Friday, January 02, 2015

The loss of men from the Church: the Traditional Catholic response

Walking pilgrims in Canada: Traditional pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Cape
I don't want to leave the subject of the lapsation of men without going beyond the question of Mass attendance. There are many other things which can and do happen in the Church which have an important effect on this question.

Leon Podles is very interested in the male sodalities and brotherhoods characteristic of Spanish and Latin American Catholicism, which have maintained the respect even of men who think, or are close to thinking, it is a bit wimpy to go to Mass. I must leave it to others to discuss these associations, as I don't know enough about them. There are many less formal parallels, however, in the Church all over the world.

One is in the tradition of men and boys serving the Altar. The enthusiasm of even very young boys for serving, boys who aren't necessarily as good as gold when in the congregation, is very striking indeed. (I've recently had the chance to observe this with a son of mine, and I can hardly believe my eyes.) But this just doesn't work when it is a unisex activity, for the reasons Podles articulates so well. The attractiveness of serving is immesurably increased by the fact that boys feel the need to assert their masculinity by separating themselves, even for a short time, from the domestic and feminine realm. The possibility that God, religion, Mass itself, should be in that alluring category of the grown-up, masculine and exciting, for young boys, is just fabulous. Who wouldn't want to make the most of this? Who, with the smallest interest in the vocations, or indeed in the salvation, of males would not want to protect and foster this possibility with all their might?

The answer seems to be: about 99% of the mainstream Church. I ask you: do they care? They know, they have seen with their own eyes, serving Mass ceases to be a big opportunity to foster the interest and piety of boys the moment girls are let in. Take away that motive for boys to serve, and - as can be illustrated by the experience of tens of thousands of parishes - after a short time the activity becomes dominated by girls, or even exclusively female. So yes, in answer to 'Oxford Catholic' commenting on the last post on this topic, turning the service of the Altar into a feminine zone is an absolute disaster, and one can say that without implying any criticism of the young ladies who have become involved in good faith. It is not their fault this situation has arisen, and they may well find themselves being - apparently - the only people prepared to do it.

More Canadians
This is illustration number 9,094 of why it is so difficult to improve the Novus Ordo, and how relatively easy it is to get results if you introduce the Traditional Mass. Who wants to have a huge battle with these sincere young people, their parents, and quite possibly the bishop, in a Quixotic attempt to restore a tradition of male service of the Altar for the Ordinary Form, when you could introduce an EF Mass where that tradition is part of the package? You will also find that in the EF serving is more of a challenge for the servers, more intimately connected with the Mass in its most impressive sacrificial aspect, and for those reasons more interesting and engaging for them.

Another parallel for Podles' confraternity idea is the walking pilgrimage. In this case, it is the physical challenge which is the key. Podles tells us that for deep psychological reasons young men like subjecting themselves to gruelling physical experiences. You might think his explanation is a lot of psychobabble clap-trap, but actually it makes little difference what the explanation is: it is a simple fact, one we can all observe directly. Young women, and of course people of all ages, also get a lot out of these sorts of things, but it has a special appeal to young men. Just look at who is doing the vast majority of dangerous sports. As for walking pilgrimages, they don't have to do it on their own; the important thing is that the physical challenge is real.

In the Traditional movement, it is. I've been on the Chartres Pilgrimage three times, and I can assure you, dear reader, it is serious. Completing this pilgrimage is something of which anyone can be proud. I don't say this to put anyone off. If, like me, you get sunstroke, or something else incapacitates you, you'll be scooped up before you actually die. The point is that the very considerable difficulty of the pilgrimage is not a problem, it is the solution. It is precisely this which attracts perhaps ten thousand mostly young people to the pilgrimage year after year.

American pilgrims to Auriesville
Now here's a funny thing. Few people paying any attention at all in the Catholic world can have failed to notice, over the course of the second half of the 20th century, the explosive growth in the number of people doing the Camino, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, which typically takes 6 weeks on foot. The Chartres Pilgrimage is tapping into the same phenomenon, and it is a single, organised event, not just a crowd of independent pilgrims (or, in many cases, hippies). Who else has picked up this ball and run with it? Well, you will find serious, multi-day walking pilgrimages taking place in the context of the Traditional Mass in Australia, England, the United States of America, Canada, Russia, and I don't know where else, and a huge number of countries are represented at the Chartres Pilgrimage. Where are the Novus Ordo equivalents?

