commissions to be established in each diocese. These two themes are couched in language which seems to inhibit the scope of potential reform in the light of tradition, but does so in a way which always admits of immediate exceptions to suit local needs, conditions and circumstances as determined by "territorial ecclesiastical authority," subject only to Rome's approval or ex post facto confirmation - which has rarely been withheld. The playing out of these two themes over the past 30 years has meant nothing less than what Msgr. Klaus Gamber (with Cardinal Ratzinger's approbation) called "the real destruction of the Roman Rite," with the consequent loss of unity of cult in the Western Church. The results speak for themselves.
The prudently skeptical reader of SC can readily see that SC is composed of both "conservative" and "liberal" norms, the latter serving to undermine and negate the former. In reading the "liberal" norms of SC, the reader will no doubt wonder how the Council Fathers, including the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, could have been induced to approve such an open-ended document. As Msgr. Gamber observed in Reform of the Roman Liturgy: "The Council Fathers, when publishing the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, simply did not expect to see the avalanche they had started, crushing under it all traditional forms of liturgical worship, even the new liturgy they themselves had created . . ." [p. 21] As we have seen, today's "conservatives" evince a similar blindness, even though they, unlike the Council Fathers, have had the benefit of seeing the document interpreted and implemented by two Popes, with manifestly disastrous results.
In retrospect we can now see quite clearly that the unprecedented language of SC permitted the unprecedented reforms which followed. Again, we were reminded of this fact by Pope John Paul II's address on the 25th anniversary of SC, in which he praised the document and "the reforms which it has made possible," noting that "the liturgical reform is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council." As the Holy Father's remarks should make clear, SC can no longer be made to serve any agenda but that of its drafters, which agenda has been carried out. Given the past 25 years of liturgical reform, all of it approved by the Holy See as consistent with SC, any search for an "authentic" interpretation of the document which differs from the Holy See's constant reading of it must now be abandoned as quite pointless. If our Latin liturgical tradition is restored, it will not be restored under some newly discovered interpretation of SC.
The "Conservative" Norms
Art. 4 - ". . . Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way."Undoubtedly this norm went a long way toward persuading the Council Fathers to adopt SC, despite the swarm of "liberal" norms which follow in the document. Assuming SC is still operative, the traditionalists are certainly entitled to rely on this norm to support a return to the traditional liturgy by preserving and fostering the traditional rite of Mass, still untouched by the reform, in every way.
Art. 23 - ". . .[T]here must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing . . ."To say that there will be no innovations "unless" means, of course, that there will be innovations. This "conservative" norm introduces two unprecedented concepts into the liturgical discipline of the Church: "innovations" in the liturgy and the adoption of entirely "new forms" of liturgy, as opposed to the gradual, almost imperceptible liturgical refinements of the preceding centuries. The requirement that "any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from already existing forms" opens the way to a new liturgy whose resemblance to the preceding immemorial form is minimal.
To follow the language of this "conservative" norm: Is not the Mass of Paul VI an "innovation" which he deemed to be "genuinely and certainly required" for the good of the Church; a "new form adopted" which grew "in some way" from the existing form of the Mass? At least that is how Pope Paul VI presented it to the faithful, citing this very norm in explanation.
Of course, this norm can also be given a strict interpretation, prohibiting any revisions to the preconciliar Mass whatsoever; and traditionalists are certainly entitled to promote this strict interpretation as against the "conservative" interpretation, which assumes the existence of some hypothetical "authentic reform" yet to be discovered. This assumes, of course, that SC is still an operative document. After all, now that two Popes have told us that SC has been faithfully implemented, why even discuss the document any further? The return to liturgical tradition need not even refer to SC, since SC has "merged" (to use a legal term) into the New Mass, so that replacement of the New Mass by restoration of the traditional liturgy would also be a replacement of SC.
Art. 36 - ". . . (1) The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites."The "conservatives" constantly argue that this norm has been "violated" by a "liberal faction" of reformers in the Church, and by some liberal bishops - by which they mean to say (but do not have the candor to say), two Popes and nearly the entire hierarchy.
But has Art. 36 really been violated by the postconciliar reforms? As two Popes have told us: not at all.
In the first place, the norm provides only that use of the Latin language is to be preserved, not the traditional Latin Mass or even the Roman Canon. More important, this qualified protection for the Latin liturgy is undermined by the phrase "due respect to particular law." The framework of "particular law" erected by the following norms completely negated this "conservative" norm ab initio by permitting extended use of the vernacular in the Mass and adaptation of the liturgy to local customs and conditions, as deemed "useful" by "territorial ecclesiastical authority."
Regarding this disastrous effect of SC, the omnipresent Bugnini declared in triumph:
"For four centuries all power has been reserved to the Holy See in liturgical matters (Canon 1257). The bishops' role was limited to seeing that the liturgical laws were observed . . . The Constitution has broken down this centuries-old barrier. The Church is now in the process of restoring to the competent territorial authorities - the word 'territorial' is decidedly elastic - many problems pertaining to the liturgy, including . . . the introduction, the use and the limits to the use of the vernacular in certain rites." [quoted in Pope Paul's New Mass, by Michael Davies, at p. 25]In 1964, only a year after SC was enacted, Pope Paul VI issued his motu proprio entitled Sacram Liturgiam. Article 9 of Sacram Liturgiam authorized all national hierarchies to approve vernacular translations of the Mass, subject only to Rome's ex post facto approval, which was given in every case. So much for the "use of Latin" in the Roman liturgy. The "particular law" exception swallowed up this much-vaunted "conservative" norm within a year, as Bugnini clearly knew it would. Anyone who says that Article 36 of SC has been "violated" and the Council "disobeyed" by reason of the all-vernacular new liturgy has never read SC in its entirety, or is pretending that two Popes and nearly the entire hierarchy have not already shown us that SC authorizes (even if it does not mandate) Mass entirely in the vernacular.
Arts. 114-116 - " . . . The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care." [Art. 116] - ". . . other things being equal [Gregorian chant] should be given pride of place in liturgical services . . ."The phrase "other things being equal" partially undermines the phrase "pride of place," and the remaining provisions of SC (discussed below) complete the undermining by vesting "territorial ecclesiastical authority" with total control over the adaptation of church music to "local needs," along with the rest of the liturgy.
The "Liberal" Norms
Art. 1 - "The sacred Council has set out to impart an ever-increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more closely to the needs of our age those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever we can to promote union among all those who believe in Christ . . . Accordingly, it sees cogent reasons for undertaking a reform . . . of the liturgy."This norm actually cites "Christian unity" and adapting Church institutions to the "needs of our age" - whatever that means - as "cogent reasons" for revising the immemorial and hitherto sacrosanct liturgy of the Roman Rite. That the Council authorized unspecified reforms to our 1,500 year-old rite of Mass for these reasons is almost incredible. It is reported that Paul VI later confided to Guitton that the new rite he had promulgated was specifically designed to resemble as closely as possible a Calvinist communion service, evidently with this norm in mind
Art. 4 - " . . . The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigor to meet present-day circumstances and needs."As Michael Davies has noted, the Council did not explain how a rite can be revised "in the light of tradition" when all tradition is against revision of our ancient rites, especially the rite of Mass. Nor did the Council give the slightest indication of what are the "present day circumstances and needs" which would suggest a revision of the liturgy, as opposed to the "circumstances and needs" of any other time in Church history.
Art. 14 - ". . . In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy the full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit."This norm exalts participation by the people above every other consideration in the Mass. Although this norm does not relate to liturgical revision as such, but rather to the "promotion and restoration" of the liturgy, its elevation to the paramount concern in the liturgy certainly impacts on those norms governing liturgical reform at Article 21, et seq.
