Editor’s Note: OnePeterFive has republished today and yesterday under the name of their author a pair of articles that first appeared in 2015 under the pseudonym Benedict Constable. With the progressive envelope-pushing discussion in the Church of whether women might be “deacons” or “priests” (in spite of repeated statements to the contrary by the Magisterium), it is crucial to put on the brakes and ask: Why are we going down this road to begin with? There is a prior question: Should women be performing any liturgical functions in the sanctuary? Yesterday, Dr. Kwasniewski took up the question of female lectors; today, we republish his response to objections. He has taken up the question of female altar servers at NLM (1, 2).
In the article posted here yesterday (Should Women Be Lectors at Mass?), I began my response with the following argument:
It ought to be said that in Sacred Scripture the Word of God is always compared to seed, and the preacher to the one who plants the seed in the soil. The one who hears the Word is the mother whose faith receives the seed—the womb in which the seed is implanted, begins to grow, and with patience bears fruit. For this reason, the congregation of the faithful is the image of the Virgin Mary, while the lector is the image of God the Father, implanting in their hearts the seed of the Word, Jesus Christ, even as He did through the instrumentality of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Hence, for a woman to be proclaiming the Word is self-contradictory: it makes the female who receives the seed the male who issues the seed. If one denies this symbolic dissonance, one must go one step further and maintain that being male or being female is metaphysically incidental and irrelevant, and that there is no religious symbolism to being male or being female.
This argument attracted a number of objections (and sneers), such as the following pair from Facebook:
So… According to his logic, men should not be receiving the Word. We are not supposed to have the “seed” implanted in us!
So when I, a man, am in the congregation listening to the lector, I am like the mother in whom the seed is planted. Seems to me that by his logic I shouldn’t be listening.
Another reader, more temperate and thoughtful, put the difficulty this way:
Benedict talks about the religious symbolism of being male and female. Female = mother of the Church who ‘receives’ in her womb the seed (Word of God) from the giver (male/man/God) and nurtures it to grow and bear fruit. Simple enough to understand and no arguments there. He then says that having women being lectors is self-contradictory: the congregation represents the Virgin Mary, the Church is female, we should be receiving the Word. But what about the males in the congregation? Following his argument, wouldn’t all the males who are seated among the females in the pews be self-contradictory as well?
These are (or can be) good questions to ask. In his marvelous book Redeemer in the Womb: Jesus Living in Mary, Fr. John Saward dedicates his sixth chapter to the theme: “Christ in the Womb of the Heart.” Here he quotes many Fathers and mystics of the Church who compare the Word of God to a seed implanted in the womb, first of the Virgin Mary, and then of every Christian believer who imitates her faith, such as these lines from St. Augustine:
Mary is therefore blessed because she heard the Word of God and kept it. She kept the truth in her mind longer than the flesh in her womb. Christ-truth, Christ-flesh: Christ-truth in Mary’s mind, Christ-flesh in Mary’s womb. … The Mother carried him in her womb; let us carry him in our hearts. The Virgin was pregnant by Incarnation; let our breasts be pregnant with faith in Christ. The Virgin gave birth to the Saviour; let our souls give birth to salvation, let us give birth to praise. Let us not be barren. Let our souls be fruitful for God.
Fr. Saward goes on to explain in his own words this classic teaching of the Faith:
Both the Church as a whole and the individual Christian share in Mary’s divine motherhood, her bearing of the divine Word…. In and through the Church, the believer is a ‘mother’ to Christ. The individual Christian is called to become what the Church as a whole is, Christ’s Bride and Mother, a truly “ecclesiastical soul.” … Mary is the model of all the souls which form and give birth to the eternal Word in their hearts. … The tradition of the mystical carrying of Christ highlights the favoured status of womanhood as an image of the creature’s proper attitude towards God. The soul is always analogically feminine — bridal towards the Bridegroom, motherly towards the Child. To quote the Holy Father [John Paul II] again, “‘being the bride,’ and thus the ‘feminine’ element, becomes a symbol of all that is human.” Pregnancy in particular is dense with spiritual lessons; being “with child” is the model of being “with Christ” in faith, hope, love, in humble service and deepest prayer.
To respond, then, to the objectors: as many saints and theologians have maintained, all Christians are, before God, symbolically in the role of bride and mother. Creatures are fundamentally receptive; and the Church is a bride, of which all of us are members (cf. Ephesians 5). Now, naturally, this symbolism is not going to be pressed into the faces of men in such a way that they are made to feel uncomfortable. For men, we need the language of fighting like soldiers, being carpenters and guardians, etc. But still, our fundamental identity as a Christian is one who receives grace and is made fruitful by it. This is why the Blessed Virgin Mary is not just a model for women but for all Christians as such.
