EDINBURGH, Scotland (LifeSiteNews) — These days I’ve been wishing more elderly ladies would come to the Traditional Latin Mass.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted that so many university students and young families have joined our not-quite-so-little-anymore community. It’s almost cool when I find myself the oldest congregant at a daily Mass. And I am sure that the men and women who formed the “Old Guard” when I first turned up in Scotland 15 years ago and have since gone to their rest are delighted that the average age of our local TLM-goers has plummeted.
However, the changes to the community have meant a lot more work for the head tea lady, traditionally one of the older women, and this is very important to me, for currently she is I. The torch fell to me when I was in my forties which, frankly, was unthinkable when my seventy-something predecessors wielded the after-Mass teapot and spooned out the instant coffee. Both table and kitchen seemed the sacred locus of elderly women; in her late 80s, one woman would rise from her seat after finishing her tea, take a dish towel out of her handbag, and help with the washing up.
It was a Sunday ritual, reflecting the complementarily of the sexes – and the age groups, I thought. Young men served at the altar, and old women served at the tea table. And I wish there were still elderly women around to help me serve the tea, or that my predecessors were still on the spot to give me advice. Whether or not they are married and have children to prevent from running down the street, the young are busy creatures. They cannot always stay after tea to help with the washing up, and they would never dream of carrying dishtowels in their handbags.
And yet the role of tea lady is a very important one, just as after-Mass coffee-and-tea is an important social institution. The parish hall is a place where Catholics who don’t like socializing during Mass can go to indicate that they do like socializing after Mass. It is a safe space for parents of more children than secular society thinks respectable to chat together about their shared experience. It is also a safe space for young men and women who have virtues secular society thinks are vices – or neuroses. It should be – and sometimes is – a place a thirsty priest can get a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. When it isn’t, it is because the hall is also a safe space for children who like to eat as many cookies as they think they can get away with. It’s the halfway house between church and domestic church, and currently I’m in charge.
“What would Elaine do?” I sometimes think, having thrown a clod of earth upon Elaine’s coffin six years ago. “What would Elaine say?” I wondered when we broke with instant coffee for the real stuff. Because the thing is, in her way Elaine was a Catholic leader. She led by her cheerful example of service, and I have since discovered that there was a firm logic to why she – and the other tea ladies – managed after-Mass coffee the way they did. (Real coffee involves pots, which break, and costlier brands, which overtax the donations.)
Elaine might be surprised to learn that she was a leader, just as many of you might wonder what it is you would have to offer the deliberations at the Rome Life Forum. However, Thomas Aquinas in his incomparable primer of theology, the Summa Theologiae, praises elderly women of his time (the “parvulae”) for their spiritual wisdom. We need the spiritual wisdom of elderly women – and men – who believe the way the women praised by Thomas believed. And we very much need the wisdom of those who understand the importance of service.
For as long as I’ve been alive, Catholics have thought about youth: engaging the youth, attracting the youth, showing off how many young people we have in our community (from which I am clearly not immune). Perhaps, though, we need to engage more fully the wisdom of the mature, faithful Catholics over 50 who don’t like what has happened to their Church but, although eager to serve, are too humble to speak up.
There are many Catholics who are leaders because they are servants – serving the Church as sacristans, tea ladies, catechists, and organizers of parish events. They don’t think of themselves as “Catholic leaders,” partly because they are pious laymen who rightly think of the clergy as our leaders, but also because they don’t have an online platform or books to sell. However, I am sure that anyone who dedicates himself or herself to a truly Christian life of service, especially quiet service, has something to offer at the Rome Life Forum. After all, St. Joseph never said a word that was recorded in Scripture, and yet he is one of our most important saints, the patron of fathers, pregnant mothers, and the Universal Church.
So please, if you feel called to join LifeSiteNews in Rome this October 31 – November 1, do come. We need your wisdom. You can read about the Rome Life Forum at romelifeforum.com