Art. 21 - "In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable. In this restoration both texts and rites should be drawn up so as to express more clearly the holy things which they signify."The phrases "general restoration of the liturgy" and "texts and rites should be drawn up" imply that the "experts" to be "employed" under Article 25 are to undertake an unprecedented and completely unspecified wholesale revision of the Roman liturgy, "drawing up" new texts and rites as they see fit. This is precisely what the Consilium did, giving us a new Mass and rites for the other sacraments, all with the full approval of Pope Paul VI.
This norm clearly implies that the reason for the "general restoration" and the drawing up of new texts and rites is that the existing rites for the Mass and sacraments in the Roman Rite do not express clearly enough "the holy things which they signify." It also suggests constant adaptation of the liturgy whenever any of its elements becomes "less suitable" - but "less suitable," like all the other terms in SC, receives no definition whatsoever.
Art. 25 - "The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible. Experts are to be employed on this task, and bishops from various parts of the world are to be consulted."This norm, for the first time in Church history, authorizes the simultaneous revision of all the liturgical books of the Roman Rite by unknown "experts," without providing any specific guidelines whatsoever for their work. The "experts," with the full approval of the Pope, quickly proceeded to do exactly what the Council had permitted with this open-ended license - revise all the liturgical books in consultation with the bishops of the world. The bishops then proceeded to ruin the Roman liturgy with the vernacular translations and other local adaptations they were empowered to make under the following norms of SC.
Art. 34 - ..."The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the peoples' powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation."Does not this norm imply that the Damasian-Gregorian-Tridentine liturgy of 1,500 years' standing - the Roman Rite's greatest treasure - was too long and complicated and should be "simplified" in some completely unspecified manner? (This is not to mention the rites for the other sacraments.) What is meant by such terms as "noble simplicity," "short" and "clear"? Which repetitions are "useless"? The Council defined absolutely nothing in this "time-bomb" of a norm; it simply delegated "experts" in Article 25 to interpret these terms after the Council.
Also, what was to be done to the Mass to bring it within the "peoples' powers of comprehension," given that Pius XII had taught only fifteen years earlier, in his clearly definitive encyclical Mediator Dei, that those who could not comprehend the Roman Missal could still actively and fruitfully participate at Mass by praying the rosary or engaging in other prayers and devotions? The Council did not answer this question either. The "experts" did answer it, by giving us the new, stripped-down, easily comprehended Mass of Paul VI.
Art. 36 (2) - "But since the use of the vernacular whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it, especially in [but not limited to!] readings, directives and in some prayers and chants . . . [I]t is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned . . . to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used. Its decrees have to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See."This norm gave the bishops the power to introduce as much vernacular into the Mass as they liked, subject only to Rome's confirmation after the fact. This norm is reflected in Article 9 of Sacram Liturgiam, under which Rome soon approved the all-vernacular national liturgies we now have, which shattered unity of liturgical cult in the Roman Rite.
Art. 38-40 - " Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially [but, again, not limited to!] in mission countries. This should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and determining rubrics.  Within the limits set by the typical editions of the liturgical books, it shall be for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to specify adaptations, especially in the case of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred music, and the arts; but according to the fundamental norms laid down in this Constitution.  In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed . . ."These norms flung open the door to the winds of change in the Roman Rite. They authorized a complete transformation of the face of Catholic worship by "adaptation" of the liturgy - even radical adaptation - to suit local customs and preferences, as the bishops saw fit. They empowered the bishops to alter virtually every aspect of the liturgy, including the "liturgical language" to be used in celebrating Mass.
Has not the Holy See approved this radical transformation of the liturgy at every step of the way, according to the "fundamental norms" of SC? - norms which posed no real impediment to what Gamber called the "avalanche they [the Council Fathers] had started."
Art. 40 (1), (2) - ". . . (1) The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Article 22:2, must in this matter, carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and cultures of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted into divine worship. Adaptations which are considered useful or necessary should then be submitted to the Holy See, by whose consent they may be introduced. (2) To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection necessary, the Apostolic See will grant power to this same territorial ecclesiastical authority to permit and to direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suitable for the purpose."This norm clearly cedes to the bishops plenary authority to inculturate the liturgy in any way they deem "useful," and even to experiment with various novelties, subject only to Rome's approval - including an all-vernacular Mass. And has not Rome approved the innumerable resulting local adaptations of the liturgy?
Arts. 44-46 - "[44.] It is desirable that the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority... set up a liturgical commission to be assisted by experts in liturgical Science, sacred music, art and pastoral practice. As far as possible the commission should be aided by some kind of Institute for Pastoral Liturgy, consisting of people who are eminent in these matters, not excluding laymen if circumstances so demand. It will be the task of this commission, under the direction of the above-mentioned competent territorial ecclesiastical authority ... to regulate pastoral liturgical action throughout the territory. . . [45.] For the same reason every diocese is to have a commission on the sacred liturgy, under the direction of the bishop, for promoting the liturgical apostolate. [46.] In addition to the commission on sacred liturgy, every diocese, as far as possible, should have commissions for sacred music and sacred art."These norms institutionalized an ongoing reform of the liturgy and ended unity of liturgical cult in the Roman Rite by decentralizing control of the liturgy, placing it into the hands of diocesan liturgical commissions, which are to include laymen. Are not these commissions, launched by SC, among the prime causes of the destruction of the Roman Rite and its replacement by a vernacular, inculturated liturgy, constantly being adapted to the "present-day circumstances and needs" referred to in Art. 4?
Art. 50 - "The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as well as the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved . . . For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance. Parts which with the passage of time came to be duplicated, or were added with little advantage, are to be omitted. Other parts which suffered loss through accidents of history are to be restored to the vigor they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary ..."How exactly does the traditional liturgy of the Roman Rite fail to manifest clearly the nature and purpose of its parts and the connection between them? Which parts of the Mass have been "added with little advantage" over the past 2,000 years? Which parts are "duplicated" - any part involving a repeated prayer or gesture, or only some repeated prayers or gestures? Which parts have "suffered loss" or must be restored to "vigor"? And what is the "substance" of the rites which should be preserved during all the revisions suggested, but not specified, by this norm?
The Council provided no answers to these questions. It simply turned the Roman liturgy over to the Article 25 "experts" for their decision, as approved by the Pope. The only standard given for their work is, incredibly, whatever "may seem useful or necessary". The result, of course, was the Mass of Paul VI.
Art. 54 - "A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people, especially in the readings and "the common prayer," and also, as local conditions may warrant, in those parts which pertain to the people, according to the rules laid down in Article 36 of this Constitution... Wherever a more extended use of the vernacular in the Mass seems desirable, the regulation laid down in Article 40 of this Constitution is to be observed . . ."This norm opened the way to "a more extended use of the vernacular" than simply the readings and "common prayer," so long as it "seems" desirable to the "territorial ecclesiastical authority" under Article 40. Did not Rome, under this norm and the previously cited norms, and Sacram Liturgiam, which proceeded from these norms, soon approve the decision of each national hierarchy that it would be "desirable" to extend the vernacular to the entire Mass?
Art. 63 - "Because the use of the vernacular in the administration of the sacraments and sacramental can often be of very great help to the people, this use is to be extended according to the following norms: (a) In the administration of the sacraments and sacramental the vernacular may be used according to the norm of Article 36. The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority... shall forthwith prepare, in accordance with the new edition of the Roman Ritual, local rituals adapted linguistically and otherwise to the needs of the different regions. These rituals, on authentication by the Apostolic See, are to be followed in the regions in question..."This norm opened the way to vernacular rites for the other sacraments to go along with the all-vernacular Mass, with both to be adapted to local customs and needs as the local bishops see fit.
