Gender Confusion in the Liturgy (Guest: Dr. Peter Kwasniewski)

Crisis Point

Interview Transcript

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski joins the podcast to discuss his latest book, “Ministers of Christ: Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion” (Crisis Publications). He addresses the distinctive roles in the liturgy for both lay and cleric, as well as men and women, and how the confusion of those liturgical roles has led to confusion beyond the liturgy.

Links:
• Dr. Peter Kwasniewski
Ministers of Christ: Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion
Dr. K’s 1P5 Articles
• New Liturgical Movement
Far from the Spirit of the Lord: On the Pope’s New Motu Proprio
Bishop Athanasius Schneider on the Significance of Minor Ministries in the Sacred Liturgy
• Motu Proprio “Spiritus Domini

Watch on Odysee:

Watch on YouTube:

Transcript:

Eric Sammons:

Hello and welcome to The Crisis Point podcast. I’m Eric Sammons, your host and the editor in chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started on today’s podcast, I just want to remind everybody to like and subscribe to the channel wherever you listen to us, wherever you watch us.

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Okay. So we have a great show today. We have Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who is here for the second time on Crisis Point. We had a great discussion I think it was almost eight or nine months ago about the booming traditional movement, which, of course, things have changed since [inaudible]. We won’t get into that as much today. We’re going to talk about some other stuff.

But let me just introduce him for those who aren’t aware of who Dr. Kwasniewski is. He received his BA in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College, an MA and PhD in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. He taught philosophy and theology at the International Theological Institute in Austria, and music for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian program. And he later helped found Wyoming Catholic College.

He’s now a freelance author, public speaker, editor, publisher, and composer. Peter’s output is just… It makes the rest of us editors and writers just envious. It’s unbelievable.

He has published over 1,300 articles. I was impressed that I had 150 or something, but he’s got over 1,300 articles, both academic and popular. That’s important. All levels. On sacramental and liturgical theology, the aesthetics of music, Thomistic thought, and the social doctrine of the church. His articles have been translated into at least 14 languages. Also, that’s pretty cool.

You’ve written or edited, and I’m making a guess here because your website is not updated, it still says 10, but I think it’s 14 books. Does that sound right?

Peter Kwasniewski:

It’s a question of ones that I’ve written versus ones that I’ve edited.

Eric Sammons:

Okay.

Peter Kwasniewski:

10 is about right for the ones that I’ve written myself.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Great. Great. So we’ll just stick with 10 that you’ve written. And including your most recently published book, which is Ministers of Christ. I have it right here. Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion.

And I’ll put it up on the screen so people can see a little bit better. So yeah, Ministers of Christ: Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion. So first of all, welcome to the program, Peter. Thanks for coming on.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Thank you, Eric. It’s always good to see you and [crosstalk].

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. Great seeing you. I’m just so impressed by all this stuff you’re able to put out. It’s just great. Now, this one I’m particularly impressed with, this book, for the reason that is a response to a [inaudible] Motu Proprio that was issued back in January, so less than a year ago.

And this was written and published within a year. For those of us who have been published by different publishers, we know how long this can take. However, I will make the plug, this was a Crisis Publications book. That’s one reason it was able to get out a little quicker.

But basically, this was the Motu Proprio Spiritus Domini, which it modified Canon 230, Article 1 of the Code of Canon Law regarding access of women to the ministries of lector and acolyte.

And what I want to do is… I know people listening might be like, “Okay, you’ve kind of lost me there. What is he talking about?” We’re going to get into this detail. But I want to first just lay out what spurred this on.

And I want to read what the Canon says originally, what it said before the change. It said, “Laymen who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be emitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.”

So why don’t we just start by you explaining what this Canon means, what it’s talking about, and then how it was changed?

Peter Kwasniewski:

Sure. In order to do that, I do have to give a thumbnail sketch of the back history of this question, right? So in the tradition of the church, starting very early on, the first records we have are from the third century, which implies that it probably goes back to the apostles and our Lord himself, since the records in the early centuries are scattered that way.

But from very early on, we have in the Catholic church, and this is true in east and west, we have various orders of clergy, of clerics. Not just bishops, not just priests, not just deacons, but also sub-deacons and then acolytes, lectors, porters, and exorcists. Those are the four minor orders.

The three major orders are sub-deacon, deacon, and priest. And then the bishop is the one who’s supremely… He’s like the high priest who’s in charge of everyone else.

And that’s a structure that still exists in the east. And it existed in the west all the way into the mid-1970s. So that’s a really long career for these orders. Okay?

And all of the men who were going to be made clerics were ordained to those different positions. Obviously, these ordinations were different kinds. We wouldn’t say the ordination to acolyte is the same kind of ordination as that of a priest or a deacon. There are differences, important differences.

