Wednesday 3 July 2024

A Response to Casual Contempt

Lucy writes: A photograph published on Twitter last weekend, of a female Church of England ordinand wearing a Borromean chasuble, gave rise to considerable debate, much of it too disedifying to warrant special notice. But one comment, directed towards me as a representative of the Guild of St Clare, does require a response, if only a brief one, especially since it manifests a common attitude. Here it is.

Women in the Catholic Church fill many roles, and Joseph Shaw, in his own response to this tweet, drew attention to Diane Montagna, one of our most influential journalists, Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network whose unstinting efforts have saved hundreds of unborn babies from abortion, Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, noted sacred artist, in addition to women from past decades such as Sue Coot and Iris Roper, to whom the movement for the Traditional Mass owes so much. These women are an inspiration to all, a witness to the many ways in which women can serve the Church with distinction and true femininity.

At the Guild of St Clare Sewing Retreat, February 2021

The Church has need of more than leaders, however. The fabric of her buildings must be maintained, and her furnishings also. For those of us - most of us - not able to take the lead in public life, the care of vestments and Church furnishings has come to represent a significant part of our devotional life. "Every stitch an Ave," Fr Stephen Morrison OPraem, one of our strongest supporters, is fond of saying - and it is true. Handling the garments that are used in the highest prayer of the Church draws one into a kind of prayer that is at once a meditation and an alms.

Repairs to the goldwork on a Humeral Veil

St Joseph was a carpenter, a skilled craftsman. Our Lord himself washed the feet of the apostles, warning them: "If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me." The true Christian life lies not only in the ability to value the most menial task, and to understand that its very lowliness gives glory to God in a way that is particularly precious - but also to be able to accept a menial offering with humility and gratitude. 

The Guild of St Clare at our annual class at the Royal School of Needlework

It is true that much of the sewing involved in the mending of vestments is simple and unexciting. But there is much more to it than setting the stitches. The woman with the issue of blood understood well the power of the clothing of the Lord: "If I shall but touch his garment, I shall be whole." Those of us who do reverently touch and care for His garments, do indeed experience the consolation and healing power of Christ.

Painstaking repairs to a beautiful and fragile chasuble

I do not suggest that it is the task of every woman to undertake this work. (I certainly don't think that it is a task that should be limited to women either - at the Guild of St Clare we have welcomed the assistance of many men over the years, and count them amongst some of our most enthusiastic and skilled helpers.) Those who do join us, however, both men and women, in a spirit of prayerful generosity, can be sure that the Lord does not despise our efforts; more than that, that they have an honoured place in the mission of the Church Militant.

Fr Stephen Morrison OPraem repairing the cassock of one of his servers

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