Art. 81 - "Funeral rites should express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death, and should correspond more closely to the circumstances and traditions found in various regions. This also applies to the liturgical color to be used."This norm suggests the very inculturated funeral Masses we see today, in which a white-vested priest assures us that the departed soul is a saint who will have a glorious resurrection like Our Lord's.
Art. 107 - "The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times . . . If certain adaptations are necessary because of local conditions, they are to be made in accordance with the provisions of Articles 39 and 40."This norm authorized revision of the liturgical calendar but provided absolutely no guidance on how it was to be done. It opened the way to destruction of the traditional liturgical calendar and the cycle of readings of over 1,300 years standing - to "suit the conditions of modern times." And, like all other aspects of the liturgy, the liturgical year was subjected to local variations under Article 40. Was not the loss of the traditional liturgical year, an integral part of our liturgical homeland, a prime cause of the confusion and loss of faith after the Council, as Gamber notes in Reform of the Roman Liturgy?
Art. 119 - "In certain countries, especially in mission lands, there are people who have their own musical tradition, and this plays a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason their music should be held in proper esteem and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their religious sense but also in adapting worship to their native genius. . ."This norm permits the introduction of folk music into the sacred liturgy of the Mass, and the "adaptation" of the Mass to such music, in any country with "its own musical tradition" and "native genius." Is the "folk Mass" not exactly what this norm produced in practice? With good reason did Pope St. Pius X forbid any secular music whatsoever at Holy Mass. This norm casts off that wise proscription and invites the songs of the world into the sacred liturgy.
Art. 120 - " . . . But other instruments [besides the traditional pipe organ] also may be admitted for use in divine worship, in the judgment and with the consent of the competent territorial authority..."This norm opened the way to the introduction of pianos, guitars and other profane instruments into the sacred liturgy, as long as the newly-empowered "competent territorial authority" judges them acceptable. Has not the result been "lounge music" during Holy Mass? This norm casts off the explicit proscriptions on the use of profane musical instruments such as guitars (as opposed to bowed instruments) which were found in the Holy See's preconciliar instructions on sacred music, up to and including the pontificate of Pius XII.
Art. 123 - " . . .The art of our own times from every race and country shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided it bring to the task the reverence and honor due to the sacred buildings and rites . . ."This norm encouraged the intrusion of modern art into the sanctuary, including grotesquely distorted images of Our Lord and the detested felt banners. The foremost example of this is the utterly hideous "Resurrection of Christ" by Pericle Fazzini, which disfigures the stage of the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.
Art. 128 - "The canons and ecclesiastical statutes which govern the provision of external things which pertain to sacred worship should be revised as soon as possible, together with the liturgical books . . . These laws refer especially to the worthy and well-planned construction of sacred buildings, the shape and construction of altars, the nobility, placing, and security of the Eucharistic tabernacle, the suitability and dignity of the baptistery, the proper ordering of sacred images, and scheme of decoration and embellishment. Laws which seem less suited to the reformed liturgy should be amended or abolished . . . In this matter, especially as regards the material and form of sacred furnishings and vestments. . . powers are given to territorial episcopal conferences to adapt such things to the needs and customs of their different regions."Notice how this norm anticipates a massive liturgical upheaval, which Bugnini was already planning before the Council. This norm is a "catch-all" provision opening the way to an iconoclastic revision of every Church law regarding the externals of Catholic worship. This norm gave the territorial bishops' conferences complete authority (subject only to Rome's rubber stamp) to adapt all of the ancient, traditional externals to "the needs and customs of their different regions," and to abolish all traditional tabernacles, altars, vestments, statues, church furnishings and church structures if they merely seem "less suited to the reformed liturgy" - which reformed liturgy was not even specified to begin with!
Do we not have today precisely what this norm permitted? - a liturgy nearly devoid of traditional sacred images, vestments, music and rubrics; the marble high altar replaced by a table because an old, ornate altar "seems less suited to the reformed liturgy" in the judgment of the bishops; the tabernacle relegated to the side of the sanctuary or to a different room altogether, under their authority to determine its "placing;" and the sanctuary itself subject to gutting at the architectural pleasure of each bishop, with the Holy See upholding the bishop's decisions in every case.
No one who reads SC carefully in the light of our experience since the Council can deny that it constitutes a "blank check" for liturgical reform, with the amount to be filled in depending entirely upon who is wielding the pen. The few "conservative" norms which seem to limit the possibility of liturgical change are clearly overwhelmed by the far more numerous and pervasive "liberal" norms which create an almost unlimited potential for destruction of the liturgy.
Yet, except for restoring the prayer of the faithful in Article 53, SC does not actually mandate a single specific change in the text or rubrics of the traditional Order of Mass. This would appear to be the main reason the Council Fathers were induced to vote for the document, since it did not threaten any apparent harm to the Latin liturgical tradition. And it is also the reason neither the "conservatives" nor anyone else can determine "the authentic reform desired by the Council" from a reading of SC.
While SC opened the way to all manner of possible liturgical reforms, the simple truth of the matter is that it mandated no particular reform of the liturgy. SC is, quite simply, silent about what kind of reformed liturgy the Council Fathers had in mind, if indeed the Council majority shared any common conception at all about the matter. In practice, however, SC unquestionably served as the license for a vast project of liturgical reform and the ceding of effective control over the liturgy to the national hierarchies, with calamitous results.
The emergence of "conservative" demands for an "authentic reform" of the liturgy demonstrate that unless SC is reconsidered, along with the disastrous changes it engendered, the liturgical crisis in the Roman Rite will never end. The demands for "renewal" by liberals on the one hand, and for "authentic renewal" by conservatives on the other, will continue to revolve around this utterly problematical document so long as it continues to serve as a warrant for the liturgical-reformist mentality, which the Council unwittingly unleashed upon the Church.
The only way to restrain that mentality and restore liturgical sanity in the Roman Rite is full restoration of our Latin liturgical tradition - taken from us overnight, only 30 years ago.
[Used with the author's kind permission.]
This topic came up on another thread regarding the changes that happened to a parish in Georgia within 1 year of the opening of Vatican II and the passage of Sacrosanctum Concilium, VII's constitution on the liturgy. Within less than a year the priest had turned around, Mass was said in the vernacular, a new altar table was installed, the communion rail was removed and people received communion standing. Chris Ferrara demonstrates how all these changes were permitted and even encouraged by Sacrosanctum Concilium if you read it with the eyes of the reformers.
As opposed to reading it with the eyes of a Catholic? Why not read documents with the eyes of a Catholic and follow up in that spirit, instead of reading them with the eyes of a revolutionary?
I'd rather not be "one with the reformers" in their thoughts on the Magisterium.
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D. Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- No 58 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program May 1995 Contents:
The New Feminist Face of the Roman Liturgy Two Papal Indults in Perspective THE NEW FEMINIST FACE OF THE ROMAN LITURGY
by Brian W. Harrison
(This article is adapted from an address given at Fort Lee, New Jersey, on 20 May 1995 to a one-day seminar on liturgical issues sponsored by the "Christifideles" group.)
I - THE POST-CONCILIAR REFORM: FIRST, THEOLOGICAL; NOW IDEOLOGICAL
I am afraid that my observations today on the liturgy by no means constitute glad tidings of great joy. On the contrary, they suggest that no light yet appears at the end of the liturgical tunnel; and indeed that we are now just beginning a second and still more radical phase of what has been called - by both friends and foes of the new rites - the post-conciliar liturgical revolution.
In speaking of two "phases," I do not mean two sharply contrasting periods, because the most prominent features in each of these successive phases have also been present to a considerable extent in both. Rather, it is a question of a gradual shift of emphasis in the agenda of those who want to see the revolution become institutionalized, so that the sacred liturgy may come to be accepted by ordinary Catholics as something continually changing and evolving from year to year and from decade to decade, just like dress fashions and automobile designs. I believe we can conveniently call these two successive stages of the reform the theological phase and the ideological phase respectively.