The deacon and the priest receive a sacramental ordination. It’s a sacrament. And it changes them ontologically. It changes their being. Whereas the lower ministries are deputed by the church for certain functions in the liturgy. So they have a special blessing from the church, and they’re empowered by God to do that with his grace. So that’s the basic structure you’re dealing with.

Now, Paul VI in 1974 decided, as he did with so many other things, he decided to dismantle that structure and to replace the minor orders in the sub-diaconate with two ministries, instituted ministries he called them. Namely, acolyte, which is a glorified word for altar server; and lector, which is another word for reader. But we all say lectors, so we know what that means.

And these two instituted ministries, Paul VI kind of detached them from this whole structure, this hierarchical structure that had existed in the church for nearly 2,000 years. And he just made them these free-floating things that laypeople could do, that laymen specifically could do, men. And that was very clear in Paul VI’s legislation.

Eric Sammons:

When Paul VI changed it, was there some type of ordination rite still at that point? Because there was, I know, previously. But with these two revised ones, was there actually technically an ordination rite?

Peter Kwasniewski:

No.

Eric Sammons:

No.

Peter Kwasniewski:

No. So what happens is that it’s really a kind of prayer service in which the bishop says some prayers and says, “The church is now giving you this responsibility.” It’s a weak kind of deputation.

Eric Sammons:

Okay.

Peter Kwasniewski:

But it still means something canonically. It exists in canon law and it has certain consequences to it. For example, if you are an acolyte or a lector officially that is instituted by the church, by the bishop, then when you are present in church, you’re supposed to exercise that function. You’re not just supposed to sit back and twiddle your thumbs while somebody else goes and does it.

And similarly, with so-called extraordinary ministers, the Holy Communion, and I’m not even going to get into the problems with that. But if there are extraordinary ministers, then the instituted acolytes are supposed to be the ones who first fulfill that function.

So there are consequences to it. It’s not an empty title, but it certainly isn’t the minor orders of yesterday.

Eric Sammons:

Also, I’m just going to say though, like most people though… You said there’s a prayer service associated with those two orders or whatever we want to call them at this point. But I think most people never…

Lectors, let’s just stick with lectors. I’ve read at mass before years ago. I never went through any prayer service to do that. And I think most of the people, obviously, the women haven’t if it was only for laymen. So was this just something that nobody actually did?

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes. Yeah. So then that’s the next level of the question is Paul VI created these instituted ministries. And it seemed like the idea was that they should spread throughout the church. But in fact, they only ever existed, with the rarest of exceptions, in seminaries.

So seminarians were instituted as acolytes and lectors in a kind of echo of the old approach of seminaries where they would all receive the minor orders and the sub-diaconate before they receive the diaconate.

But it really existed only in seminaries. And so what happened in most parish situations 99.9% of the time is that you simply had laypeople coming up from the congregation who were just put on a schedule or something, who volunteered to read or to serve.

And those people are not instituted ministers. They’re simply ad-hoc volunteers who substitute for ministers. Okay? And in fact, we have to just be honest about this and say that happened a great deal in the old days and it still happens with the traditional mass that we don’t typically have acolytes serving in the sanctuary.

Some people might use that word because they like the fancy sound of it, but an acolyte is an ordained minister. And an altar boy is just an altar boy, he’s substituting for an acolyte.

Eric Sammons:

Okay.

Peter Kwasniewski:

So when you have the cute little boys up there doing everything, that’s fine. That’s allowed by the church, but they are substituting for proper, ordained ministers. Okay?

And so, in a way, this question is complicated because it’s not as if the church prior to Vatican II was using all ordained ministers. And then afterward, suddenly, we threw that out.

For a long time, we were using substitutes. And so, in a way, one can understand, perhaps Paul VI was trying to just regularize. Maybe what Paul VI was doing is instead of trying to revive the minor orders and make them more important again, which is what reform really should look like, return to form, as Martin Mosebach says.

Instead of doing that, he said, “Oh. Well, you know what? People don’t really take those as seriously anymore. So let’s just chuck them out and do something else.” And even the “something else” he did never really took off except within seminaries.

Eric Sammons:

So the idea before Vatican II, before Paul VI made these changes, let’s just say that, for those two ministries, for lector and acolyte is that let’s say in a seminary situation where you have lots of young men in a seminary, you would ordain… First of all, which one comes first, acolyte or lector? In the order of things.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Oh, that’s a good question. I actually forget which one comes first.

Eric Sammons:

Okay.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Those two are the most important of them.

Eric Sammons:

Right. But the idea though is that the people serving at the altar would at least be acolytes, in the ideal situation [inaudible]. And only a person doing a reading, for example, from what we call the first reading, the epistle, would be a lector, at least a lector. Correct?

