Holy Mass / Liturgy / Worship

Masculinity and the Liturgy

Today, I want to broach a controversial topic, knowing full well that I may cause a ruckus. I want to talk about masculinity and the liturgy. (Fair warning: This is going to be long.)

communionI will start with a few caveats. First, I do not believe the liturgy should ever be a controversial issue. It shouldn’t be a matter of politics, factions, personal preference, or cultural fads. But sadly, many have made the liturgy their personal plaything, making these conversations all but impossible to avoid.

Second, all of the following opinions are just that—opinions. I am an uneducated layman. I am not a theologian or a liturgical scholar. If you want an in depth treatment of the liturgy, read Pope Benedict’s “Spirit of the Liturgy.” That said, I am a man, and I want to share my personal observations on why I believe the liturgy is now less masculine.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I attend the Latin mass. I am not a sedevacantist, nor do I believe the Novus Ordo mass is somehow invalid, making those who attend it from choice or necessity inferior Catholics. I love Pope Francis, I love our priests, and I love the Catholic Church. All right, onto the issues.

My experience

I want to begin by sharing a few of my experiences as a convert. On the final stages of my road to Rome, I spent a good deal of time with high church Anglo-Catholics, regularly attending liturgies at a seminary and church near my home. These Anglicans took the liturgy seriously, and their services were conducted reverently and beautifully.

20121008%20051

What I expected.

In fact, their services looked so Catholic that experiencing them led me to study further exactly why Anglicans weren’t Catholic anymore. The rest of the story is beyond the scope of this post, but the point is, I came into Catholicism with an experience of very reverent and dignified liturgy, kneeling to receive communion, and an atmosphere of sacredness.

Eventually, after months of studying Catholic teaching, I worked up the courage to attend a Catholic mass. I had no idea what a mass looked like, but at the very least, I expected it to be more beautiful and reverent than the Anglican liturgy. After all, the Catholics had the body, blood, soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, while Anglicans did not have the real thing.

novus ordo

Something like what I saw.

One Sunday, my wife and I slipped in the door of a beautiful, Spanish style parish near our home. What followed was eye opening, and frankly, a bit disappointing. The music was tacky at best—a piano and guitar playing shallow ditties. The altar was stripped and bare. Where there was once an incredible high altar (there was a painting of it in the back of the Church), there was now a bizarre piece of glass with swirling colors. The priests vestments looked like a pinstriped sheet. Even the language of the Mass was far from sacral—it was almost on a kindergarten level. When it came time for the parishioners to receive communion, a number of laymen came forward to distribute it, and it was received standing and in the hand.

All of this was in stark contrast to the sacredness I had experienced in the conservative Anglican churches I had attended. In this instance, the Anglicans literally out catholiced the Catholics.

This was hard for me to digest. Intellectually, I knew how powerful the mass was from my studies of Catholic doctrine. Yet, when I encountered it first hand, it was far from a transcendent experience. Rather, it was trite and banal. A few months after we were confirmed, my wife and I were attending a Latin mass.

Where are the men?

An Irish Catholic friend has told me that his grandfather, who was a coal miner, would rise well before dawn to attend 5:00 am mass with his fellow miners. These men took the faith seriously and they loved the mass. They also weren’t unique. Parishes used to be packed with men who saw the mass as something masculine, inspiring, and something worth sacrificing time for.

A few decades later, most parish masses are dominated by women. The lectors are women, the cantors are women, the extraordinary ministers are predominantly women, and the altar servers are often girls. Other than the priest, there are hardly any men involved in the liturgy.

This is not to denigrate women. The most glorious creature God ever made is a woman. I also do not mean to say there are no men involved in parish life, because this is not the case. I am referring specifically to the liturgy.

Why is this? I am not a liturgical scholar, and I can’t propose to provide a precise diagnosis. Many others, including Pope Benedict, have done a fine job of that. Instead, I will share 7 reasons I think men no longer love the mass.

