The Feminized Liturgy: A Response to The Catholic Gentleman

The Catholic Gentleman recently posted his arguments about why the Catholic Liturgy has become somewhat more effeminate since Vatican II.  His basic argument seems to be that various changes in liturgical practice (music, vernacular language, female liturgical ministers, etc.) have caused the liturgy to be something that men have greater difficulty engaging in fully.  While I agree with some of his arguments, I believe that the problem has for more to do with the type of men we are raising, rather than the liturgy we are celebrating.

My theological leaning.

Since The Catholic Gentleman was kind enough to give you his spiritual bias, I shall give you mine as well.  I consider myself neither Liberal nor Conservative.  If pressed I would have to say I have conservative leanings.  I value Church Tradition and the authority of the Magesterium, but also see the value in theology as continually unfinished and the development of doctrine.  I prefer a relatively conservative liturgy, but dislike the Latin Mass as well those that I believe are fundamentally misguided in their interpretations of Vatican II.  I receive communion in-hand because I believe it represents the fullness of the sacrament and sacramentality of the Eucharist.  However, I always make sure I get all of Jesus off my palms.  I prefer modern hymns that I can sing along to, over Gregorian Chant or instrumental music, but as personal preference, prefer not to have modern Christian rock as part of the liturgy (however, I recognize that in certain situations, it may acceptable).

What we agree on.

I wholeheartedly agree with The Catholic Gentleman that abrogations, perversions, and misinterpretations have manifested themselves in the various liturgies of various parishes since Vatican II.  I agree that the liturgy has become overall less appealing to men, and that women have begun to “dominate” the various roles of the Church.  I also of course, agree with all the doctrinal and dogmatic principles implied and expressed in his post–that women should not be priests, that the Eucharist should be received with reverence, etc.

What I disagree with.

Perhaps it would be easiest to take this point by point:

1) The “Novus Ordo” lacks order: While I agree that the “New Order” Mass lacks the regimentation of the Tridentine Rite, I believe that the argument that it lacks a proper sense of order to be misleading.  Yes, the priest can choose various Eucharistic prayers, but that does not take away from the order of the ritual that is occurring.  Each mass is essentially the same with the same formula, the same parts, the same number of readings, the same Eucharistic Sacrifice.  Besides, even if it was less ordered, it would not necessarily make it less masculine.

2) The Role of Women in the Liturgy:  This one is hard for me to comment on, because I’m still trying to decide where exactly I stand, and a lot of this argument consists of nuance and distinction.  However, I agree with the point that involving women in the Liturgy in certain ways can cause it to be less masculine.  I also agree with the point that certain activities and practices should separate men and women.  Boys need boy time, girls need girl time.  I also, in general, tend to be against (or at least hesitant about) the use of any lay people (male or female) when not needed in the liturgy.  That being said, I realize that many times the participation of the laity in such ways is necessary and allowed for by the Church in said circumstances.  I also must ask the question–is the lack of men participating in the liturgy in this way a cause of the feminized liturgy, or is it a consequence of it?  Correlation is not causation.

3) The Music is too Sentimental–I partially agree with this, although I believe that much of the argument about this, as well as some other things that will come up, is about preference.  Some men may actually like some of the music that is played at Mass (and most of them are written by men).  Much of the modern worship music listened to by devoted youth could be considered “sentimental”, but still we have many young men giving their life to God because this music is drawing them to Him.  Furthermore (and more on this later), shouldn’t we be raising men who are OK with being sentimental at the appropriate times?  Does God not want us to embrace him with our emotions as well as our intellects and obedience?

4) The Orientation of the Priest–I think this is much about perspective as well.  I think as long as the priest maintains clear duties and roles separate from the people it should be clear that he is leading us.  Any lack of understanding from this is not inherent in the orientation of the priest, but rather in the catechesis, collective conscience, and paradigm of the people who seek to put the priest on same sacramental and ontological level as the congregation.  Don’t get me wrong, the priest is part of the community, but even more so he is the head of it, and by Holy Orders is “ontologically” different from the congregation.  Does it really matter which way he faces, or is it more about the faithful’s duty to educate about the role of priesthood?  As far as I can tell, Vatican II says its ok for the priest to face the congregation.  At some level we have to accept that.

5) The Ancientness is Lost—ummm… sorry, but my understanding is that we are still participating in the saving act of Christ on the Cross which happened once and for all two-thousand years ago.  The Mass we celebrate today (Yes, the Novus Ordo) has many of the same elements it had both in its Jewish roots, and as the early Church Fathers celebrated, which can be seen from the writings of Justin Martyr.  The Eucharistic prayers we use date back to the words of Paul or the very first believers in the middle east.  We still use the Sign of the Cross, say the “Nicean Creed, and have elements of the Mass in Latin and Greek.  That seems ancient enough for me.  Perhaps this is another case of perspective?  Either way, the focus of the Mass is the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is just as ancient as it will always be.