The first period, the theological phase, can appropriately be seen as covering the first quarter-century (1969-1994) after Pope Paul VI's promulgation of the new order of Mass on April 3, 1969, in the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum. That phase was marked principally by the introduction, imposition, and gradual assimilation into the Church's lifeblood of liturgical changes whose origins and rationale were to be found more or less within the confines of Christian - although not always authentically Catholic - theology. That is, we heard and saw a constant emphasis on such themes as an ecumenical rapprochement with Protestants by means of this drastically simplified, less formal and more flexible vernacular Mass; a much more extensive use of Sacred Scripture in the liturgy; a stress on the fraternal and communal meal aspects of the Eucharist rather than its character as the Sacrifice of the eternal High Priest; and an ecclesiology which has highlighted the Church as "the People of God" rather than the Mystical Body of Christ, thereby accentuating the role and activity of the laity in the liturgy.
Now, while we Catholics continue to argue vociferously about the positive or negative value of such changes, our disputes in this area tend to be seen by the dominant secular culture in modern Western societies as rather dull and hair-splitting - "internal quarrels" as it were, over minor details of strictly "churchy" behaviour which have little relevance for the wider culture. For instance, the archetypal innovation during what I am calling the theological phase of the liturgical reform was probably the introduction of Communion in the Hand in the 1970s. For many of us here today, this has really been a 'landmark' issue, because it touches directly on each worshipper's beliefs and sensibilities regarding the central mystery of the Mass at the sacred moment of his most intimate participation in that mystery. But in the wider secular culture and the mass media this issue has scarcely elicited a single yawn: it has in fact been practically a non-issue. How often have you seen debates on Communion in the Hand hitting the TV talk-shows or filling the Op-Ed pages in the New York Times?
In contrast to this relative apathy on the part of the secular culture in regard to the kinds of liturgical issues which it sees as strictly theological, or "religious" in the narrow sense, other changes now affecting the way Catholics worship are attracting a good deal of media attention. I believe that the importance they are now assuming in the public consciousness, both inside and outside the Church, is indicative of a new and more radical phase in the liturgical reform which, as I have suggested, we could call ideological rather than theological, because its roots are found not in specifically Christian thought, - whether Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox - but rather in secular social and political programs whose philosophical ancestry traces back to the rationalism and egalitarianism of the Enlightenment, or to outright paganism, rather than to ideas purporting to come from the Judæo-Christian Scriptures.
In lands dominated by ancient non-European cultures, the most noticeable ideological influence in this context is a certain anti-Western nationalism. In Catholic ecclesiastical circles this exaggerated national pride is now manifesting itself in the form of impatient and increasingly sweeping demands for "inculturation" in the liturgy. In the traditionally Christian societies of the West, on the other hand, the new secular, socio-political ideology which is having the heaviest impact on the Catholic liturgy is, of course, feminism. Both feminism and ethnic or national pride have already been significant forces among Catholic liturgical innovators for quite some time; but it is really only during the 'nineties that these incursions of secular ideology into the sanctuary have become so widespread and so imperious as to succeed in gaining definitive recognition and concessions from the very highest levels of Church authority. For instance, article 42 of the newly-promulgated Vatican Instruction, The Roman Liturgy and Inculturation, now gives the Church's formal approval to "hand-clapping, rhythmic swaying and dance-movements" in the Mass. 1 It is for this reason that I am suggesting we are now entering into a whole new phase of the liturgical revolution. If the concession which most clearly represented the earlier "theological" phase was Communion in the Hand, that which can be seen as symbolically ushering in the new period of "ideological" reform in the liturgy is the even more unprecedented change announced by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in its letter of 15 March 1994: the admission of women to service at the altar.
The title of my talk today, "The New Feminist Face of the Roman Liturgy," was suggested to me by an illustration I saw in January of this year. It caught my attention and struck me as a telling symbol of this profound transformation in the spirit and form of the Roman-rite liturgy which is now taking place before our eyes. It was published as part of one local American pastoral initiative which wants to make the point that there are "new ways of being church, new ways of being parish." And these "new ways" are very plainly meant to be understood as feminist ways.
The illustration I am referring to has four panels in the form of a stained-glass window - a kind of icon for venerating the ideal "womanchurch" which is now coming into being. It depicts two babies and seventeen adults in various pastoral and liturgical situations; and of these seventeen only three are clearly identifiable as men. Eleven are plainly women, and the remaining three are of somewhat indeterminate gender, including a long-haired prisoner in handcuffs and a priest whose short haircut looks masculine, but whose tender facial features and wilting posture look decidedly feminine. Even the three unambiguously male figures whom the artist graciously allowed into his/her new vision of "church" are decidedly unprepossessing. One is an emaciated, bed-ridden AIDS victim - an object of pity; another is an old-man, double-chinned and balding, who is being more or less crowded out by four women as they all gather round a large Bible; and the last is a seedy, T-shirted hippie type who is shown violating liturgical law by holding up the chalice during Mass.,P> Thus, it is certainly women who hold pride of place in this feminist icon: men are depicted as wimpish also-rans. In one panel an attractive young lady vested clerically in an alb and cincture with a cross around her neck is officiating at what looks like a sacramental rite involving two more women, one of whom is holding a baby. Exactly what is supposed to be happening is not clear, but I confess that for me this scenario stirred immediate memories of that recent book which, as you will remember, was the winner of New York City's Millstone of the Year Award for children's literature: Heather Has Two Mommies. 2 And even if the limp and languid priest in the panel already described is supposed to be biologically male, he is portrayed as having heavy competition for his sacerdotal functions from the phalanx of females who have descended upon him at the altar. Women are depicted as hemming him in on all sides, quite literally breathing down his neck and pressing him shoulder-to-shoulder as he holds the sacred Host. The tragedy is, of course, that the illustration is not complete fantasy, but rather, is coming to reflect liturgical reality in an increasing number of Catholic communities in North America.
Further bad news for traditional Catholics looms on the horizon in regard to that other major battle-front with feminist ideology, the use of so-called "inclusive" or "non-sexist" language in the liturgy. I am afraid there is no reason at all to feel reassured by the Vatican's letter last year telling the U.S. bishops that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which embodies inclusive language, may not be used in the liturgy. The experience of recent decades in liturgical matters must lead us to suspect that when Rome says "no," that may well really mean "not just yet." After all, as recently as 1980, when the Holy Father reaffirmed the Church's bimillennial prohibition of female altar servers in Inæstimabile donum, the Vatican's own official liturgical publication, Notitiæ, ran an article declaring that this prohibition was "set in stone" as early as the fifth century A.D. 3 That "stone," however, has now crumbled to dust before our eyes.
II - THE CHALLENGE OF FEMALE ALTAR SERVICE
So far my observations have been almost uniformly pessimistic, and some of you may be feeling that I need to be reminded of the old saying that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. I do indeed intend to conclude these observations with a suggestion as to how those who are concerned about the impact of militant feminism on the liturgy can light a candle in regard to the recent authorization for female altar service.
Before we get to that point, however, it will be helpful to review the reasons why I do not think we should just accept this innovation with a passive, silent shrug of the shoulders. It may be objected that, whether we like it or not, the question of altar girls is now a closed issue, and indeed, a minor issue, so that we should therefore stop crying over spilt milk, as it were, and just get used to the presence of females at the altar during Mass.
