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"Psychologically unacceptable"?

I've written before (in the magazine, and here at dotCommonweal) about the Vatican's official policy regarding female altar servers, which strikes me as an embarrassment because of its inconsistency. I have seen many people misstate or misrepresent this policy, so to recap: it was announced in 1994 that canon law permits any lay person, male or female, to serve the priest at Mass. There is no gender-based restriction, such as "Girls may serve only if there aren't enough boys," as is sometimes asserted. The job is officially open to both sexes, like every other lay liturgical ministry. However, any bishop may declare that females may not perform this service in his diocese, for whatever reason he likes, and furthermore any pastor may restrict the ministry to men and boys alone even in a diocese where the bishop has not done so. (And making the ministry women-only in a diocese or parish is not allowed.)

Lately the topic of female altar servers has come up in a new arena, with a ruling from Rome that, it seems to me, heaps inconsistency on inconsistency. The ruling came in the form of a private letter from the secretary of Ecclesia Dei, the pontifical commission established to deal with the Lefebvrist schism and more recently charged with overseeing the implementation of Benedict XVI's Summorum pontificum, which extended permission to celebrate the "Extraordinary Form" of the Roman Liturgy (the so-called Tridentine Rite or Traditional Latin Mass). The subject was not addressed in the recent "instruction" from Ecclesia Dei on applying Summorum pontificum, but in a letter, Msgr. Guido Pozzo "said that 'permitting female altar servers does not apply to the Extraordinary Form.'"

How does this square with what Benedict said in 2007? At the time of his motu propio extending permission for the EF, he wrote:

It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were two Rites. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.

Benedict took pains to frame the move as a restoration of something that was never truly abrogated, not a time-warp exception for those who couldn't accept the reforms that followed Vatican II. So if it's two uses of the same rite, shouldn't they both be subject to current canon law and Vatican policy? Why would the present altar-server policy not apply in both cases? I'm not certain I buy the justifications for extending the EF. In fact, I find the state of the question uncomfortable in a way that is similar to my discomfort with the "Yes, but" ruling on female altar servers. But for the sake of argument, let's accept all that as given. Better yet, let's look to John Casey, a fellow at Cambridge who wrote about Gallo's ruling in the June 18 edition of the Tablet, and who is an unqualified fan of the reintroduction of the EF. (His article, "Much Ado," is online for subscribers only.) Casey writes about the popularity of the EF at Cambridge as celebrated by the university chaplain, Fr. Alban McCoy, OFM, and his testimony suggests that the pope was right to argue that the EF isn't just for old-timers: "It has clearly been demonstrated," wrote Benedict, "that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them." So they have, Casey says, and that includes young women. So Fr. McCoy "decided not to refuse the request of two devout young women to join the male servers for the old rite." Why should this be a problem? It wasn't, at first (as Francis Phillips recently clarified in the Catholic Herald after McCoy became an Internet punching bag). Casey recalls that, in 2009, the vice president of Ecclesia Dei, Msgr. 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."

Now we're running into some of the logic problems that I think the altar-server debate and the EF debate share (even when they don't collide). As Casey notes, Perl's argument

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 psychology rather than argument.

The appeal to psychology reminded me of the anxious language in the 2001 letter to bishops from the Congregation for Divine Worship "Concerning the Use of Female Altar Servers" (in the ordinary form): "In the event that Your Excellency found it opportune to authorize service of women at the altar, it would remain important to explain clearly to the faithful the nature of this innovation, lest confusion might be introduced, thereby hampering the development of priestly vocations." I wrote in Commonweal that this anxiety seemed misplaced: "What needed explaining to most Catholics in Scranton, Pennsylvania, when I was growing up was the no-girls-allowed policy, not the long-awaited change." Casey has a remarkably similar response to the judgment from Msgr. Perl.

What the vast majority of students and dons who attend the old Mass would find "psychologically 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.