1. Lack of order – In the Extraordinay form, there are few surprises in the liturgy. While there are occasional seasonal changes, it follows a set pattern that can be learned easily. The actions of the priest and acolytes are regimented and orderly, and the mass looks essentially identical no matter where you go. In short, the Extraordinary form is rigid, disciplined, and almost militaristic in its precision.

In contrast, the Novus Ordo mass is much more fluid. The priest can choose a number of different Eucharistic prayers, the penitential rite at the beginning of mass can be chosen at the discretion of the priest, welcoming remarks and announcements are commonplace during the opening and closing prayers. Extraordinary ministers are not required, but they are almost always there, even if there are only 10 people at a daily mass.

The Novus Ordo can be beautiful and transcendent, or it can be incredibly poor. The point is, you just don’t know what to expect. The difference between the two forms of the mass is really the difference between objectivity and subjectivity.

2. No longer exclusively for men – Radical feminism has ensured that there are almost no roles left that are exclusively for men. Whereas men and women used to have distinct and exclusive roles, the lines have now been blurred.

Roman-Catholic-Mass-at-Iwo-Yima-1945-US-forces.

Marines, receiving communion kneeling and on the tongue. Iwo Jima.

Sadly, this blurring has crept into the liturgy.

Being an altar boy used to be a high privilege. It was even considered a potential first step on the path to the priesthood. Even if a boy didn’t become a priest, he would have a unique opportunity to see the dignity and masculinity of the priesthood firsthand.

Now, girls can be altar servers, and boys aren’t as interested. It’s like adding girls to the football team—it saps the masculinity right out of it. While it may be hard for women to understand, exclusively male roles are a healthy thing for boys. Quite literally, boys need to be boys, and they need to learn from masculine men.

In addition to altar girls, the distinctive role of the priest—who is, of course a man—has been diluted by the introduction of laypeople into the liturgy. The very fact that a woman can now distribute communion or read the Epistle immediately makes the liturgy less masculine.

You could argue that the priesthood is still exclusively for men, and that’s true. But if you start distributing the priestly duties to laypeople, it doesn’t really matter if women can’t be priests. They can still do the priest’s job.

3. Sentimental music – The music at most parishes is abysmal. It is more suitable for a Greenpeace rally than the church of God. It is sickly sweet and sentimental fluff that no man in his right mind would want to sing. The lyrics are all about our feelings, and they use vague ambiguities to describe our relationship with God. Of course, a growing number or parishes are working to change that, but the majority are still stuck in the doldrums.

I don’t mention music just to nitpick. Music has everything to do with the atmosphere of the mass. A communion hymn set to a tune that sounds similar to, “Won’t you be my neighbor,” from Mr. Rogers is going to trivialize the source and summit of the Catholic life.

On the contrary, beautiful, dignified, ancient, and masculine music like Gregorian chant (the music Vatican II actually called for) sets a solemn tone that inspires the lifting of the mind and heart to God.

battle_marianas6

A mass during World War II.

4. The priest faces the people – Frankly, most people don’t think the priest facing the people is a big deal. Even if it is, it doesn’t have much to do with masculinity, right? Wrong. It has a lot to do with it.

When the priest faces the same direction as the people (ad orientem), he is very clearly leading them before the throne of God. He is the representative of the people of God before an awesome and objective reality. He stands in the gap, offering sacrifices for us and for our sins—something we cannot do on our own. He is the captain, leading us toward heaven.

Furthermore, the entire congregation is oriented toward someone: Jesus Christ present in the tabernacle. Again, it is very clear who the real audience of the mass is (hint: it isn’t us). When the priest faces the people (versus populum), however, it turns the whole mass inward, toward us, and toward our subjective feelings and experience of God. It turns an objective and transcendent reality into a self-referential act.

The priest, rather than courageously and humbly standing before God, becomes a performer for our observation. Our sense of participation is wholly dependent on whether or not we can see what is going on. The mass is no longer a march toward heaven, it is solely about us and our feeling of community and belonging.

Turning the chief player in the mass, the representative of Jesus Christ, toward the people is like having a battalion commander march into battle backwards. It makes no sense. It reorients the action toward an object it was never intended for.