To that objection I would reply bluntly that this question is not a minor issue. The Eucharistic liturgy is at the very center of the Church's life, and the altar is located at the very center of the Eucharistic liturgy. It is the Holy of Holies under the New Covenant of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This means that any radical and unprecedented innovation regarding what happens at the altar is bound to bring about important changes - whether short-term or long-term, or both - in the hearts and minds of the faithful at worship.
But someone will be sure to ask, What is so terribly wrong with having altar girls anyway? Most members of this audience will already be well aware of the serious problems, questions and uncertainties raised by this novelty, but it will be worthwhile recalling some of the main points.
In the first place the total and extreme novelty of this practice is in itself very troubling. Why do I say that? After all, in a technological age and culture wherein what is new enjoys an almost automatic presumption of improvement, progress, and superiority, such an attitude may sound to many like mere obscurantism: resistance to something new and different merely because it is new and different. But in Catholic liturgy, as in Catholic doctrine, the a priori presumption should be exactly the opposite of that which rightly prevails in the natural sciences and technology. The very logic of a religion which claims to have been divinely and definitively revealed two thousand years ago requires that its faithful followers be deeply conservative in outlook. An a priori suspicion of novelty, within such a hermeneutical context, is not merely a case of stubborn or blind prejudice; it is profoundly reasonable, and indeed, necessary. After all, God is eternal; therefore, as Joseph Sobran has wisely remarked, liturgy ought to look and sound old-fashioned, and indeed ancient, because that is the nearest we mortals can get to representing the idea of eternity.
Now, in the case of a religious tradition which has not only existed, but has been consciously, continuously, and emphatically reaffirmed and insisted upon for two millennia, there must be an enormous and overwhelming presumption that such a tradition reflects the will of Christ. And this is in fact the case with the tradition against female altar service. In the Vatican journal Notitiæ, the liturgical scholar we have already mentioned, Aimé-Georges Martimort, affirms that:
[the] general discipline of the Church [against female altar service] has been set in stone by canon 44 of the Collection of Laodicea which dates generally from the end of the 4th century and which has figured in almost all canonical collections of East and West. 4
Martimort also recalls that Popes ever since St. Gelasius in 494 had denounced this practice as an abuse. It appears there were already feminist influences making themselves felt in Sicily and southern Italy at that time, and Pope St. Gelasius felt obliged to write to the bishops of those regions saying:
We have heard with sorrow of the great contempt [mépris] with which the sacred mysteries have been treated. It has reached the point where women have been encouraged to serve at the altar, and to carry out roles that are not suited to their sex, having been assigned exclusively to those of masculine gender. 5
Every edition of the Roman Missal from 1570 till 1962 carried the prohibition of female altar servers, as did the 1917 Code of Canon Law (c. 813, §2), not to mention the documents of the post-conciliar liturgical reform in their earlier and less radical phase.
In short, it appears that last year's Vatican permission for altar girls was the most radical single liturgical change ever officially permitted by the Church's supreme authority. As is well known, Communion in the Hand was for a time permitted in some areas during antiquity, and even having women functioning as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist was not at all unprecedented. In an excellent study on the question of female altar service which was published in France only weeks before the Vatican's fateful announcement in April 1994, Fr. Michel Sinoir, a priest of the Archdiocese of Paris, records evidence that right from ancient times, in convents of cloistered nuns situated far off in the desert where priests and deacons seldom visited, the Church allowed the Mother Superior to take the Eucharistic Body of Christ from the tabernacle in order to give Holy Communion to the other sisters; however she was not allowed to make use of the altar in doing so. 6,P> This condition is very significant, and was also reflected in the wording of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Canon 813, §2, of the old Code, already referred to, stated: "A woman may not be a minister of the Mass, except when no male is available and for a just cause, and under the condition that she make the responses from a distance, not under any circumstances approaching the altar" (emphasis added). Such legislation, I believe, gives us the key to understanding more deeply the heart of the Church's tradition on this point. The primary emphasis was not so much on what a woman could or could not do at Mass, but rather, where she should or should not be. And where a woman was never under any circumstances supposed to be was at, or even near, the altar of sacrifice: that is, in the sanctuary. And as Fr. Sinoir points out, this prohibition of women in the sanctuary, even as lectors, remained an official norm of the Church's liturgical law right up until last year. 7 The latest edition of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (1975) says in §70:
Those ministries which are performed outside the sanctuary may be entrusted to women if this be judged prudent by the priest in charge of the church. The provisions of n. 66 about the place whence the scriptures are to be read should be taken into account (emphasis added).
And what exactly does §66 of the Instruction say?,P> The Bishops' Conference may permit a woman to read those scripture passages which precede the Gospel, and to give out the intentions in the Prayer of the Faithful. It is for them also to specify the place whence she may most suitably announce God's word to the people (emphasis added).
If we take §§66 and 70 together, the Instruction's meaning is perfectly clear: if there are to be women readers, the Bishops are to decide which of various possible places outside the sanctuary is most appropriate for them to read from. The very fact that the Vatican saw any need at all for new and separate episcopal decisions regarding the location of the lectern or ambo, in the event that women are use it, is indicative. It shows that §66 of the Instruction, even taken in isolation from the explicit restriction found in §70, was not including the sanctuary itself among those places where Bishops might legitimately decide to admit women. For if the legislator had envisaged the admission of women readers to the sanctuary as a legitimate option, then no. 272 of the Instruction, which deals expressly with where the readings can be done and clearly (although only implicitly) includes the sanctuary as a suitable place, would have been sufficient to cover this question. There would then have been no need for further episcopal decisions as to where in the church building women in particular should read the Scriptures. 8
If the emphatic and uninterrupted tradition of the Church reserved the sanctuary, and especially the altar itself, for ministers of the male sex, what was the main reason for this? Here we come to the central question. There are many secondary or accidental reasons why last year's Vatican decision aroused dismay among many Catholics: some raised very pertinent questions about the apparently strange legal procedure or mechanism whereby the change was introduced; many have noted that the predominance of altar girls is likely to discourage boys and so have an adverse effect on priestly vocations; others have noted that by in effect rewarding the disobedience of those priests and bishops who allowed altar girls when they were still forbidden, the decision is likely to encourage still more contempt for Roman disciplinary norms, and was also a blow to those who had been obedient to the traditional norm, sometimes at considerable personal cost. Again, some have pointed out that the new ruling will pose a further obstacle to reunion with the Eastern Orthodox, and may reinforce the rupture with the Society of St. Pius X and other extreme traditionalist groups.
I believe all these objections to the 1994 ruling permitting female altar service are very sound and pertinent, but they are to some extent transient and accidental, rather than substantial. They do not get to the very heart of the matter, because they do not fully explain why the Church of both East and West has so emphatically insisted for two millennia on excluding women and girls from the sanctuary.
Martimort's study helps us to understand the patristic perspective on this point. After citing a good number of ancient texts and canons against female altar service, he observes:
It seems that the true motivation for this constant practice of excluding women from the altar ... is the link which was understood to unite the lesser ministries to the priesthood itself, to the point where they had become the normal stages leading to the priesthood. This link is already present in the perspective of St. Cyprian [he died as a martyr in 258]. 9
This idea of altar service as basically a stage along the road to the priesthood is still reflected not only visually by the fact that altar servers dress like priests, in cassock and surplice, but also linguistically in the terminology used in some languages. In Spanish, for example, an altar boy is called a monaguillo, which etymologically means "a little monk." And in Italian the word for altar boy is chierichetto - a "little cleric," which means that the term used naturally for"altar girls" in Italian is in itself an affront to Catholic doctrine: they are called donne chierichetto, "little female clerics." But it is Catholic doctrine that females cannot become clerics (that is, in the post-conciliar Church, priests or deacons).
