By Karen Mannino September 9th, 2013
Recently, I read a blog post in which the author argued that men were falling away from the church because the liturgy is not masculine enough.
Femininity and masculinity, the sexes, and what sociologists call gender rolls fascinate me. When you break it down, it is a little strange to call the liturgy by these terms. But it would actually be a little more strange to have a masculine liturgy than a feminine one. The point that the blogger was trying to make was that the liturgy does a bad job appealing to men. The point he actually made was that the Novus Ordo fails to appeal to people of both sexes who are like him. But I have been looking for an excuse to write about the way we use these words, so I’m going to take it and not get into the dangerous water of Latin vs English and all that.
Masculine and feminine, in my very un-authoritative free computer dictionary, are adjectives that refer to traits associated with men and women respectively. The second definition has to do with the gender of nouns in languages. They are grammar terms. They are also refer to which beat a cadence lands on in music.
These particular grammar terms are associated with the sexes because something about the differences between the words reminded us of the differences between the sexes. This is my theory: When you come right down to it, the difference that we were reminded of, was strictly biological and sexual. It comes down to masculine things are convex, and feminine things are concave. It reflect our sexual biology. Somehow the concave or convex concept got applied to all sorts of abstract characteristics. The ones that were somehow convex were thought appropriate to or common in men, and the concave ones in women.
This is a useful way to classify things, and it can even be beautiful. It makes me kind of gnash my teeth when masculinity and femininity are made to be the rule by which men and women should behave. That is not useful at all. But that’s another blog post.
Christ gave us a beautiful metaphor for his relationship with the Church. We call her Mother Church and the Bride of Christ, making her distinctly feminine on some metaphorical level. This is useful and beautiful because it tells how the Church (and that’s all of us) ought to relate to Christ. We ought to relate in a way that is concave. The Church receives Christ, she lets him fill her. Like a bride receiving her husband sexually. She also relates to each soul who belongs to her in a way that is concave. She opens her arms to anyone who is willing to come and grow in the sheltered place inside her. Like a mother who bears a child in her womb. She holds these souls and presents them to Christ who makes all things knew within her.
At this point, I seems very strange to me to think of the liturgy needing to be more masculine. I have a theory as to one reason why a more traditional catholic man might think that liturgy used to be more masculine, and needs to return to that. My theory: The radical feminists made us aware of patriarchy (which exists, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not) and empowered women to refuse to live in that system. In patriarchy women are morally, and spiritually inferior to men. The Catholic Church has been teaching against this concept since the first Roman women started converting in their husbands’ despite. So that should be no big deal. But here is the problem: Patriarchy also degraded “women’s work” so that it was beneath the dignity of a man to participate in an activity that a woman could, or normally would do. When the feminists liberated women from patriarchy they failed to liberate men. So now men are stuck in this rather silly situation. If women join academia, it is no longer cool for men to be academic. A few console themselves by saying that men are still better at academics than women. But many just figure it is more masculine to do something that women don’t do, like play football, or drive trucks. Anything that isn’t just for men is no longer masculine.
Traditionalists of both sexes often complain that women shouldn’t be lectors, alter servers, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc. My inner feminists suspects that this is because they feel, subconsciously, that having a woman participate in in the liturgy in those ways degrades it somehow. If this were truly so, there should be no women anywhere in the liturgy. There might be reasons why women should not do some of these things. But usually the argument I hear is that it isn’t traditional, or it’s a slippery slope to women priesthood. In all frankness, I don’t think that holds water.
If anything, each and every person at mass should be striving for a more feminine relationship with Christ. That’s what the holy mass is about; the community, and each soul in it opening themselves, and making a concave place that God can fill.
Karen Mannino is the token feminist on this blog. She lives in the great Inland Northwest. Her other interests include singing Gregorian Chant at the Novus Ordo mass, playing tea party with her kid brother, and art.