Tuesday 21 April 2015

Traddy Heroines

I was looking at the masthead (or margin, really) of the New Liturgical Movement blog, and something struck me about it: only one woman has stepped up to the NLM plate to write about traddery. Naturally I do not blame the NLM blog for this; I blame myself. Why have I not done the hard work and reading that would help me to serve such an excellent resource as the NLM?

Sometimes there is a lack of creativity among Catholic women, most obviously in those who think the holy grail of Catholicism is not the real holy grail but the priesthood or, rather, womynpriesthood. Women who are THAT interested in the priesthood per se give birth to sons and then chuck them at it. If we don't have sons, we hint at our brothers and nephews. (How happy I would be if my nephew Pirate were to become a priest. That would be so awesomely awesome. I would actually go work in the biscuit factory to pay for his seminary training, if need be.) If we have given up on our brothers and our nephews are too young, we might hint at the altar servers: "Dear me, you look sharp in that black cassock. You're fluent in German, aren't you? How CONVENIENT should you ever have a look at WIGRATZBAD. And you! I hear YOU'RE fluent in Spanish! How convenient that there is still a Scottish SEMINARY in SPAIN!"

To the seminary! 
But Traddy women get also get stuck. There is, in female traddery, an overemphasis on veiling, never mind clothes. Hat? Veil? Mantilla? White? Black? Liturgical colour of the day? And then: Is this skirt too short for Mass? Will mean men give me a hard time about trousers? Will British trads snigger if I call them pants? (YES.)

Fortunately in Edinburgh, nobody gives a whoop what women wear on our heads at the TLM, least of all the priest. The one and only place I have ever been given a hard time about head wear in church was by a South Asian security guard in St Peter's Basilica, who indicated that I must take mine off.

"Ma sono una donna," I said, outraged, but the security guard merely smiled and indicated that I must doff my hat. Horribly insulted, I apologized to Saint Jan Pawel Drugi, before whose tomb I was praying, for backing down in my assertion of my femininity and took off my hat. Later I complained to an employee of the Curia, who reflected on the abject stupidity of security guards in St. Peter's Basilica. Travel tip: the guards don't harass scarf-wearers, so in St. Peter's, go for the scarf or mantilla option. But I digress.

Naturally traditional altar service is closed to women, as Christian priesthood is a male privilege granted by God as much as Christian motherhood is a female one granted by God. Traditional altar service helps to foster vocations to the priesthood in the hearts of boys and men. (Being gently nagged by motherly women to Take the Next Step is the price bachelors pay for the incredible privilege of assisting the priest at Mass.) However, this restriction does not let us off the hook. We might have all kinds of skills that could be used in the celebration and propagation of our beautiful liturgical heritage.

Sadly I was put off embroidery at a very young age, but if I could embroider, and was even very good at it, you can bet that I would set to work embroidering a nice new vestment of some kind. Traditional vestments are incredibly expensive, especially if they have real, good, needlepoint designs on them done by human hands. Indeed, if I were good at any kind of textile art, you would see me in museums, busily sketching 18th century vestments, plotting out a nice new mass set for some deserving priest.

Alternatively, if I were good at any kind of whitework, I would do something nice in linen for an altar cloth, or make some bobbin lace with which to hem a cotta.

Because, let me tell you, after six years of listening to Trad men talk, there is little they love more than a really splendid set of hand-sewn, hand-embroidered vestments, and if you are capable of making them, you will no longer be vaguely invisible (if you are), but Saint You, Abbess of the Sacred Needle.

I want to stress that I would not offer my work until an expert embroideress/seamstress told me it was good enough for the service of God.

Aspiring female theologians may weep at the idea of forming an Altar Guild, but if that Altar Guild included actual sewing, whitework and embroidery--whew! Mad traddy props! Meanwhile, there's a real art to washing and ironing fine linen, and even if the boys and Gloria Steinem don't know that, God certainly does.

Then of course there is sacred music. If you care about sacred music at all, you have received proper training in it before you attempt it, of course. The great test of your ability is the opinion of other musicians, of course. For me a good rule of thumb is my brother Nulli's expression. Nulli suffers from perfect pitch, and if Nulli winces with pain, the cantor is no good. Either that, or I'm singing sharp again.

It is one of the sorrows of my life that training in sacred music was de facto closed to girls when I was a child. As the one place in Catholic Toronto that gave two hoots about the liturgical riches of traditional Church music was a boys' school, the best girls in the Catholic system were trained to sing was Veni Creator Spiritus plainchant. (That was for the outdoor Papal Mass of 1985. Naturally we also sang "Here I Am Lord"--duh.) Sucks to be me.