I don't think the "psychologically unacceptable" explanation holds much water in either case. But I can't understand why Ecclesia Dei couldn't have left it at that -- present Vatican policy would allow priests like Fr. McCoy to make their own judgment, based on their knowledge of their own community, and permit those presiding at an EF Mass to refuse women the role of altar server whenever they felt it appropriate. There would be no question of forcing any priest to suffer the psychological trauma of permitting a woman to enter the sanctuary. But now that Msgr. Pozzo's letter has ruled out female altar servers entirely, "Ecclesia Dei must think of some arguments," Casey writes. If what the pope said about two forms of a single rite is true, "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 closest I can come to finding an argument is this, via Pray Tell: "According to [the April 2011 instruction from Ecclesia Dei], liturgical decrees issued since 1962 which are not compatible with the liturgical books then in use are not binding on Tridentine celebrations." It's perpetually 1962 for the EF, in other words. Is that convincing? And does Pozzo's ruling automatically follow? I'm in over my head when it comes to the finer points of liturgical law. Here are the relevant bits, if someone out there cares to examine and explain them:

27. With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies.28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.

I do know that it strikes me as problematic to encourage bishops and priests to make the EF more widely available and simultaneously to tell them they cannot permit women to serve on the altar at those Masses. Counterproductive, too, if the intention is truly to expose more people to the beauty (and validity) of both forms and not just to pacify those who would prefer to sequester themselves from post-1962 forms of worship and community in the Church. When Benedict issued Summorum pontificum, he explained that the decision was "a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church."

Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.

The question I think Ecclesia Dei ought to answer is, Does that work both ways? If the faith itself allows women to enter the sanctuary and serve the priest at Mass, can that be considered always harmful in certain contexts? Why shouldn't local communities celebrating the EF be able to decide for themselves how much of what the faith allows they can make room for in their hearts -- or on their altars?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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I dont think the psychologically unacceptable explanation holds much water in either case. It looks like plain old prejudice, bigotry, and misogyny to me. Women didn't do it before, so they can't do it now. There's no good reason for it. "It just looks wrong." I remember being in a discussion about race in college (late 1960s), and a black kid said, "You know what I did the first time I saw a black person in a television commercial? I laughed." And like the black kid, even many women think "it just looks wrong" to see people like themselves performing roles that they didn't in the past.

Somewhat related?Great post. It has me thinking. I'm a 35, lifelong Northeasterner. I've never attended a Mass celebrated in the EF - or at least that I can remember. I do believe I once attended a NO Mass spoke in Latin, whilst interning in London years ago... I would not be honest if I did not admit to finding the EF mysteriously interesting, though I have no real desire to attend that Form of the one Rite. Still, I wonder how those faithful to the EF would receive me when (and if) they watched me go up to the altar rail to receive the Lord in my hands while standing? Could I do this, legally? After all, I usually see one or two veiled women each week receiving the Lord on the knees and in the mouth each week at the NO Mass I attend at my Parish. I am not bothered by their gesture before the Lord and it is, of course, legal.

"Its perpetually 1962 for the EF, in other words. Is that convincing? "Yes, if your "psychological present" is 1962. The answers in the Baltimore Catechism are excellent if you can find your questions there.And "psychological present" indicates that the "issue" is as much historical as psychological; as much cultural as doctrinal. In reflecting on the cultural crisis in which "church" is still seeking a higher viewpoint, Bernard Lonergan says:'Classical culture cannot be jettisoned without being replaced; and what replaces it cannot but run counter to classical expectations. There is bound to be formed a solid right that is determined to live in a world that no longer exists. There is bound to be formed a scattered left, captivated by now this, now that new development, exploring now this and now that new possibility. But what will count is a perhaps not numerous center, big enough to be at home in both the old and the new, painstaking enough to work out one by one the transitions to be made, strong enough to refuse half measures and insist on complete solutions even though it has to wait."

Lincoln Nebraska is the only diocese in the US which forbids female altar servers. Those who hang on papal authority should count how many times popes have called women altar servers "evil." post, Molly. The irony is that there should be any question at all that women should be on the altar.

Nicely reasoned, Mollie. Too bad the same can't be said for the subject you discuss. How do Msgr. Perl and associates actually identify the bounds of "psychological acceptability" in Scranton, Toowoomba, and elsewhere in the hinterlands of the global Church? Universality is applicable to matters of decree and some properties of human beings, though not others. Claiming some undefined criterion of "psychological acceptability" as descriptive of all the Roman Catholic Faithful who prefer one form of Mass or another is an absurd generalization. I agree with David N. on what it looks like.This smacks of the same "thought" processes that determined that the grammatical and syntactical approach of Latin scribes of many centuries ago is essential if English-speakers around the world are to express properly their worship of God in the 21st century. However, in that arena, psychological acceptability doesn't seem to have been mentioned but might have been useful to consider. It is interesting to notice worldwide how many females have served as head-of-state, cabinet minister, or national legislator since 1962 without evident international calamity. Perhaps in time, the sanctuary will open up for all.

