Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Altar Girls

Looking back through the recent archives of Vox Nova, I finally wrote something better answering the post asking trads for substantive reasons why altar girls (and, by extension, things like communion on the hand) can't or shouldn't be allowed at the Old Rite liturgy nowadays, given that these things were not specified in the rubrics of the Missal itself but rather by canon law, which has now changed. I posted it as a comment there, but given that it is such an old post, I have my doubts about whether it will be approved and so might as well post something similar here.

The post there basically was a suggestion that this could only make sense because trads want to "turn back the clock" (not that this would be a bad thing aesthetically speaking!) and that the recent decision by Ecclesia Dei clarifying (thank God) that this isn't allowed is merely reactionary. As a devotee of the traditional liturgy, of course, I think this is just absurd and shows both the ignorance and sheer political agenda with which liberals view and approach the traditional liturgy.

I think anyone who would suggest that females could act as servers in the Old Rite simply because canon law for the West now said this was okay (with the New Rite in mind) shows a disturbing legalism which has crept into the attitude toward liturgy in the West whereby it is not an organic tradition, but simply a fact of positive legislation (for all his extremism, Patricius of Liturgiae Causa is right on the money when it comes to this complaint).

In that sense, the distinction between traditionalists and either conservatives or liberals is one not merely of disagreeing about which form of the liturgy is better, but a fundamentally different understanding regarding tradition itself. I've often said that if two millennia of organic tradition had produced the Novus Ordo, as opposed to being engineered bureaucratically, I'd probably be just fine with it (though whether it ever would have is another question).

One of the biggest problems for trads is the uneasy "crystallization" at and after Trent of organic tradition in the form of positive legislation (in order to "protect" it from a cultural situation that would otherwise have probably corrupted it). So many trads really do construct themselves as just "yesterday's conservatives" (in other words, reactionaries) in terms of wanting authoritarianism and Roman hyper-centralization and micromanagement of the liturgy, rather than appreciating the actual dynamics of tradition. The irony is that these things are actually what allowed, even led to, the creation of the Novus Ordo in the first place.

When it comes to opposing things like altar girls or communion on the hand at the old liturgy, some trads may indeed be basically just reactionary in their attitude. But, then again, so is their attitude toward the old Missal itself, so acting as if there is some logic to appeasing them by letting them "turn back the clock" when it comes to the Missal itself, but not these adjunct issues...makes no sense. For these people, they are just engaged in a sort of historical recreationism (which may indeed produce superior aesthetics!) so allowing them to use the old Missal but expecting them to have altar girls and EMHCs and all that is just counter-intuitive.

But for those of us whose preference for the traditional liturgy is more than just reactionary, it is still absurd to suggest having altar girls or communion on the hand. Anyone with any sort of familiarity with the ethos of the Old Rite would know that even if these things were not in the rubrics of the Missal themselves, they were part-and-parcel with the liturgy itself. These things would have just been assumed in the inner-logic of the traditional liturgy. If they were later institutionalized in positive canon law, it was only because of that unfortunate creeping legalism or to protect the traditions against a hostile culture. I mean, even the rubrics themselves were not always there, but were set down much later to encode tradition permanently.

There is perhaps a danger of ossification in this process, and I've often pondered the question of how exactly this could be escaped and organic growth allowed to continue. But, regardless, it is clear that there are some things that would have been considered in the Old Rite to be essential to the rite itself, and others which likely would have been recognized as accidental and potentially changeable by positive law, or at least outside the realm of liturgy strictly so-called. We must obey the spirit of the law, not the letter, and altar girls and communion on the hand are clearly against the spirit of the traditional liturgy.

There are some things, on the other hand, which I would argue are not intrinsic to the old liturgy itself and which thus would conform to modern law. Namely, things that go on "outside the sanctuary," things which were always more a matter of positive obligation. The rules about how long to fast would clearly conform to modern practice, as would the question of Holy Days of Obligation. These are laws enforced on people as subjects of the Church, not the rite itself. Likewise the question of women veiling. Though this practice goes back to Paul and is mandated in Scripture itself (which might suggest it should be maintained!) it is clearly external to the question of the ritual of Mass itself (ie, no one ever claimed that women's head-coverings were vestments). So too style of art or architecture or music.