But there are women who have been wonderfully trained in classical music, who know their Mozart from their Monteverdi, and they must be pressed into service, either bribed with cash or, if all else fails, converted to the One True Faith. Perhaps some mother, reading this post, will look thoughtfully at her songbird of a daughter and stump up some cash to have her trained properly, naturally after receiving the teacher's solemn oath that her daughter will never attempt a Whitney Houston anthem.

There is also iconography and fine classical painting. Again, if you are very good--like, people-pay-you-good--and you paint in a classical style, you might contribute to traditional public worship with your paint. Again, let an expert/mentor be your guide. Don't be one of those women. You know who I mean.

And then there is writing and missionary work. Naturally you cannot write during Mass, although occasionally I do make a note of something, and were I to be struck by a wonderful devotional verse or phrase as I prayed, I might write that down, too.  But there are newspapers and journals  longing for "new voices" and if your "new voice" wants to chat about why you love the traditional Latin Mass, the newspaper might let you.

SPECIAL OFFER: If you, a woman, send me your 800 word (max) Why-I-Love-the-TLM article, indicating which reputable journal you wish to send it to, I will waive my fee and proofread it for free. Yes, 800 MAX. I have to suffer with an 800-word limit, so you do too.

As for missionary work, this takes myriad and sometimes astonishing forms. The most famous Trad Catholic alive in Britain at the end of the 20th century was Jennifer Paterson, the fatter of the Two Fat Ladies. I can think of few British women of her age and size who were so beloved, and yet Jennifer, a professional chef, was an in-your-face Catholic and Trad. (The other Fat Lady, Clarissa Dixon Wright was also Catholic--of a very liberal variety, but fond enough of Jennifer to respond to her riffs on Saint Peter, etc.) There is a hilarious scene where Jennifer kisses an Irish mother superior's ring, and the mother superior (or general, or sister superior, or chair, or whatever she called herself) making the usual mistake of conflating self with office, titters a little and says something like "Those days are over" and Jennifer says, "Not with me, they're not."


Another great traddy missionary was the author Alice Thomas Ellis, who became a novelist simply because she hated the destruction that befell the Church after the Second Vatican Council. She was so lost and angry, to her pen she went. She wrote, in fiction, all about what it was like to be a Catholic before the Second Vatican Council, and what it was like to be one afterwards, a thousand cures for one's own evil ripped away. Alice Thomas Ellis was a personal friend  of Britain's The Catholic Herald's Father Lucie-Smith when the latter was a young seminarian, and he shows up in her writing.

Then there was Anne Roche Muggeridge, the Canadian who wrote THE Canadian Traddy Catholic cri-de-couer The Desolate City. Knowing Toronto as I know Toronto, I know that was a very gutsy book to write. Lefty Catholics had their own newspaper and controlled the school board and made rude remarks about the Cardinal Archbishop with impunity, but everyone fell upon lippy liturgical conservatives--with the possible exception of Saint Michael's Choir School--like a ton of bricks. Toronto conservative Catholicism was of a ultramontanist variety, and if you were more Catholic than the Cardinal (be he Carter or Ambrozic) you were most certainly considered a nut.

I am sure there are many other Traddy Heroines, so please mention your favourites in the combox to inspire us all. By Traddy Heroine, I mean that they had or have a marked and public love for the Traditional Latin Mass after 1963, but did not turn their backs on Peter, no matter what he got up to in Rome or (cough) Assisi.


  1. Wait...what? I thought that diocese paid for their seminarians' educations.

  2. I imagine the money must come from somewhere. Besides, who knows which seminary Pirate might choose to go to? If he were to choose to go at all, of course.

  3. Weirdly, once I got into actually attending the EF (thanks to you, the Motu Proprio, and generous, open-minded bishops & priests who hosted or celebrated it), I lost all interest in liturgy blogs. I've lost interest in most Catholic blogs that I used to read (except yours) because they all switched to the obnoxious click-bait that is Patheos. Right now, I am actually going to an OF Mass because the EF is way too early for me to get up to go by myself, but once I get married I might go to it more. I am a poser-Traddy at best, because I only really love the EF High Mass.

  4. Amazingly, Patheos never tried to sign me, even at the height of my FAME. But I have a little inside knowledge, and it is that the bloggers are paid according to the clicks, and not the big bucks, either! So I do not know if I would be tempted, especially as quite a few of my friends would make fun of me. Woe!


This is Edinburgh Housewife, a blog for Catholic women and other women of good will. It assumes that the average reader is an unmarried, childless Catholic woman over 18. Commenters are asked to take that into consideration before commenting. Anonymous comments may be erased.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.