Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Women at the altar

By Juan José Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
July 29, 2014

Two different religious scenes, two different images of women, two diametrically opposed sensibilities, two paradigms of the Christian Church.

November 7, 2010: Barcelona. Around 250,000 people cheer Pope Benedict XVI in the streets. Church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. A Solemn Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Church of the Sagrada Familia, in the presence of the kings of Spain. The Pope is joined by cardinals, archbishops, bishops, clergy -- all male. The pope proceeds with the consecration of the church by anointing the altar with chrism and censing it all around. Oil has been spilled on the floor that needs to be cleaned up. Seven solicitous nuns belonging to the Auxiliares Parroquiales de Cristo Sacerdote appear immediately at the altar, bending over to clean the oil droplets and preparing the altar for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, while the men contemplate the scene without assisting them. Then they lay the cloths for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and leave the altar. Their role has ended.


The scene went around the world and caused stupor, even dismay and outrage at the lack of parity, the irrelevance of, and discrimination against women in the Catholic Church. A situation that has nothing to do with the equality between men and women proclaimed in the gospel, what Jesus of Nazareth lived and practiced in the early Christian communities. The nuns, however, said they were happy and felt it was a real privilege to have provided this service at such a solemn moment.

September 11, 1992: the General Synod of the Anglican Church in England approved the ordination of women. They could access the altar, not to prepare it for worship as auxiliaries to the clergy but to preside over the Eucharist. Other provinces of the Anglican Communion began to bring women into the priesthood in the 1970's. The debate soon arose about women's access to the episcopate, and several provinces of the Communion took that step and ordained women bishops, Scotland, Northern Ireland, United States, Canada, Australia for example....


The General Synod of the Church of England, however, refused to take that step. There was an attempt in 2012, which failed due to opposition by the representatives of the laity. Finally, the resistance has been overcome and the Synod, made up of bishops, clergy and lay people gathered in the city of York, has given its approval for women to be bishops by an overwhelming majority of the three sectors of the Synod. The momentous decision also has the support of 74% of Anglicans. The first to commend it was the Archbishop of Canterbury, who declared the anniversary on which it was adopted "a historic day" and doesn't think the possibility of a woman becoming Archbishop of Canterbury is far off.

This is not an isolated gesture of the Anglican Church on the road to inclusion. For several decades, it has been moving firmly in that direction without turning back in the building of an inclusive Church. Along with the incorporation of women in the exercise of priestly and episcopal ministry, in leadership roles and in the development of theological and moral doctrine, we must appreciate the respect and recognition of different sexual identities. Gays and lesbians are part of the ecclesial communion. Gay marriages are blessed. Priestly and episcopal ordination is not limited to straight people, as happens in the Catholic Church, but it extends to other sexual identities. Marriages between homosexual clergy are celebrated.

One feature of the Anglican Communion is the high degree of autonomy in its different provinces, leading to a high level of creativity and broad diversity, in line with the autonomy, creativity and diversity in the early Christian communities. Not all the churches are moving at the same pace. Each step towards a more open and inclusive church is not the result of a decree by the church leadership, but instead takes place through dialogue, debate, even confrontation, openly and democratically, respecting those who dissent. Don't think, however, that the Anglican Church is angelic. The steps forward often cause opposition, resistance, and even break-ups. But the problems don't lead it to become stagnant in discriminatory and exclusionary positions of the past, but to seek solutions via parity while respecting the more conservative sectors.

I think it's an example for the Catholic Church, where women and homosexuals are still in a situation of genuine segregation.

Juan José Tamayo is a theologian, a professor at Carlos III University and author of Invitación a la utopía. Ensayo histórico para tiempos de crisis, Trotta, Madrid, and Cincuenta intelectuales para una conciencia crítica, Fragmenta, Barcelona, 2013.

Photos: Nuns cleaning and preparing the Sagrada Familia altar; Anglican women priests with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

1 comment:

  1. This may be of interest:

    Of the Same Flesh: Exploring a Theology of Gender
    Susan Durber, Christian Aid, July 2014
    http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/of-the-same-flesh-gender-theology-report.pdf

    For a quick summary:

    Press Release by Christian Aid, 29 July 2014
    http://www.christianaid.org.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/July-2014/christian-aid-publishes-new-paper-examining-the-theology-of-gender.aspx

    My take is that this is a practical, bottom-up approach, whereas St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body is a theoretical, top-down approach. But they converge on the same concrete realities of human persons and human communities.

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