Recently, I read a post online that really…well, bothered me.
It was a short post in support of the Latin Mass (yay!) but the author, in my humble opinion, did the legendary Mass of the Ages a great disservice by explaining his reason for liking it so much:
- To him, he found the Extraordinary Rite to be so great precisely because it is so masculine.
*Pauses to bang head into wall – will explain why soon (once I recover).*
He then went on to say that he believes the reason behind why so many seemingly “good” Catholics lash out at the Tridentine Mass is because of this “masculinity.”
While the first part of his text left me needing migraine medicine for the rest of the evening (just kidding – but I will explain more soon), I would have to agree with his second viewpoint wholeheartedly: I think he is right.
But not for the the reasons that he seemed to think.
Now I am not by any means a theologian. I am simply a lay person, with two Master’s degrees wherein Catholic spirituality, writings, texts, and thought played a role in my curriculum.
But I am not a theological scholar, and I naturally submit all of my opinions to the magisterium of the Catholic Church and will change them if they are found by those with the correct authority to be incorrect.
With that said, I do not believe that such an opinion is carved in dogmatic stone, and therefore I would like to present a little friendly criticism…because I think it is extremely important.
The Trouble With Imbalance
So why did his stance bother me so much?
What is wrong with liking the Mass because one feels it is “masculine?”
Aren’t more and more of us growing tired of the huggy, touchy-feely, kumbaya party going on at our local the-hippy-generation-is-not-over-yet, church?
Wouldn’t I be more inclined to agree with all that he said?
Yes, and no.
While I am all in favor of masculinity (hey, I am a girl! Masculinity is nice.), I find there to be a great problem that arises when we take either form of the Mass (Extraordinary or Ordinary) and send it leaning too strongly in one direction or the other.
And that is what I have seen happen time and time again, in more places than just one.
Someone will point out that the “effeminate” church is bad (agreed), focus on how masculinity needs restored to its proper place (agreed)…but then they close their case.
End of story.
Time, and time, and time…again.
Eventually, at some point, I began to question: what ever happened to reclaiming the dignity of the feminine as well? Rescuing it from the land of “effeminite-ness?” (Ok, I just made up a word.) That is an intrinsically valuable element that cannot be left out of the equation.
I felt that by focusing on the one, to the exclusion of rescuing and reclaiming the other, that a very dangerous path was being set out upon.
For those like our author, all that they seem to both see and, most of all, appreciate (based on their words – I am not judging their interior intention) is the masculine element of the Mass – to the exclusion of anything positive regarding the feminine.
This sort of mindset, IMHO, places Traditionalism on a very slippery slope – one that should be stopped, cut short, and prevented from continuing immediately.
Because a repeated harping upon the glories of the masculine, combined with an utter refusal to recognize the positive qualities of the feminine, threatens to lead us in the opposite direction too strongly – thereby turning Traditionalism into a hyper-masculine, overly legalistic, the-devil-is-in-the-details, fringe group of macho-Catholics, ready to stare down their pointy noises, and wave their law-abiding sword, at any little “improper” urchin who dares wander into the four walls of their lovely church.
You know, the type who cruelly berate people for wearing shorts, or make snarky comments at them for not wearing a mantilla, or jump all over them and play politics if they say one little thing that someone does not “like.”
A people with plenty of legalistic justice – but completely lacking in any sense of mercy.
The type of individuals who turned so many against us Christians centuries ago, and provided a catalyst for the discontent that has helped spawn a hideous New World Order, increasingly devoid of authentic Christianity and the possibility for true salvation.
It is, therefore, comments like those of this unknown man that worry me, because they never seem balanced.
They seem reactive.
They seem quick to react to, and criticize, the weaknesses of the “overly feminized” Church (which I absolutely agree needs changed), but then they throw themselves heavily into glorifying far too much the ideals of the “masculine.”
Is this not but the same problem, reacting by unhealthily swinging the scales to the other far end of the spectrum?
If so, why do we think that there will not be problems there as well?
Why do we think that a church heavily focused on masculinity will somehow be better than the overly feminine one that so many of us long to escape?
In fact, is it not possible that such a church could be even worse?
Keeping the Scales Balanced
What I really wish is that the anonymous poster had taken a much more balanced approach.