Peter Kwasniewski:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

In the ideal situation. But like you said, even before Paul VI made changes, I think most cases weren’t just the celebrating priest reading the epistle.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes. And see, that’s the other thing we have to bear in mind is that in the old days, and I mean certainly right up to the Second Vatican Council, and even a little bit afterwards, you would have a much fuller liturgical life at a seminary or at a monastery than you would have at a typical parish, right? With the exception of Westminster Cathedral or some great place that had grand liturgy all the time.

And so in a seminary or a monastery, you have a lot of men available for liturgy, and that’s the main point of their day. That’s the high point of their day. And especially in a monastery, right? It’s the Opus Dei. It’s the very heart of what they’re there for.

And so in those situations, you definitely had ordained acolytes, ordained lectors. Everything was being done quite properly, as it should be.

It’s interesting, the Council of Trent, way back in the 16th century, it actually said in the reform decrees on the holy orders, it said, “We need to revive the minor orders and increase their numbers, even at the parish level.”

And to me, fascinatingly, the council even says, “If unmarried clerics are not available, suitable married men should be ordained to the minor orders and made clerics so that they can fulfill these functions.” So the Council of Trent was-

Eric Sammons:

Interesting.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Cutting edge for that day.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Right. Right.

Peter Kwasniewski:

They really wanted to have ordained ministers doing everything in the [inaudible].

Eric Sammons:

But that didn’t really happen. Right? It wasn’t like there was some massive number of married men who were being ordained to those minor orders. Correct?

Peter Kwasniewski:

No, there wasn’t. The Council of Trent, like every council, it had lots of great ideas, but some of them never took off. And then it had some lousy ideas too, not very many of them. For example, it talked about how there should be a commentator of the liturgy who explains things to people. That’s a horrible idea, and it never took off.

Eric Sammons:

Get John Madden up there, like getting a play-by-play of the liturgy.

Peter Kwasniewski:

And it’s funny because in the Liturgical Movement, in the ’30s, ’40s, people like Bugnini, they loved that idea of having a commentator. And so they would often have somebody during mass reading out little scripted descriptions like, “The priest is doing this now and we should do this.”

Eric Sammons:

That’s crazy. I’ve never heard of that.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Just because the Council of Trent was, in my opinion, the greatest council ever in church history, it wasn’t… Even good Homer nods sometimes, as the saying goes.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Right. Exactly. Okay. I’m going to vote for Nicaea, but okay, we’ll give you a chance. Okay. So let’s go back then.

So Paul instituted these two… He abolished, basically, the minor orders and he established these two ministries, lector and acolyte, 1974 you said. So a few years after the Novus Ordo had been promulgated and was in practice, about four years after that.

And so that was the status, but nobody really followed that. Around the world, nobody’s really following that. Basically, what we know of today is what happened was, basically, volunteers of either men or women were lectors.

And then obviously, we have the whole issue of altar girls and serving at the altar and stuff, which also ended up becoming de facto. Yet in canon law… Canon law was promulgated, this was 1984, right?

Peter Kwasniewski:

’83.

Eric Sammons:

’83. Okay. 1983. It states, laymen who possess the age and qualifications, they can go through a prescribed liturgical rite to ministries of lector and acolyte.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

And so that makes it clear that there is a liturgical rite for it. Like you said, almost like a prayer service.

And laymen, and it does say men, so only men, but then Pope Francis issued this Motu Proprio in January. Basically, my understanding is he just changed “men” to “persons.” Is it more than that?

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yeah. Well, what he clearly was doing, and this was explained by the Vatican, is he was opening up these instituted ministries to women as well as men.

So instead of it just being volunteer substitutes, which is what most people are accustomed to, he wanted to create a formal official liturgical ministry for women. Okay? And that’s the first time that any pope has ever done something like that.

There are various points that one could make about this move, but the one thing that seems really clear is that it’s one more example of a novelty of a clear departure from tradition. What Paul VI did was already a departure from tradition, but he tried to keep, as I said, a kind of echo or a tenuous connection by saying these are official ministries that must be fulfilled by men. So in a sense, like quasi-clerics. Right?

And what Francis is doing is severing that last link and saying, “Okay. These are just wide open now to men and women.” And yet they’re still official liturgical ministries in the sanctuary. They’re still like quasi-clerics in that sense.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Peter Kwasniewski:

So it’s confusing because it’s either confusing the notion of what ministry is in the sanctuary or it’s just evacuating the concept of ministry of any particular sacral identity and function and status.