6) No More Latin–Yes, Latin is important and is a crucial part of the culture, spirituality, and sacredness of the Church.  However, that does not mean it is essential to the liturgy.  I actually prefer not to celebrate in Latin, because I believe the vernacular cultivates a higher degree of participation than the Latin.  In Latin Masses I get distracted trying to figure out what is going on, in vernacular Masses I am free to allow my full understanding of the words to lift me up into worship and assent my intellect to God.  Is that not what ritual, liturgy, and Sacrament, is suppose to do?  Latin is actually detrimental to some.  Perhaps the idea that it sounds masculine is another matter of perspective.

7) Sacrifice is Downplayed–OK, I’ll grant you this one.  In the majority of Parishes the liturgy has become some sort of “feel good” “coca-cola Catholicism” that doesn’t speak to the sacrificial nature of a Man’s heart.  Some places have still got it, and it is encouraging to still hear parishes that support a spirituality of suffering.  However, the Liturgy itself cannot be blamed for this because it is not a universal problem–it is a decorating and homiletics problem.  The Liturgy itself is still very clearly the sacrifice of Calvary, and any misunderstanding again comes from bad Catechesis or paradigms.

Concluding Thoughts (The Real Problem).

I truly appreciate the intent of The Catholic Gentleman in exploring this difficult topic and for putting himself out there humbly and with the best of purpose.  However, I propose that a different question is actually at stake.

Is the Liturgy more feminine than it used to be? Maybe… especially in certain parishes.

Is it a really a problem?  Only insofar as it is inauthentic to the true teaching of the Church and causes a Mass to be illicit or invalid or fails to call the community as a whole to authentic worship.  When priests and lay people disregard crucial elements of the faith and liturgy as a matter of either personal preference or as blatant disobedience when both should be subject to the authority of the Church.

What is the real problem here?  We are failing to raise and catechize adequate men.  We are simultaneously raising men who are too feminine (and thus “feminize” the liturgy) and men who cannot comprehend or rejoice in true beauty.  Men should be able to embrace the sentimentality of the Catholic Liturgy.  We need men who can cry in front of their children, or who can say “I Love You”, but we also need men who can sacrifice their lives not only on a major scale, but in the little everyday things.  We also need to Catechize our men (and perhaps even more so our women) on the role of priesthood, the value of sacrifice, and the virtue of obedience.  Finally, we need to treat women properly and with a clarity of purpose so that they start feeling less obligated to act like men.  The Mass is beautiful and true in any form because it is the efficacious sacrifice and communal worship of God.  But how many of today’s men see the truth for what it really is, even if they are Catholic?  The problem is not the liturgy, its that men have forgotten how to recognize beauty in the everyday and worldly, and for many, truth has lost its appeal except for in the very depths of their hearts, which they have forgotten how to listen to.


2 comments on “The Feminized Liturgy: A Response to The Catholic Gentleman

  1. Mobbischer says:

    True words!
    I agree with the different real problems you mentioned. And I would add another one. Men (and women) seek for their “personal Jesus”, someone to love and get loved. Most find this in Holy Mass. There is a place where they face God alone, so that there is just a single relation. But they forget what Jesus (and St. Paul) said. We should strengthen eachother and make disciples. We should live together in the peace Jesus gave us. When I read some comments on “catholic gentleman”, I fear that we don’t live in harmony. Separation is rising in our hearts.
    Mass with it’s sacredness is made up so high, that nobody can really reach it. I know many who attend daily mass. But we have forgotten, that early Christians met only on the Day of the Lord. Presence in Holy Sacrament should be something rare. How can Mass be rare, if faced every day? A link to gospel: John 12:8
    Thank you very much for your article!

  2. ubique lucet says:

    Thanks for such a thoughtful response.

    My concern is that all of those changes, in combination, have undermined the general sense of participating in a sacred reality, and I have reservations about how they comport with our understanding of “lex orandi, lex credendi.”

    By ditching chant, we did much more than just change a musical style: we lost the richness and texture of those constituent parts of the Mass, and we exchanged it for the superficiality (and borderline heterodoxy) of much “contemporary” music.

    When the priest faces the people, it is easy to think that he’s addressing us, and that Mass is about the community. If you have to be well catechized to know the difference, then liturgy isn’t serving to form the faithful, but leading them to think something else. (And this is another on the list of things that Vatican II did not call for; as I understand it, even now, the GIRM notes when the priest is to “turn” toward the people, implying that he’s not facing us.)

    The sweeping and abrupt imposition of these changes sent an unfortunate signal that the Church can change with the times — not through the authentic development that you rightly mention, but that if the Mass can be so altered, then Church teaching was in play too.

    Taken together, the changes have made it more difficult to experience that “communion in time” with our forebears in faith, while simultaneously making it easier to have impoverished (or inaccurate) understandings of what we truly believe.

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