In the final analysis, therefore, the reason the Church has always rejected female service in the sanctuary is that such service is very closely related, both symbolically and often causally, to the ministerial priesthood itself. And this can never possibly be conferred upon women, as John Paul II declared on the Feast of Pentecost last year in what is clearly an infallible, ex cathedra definition. 10
This consideration in turn raises the whole mystical theme of gender symbolism which runs through both Old and New Testaments. Yahweh is the Spouse of Israel, his chosen Beloved. Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church: He is the one who initiates the fruitful relationship in which the supernatural seed of grace - source of the "new creation" - flows from Mount Calvary to be received by the Church, his Bride, who thereby brings it to fruition as a Mother, bringing forth and nurturing her new children in Baptism and the subsequent sacraments.
Fr. Michel Sinoir's study brings this point out strongly, drawing also on the Eastern liturgical tradition to illuminate further this symbolism of the sanctuary. In Oriental churches, the division between sanctuary and nave is marked even more sharply than in the Western tradition by means of the iconostasis, a screen adorned with images of Our Lord and the saints which actually conceals the rest of the sanctuary from the view of the laity, and has to be entered by the holy doors. Fr. Sinoir explains the Oriental tradition:
The iconostasis symbolically is Heaven, and its liturgy, which anticipates Heaven, is celebrated only by members of the clergy. The nave is symbolically the earth, the abode of men and women who are preparing themselves to enter into Glory. This is by analogy the same mystery as that of Christ-the-Bridegroom, renewing in the sanctuary his sacrifice, which is gratefully received by the Church-his-Bride who is still in pilgrimage here below.
11 It follows that to defend female altar service by arguing that the servers, after all, are only doing things of minor importance (serving wine and water, etc.), rather than performing actions that require the sacrament of orders, is to miss the point. That kind of merely pragmatic or functionalist perspective betrays a very limited understanding of the sacred liturgy, which is profoundly symbolical, suggestive, and permeated at every point by imagery. What is crucial in this question of altar service is the whole scenario of the sanctuary, the overall visual impression of what and who is present there, and the subliminal message which as a result is sent out by this scenario.
Indeed, in the age of television, Madison Avenue and depth psychology, we should be more aware than ever of the subtle but profound impact that visual images and symbolical actions produce on our consciousness, beliefs and attitudes - especially when they are constantly repeated. And quite apart from the considerations based on the biblical "Bride/Bridegroom" symbolism which we have already discussed, the psychological influence of having the two sexes mingling together at the altar can only be one which further secularizes or desacralizes the liturgy. It creates a situation which expresses and recalls to the consciousness of all present the inevitable human attraction between male and female - the merely natural sense of agreeableness which one experiences in the company of the opposite sex.
Now, this goes clean contrary to the ascetical spirit which should characterize the Church's most solemn act of worship. I found the down-to-earth insight of some teenage altar boys in Puerto Rico very pertinent in this regard. When some of our lads in the Ponce Cathedral and pro-Cathedral teams were told of the Vatican's decision last year, and asked how they would feel about serving alongside of girls, the spontaneous reaction was decidedly cool: "No, Father. It wouldn't work well. You'd soon get situations where boyfriends and girlfriends would be on the altar together, making eyes at each other, smooching at the sign of peace, and so on."
I am not suggesting that the male-female proximity will necessarily be an occasion for actual sins of impurity in thought or deed, although the attractiveness, perfume, etc., of young women by the side of the priest and other male ministers will often at least be somewhat distracting for them during those sacred moments when all hearts and minds must be more than ever fixed on "the things that are above." The main point is that this "mixed company" at the altar is a further humanistic element in the liturgy. It militates against that holy austerity that should characterize the sanctuary, and does nothing to help raise our minds from the worldly level to the supernatural level.
Let us look at another example of how a novel mixing of the sexes would distort a noble ritual. Many or most cultures, Christian and non-Christian, have a ceremonial custom which has been practised at weddings and marriage rites from time immemorial: the bride is surrounded or accompanied by other young women, bridesmaids. 12 Now, would it not introduce a jarring and discordant note into the wedding ceremony if this ancient tradition were suddenly replaced by the practice of surrounding the bride by young men instead of young women? "Bridesmen," rather than bridesmaids, would in fact be a grotesque innovation, sending out uncertain, strange, and disquieting signals to all those present. So would the idea of replacing the "best man" who accompanies the groom by a "best woman," that is, another attractive young lady who is not the one he is marrying!
In the same way, female service in the sanctuary is in reality a bizarre innovation - one which jars with the gender symbolism which is latent in the created order and brought out clearly in revelation. Fr. Sinoir sums it up splendidly:
The presence of women in the sanctuary, which is the place of Christ the New Adam, Bridegroom and Saviour, and hence the place of the bishop, bridegroom of his [local] church, the place of the priest and the deacon - this unjustifiable feminine presence, even if it does not destroy the objectivity of the perpetually renewed redemptive Act, nevertheless greatly harms the personal faith of each member of the congregation by confronting it with a sign which falsifies the mystery; it impoverishes our faith. 13
This falsification of the sacred symbolism of the liturgy at its very heart - the Holy of Holies which is the altar of sacrifice - is the deepest reason why female altar service is a serious deformation of the Church's worship.
There are other analogies which should help us see this. Pope John Paul II's well-known argument against contraception is a case in point. He says that such practices are like telling a lie, not with words, but with the language of the body. The conjugal act, by its very nature, is a way in which the spouses say with their bodies, "I give myself totally and completely to you." But when contraceptives are used, the act is deformed and becomes a kind of falsehood or dishonesty, because the couple are not then giving themselves unreservedly to each other, but rather, are withholding their life-giving potential, their fertility. In the same way we can say that the Latin-rite Church, by inviting females to serve at the place of priestly sacrifice, dressed in the priestly garb of alb or cassock, gives the impression of speaking with a forked tongue. At the level of her purely verbal communication the Church promulgates documents asserting clearly that women can never be priests; but in her "body language," as it were, namely, in her most sacred liturgical action, she now seems to be insinuating the exact opposite.
Another analogy from the area of sexual ethics concerns marriage itself as the only legitimate place for male-female intimacy. As a corollary of the sixth commandment, Catholic tradition, and indeed the natural law as recognized by practically all cultures, has always insisted that it is incompatible with true fidelity for a married person even to flirt or become involved romantically with someone other than his or her own spouse (by regularly spending time alone with such a person, exchanging loving glances, words, caresses, letters, and so on), even if no sexual act takes place. Such behaviour is rightly understood by everyone as naturally conducive toward physical sexual union even if it does not always reach that point.
In exactly the same way, the constant and emphatic tradition of the Church has been that service at the altar is objectively ordered toward priesthood, even though not every altar boy or acolyte actually ends up becoming a priest. From this perspective we could say that a woman or girl serving at the altar, no matter how devout her personal intentions, no matter how reverent, recollected and modest her deportment and dress, is by her very presence in the sanctuary engaging in what is objectively a kind of spiritual immodesty. She is flirting, as it were, with priestly ordination - mimicking it, drawing as near as she can to it with an indecorous familiarity and an intrusive intimacy. Her liturgical role insinuates and suggests ordination as its proper goal or fulfilment, even though this is absolutely excluded by the Law of Christ.
There may be a few people here today who feel angered by my "patriarchal" opposition to female altar service. But I would invite such members of the audience - whether male or female - to ask themselves honestly and calmly one simple question. If you are someone who feels deeply convinced that female altar service is good and proper, is it not also true that you are unconvinced by the Catholic Church's stand against women's ordination, and that in your heart of hearts you would like to see women as priests as well as altar servers? I suspect that the honest answer to that question would practically always be "Yes."