The Chartres Pilgrimage used to be a mainstream event. Mining the Catholic Herald archives, you'll find reference to its huge growth after the war; 'nearly 13,000' did it in 1954. Somehow, however, it didn't fit in with the mainstream post-Conciliar Church, and vanished. Was it too militant? Too masculine? Is the idea of a pilgrimage just too traditional? Or - I am tempted to say - was it insufficiently wet? It had to be revived by Traditional Catholics. Something similar happened to the very impressive nine-day walking pilgrimage from London to Walsingham undertaken by the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom. What happened to that is a long story, but it is no longer a major public event. (A handful of veteran Ransomers have carried it on as private initiative.)

The Latin Mass Society has taken the idea of a walking pilgrimage to Walsingham again. There are many practical difficulties, of course, but as something which is attractive, which draws people in, I have in no other event had so much the sense of pushing on an open door.

Yes, walking pilgrimages happen in the context of the Novus Ordo, but it is invariably small and marginal, and nearly always 'conservative', groups doing this. This obvious, obvious way to engage young people, and particularly young men, clearly hasn't been used to the full in the mainstream. Where is the zeal to push on this open door? I wonder again, as in my previous post, whether some of the people in charge actually want young men, or at least the kind of young men who want to do this kind of thing, in the Church.

It should be clear enough that, at any rate, they are welcome at the Traditional Mass.

The Chartres Pilgrimage
Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. I suppose it is inevitable that an LMS blog should promote the EF as the answer to all our problems. But surely the problem is much wider and we need to look at what all the causes are. What happened between say 1910 and Vatican II to produce the current mess? There is a very interesting article on neomodernism (which seems to equate to relativism) on Rorate Coeli at:

    That perhaps explains the theological fallout.

    Secondly I believe we are witnessing the end of Protestantism which is being replaced by Scientism. Insofar as the Catholic Church has dallied with Protestantism it is suffering from the fallout.

    Thirdly as to men: just what is the point of going to Mass is the question many ask and get no answer. The simple truths found in the penny catechism are no longer taught or mentioned. You cannot speak of salvation to the young according to ex-Bishop Conry. Instead we have psycho-babble and theology using words which most of us do not understand.

    At Oxford in the fifties I was surrounded by people reading PPE who constantly told me that logical positivism proved that one could not really discuss anything rationally. Perhaps things have changed and Mr Shaw can tell us? Am I right in thinking that post-modernism has now abandoned reason altogether?

    I certainly find it difficult to get any response to any legitimate concerns or questions that I have had. Letters just go unanswered as often as not. Rational discussion just does not happen.

    The sum total of these influences and the horrors of the 20th century have caused many to lose their faith and I suspect particularly amongst the clergy who fall back on a sort of do-goodery socialism as the only alternative to actually leaving the church which is financially prohibitive. Perhaps we ought to start a fund for those clergy who wish to convert to atheism?

    I do wonder whether the Holy Ghost is not allowing the liberals sufficient freedom to hang themselves with Conry as the first example.

    1. Hello Nicolas,

      I suppose it is inevitable that an LMS blog should promote the EF as the answer to all our problems.

      I think Joseph is doing anything but suggesting that simply restoring the TLM/EF will be a total cure-all to what ails the Church.

      Clearly, the roots of the crisis go far back before the 60's (as does the deformation of the liturgy itself, as many of the liturgical reforms under Pius XII bear the same pathologies), and we cannot ignore that all of the progressive reformers - revolutionaries, really! - of the 60's were themselves formed on the traditional Roman Rite.

      But the more traditional your liturgical formation, the better your chances of finding your way out of the thicket. Perhaps this was a lesson we had to learn the hard way. If so, we've paid a very high price to learn it.

    2. Logical Positivism! That does date you, Nicolas! ;-)

      There are lots of threads to be untangled in What Went Wrong. I'm the first person so agree that the liturgy is not the only issue. However, since it is the 'source and summit' of the Christian life it tends to become involved with everything else that is going on. As Cardinal Ratzinger said, for those who reject Trent on the sacrificial nature of the Mass the EF is an 'intolerable contradiction'.

    3. Athelstane: I take your point and I expressed myself badly. I was however influenced by a conversation with one of our Emeritus Bishops who had retired to Ireland. He was saying that he had a problem in his new parish in that some said all you had to do was to have the EF Mass whilst he said the problem was much wider and much more needed doing.

      Two further points:

      Going back to the early fifties our headmaster was very keen that Catholics should shine in the world and this meant academic success above all else - thus religious instruction was entirely neglected despite the fact that in the community there were eminent theologians and philosophers. We have become very worldly and beholden to the establishment even to the extent of selling our souls.