5. The sense of ancientness is lost – Men love tradition. While women find their sense of community through shared conversation, men find it through shared action. Men would much rather have a shared battle cry (Hooah!) than have a conversation over a cup of tea. That is why men love fraternal orders and the camaraderie of the military.

MonasteryGarments_PrivateMasses

Monks offering mass.

The extraordinary form is all about ancient actions. I have a missal at home that contains pages from ancient manuscripts of the mass. In 900 a.d., the ordinary of the mass was almost identical to what it is now. When you become a priest of the old rite, you are literally entering a centuries old club with its own secret signs and actions. The role of the people, too, is largely unchanged.

There is a sense of participation with the Church through the ages that men need (and I would argue women need as well). As men, we need to know that the we are making the same genuflections that the great soldier-saint, St. Ignatius of Loyola, made. We want to be drawn upward into a reality larger and older than ourselves, like being drawn into a secret society.

While there is debate about whether or not it is an inherent problem with the Novus Ordo, the fact is, it does not have this sense of ancientness about it. Rather, change is the name of the game. Even the words Novus Ordo mean “new” order.

If you study the texts of the mass, you realize just how much has changed in the prayers. But even if the prayers were unchanged, the atmosphere of most parish masses is something new and innovative. Again, you never know quite what to expect. There is no sense of ancient or shared action. Some people hold hands during the Our Father, others don’t. Some shake hands and socialize during the sign of peace, others don’t.

Men don’t like this unpredictability. We crave order, and the more ancient the venerable traditions that shape our actions are, the better.

6. No more Latin – Like it or not, Latin is the language of the Church. It isn’t something to be scorned, and it isn’t the domain of a few extreme traditionalists. It is essential to who we are as Catholics.

And guess what, Latin sounds incredibly masculine when you hear it. It is strong and concrete in its cadences. “Credo in unum Deum.” “Omnipotens Deus.” “Adveniat Regnum Tuum.” Abolishing Latin from the mass was never the object of Vatican II. Read the documents. The mass that Vatican II called for was a “Latin” mass.

Besides that, it provides the ancientness I mentioned previously. It keeps the mass from being constantly revised and retranslated to keep up with the changing fads of the vernacular.

While it may seem strange and foreign at first, I think most men are drawn to the power of the Latin language. In a way, we want mass to feel foreign, like we are stepping into something special rather than common place. There is a healthy feeling of disorientation upon stepping into a sacred place, and Latin enhances that.

7. Sacrifice is downplayed – The mass is the sacrifice of Calvary, but sadly, that reality has been hidden from most Masses. Some parishes don’t even have a crucifix near the altar. Instead, the concept of a “community meal” has taken precedence.

This weakens the mass, the central reality of which is always the sacrifice of Christ, and seeing his once for all sacrifice re-presented inspires us to make sacrifices of our own. Men love the concept of sacrifice. We desperately want to be called to it. We don’t want a community meal. We can get that at the local pub.

Removing, or at least downplaying, the sacrificial element has driven men away from the mass.

Why it matters

Tridentine_Mass

Solemn. Beautiful. Masculine.

You may be reading this and thinking that I am just ranting away and criticizing everything about the ordinary form of the mass and those who attend it. This simply isn’t true. I love the mass, and that is why I want it to be the best it can be, an action worthy of its Divine audience.

I took the time to write this post because I believe that transcendent liturgy isn’t an option. It is everything, and as the health of the liturgy goes, so goes the health of the Church.

The mass is literally the incarnation of the faith. Lex orandi, lex credendi. It is where the faith meets reality in our lives, and where we encounter firsthand the creed. And because of this, there is no more urgent need in the Church than a dramatic return to sacredness in the liturgy. The reason that 50% of Catholics don’t believe in the real presence is because the mass they attend doesn’t tell them about the real presence—not just through words, but through reverent and sacred actions.

Specifically relating to men, we can try programs, clubs, books, prayer, etc., but if the liturgy is weak and trite, men won’t love this beautiful reality. They will muddle through it and be half-heartedly engaged at best. Of course, men should go to mass anyway, but the point is, it won’t inspire us to holiness or great feats of sacrifice.