So whatever it’s doing, it seems like a kind of dilution and a kind of egalitarianism, which, to be a little cynical sounding, it kind of sounds like a bone thrown to the feminists.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Peter Kwasniewski:

You’ll never be priests. We’re never going to ordain you priests, even though that’s what you really want. And maybe even women bishops like the Episcopalians or whatever. That’s what you really want.

You’re never going to get it. You want to be deacons. You’re probably not going to get that either. But at least we can make you acolytes and lectors officially. And so you should be content with that.

Eric Sammons:

Which is what it sounds like, which is also incredibly insulting.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Well, it is insulting because fundamentally, and this is the point of my book or one of the points of my book, it has multiple points, is that we need to step back from this pressure-cooker situation that feminism has created where it’s always pushing women into the next field.

They have to be firemen. They have to be police officers. They have to be soldiers. They have to shoot people. Whatever the field is that used to be done by men, the women now have to do it. And vice versa, of course. There’s so much gender confusion, sexual confusion. It’s an epidemic at this point. Forget about COVID, that’s nothing. We have a sexual identity crisis here.

And so what I’m arguing is we have to step back and say, “Whoa. Wait a minute. Do we even understand how the liturgy works?” What is a minister? What is a cleric in the liturgy? What’s his function? And what is the relationship between the clergy and the laity?

And then within the laity, what’s the relationship between men and women? How is that complementarity supposed to work out in real, everyday life?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Peter Kwasniewski:

And if we look at these questions more sympathetically and with the depth of the Catholic tradition, we can see that this whole direction that Francis has been going in, and also I think Paul VI, they’re based on some very fundamental anthropological and ecclesiological errors that really show a confusion about what the liturgy is and what our roles are.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. Talking about taking a step back, the title of the book is Ministers of Christ. And I think the word “ministry” is one in which there’s a lot of confusion.

I worked for a bishop for a number of years. And to his credit, he hated using the term “ministry” associated with laypeople. He was very clear that laypeople do apostolates and clergy do ministries. And he was saying just in general, he just didn’t like the term “lay ministry.”

But, man, he just got hammered because of that. And most laypeople, some good-naturedly, some more ideologically, they just don’t get why couldn’t… “I do ministry. I’m the catechist. I do this. I’m the youth minister,” whatever. But what do we mean as Catholics when we say ministry?”

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yeah, of course. That’s the problem with a lot of terms. Right? There are equivocal terms that can be taken in different senses.

So you have the hospitality ministry or whatever, we bake the cookies or something [inaudible]. Well, in a super extended meaning of the word, it can just mean any kind of service. Right?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Peter Kwasniewski:

And even the word diaconia, from which we get the word deacon, means service. Right? It is a pretty generic word. So of course, generic word words can be taken in all sorts of ways.

However, in the history and the tradition of the church, ministerium, it has a more specific meaning, has a more definite meaning. And the meaning of it is a servant in the liturgy who stands in the place of Christ, the supreme servant. Right?

And so, basically, what we’re talking about here is, by another name, a cleric, someone ordained, someone set aside and given a certain order, an order, a position within the liturgy of the church. And exercising it in the name of Christ and as a representative of Christ.

There’s an in persona Christi aspect to every one of the ministries, every one of the real ministries that we talk about in terms of the liturgy. What I mean by that is, obviously, the priest acts most of all in persona Christi because he’s the one who consecrates the body and blood.

And he even says, “This is my body.” He’s speaking as if he were Christ himself. Right? And with the power to speak those words into effect transubstantiation.

But every minister, even the acolyte, even the altar server who’s holding the wine and the water is participating in the diaconia, the servanthood of Christ who came not to be served, but to serve as it says in the gospel. Right?

Really the root question and the thing that I drill into in my book is what I call incarnational realism. Right? That is to say, every minister in the sanctuary should represent Christ to us in a very visible way, in an incarnate way.

Not just abstractly like, “Oh, yeah. Conceptually, that person is doing some kind of service.” But concretely, there’s a kind of image of Christ, the high priest, present in the whole unfolding of the liturgy. Why? Because the liturgy is the prayer of Christ the Priest. That’s what it is first and foremost and essentially. Right?

It’s not just this random prayer that everybody happens to be doing together. It’s the prayer of Christ. And so the ministers who are acting on his behalf and offering this prayer with him and for us and with us should be men. They should be males. Right?

The church has never, ever had any other understanding than that the liturgy is offered by Christ and by those who are configured to Christ. So that’s the root issue here that a lot of Catholics just ignore or they don’t even think about it.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Because if you go to your typical parish these days, almost everything about it speaks against what you just said. The architecture, the fact that there’s no delineation often between the sanctuary and the nave.

