Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Podles on masculinity and the Church, Part 5: the liturgy

The pliers for the nails, and the Sacred Wounds.
A guide to this series.
1: Leon Podles' argument about masculinity.
2: How Podles thinks the Church became feminised in the High Middle Ages
3. Doubts about Podles' historical argument.
4. The role of Rationalism and Romanticism in confirming the feminine image of the Church.
5. The liturgy, and a solution to the problem.

One of the things rather neglected by Podles is the liturgical reform. The reason is that he wants to locate the source of the problem of feminisation way, way back, in the High Middle Ages. I don't entirely disagree that some developments then had bad consequences in this regard, but it is not easy to show a clear and consistent picture of a feminised Church from then until today. The picture is complex, with counter-currents and counter-examples.

Poddles has much more to say about Protestantism in America before the 20th century than he does about Catholicism, and it is hardly surprising that the people he quotes - essentially, Evangelical preachers and those responding to them - should have had a problem with feminisation. For these preachers relied very heavily on the emotions, and the expression of emotion, and neglected the will and the intellect. This is always going to be a hard sell for men. Mgr Benson, whom I quoted a couple of posts ago, tells us that, at least in England in 1913, religious emotion was kept in check. The less fervent - including a lot of men - were reassured that belief was a matter of will and action, that is to say, the practice of the Faith. Telling such people that they ought to feel the movement of the Spirit can lead to disaster. The 18th century poet George Crabbe describes a man who wants to repent his sins, goes to a revivalist preacher, and is eventually told that the absence of such feelings is an indication that he is damned. Understandably, the poor man hangs himself.
I don't, however, have the data (because it doesn't exist) or the mastery of anecdotal evidence (because that would be the work of a lifetime) to say exactly how the sex ratio in congregations varied between countries over the centuries, from the 13th to the 21st. The non-involvement of men seems most clearly established in Latin culture; it seems least well established in the English-speaking world before the middle of the 20th century. But then something happened to drive out the men from the Church more or less everywhere.

Everything which Podles says about tendencies of Catholic spirituality over the centuries has to be put alongside the liturgy. The central devotional experience of Catholics should be the liturgy, and for many centuries and many places that is in fact true. In the late 19th century the Liturgical Movement sought to place greater emphasis again on the liturgy, where it had lost out to other devotional practices. And when we look at the Church's liturgy, we find a set of texts and rituals which overwhelmingly date from before the advent of the problems Podles discusses. In the history of the liturgy, saying something is later than the 8th century can be a bit damning: oh, then it is terribly late! But even 'late' developments tend to come in the following four centuries.


Apart from new feasts, the Roman liturgy was pretty much complete in the 12th century. The 13th century Franciscan Missal, a version of the Roman Missal for use by the Franciscans all over Europe, is essentially the same as the Missal of the Council of Trent, and the Missal celebrated today as the Extraordinary Form. The point is, that whatever we might say about the extravagant emotionalism and Bridal Mysticism of the High Middle Ages, very, very little of this found its way into liturgical texts; the same goes for Gregorian Chant. When Catholics of the Late Middle Ages and the Baroque period or indeed the early 20th century went to Mass, they were attending something developed in the context of what Podles calls a masculine spirituality. The selection of scripture readings is balanced; the difficult and demanding passages are not airbrushed away. The prayers are not without emotion, but the emotions are restrained; the poetry is beautiful but it also has a certain austerity; the chant, above all, is not mawkish. There is no emotional manipulation in the Traditional Roman liturgy. There is no expectation that we will weep or clap our hands for joy. It is a liturgy, also, of action, of gesture and silent prayer, of carefully rehearsed ritual. It is, when all is said and done, the work of men: of Christ in His priests.

With all this I should take a moment to underline the fact that the masculine aspects of the Church need not be off-putting to women. Women are, after all, able to appreciate masculine virtues; they tend to be heterosexual. They are often, indeed, bearers of masculine virtues, just as men can have virtues associated with the feminine. The point in these posts is not about the exclusion of women, but the non-exclusion of men. Make the Mass look like a girls' night out, and the young men will flee for the hills. Women are much more tolerant of a liturgy which looks a bit masculine. Their femininity is not threatened by that; it cannot, indeed, be so easily taken from them. The masculinity of young men, by contrast, is not assured at all. They must separate themselves from the feminine realm if they are to be men. This is to repeat the argument of the first post in this series.

What, then, happened in the Reform? Podles quotes the Catholic sociologist Patrick Arnold:

a liturgy that appeals to men possesses a quality the Hebrews called kabod ('glory') and the Romans gravitas ('gravity'); both words at root means 'weightiness' and connote a sense of dignified importance and seriousness.