In the liturgy, it is clear that the sanctuary and ministers around the altar represent Christ, while the nave of the church and the faithful worshiping there represent the Church upon whom He acts and who, by listening in faith and acting on the Word received, give back spiritual fruit to Him. When the word is proclaimed by those who represent Christ, the men sitting in the congregation are no less receptive than the women. This role of listener does not require that we be women, since all rational beings can listen and cleave to Christ in faith and love. Ministry in the sanctuary, on the other hand, is specifically tied to Christ the High Priest, who, in His ontological reality as Incarnate Word, is a man and not a woman. (This is obviously pertinent to the question of why only men can be priests, when there is no such limitation on who can receive the other sacraments.)
In short, the argument is based on grasping that not all images are interchangeable: some comparisons do not function exactly the same way in both directions. Christ is a man, a priest, a bridegroom; this is no mere metaphor, but a fact of the natural and supernatural orders. The Christian is like a woman, a mother, a bride; this is a metaphor of a certain fundamental spiritual identity and vocation. The sacred liturgy must take into account both facts and metaphors, in a coherent synthesis—and this is precisely what Catholics have had in their theological and liturgical tradition until the confusion of the last few decades.
This article was originally published on August 13, 2015.
 St. Augustine, Sermo de Verbis Evang. Matt. 12; Sermo 180.
 John Saward, Redeemer in the Womb, 106, 108, 112, 116-17.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism who has written many books and publishes on a wide variety of sites. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Visit his personal website at www.peterkwasniewski.com, his Substack “Tradition and Sanity,” his publishing house Os Justi Press, and his composer site CantaboDomino.
Thanks for the follow-up
One can’t fault men who have had their intellects cultivated by feminists, fertilised by the semiotics of the Lil’ Licit Liturgy (anthropocentric happy meal for women and children) and then harvested by epicene ecclesiastics.
It is only the trads who actually think and care about these crucial matters.
IANS is unable to assist at the Real Mass in the local Franchise of Dead Diocese Inc. America but he did just discover (today) a Byzantine Rite Church less than one hour away so he can ditch all of this demented daily destruction of sacredness, solemnity, and masculinity.
“Crucial” is the mot juste.
Welcome aboard. I made the switch 9 years ago with very happy results.
I do think, at least in part, the prevalence of such abuses is because the average Catholic today has a very simple understanding of the liturgy. I think for most Catholics, it is just a gathering where a parts of a book [Scripture] are read, and leader like figure [priest] prepares and distributes a meal [Eucharist].
From this understanding, not allowing women to do something looks like oppression. Having liturgical rubrics looks like the work of a some control freaks at the top. Denying the Eucharist to someone looks like uninviting someone to dinner when you have enough food already [i.e. disrespectful, rude, and uncharitable]. Having a properly designed Church reflecting the heavenly mysteries looks like overspending etc.
In all honesty, I think most people just seem to see the entire Church and her hierarchy as something like a big co-operation that is in the business of “spirituality”. That is why we have all the attacks against anything they see as not practical for temporal happiness or development.
Most Catholics who even still bother to go to church have been Protestantized in their beliefs of what the Mass, or should I say the “worship service”, is.
Every Christian, both men and women, before God are called to receive His grace and His word. But every Christian, both men and women, are also called to be evangelizers and spread the Good News of His word. To be consistent if one argues that women shouldn’t proclaim the readings because the proclamation or the planting of the seed is a male activity not female, than one would argue that men shouldn’t be listening because receiving the word is a female activity.
The argument only works if one ties the proclamation of the Word to the action of the priest’s sacrifice at the altar, which I don’t see as necessarily true (maybe I am not following the argument properly). Just because the ambo is in the sanctuary does not seem to me to equate the proclamation of the readings with the same type of liturgical activity of the sacrifice. Only Christ offers the sacrifice, and only men can act in the person of Christ. However, ALL are called to proclaim the good news of salvation. After all it is Mary Magadelene who is called the Apostle to the Apostles who first proclaimed the good news of the resurrection.
You’re confusing serving at the altar in persona Christi with evangelizing. All Christians are called to evangelize, not all are called to serve at the altar.
Indeed, the logical connection between the proclamation of Scripture and the offering of the sacrifice has been altogether severed in the modern Church. There was a time when the connection was clearer, when the readings were proclaimed from the altar, by a cleric, in the same (alien) tongue as the rest of the Mass — and when the readings were selected for their sacrificial, kerugmatic, and eschatological significance, and not merely as a convenient homiletics tool.