And then the fact that there’s… Like you said, everybody [inaudible] up there as Eucharistic Ministers, men and women, usually predominantly women. Everything about that says the opposite of what you’re saying, that it’s just this egalitarian just communal meal and we’re just getting together, not a prayer of Christ, not the sacrifice of Christ.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

And I do think that there’s a lot of very good-natured Catholics who hear the language of it has to be a man to be configured to Christ in the way you say, and automatically just have a knee-jerk reaction that that’s sexist, that that’s somehow anti-woman, something like that.

How do we explain this in a way that they would understand this is not going against women in any way? We’re being faithful to Christ. Christ only selected men as apostles. I know that.

Yet at the same time, how do we explain this in a way that I think that your typical… We’re not talking about the crazy feminists. They’re not going to accept it. But just the good-natured Catholic would accept it.

Peter Kwasniewski:

To me, ever since I experienced the miracle of having children and seeing children born and seeing my wife be the mother of our children, that’s just been, for me, and I think for a lot of women too, it’s a revolutionary experience that turns upside down a lot of your cultural assumptions about what’s really important.

To me, I can’t imagine something more false, and I’m even going to say more satanically false than to denigrate motherhood as the vocation of a woman, as the unique, irreplaceable, singular vocation of a woman. No man can do that. No priest can be a mother. Why can’t a priest be a mother? That’s so sexist. It’s incredible, isn’t it? No, of course not.

Not every woman is a mother, but most women will be mothers. And the work that they have and that vocation, it’s really a calling and it’s a form of sacrificial love, that is more important to the human race and to the church, and even to our image of the church as mother than anything that men can do, anything that men can do. Okay?

Certainly, on a natural level, that’s true. Right? On a supernatural, there are things that the church does for us that neither men nor women can do, like baptism and confirmation and confession and so on.

But on a natural level, what the woman does is unique and irreplaceable. And feminism does such an injustice to women by convincing them that they need to think about themselves as men, they need to compete with men, they need to be just as good as men. That’s absurd. Be a good woman. Be a woman to the fullest extent. Right? And that’s what men need and that’s what women need. Right?

And the same thing could be said, of course, of men. Men need to be virile and not effeminate. We have such a plague of effeminacy and cowardice and passivity and laziness. There are many, many vices that men have because they’re not being manly, because they’re not actually living up to their manhood.

And so I think that part of the solution to the crisis in the church is just to try to recover a healthy, I’m going to say the word anthropology, a healthy understanding of human nature and the inherent duality of human nature. There is no such thing as a human being. There’s a man and a woman. That’s it. That’s all you ever get. Right?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Peter Kwasniewski:

And Mary, the mother of God, I talk about this in the book too, she is the supreme human person. There is no human person higher than our laity because, of course, our Lord is not a human person. He’s a divine person with a human nature.

So he’s man, he’s true man, but he’s not a human person. Right? A person means that’s where the buck stops. There’s nothing higher in us than the person. So Mary’s the highest human person. And Christ, of course, is the Son of God. He’s a divine person.

So in terms of the perfection of human nature, we’re going to find the perfection of male human nature in Christ and a female human nature in the virgin mother of God. And she, in her own femininity, in her own womanhood, she exemplifies the two greatest roles of the woman, mother and virgin. These are incompatible in any individual except her, by divine grace, by a divine miracle.

But she shows self-giving love to the fullest extent, which takes two forms, either in the form of marriage and motherhood or the form of virginity. And our laity is the one blessed to unite those two in a miraculous way.

Eric Sammons:

I feel like the church, by caving in to all of this, and it really does seem to me like it’s just caving in to culture, particularly Western culture I should say, I feel like we’ve undercut our ability to now fight the deadly consequences of this. And we’re talking all the way to transgenderism.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

And this idea that men and women are basically interchangeable. And I can just say I’m a woman today or tomorrow I’m a man. There’s no real meaning behind it.

And when a priest tries to get up at mass and in a homily tries to talk about the distinctions between men and women, how they really do matter, everything around him though is probably speaking against what he’s saying. And of course, we learn a lot more from that than we do from words.

And I felt that for a while now that a young person who goes to mass every week and he just has altar boys up there, just has men up there, but yet at the parish, women are… When they have babies, it’s the biggest deal in the world, in a good parish.

Those things, I think, teach that young person, whether they’re male or female, not only are there differences, but they matter, they’re important, those differences between them.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yeah. And I just want to pick up on some comments you were making earlier about church architecture. What we have to recognize, and again, I go into this in the book, is that the way that churches were built, and again, this is universally true, Eastern Christians, Western Christians, any kind of Christians, up until very recently, always built their churches with symbolic partitions and symbolic segmentation.

And what do I mean by that? Well, the most basic segmentation of a church is into the sanctuary or the apse. That’s where the liturgy takes place. That’s where the sacrifice of Christ is offered.

