Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Traditional Latin Mass, Men, and Masculinity

A friend of mine passed along an article about the Tridentine Mass, "Refugees From the Vernacular Mass." (New Oxford Review) The author had me with the opening paragraph:

I see there's a new book out, Why Men Hate Going to Church(Nelson Books). David Murrow, a television writer and producer, decided to write it after years of attending Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, and evangelical churches. He found that "no matter the name on the outside, there are always more women on the inside." I haven't read the book, but according to Peter Steinfels, who wrote a column about it for The New York Times, Murrow cites surveys showing that in most forms of church-related activity women constitute a great majority of participants, generally from 60 to 80 percent, and that most churches are "dominated by women and their values."
(The full article is reprinted by permission on the blog, Musings of a Pertinacious Papist.)

Many years ago, I noticed the very same thing. In fact, I started to call it "the feminization of the culture" before I heard others use the same phrase. Feminism wasn't satisfied with giving women the right to vote and be paid equally. The agenda seemed to shift toward destroying masculinity altogether. Since men were, as they said, the "enemy," it wasn't enough to subdue them but eradicate every aspect of their oppression. The injustice that so many feminists fought against, became the very same tool they used to bludgeon men. The irony was shameful.

There is something about women and spirituality. Women are usually on a quest of one kind or another in order to understand the world around them. For a woman, relationship takes precedence, whether it is the relationship with her friends, her boyfriend or spouse, or God. I believe it is because God built the desire for relationship into women; for instance, Eve was created for relationship with Adam. Adam was first given something to do, which explains why most men would rather pound nails with their bare hands into wood than discuss their "relationships." Women, on the other hand, can happily discuss relationships until the cows come home. But I digress.

The writer of the article goes on to point out how men, generally, do not attend church. However, he noted that plenty of men were in attendance at a Tridentine Mass. I've noticed the same thing. Here are a few reasons why I think men like it.

Men are not distracted. During a typical church service, there is often too much going on. Whether it's an overly eager worship team that "wants everyone to join in" or constant flow of people assisting at a service, it produces a flurry of activity that often causes a man to think, "Now why did they have to go and do that?" Many times, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the actions. There are also times when it is obvious that someone didn't get the memo.

At a Tridentine Mass, it doesn't seem as disjointed. Everything is flowing toward the same point. The priest, deacon, and servers are engaged in a beautiful liturgy that has been around for hundreds of years. There is deep and profound meaning to each rhythm of the Mass.

Man's role as the spiritual head is confirmed with the Tridentine Mass. I don't want to step on the toes of the ladies, but I have to say it. When women take the lead within a worship service, very rarely will a man step up to the plate and join them. I've seen it over and over again. Within the last ministry I was involved with, about 80% of the church service activities were completed by women. Did that mean there were few men present? No. Although I'd say the percentage of women was higher than the men, we still had plenty of men. But they didn't do anything. It was mostly the women who greeted, acted as ushers, took up the collection, and worked the bookstore.

Within the Tridentine Mass, men see men completing the sacred tasks. In the Old Testament, only men were allowed to be priests. There was no such thing as a female high priest. Men are validated in their role when they see only young boys and men assisting at Mass. There are no altar girls, a sure sign that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been politicized, which is a tragedy. Worshipping God is not an issue of "fairness" or "justice" as though we're talking about worldly systems such as corporations or sports. There is a pattern God has initiated and men instinctively know when it's awry. I think women do, too.

Then the author, Tom Bethell, said this:

But there is a much stronger argument for the restoration of Latin. It is well suited to ecclesiastical purposes precisely because it is a dead language. A language that is no longer in use is inherently an obstacle to all innovations and feverish updating. The Church is concerned with the permanent things, and a language without even a vocabulary for modern things is a natural barrier to every fad. You can see why Latin, and the Tridentine rite in particular, do not appeal to those who are working for a politicized Church that keeps abreast of the latest cultural trends.

Men appreciate substance. This isn't to say that women don't appreciate substance, but women can become distracted by the bells and whistles of the culture. Men usually ask the deeper questions. My father instilled this in me when I was a young girl. He would constantly challenge me by asking, "why?" Why did I do something? Why did it matter? Why did I concern myself with what others thought? Why did I allow myself to be taken advantage of? Sometimes I thought the questions were overbearing, but they taught me a great lesson: Know yourself and ask questions.

Within the Tridentine Mass, men see the value of tradition which expresses itself by staying true to the purpose of Mass. It isn't to entertain us or be used as a pawn in some cultural power play. It is holy and the less men and women tamper with it, the better.

Finally, I think men appreciate the Tridentine Mass because they see women understanding the role God has given to them. Many women wear a veil during the Tridentine Mass. The practice is explained in St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 11. Women wear the veil to show their submission. I know firsthand how much this blesses men when they see it. At first I wasn't sure about wearing it, but then remembered that I loved a prayer shawl I had bought from a woman, who had brought it back from Israel. I love Judaic tradition and have a high respect for Judaism. I would often drape the shawl over my head as I prayed in private, feeling a special connection to God as I did so.

Wearing the veil has the same effect on me. But I'm going to go out on a limb and make a supposition. I believe the reason it blesses men so much to see a women veiled isn't because he thinks that now "she knows who's boss." It because as a woman embraces her role, so a man may embrace his. Very few men enjoy a power struggle with women. Most will relent because they simply don't want more aggravation at home, which to them is to be a place of refuge. When a woman understands what God has called her to be, there is peace. The woman feels it and so does the man. This, is what I believe happens when a man looks at women at a Traditional Latin Mass. It is radical in its counter-cultural approach and God blesses it.

