Monday, September 26, 2022

The Participation of Women in the Priestly Work of Liturgy

It seems almost impossible these days to read anything coming from the Vatican without reading about desires to “increase women’s roles and responsibilities” in the Church. Yet somehow suppressed is the truth that there cannot possibly be, in any possible or actual universe, a higher role or responsibility for women than (1) to be mothers and (2) to pray, in some combination of the two, ranging from a wife and the mother of a family to a consecrated virgin and spiritual mother. I am all the more confident in saying this, in spite of not being a woman, because all of the best, holiest, wisest, and happiest women I have ever known agree with this view; in fact, they are the ones who taught it to me, much as Diotima taught Socrates.

As Bishop Athanasius Schneider says:
[The faithful Catholic women during Soviet times] would never have dared to touch the holy hosts with their fingers. They would refuse to even read a reading during Mass. My mother, for example…when she first went to the West, she was shocked, scandalised, to see women in the sanctuary during Holy Mass. The true power of the Christian and Catholic woman is the power to be the heart of the family, the domestic church, to have the privilege to be the first who gives nourishment to the body of the child and also to be the first who gives nourishment to the souls of the child, teaching it the first prayer and the first truths of the Catholic faith. The most prestigious and beautiful profession of a woman is to be mother, and especially to be a Catholic mother. (source)
No doubt Bishop Schneider would say, in accord with the traditional teaching of the Church, that the religious profession of a consecrated virgin exceeds even this most beautiful natural calling, for it is an especially lofty and pure reflection of the nature of the Church as Christ’s Immaculate Bride, and the fullest outpouring of faith and love for the heavenly Bridegroom. All this could be said to be John Paul II’s perspective as well, but of course he has been thrown under the bus by the feminists and their allies who now occupy the positions of authority.

My own views on the irreducibly distinct and complementary roles of men and women in the Church may be found in my book Ministers of Christ: Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion, which is intended to be nothing other than a presentation and defense, in modern language, of traditional teaching and practice.

But it seems to me valuable to share a passage from the famous Eastern Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, who paints an attractive picture of the necessary and valuable involvement of women in making and repairing items for the liturgy. The following is taken from The Spiritual Diary (pp. 132–33), an entry written on March 20, 1925.
How lovely are Your tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord [Ps. 84:2–3 Douay-Rheims]. The lot of the priest—how joyful, how elect, for the sparrow has found herself a nest [Ps. 84:4].
          Though not all are priests, still the Lord allows those who are not to reach out and to touch the sanctuary and to rejoice in it. I behold women, old and young, making clerical vestments and veils for the holy mysteries of Christ, and my heart expands as I rejoice in their love, in the miracle of God’s mercy. Unceasingly created and continually traversed is the grace-bestowing ladder between earth and heaven [John 1:51]. This ladder is brought into being even now by timid and obedient fingers. For whatever is intended for the sanctuary is already holy by virtue of its purpose, it is holy in its consecration, and, after entering through the curtain of fire, is taken out of human hands to remain in consecrated hands alone, for in truth consecrated hands are no longer human (no matter how sinful or wretched my right hand may be, O Lord). And that which is sewn and woven in our daily, mundane life is already regenerated and sanctified in [priestly] hands and becomes a thing of another world, of the new heaven and new earth.
          The Lord has elected the most skilled and endowed them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the completion of their work for the tabernacle [cf. Ex. 31:1–6]. But this gift, having once come down for the elect, remains and is passed down even now in the Church. It rests even now on those who worthily and prayerfully complete this work.…
          Through them, a bridge is created between the sanctuary and the outer courts, a link by which angels ascend and descend from heaven to earth and back. And the woman who offers the Lord her love and her work is like the woman who bought the alabaster jar of expensive oil and poured it on the feet of the Savior and filled that home with fragrance; and the Lord said of this blessed woman that she hath wrought a good work.… Yes, may there also be a blessing for those women who do a good work today by offering a vial of the precious oil of love from their hearts [cf. Matt. 26:6–10].
These words bring to mind the many women over the years whom I have worked with or have heard of, who are sewing and repairing vestments, altar cloths, altar frontals, who are rinsing, washing, mending, doing all sorts of behind-the-scenes work without which the liturgy would not be fittingly offered. The Lord knows of their service and He will reward it.

I think about this YouTube channel, humbly entitled “Vestment Lady” (nowhere will you find out her name—she would not even use her name in our email correspondence): 


Or the many makers of fine vestments you can find with a minimum of searching, like Altarworthy or Traditional Vestments. And who can forget the charming pair of ladies featured in Mass of the Ages who continued to sew and repair traditional vestments all through the dark days of the 1970s when such vestments were being thrown away, and who were blessed by God with the sight of a burgeoning new demand for the same?

Indeed, even “those who are not priests” still “reach out and touch the sanctuary and rejoice in it” by the labors of their hands and by the love in their hearts. What is needed today is not a feminist advancement of laywomen into higher and higher bureaucratic posts or more and more semi-clerical occupations—the same is true, mutatis mutandis, of laymen—but a revolution of mentality, a metanoia, a putting on the mind of Christ, Who came not to be served but to serve, and Who gave Himself as a ransom for the many. This is the true model of the priesthood, both ordained and baptismal. It is a model that has become well-nigh indecipherable in the postconciliar period’s smoke and mirrors, culminating in the booby hatch of the Synod on Synodality. May we find our way once again to the humility of tradition by a future servus servorum Dei who does not subscribe to the utilitarian horizontalism and depersonalizing functionalism of the modern West.

Photos of the Guild of St Clare by Joseph Shaw.

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