Saturday 30 March 2013

Here Come The Girls?

No, of course the Holy Father's washing of a few girls' feet does not raise any question about his commitment to the all-male Priesthood! But so what if it did? If he attempted to act on any such change of mind, or on any of the others on the Tablet wish list, then he would be ipso facto deposed for heresy. There would just have to be a new Conclave, the See of Peter having fallen vacant.

Something similar applies to the practice of female altar servers, which the Church has always permitted under certain circumstances. There is an argument that it drives boys away because they no longer have something particular to themselves to do in what is otherwise the very female environment of parochial life. But so what if it puts into some girls' heads the idea of their being ordained? The Church never is going to ordain them. She cannot ordain ever them. That is just that. A few of them can fill their heads with whatever they like. That is never going to change anything. The something in question cannot change.

(On the matter of altar servers, the practice of giving the job to children at all would seem to presuppose relatively little solemnity. If the Sunday Parish Mass were as it has always in principle been supposed to be, as close as possible an approximation to the Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated by the Bishop in his Cathedral Church, then few, if any, would be the pre-teenagers capable of serving It in anything more than the most junior of capacities. It would be interesting to trace the antiquity or otherwise of child servers prior to the spread of the Low Mass, a fairly late innovation even in itself and only ever designed so that a priest could say his own Mass on weekdays, as the de facto normative, almost universal pattern of liturgical life in the Latin Church, although it has no parallel in any of the Eastern Rites.)

Honestly, I really could despair, certainly of the shallow knowledge, and quite possibly of the shallow faith, of anyone who ever experiences the slightest cause to worry that Church might "ordain" women, among other things about which they sometimes fret, if this, that or the other were to happen, or because this, that or the other has already happened.

It goes a long way to explaining how the apparently fortress-like Catholic subculture of the 1950s collapsed so quickly and so completely. Or how, within 50 years, the once-mighty American Church has given way to the situation in which one in 10 adults in the United States, and still rising, is a lapsed Catholic; read that over until it sinks in properly. Or how Mary Robinson could have been elected in the first place in 1990, well within 10 years of which the country that many people in the English-speaking world thought was the Jewel in the Papal Crown (although no one else ever did) had become somewhere where it was, as it now remains, almost physically dangerous to profess oneself a Catholic in the course of any sort of public life, with the situation there continuing to worsen.

Shallow roots, I am afraid. Sandy foundations. There is simply no other way of explaining these things. What, exactly, was taught in the schools? RE in Catholic schools is largely rubbish now. But was it ever really any better? There is little sign that it was, based on the results.

Such shallowness and sandiness are just as apparent, both in those who exclaim, "Whoopee, we might get women priests because of altar girls and the Pope washing some girls' feet," and in those who exclaim, "Noooo, we might get women priests because of altar girls and the Pope washing some girls' feet." I should love to hear the latter's explanation as to why they were against the "ordination" of women. I bet that it would not be very good. It cannot possibly be, if they imagine that anything might ever be able to move the Church away from that position. It cannot be any better than the arguments advanced by those who imagine that She might. In point of fact, both views are capable of having exactly the same practical effect, namely none whatever. We may at least be grateful for that.

In the meantime, they could all do with a trip to see my friends at the totally orthodox International Theological Institute in Trumau, just outside Vienna, where the lady who coedited the Catechism lives among priests with wives and seminarians with girlfriends, of whom the former never wear lay clothes and, assisted by the latter, only ever celebrate a Liturgy of the utmost solemnity which has always been in the vernacular. At the Institute, that means English, as it has done in North America for a century or more. But it is never the vernacular of the public house or of the betting shop.

Those priests and seminarians come from the Local Churches that held the line against Lenin when those in the West were not holding it against Lennon, and which are now holding the line against gangster capitalism as those in the West failed to do to very much effect at all in the 1980s. Those are the Local Churches on the front line, both against Zionism and its neoconservative little helpers, and against the political Islam that they have first called into being and then gone to such lengths to sustain and expand, as well as increasingly against Hindutva.

Alas, I shall miss their London reception next month. But mere nostalgists either for the 1970s or for the 1950s really, really, really need to meet them. Pope Francis was their Ordinary in Argentina, where there are quite a lot of them, to the extent that he even has conversational Ukrainian. Watch that space.


  1. On the subject of altar boys, I was one from Novembr 1961 to September 1963..age 9 to 11, when I went to grammar school.
    St Peters Pro Cathedral the Cathedral. Altar boys were recruited in primary 5 from the parishes (five or six) schools. Nobody stayed on after primary school.
    Six priests in the parish... Morning Mass at 7am, 8am, 9am, 10am Monday to Saturday.
    Sunday Mass 7am, 8am, 9am, 10am, 10.45am, 11.30am, 12.15pm.
    No Vigil Mass or evening Mass in those days. A City centre church had an evening Mass, used mostly by shift workers.
    Benediction every night usually linked to confraternity or sorority....boys on Monday night....women, girls, men and a Third Order of St Francis every month.
    Parish, women and children separately over three weeks.
    Altar Boys...4 per Mass and 6 at Benediction.
    Mass in Latin. Priest with his back to the congregation.
    A three hour fast before Communion, an hour after a cup of tea. Looking at the Timex watch I got for Chritmas trying to work out if I'd made the deadline.
    No special Mass for newly weds...and nobody got married during Lent so not unusual to have two or three weddings at 10am, especially in the week after Easter. Nobody got married on a Friday.
    Four altar boys per Mass...imaginatively designated 1..2 ...3...4.
    As you might imagine #1 was the most charge of water/wine with #2 and moving the Missal.
    #3 the bell ringer. ...#4 was the rookie
    The #2 at 9am and 10-am weekday would be called to the side altar during Mass...remember four Masses and six priests.
    The rota was simple...7am one week, 8am next week and so on...a few weeks leave from weekday Mass before going back to weekdays...and of course 9am 10am meant time off school.
    But the rota was so arranged that you were never idle for more than two weeks.
    Funerals we never knew about until the coffin arrived at Church before evening benediction.
    Or next morning at 10am when we arrived and black was laid out by the sacristan.
    Weddings...we generally didn't know about in advance...generally turn up and see a wedding guests milling about.
    No set fees but we generally got ten shillings between four...the boy at the side altar always being part of the team.
    No homily for married couples.
    No girls of course.
    And the fees from weddings subsidised my passion for corgi cars and toy soldiers.
    One significant difference and something I would like to see addressed...the10am Sunday Mass was for children of the parish primary 4,5, 6, 7....from the various schools. A designated teacher from each school ....boys on right of very large pro Cathedral, girls on left.
    And a priest in the pulpit to talk the kids thru the Latin Mass.
    Seemed to work well.
    Fitzjames Horse

  2. Even a 1968 West London Irish could boast a schedule similar to that outlined above. The total breakdown seemed to occur from 1975 onwards when Hume took over from Heenan.