Passing On the Alb by ProQuest


[...] the Vatican didn't get around to confirming that interpretation until March 15, 1994 The Congregation for Divine Worship made the announcement in classic Vatican form: a letter was addressed to bishops stating almost offhandedly that it was indeed permissible for women and girls to serve at the altar. ("The norm is already being widely applied," the Congregation noted, "by the fact that women frequently serve as lectors in the Liturgy and can also be called upon to distribute Holy Communion as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist" - as though that inconsistency weren't the very reason this question had come up in the first place.) Although the letter skimps on explanations, it does spell out in detail the right of every individual bishop to continue to bar girls from serving at the altar. According to the Vatican, he didn't have to bother changing anything.

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									                                  polls. Plans were made for a general election to establish his       Mollie Wilson O’Reilly
                                  leadership, though no announcement was ever made. Then
                                  it was called off. British parliaments have a five-year term,
                                  but it is one of the prerogatives of the prime minister to call      Passing	On	the	Alb
                                  an election when it suits him—or, in constitutional terms, to        My	CAReeR	AS	AN	ALTAR	GiRL
                                  advise the queen to call it. Like many people, I think that this

                                  needs reform, and that we should have fixed-term parliaments,             think by now it’s safe to say that altar girls are a positive
                                  though of four years rather than five. It would have been de-             part of Catholic life. Young women who serve the priest
                                  plorable if an election for which there was no constitutional             at Mass benefit from taking an active role in the liturgy,
                                  necessity had taken place purely for party advantage.                and the parish benefits from their service. There’s nothing
                                     A few months later the global financial crisis struck. In         controversial about that opinion in my parish, and it’s prob-
                                  Britain as in the United States, the cause seems to have been        ably taken for granted in your parish too. But it would be a
                                  bankers behaving badly in ways that most people can’t un-            pleasant surprise to hear something similar from Rome.
                                  derstand. Brown, who knows a lot about economics, and his               The Vatican stopped saying no to altar girls just fifteen
                                  chancellor Alistair Darling took short-term measures that            years ago. But to this day, it has never really said yes. To be
                                  stopped the whole system from collapsing. But then Brown             more precise, in 1994, the Vatican finally said, “Yes, women
                                  seemed to lose his grip. He is more given to talking about           are allowed to serve the priest at Mass, according to canon
                                  possible steps forward than to actually taking them. And his         law.” But the pope has never said, “Yes, it is a good thing for
                                  reputation has collapsed. Unlike Blair, he has never been at         girls and women to fulfill this ministry.”
                                  ease with the media, and his attempts to appear relaxed and             Nevertheless, it’s clear enough to most U.S. Catholics that,
                                  genial in front of the camera are embarrassing. Meanwhile the        when the church blesses altar girls, they are in turn a blessing
                                  bankers are the objects of widespread public anger, and yet          to the church. And I’d argue further that banning girls from
                                  they continue to award themselves large bonuses and don’t            the sanctuary is detrimental to the girls, the parish, and the
                                  seem very bothered. Politicians and commentators survey              church. My diocese waited for the official OK from Rome,
                                  the scene like gardeners after a very severe winter, looking         which meant only boys could serve until I was thirteen. But
                                  for green shoots that are reluctant to appear. Unemployment          I knew altar girls existed in other dioceses—some of which
                                  and house repossessions are rising, with all the accompanying        had introduced them along with the other liturgical reforms
                                  social distress. In the Warwickshire town where I live, shops        that followed the Second Vatican Council. This practice was
                                  are closing, just as they did in the 1980s, and those that are       officially declared out of bounds in 1970, and again in 1980,
                                  open are offering large price cuts. But restaurants are still        by the Congregation for Divine Worship. No reason for the
                                  well frequented, London theaters are attracting large audi-          ban was given, aside from a frankly unpersuasive appeal to
                                  ences, and, in an interesting national trend, cinema-going is        “norms traditional in the church.” Those preconciliar “norms”
                                  very popular. Niche products such as fine porcelain, sewing          no longer prevented women from being cantors, ushers, or
                                  machines, and video games are selling well.                          readers at Mass. Serving the priest, however, was out of the
                                     We are told to expect tough times, and I view the prospect
                                  with rational pessimism. The Conservatives are in the lead,
                                  but they are not attracting the enthusiasm that Labour did in
                                  1997. They are, of course, looking forward to taking over, but
                                  they must wish it was at a better time, because they will need
                                  to enact harsh financial measures. One of their spokesmen
                                  has been saying that bankers’ bonuses should be cut, which
                                  is what the public wants to hear. One shrewd columnist has
Commonweal . September 11, 2009

                                  remarked that Labour ministers tend to be in awe of financiers,
                                  whereas top Conservatives are less likely to be impressed
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