It seems that while my letter to The Tablet was not printed, it has been included in the journal’s online Letters Extra page. I know this because the abbey has received some hate mail about it (hate is too strong a word, but you get my drift).
The email in question was remarkable in seeming to have nothing to do with my letter at all. To refresh your memory, my letter went thus:
It seems to be the spirit of the time to return to old simplicities, and many of your correspondents last week (Letters, 20 April) seemed intent on reviving the ancient simplicity of slaying the bearer of unwelcome tidings.
In addressing a clarification issued by my confrère, Fr Paul Gunter OSB, in his capacity as Secretary of the Bishops’ Department for Christian Life & Worship, they gave the impression that they saw Fr Gunter as peddling his own personal opinions. In fact he was doing his official duty in reminding the clergy of the pertinent facts and liturgical laws as they stand with regard to the optional rite of mandatum on Maundy Thursday. These are laws which Fr Gunter has not the power to change. Those who object to them would better serve their cause, and charity, by addressing their complaints to the Holy See.
One point raised against him merits particular attention. Fr Jim Lawlor asks Fr Gunter why “restorationists” allow themselves to see as exemplary the liturgical practice of Benedict XVI, yet refuse to allow Pope Francis’ liturgical praxis to be likewise exemplary.
Surely the answer is clear with but a moment’s reflection. Benedict XVI retrieved legitimate elements of Catholic liturgical tradition to enrich the celebration of the modern liturgy in accord with its proper laws and theology. Pope Francis’ mandatum contravened both current liturgical law and its theology. As pope, Francis has the power to dispense himself from such laws ad hoc. This dispensation does not extend to the rest of the Church.
It may be that Pope Francis will change the theology and rubrics of the mandatum. Until he does, however, priests are obliged to celebrate the Church’s liturgy in its integrity and not their personal versions of it. To the best of my memory neither Vatican II, nor the subsequent reform of the liturgy, gave priests a mandate to do whatever they want in the liturgy.
Here is the email received by the abbey’s central email address:
re your letter in The Tablet
Thankfully, women and men have had their feet washed over decades in the parishes I’ve attended throughout the country – certainly all my adult life and I’m in my mid-50s!
I realise that over a thousand years ago people thought that women were the result of imperfect seeds, such as a damp wind, but times have moved on. We are not sub-standard human beings but full members of humanity and equal, co-creators.
The Church will get there one day. It just takes a bit of time (eg Gallileo).
She (who shall remain unnamed) implicitly accuses me of misogyny in deciding that I need to be reminded that women are “not sub-standard human beings but full members of humanity and equal, co-creators” (though I ask myself if any human person can be called a “co-creator“). How she can base that on what I wrote is truly beyond me.
Of course, the issue is not about me at all. It is all about her. And that is where this sort of irrational, emotive and often hysterical line of argument emerges from. Liturgy – and morality – have become all about what makes “me” feel good and not what rightly honours God in our lives and our worship, nor what is faithful to the essential meaning and symbolism of theology and liturgy.
To be perfectly honest, to argue like this against what I did not write but merely to vent her unreasoning self-obsession only makes me more and more convinced that the Church is right (not that I need convincing).
PS Some credit should be given to The Tablet for allowing unprinted letters still to be seen, if by potentially a smaller readership.