But what we actually get, in the reformed liturgy, is something different.

Butterfly, Banner, and Balloon Extravaganzas severely alienated many men. The most saccharine outbreaks of forced liturgical excitement featured fluttering dancers floating down the aisles like wood-nymphs, goofy pseudo-rites forced on the congregation with almost fascist authoritarianism, and a host of silly schticks usually accompanied by inane music.

Most parishes today, after the excitement of the reform has died down, offer something drabber, but no more masculine. The reformers systematically removed from the official texts a series of things which together gave the Roman liturgy its gravitas: its seriousness, its challenge, its references to the darker and more difficult things, its emotional balance, its prostration before the Throne of Glory.

This isn't just a matter of hindsight, either. Cardinal Heenan gave a famous warning when he saw the draft 'Missa Normativa' after the Second Vatican Council, in 1967.

At home, it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children.

In concluding this series of posts, I would want to say that, even if the liturgical reform is not the sole culprit for the loss of men from the Catholic Church, which is a complex historical phenomenon, the Traditional Mass is certainly part of the solution. Podles remarks sadly that efforts to attract men back to the Church often founder at the point that the men, when successfully attracted to some special event or group, go back to their parishes. There they are not only faced with a liturgy which is completely lacking in gravitas, but by a priest surrounded and dominated by females, even during Mass itself, presiding over an overwhelmingly female congregation. The Traditional Mass offers a way out of this problem, because as Podles concedes in the talk on his book, not only is the liturgy serious and the sanctuary men-only, but the congregations have a healthy balance of men and women, something otherwise found only among the Eastern churches, Orthodox Jews, and in Islam. For all the criticisms which can be made of Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass, this is a milieu of which it is possible for young men to imagine being part.


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  1. Anonymous11:20 am

    The loss of kabod ('glory') or gravitas ('gravity') is - maybe - the most significant sign for all the consequences of the liturgical post-councilar reforms.

    The "feminization" of both the spiritual and liturgical Catholic life is its logical end. The destruction of the Christian chivalric ideal (expressed by Saints like Bernard of Clairvaux - in his "Liber ad milites templi de laude novae militiae", Ignatius of Loyola, and even Saint Francisc himself), is one of the major catastrophic events in the history of the Church.

    Simultaneously, the destruction of Catholic aristocracy - Blessed Charles I of Austria is one of its brightest "icons" - through marginalization and spread of "revolutionary" prejudices, has eliminated the major source of masculine models for any true Catholic.

    Nowadays, it is almost impossible to conceive (I do not dare to say "to meet") Catholics such as the Blessed Count Clemens August von Galen or Count Gustav Kálnoky. But men like them were really bearers of kabod ('glory') or gravitas ('gravity').

    [J.R.R. Tolkien tries to propose such models through his chivalric characters...]

    In any case, we have - at least - the sacred duty to remember all these heroes of the Faith and to try to learn from them that without heroism no one can reach the Heavenly Jerusalem. And a rhetorical question based on the history of the chosen people (in the Old Testament): what is the signification of the above-mentioned loss of kabod?

  2. Ichabod: the Glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21).

  3. Anonymous11:50 am

    And Ezechiel, chapter 8 and especially chapter 10: 18-19. But the question remains open: what is the signification of this "ichabod" in the context of our history? How can we "translate" Ezekiel 8 in the context of our history?

  4. I suppose that the loss of the Ark of the Covenant and of the Temple, where the Glory of the Lord dwelt, has no exact parallel for the Church because God's Glory is objectively guaranteed in the Blessed Sacrament. We can only pretend it is not there. To the extent this has happened, the restoration of the glory is a matter of the restoration of our attitude of reverence, and the liturgical setting which manifests and elicits this.