One also might think of the question (sometimes floated in trad circles) of married deacons serving as deacons or subdeacons in the Old Mass. While there might be some argument, within the context of the Old Mass, that married deacons abstaining from the marriage bed the night before is a ceremonial concern (as a "ritual purity" question similar to the issue of who can handle sacred vessels) the end a deacon is a deacon is a deacon, and a discipline external to the liturgy itself (like clerical celibacy) cannot be imposed except where it might touch on the essence of the liturgical ritual.

One also could say the same for the question of what clerics wear outside liturgy, or the
courtly ceremony of papal and episcopal courts which is extrinsic to liturgy strictly so called (even if it sometimes imposed itself on the liturgy in various ways). And no one sane would insist that only priests ordained (or churches or vessels or hosts consecrated) in the Old Rite be used in the old liturgy (after all, clerics ordained in Eastern Rites sometimes even used to participate in the traditional Roman liturgy).

However, it would be absurd to think that limiting the ministers to males, or giving communion only on the tongue, is one of these matters extrinsic to liturgy itself. To allow altar girls or communion on the hand in the Old Rite would alter what goes on and is seen "in the sanctuary" itself, touches on questions of essential gesture and symbol intrinsic to the internal holism of the tradition of the rite itself. To think otherwise shows simply a total ignorance of the essence of the old rite and perhaps tradition itself, and can only possibly be a deliberately political argument.


Who Am I said...

You however didn't engage as to WHY it shouldn't be permissible for girls to serve at The Altar. To do so, you'd have to deconstruct the PURPOSE of an Altar boy in relation to a Deacon and the liturgy itself (Low vs. High). You went around the issue, but didn't concretely address the matter.

NO ONE (male or female)has license to be near The Altar save for The Priest and those in ordained ministry (clergy). The usurpation of roles proper to The Deacon by Altar boys and Sacristans IS part of the problem. You need to deconstruct that first to better discourse on the matter. Its not an attack on you or your post, but rather constructive criticism for the sake of a more effective argument on the matter.

Just my two cents.

LM said...

What exactly are the origins of the altar boys? Now that I think of it, altar boys seem very "modern." Were random farmer boys pulled off the streets during the Middle Ages to serve mass at the crack of dawn? I would think in those days that there would be secular clergy or minor orders assisting. Does anyone have any insight on this?

A Sinner said...

Yes, it would have been acolytes. Altar servers are only lay substitutes, of course. However, age was never an issue of rite itself as the male sex is. Using male lay substitutes doesn't change "what you see" in the sanctuary.

Who Am I said...

But you're not giving a reason for WHY they were to be male and not female.

It has to do with ceremonial purity going back to the days of The Temple. That and the character of The Tabernacle itself.

However that being said, I still have a HUGE problem with the non-ordained being anywhere near The Tabernacle. If you're not part of the ordained clergy (and it isn't an emergency), you have NO BUSINESS being there.

My position is that outlined here:

That being said, I'm not sure if women's monasteries in The West have every allowed for that. Hhhmmm...

Anyway, its not a matter of throwing around Tradition, but PROPERLY engaging the reason why women (and by extension anyone NOT ORDAINED (which includes males)) CANNOT be near that particular area. Maybe I'm to Eastern in that regard, but we can still learn from another Tradition (Cross pollination FTW !)as regards to safeguarding the sanctity of The Tabernacle. Maybe I really AM a rigorist in some respects.

If interested, look into the churching of an infant after they are tonsured in The East (Byzantine) and you'll see a distinction in areas through which a male child and a female child are granted and denied entry.

Anonymous said...

I would prefer to see instituted acolytes rather than altar servers and extending all the minor orders to the laity (though only men). This would not go against "women's rights" because it would simply be the norms of a traditional religious and ritual function (and thus exempt from the gender power struggles in the real world). I would still support women corporately and politically and hold all the men in privileged positions to respect women and love their wives -- because justice demands it and there are too many misogynist trads and conservatives.