Actually, this raises for me the reasons given to justify issuing SP. Two points seem very inconsistent:- There is ongoing debate about whether 1962 Missal was abrogated or can find quotes supporting either position. In fact, historically, every missal that has been promulgated also abrogated the prior missal. Paul VI did the same. He also a few years later issued an indult for age, "psychological reasons", etc. to allow a brief span of using the abrogated missal. That window has now grown into a highway?- B16's statement that EF/OF are two uses of one rite. Again, in the western rite, there is not historical evidence that we have ever had two uses of one rite...we do have multiple rites (again, for valid cultural, historical reasons) but B16 appears to be re-writing history and current practice?Why? Understand the desire to prevent or undo SPXII but they appear to continue to make it clear that any activities from John XXIII onwards are heretical. But beyond this small group, these actions have created polarization, conflict, etc. and no one seems to indicate how this impacts ecclesiology. The inconsistency of women serving at the altar is only the tip of the iceberg.

Mollie:You are assuming that the senior leadership at the Vatican will be persuaded by rational argumentation. This is a very good and Catholic approach!Unfortunately, I think that the psychological impulse animating their ruling is based on the simple fact that they are sexist. The torturous logic around not permitting women to serve at the altar only underscores that point. The irrational fear of women who are seen as either seductresses out to destroy their purity or pure innocent virgins who need space and protection is clouding their judgement (classic madonna/whore complex).It is very important that we demand solid leadership and the Pope needs to set the tone. Symbols are important and this ruling is a symbolic move and we are quite free to interpret the symbols in any way we wish absent clear rationale.I interpret it as sexist and that is a sin.

I understand the outrage, but there have been no voices here explaining the "other position". (I think there were at the Herald, though - there were a huge number of letters there that I've not read through yet.) Stumbling through google, I came across this, which precedes Pozzo's letter but seems to address Mollie's question about Canon Law: all seems to me very political, but I understand that for Americans, perhaps notably even in the egalitarian West, any slightest whisper that sounds at all like putting women in their place needs to be strongly denounced, lest the whisper be encouraged to become a shout. Perhaps the Vatican, being both Italian and deeply grounded in Church history and tradition - as well as cognizant of and responsible to the entire Church, not just the American church - simply feels that this isn't oppression, just moderating of change.I dunno. I'd say, give it time - change will come, though maybe not in your lifetime. I know that's disgustingly anti-American :o)

The pointless exclusion of females from ministry in the old Latin Mass seems to be fully incompatible with the biblical vision of justice and liberation that is at the heart of every eucharistic rite. I fail to understand how conscientious worshipers, in this day and age, could identify with a rite that ritualizes discrimination and is an affront to baptismal dignity. We seemed to be on the biblical way in these post-conciliar years. Now it appears we may be getting off track again.

Yes, the article is nicely reasoned. But I am surprised that anyone deems such reasoning-- from a "twofold use of one and the same rite" to be necessary. Is the Vatican still so much in shock over the pedophile scandals and coverups that it has not yet regained any shred of moral sensibility? It's far more simple, really, than citing inconsistencies between documents (including canon law): excluding females from participation in any form of the mass is damnably wrong. Discrimination-- whether against gays and lesbians under New York State law or against girls and women at the altar-- is damnably wrong. Discrimination on the basis of sex is not a peccadillo and not a matter to be subsumed under psychological comfort or discomfort. People's feelings about the presence of women is not a determining factor in moral reasoning. To the extent that people's "feelings" are important in inducing the recalcitrant to accept change, eliminating discrimination and exclusion is often a necessary step to changing the "feeling" of misogyny. And if "feelings" do not change, "feelings" are still irrelevant to the moral precept! As the encyclical Gaudium et Spes put it, "Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent. For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honored. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men." (@David Smith: this document was not written by an American.) "Every form of discrimination" includes participation by females as altar servers (and quite a bit more) within the Church itself. "[C]ontrary to God's intent" is not to be trumped by the feelings of far-right conservatives. "Give it time" is demonic advice. Time in itself does no work; people work change when they are determined to use time to accomplish the work of reform, and the work of the reform council Vatican II is now a half-century overdue.