If we return to sacred and reverent liturgy, I guarantee we will see a new dynamism in the Church: increased conversions, more vocations, and men again taking the lead in matters of faith.

I’ve done enough talking. What do you think? Am I off base? Do you find the liturgy in most parishes masculine? Why or why not?

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151 thoughts on “Masculinity and the Liturgy

  1. Great post!! A couple of comments:

    I take my family to a church outside our parish that offers a beautiful Novus Odo mass. That parish incidentally also offers a Tridentine Mass, although we have not yet attended mainly due to the time. The reason we go to this other parish (and are officially registered there as well) at the expense of a half-hour commute one-way is that the service is much more reverent and (dare I say it) masculine. The liturgy is beautiful, music very reverential and sacred. Did you ever see the movie “Chariots of Fire”? There is a scene where Mr. Liddell is singing as part of the choir during a Presbytarian service. Nothing sappy about that. Very reverent. The first time I saw that scene I thought – that’s what I need to be doing. I can do that at the church we attend. By contrast, the local parish out where I reside is totally opposite – the music is sappy (makes me feel like a wimp so I don’t even bother singing), much less reverence is shown at the mass, and I feel out of place being the only gentleman who wears a blazer. It is also very difficult to avoid taking Communion from a lay person. Missing Mass on Sunday is a serious matter, but at the local Parish, it doesn’t “seem” like a big deal when you see how casual the approach is. Therein lies the problem with our society in general.

  2. RED

    Vestments of red
    Altar cloth too
    Martyrs who bled
    Did this for you.

    Gold Tabernacles
    Veiled in red’s hue
    Martyrs in shackles
    Hung for this view.

    Red mums full bloomed
    In water and brass
    Martyrs consumed
    Burned for this Mass.

    Red rays of sun
    Rose-streak the nave
    Their suf’ring done
    Now red we must crave!

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  4. eek! all I can say is that the Mass is what you bring it. You are focusing too much on externals and not enough on interior disposition.

    Don’t get me wrong – I grew up hearing from my mother to NEVER receive communion in the hand (as a Hispanic immigrant she was APPALLED by the American Roman Catholic services). When the bishops allowed women altar servers she almost had a heart attack. To this day I don’t receive in the hand and we had only male servers at our wedding.

    That being said – we have to trust Holy Mother church, the pope, the Bishops, and the Holy spirit to guide and protect Her. These things, though we may not approve of them, are allowed and we have trust God to protect His Church. Let’s focus not on things that we cannot change (and should leave up to the Bishops to decide) and lets focus more on our own interior disposition. Let’s embrace our faith with joy – radiating that joy all around us so we can bring more souls to God.

    I’ve learned that someone receiving communion in the hand may actually be doing a better job than I because of their INTERIOR disposition.

    We should focus on helping people realize that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Reverence for the Eucharist will naturally help people change their attitudes in Church. The belief in the True Presence has been lost among many. Once they realize what it is really happening at Mass and during communion, the Mass will have a more reverent feel to it.

    • The externals form the internals. Smells, bells, Latin, Gregorian chant, beautiful vestments, reverent postures; we sense these things and our minds and souls are lifted to higher things. When our eyes see ugly architecture, cheap vestments, tacky felt banners, sloppy posture and our ears hear sugary sweet music and a priest who sounds more like a talk-show host than a priest offering the Sacrifice of Calvary to God the Father, our internals are formed in a very different way.

      Surely, we can come with the correct interior disposition, but when our internal disposition is fighting against the externals we sense, the liturgy is failing us.

    • Also, using another of your examples, I don’t disagree that someone receiving in the hand MIGHT have a superior interior disposition than someone receiving on the tongue, the likelihood is low because it is the humble act of receiving on the tongue which creates a superior disposition. To not do so is an act devoid of that level of great humility.

      Too many of the exterior acts of participation of the Novus Ordo are self-referential based on the falsehood that participation is comprised of physical exterior action directed at MY involvement. OTOH, kneeling to receive on the tongue is an abject act of humble deference which takes one away from a focus on oneself.