  5. In an earlier comment you said “My only hesitation is the evidence he produces for feminisation in 19th France and in traditional Latin culture.”
    Just before Christmas I was surfing the web to find any trace of the most inspiring teacher I ever had – Robert-Benoit Cherix – who taught me French literature at Fribourg University in the mid 1950s. I found that in 1987 at the age of 91 he had published a pamphlet “Le XIXe Siecle – Un Dialogue entre le Ciel et la Terre” and I promptly bought a copy. In his introduction he says that in the great modernist current which afflicts the Church to-day the 19th century is seen as nothing more than decline: the aridity of sclerotic religious practices often in a sentimental routine far from the Gospel. Scholasticism is also seen as a problem. He then sets out to demolish these views comprehensively. His view is of a Church that despite everything recovered magnificently after the French Revolution throughout the 19th century. Naturally his emphasis is on France but he mentions England and Germany and draws our attention to a list of names – Vianney, Laboure, Bosco, Cafasso, Eynard, Liberman, Lavigerie, Lacordaire, Gueranger, Ozanam, Newman, Manning and many others who contributed to an extraordinary expansion and flowering of the Church. Cherix has an unrivalled knowledge of French literature and the Catholic thread which went from Chateaubriand to Huysmans. Then there was La Salette, the Immaculate Conception, Lourdes, the Syllabus, Vatican I, Rerum Novarum and finally Therese of Lisieux. He sees the present crisis as dating from about 1950 but he does not analyse the causes. There are addenda on the degradation of the sacred and the liturgy as gift of the Holy Ghost where he asks whether iconoclasm was not condemned by the Council of Nicea in 787.
    So what happened between Huysmans and Vatican II to sow the seeds of destruction of what the 19th Century had built up?

    1. The 19th century was the nadir of liturgy at the time and the worst parts of it live on. The kitschy artwork, the Low Mass culture, the fascination with dodgy alleged apparitions, anachronistic young St. Joseph, ultrascholastic legalism, the Vatican bureaucracy, ultramontanism, cheesy "hymns" (looking at you, 'Holy God We Praise Thy Name'),the emphasis on popular devotion with liturgy as "that thing you do on Sundays"... It all lives on in both Trad and Novus Ordo environments.

      The papolatrist 19th Century produced little of value. Nearly everything destroyed from 1948-1969 was from Medieval and Ancient times, the eras when the Roman Rite reached the peak of its beauty. The stuffiness and legalism of modern traditionalism has little in common with the free and highly decentralized High Middle Ages.

    2. There are attempts to revive the least attractive aspects of pre-Conciliar liturgy in the traddy world, but they are not the norm. Just consider the balance we have now between High, Sung, and Low Masses, the emphasis on singing the authentic chant melodies, and the availability of training for priests, servers, and singers. Finally, and most obviously, trads today leave Papolatry to the neo-cons.

  6. On the subject of feminisation in Latin culture my experience is limited to rural Portugal. I would say the proportion of men to women is about 50/50 in our local church. A preponderance of the men sit up in the front and the women behind. Incidentally it is about the same proportion receiving communion on the tongue. I think feminisation is kept at bay by the several men only fraternities in our village founded in memory of such events as the battle of Lepanto. Their officials are appointed on an annual basis and they have very specific duties, They mostly appear at the many processions where they dress up and carry the canopy, floats with their particular saint etc and let off fireworks!

  7. Hello Dr. Shaw,

    I have been reading your series in my little free time. There were some interesting ideas from the authors you discussed.

    My personal view is that in every period (past, present, future) of the Church, you have a large section that gravitate toward various error or immorality and will do so if left unchecked. The Church keeps the faithful in check and focused on heavenly things through the liturgy, sacraments, devotions, having strict disciplinary laws, prudent guidelines passed down from generation to generation, and by promptly addressing any errors with clarity. Whenever the Church fails at this duty, you find an outbreak of heresy and schism.

    So problems existed in the middle ages among clergy and Catholic faithful just as problems existed in the early Church. But they were for the most part kept in check. Whenever things got out of hand, the situation was corrected as soon as possible.

    But with Vatican II, in the most inexplicable way, the Church deliberately choose to neglect the duties under the name of being merciful. The hierarchy is least interested in prompt correction of error or immorality. It is all the rage to "accompany the sinner where they are at". Furthermore, the Church has no prudent boundaries anymore. Every person in the hierarchy is pretty much coming up with their best guess on how to do things prudently rather than being informed by the advise of those who went before us. This reflects not just in the liturgy but anything else the Church turns to focus on.

    The only enemies of the Church are those who insist on a Church that should be speaking with clarity, correcting promptly, and maintaining strict discipline.

    In my opinion, that is what is causing problems today. True, there are many women in Churches but we are looking at a very small total attendance in most cases anyway. I would say that women are probably more involved because priests no longer maintain any prudent boundaries and tend to go all out friendly with women. Priests also tend to think that they will be perceived more highly if they associate and choose more women to get involved with Church organization. Basically, most priests want to be seen as a progressive feminist. Women in turn attend Church because they see themselves as enjoying some high position in the parish/diocese. At least this is my experience as I moved from parish to parish.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that loss of femininity or masculinity are perhaps just symptoms. Maybe the root cause of this crisis is simply the utter failure of post-Vatican II prelates at doing their duty and respecting the advise given by those who went before them.