      Secondly one has to remember there is a whole generation of priests who bought into the spirit of Vatican II and they are hanging on to their ideas and practices like grim devil. At times I think it might be almost cruelty to dumb animals to draw their attention to the fact that it has all been an almighty flop. However they are certainly very defensive. For instance this week we had two visiting priests. One of them was about to go and work for a certain institution and I thought it might be a good idea to let them have my views on that institution. I realised, of course, that turning up on successive week-days as the only outsider at their masses and fumbling with my missal they had probably written me off as a hopeless old fool. However I did approach them and suggested in the politest possible way that the institution seemed to have an agenda which I found very confusing. But were they defensive. It is always the same old thing - never explain, never apologise just shoo these irritants away; above all never really listen to what is being said.

      Joseph: I wish you well with your petition and will say a prayer but I won't hold my breathe!

  2. I find the analysis in these later posts rather weird.

    As a young man, I have never been concerned whether the Church is feminine or masculine. All I care about (and as far as I am aware, many of my fellow Catholic male [and female] friends care about) is that what we engage in reflects the truth and right way of doing things.

    So if it is the mass, I care about it being celebrated reverently in a manner that respects and communicates the truths of what takes place. I would also like the mass to communicate and remind something of our Catholic faith. That latter point is the reason why I prefer the EF even over a very reverent Novus Ordo in Latin.

    Same with pilgrimages. I like pilgrimages because I get to visit relics of saints or places where the Blessed Mother or Jesus walked or appeared. I never in my life thought about the challenge or whether there was something masculine in it. I really couldn't care less.

    I feel that the Church should just stop trying to sell the faith. It is what caused all these problems in the first place. Priests should just proclaim the truth with clarity, have some consistency in actions, and be ready to help and give solutions and good advise when people come to confession. If they do that, people will come.

    So is the EF really important then? I would say YES because the EF has actions that are more consistent with the Catholic truth. At an EF, a priest behaves in a way that reflects the fact that Christ is really present in the tabernacle in the Eucharist. In the NO, the priest (most likely involuntarily) act as if he doesn't even believe the Eucharist is Christ. There is no regard for the loss of Eucharistic particles, no regard for reverence, no regard for receiving worthily and instead it is made to look like the most important thing in the Church are the PEOPLE.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents after following this analysis closely. I am not saying that this masculine vs. feminine business is entirely irrelevant. But it definitely is not even something I personally think about when attending Church.

    1. It seems to me, T-C, that your attitude - stressing the importance of the objective, an attitude that I share - is not only a masculine trait but also one that is inadequately expressed in the modern Church.

  3. The Western Catholic Church is declining for many reasons.

    Catholicism is even today, is just not taught, and birth control in particular is a factor still not recognised or admitted to by the Church.

    As I have remarked, young males say 16-40 are noticeable by their absence. But then young females are not much more evident, although some do show up in their stressed late premenstrual phase with their 1.6 children.

    One point I would make. It is years, years, since I have heard a Novus Ordo priest preach or teach anything resembling Catholic Faith, belief, doctrine, or whatever, and that probably sums it up.
    If I were an average young man today I would no doubt conclude that if the priests are not all that interested then neither should I be, and I certainly wouldn’t consider a vocation.

    No, in my spare time I would be off with my friends (preferably female until they got fed up and dropped out) to do the Pennine Way or climb the Munroes.

    But things do appear different at Vetus Ordo Masses!

  4. T-C: this isn't something you would necessarily articulate to yourself, in these terms. Of course we attend devotional activitities for reasons of devotion. But sociology has something to teach us about why some devotional initiatives attract lots of people and others do not. Grace builds on nature, it does not abolish nature.

    1. I do agree that Grace builds on nature. But my issue here is that by saying men would attend a particular type of devotion because it is consistent with what their masculinity prefers seems impossible to prove.

      Many devotional activities or liturgical actions would appear gender neutral unless informed beforehand by faith that a particular act is for men and not for women (or vice versa). So the acts themselves seem very neutral.

      This is why I feel that in the practice of religion, it is the presence of consistency with truth that should be sought rather than whether a particular style/act is masculine or feminine. I also do not mean this as an attraction but how it should be. If men happen to disagree, I am under the impression that they should be forced to correct their thinking rather than find a way to appease their desire for a challenge and so forth.

      I also feel that if one were to analyze this issue this way in terms of feminine and masculine, it may very well never end. I can see some liturgist or church architect saying things like there should be more stairs to climb churches so that men get a sense of challenge in going to Church etc. Or that in order to appease the women in the Church, we must have some mind numbing 'Care Bears' type sermons preached once in awhile. I think it will spiral out of control.

  5. There is an interview with Cardinal Burke on the feminizing of the Church:

  6. Here's an article about some men who did something about the problem

    1. 'Man nights' sounds like a sticking plaster on an amputated limb. What happens when they go to church on Sunday, with their sons?