In fact, I would hazard a guess that almost the only people who are firmly and definitively opposed to women's ordination while at the same time being enthusiastic supporters of female altar servers would be a certain group within the episcopate. But I suspect that the enthusiasm for altar girls on the part of some generally conservative bishops probably springs not so much from any deep liturgical, historical or spiritual reflection on the intrinsic merits or demerits of that innovation, but rather from the feeling that as pastors they should to some extent be responsive to popular demand. There has been a huge drive for altar girls among liberal Catholics, and it is bishops, after all, who are the decision-makers. They, not the rest of us, are the ones who have to bear the brunt of the feminist rage and rhetoric against the "patriarchal" Church, and have to formulate some sort of response to these women's ceaseless and strident demands. Under such relentless pressure, it is not hard to see how some bishops who are quite orthodox on the question of women's ordination might nevertheless gladly introduce female altar service as a way of demonstrating that they are not "intransigent." That is, they see it as a compromise (now commonly called a "pastoral solution") which they hope will to some extent pacify or mollify feminists while not actually contradicting Catholic doctrine.
Quite apart from the fact that such hopes will almost certainly prove to be in vain, this episcopal exception only proves the rule. My point is this: most Catholics can sense that the two ministries - altar service and priesthood - are closely linked by their very nature. And if we prescind from those whose attitudes are especially influenced by extraneous or accidental considerations - i.e., by the current state of church politics - I suspect that nearly everyone else holds either that both of these ministries should be open to women (at least in the long run), or that both of them should always be reserved for males.
In short, female altar service introduces a deep tension, an inner contradiction, into the sacred liturgy. It makes an ideological statement which both politicizes and secularizes our Eucharistic worship. Instead of reflecting the sublime harmony of the communion of saints, a foretaste of Heaven itself, the sanctuary comes to symbolize an earthly battlefield in the new cold war against "patriarchy." Women, by their very presence in the sanctuary, are seen as "on the move," and as struggling to conquer more territory (more "worship space," as the new liturgists call it). They are manifested, in fact, as striving to attain something which faithful Catholics must believe can never be granted to them - priestly ordination. At the same time, their presence together with males at the altar, the Holy of Holies, jars against the asceticism and supernatural ambience of the liturgy by evoking the merely natural human attraction between the sexes. Moreover, in contrast to Communion in the Hand, which is at least limited in scope by being a private and voluntary gesture, female altar service is an innovation which by its very nature leaves no choice to those in the pews. In any Mass where women or girls are serving in the sanctuary, that is a highly public scenario which is imposed willy-nilly on everyone who happens to be assisting.
III - WHAT CAN BE DONE?
In the long run, I feel convinced that the best solution will be to take up the call of the late German liturgical scholar, Msgr. Gamber, for a new liturgical movement, a "reform of the reform." The idea would be to work towards an alternate implementation of the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which, in the light of today's deformations of the Roman liturgy, is actually a very conservative document. It received a positive vote even from the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and does not say one word, for instance, about opening up to lay men - and much less to lay women - liturgical "ministries" which were traditionally reserved to priests, deacons or sub-deacons. I believe that the Vatican II Constitution could be implemented without introducing any of those novelties which have alienated so many Catholics since the new Mass was introduced, and I have outlined in detail what such a liturgy might be like in a talk I gave in March this year at the Colorado Springs Eucharistic Conference.
The advantage of such a long-term movement would be twofold. First, it would incorporate into the traditional liturgy those reasonable modifications which the Council really did call for. And secondly, there would be some chance that a revised form of the traditional Latin Mass along these lines would one day be granted equal status with the Novus Ordo by the Holy See, so that traditional Catholics would no longer feel themselves as "second-class citizens" in their own Church. As we all know, the use of the 1962 Missal is hedged about by many restrictions, and frankly, it seems unlikely that a future Pope will lift those restrictions completely, so as to give complete equality of status to the Mass exactly as it was on the eve of Vatican II.
In the short term, however, I believe that a more specific initiative might be fruitful. It would consist of approaches to the hierarchy with a view to gaining recognition of the right of priests and people who are attached to the bimillennial tradition to be able to offer and assist at the Holy Sacrifice without female altar servers in attendance.
Such an undertaking can perhaps be understood better in the light of some relevant points of canon law; and here I would refer to an article recently published in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter by Msgr. John F. McCarthy, who has a doctorate in Canon Law from Rome's Lateran University, and is the founder and director of the priestly society to which I have the honour to belong, the Oblates of Wisdom.
Msgr. McCarthy notes that since the new authentic interpretation came into effect, c. 230, §2, now refers to a variety of liturgical functions which can be carried out by both lay men and lay women; but that among these various functions, female altar service alone receives special treatment. And it is the kind of special treatment which tacitly acknowledges that this particular liturgical role is an especially delicate and controversial one when carried out by women. The episcopal conference must consider the matter, and even if it decides in favor of female altar servers, this cannot be made binding on particular bishops who decide against this practice. The Holy See stresses the need to maintain the "noble tradition" of boy altar servers as a source of priestly vocations, and indeed, the wording of the Vatican Instruction clearly implies that female altar service is to be considered an exception, not the rule. In stressing the importance of careful explanation of this innovation to the people, article 3 of the Instruction begins in very hypothetical terms: "If in this or that diocese (Si autem in aliqua dioecesi) the Bishop for particular reasons (peculiares ob rationes) permits females as well [as males] to serve at the altar ...." 14
This sort of cautious and conditional language is not found in the Vatican documents permitting other female ministries covered by c. 230, §2 (readers, cantors, Eucharistic ministers, etc.); only altar girls are singled out for this special treatment. For this reason, Msgr. McCarthy draws the following conclusion:
The implication is that the general liturgical norm prohibiting female altar servers remains in existence, so that in general women may not serve at the altar unless a local ordinary intervenes by a positive act and grants permission for his territorial jurisdiction. Thus, the Congregation has clarified the authentic interpretation to mean that an indult is given to diocesan bishops to permit the use of female servers. 15
This brings me to the main point. If in fact the authentic interpretation of c. 230.2, and accompanying Instruction constitute an indult - in other words, an exception to the rule, a concession to depart from the norm of exclusively male altar service - it should follow logically that nobody has the right to impose this exception on those who want to worship according to the norm. In other words, it should be acknowledged that priests and faithful who find no inner peace while assisting at Masses served by women or girls have a right to be able to assist at Mass celebrated according to the norm. It would therefore seem to be very opportune to seek official recognition of this right. No doubt it will take much more than this to effectively counteract the feminist tide which threatens to sweep over the post-conciliar Roman-rite liturgy in many countries. But at least such recognition would have the effect of lighting a candle.
There may be some of you here today who customarily attend the Tridentine Mass under the Holy Father's indult, and who may therefore be tempted to respond with a certain indifference, thinking that female altar service - which is specifically prohibited by the 1962 Missal - is not your problem. I hope nobody will in fact take this rather complacent and "isolationist" outlook. We are all members of the one Church, and the present liturgical instability is really everyone's problem. Moreover, there are innumerable Catholics who in any case have no access to an "indult Mass," and are now having female altar service imposed at their parish Masses Sunday after Sunday. I hope, therefore, that everyone here today will pray for the initiative I have suggested, so that a number of breathing-spaces, so to speak, can be preserved in those dioceses where the ecclesial atmosphere is thick with the cloying scent of feminism. Regular Masses must always be available where priests and people who love the clear and ascetical air of our liturgical tradition know that they will be able to worship in tranquillity of soul, without being subjected to the unwanted presence of women at the altar.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ENDNOTES 1. ". . . manuum percussio seu plausus, fluctuationes rhythmicae seu motus modulati, aut choreæ motus". AAS 87 (1995), p. 304.
2. This was the scandalous reader, destined for small children in New York City's public schools, which presented in glowingly positive terms, and as something completely "normal," a household in which a little girl is being brought up by two lesbians. It was in due course removed from the classroom by popular demand, especially on the part of Hispanic parents in the New York area.
