Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Feminization" of the Catholic LIturgy: Is Burke Right?

Discovered this while engaged in a discussion over Cdl. Burke's remarks.  Per the intro of the post, the Jesuit who wrote these observations is a liberal w/the usual laundry-list of demands for changes in the Church.  But as you'll see, he presents a very interesting thesis which actually underscores and affirms Cdl. Burke's commentary.

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; any men felt exciting 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. ...

We know that 'the most saccharine' stuff is at the margins, rarely done any more.  That said, he builds on that "spontaneity" stuff:

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. ...

I think those observations are defensible.

But here is the strongest line of argument:

...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....

That term, "horizontal" has been used as a descriptor of the Ordinary Form Mass for at least a decade by "conservatives" AND "liberals."  To the former, it's a derogatory adjective.  Note that the author concedes that men 'need such grounding', too; IOW, some is good.  

Also worth noting:  he correctly observes that 'it is difficult to do in a dining-table-based structure,' which recalls a complaint of the "conservatives."  It is not just "a dining table"--it is also an altar of self-sacrifice, certainly an "eschatological" sign.  Downplaying the latter in favor of the former, whether by image or textual reference--is "feminization."

There is a formulaic (conservative) expression which comes into play here, usually stated thus:   the Mass is conducted in "sacred space," at a "sacred time," using a "sacred language" and "sacred music."  That formula is clearly in evidence in Eastern Orthodox rites and Islamic rites.  It is also clear in "high-church" Episcopalian rites which use the King James sacral-English translation as well as "smells and bells." 

(We could spend a bit more time and pixels addressing the music issue, by the way, but we won't here.)

So.  Was Burke correct?  As to the question of "feminization," he most certainly was.  Did he call for total elimination of women from Church ministry?  No.  Is he chary of "altar girls"?  Yes--but he did not call for them to be eliminated, either--he specifically talked about age-levels in his interview.

There.  That should set the liberals into a tizzy.

(By the way, Burke speaks of the need for the Church to address masculine "self-sacrifice" for the sake of the family.  Think that the theme of "American Sniper" might kinda-sorta have that?  No, I will not accept cheap-shot black/white argumentation on Kyle's first 5 years of marriage....)


Anonymous said...

Burke had better read his Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. The Church IS feminine.

Dad29 said...

Not so fast.

"In the Song of Songs and in St Paul (and elsewhere in both Testaments), we hear of Israel/ the Church being described as the Bride, and God or Christ as the Bridegroom. St Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) applied the idea differently: that one could think of the soul as the beloved/ bride and Christ the lover/ bridegroom; the feminine Church community, represented by Our Lady, became a model for the individual Christian. The immense influence of this idea meant that popular devotion began to suggest that a feminine role vis-a-vis God is appropriate to every Christian.

"This idea is a complete reversal of the attitude of Scripture, which describes the individual Christian as taking on the role of a son (and heir) of the heavenly Father, the Christian as a soldier, and as imitating Christ. The central metaphors of the spiritual life flipped, in this way, from male to female."

You might want to consult Scripture.