Celeste, the way to reconcile your point and Constable’s is simply to observe that whenever laymen are doing the readings, they are substituting for clerics. That’s all they’re doing. (The same goes for altar servers, who should, ideally, be instituted acolytes.) If we didn’t have a huge shortage of clerics and if we had a better pastoral plan for the use of instituted lectors and acolytes, we wouldn’t need to be always tapping on laymen’s shoulders and having them fill in.
That being said, laymen are, as such, symbolically configurable to Christ the High Priest, in a way that laywomen are not — and that makes a huge different for liturgy, which is a language of symbols.
Which is why — and I know this is a relatively small point — it’s tolerable to vest unordained males in cassocks, but nonsensical gender-bending to do the same with females.
That just leads me to another question. Why is anyone doing the reading substituting for clerics? Is it just because traditionally it was clerics who proclaimed the readings? What is the basis for claiming that they are proclaiming the readings in persona Christi as Augustine claims they are? Could it not be that they were proclaiming the readings simply because they were some of the few people who were actually literate and able to do so?
I don’t see it as clear cut that whoever proclaims the readings is doing it in the person of Christ. (or substituting for the clerics who are).
I am not having a problem with the claim that laymen, symbolically are configurable to Christ the High Priest in a way that laywomen aren’t. What I don’t see clearly is the argument (or any supporting texts) that the proclamation of the readings necessitates acting in persona Christi in the same way that offering the sacrifice does.
Prof: “If we didn’t have a huge shortage of clerics and if we had a better pastoral plan for the use of instituted lectors and acolytes, we wouldn’t need to be always tapping on laymen’s shoulders and having them fill in.” Considering that the priest is always present at mass, there is no need for anyone to proclaim the “readings”, shortage or no shortage of priests. The idea of priests as presiders or president at mass is a concept that gives me ulcers as do such terms as “worship space” or “gathering space”, or gathering song, etc.
This is the point that Dr. Joseph Shaw made over at LMS Chairman, in his attempted refutation of Constable’s argument (no disagreement about the conclusion). Namely, Dr. Shaw said: Why cannot the priest (or deacon) to the readings? Do we HAVE to involve the laity all the time, if no suitable minister is present? It’s possible that the main reason behind the drive for female lectors isn’t feminism so much as the false notion of active participation that has ruined the liturgy in the past 45 years.
The average Catholic understanding of the Mass is as a ceremonial fellowship meal, with Bible study on the side, in which we converse among ourselves on the goodness of God. It’s this hermeneutic that was imposed after Vatican II, spiritually deforming clergy and laity alike.
Fr. John Saward, called the “Balthasar of the English-speaking world” is not someone who is a trusted source for Catholic orthodoxy. Balthasar’s writings are full of heresies and should be avoided by faithful Catholics.
It was Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s writings that became the primary source of confusion in Catholic philosophy and theology. He carried further Henri de Lubac’s infection of Modernism into the Church who introduced the principle of self-contradiction into the very heart of truth.
And Balthasar’ contention that we can have a reasonable expectation that all will be save is now being trumpeted by Father Barron
No priest who doesn’t conform to the Modernist teachings of the Church will go far.
Don’t expect reason from Novus Ordo Catholics.
They’re like leftists. They don’t trade in logic. They use any deception or dishonesty necessary to lead the majority astray and then use that majority to silence the opposition, no matter how wrong they are.
There really is no logical argument from the viewpoint of one steeped in the theology and practices adopted by the Modernists who transformed the Mass into a worship service predominately of man, a community gathering for a meal, and a get-together to hold hands, have fun, sing, and say a few prayers, that women should not only be allowed to “do the readings” as Celeste calls reading the Holy Gospel, but should also have any and all roles within the Church, including priestess.
The role of the priest in the Novus Ordo Mass is nothing more than presider over the community gathering who happens to still be responsible for the Consecration, but is really only a participant like the laity. Who really needs to have one man dominant the community service which is generally mostly female? That is so un-Modern.
Both the Church and society have been telling women for decades that there is no difference between them and men. The feminists within and without the Church dominate both the Church and society. How many men even attend the Novus Ordo Mass? Not many I expect. (I certainly wouldn’t).
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C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, Anglicans both, said roughly the same thing at various places in their works (esp. That Hideous Strength (Lewis) and Taliesin Through Logres (Williams)). So it’s not just Catholic reasoning.