3. Aimé-Georges Martimort, "La Question du Service des Femmes a L'Autel," Notitiae, Vol. 16, 1980, pp. 8-16.
4. Martimort, op. cit. (trans. by Michael Baker, The St. Joseph Foundation, Sydney, Australia, 1994).
5. Ibid., cited in Michel Sinoir, La Question de L'Admission des Femmes au Service de L'Autel, Paris, Pierre Téqui, 1994, p. 28 (present writer's translation).
6. Cf. ibid., p. 26.
7. It was, however, widely disregarded, even in papal liturgies. The present writer, while studying in Rome during the 1980s, had the privilege of serving as deacon, lector, and cantor for the Responsorial Psalm in many Masses celebrated by Pope John Paul II. I remember that it was quite common for women - nuns or lay women in secular dress - to proclaim the first or second Scripture reading, or intercessions of the Prayer of the Faithful, from the raised sanctuary under the famous bronze baldacchino in St. Peter's Basilica. After the present Master of Pontifical Ceremonies, Msgr. Piero Marini, was appointed in 1988, the lectern (used by all readers, male and female) was soon removed to a more correct position outside of and in front of the sanctuary.
8. In no. 272 the Instruction deals with where the Scripture readings should be carried out, and specifies only that this should be "a place on which the people would naturally concentrate their attention." Again: "As dictated by the shape of the church, the ambo should be put where those who read from it can be easily heard and seen by all." It is obvious that in many or most cases a place on the raised sanctuary itself would fulfil those conditions, and this was the long-established and continuing practice in many or most churches at the time the Instruction was promulgated. (In older churches - especially larger ones - dating from before the invention of microphones, it was, of course, common to have a raised pulpit at one side of the nave, well in front of the sanctuary, so as to facilitate the proclamation and preaching of the Word.)
9. Cited in Sinoir, op. cit., p. 28 (present writer's translation).
10. It stops short, however, of being a solemn dogmatic definition on a par with those of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption, which are defined as truths of faith, binding on pain of heresy. Cf. the present writer's article, "Cardinal Ratzinger on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis," The Priest (journal of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy), Spring 1994 / Summer 1995, pp. 5-6.,P> 11. Sinoir, op. cit., p. 32 (present writer's translation).
12. Cf. Psalm 44(45): 15, the "royal wedding" psalm: the bride "is brought to the king with her maiden companions."
13. Sinoir, op. cit., p. 40.
14. Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 86 (1994), p. 542.
15. John F. McCarthy, "The Canonical Meaning of the Recent Authentic Interpretation of Canon 230.2 Regarding Female Altar Servers," Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter, December 1994, p. 15. The author also observes (p. 17) that in any case last year's authentic interpretation applies only to the Latin-rite Church, and that the canon law of all the Oriental-rite Catholic Churches continues to forbid female altar service. (The article was republished in Living Tradition, January 1995.)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- TWO PAPAL INDULTS IN PERSPECTIVE
by John F. McCarthy
While it was the text itself of the Second Vatican Council's constitution on the sacred liturgy that was approved by the Council Fathers, the implementation of the decree was placed in the hands of a particular group of liturgical scholars having their own contrasting agenda, as is clear from such historical works as Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows into the Tiber and Annibale Bugnini's The Liturgical Reform (1948-1975). Thus, in the pursuit of this agenda, even such specific limitations in the decree as that Latin was to remain substantially the language of the Mass (nos. 36 and 54), or that "there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them" (no. 23) were quickly brushed aside. In retrospect it is interesting to reread the Council's prescription that "the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults granted to various places" (ibid.).
Brian Harrison, in the May 1995 issue of Living Tradition, describes the papal indult of 1994, allowing bishops to introduce female altar servers, as evidence that a new feminist phase of the liturgical reform has begun, and, following the scholarly indications of Klaus Gamber, he repeats the call for a "reform of the reform," using a better and more complete apparatus of technical principles. Over the past quarter-century, various clear positions of the Church have been wiped out or buried under strong emotional currents. One such clear position has been the theological and mystical notion of service at the altar as gravitating towards the ministerial priesthood. Just as the papal indult of 1984, permitting the use of the 1962 Roman Missal, implicitly acknowledged that the liturgical reform had gone beyond what can justly be imposed upon all of the faithful, so the indult of 1994, permitting female altar servers, acknowledges that the liturgical climate in some sectors of the Church has wiped out the symbol of the male presbyterium around the altar of sacrifice. Between the polarity of these two papal indults lies a middle ground that will tend to be absorbed by one pole or the other, unless the "reform of the reform" advocated by Gamber and Harrison can gain acceptance in the Latin Church.
In my technical analysis of the papal indult of 1994, reprinted in the January 1995 issue of Living Tradition, I cautioned against the imposition of female altar servers upon Mass attenders who have good spiritual reasons for not wanting to see them. There are, in fact, several good reasons for desiring in conscience that the bimillennial practice of the male presbyterium around the altar of sacrifice be preserved in the act of worship, and the Code of Canon Law does provide for the rights of conscience. Canon 214 of the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law speaks in relation to vocation and conscience where it says that the faithful "have the right to follow their own form of spiritual life, provided that it is in accord with the teaching of the Church." Now, to desire to celebrate Mass or to assist at Mass offered at an altar surrounded by a male - even a priestly - sanctuary is in accord with two thousand years of Church teaching and practice, and it is also in accord with the wording itself of the 1994 indult, which says that "it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar" (Instruction no. 2 of the indult). Michel Sinoir has documented the fact that historically the practice of boys serving at the altar arose in the context of their potential vocation to the ministerial priesthood. The observance of the male presbyterium around the altar of sacrifice is a feature of traditional Catholic spirituality to which priests and lay persons have a right to adhere in conscience. In fact, a proper reading of the 1994 indult should indicate that Mass without female altar servers remains the norm even in dioceses in which the indult is implemented, and Mass with female altar servers is an exception allowed to particular groups who have requested this.
Christ "entrusted only to men the task of being an 'icon' of His countenance as 'Shepherd' and 'Bridegroom' of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood" (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, no. 11). Altar boys are part of that icon. The tradition of boys only serving at the altar is the surface petal of the male presbyterium. Peel off this petal and the male only diaconate becomes the surface petal of the rose. This petal will soon be under attack, making the male only ministerial priesthood the emerging surface of some deeper "essential core." As the hoped-for "reform of the reform" discards the surface-and-core idea of modern existentialism, it will necessarily seek to restore the petal of all-male altar service to the rose of the presbyterium - not an easy task in the emotionally charged climate of feminism.
Pope John XXIII's edifying desire to include the name of St. Joseph in the Canon of his 1962 Roman Missal was used by the liturgical reformers as a wedge for introducing vast additional changes. Those who benefit from the indult of 1984, in the present climate of updating and constant change, do well to insist upon no changes whatsoever in the text and rubrics of the 1962 Missal, not even the addition of new feasts. If the "reform of the reform" should not gain acceptance in the Church, and if the reformers continue to build the liturgy upon the shifting sands of existentialist updating, the New Order of Mass could eventually collapse, leaving only the 1962 Roman Missal as a viable form of Mass in the Western Church
Conservatives are not ignorant of what is being done to the the Liturgy, in fact, their critisicm of it is more balanced,richer, and informative, than some self described traditionalists.
Maybe if men like Ferrara spent less time insulting those not describing themselves as traditionalists, a reform of the reform might have a better chance.
I am nowhere neer as well informed as others on this site and I appreciate any info that can help all of us - for who really desires the radical change we have undergone - but it should be accomplished without insulting those one undertakes to educate.
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