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Women and the Tridentine Rite JOHN CASEY


Much ado


The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei says women should not be allowed to serve at old-rite Masses. But women are regular servers at the monthly Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Cambridge University, from where a regular attender argues that Rome’s ruling is inconsistent and unworkable


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aturday before last, a Mass in the Extraordinary Form was celebrated in the chapel of Caius College, Cambridge. (The university’s Catholic


chaplaincy is celebrating Mass in several col- leges while its base for nearly 90 years, Fisher House, is being renovated.) The chapel was thronged with undergraduates, dons, visitors and some girls in evening gowns on their way to a ball. It was a missa cantata, with plain- song sung by choir and congregation, polyphony and two English hymns. The entire congregation joined in the servers’ responses and the singing of the paternoster. It was the best attended of all the Tridentine


Masses since regular celebrations began three years ago, following Summorum Pontificum. It was also the third Extraordinary Form Mass this term that included a female server (as thurifer) as well as male servers – a develop- ment which happened to coincide exactly with the considerable increase in attendance. The old rite has become normal in Cambridge. It has broken out of any “traditionalist” ghetto and entered mainstream Catholic practice. There has been no controversy about the introduction of the Extraordinary Form into the university chaplaincy. Indeed, it is evident that the young people who come to it cannot comprehend why it was ever banned; and they take for granted the choice available to them at Fisher House – novus ordo in the ver- nacular, in Latin and Tridentine. But reports in the Catholic press and blog postings might suggest that this harmony has been shattered, precisely because the chaplain, Fr Alban McCoy OFM, who is also The Tablet’s religious books editor, has decided not to refuse the request of two devout young women to join the male servers for the old rite. Before allowing them to serve, Fr Alban


(who reintroduced the old rite, and is also responsible for numerous liturgical improve- ments at Fisher House) secured the strong backing of his bishop, who thought that the development might actually help the old form become more widely acceptable. The women servers are reliable, capable students, who have been leading helpers in the liturgy over several years, and who are not driven by any sort of ideological fix. But the result has been that a tiny dissident group (three or four to my knowledge) has caused Fr Alban to be


10 | THE TABLET | 18 June 2011


denounced on the blogosphere – with the vehemence that is usual in that medium – and in effect to be delated to Rome. But what is the fuss about? At Pope Benedict’s Mass in Westminster Cathedral last September, female servers were in evi- dence. Permission for female servers in the novus ordo derives from a decision of John Paul II in 1994. (But I understand that long before that the future John Paul I, Albino Luciani, had chierichette serving his Masses when he was Patriarch of Venice.) When the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei published its instruction “Universae Ecclesiae” last month, encouraging wider cele - bration of the old rite, the director of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, was asked about female servers in the Extraordinary Form. He replied that the docu - ment did not address that issue at all. Two years earlier, in 2009, the vice president


of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Mgr Camille Perl, had ruled that female servers were “theoretically” possible, but that he could not recommend that practice because it would be “psychologically unacceptable to the great majority who attend those Masses”. This reveals the defeatist assumption that the old rite belongs exclusively to “traditionalist” communities. This is precisely the grounds on which the tiny minority at Cambridge base their objection – an objection rooted in psy- chology rather than argument. But Fisher House is not a “traditionalist” community. It has the usual mixture of opin- ions, although it is liturgically rather conservative. But it is a place where the Tridentine Mass is accepted as entirely normal. What the vast majority of students and dons who attend the old Mass would find “psycho- logically unacceptable”, or at least weird, would be if sensible, pious females were suddenly forbidden to serve in the old form when they are allowed in the new. Yet now, in a couple of private letters to two of the dissidents (one of them since published on the Latin Mass Society blog), the secretary of Ecclesia Dei says that the decree of 1994 allowing female servers does not apply to the Extraordinary Form. No argument is advanced to explain this change – it seems simply to be assumed that the issuing of this fiat will serve magically to put the toothpaste


A girl serves for Pope Benedict XVI in a Mass in Rome last year. Photo: CNS


back into the liturgical tube. But of course it will not.


Ecclesia Dei must think of some arguments, because what it seems to be saying goes plainly against the Pope’s (remarkably clever) teaching in Summorum Pontificum that the different versions of the Mass are two forms of one and the same Roman rite. If that is so, what, pray, are the theological or any other grounds for saying that females can serve in one form but not in the other? I suspect that “psychology” will not do the trick. The complete absence of controversy over


the restoration of the Extraordinary Form at Fisher House, the fact that those who attend it are a good cross-section of the university, who readily switch from one form to the other, are signs that the Pope’s wishes – that the two forms should influence each other and that the usus antiquior should become a normal part of Catholic life – are being realised. It may have opened the imaginations of


many of the young to a sense of the Church’s liturgical tradition – indeed, liturgy as living tradition. Some “traditionalists” seem unaware of how the Tridentine Mass developed under Pius XII – the dialogue form and fully audible canon. I witnessed a scene where one of the present dissidents and blog contributors actu- ally gestured angrily from the very sanctuary at the congregation in an attempt to stop their joining in the paternoster. I have always held that the purported ban- ning worldwide of the Tridentine Mass, apart from being an assault on culture, was an abuse of papal power; that the authority of liturgy comes from ancient tradition; and that Pope and bishops must in that respect be at the service of tradition. But, as T.S. Eliot wrote, tradition cannot simply be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It would be tragic if the revival of the usus antiquior were left to rubricists and ideologues (or for that matter, misogynists) who, in their blind zeal, would smother it at birth.


■Dr John Casey is a life fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.


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