28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.After quoting that from Universae Ecclesiae, the Commission then says:"In this regard, the Circular Letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments of 1994 (cf. Notitiae 30 [1994] 333-335) permitted female altar servers, does not apply to the Extraordinary Form."Does anyone know if "the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962" said that altar servers had to be male?That was the custom at the time, but I wonder if it was actually required by the rubrics. If not, the Commission has made a leap beyond Universae Ecclesiae and is now saying that anything that wasn't customary in in 1962 can't be done now, whatever subsequent instructions were issued. That's a very dangerous course for the future. The Commission's letter is at:

If the link to the Commission's letter doesn't work, try this one: click on the thumbnail image of the letter at the beginning of the article

George, I don't think this is straightforward sexism -- more like, the way by which clerical celibacy affects seemingly unrelated issues. On the one hand, when a person is denied something, there is often a psychological process that subtly or not so subtly demeans the value of what one can't have. Who needs women anyway? In addition, when one MUST avoid something, one often needs to shun both its healthy and unhealty (or unwanted) aspects -- an alcoholic doesn't just give up alcohol, but often has to give up friends and even family in order to get out of being tempted. In my view, this is how and why women are marginalized in the church. Finally, for some priests, there is also, perhaps, the notion that given the ongoing, permanent sacrifice of celibacy, priests are entitled to demand sacrifices from others that may seem otherwise inexplicable or unnecessary. It forges a culture of demanding sacrifice from others regardless of need or proclivity.

Perhaps the endgame in all this is:* somehow, some way, some day, a reunion with SSPX will be effected* If/when that ever happens, the 'extraordinary form' will become the possession of that groupIt seems clear that the SSPX is wagging the dog. What other principles will be negotiated in order to accommodate/appease them?

I think Bill D. was spot on: this is the tip of the iceberg.Over the weekend I heard BXVI said that priests belong to the "inner circle" of Christ's friends.Another bit of the second classing of women in the Church.Which comes from a top down some can quote pasages from til the cows come home, but there is a deep gender problem that goes far beyond just girls making it into the sanctuary in some form.

Agreed Barbara. However there is a healthy celibacy that is able to maintain postive and nurturing relationships with the opposite sex and still respect boundaries and commitments. Many religious live this out authentically some do not (ditto for married couples).The point is that the exclusion of females points to these rigid divisions that are, I believe, rooted in certain unhealthy elements related to women which can be traced to some monastic ascetics which have impacted on the larger clerical culture. Again, many monastics have reconciled this but it is difficult not to read in any depth some of the desert fathers and not come away with this impression that there was a fear of their own sexuality that they transferred on to women. The old Greek image of Ulysses and the Sirens has persisted.It is difficult to understand why the exclusion of women from ministry persists particularly given the example of Jesus himself.The equality of men and women was one of the most revolutionary features of the early Christian community and they were even accused of immorality and orgies from people outside of the community due to this misperception.

"It is difficult to understand why the exclusion of women from ministry persists..."Be careful not to limit your definition of "ministry"."The reality of lay ecclesial ministry, as just described, continues to grow and develop. Today, 30,632 lay ecclesial ministers work at least twenty hours per week in paid positions in parishes. An additional 2,163 volunteers work at least twenty hours per week in parishes. The number of paid lay parish ministers has increased by 53% since 1990, while the percentage of parishes with salaried lay ecclesial ministers has increased from 54% to 66%. In 2005, the percentage of lay women is 64%; laymen, 20%; religious women, 16%. Religious educators (41.5%) and general pastoral ministers (25%) account for two thirds of all parish ministers.""Eighty percent of over 30,000 paid lay ministers in the United States are women."

" alcoholic doesnt just give up alcohol, but often has to give up friends and even family in order to get out of being tempted. In my view, this is how and why women are marginalized in the church."Barbara --Indeed! Women actually are moral dangers to heterosexual men, so all priests ought to be celibate, and women ought to be kept in a closet out of reach somewhere -- and best of all this kind of Church arrangement will make the Church flourish: a model of truth-telling, wisdom and "purity".Hmph. This is a perfect example of false moral *thinking* leading to *facts* which show such premises to be wrong. Would that illogic were the only negative consequence. Sigh.