    • I do believe more graces flow through the TLM even though Our Lord becomes present on the altar with the Novus Ordo, etc. and the reason is the disposition of the people and the priest too, in a general sense. Father does not have to put on a show or see hundreds of eyes looking at his performance; he can better pray the Holy Mass. The people come expecting more silence and reverence; there is not the chit-chat visiting before, the glad-handing during, or the explosion of conversation immediately afterwards. People dress reverently and modestly because they value the Mass; there are no flip-flops, short shorts, etc. The whole attitude is different; the whole disposition is different. Gone is the indifferent gum-chewing thrusting out of grimy hands; rather there is the reverential kneeling to receive Our Savior. There is no “Gather us In” or “Sing to the Mountains” or “We are the Body of Christ”…in other words, the sacred hymns reverence God or the Blessed Mother or a Saint and not just ourselves because, after all, we are at Mass to worship God and not us.

      We have not just come together to “share a meal”; we have come to adore and worship God and to receive Him.

      • This is an interesting observation, but I wouldn’t say one is better or more grace filled. You said so yourself, it is the disposition of the people who make the TLM what it is. So the type of person to want a more traditional Mass will attend such a Mass… but if the TLM were the only option, you’d have the same chit chat and flip flops as you sometimes get at an Novous Ordo Mass. And you’d probably also have less people attending Mass and being exposed to the Blessed Sacrament for the sheer fact that our western culture has changed dramatically since the middle of the last century.

        It is good that those who feel the need to steep themselves in tradition; to get away from the distractions of everyday life can come to worship in their own way. This form of Mass may seem more reverent because the type of people who choose to go there create the culture of reverence. They leave the “messy” NOM for the calm and quiet of likeminded individuals.

        However, there are many of us who delight in dissecting the NOM during Mass; to dive deep and inhale the layered semiotics of each word, action, and song. (I can do this because it is in English, although I have two degrees, I am no Latin scholar.) I can see the hands of God in this. There are those of us who also delight in seeing teenagers dragged to Mass by their parents because we are able to pray for each one of them individually. I love to see 7 year olds struggling to sit still, parents sacrificing their full immersion in the Mass, to teach and guide their little ones. I am awed and humbled that I not only get to adore Jesus on the altar and in my heart, but that I get to, for one fleeting moment, caress Him in the palm of my hand. It is good that those like me can find a place each week to remember that God is in the messiness and struggle of each day. To be reminded that God is Love and Love is messy.

        It is not the Mass that makes us more reverent, nor is one Mass, by virtue of the rubrics, any more “reverent” than the other. One may seem more “reverent” because of the people who attend, but it is the people who set the tone. Like wise, it is the personal disposition of each individual to choose the Mass best suited to their needs, even if that means people like me dress modestly beside someone in short shorts, or my bow before receiving communion is followed by a “grimey handed gum chewer”. These less reverent people deserve the chance to approach and be approached by God in a way that is welcoming, loving, forgiving and not intimidating. I am glad every week for their presence, for it was the grace of God who brought them there.

  5. Despite my personal affinity with the Tridentine Mass and the more solemn approaches to Novus Ordo, I feel slightly not at ease with a number of things mentioned in this post. I agree whole-heartedly that matters of liturgy and religion are all too often approached in too much of a touchy-feely (and effeminate) manner in our Church, there is a danger in caring to much about the “masculinity” of our church.

    First, most obvious, point is that “there is neither male nor female”. As Mass is the sacrifice of Christ himself, this sacrifice is offered to men and women alike and liturgy can not and should not be either explicitly masculine or explicitly feminine. That being said, I agree we should watch out for deviating too much in either direction.

    I also agree with MIA that often interior disposition is more important than outer signs. Even though I personally feel inspired by incense, bells, chanting, vestments and reverent posture, I have been to more than one Mass, especially in Africa or in immigrant communities, where they had a Novus Ordo with extensive layman (and laywoman) involvement, sappy rhythmic singing with drums and synthesizers, interjections deviating from the “normal order” and even some liturgical dancing, where nonetheless a true spirit of reverence could be felt and where people took the sacrifice of the Mass very, very, seriously. We need to remember that there are “many mansions”.

