From the Bishop of He•ham and Newcastle
The journalists at the Press briefing after the Bishops' Conference spent more time on the question of girl altar-servers than the bishops did. It seems from the Catholic Herald November 3 that your letter writers are going to do the same. May I try to shed a little more light on the situation?
The present Roman Missal, published in 1969, says: "Those ministries which are performed outside the sanctuary may be entrusted to women" (n 70).
The third Instruction on liturgical renewal, September 5, 1970, reads: "The traditional liturgical norms of the Church prohibit women (young girls, married women, religious) from serving the priest at the altar, even in women's chapels, houses, convents, schools and institutes" (n 7).
The Apostolic Letter on Ministries of August 15, 1972, states: "The offices of lector and acolyte are reserved to men, in keeping with the venerable tradition of the Church" (n The bishops were asked at their recent October meeting to consider approaching the Holy See about the possibility of girl altar-servers. They decided that there did not appear to be sufficient evidence to demand their requesting the Holy See to change these rules.
It is rather stretching a point to conclude from the decision that the bishops are "anti-feminists" or "frightened to death that girls will become interested in the priesthood". To suggest further that I considerwomen to be less worthy than men or that I think that "vocations of women to the lay and religious states are of lesser importance" is just not true.
Your correspondents are entitled to dislike a venerable tradition of the Church which could be changed. But it will not help the discussion if they seem too ready to assail those who do not feel that this is the time to ask for that change. Hugh Lindsay Newcastle upon Tyne While obviously relieved that the Bishop's Conference has firmly squashed the preposterous notion or female altar-servers, the reasons given for this sensible decision seem weak.
The self-evident point of lack of demand is somewhat equivocal, the implication being that if the hierarchy were to be confronted with a massive female petition, this in itself would provide the rational basis for concession.
The continuity between vocations to the priesthood and boy altarservers is important, but of indirect value, as girls are hardly likely to dilute the priestly aspirations of the former.
The strong mason, however, is that
altar-serving represents a minor priestly office of acolyte. The argu ment that few men or boys are acolytes misses the point, as dots the point regarding the worthiness of the mythical Mrs Mops.
As long as the priesthood is a male office, those assisting in the sacred elements of the rite of consecration should be of that sex. Otherwise a thin secular wedge of female right to participate in the enactment is introduced. It will scarcely be long before that expectation is translated into a vocational condition, following from the same logic.
(Dr) Kieran Flanagan Bristol