I went to Mass downtown today, at the old Baroque-style church with the cavernous ceiling and the stained glass windows. The Mass was Novus Ordo but it was said ad orientem, with great dignity and formality. The church was awash in colored light; there were flickering candles in every corner. Most of the responses were said in Latin. I loved it. I look forward to that Mass every week. It comforts my soul in a thousand ways. There are a so many adjectives I could use to describe an ad orientem Mass downtown: meditative, mysterious, timeless, aesthetic, meticulous, deep.
I would never think to call it masculine. And I would never think to mind that it wasn’t masculine.
I’ve struggled to have any interest at all in the female deacons argument that’s raged all around the past week on Patheos. I figure that Rome will decide who can and cannot be a deacon, and I am not Rome despite my zesty Italian surname. One thing I have noticed, though, is that commentators keep making the same complaint: “The Church is becoming too feminine.” Which puzzles me, because the Church has always been feminine. The Church has been known as “Mother Church” and “The Bride of Christ” from the outset. If you refer to the Church by a pronoun other than “it,” you’re supposed to call it “she.” That’s what the Church is. The Church is in relation to Christ the way a beautiful princess is to Prince Charming in an old folktale. The Church is a bride bedecked with her jewels. The Church is the woman from the Song of Solomon, dark and lovely, a garden enclosed. That is feminine.
I’ve often heard that complaint about Masses as well; the Mass after Vatican Two became “feminine.” And that puzzles me. I don’t think of Mass as feminine or masculine; I think of it as Mass. Mass is for all time. Mass is Calvary and Heaven. It seems ludicrous to apply a concept like gender to the Mass, any more than we’d give it a metaphorical color or weight. But, if we’re going to assign a gender… the Mass is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Christ is the Bridegroom. The Church is His bride, and my soul is His bride. All souls are. In Catholic tradition, the soul is always referred to as “she” like the Church. What’s more feminine than a wedding feast? Particularly a wedding wherein the deepest part of your being is the bride? For that matter, why are the worst examples of tasteless and sloppy Novus Ordo celebrations of the Mass thought of as feminine, compared to the Tridentine? Where I come from, being a bombastic attention-seeker who plays the folk guitar and doesn’t care about aesthetics is a masculine stereotype. Bright colors, lace, mystery, candles and attention to detail are stereotypes for women.
The word “feminine” usually means one of three things. It can mean “female,” “like a female,” or “like a woman would be, if she were a good woman.” Are any of those bad things? If a person, animal or plant is female, is that bad? The ancient Greeks thought of females as defective males, but that’s not at all a part of Catholic teaching.
Is it bad if something is like a woman, or reminds you of a woman? What does a woman remind you of? What do women do? I know, women can do whatever they want; we can be surgeons or professors or race car drivers. But what does a woman do that’s different from a man? For one thing, a woman can be a mother. Some women don’t like how people harp on motherhood and ignore all the other things women can do, and they have a good point. Still, think of motherhood for a minute. I can go through a passion, an agony like you wouldn’t believe, and at the end of it a new human person comes out of me. Why wouldn’t you want your Church to be like that? Because that’s not only quintessentially feminine, it’s also quite like the passion of Christ, the Bride resembling her Bridegroom. I can’t think of a better way for a Church to be.
Is it bad if something is like a woman would be, if she was a good woman? Who is a good woman? The ideal woman is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why on earth wouldn’t you want the Church to resemble the Blessed Virgin Mary? If you think it’s a mistake to hold her as the Church’s ideal, you’re going against every teaching I know. She is the ultimate role model for Catholics of any vocation, the Queen of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors and virgins, the Queen of all saints, and she’s a woman. I think we all ought to be like that good woman. I think that those who aren’t are in trouble. The Church, most of all, should resemble that woman. It would be deeply wrong to not be feminine in that particular way.
I’m right with you if you think that felt banners and poorly tuned guitars played badly are unaesthetic and silly. I just don’t think that has anything to do with femininity. If you want to talk about the diaconate, or altar servers, or who gets to be a lector, I find those topics boring but we can look up the appropriate passages from canon law if you insist. You can provide me with reasons to change or not change them if you have any. But don’t claim any of those things are signs of ‘the church becoming feminine” when she already is, and when I don’t think feminine is a bad thing. Feminine is a good thing; so is masculine. God created both in His image. Call evil, evil and good, good. Anything else is from the enemy.
(Image via pixabay)