The reason that the issue of female altar servers is so convoluted, in my opinion, is that "altar servers," as opposed to "instituted acolytes," have never been officially classified as an ordinary (ie., normal) minister at the altar - even though almost all people who serve at the altar at Catholic Masses worldwide (except for certain Masses in seminaries and religious communities) are altar servers. When minor orders were suppressed by Paul VI, the document that announced their suppression stated that instituted lay ministers, lectors and acolytes, would now have a role in the Mass. That same document said that instituted lectors and acolytes could only be male. My understanding of Canon Law for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite since then is that in an extraodinary circumstance in which instituted lectors or acolytes are not present, readers and altar servers may serve (who, Rome has confirmed, may be female if the Ordinary and pastor permit). Since very few acolytes and lectors have been instituted since then, readers and altar servers are the de facto norm, if not the de jure (as with extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, who often serve even if enough priests are present to distribute communion to all present in a period of time that is not inordinately long). I am not saying that all readers and altar servers should cease to function, nor am I defending or criticizing the practice of preventing women from being instituted acolytes and lectors - I am merely pointing one more example where, in liturgy, Rome has allowed a stopgap measure for "extraordinary" circumstances to become the de facto norm so much so that almost no one makes any attempt to provide for "ordinary" circumstances to exist.Add Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae and things get even more convoluted. Minor Orders (porter, lector, acolyte, subdeacon), which were viewed as clerical (not lay ministries) - although in modern theological language they are not considered Holy Orders (as in describing people who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders) - are now allowed (I believe) in certain limited communities (such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter), but not among normal diocesan priests. Normal diocesan priests, however, are free to celebrate the extraordinary form as long as they have some training in how to do it and there is at least some desire for it among their congregation. This means that the ministers at the altar at "normal diocesan" celebrations of the Extraordinary form are essentially "altar servers" (like those that were allowed at low masses prior to Vatican II) - and since all subsequent liturgical laws that would change anything that was in the rubrics of the 1962 missal do not apply to the extraordinary form - these "altar servers" are neither "instituted acolytes" (since such acolytes did not exist in 1962), nor are they "acolytes" with minor orders (since the conferring of minor orders is even now only authorized for a limited number of special communities). This means that the subdeacons at "normal diocesan" Solemn Masses using the Extraordinary Form must all be Deacons or Priests, although it is likely that very few of them ever received the minor order of subdeacon.I know that it is normal in the Catholic Church for an exception only intended to be used in limited circumstances to become the de facto norm while the rule itself is still considered irreformable (that is, it is considered impossible to make the exception an official norm). However, I, for one, would like to see people go up serve at whatever form of the Mass and know that no one can pull out some law and say that "well technically that person can serve in this circumstance, but under normal circumstances that would not be the case." That would, in my opinion, increase the laity's perception that their own dignity and role within all liturgical celebrations was being recognized.

Thank you, Pierre -- that's helpful. I'm definitely in over my head when it comes to the "minor orders." I do remember that the bishops at the Synod on the Bible back in 2008 recommended that women be admitted officially to the ministry of "lector," which was really the first I heard about this whole minor-orders situation. (David Gibson blogged about it here.) I don't know what ever became of that suggestion. I'm wondering whether the sex of altar servers (who are not instituted acolytes) would fall under "disciplinary norms connected to celebration" -- which Ecclesia Dei's instruction said should be governed according to present canon law -- or under "provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962" and therefore inapplicable to the EF. It seems like there's some confusion about this question in Rome too.

I find it all rather amusing. Of course it is "psychologically unacceptable" to most of the devotees to the former Mass ritual. They are looking to create an imagined golden era as they think the past was. They next shoe to drop is that nothing in the 1962 rubric prohibited saying Mass facing the people (though the lack of freestanding altars presented an problem).

I was wrong in my listing of the minor orders - they are porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte (note that the exorcists in minor orders were in the past only allowed to say the exorcisms for catechumens about to be baptised, and only priests could use the rite of exorcism on people believed to be demonically possessed - and minor-order exorcists had stopped participating in baptismal liturgies long before Vatican II). Subdeacon was actually considered a "major" order because in the Western Church for some time the major orders were considered to be subdeacon, deason, priest (hence the presence of all three in Solemn Masses in the 1962 missal).

Just to sum and re-word the last part of what I just said: if you don't like how the Extraordinary Form is being "used" and celebrated, then start "using" and celebrating it differently.

