Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Baseball hats in church in Hexham and Newcastle

There has been a lively correspondence in the diocesan newspaper of the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle about this photo, which appeared illustrating a story about a 'Youth Village', a gathering organised by the diocese' 'Youth Ministry'.

It apparently did not occur to the editors of The Northern Cross that there was anything amiss in this picture of a young man presenting the gifts to Bishop Cunningham, and in response to a letter pointing out that something was amiss (which is on the website here, for the time being) there came an avalanche of letters defending the young man, Which of course rather misses the point. Evidently, no one in the Yoof Ministry had catechised him about the significance of men taking off their hats in church. I wonder if they had catechised him about anything else. That certainly isn't the young man's fault. You can't reap where you have not sown.

Oliver Cromwell dissolving the House of Commons. Engraving of 1653.
There is a lot which should be said about the patronising attitude of Yoof-oriented liturgy and other events organised from the top down, in the Church. It is striking that those initiatives which have grown up from the grass-roots, for young Catholics, are of a very different character: the Faith Movement's events, the Evangelium Conference, the Juventutem movement, and the St Catherine's Trust Summer School and Family Retreat. Events organised without the big institutional money-bags, and the institutional links to corral clients from Catholic schools and parishes, live and die by their success with the young people themselves. We know, because we've done it, that children and young adults are perfectly happy with even quite a lot of liturgy and catechesis if it is not dumded-down, patronising, and embarrassing. The official Yoof ministry people can merrily put one generation of Catholics off the Faith and just move on to the next cohort of victims.

The specific point of the photograph, however, is the issue of men wearing hats in Church. In the 1917 Code of Canon law, the obligation for men to uncover their heads is given greater prominence than the obligation of women to cover them. Canon 1262.2:

Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they shall approach the table of the Lord.

It is interesting to see the obligation of men extended to outside events (such as open-air Masses), when men would at that time naturally have worn hats outside, whereas the obligation of women is tied more to the reception of Holy Communion.
House of Commons, picture published in 1808

It's it odd that no-one seems to think that this obligation was oppressive to men, when in fact it would have occasioned noticeable discomfort in outdoor settings, either from the sun or from the cold, and represented a deviation from normal practice. Women, on the other hand, are effectively told: just do what you'd do anyway, wear something on your head.

Today fashions have changed, and the obligation is no longer in canon law, though the Scriptural basis of the obligation, St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, is still there, between 1 Cor 10 and 1 Cor 12. Since few people wear hats or anything else on their heads in the West, it is the practice of women putting something on in church which now strikes us as surprising. The only thing which has survived is a general sense that men take off their hats inside, which is actually quite a recent thing, as these drawings of the House of Commons demonstrate: men, like women, were entirely comfortable wearing hats indoors into the 20th century. Taking them off in church or, in Protestant practice, taking them off specifically for prayer in church, was a dramatic gesture.

The contrasting obligations on men and women in Scripture and the old Code are the really interesting thing. I shall soon be publishing a Position Paper on this subject.

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  1. How true this rings with me & the 'Yoof" Village!! Did you know that the word 'YOOF' is now a part of the dictionary? I have said for a number of years that the Youth Ministry Team (YMT) is a complete waste of diocesan resources. I'm pleased to say that quite a number of young people who have experienced it agree with me.
    Please don't chastise the editor of 'Northern Cross' (an Anglican) who reports without fear or favour whatever he feels the laity of the diocese should know.
    When you consider the closure of our seminary (Ushaw College) and yet see diocesan funding wasted on such as the Youth Village you have to wonder about the direction of the Church, not just in Hexham & Newcastle diocese but across the UK &, maybe, the world.
    Surely there were clergy present at the Mass celebrated by our bishop who could have seen to it that such a photograph could not have been taken, simply by telling the young man to remove his hat in church.
    My heart bleeds!!!!!!

  2. Anonymous1:00 am

    The shame is that the bishop, priests, and other catechetical leaders allowed a man in the Church with a hat on, and what's worse, approach the sanctuary with the altar gifts, with it on!!

  3. To be fair Lynda, I don't think our Youth Village has a church per se. I am led to believe that they simply have an assembly hall which doubles (trebles?) as a cafeteria, sports hall, meeting area & (if it isn't being used for those things) as a church/chapel

  4. Spot on Joseph - the saccharine and cringe-worthy efforts of these "Yoof" ministries speak for themselves. It is a Christianity of feel-good - a cross without a Christ on it. An effeminate Christianity does not inspire confidence in young people looking for direction in life - sadly they find it elsewhere e.g. materialism, radical Islam, etc