If only he had found that the Latin Mass appealed to him because it contains a perfectly healthy understanding of how to incorporate both the masculine and the feminine (without leaning to either extreme) into one amazing liturgy.
If only his comment had taken a little bit more of a turn in this direction:
- “I discovered that I enjoy the Latin Mass because it is so perfectly balanced – a true display of dignity before the eyes of God on every level. The elements of the feminine were neither overly celebrated or negated, but raised to the true worth and appreciation that they deserve, such as a correct understanding of mercy, beauty, mystery, and the luminous interior wonder of a soul reaching out to its creator . The masculine also flourished in a most extraordinary way, providing a balanced, timeless structure / foundation of tradition and protective guidelines that gave one a deep sense of security, while helping prevent the feminine elements from becoming too soft and “gushy.” Overall, it was a perfect celebration because neither the masculine nor the feminine was in a state of imbalance. They both kept the other in check with their proper use. All was in perfect harmony and working together for a higher good. It was dignity and true worship at its highest level.”
If only he had seen that.
Everything was all about how masculine it was.
And that, in my opinion (after banging my head into the wall at such an unhealthy swing), is just as risky a door to open as focusing too much on the feminine.
An Imbalanced Church – “Macho” Style
Just for a moment, lets give the anonymous author just what he seems to like so much: an entirely masculine service.
Try to imagine such an experience if you can, by taking away from it everything that could possibly be classified as “feminine.”
In such a place, he would naturally have four walls to house his worship (the masculine, being protective and foundational, inherently provides the basic structure), but they would be pretty barren.
Any art that existed (if any did at all – for lets face it, art is beautiful and beauty is quite feminine), such as statues, paintings, carvings, altars, etc., would be very harsh.
The edges would be cold, color would not be present (remember, there is nothing “feminine” to fill in the foundation provided with color, tenderness, and beauty), faces would not warmly and tenderly smile, hearts would not flame in imagery of love – all would be skeletal, bare bones. There would be nothing but the most minimal outline, with a greyish cast – something akin to the ugly modernist “art” that so many Traditionalists love to hate.
As our lone pilgrim sits in this stark, cold, almost barren church, maybe gazing upon a few lingering statues with war-like faces, he might notice that the congregation slowly filtering in seems very stiff.
He quickly notices that everyone seems very worried and focused on the legalistic forms of what they are doing – how they are dressed, how everyone else around them is dressed, what books they are using, how they are sitting, etc.
A woman walks in without a mantilla on, and they practically attack her, almost chasing her out the door with the harshest of words.
A man enters dressed in rags, and they proceed to do the same to him.
“Ma io sono San Francesco!,” comes the cries of the man, whose body seems to shine with an eerie luminescence, yet no one seems to notice as he is pushed violently out the door.
Our pilgrim glances at his watch, and notices that it is time for the High Mass to begin.
As the music begins to play, it catches his attention right away that the composition seems very dark, for the tones are only on the base end of the musical scale. He waits for a gentle, high note to dance on the edge of his ears, adding that sweet beauty that touches a soul in the most intimate of ways – but it never comes.
The music thunders, and all sounds like a masculine battle cry worthy of any fierce gladiator, but the heart never opens and the tears never dare to flow.
The choir is, naturally, composed of all men, which only adds to the one-sided feeling of all that he hears.
As the procession moves in an almost rhythmic march down the aisle, he sees that there is nothing particularly appealing about it either.
It seems brave, and bold – very masculine – but it does not touch his heart in a special way.
The cross that is carried is not gilded in some lovely, shining gold, bronze, or silver with elegant artistry – instead, it is completely geometrical, with only harsh edges and a greyish effect.
The vestments of the priest as he passes by shock our “masculine” devotee – they are also entirely grey, and devoid of any beauty. No lovely patterns, no artwork, no Christian symbolism – there is a complete lack of color, and certainly nothing like gold trim or sparkling fabric.
Even a warrior in an army would have something appealing in his garb.
As the Mass officially begins, he notices that the only words in his prayerbook are about justice and punishment, strength and war. He finds nothing there to speak to his heart of tenderness, forgiveness, mercy, beauty, consolation – or intimate closeness with the mystery of God.