I'm 29 -- I've never been to an Extraordinary Form Mass, but I would like to go to one sometime, and I wish it were more widely available. I think there're advantages and disadvantages to various liturgical configurations; it'd be interesting to have different combinations. Specifically, there are the following options:Ordinary Form vs. Extraordinary FormEnglish (vernacular) vs. LatinVersus Populum (priest and people facing each other) vs. Ad Orientem (priest and people facing same direction)Wouldn't it be interesting to try having the Extraordinary Form, in English, with the versus populum position? Or, the Ordinary Form in English with the ad orientem position? Etc., etc.In any case, the idea of excluding girls and women from being altar servers at the Extraordinary Form Mass (and indeed of excluding them from the priesthood) angers me greatly. In response to this whole thing, what I'd like to see happen almost as a sort of protest is for more moderate and liberal-leaning priests to start saying the Extraordinary Form, and with female altar servers -- perhaps only female altar servers. Don't let the Extraordinary Form in its beauty be the possession solely of those who are more "conservative." To put it another way, "traditional" doesn't have to mean "conservative." (E.g., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, etc.)

...two more clarifications on my posts:"Instituted lector and acolyte" are not minor orders. They are lay ministries that were established when Paul VI suppressed the minor orders. That means that an instituted acolyte is not the same as the minor order of acolyte, and an instituted lector is not the same as the minor order of lector. As I said earlier, although recipients of minor orders were not viewed as having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they were still perceived as "in the clerical state" - that is, having received tonsure (tonsure stopped being much of a haircut in the Latin Rite a long time ago). Recipents of minor orders were allowed to marry (only recipients of the order of subdeacon and all subsequent orders were required to remain celibate). Now that the permanent diaconate has been reestablished in the Latin Rite, of course, we have married deacons (but they may not marry after ordination unless granted an indult by their ordinary). Instituted lectors and acolytes, however, are not clerics but lay ministers (although I do not know what the meaning of "cleric" (outside of deacons, priests, and bishops) is anymore now that people are no longer referred to as receiving tonsure in the Latin Rite outside of communities like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter). It is true, though, that (with the exception of the communities that retain (or have reestablished) minor orders) seminarians preparing for Holy Orders in the Latin Rite now must be instituted as lectors and acolytes prior to ordination.Although the Holy Orders are now unequivocally taught to be deacons, priests, and bishops, it is debatable whether or not the theological consensus, at least in the West, used to be different, at least in the Middle Ages. The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that at one point medieval theologians viewed all minor orders as sacramental but that this view was later abandoned. I have heard liturgists argue that the reason that the making of bishops was called Consecration (and not Ordination) for many years in the West was that the major orders were perceived to be subdeacon, deacon, priest and that bishops were viewed to be priests that were granted the authority of ordinary jurisdiction. It is arguable that this view influenced those Protestant Reformers who eliminated the office of bishop or insisted that bishops were merely presbyters overseeing their fellow presbyters and that presbyters who became bishops did not receive ordination. I do believe that the official line from Rome is, though, that in all of the universal Church it was always agreed that there were three Holy Orders, that these were deacon, priest, bishop, and that priests becoming bishops were always viewed as receiving an ordination. I know that this last part is a bit off-topic but it explains some of the confusion about the subdiaconate, which is not a minor order, but also not (at least according to official teaching now) a Holy Order. I know that the topic here is female altar servers and that is what I wish to discuss as well - I was only trying to provide some context.By the way, I am sorry for the grammatical errors in my posts!

As a small addendum to Pierre's excellent comments on the suppressed orders, readers may be interested in this photo. It is an interior shot of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL - the major seminary for the Chicago Archdiocese. Observe how the sanctuary steps are labelled - in ascending order, first the four 'minor orders' in the old schema, then the three 'major orders' which today ascend to the presiders' chairs, but in the old days to where the altar and tabernacle would have been located.I've always imagined that the labels corresponded to some sort of ceremony in which the seminarians who had attained each 'step' in the process would be arrayed on the step assigned to their order, but I don't know that such was ever the case.

It's said, be careful what you wish for. This may be a case in point. if so-called liturgical 'traditionalists' will have the mainstreaming of the old mass via the Extraordinary Form legislation, they really are going to have to deal with pastoral adaptation. If they want to keep the old mass encased in amber and fetishize the rubrics, that's fine - but that means that its availability will necessarily be much more limited. If they want it widely available, then it will, as a practical matter, be widely adapted. Pierre's comments regarding the impossibility of subdeacons, even among clergy who were formed for holy orders after the renewal of formation, is another case in point.

