Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Whackadoodle Writes On Women Lectors At Mass

The Great Organ at
Harrow, a symbolic
font of theological

I mentioned in a recent post that I regularly read the blog New Liturgical Movement because it often contains some very fine historical scholarship on the development of the Liturgy.  Historical Scholarship—not necessarily sound theology or advisable pastoral practice—but the sort of historical detail that a trivia master like myself can store in his little brain and pull out from time to time, Sheldon Cooper style, to amaze and mystify his friends over a beer and even occasionally, very rarely actually, stun a room of Jeopardy fans. 
So recently while checking out to see what NLM was offering on its platter of esoteria, I cam across a link to Katholik Krazy blog, One Peter Five and an article by a “noteworthy traditional  Catholic scholar” under the nom de plume of Benedict Constable.   (Why do these neo-traditonalists always adopt the persona of a member of the House of Lords.  They’re never a Joe Podgorski or a Mike Capone.  Benedict Constable, good Lord, it just sounds like someone who for eight years was buggered behind the organ pipes at Harrow before going on to serve as an equerry to the Duke of Kent.  But I digress.)  Professor/Doctor/Canon/Mr./Viscount/ Whatever Constable published an essay on the unsuitability of women to serve as lectors at Mass (and by extension, I would imagine, the Reader at Solemn Vespers—or simple vespers.  Or even Compline.)  He sets the tone for the article in the opening sentence.  
Given that Catholic churches throughout the world swarm with lay liturgical ministers of both sexes,
Catholic churches “swarm” with lay liturgical ministers?  Well that tells us right off the bat what the root of the problem is.  At the core, it is not that there are ladies “within the (no longer existent) rails"; it is that there are laity treading shod on the holy place.  So keep that in mind; we will come back to it. 
And Benedict goes on
First, the ever-increasing number of parishes and chapels in which the Extraordinary Form is celebrated have reintroduced all over the world, to the relief of traditionally-minded men and women, the custom of male-only service in the sanctuary.
So banishing women from the sanctuary, or better put, admitting only men to the sanctuary,  gives his Lordship and others like him “relief.”  I am curious to know why.  Does the sight of women on stage similarly trouble him?  How about at the beach?  Is he somehow or other repulsed by the sight of women at the beach?  In the classroom: what does he think of women professors?  Does he have to compete in academia with women or is this “noteworthy traditional Catholic Scholar” in some academic cloister to which only male scholars are admitted?  Just asking.  He is saying something here about more than liturgy, but about his own psycho-sexual comfort zone.   But he continues;
But the very experience of this once-universal practice necessarily prompts Catholics to raise the question of why it “had” to change at all, and the related question: Is the Church better off for the change, or, as with communion in the hand while standing or communion under both kinds, worse off?
So it is not only women serving at the altar, but the wider issue of liturgical restoration including communion in the hand and standing to receive Holy Communion.  (I say restoration rather than change because standing for Communion and placing the Eucharist into the hand of the receiver are not changes but the restoration of practice in the early Church.) 
He then returns to his bugaboo about lady parts and those who have them:
Third, now that the evil fruits of a disordered feminism are far more apparent in society and in the Church than ever before,
“The evil fruits of a disordered feminism.”  Now I will admit that there are feminisms that are “disordered” and even bizarre even as history can show us—and we can even see today in the way women are treated in some societies such as the sexual violence against women in ISIS—theories of masculinity that are disordered and absolutely evil.  But what precisely for our distinguished scholar makes a feminism “disordered” and with “evil fruits.”  Is it when a woman approaches the voting booth?  Is it when a woman heads a major Catholic Institution such as an Abbess or as President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services?  I am just asking because apparently it is a sign of out of control estrogen when a woman presumes to read from the Book of Wisdom.    
Ok, here’s a good one. 
Especially in our times, when confusion about sexuality is rampant, how we conceptualize and implement male and female roles in the Church cannot fail to have huge ramifications in our theological anthropology, moral theology, and even fundamental theology, extending all the way to the inerrancy of Scripture and the trustworthiness of apostolic Tradition.
Confusion about sexuality is rampant…  well, I suppose it is but it is fascinating how various scientific studies, especially in the field of genomics, is both clearing up much of our confusion and revealing that sexuality is far more complex than who has a penis and who has a vagina.  Of course this new information is frightening to many because it threatens to undermine the legitimacy of various prejudices as well as to shine light in under their own nailed-shut closet door.  It was also much simpler in the days before scientific studies revealed that people of African origin had the same mental capacities as us white folk.  Of course, when you hear some of these neo-trads pontificate how polyphony is “superior” to Gospel music you realize that not everybody got that message either. 
And yes, gender studies and genomics are going to have dramatic effect on our theological anthropology and our moral theology.  As for its undermining inerrancy of Scripture, that would be true only if you were some kind of a snake-handling, strychnine drinking krazy from the mountains of Tennesse who rejects the various forms of scholarly biblical criticism that interpret the scripture in its historical, cultural, and linguistic setting.  For those of us who have embraced modern biblical study, we aren’t finding a problem.  Same goes for the trustworthiness of Apostolic Tradition.  For those who grasp the difference between Tradition and traditions it really is no problem.  But then the neo-trads have always confused Tradition and traditionalism.  Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, this one from Jaroslav Pelikan:
“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
Our friend goes on to explain that since the Word of God is the seed and the male is the one who sows the seed, while the female is the one who receives the seed, it is fitting that the reader—the sower as it were—be male while the ladies should content themselves to sit in the congregation and be inseminated.  This doesn’t quite clarify the role of the men in the congregation—since they can’t all be readers.  Are they too then to be recipients of the “seed” scattered over them by the man at the ambo?  Hmm.  But I forget, Benedict spent all that time behind the organ pipes at Harrow, he is not uncomfortable with men being recipients of the seed.  I mean, really, have you ever heard anything so stupid?  Do you really think this is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 13?
Let me cite just a few quotes from the article that give us some insights as to where this whackadoodle is coming from:
If males ought to be priests, then males ought to be lectors, servers, ministers of communion, and so forth, because all of these are roles of giving, of acting upon, while the response made by the faithful is always one of receiving and of being acted upon. This, of course, is the very point of the metaphor of planting or sowing the seed versus taking it into the womb of the ground where it germinates and bears fruit.