Then the nave of the church, which is the large gathering area for the people, for the congregation. And then finally, the atrium or the entranceway, which is, in most churches, that’s covered, that’s an enclosed space.

And it had a very important function, especially in ancient Christianity, because that’s where the catechumens and penitents had to hang out. They couldn’t go into the nave. Right? They weren’t worthy to go into the nave. Only baptized faithful can go into the nave.

And once you’re in the nave, you’re in the body of Christ. You’re fully within the body. It’s like being in the heart of the church. But the heart is not the head. Right? The head of the church, Christ, is symbolized by the apse, by the sanctuary. And that’s where the ministers are, that’s where the clergy are who represent Christ. They’re not in the congregation, they’re in the sanctuary.

And there was usually a barrier or partition. In Eastern churches, this is called the iconostasis, and it’s very important for them. And sometimes it’s such a barrier that you can’t see beyond it at all. So you can’t even see what the clergy are doing in the sanctuary.

But in the west, it’s taken many forms. Sometimes there were curtains there separating the nave from the sanctuary. Sometimes there was something called a rood screen. It’s really a neat structure. I wish we had them again. It’s kind of like a see-through chancel screen, often topped by a rood, that is to say, a cross with John and Mary standing at the foot of the cross. Right?

And so there’s just a profound meaning to all of these divisions because what the church was trying to teach the people through the very building itself, without any words, is we’re on a journey, we’re on a pilgrimage. And we enter the church through the atrium, just like we have to…

We first start out as pagans and sinners, we have to be baptized, we have to confess our sins. And then we keep moving through the church along the axis of the nave. And heaven is what is represented by the apse of the church.

And that’s why in most churches, there was some kind of glowing golden dome, a mosaic with the image of Christ the Savior, or with some kind of heavenly image of angels. Right? And the point was, we’re on a pilgrimage to heaven and the liturgy represents our fortes and our participation in heaven, but we’re not there yet. Right?

So it would be totally unfitting and it would be symbolically contradictory for laypeople to just walk up from the nave into the sanctuary. That’s Pelagian, that’s massively Pelagian.

It’s like saying we can just seize heaven for ourselves, instead of having to receive the gifts of God from the clergy who come forth from the sanctuary and bring them to the people in the nave. For example, when they bring Holy Communion. Do you see what I mean?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah.

Peter Kwasniewski:

And all of this, it may sound sophisticated, but every illiterate peasant in the world understood these things because they’re actually easy to understand when you’re in the context of a beautiful, great church that follows this traditional architecture, and when you’re in the middle of a traditional liturgy where all these things are clearly at work.

And you do that over and over and over again, it forms you, it teaches you, without even the need for tedious didactic discourses. Right?

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Let me just make one last point about this because I’m on a roll.

Eric Sammons:

You are.

Peter Kwasniewski:

When I say that the clergy represent Christ the high priest, what I mean by that is when the readings are being read, they were traditionally read by clergy because Christ is the author of the Word and he’s the one who’s giving the Word to us.

And similarly, when the consecrated host is given to us in communion, it’s the priest, it’s Christ who’s feeding us. Right? Christ does everything for us. That’s the message of the traditional liturgy. Again, any liturgy, Byzantine, Tridentine, doesn’t matter what you’re talking about.

And so when you have laypeople, especially when they get up from the nave, go into the sanctuary and turn around and start giving things back to us, whether it’s the word or the flesh of God, it completely throws that whole thing off.

It’s a protestant notion that the laypeople enjoy the same status as the clergy in that sense. Right? We’re not claiming technically that that’s true, but that’s the symbolism. That’s what we’re saying with our body language when we do these things. Right?

Eric Sammons:

And when we institute a liturgical rite for it, it does seem to also make that true. And what you were saying made me think of… Okay, so it’s something you bring up in the book, the idea of passivity, the idea of activism, the idea of active participation.

And it reminded me of a number of years ago, this is now over a decade ago, I was in with one of my daughters for her first communion day retreat. It’s like, okay, she’s going to receive her first communion.

And they had one woman who was, I think she was the assistant to the DRE or something like that, was teaching. And she was saying something to the effect, she basically said that we receive in the hand because we’re not babies anymore to receive… A baby receives on the tongue. They get fed. We receive on the hand.

And I was a little bit taken aback by it because I knew the pastor was fine with us receiving on the tongue. And I taught my kids from the beginning, you receive on the tongue. This is before I was going to traditional Latin masses and those sort of parishes years ago. But the point is that we’ve always done it on the tongue.

And it kind of threw me. So I didn’t know what to say at the time, but then after… I had a tradition, I would take them out to lunch after we did this little morning retreat. And so I took my daughter out to lunch. She’s eight years old. So I’m trying to think, “Okay, how am I going to tell her, okay, this lady’s wrong?”