    And, I feel especially uncomfortable with the militaristic aspects of your post. Without getting into a debate about pacifism and militarism within Catholicism, the association of militarism and religion is always a very dangerous thing. Yes, of course the discipline and grandeur of the liturgy appeals to the martial instincts within us, to the little boy who wants to be part of something grand. And maybe this is less of a big deal in America, but I happen to be European and in Europe we have been confronted with what happens if patriotism, militarism and religion get confused, especially for Catholics. Franco’s Spain is just one of the many gruesome examples in our history.

    • I whole-heartedly agree with your statement that mass is neither male nor female. As a Catholic and a feminist I was somewhat offended at your comment about altar boys and taking away an exclusively male position… I disagree, what about young girls and allowing them to live out their faith? Just because boys seem not to step up and be leaders in the faith early-on, does not mean girls should not have the opportunity to serve in the church. The church is about the people- male OR female and living out their faith, like Christ, every day. I honestly think it is wrong to classify the mass OR the priest as having a masculine role… just because in the Catholic Church right now priests are men, does not mean the priest’s role is masculine.
      Despite that, I appreciate this well-written reflection and your thoughts.

  6. Man is both body and soul. One must worship God “in spirit and in truth” Man then, in both his body and soul must worship God. The external and the internal must conform in the one worship. Yes in “spirit” we can do it internally, but the “truth” of the matter is that we too have our bodies that should pray (ie. kneeling, sign of the cross, fasting, bows, etc.). So yes, I agree that the external signs and actions in the Liturgy are important aspects in the formation and development of our Faith.

  7. Catholic Gentlemen I, a college student at LSU, want to let you know that I fully agree with you. My question to you gentlemen is what we the laity can do to help bring back reverence to the mass.

    • Be loud and outspoken! Priests can be silenced by their bishop but no one can shut up a lay person. Complain about irreverence and liturgical abuse. Read and know Church history and the Catholic faith.

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  9. Thank you for such a well written article sir! Where could I find some good solid books on this subject? I want to read up on this as much as I can before I open my mouth by saying something wrong or uncharitable.

  10. Thank you for your article, it sums up your thoughts really well. But i also want to state my own opinion (i will try my best, english is not my first language).

    Firstly i would like to say: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. For me the beauty of the mass lies in its simplicity. (1 Sam 16,7)

    Secondly, our God gave himself in the form of bread, a form which is pure and simple. And i can assume that if God would really want to have gold all around Himself he would make it so. He could create a “metal of wonder” on which we would feast our eyes. So i can conclude that all the gold around, all the golden or whatever vestments are for us. So that we can be “closer” to God. But we can also assume that someone who feels that gold and such things hold no value, would hesitate.

    And the so called “new liturgy” is in reallity the “first” liturgy of the church. If you wrote that someone steps in the tradition of 900 years we can say that in reallity the liturgy which was not really reinvented, just found again, is the one which the disciples practised so it is quite older than 900 years.

    Also, about the lay people which give communion, this is a service which was established by the apostles by the name of acolyte (hostiariji).

    And lastly in my own humble opinion, i myself love the masses on weekdays because they are simple, humble, silent and Christ is in the centre, if the priest is facing me or not. In reallity we are all facing Chirst himself. (John 4,23)

  11. Great article. Unflinching but generous in tone.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your points. Until I ‘discovered’ the EF, I would sit bitterly through Mass, a believer but utterly turned off by the cringe-worthy and mostly effeminate manner of our modern liturgy.
    Interestingly enough, I might add that even within the EF, there are those priests/altar servers who will persist in offering the ancient liturgy in an effeminate (or overly dramatic) manner, the way I have seen it ‘performed’ by homosexual anglo-catholics. Frankly, this is just as bad as effeminacy in the NO.

  12. Pingback: Masculinity and the Liturgy | My Golden Meadow

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