Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Touchy Feely, Ain't Manly

During the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 1967, after seeing a demonstration of the proposed new Mass, Cardinal Heenan told the Synod: “At home [in England] 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 in the Sistine Chapel we would soon be left with a congregation mostly of women and children”.
I don’t know precisely what happened in the Sistine Chapel that morning, but I do see that the Church today is bereft of men and being bereft men in the last generation is now bereft of families in this generation.
As I type this there photographs around me from the 1930s and 40s of members of the parish and there are huge numbers of young men in them, similar photographs today would show a preponderance of older women, and few young men, especially English young men.
What has brought about the change? It could indeed be the liturgy but maybe more likely the liturgy which frames a particular ecclesiology, theology and piety.
I had a conversation recently with a man in his mid-thirties, he had been lapsed for ages and had just started to come back to Church, I’ll call him John. John’s big problem was that he couldn’t understand how to feel love for Jesus, not only did he not feel it but he didn’t want to either. He had been in the army, as a child he had served Mass, even thought about becoming a priest, but as adolescence dawned so did a real difficulty about, “loving Jesus”.
I think that this is real problem for many men especially if “love” is seen in touchy feely terms. Fine for women, fine for gay men; but for most men, I think it is a real hurdle. It is a real difficulty, especially when it is put forward in terms of sentimentality, and modern touchy feely charismatic piety. For John, as an ex-soldier, he knew what patriotism, love of country was, he knew what obedience was, as a father he knew what it was to protect and safeguard his wife and children was, he knew what tenderness towards them was. He knew what camaraderie was, he had risked his life for his mates on several occasions, and on one of them received a medal for his bravery.
He was the type of man who would have died for the faith in a previous age but today feels alienated from it. I tried to tell John that “feeling love” wasn’t that important, far less important than keeping Christ’s commandments, “If you love, me keep my commandments”. That is the only sign that Jesus wants to demonstrate our love; feelings are irrelevant, I told him. Defending and protecting Christ’s bride the Church was important too, being willing to lay down one’s life for them was actually what was expected of him.
I do think that we really do men a serious disservice if we expect something from them which is over and above what scripture and the tradition of the Church expects. Demanding “feelings” of love or affection seems to be something new in the devotional life of the Church, if it was there in the past, such touchy feeliness seems to have been direct to the Blessed Virgin outside of the formal liturgy of the Church.
Looking at the photographs of the Traditional Masses that have been on the web lately I am surprised at the number of young men present. Despite the amounts of lace present, the old rite has a complete absence of mawkish sentimentality.
Maybe we might start to think about how we can involve men in the life of the Church, and develop a spirituality that does not alienate them.
Congregation after a Traditional Mass celebrated by Card. Catrillon de Hoyos in Versailles


Gregor Kollmorgen said...


I agree that the religiosity of many today has become all touchy-feely, which is banal and unauthentic (however, sentimentalism certainly existed before now, look at much of the 19th century popular religious art).

But are you really saying we are not to love our Saviour?
Isn't the Love of God one of three theological (and supernatural) virtues (virtutes infusae)?
What about one of my favourite prayers, the "O Deus ego amo te" by St. Francis Xavier? (see an English translation here: ).
What about the Sacred Heart spirituality? The mystics?

Anonymous said...

In anthropological terms it is hard for normal men to feel love for Jesus as a person. Calling him Christ stands a better chance of acceptance. After all, we are all heirs of the preached Christ. St Paul makes him more plausible than the Gospels. Women find it easier to adapt to love of Jesus and to affective religion generally.

In the past perhaps it was the objectivity of worship that drew more men to the altar. Subjective affectivity is, for many, a big turn off but attractive to women. Much of the mawkishness of modern worship is attributable to them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Father, as always you put your finger right on the button. However, I do not think the modern Church appeals to women either. I think women stick around a bit longer than men. They put up with more and are less critical by nature. They also have the temporary lure of "Catholic" schools that draws them in for the worldly benefit of their children. In my local parishes, it is quite clear a large number simply disappear as soon as the child's placement is secured. Remove "Catholic" schools, then take a look at the Church. I dare say it would make a very sorry sight.

Adulio said...

I think Cardinal Heenan's (RIP+) comments are insightful of the type of people who attended daily mass in the "bad old days" - mostly working class men, on their way to work and mothers with their young children. The old rite personified a spirituality that was sombre and serious for the men but also at the same time intimate for women (most saints who are females, being comfortable to refer to Jesus as their spouse and "first-love")

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this is why Islam is so attractive to many men today and why Christianity is dying in Europe.

Anonymous said...

In my experience as a male, in the Latin Days love was more an internal feeling centred on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament who was visible and received in awe in a devotional atmosphere at Mass. Now we are much more open to other parishioners, during Mass, encouraged to be friendly coming in to Mass chatting with Morning Prayer immediately before Mass begins, many hymns etc. Which is best I wonder ?

Anonymous said...

We have a fair few men at the Oratory...possibly more than women..

Anonymous said...

I agree with all you say here Father - very well put, I thought.