And I said, “You know how she said that when we receive on the tongue, it’s like we’re like babies, we’re being fed? [inaudible]. But that’s exactly what it is.”

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

We are receiving as babies because I said Jesus Christ is… Our God is our father. He is treating us like we should be treated, which is like babies. We’re passively receiving. That’s a good thing.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Exactly.

Eric Sammons:

And so I thought of that with what you were just saying that there is this passivity to the [inaudible] of the laity, which isn’t a negative.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Right. Well, let me just say that even scripture says in the Psalms, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” Right? So the way in which communion is given in any traditional rite, Eastern or Western… I’m sorry. I know that sounds like my constant refrain, but I always have to remind people of that, is it’s always placed into the mouth of the communicant by a cleric, by an ordained minister who represents Christ.

And so really, it’s God feeding us with himself. Could we ever feed ourselves with God? That’s completely beyond our power. We can’t do that. And so it’s not surprising that if the early church practiced communion in the hand… And there’s evidence that it happened, but in a different way than we do it now. And I talked about that extensively in my other book, The Holy Bread of Eternal Life.

Nevertheless, there’s a good reason why the church changed its practice because with time and the realization of what we’re about, what we’re doing and the sacredness of it, and the danger of having people just take communion and possibly dropping it or losing fragments of it or something like that, and the church fathers are very clear about this, that you have to be absolutely careful about even the least fragment, that’s why the church eventually went only to giving communion to people in the mouth. For practical reasons and for symbolic reasons. Right?

And you find that, by the way, in the traditional liturgy, in every respect, the things that were done traditionally by the church and are still done in some places, they make sense practically and they make sense symbolically. Right? They always have that double functionality to them.

Eric Sammons:

But speak a little bit then about the passive… Obviously, we all know active participation was the code phrase for a whole host of abuses and a whole host of changes and things like that.

And there’s this assumption that we are supposed to actively participate, which I think there might be some good ways to interpret that and some bad ways. But the assumption for most Westerners is that means we have to be doing something.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yeah, of course. The simplest response I would give to that is, the best way that you can help people participate in the liturgy is by giving them something worthwhile to contemplate, rather than just giving them more stuff to do.

Well, let’s put it this way. All right. Aristotle said that the highest activity of man is contemplation. Okay. And that’s true. And the Catholic tradition completely endorses that and took that up.

What’s paradoxical is that because modern Western people are so activistic and we’re so Pelagian really, we think that we can build a better world, we can gain our own salvation by our own works.

There are all kinds of ways in which we are heretics, by thinking that we’re in charge and we should be the ones building and doing everything, that we tend to forget that it’s a privilege for the laypeople to be ministered unto. Okay? And that the clergy have a burden, it’s a burden.

I know a lot of priests and I know bishops, and they tell me when they are fully loaded up with all of their gear and they’re going through a two-hour solemn liturgy, it’s a lot of work for them. They’re sweating, they might be suffering, they have to stand a lot, they have to remember a million things.

And I, as a layman, I get to sit there and I get to relish all of it and absorb it and just be edified and be raised up to heavenly thoughts and pray. What a privilege for laypeople.

So it’s kind of absurd. I think it’s because we have an absurd misunderstanding of the relationship between activity and contemplation that we even have this problem of what active participation is. But to be more specific, right, what laypeople need to practice is active receptivity. That is to say, the best thing for us as human beings is to receive divine gifts. And that’s even true for the clergy.

What makes the clergy clergy is that they can give divine gifts. But what makes them holy is that they can receive divine gifts. That’s what makes everybody holy. Not doing, but receiving.

And so what participation fundamentally means is learning how to receive well what Christ and the church and the liturgy wish to give us. Right? And if we had that perspective on it, this whole discussion of ministry would change.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Right. Yeah. Okay. The book is great. We could go on for five hours, but we’re not going to. One thing I really liked about though is the last section, I think it’s the last section, right? Yeah. Section three is restoration.

Because the fact is that we are so far from what you’re talking about. Let’s be honest. In your typical parish, we know this, even in your “good parishes.” We are so far from this. So what practical steps, you talk about it in the book, but let’s talk about it here a little bit, what are some practical steps we can take that can help to bring us back to this?

Now, obviously, you and I probably… We both know one answer we would give is, “Okay, let’s just have the traditional Latin Mass everywhere. Okay.” But let’s be realistic to the times we live in and the church we’re in right now.

What practically can, for example, a parish do, can a parish priest, can a layperson in a parish do, can the church do on maybe baby steps to start to get back to this idea of the clear delineation both between lay and cleric and the delineation between male and female? What are some things we can do?

