A Liberal Theologian Agrees With Cardinal Burke

Sort of, anyway.  Recently, his eminence Cardinal Raymond Burke made some comments about how the “feminization” of the Church had led to men abandoning the Church since the Second Vatican Council.  Now, I have always admired Cardinal Burke, but tend not to like very “either/or” type prescriptions for problems like the ones facing the Church these days.  That being said, there is something to be said for the idea that the infantilization of the liturgy and other disgraces that beset the Church in recent decades have some relation to an overemphasis on what might be called “feminine” virtues, at least more so than his detractors seem to think.  Now, I put that word in scare quotes because I’m not totally convinced those virtues are purely feminine or masculine, but woman do tend to be better at certain things than men in general, if not absolutely.

I give as evidence for this a remarkable passage I came across the other day on the blog of Joseph Shaw, the chairman of the Latin Mass Society in the UK.  It is from a book by a late Catholic theologian named Patrick Arnold, who, according to Shaw, advocated the ordination of women and the abolition of clerical celibacy.  So, he was definitely a liberal in theological terms.  But apparently he was also influenced by Jung, and which may account for his insistence on the difference between men and women.  Be that as it may, I reproduce below most of the passage Shaw cites on his blog, in which Arnold discusses men and how they experience the liturgy.  Take a read:

Patrick Arnold: Wildmen, Warriors, and Kings (1992), p77-78
For many years liturgists felt that highly formalized worship services bored people and turned them off; “creative” liturgies were proposed as the solution. Unfortunately, the resulting 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. It was exciting all right; many men felt excited enough to rise from their pews and walk right out the door. What was their problem? It seems that most men are instantly turned off by surprise spontaneity in ritual circumstances; moreover, ceremonies that are entirely nice, sweet, and happy usually strike men as phoney and completely unconnected with the harsh world they experience every day.

What attracts men to public prayer, then? Men need a certain regularity and consistency in their worship; spontaneity has its appeal for men, but not in the midst of ritual. The highly popular masculine traditions of Judaism and Islam, for example, encourage set times, places, and formulae for daily prayer and worship, and men respond to these demands very well. Ritually, men like to know exactly what is expected of them and what the rules are; religion helps men when it challenges them to clear, reasonable, and achievable goals, whether liturgically or devotionally. Men like to be able to succeed at something; their lives are filled with enough failure, real and imagined, as it is.

Even more central to masculine worship is the notion of the Transcendent. In deemphasizing in recent generations a concern with absolutes and ultimates, heaven and hell, and eternity and infinity, modern Christianity has taken a decisive turn towards feminine religion, which is typically interested in the immanent and the incarnational, in finding God in the small things, the everyday, and the mundane. These are genuine Christian qualities and mark the beautiful spirituality of a Therese of Lisieux or a Mother Teresa of Calcutta; without doubt, men also need such grounding emphases. These traits are not, however, essentially masculine in nature. As liberal religion stresses increasingly the immanent and “horizontal” dimension of faith to the exclusion of the transcendent and “vertical” reality, it inadvertently ignores the voracious appetite of men for the Great, the Wholly Other, and the Eternal.

A liturgy or a sermon that truly speaks to men will tend to “pitch” men outside themselves, confront them with the Absolute, and offer them an eschatological viewpoint on life. Admittedly, this is hard to do in the Mass or eucharistic liturgy, which is structured around the domestic motif of the dining table. Yet a service that simply emphasizes the sacredness and eternity of the eucharistic actions, the infinite value of the ceremony, and the worldwide solidarity of the prayer is already on the way to capturing the male imagination.

If we are to ask makes to take worship seriously, we ought to provide rites which are serious. 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. Ceremonies that are trivial or flighty don’t command male respect.


Yes, yes, yes–a thousand times yes.  This puts my concerns more clearly than I ever could have articulated them.  I don’t know that “feminization” explains all ills in the Church, but I do know that I avoid most parishes because I often feel, rather than encountering the mysterious, awful, and ineffable presence of God in the liturgy, that I have happened upon a summer band camp sing-a-long for middle aged women and pre-pubescent children, none of whom can actually sing.  And it is striking that someone like Arnold could understand this but most Catholics cannot, including many “conservative” types.  Thank you to Mr. Shaw for posting this most interesting of passages.




Alypius Minor

~ by Alypius on January 24, 2015.

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