Card. Burke’s opinion on female servers in the Extraordinary Form

About the sad situation at Fisher House in Cambridge, where the chaplain had for some time, I am told, determined to have a female altar server for celebration of Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form, something that truly goes against the entire ethos of the Roman Rite in the older form and certainly the sensibilities of the congregants….

Some time ago, His now-Eminence Raymond Card. Burke made observations about this very subject.  We saw this here at WDTPRS some time ago HERE.  Card. Burke had written a preface to a canonical study in German of Summorum Pontificum by Fr. Gero P. Weishaupt.

NLM posted a rough English translation of the German original of Archbp. [Card.] Burke’s preface.  The original text is available on the blog Summorum Pontificum.  My emphases.  Comments will follow.

I reproduce here what I offered back in August 2010 (my emphases and comments).

In the second chapter of his commentary, Weishaupt answers a number of practical issues that arise regarding the implementation of Summorum Pontificum and result from recent changes to the discipline of the celebration of the sacraments, such as e.g. those regarding female altar servers [that is the issue at hand] or lay people who perform the ministry of lecturers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. To answer these questions , the commentary correctly applies two general canonical principles.

The first principle requires that liturgical norms, which were in force in 1962, are to be diligently observed for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, for these norms protect the integrity of the Roman rite as contained in the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. [In due regard to the law today, do what was done as it was done in 1962.  I pray this shows up in the forthcoming, legendary, verging on chimeric “Instruction”.] The second principle states that the subsequent liturgical discipline is only to be introduced in the Extraordinary Form, if this discipline affects a right of the faithful, which follows directly from the sacrament of baptism and serves the eternal salvation of their souls. [Thus, in Cambridge the chaplain introduced a female server into the Extraordinary Form.  Cui bono?  Did that help anything?  Anyone?  Service at the altar isn’t something that is a right because you are baptized, and a lot of people were seriously irritated.  Furthermore, it sounds as if a female server was instrumentalized as a means to an end.]

The application of these two principles to the cases mentioned leads to the conclusion that neither the service at the altar by persons of the female sex [There it is.] nor the exercise of the lay ministries of lecturer or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion belong to the basic rights of the baptized. Therefore, these recent developments, out of respect for the integrity of the liturgical discipline as contained in the Missale Romanum of 1962, are not to be introduced into the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. The commentary presents here in an impressive manner that the mutual enrichment of both forms of the Roman rite is only possible if discipline peculiar to each of the two forms is accordingly carefully observed.

A few comments of my own.

  • This is not an official document.  It is a preface by an official of the Holy See to a book which is a commentary by a writer who is not an official of the Holy See.  The preface has no legal force.
  • Archbp. [now Card.] Burke is a distinguished canonist who also knows inside and out the older, Extraordinary Form because he has been so open to it and has often been celebrant for liturgies in the traditional form.  He knows the logic of the rite from within and not as some onlooker.
  • Card. Burke was consulted about the text of Summorum Pontificum before its release.  He knows more than a little about its genesis and intention.
  • As a canonist, Card. Burke understands the rights of the baptized from the point of view of the Church’s law.

His dictis

  1. It is not a right of the faithful for the sake of their salvation, that they be allowed to serve at Mass or to act as an EMCH.
  2. Since reception of Holy Communion – and the manner of Its reception – comes far closer to the issue of the salvation of the baptized, that might be a stickier issue.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that it is not a manner that touches on the salvation of the baptized to be permitted to receive on the hand when clearly it is contrary to the Church’s normative way of receiving.  Remember that permission to receive in the hand is actually an exception.
  3. I have held (pace Burke) that Summorum Pontificum did not in fact revive the laws that were in force in 1962, thus creating a parallel set of laws.  Was I wrong?  [We shall see.  But what is my opinion compared to Card. Burke’s?  Perhaps the “Instruction” will clarify.]
  4. Also, if there is to be such a strict separation of 1962 and 1970/2002, is mutual enrichment possible insofar as rites are concerned? [Perhaps during the next generation?]
  5. Or, and this is where I have put all my stress over the last few years, does it have more to do with ars celebrandi?

Some food for thought.

People may send comment by email for review and, if I desire, posting here on my schedule.

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One Comment

  1. The following is from a reader, a canonist who comments on the blog with some frequency:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    You opened up the possibility of private comment on your posting regarding Card. Burke’s opinion of modern liturgical norms’ applicability to the EF of the Roman Rite. Please consider the comment below (of course you may publish it).

    An old dictum I picked up in the first year of my JCL studies was “two canonists, three opinions.” Nevertheless, I think Fr. Weishaupt and Card. Burke and I agree, although we reach a different conclusion on the basis of the same legal conclusion. Let me explain below. Hopefully, Rome will speak authoritatively soon; sometimes Rome speaks and it’s not authoritative, and it ends up confusing the issue — consider that an instruction is not a law, but I digress.