Peter Kwasniewski:

There are two levels to this answer. The one level is if you are living in a good diocese with a reasonable Bishop who has a clue about anything and-

Eric Sammons:

So not Chicago.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Okay. Yeah, exactly. And if you’re a priest at a parish that’s conservative, where people are open to learning about the traditions of the church and you don’t have a feminist cabal that is out to get you, whatever, then, of course, it’s possible. There are many things that can be done.

The architecture of the church. If you’re building a new church or renovating a church, you can emphasize the architectural articulations that I was talking about earlier. You can make sure that you only have men, not just boys, by the way, but also men serving in the sanctuary in cassock and surplice. Right?

You can not use extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. In fact, I’ve written about this extensively. The church says about 100 times that extraordinary ministers should usually not be used. That’s why they’re extraordinary. And so from a canonical point of view, a pastor has countless arguments he can make to people as to why he shouldn’t have these extraordinary ministers.

And then women can veil in the congregation, right? Because in a parish like the one that I’m talking about, this hypothetical parish, people wouldn’t look askance at women for veiling. And why is veiling important? Well, I have a whole chapter in the book on that.

But the short answer is it actually is a sign of the dignity of being a woman in her place in the cosmos and in the church. And it’s a sign of her sacredness and the reverence that is owed to the sacred liturgy in which she’s participating. So these are the little steps.

And, of course, the music. If the music is truly sacred, if it’s chant and polyphony, for example, and hymns with orthodox lyrics, then all of these are going to be catechetical ways that will form the imaginations and the hearts and the minds of the people who attend mass at such a place.

And they will start to think in more traditional terms about everybody’s role, about the clergy’s role, about even the quasi-clergy, that is to say, those who are substituting for clergy but dressed in a clerical manner, about themselves as laity, about themselves as men and women. All of that will begin to happen.

But that’s one layer of answer. The other layer of answer is we have to be honest about the fact that we are dealing with a massive confrontation in the church between… I’m going to call it progressivism and traditionalism. Okay? And I think at the end of the day, there’s not going to be any other position left.

It’s going to be progressivism, which is a form of modernism, and there’s going to be traditionalism, which is let’s hold onto… Let’s hold fast to what the church has always done and always believed up to this period of chaos around and after the Second Vatican Council.

And I think that the way that this dichotomy or this opposition is going to play out is that dioceses are going to become more and more friendly either to progressivism or to traditionalism. And in the end, we need the traditional Latin mass to show us the way to be traditional and to think about the roles of clergy and laity, and men and women in a traditional way.

We’re not going to be able to get that out of the stuff that came in the past 50 years. It’s too full of confusion. It’s too full of contradictions. It’s too full of ambiguities. It’s too full of the culture that we’re swimming against. So I think we need the tradition as a kind of North Star to guide us, otherwise, we’re really lost.

Eric Sammons:

The idea of tradition as a North Star is just a fundamental Catholic principle. That’s what Catholics have hopefully been saying forever.

Okay. I think we’re going to wrap it up here because we’re getting a little bit long, but this has been great. Like I said, basically, I’m hoping this is a tease for people to read the book Ministers of Christ because Peter goes into all these very in-depth. What is this? 250 pages worth.

And as all Peter’s books are, it’s very readable, very easy to read. Leila Lawler has a great foreword to the book, which kind of sets the table I think. And so I just recommend people get the book. And Peter, we have a chance here, where are some places that people can find out about all the stuff that you’re involved in doing?

Peter Kwasniewski:

If I wasn’t so technologically incompetent, I would probably have a fancy website with all my new articles and things, but I don’t have that. I have a website that lists my books and some of my articles and tells people how to contact me by email.

But otherwise, just keep an eye on New Liturgical Movement every Monday. I’ve been publishing there for, I don’t know, seven years now. And every Wednesday at OnePeterFive. Almost every Wednesday, there’s a piece by me up there. And those are the two main places I write. So if you’re interested-

Eric Sammons:

So New Liturgical Movement and at OnePeterFive. OnePeterFive, of course, is our sister publication so we want to promote that obviously. And [inaudible] for Crisis sometimes. I know other places as well. If you’re on Facebook, you got to follow Peter’s page. You’ve already completely obliterated the 5,000 friend limit, right? On your personal.

Peter Kwasniewski:

Yes. But I have a public profile I think is what they call it [crosstalk].

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. A public page, I think. Yeah. So if you’re on Facebook, you can follow Peter there as well. But go to his site. I’ll link to all this stuff in the show notes so people can go to it.

Okay, everybody. Thank you again, Peter. I appreciate you joining us. I encourage everybody to buy the book and check out Peter’s other works elsewhere. Okay, everybody, until next time. God love you.

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