 it should be said that Holy Mass is not a moment of private prayer or a Scripture study, but a public liturgical act offered to God by Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest, at the hands of ministers who are conformed, more or less perfectly, to the image of this High Priest.

 it should be said that denying that ministers in the sanctuary need to be conformed to the Eternal High Priest as regards their human constitution amounts to a denial of the mystery of the Incarnation, in which the Son of God became not just human (homo), but a man (vir). Hence, although a lector need not be ordained, it is fitting that the lector be ordainable, that is, one who is of such a nature as to reflect the concrete personal identity of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

When the Church, for her part, needs a ruler, teacher, or sanctifier, she chooses and appoints a man, for no one else can represent the face, the voice, and the hands of Jesus Christ… it is strictly a matter of who may formally act in His person (in persona Christi), when making present His redemptive action upon us who receive its fruits.

Since only a man can be the image of Christ in His total incarnational reality, Christ chose only males to exercise His priesthood at the altar of sacrifice, as foreshadowed by the priests of the Old Covenant.
What we see here, is that the author is totally ignorant of the ecclesiology which the Church teaches in the Second Vatican Council.  To this “noteworthy traditional Catholic scholar” the ministers at the Mass: the acolytes, lectors, and others in the sanctuary are extensions of the (ordained) priest.  He does not understand that all who serve in the Liturgy—including those members of the assembly—do so by right of their baptism and not in persona sacerdotis.  Furthermore, he sees that only the priest “represents” Christ and fails to understand that the assembly itself—the entire assembly including the ordained priest(s)—are there not merely as “representatives” of Christ but as the true Risen Body of Christ.   Christ is not present by “representation” but is there in his Real Presence as his Body the Church.  Furthermore, it is not only the priest who is called to be “conformed” to Christ but every Christian at his or her baptism is given this vocation.  This is not to deny that the sacrament of Orders confers on the priest a unique charism not shared by all the baptized but it is to contextualize that charism within the community of the Church and not to make it a possession of the priest independent of the entire Communion of the Church.  In other words, this guy doesn’t know jack about ecclesiology, the theology of Holy Orders, or the theology of Baptism.  His Christian anthropology is way off.  And when it comes to his Christology, he is in formal heresy.  I can only wonder if his cited hero, Saint Thomas Aquinas, is in heaven laughing his glorified rear end off or weeping in despair for being cited as an authority by this wingbat.   But wait, it gets worse (or better, depending on your sense of perspective). He (I can only presume the author is a man; it pains me to think that a woman would be so imprisoned in self-loathing to hold these ideas) writes:
The Church allows married couples to have relations out of motives of lust so long as they remain open to life, but that is hardly the ideal of conjugal intimacy. Thus, merely because something is allowed does not mean it is, or should be, encouraged. For, as the Apostle says in a similar context, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor 6:12).
For those of us who have not spent our school days being “entertained” behind the organ in the chapel, there is a via media between “motives of lust” and “open(ness) to life.”  Those of us who are not hopelessly baffled by human sexuality believe—if indeed we have not experienced it—that there is such a thing as longing for union with one’s spouse, a desire for true communion with the other which is expressed most profoundly in love making.  There comes a time for most of us where we have moved beyond the rages of lust and seek to both give and receive this foretaste of the heavenly bliss which is at the center of the Sacrament of Matrimony.  Perhaps Benedict Constable is a wizened old celibate who has spent his life fighting off temptations once so easily yielded to at Harrow, but celibate or married, if he were a sexually well adjusted person he would never have written that passage.  Indeed if he were a well balanced individual he would never have written this article.    


