The publication of Traditionis Custodes has given rise to a great many attacks on those attached to the Old Mass: the most recent, in this country, is published this weekend in the Tablet, by Austen Ivereigh. The focus of his assault is Mass at the parish at Ledbury, and he makes many grievous accusations, none of which stand up to scrutiny, but which nevertheless have caused distress and division not only amongst the faithful at Ledbury but in the wider community.
|The Chairman of the Latin Mass Society assisting in sewing labels into vestments
Perhaps the least of his broadsides was the one aimed at the Guild of St Clare. Here it is:
'LMS Chairman Joseph Shaw explains in the new edition of Mass of Ages how "traditional Catholics" must respond to the "new attitude of the Holy See" of "official hostility towards the traditional Mass". He asks his followers to steel themselves for mockery and persecution, to suffer for the "spiritual treasure" that they are "under a duty to preserve". He suggests they read his books and attend classes for vestment-sewing (women) [sic] and altar-serving (men).' Parentheses are Austen Ivereigh's, not Joseph Shaw's.
|Fr Richard Biggerstaff repairing a burse at the very first Guild of St Clare sewing retreat
Joseph, in fact, made no such arbitrary allocation of sewing to women: nor is it likely he would, as all our children have been taught to sew, irrespective of their sex. Our oldest son has twice won prizes in quilting competitions. However this enlightened attitude is in fact nothing new. Sewing has never been the exclusive preserve of women: consider professional embroidery and tailoring, for which England has for many centuries enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) an international reputation.
|Detail from a fourteenth century Book of Hours
The nineteenth century revival of English needlework was also spearheaded by a man, William Morris: and men continue to dominate the highest levels of the sewing professions here in Britain, most obviously, but not exclusively, in tailoring. It's ironic that Austen, in attacking traditionalists for their sexist attitudes, accidentally reveals that the outdated prejudices are all on his side.
|Br Isaac Wharton O.P. with Aileen Seymour at our sewing retreat at Douai
The work of the Guild of St Clare is almost entirely concerned with vestments, a special charism which has a profound appeal that speaks to men and women of all backgrounds who love the Church and want to serve her as well as they can. We have welcomed many men, including priests and religious, to our sewing workshops and retreats; the first winner of the Guild of St Clare sponsorship scheme for the Royal School of Needlework certificate course is a man, James Sharpe. And our first chaplain, Fr Bede Rowe, was a noted needleworker.
To misquote Cardinal Ratzinger, it is clear that, in vestment making and mending, men find an encounter with sewing particularly suited to them. Our mission at the Guild of St Clare is to support priests who celebrate the Traditional Mass (and goodness me, they need all the help we can give them right now), and we are very happy to be able to spread our skills as widely as possible so that every Mass can be celebrated with as much dignity as possible, for the glory of God.
|Fr Stephen Morrison OPraem at our last sewing retreat before the lockdown
We are all struggling our way to heaven, and doing our best to help those around us to get there too. In the end, that is the goal of all our efforts. In trying to beautify the vestments used for the liturgy, in as prayerful a manner as possible, we at the Guild of St Clare make our small contribution to the nourishing and spreading of our beautiful Faith. For "there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord." This work is for all: and all are welcome to join us.