Regarding permanently instituted lay lectors and acolytes: it's a nifty idea that has never caught on. Personally, I think there is something beautiful about the notion of a layperson so devoted to scripture and sharing the Good News, who has studied it and immersed himself in it so much, that he is willing to accept this permanent deputation in the liturgical assembly to proclaim it there. The same could be true about someone who has such a devotion to the Eucharist and its celebration that he feels permanently called to serve as an altar server, sacristan and Eucharistic minister.Instead, we've evolved to a lay-volunteer model. There is something to be said for that, too. If we could get the model to its full vibrancy, some of these lay volunteers might find that they are called to the permanent institution.Women should definitely be included.

I noted elsewhere that the Holy father recently said that priests belong to the"inner circle" of Christ's friends.I think that any theology of orders based on sexist concepts just magnifies the issue of women in the church.Aagain, I think Bill D. got it right.

I have just read and re-read Pierre's very good explanation of the technicalities between "altar servers" and "instituted acolytes."Can you imagine that being read at all masses by a priest as an reason to exclude anyone from serving at Mass?Sometimes things like have to be exposed to the clear light of common sense before it can be seen for what it is - nonsense.

Yes, Jimmy Mac, I had the same thought. Though I certainly appreciate Pierre's thorough explanation on the nature and role of various orders, I find it hard to square the associated complexity and hierarchical privilege of this theology with the original Gospel. Many women may find it psychologically unacceptable to continue begging to be recognized for their service and their humanity.

Barbara - Agreed.It is time to begin emphasizing that the issue is not one _from_ women. It is about women. Comments before yours from several gentlemen, whom I join, make clear that the Church's official approach to women and girls is unsupportable in our view for reasons far more robust than affronts to psychological sensitivities. Justifications of tradition, selective Scriptural omissions and interpretations, theological anthropomorphism, and Thomas Aquinas's now-hilarious reasoning relating sexual differences and his concept of biology fail to persuade many men as well as women. As you conclude, the issue concerns humanity and therefore deserves to matter similarly to us all. (For Aquinas, see "Femina . Feminism of St. Thomas Aquinas" Google Search: isbn:8876526463 )

Bill D. said "historically, every missal that has been promulgated also abrogated the prior missal" -- can you say more about that? The last (and in fact first) time there was a promulgation of a Roman Missal that parallels 1969/70 in its significance was 1570, and that promulgation explicitly permitted the continued use of rituals that were at least two hundred years old.I'm also confused by what you mean about there being no historical evidence for multiple uses of the Roman Rite. In the Middle Ages there were many local uses -- Sarum and Lyons come immediately to mind. Even now the Dominicans have a "rite" which is more properly considered a use of the Roman Rite, as do Benedictines. Before VII I believe the Carmelites and Franciscan also had their own uses. I'm sure I'm barely scratching the surface here.

Ben - others disagree with my reading but, per Jungmann and others, they did not interpret the 1570 promulgation (with exceptions - 200 years) the same way. For Jungmann and most experts, the 1570 exceptions had more to do with "rites" not uses. The papal/concilar intention was to abrogate so that there was one rite without multiple uses.Here is a link to an article on this from The Pastoral Reivew: link: such as Rita Ferrone or Todd Flowerday have more expertise than I in this area.

Thanks Bill -- I'll have to pick up Jungmann soon. My recollection of Fortescue ("The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy") suggests a different interpretation of Quo Primum -- that its primary intention was to do away with the liturgical ambiguity that was arising in Protestant areas, and that it had no per-se effect on obviously orthodox uses like Sarum, although as a matter of fact most of the local uses faded away after 1570.I just read somewhere that in the 19th century, when Catholicism became legal again in England, the English hierarchy was offered the option to use Sarum (which they declined, but the point is that the Holy See was apparently willing then for England to have its own use).And of course nowadays we have the Anglican Use within the Roman Rite. So at any rate the basic idea isn't completely unprecedented.

Let's not forget that the issue here is not "liturgical" - it is not about the nuances of the Roman rite and who may stand around like adoring cherubs assisting the demi-god priests. It is about chauvinism within the world's oldest all-male feudal oligarchy. And, it is about ritualized, endemic misogyny within the priestly caste. It is also about a twisted form of sexual/gender politics that is at play among Roman hierarchs and priests: gays vs. straights where both sides embrace a discredited ideology, lest the public catch on to their political circus games, where women must be exploited and demeaned, and consigned to subservient roles assaulting their human dignity.The hierarchs' ideology is not so much "psychologically unacceptable" as it is psychologically stunted and fixated.

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