    Female Altar Servers
    In looking at the issue of service in the sanctuary, it’s important to note a fundamental shift in terminology that began with Pope Paul VI’s Ministeria quaedam. Up until that time, the demarkation between clergy and laity was first tonsure and men progressed through several ministries that were referred to as “minor orders.” These minor orders were not ontological states that the men progressed through, but primarily juridical states that provided men — following formation and a special blessing through a liturgical ceremony — the power to serve the Church in specific liturgical actions (Institution of Readers, Instruction from the SC Divine Worship, 12/3/1972, et seq.). The liturgies in a way also set these men aside for the specific service (a form of consecration) and join the prayers of the Church for their faithful service. This change in nomenclature was probably a good thing; it aligned ordination (which not only effects an ontological change, but also bestows potestas regiminis upon the recipient) with the clerical state (which requires exercise of potestas regiminis “which exists in the Church by divine institution” [c. 129]).

    It is commonly said that Pope Paul VI suppressed the minor orders with Ministeria quaedam; this is incorrect. Paul VI renamed the minor orders “ministries” and reduced the number of these ministries to two: lector and acolyte. Paul VI further stated that if bishops should find a need for additional ministries, they could work with the Holy See to institute them in their dioceses. He also opened these ministries up to men not destined for Holy Orders. Liturgically, however, a lector was a lector and an acolyte was an acolyte both, before and after the promulgation of Ministeria quaedam. So one who is instituted and authorized by the law to perform the action of a lector or acolyte, can perform that action; he remains a member of the laity.

    In 1983 the Code incorporated Paul VI’s law and expanded it so that, in cases where instituted lectors and acolytes are lacking (and this was clarified in plenty of subsequent material) any lay person (again: lectors and acolytes are not clerics) may exercise the ministry (but not by that deputation or service become a minister) of lector or acolyte (c. 230). Furthermore (and I think regrettably) canon 230 § 2 has been authentically interpreted (AAS 86 [1994] 541, 6/6/1994) to apply to service at the altar, not just to the ministry of lector and acolyte, and also to permit both male and female servers. The authentic interpretation was published with instructions (AAS 86 [1994] 542, 6/6/1994) that clarify that the use of laici, as it applies to female servers, is permissive, not prescriptive (art. 1) and that it should only be used where it is necessary for “singular” (peculiares) reasons; this adjective should be understood to mean “reasons that are uniquely in existence and that will foster salvation of souls.”

    Finally, canon 2 states that “Codex plerumque non definit ritus, qui in actionibus liturgicis celebrandis sunt servandi; quare leges liturgicae hucusque vigentes vim suam retinent, nisi earum aliqua Codicis canonibus sit contraria.” In this case, canon 230 (as authentically interpreted) is contrary to the prior liturgical law in force at the time (remember: BXVI told us that the missal of 1962 was never abrogated, so that must mean that it was still in force and, therefore, part of what would be impacted by the code of 1983). Consequently, it follows that a priest may use a female altar server when celebrating the Mass according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite if he determines that unique (peculiares) reasons exist to do so (must foster salvation of souls). Whether the reasons are substantial enough to warrant using a female altar server in the extraordinary form (or in the ordinary form — note that the standard is identical for both) is the province of prudence, and the Church gives terrifically wide discretion to the exercise of prudence.

    Here then, I can bring it all together (I hope). Service at the altar is not a right of the faithful. Service at the altar is valuable to the Church. When the right conditions are met and the salvation of souls demands it, priests may permit girls or women to serve at the altar. Thus, I think, the only difference between this position and Fr. Weishaupt’s and Card. Burke’s may be that they don’t see any situation where such circumstances would arise and conclude there aren’t any.

    I am just a lawyer and I don’t want to rule out such a scenario a priori, although I can’t see it either. That does not mean it can’t happen nor does it change the legal analysis. In the end, each priest permitting this may have to answer to ecclesiastical authorities about the specific circumstances; he will definitely have to answer to God regarding his interpretation of the Church’s laws.

    Reception of Communion on the hand at the Extraordinary Form
    The faithful have an absolute right to receive Communion, or any sacrament, when they “seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.” This generally means in a state of grace and in a posture that is approved, or permitted, by the Church. Furthermore, “any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion” (c. 912).

    The issue of “Communion in the hand” was opened up by Memoriale Domini (AAS 61 [1969] 541-547). This was followed up with a positive response and further instructions by the Congregation for Divine Worship to bishops’ conferences (AAS 61 (1969) 546-547). More instructions (and wider permission) were issued by the Congregation in Immensae caritatis (AAS 65 [1973] 264-271).

    Approval has been provided for England and Wales (1976) and USA (1977). Other countries across the globe have joined.

    These are universal permissions (the individual approvals are particular law but ubiquitous) and not limited to any particular use of the Latin Rite; they apply to the Novus Ordo and 1962 missals. Remember: the extraordinary form was never abrogated, so these indults’ lack of specificity must be interpreted widely, not only on their face but because rights are to be interpreted broadly and because “laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation” (c. 18).

    This, then, truly is a right of the faithful. Whether it’s a right by exception or by broad rule is irrelevant.

    Of course, this is a legal analysis, not a prudential one. But that’s what we have here. If abuses of prudence occur, eventually Rome will deal with them (Rome always does, sometimes in less than 200 years).

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