April/May/June 2021

Common sense dreamers

Anthony Towey

In his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, ‘with a Father’s heart’, Pope Francis has declared this a year dedicated to St Joseph. It recalls his establishment as Patron of the Universal Church by Pius IX in 1870, and his feast of 19 March was augmented by Pius XII who famously instituted the celebration of St Joseph the Worker in 1955 as a counterpoint to Communism’s international Mayday celebrations. Boasting (I am reliably informed) more statues in Catholic churches than any other saint, one might question why Joseph needs any more publicity. Yet it is perhaps because such popular piety identifies him in ascetic terms that we need to refresh our understanding of this wonderful saint, who is at once father and guardian, dreamer and husband, craftsman and wanderer, householder and refugee.

The theological need to emphasise the marital restraint of the Holy Family was and is understandable. However, the ubiquitous depiction of Joseph with a lily as a necessary corollary to the virginity of Mary has tended to obscure the more dynamic biblical picture of Joseph. His name connotes the famous dreamer of Genesis, and it is on the basis of the first of four dreams that he acts in a fashion contrary to the strict instructions of his own tradition (Mt 1.19). It is almost unthinkable for Catholics to consider that without his love, his dreams and his good sense Mary would have been stoned to death along with her unborn child (Deut. 22.21) – so we tend not to think about it.

There is a resilience and good sense in this couple further evidenced by their journeying. Displaced by bureaucracy, they make the best of straitened circumstances, using a manger as a cot for their baby (Lk 2.7). With Herod in the Pharaoh role, Joseph’s dreams reverse the Exodus and sensibly take this tiny Israel into exile, crossing hostile land and water, asylum seekers fleeing for their lives (cf. Gen. 37.12–36; Exod. 14.1–31; Mt 2.13–18). Return is eventual, not immediate. There is contingency as well as autonomy in their lives, as is the case for the poor who have choices done to them. The arrival of Joseph in the Galilee is the result of another dream/asylum sequence (Mt 2.19–23) but has been paralleled with economic migration as the building of new cities such as Sepphoris made pressing demands for skilled labour. Determining the best for one’s family, to find work and to provide – Joseph knew the anxiety of a life lived off-balance long before the foreshadowing of the tomb – when Jesus was lost during pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Lk 2.41–52).

As noted in these pages before, part of our problem is a tendency to mistake a tidy life for a holy life. Indeed, our preference for purity has meant that we don’t see a Joseph with a sick patch on the shoulder of his tunic, nor lifting house-frames with workmates, still less dancing with his beloved. Our association of purity and delicacy can all too easily become a rejection of virtues traditionally associated with the masculine. In our non-physical modernity, how often do we place the sacred host in the cradle of calloused hands, worn by labour beneath our status? We fail to see God in the muddles and contradictions of our lives and, still worse, can succumb to a pastoral disposition whereby the gospel is preached only to the choir, on condition they are in tune. Pope Francis is surely aware of this, and in Patris Corde #4 writes:
Just as God told Joseph: “Son of David, do not be afraid!” (Mt 1.20), so he seems to tell us: “Do not be afraid!” We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 Jn 3.20).

Anybody involved in pastoral ministry knows the truth of these sentiments. They are at the root of what Pope Francis calls in his letter ‘Christian realism’ for which Joseph is a potent example – a dreamer with common sense. This man of faith, who accepted his responsibilities in trying circumstances, epitomises the Old Testament ideal to ‘act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly’ (Mic. 6.8). For us, called to proclaim a message of Good News which is beyond all dreams, may the Year of St Joseph renew our determination to craft a better world, despite the splinters of our lives.

Welcoming the witness: A change in Canon Law and new opportunities for lay ministry

An important change to Canon Law was made by Pope Francis at the beginning of this year. This change is examined by Ashley Beck, Dean of Studies of the Permanent Diaconate formation programme for seven dioceses in southern England and Wales and Assistant Priest of the parish of Beckenham in south London.