The “God” that is being celebrated before him is devoid of anything “feminine” – his world is one of fire and stone – harsh, brutal, war-like, legalistic, foundational, and focused on the letter of the law.
He demands justice while he flexes his spiritual muscles, and nothing that anyone does can ever appease his wrath.
But then, the worst thing of all happens – the point where the consecration should begin is reached, and the priest stops.
He pauses, as if he knows not what to do.
- The priest nervously, almost fearfully, turns a few pages, shuffles a few bookmarks, coughs in a trembling way, and quickly passes on to the end of the service.
Our masculine observer is perplexed.
What happened to the consecration?
What happened to the sacrifice of mercy and love offered by Christ on the Cross?
Where is the redemption and love for mankind that he remembers?
Even the overly “effeminate” church that he disliked so much had at least that.
The Mass ends, without a blessing (for who can deserve such a thing?), and as the dour celebrants process out of the grey, dreary church, to the sound of thundering music that makes one tremble but leaves nothing to warm the heart, our observer decides to approach the priest and ask why everything seems so strange in this colorless, heartless church.
Yet when he does so, he is taken aback, for no one will even let him anywhere near the presiding priest.
He asks the people who bar his way why they are doing so, and what is their response?
“You are just a mere man, a sinner like us. How dare you try to approach a priest of God who has just descended from the great altar. Humble yourself, and ask permission of us first, and then we will see if you are worthy enough for him to condescend to speak with one defiled by the world, such as yourself.”
They shove into his hands some leaflets on the justice of God, the laws that he must follow, and how all must be done to a “T” – without a single mistake.
For there is no room for mercy here.
This is an entirely masculine church.
God is a God of justice, punishment, fire, brimstone, war and masculine strength.
But there is no room here for the feminine – no room for beauty, consolation, tears, intimacy, warmth and love.
A Church No One Would Want
Now I do not know about you, but I imagine that this man would probably never want to return to this thoroughly masculine “church” – ever again.
For the exact reasons that the anonymous poster seemed to celebrate a little too much – it is all masculine, without a trace of the feminine.
It is a church without a heart.
It is a church with a great deal of intellect (man is, after all, the head) – and a great deal of structure, rigidness, rules, theories, etc.
But there is no heart.
There is nothing to fill in (and thus balance) the masculine structure that has been created with the feminine qualities of color, beauty, life and love.
This is a church that no one would want – and while I am not a fan of the “effeminate” church, I have to admit that even our anonymous reader would probably prefer the biggest celebration of touchy, feely, “kumbaya-ness” after such a terrible experience as the one above.
While my example is clearly extreme, I wanted to strip away all elements of the feminine for a moment to show why an overemphasis on the masculine just makes no sense – for, as I attempted to reveal, if we cease to appreciate and thus remove the proper feminine elements, the balance is also removed.
In other words, a “macho,” like an “effeminate” church, is a pretty bad proposition, to say the least.
Stay Balanced – Stay Sane – Save The Church
So what is to be done?
I would suggest that the more Traditional minded amongst us stop reacting by swinging to the other end, sit down, and take a good, honest look at the Latin Mass for what it truly is: an incredibly balanced expression of both masculine and feminine aspects, raised to their correct dignity, and turned to the worship of God accordingly.
If they do this, and are able to properly communicate it to the world, they will have a healthy “edge” on the “effeminate” church that no one will want to “rebel” against (as our masculine poster pointed out earlier – see above.)
They will draw all hearts in easily, for there all will see the restored dignity and beauty of both the masculine and the feminine – and they will be saved from unhealthy, extreme positions that can cause the heart to become either too mushy – or too cold and legalistic.
Our modern world desperately needs such a place to turn to.
It needs a place where the masculine is strong, but not overemphasized and leading towards that dreaded “machismo”.
It needs a place where the feminine is tender and compassionate, but also not overemphasized and made “effeminate.”
It needs a place where both the masculine and the feminine thrive together, each one balancing the other, creating a healthy dance of strength and beauty, justice and mercy, protection and love.
We need to work on correctly restoring both of these elements to the dignity that they deserve.
If Traditionalists can succeed in seeing this within their own world, and communicate such a vision effectively, how easily (and quickly) they will win.
So please, stop overemphasizing one over the other.
It is just too dangerous.
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