    Merry Christmas and a happy new year by the way! :)

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  9. Men have a deeper sense of gravitas, of the sacred. That is obvious. Why, I don’t know. Another discussion perhaps.

    This shows in the chatter before and more so, after Mass and women predominate in this. The few who continue to kneel and pray are usually male.

    The original Pauline Mass of 1969 still had gravitas, but this disappeared in the diffuse variations that followed. Accident or design? Feminisation or Effeminisation?

    Whether liturgy was a cause, or a result of post Vatican II decline, it will certainly be an essential element of recovery.

    Two further points.

    Contrary to post-Enlightenment thinkers, Faith and Reason are not incompatible, although this might have been conceded by some Catholics, leading to Relativism. JP II insisted that faith and reason are “ mutually supportive of each other” More recently, Prof Haldane has insisted that contemporary scientific theories are often, “congenial to and indeed may be supportive of , theistic viewpoints”. Faith therefore is not in any way “feminine”.

    Second point. We must not dismiss the factor of homosexuality. Podles certainly does not in his introduction. Another discussion perhaps.

  10. Something I'd recommend is to read Geoffrey Hull's 'The Banished Heart' around the time you read Podle's book.

    Combine the two and you get a good picture of the problem. It's a welcome antidote to $$PX types who want to believe the current state of affairs started with "big bad Vatican II".

    1. Geoffrey Hull The Banished Heart is an interesting attempt to take a very long view, but it has a number of flaws and the historical analysis needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Another problematic aspect of the book is treated here.

  11. Anonymous3:08 pm

    I found all of these articles in this series terribly interesting, as well as the comments which follow them. I add only these few small comments, which one can take or dismiss as he wishes.

    1.) I agree that what most men find distasteful and alienating is the lack of gravitas in the liturgy which is, sadly, a situation prevalent in so many places these days. One seeks to have a reason, a purpose, for being there - but so often such a purpose is illusive when one views the goings-on at parishes these days. Of course the reason remains the same as ever, but it is not apparent, and such a thing should be apparent.

    2.) Regarding the perception that most of the chit chat that goes on prior to Mass is mainly the domain of women, I can only determine that perhaps this is a cultural or local issue, as the men where I live are fully as culpable as the women. In fact, in many parishes it is the men who are busy loudly guffawing, discussing parish "business" and "greeting" people as they enter the church.

    3.) I chalk this up to bad behavior brought on by poor or non-existent catechesis, something which ABSOLUTELY occurred post Vatican II. I say this as someone who does not trample on VII but who, nevertheless, is fully cognizant of the catastrophic fallout which occurred thereafter. For me then, the lack of attendance I see in both sexes (but particularly in the larger absence of men) returns once again to people not perceiving the reason for the liturgy. Is this the whole fault of the liturgy itself or the lack of catechesis? I would say both, but frankly, I think the latter is more the culprit. Any one of us can speak of people who, knowing the truths of their faith, soldier on through the most insipid and illicit of liturgies.

    4.) Which brings me to my last thought. The overly sentimental and silly innovations that have made their way into the liturgy, such as the felt banners, the hand-holding and the so-called liturgical dancing (done nearly always by females) is repugnant to anyone who knows why they are there to begin with, whether man or woman. The Church is many things, but sentimental is not one of them. Her liturgy may be reflective, it may ponder and contemplate the the truth - but sentimentality is something which arises when people passively sit back and impotently wax nostalgic about things. This is not the liturgy of the Church, however!! The liturgy is not about nostalgia over what Christ has done for us but for the people to be actively participating in that action made present. This is why those who know their faith turn away from such silliness; it demeans why we are all there. However, I think because society is all about leisure and self-satisfaction these days, we have lapsed into gross habits of sentimentality and entertainment in our everyday lives which have been allowed to creep into our local churches. Men are no less affected, though it seems for them they tend to be drawn towards the entertainment aspect of it (passively watching sports, movies, political commentary and so on). Since such things are not as easily incorporated into the liturgy, we get stuck with sentimental liturgical abuse.

    I've written far more than I intended or have the time for! I apologize. Let me simply close by saying that I now attend a parish where there is silence, chant, incense, latin, and the communion rail. The people pray powerfully together, frequent the sacrament of confession, attend adoration and bring their very large families to Mass, week in and week out. Many, if not most, women wear mantillas and I've yet to see a girl among the large coterie of altar servers even once.

    We are not a Latin Mass parish. We celebrate exclusively the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I only add this because, while I appreciate and support those who prefer the Extraordinary Form, I think sometimes it is important to note that one does not always have to "flee" the OF to find a licit, valid liturgy. Hard to find? Indeed. But not impossible. Best wishes!