In January 2021, Pope Francis, in a motu proprio,1 changed Canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law. This canon had laid down that ‘lay men whose age and talents meet the requirements prescribed by decree of the Bishops’ Conference, can be given the stable ministry of lector and acolyte, through the prescribed liturgical rite’.2 The Pope simply added ‘and women’ after ‘lay men’. How far is this change significant? Elsewhere in this issue Professor Phyllis Zagano looks at the change in relation to the question of the ordination of women to the diaconate, so I will confine myself to other ways in which this initiative is important. This change relates directly to another motu proprio, issued by Pope St Paul VI in 1972, Ministeria quaedam,3 which at a stroke of the pen abolished all the ‘minor orders’ and the subdiaconate, through which seminarians had passed for centuries, replacing them with these ministries.

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The new lectionary: For whose needs?

Thomas O’Loughlin asks whether a single translation of the lectionary can answer our liturgical needs, or do we need different translations for the actual occasions in which it will be heard?

The decision of the English and Scottish bishops to opt for the ‘English Standard Version’ for a new printing of the lectionary brought many questions about the liturgy into the limelight. The two most prominent have been about the process – or lack thereof – of consultation in this matter and the fact that the new lectionary uses gendered language.

However, this debate – for all its validity – does not see that the bishops may have made an even greater blunder in not recognising the real problems that reading the Scriptures in a lectionary poses. With all the focus on ‘which translation’, are we missing the bigger question – do we need more than one translation?

Picking a version
First, the very idea that it is a matter of ‘deciding on a version’ is itself a decision that is not intrinsically either liturgical or biblical: it is simply a reflex from the world of printing during the Renaissance when both Catholics and Protestants printed out lections in full. The essence of a lectionary is not a large book of snippets, but a list of biblical texts arranged according to a plan. Bible translations can come and go, but a lectionary can be used with any of them. The lectionary is both the list and its rationale; it is only by derivation a book of printed readings. This might seem obvious, but it is noticeable in debates about picking translations that many who have strong feelings about versions have little appreciation of the lectionary’s architecture.

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Installed lectors and acolytes: Are women deacons next?

Phyllis Zagano, Senior Research Associate-in-Residence at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, and a member of the original Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women (2016–18) reflects on the change to Canon 230 §1 of the Code of Canon Law allowing women to be formally installed as lectors and acolytes.

Despite Pope Francis’ efforts to encourage lay participation in the management of the Church as well as in the liturgy, women remain on the periphery. Quite simply, if one is not a cleric neither he – nor she – can obtain certain offices or fulfil certain liturgical tasks.

Even so, Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Letter, Spiritus Domini, is quite commendable in that it recognises the equal humanity of men and women. By eliminating one word, the Pope has declared both to the Church and to the world at large, lay women are equal to lay men. Canon 230 §1 now reads: ‘Lay persons who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.’

But will women really have access to the altar? Can the remnants of misogyny be overcome? Will the Church adapt to the change? Does this change portend women deacons?

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Apartheid in my backyard? Ministry among the forsaken: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

Clive Dudbridge, Chief Executive Officer of the Margaret Clitherow Trust, writes of the alienation from the Church felt by many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.

These days we are collectively, and rightly, repulsed by the discrimination fellow human beings suffer because they happen to belong to a different racial identity. We look back upon the horrors of apartheid in South Africa, the barbarity of ethnic cleansing during the Balkan conflict, or the present-day concerns highlighted by the Black Lives Matter campaign. Yet, all along in our own backyard there are very similar attitudes that would have been all too familiar in South Africa, or the Balkans, when it comes to the prejudice Travellers experience every day.

In April 2019, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee stated: ‘Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have the worst outcomes of any ethnic group across a huge range of areas, including education, health, employment, criminal justice and hate crime.’1

Even the government recognises the plight of Travellers – but do we?

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