There is a strength in the Tridentine Mass, an unwavering stance that provides stability in the relentless storm of fickleness which exists in the world. There is security and peace within the old liturgy, untainted by human ego. May God continue to protect and nourish the Tridentine Mass, and may it bear fruit for the universal Church, and the world.


Shirley said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am really poor at explaining things like this; you did an excellent job of putting into words things I understand but couldn't explain.

Adrienne said...

As an adult with ADD I am driven to complete distraction in the typical NO Mass. I sometimes leave with the jitters.

The "Latin Mass" never does that.

Janny said...

"Men usually ask the deeper questions..."

I'm sorry, but I simply must disagree here. Men of a certain age or era may have been trained this way--and those of us who've tried to train our kids to be intelligent and independent thinkers, no matter their gender, still try to train them this way--but by and large, the impression women get of men nowadays is of "big dumb lugs" who really never want to talk about anything deep. And that's not something that most men seem to want to correct; the media, in fact, applauds them for this persona, and their friends certainly aren't going to tell them any different.

The standing jokes about men running in fear from "talking about their feelings" bear out this sad trend, and it's a direct result of many men never being taught that it was OKAY to ask "Why" to anything. Yes, many women don't ask "Why" either--but to make this distinction as some kind of "male appreciation of substance" is totally off the map. Many men are so crippled emotionally as a result of absent fathers, and other maladies of our culture, that they feel they DARE not ask why of almost anything or anybody. They feel, by contrast, that they have to HAVE the answers already...which is a psychological paradox in which no one wins, and in which the safest plan of action is to then retreat behind the "caveman" veneer and let the women worry about all that "deep stuff." Which, of course, they then do...

Men may appreciate the Tridentine Mass for many reasons, among them the fact that it's not so "busy." But they're not appreciating it because "they appreciate substance more." To say that is to insult women of depth and piety--and runs the very real risk of setting up yet another "us versus them" camp within participants at Mass. To my mind, that's somewhere we don't want to go...


Pablo the Mexican said...

The Latin Tridentine Mass is Christ crucified. It is the exact representation of Calvary.

Men, women, and children are drawn to this Mass because their souls tell them they are 'home'.

Christ on the cross makes men masculine, women feminine.

I have a website you might be interested in:

There are sermons and cathechisms there from traditional catholic Priests.Please listen to some of them. Everytime I listen I learn something new. You just cannot beat a Priest that is well formed in his holy ministry.

I hope you enjoy them.

May God our Lord in his infinite and supreme goodness be pleased to give us his abundant grace, that we may know his most holy will, and entirely fulfill it.


X said...

Personally my husband would not "get" a TLM because of the stretches of quiet and "nothingness." Most men have the attention span of a gnat (just joking - it's actually about 12 minutes - about the length of Father's homily). Just color me Novus Ordo.

Also, as much as the veil is beautiful - mine's always falling off my head. Too distracting. I guess I must go to an excellent NO if I don't yearn for the TLM.

Mary Rose said...

Thanks, everyone for the comments. All are interesting observations. Janny, your comments in particular caused me to question my own conclusions. All I can say is that my observations have come after attending the Traditional Latin Mass now for over one year, and involvement with our Latin Mass community within our Una Voce chapter and most interestingly, our recent Latin Mass retreat in February.

During the last day of the retreat, we had the opportunity for an open discussion regarding those who loved the Traditional Latin Mass and how to reach out to others in our parish. Most who love the TLM realize there is a certain perception of them, and wanted very much to bridge whatever divisions existed. There was a very energetic discussion on how to do this.

Those involved in this discussion were mostly the men. There was depth and passion in their words as it became obvious that many of them had already given quite a bit of thought to this. The men who lead Una Voce are not elderly, either. The average age of the members is around 32 years old, but there are certainly men there who are in their forties and fifties, and beyond.

I stand by my observations but will admit that they are only what I have seen here, in my local city. Still, from reading the blogs online on this topic, (most notably Fr. Zuhlsdorf's blog, Damian Thompson's column "Holy Smoke" in the UK's online edition of The Telegraph, and the New Liturgical Movement), I do see men who are rising up to not only ask questions, but share their feelings on all sorts of church issues. I also notice that they are tired of the "touchy-feely" approach and long for - yes, substance.

Women are right beside them, desiring many of the same things. The point of the entry was to comment on another person's article regarding the Traditional Latin Mass and how men were responding to it. From checking in with the men in my life, I was assured that my thoughts weren't off base at all. In fact, they told me I was on target.

Angela, I had to chuckle a little at what you said. As much as I think of myself as a contemplative of sorts, I didn't "get" the TLM, either until I bought the 1962 Roman Missal and started to study it. Yep, I had to study that small, thick volume as though I had an exam every Sunday! It does take time, but oh, how it is worth it! I do know that for some of us who are more "active," it's a challenge. Still, I hope that the silence that exists in abundance during the TLM will affect the NO. I don't mind a NO. As long as it's reverent and all the rubrics are in place, it's beautiful.

My mantilla slips on occasion, too. I still need to find some good ways to clip it to my hair. :-)