  1. Wait a minute! It seems that you Romanists have been more busy than the Harrow choristers at playing organs, as it were. Also, female ordination has become such a settled practice amongst Anglicans that even a 1662 churchman such as myself can appreciate their ministry.

    BTW, I once saw and heard a woman beautifully chant the Slavonic prokeimon and epistle at the lovely Russian Embassy chapel on the via palestro.

  2. Reverend and Dear Sir, I cannot but agree with your points. As to the Harrow image, I presume that "Benedict Constable" is of our Roman obedience, as it were, but Harrow these days is quite mixed religiously and indeed counts several Catholic bishops among its Old Harrovians. I also presume that the gentleman is actually an American but my point was how the neo-trads like to affect an English upper crust. The image of fidduddling behind the organ pipes comes from an amusing and somewhat outre book I once read Merrily on High by a Reverend Colin Stephenson, C of E. I really don't remember what English Public School he had attended but I also have an acquaintance who was a house master at Harrow and had several wicked stories about Public School Culture. So apologies to all: Harrow, choristers, C of E, to everyone except Benedict Constable himself.
    as for women's ministry, you won't find an argument from me about the unique gifts women bring to ordained ministry in those faith communities that call them to Orders. And even in our sluggish old Church, we would have to close shop tomorrow were it not for ministerial contributions of women

  3. I'm really glad I read your take down of Viscount Krazie before I read the actual article.

    It is interesting that you and others on the site intuited that if men are the sowers of the the word and the parishioners are being inseminated by the word, then men should not listen to the Bible readings at Mass. Curiously, the author responded to that charge. He argued that, yes, all Christian laity are feminine, but this does not exclude men from being laity. Rather, men are to practice feminine characteristics. This of course begs the question, why can't women be called to practice masculine characteristics? Well, His Lordship has an answer: sexual differences matter, unless they don't. (Specifically, sexual differences don't matter when they diminish men.)

    I am curious as to the heresy in his Christology. I am assuming it stems from his insistence that Christ, in only assuming a male nature, that God did not assume female nature. Is that it, or is it something else? .

    His comment about sex too, ugh.

    1. "Well, His Lordship has an answer: sexual differences matter, unless they don't. (Specifically, sexual differences don't matter when they diminish men." I think it's more rooted in the rib story. Women are deficient and cannot image men, but men can fully image women.

  4. Wow, just wow. You have a splendid takedown of Benedict Constable. I don't suppose Mr., perhaps Lord, Constable would approve of female sacristans or Mass coordinators either, yet many parishes rely upon them. I concur on your take about Constable's personal characteristics, perhaps he has imbibed far too much of the Krazy!

  5. I do not think there is any evidence in church history that only a male can lector because of this "biological determinism." I am pretty sure any real research would show that it has a lot more to do with
    ritual impurities, that women could not enter the sanctuary because of their periods. There are still orthodox monasteries where women are not allowed to enter even the church during the time of their period.The act of proclaiming the word of God in the assembly was taken over by clerics for so long, people just thought that was the way it had to be. of course it was not really proclaimed by clerics but mumbled at the altar where no one really heard it. Also when the change came that allowed laity to proclaim the word of God in the liturgy, in many parts of the US, women had to do it from a lectern set up outside the sanctuary until the Bishops changed the rules so they could do it from the ambo in the sanctuary.
    Thanks be to God, that the word is now proclaimed openly in the assembly and all who receive the word with an open and attentive heart find mercy, grace and new life.

    1. I suspect that is historically correct and would likely even stem from our Jewish history (the Red tent and all that), but honestly, how stupid is that? Aren't we supposed to be pro-life and isn't that the source of life?

      But I did want to add that "Whackadoodle" is a terrific word. ;)