However, I am not sure about Anonymous' comment, "Much of the mawkishness of modern worship is attributable to them." [Women, that is.] For one thing, if the pre-Vat2 Church was so male-centred, how could women have got enough power to introduce all that mawkishness?

It's probably true to say that women can dip in and out of sentimentality in worship more easily than men - but it was a load of male Bishops who gave us the Liturgy we have now - and if they listened to a lot of rabid feminists, they only have themselves to blame for not listening instead to the Holy Spirit.

[Personally, I can't bear sentimentality of any kind, let alone in Church - but find I
do 'feel'love for Mary our Mother, and for Jesus especially in the concept of the Sacred Heart, or the Good Shepherd - inspired by a wonderful parish priest we had once. No-one has ever accused me of mawkishness!]

PS I should also say that I feel quite a lot of love for St Anthony and hope very much to glimpse him in heaven [if I get there] as he has helped me so much in so many ways as I blunder through life losing things. [Keys, purses, marbles....]

Amette [female, in case you wondered]

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to exlain why men are alienated by the modern liturgy.

Men seem to prefer form, ritual and repetition - they generally lack spontaneity. They are attracted to order, dress code and modesty - they want to belong but won't admit it.

Father Mark said...

Yes. And yet I am thinking of Saint Anselm, Saint Bernard, Saint Alphonsus . . . And I am thinking of the imagery of the amplexus, the mystical embrace of the Crucified who pulls to His Open Side a Bernard, a Francis, a Paul of the Cross.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ray,

Men do feel alienated by the contemporary Catholic Church, no doubt about it. The way that the Novus Ordo liturgy has been allowed to develop definitely has a lot to answer for. It’s partly about the touchy-feeliness of the piety and the endlessly repeated gospel passages about Jesus enjoining “love.”

But it is also to do with the Novus Ordo’s susceptibility to manipulation by those with feminist and female ordinationist agendas, and those who fret and guilt-trip about the male-only celibate priesthood, and try and over-compensate. This has led to the post-1970s pitch-invasion of the sanctuary by women (as readers, “special ministers,” and latterly altar girls) which often makes the male celebrant look like a stranger at his own altar, surrounded by a flurry of mumsy bustle.

The feminizing tendency has also caused an epidemic of linguistic manipulation in the name of inclusiveness – whatever happened to “for you and for all men” or “pray, brethren” and “you formed man in your own image”? Trendy clergy may think that this is all very enlightened and socially aware, but all it does is to exacerbate the problem of male estrangement. Surely the average priest can count? Surely he can see that his congregations are mainly female? So why is he needlessly antagonizing the men, when this group constitutes his greatest challenge in terms of evangelization outreach? It’s a classic case in the Catholic Church of 1970s woolly-mindedness being overtaken by harsh 21st Century reality.

Of course the Traditional Latin Mass attracts men. They have a clearly defined role. The separate identity of the sexes is taken for granted, rather than blurred. And men tend to like solemnity and formality, which the TLM offers in spades.

gemoftheocean said...

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned John 21: The triple "Do you LOVE me Simon Peter?" The Greek question/reply has it as:

Jesus: Do you Love*agape* me?
[Agape is the intense love]
Peter: Yes Lord, I love *philios)[sp] you. [not the same dedicated, but deep affection, asll the same.]
For the second time: similar exchange with same verb forms.
Third time: Jesus uses "philios" and Peter agrees. Some scholars thought that Peter mightn't have dared to use love in the same way Christ did, becaue he'd already betrayed him. So Jesus stepped it down a bit...although, of course, the most likely spoke Aramaic or Hebrew, and like English "love" coveres a number of shades of meaning. And I'm with Annette, mawkishness couldn't have crept in without a lot of it coming from the clergy. I've seen many an old fashioned holy card with the Christ Child in Pink -- and there wasn't even a Gaudete Sunday yet.

Fr. Blake, it was a thoughtful piece, but I'm wondering if there are not simply too many other modern factors which make it near impossible to have an apples to apples comparision. First off, there is an explosion of other entertainments and social clubs - while many people do make friends at church and a week to week basis, I don't go there, per se to make friends. 50-60 years ago, the "working man" had church clubs, and the pubs if he wanted to get out of the house, maybe a sports team in his youth. No such thing as DVD, movies, TV etc. Also as society got more affluent, people can afford more expenditures on entertainment. I'm not saying it's better, or worse...just a fact.

How about taking a look at a benchmark of, say ORTHODOX communities -- you can't claim they've gone mawkish. Are the activities in the men's clubs the same as 50-60 years ago, or have they too been influenced by modern culture? I personally (other than the Kumbaya crap, which doesn't excite anyone save hippies) don't find the NO itself "mawkish." [You MAY slap the charistmatics for infecting some parishes with a hand hold at the Our Father.

Can it be that more men than women automatically (even subconciously) equate "love" with a sexual component? I think women are less likely to think this might automatically be the case.

Anonymous said...

Father, it's similar with my observation. In my local parish there are mainly women. Altar girls, female lectors and special ministers, in the pews women predominate. There are some old men, but there is a lack of young or middle-aged men. Since November here is a TLM-mass and it's noticeable: There are evident more men then women.

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