Friday, November 22, 2013
One of my parishioners told another of my parishioners she wants to serve, we have men serving but not women.
Until recently we had sufficient men to serve, illness and age have taken their toll, and a couple of years ago two of our men went off to begin studying for the priesthood. Being a city centre parish there are not hundreds of children who want to be on the sanctuary and frankly I am glad of that, I am not comfortable being surrounded by children whilst I celebrate Mass, children belong with their parents at Mass. I can do childcare and I can say Mass, I can't do both at the same time. Jesus loved small children but they do not appear to be present either at the Cross or at the Passover. Should those who have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation and therefore not fully initiated be performing a ministerial role in Church?
I can't help feeling that having girls or women serving, apart from being a significant break with tradition, is a first step towards women clergy, 'stealth priestesses'. The function of a server is obviously to assist the priest, a good server will ensure the priest follows the rubrics correctly and enable the priest to be recollected, and if necessary remind him if he forgets anything, like the consecration or the final blessing. No priest should be trusted to go the altar alone. Ideally the server and especially the Master of Ceremonies should have thorough understanding not just of rubrics but of the liturgy itself.
In the Ordinary Form there is no restriction on the number of servers, and although the server doesn't answer on behalf of the congregation, his role is to assist the priest but also to lead the congregation in prayer. He should at least be an example of prayerful deportment and reverence. He should have a deep prayer life and be devout, otherwise what he does is a sham, just play acting.
As Catholics we do not believe women can be priests, or in VII speak, "presidents of the assembly". It is not only that the Church has no authority to ordain women, as Ordinatio Sacerdotalis says but also there is the argument from 'headship', a favourite of some Protestants. The leaders of Christian prayer should be male, the proper leader of prayer in a family should be the father of the family, he stands as an icon of God the Father. His role as a Christian father is to direct family worship, as the head of the family. Ephesians 5 reminds us too that he also stands in the place of Christ the Head and Bridegroom. It is not illogical to assume that a priests immediate assistants, the servers should properly also be male, and leaders or potential leaders of prayer within their own families..
As a husband and father a man has liturgical role that we need to explore, who knows it might be done in the Synod on the Family. At the Extraordinary Form Mass we have no problem finding servers, it is not quite so easy at the Ordinary Form. In the EF traditionally practically every man knew how to serve, it meant that boys and men could receive some formation in the liturgy and prayer. Prayer was seen as manly. Now the priest and servers are often the only men in the church. As someone once said, not too seriously, 'one good reason for only ordaining men is that it ensures there is at least one man at Mass', well with men servers there are likely to be at least two. However there is crisis in the relationship of men and the Church, not many come and not many get involved and consequently feel the call of vocation either to priesthood or fatherhood. Ignoring the role given them by scripture and the t/Tradition does not help, it certainly does not help foster future priests or men in leadership roles within the Church.
I understand that many priests, even though they have gut instinct against it, feel in a spirit of equality obliged to go along with inclusivity and have both male and female servers but there seems to be a denial of an important element of the faith: men and women are equal, yes, but different. To apply this only to the priesthood and not other areas of Church life seems to be dishonest, if understandable.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake