Men and the Liturgy – Thoughts on a Recent Survey

blog 8.18.15A recent study of more than 1400 Catholic men from over 1000 parishes indicates a substantial disconnect from the Church and a dissatisfaction with what the Church offers and how she ministers to men. The survey was conducted in the fall of 2014 and an analysis of the results was published by Matthew James Christoff, Director of The New Emangelization Project (Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men).

It is clear that “men” are not monolithic; they have a range of views and preferences. But overall, the men surveyed feel disengaged from the Church and sense little interest from the Church in listening to them or reaching out to them. Further, there are some concerns that, in general, are shared more by men than by women. While the study indicates a number of themes and recommendations, I will not reproduce them all here. You can and should read those at the link above.

But there are two issues on which I would like to focus, since we often discuss them here on this blog: liturgy and homilies. The men in the survey, especially in the narrative comments, had some pointed observations about both areas (see pages 9 and 20-21). And while the preferences and concerns do not break out simply into men’s opinions vs. women’s opinions, it is clear that there are overall tendencies in what men prefer or find satisfying.

Liturgy – Modern liturgy has emphasized community, warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, accessibility, and being easily understood. Parishioners are often encouraged to greet those around them warmly, shake hands, hold hands, etc. Music has often become emotive and lyrical (rather than metered and march-like) and the themes emphasize welcome, intimacy with God, reconciliation, love, etc.

None of these things are wrong in themselves, and there are masculine ways of expressing and experiencing these things, but there is a lack of balancing virtues that are often more appealing to men such as duty, call, honor, awe, reverence, respect, transcendence, sacrifice, spiritual warfare, and the struggle against evil.

Stirring, metrical hymns paired with equally vigorous verses describing virtues and themes such as adoration, obedience, faith, strength, hope, God’s power and glory, the ultimate victory of God and the faithful, tend to appeal more to men and masculine ideals.

It does not have to be one thing or the other in the liturgy; it really is about greater balance. Much of the modern liturgical fare in many (though not all) parishes is weighted toward aspects more often preferred by women. And while most men do not talk about it much, when asked, they consistently report being uncomfortable with and uninspired by modern liturgies.

It is no surprise then that men (according both to this and other polls as well as anecdotal observation) are on average more likely than women to prefer the solemn, formal liturgies of the traditional rites. The discipline, skill, and almost military-like precision appeal to many men. Tradition here need not refer only to the pre-conciliar forms, but also to newer forms that contain more traditional elements and formality.

Homilies – Most of the men polled indicated that they respond more to a homilist who sounds like a leader, summons and challenges them, calls for courage, and articulates a clear stance on the moral issues of our day.

The men surveyed noted that often the emphasis seems to be on “safe” homilies, designed not to unsettle or offend, homilies in which God’s love is emphasized more so than the challenging themes of discipleship like obedience, repentance, sacrifice, resistance to the world, and willingness to rebuke sin within our families. Soft and suggestive tones are “in,” while bold and directive sermons are harder to find.

Here, too, it need not be one or the other, with one being bad the other being good. Rather, it is the lack of balance that is the problem. Men do not ordinarily speak about these views, but, when asked, are fairly consistent in their sense that the balance is off. They feel that sermons do not seem to be aimed at them and do not involve themes or topics that are most interesting to them.

You can read more at the link above, paying special attention to page 9 and pages 20-21.

Clearly, whenever we speak of liturgy we are hitting the “third rail” and blood can boil. Just remember that this is a discussion and the goal is to listen and to find balance. There is obviously overlap in what men and women think. All men don’t feel the same way any more than all women feel the same way. Let’s also avoid reducing this to a matter of right vs. left, pre-conciliar vs. post-conciliar, etc. Say what you mean, and mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

26 Replies to “Men and the Liturgy – Thoughts on a Recent Survey”

  1. Random thoughts…Homilies…In general, in life, I think men prefer to be succinct. Women love words, words. words. Let’s remember how Jesus spoke!

    Music, to be honest, I think men would prefer less of it, period.

  2. Yes. And thank you Fr for not making this a “one or the other” issue or that all men are X and all women are Y.

  3. Obedience, discipline, discipleship, responsibility, accountability and of course, fatherhood are best be lessons from the Sacred Scriptures to be expounded by our priests and would well be accepted and heard and internalized. Priests sharing their lives and experiences along these lines are very much appreciated since they apply to common humanity of the father of the community of faith, the priest, and for us laity as fathers of our own families. As for the Holy Mass songs and sanctity and solemnity of the celebration, let it be penetrating internally as we see and feel how our priests really honor GOD in the manner of deep and well declared prayers Ad Majorem DEI Gloriam. Yes, we do intercede for our priests that they may touch the hearts of their congregation. May HIS Name be praised forever!

  4. I am by no means representative, but I find most of the OCP/GIA hymns in common use to be wimpy and vapid. It’s not just the lilting melodies, but also the bland and borderline heretical lyrics.

    I like the Mass itself to be sung — we should sing *the* Mass, not just sing at Mass. Sing something with some real theological meat, like the prescribed entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons printed in the Missal. Sing the preface, the Pater Noster, the Roman Canon.

    Also, play the organ more — it is a much more manly instrument than the piano (a great concert and bar instrument, not a liturgical instrument.)

  5. I wonder about the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. Apparently this was said, after the low mass in response to the vision of Pope Leo XIII in 1893, and has died out somewhat.
    In the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church, where I re-established my connection to my faith, this prayer was always used to conclude the low mass – usually week days – and I found it very inspirational.
    I’m not saying about this being a single (and thorough) bridge but, it did make for a conclusion that helped me depart from the church building but, feeling attached to the church and it’s spiritual challenges as I proceeded to head to the worldly.

  6. The survey, while mentioning the extraordinary form as a potential fix for some concerns, really focuses on the lack of reverence and lack of focus on the Blessed Sacrament. The form of the Mass is more of an accident. The substance, which is often lacking, is reverence and faith in the Real Presence. It is easy to put the blame on the form of the Mass. But that would be shallow (to say the least.).

    1. Absolutely true. People parade in front of the Blessed Sacrament and don’t even bow anymore. The noise level after Mass is deafening. At the church I used to attend, the extraordinary ministers consumed the Body and Blood of Our Lord outside the Sanctuary after Mass while the din continued. When the pastor was approached regarding this abuse, his answer was that many options were discussed and this one was the best one. Best for Whom?

    2. Marshall McLuhan observed, “The medium is the message”. Nowhere is this more true than at Holy Mass. The form of the Mass does matter because there are, in realty, no “mere accidentals” as every gesture, action, and word (and silence, for that matter) conveys a meaning either more efficacious or less efficacious in doing justice to the great Mysteries at hand. As such the power of the Mass, on a human level, lies in its symbolic content more than its pedagogical content. Grace builds on nature so the fittingness of the form is crucial.

    3. I would like to apologize for using the word “shallow.” That came from my frustration with there being too much emphasis on outer appearances (clothing, rubrics, ad orientem postures and other political concerns regarding attempts at reversals of the Vatican II liturgical changes) with not enough emphasis on accepting and perfecting changes directed by the Holy Spirit in the ecumenical council of Vatican II and strongly confirmed in all of the popes and their practicing of the Novus Ordo since then. If people want masculinity, they need to start with mirroring the obedience and faithfulness of the popes, as they try to mirror the fidelity and obedience of Jesus Christ.

      Priests should try to mirror Pope Francis…do what he is doing daily.

  7. I think it was Bl. Cardinal Newman who said the twin dangers to the Faith were excessive comfort and sentimentality. (btw, if anyone can locate that quote, I’d appreciate it so I can read in context). The excessive comfort in the context of the parish might be hard to pin down. Perhaps count the luxury cars in the parking lot. The dominance of sentimentality is unmistakable in the liturgical music. Simply subtract the words, listen to the music and most of it sounds like it belongs in a new-age massage parlor or a high-school production of Godspell.

    1. The only reference I could find to “twin dangers” in Newman’s writings was his letter around August 6, 1835 to Charles Marriott:

      “The Church is at present beset by two dangers—one from the levellers who would destroy it as an establishment, the other from latitudinarians who would keep it indeed as an establishment but in some respect or other corrupt it.”¹

      Perhaps the quote you thought of was from “Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” Ch. 2:

      “I have changed in many things: in this I have not. From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; r̲e̲l̲i̲g̲i̲o̲n̲,̲ ̲a̲s̲ ̲a̲ ̲m̲e̲r̲e̲ ̲s̲e̲n̲t̲i̲m̲e̲n̲t̲,̲ ̲i̲s̲ ̲t̲o̲ ̲m̲e̲ ̲a̲ ̲d̲r̲e̲a̲m̲ ̲a̲n̲d̲ ̲a̲ ̲m̲o̲c̲k̲e̲r̲y̲.̲”²

      ¹ Newman, John Henry. “The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman.” Vol. XXXII, Ed. Francis J. McGrath (Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2008), 11.

      ² Newman, John Henry. “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” (London, UK: Longman’s, Green and Co., 1908), 50.

    2. Does your parish use the organ and play traditional hymns (17th to 19th centuries) or is it contemporary music with guitar and other instruments?

  8. I think this post is right on target > reverence is seen in the attention to detail, respect for the parishioners is communicated in a serious informative or stirring homily, and sacred music should be distinct and ideally elevating. I’d add the Church itself should be beautiful in an attempt to transcend. I’ve seen Churches that could be mistaken for a school cafeteria were it not for the altar. Any care taken to make Mass stand out from the mundane or worldly really helps.

  9. Strangely, although I am a woman, I prefer the more masculine viewpoints you offered. I like the traditional hymns (some of the new stuff makes my brain cringe). I like a strongly spoken homily that doesn’t try to please everyone. It is not the priests’ job to appeal to each individual hearer or even ensure his message is simple enough for a child to understand. He is there to preach the Word of the Lord as inspired by the Holy Spirit and to have faith in that inspiration.

    At the end of the day, the mass is not there for me, I am there for it. It will go on without me, but will never go on without Jesus and the Priest who stands in His place on the Altar. Given that, I just need to leave my pride in the umbrella bin outside and give worship, which is my job in the Mass. And if the words and messages in the liturgy and homily are masculine, then they are masculine. It was never about me anyway.

    1. For the homily, I wonder if the key is “inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” I think that the homilist who is open to, listening for and responsive to the promptings of the Spirit of God, and who takes risk…that is, saying what he hears from God and not holding back what he hears God saying is the one who does a good job. But, he has to know when it is God speaking to him. If he does not know God’s voice, then it will be difficult…he might lean on the literal words of the Scripture and not teach the deeper, practical meanings.

  10. Let’s be honest. There are two choices. (1) The church has no interest in appealing to men. (2) Church leadership is incompetent.

    1. How about a third option: 3. Men themselves can exert leadership and actively craft the Church to be more virile and relevant to men.

      Waiting for “incompetent” Church leadership to do something is a waste of time since by that definition they are incapable. As for “the Church” having no interest, I wonder how “Church” is understood here. Do you just mean clergy, or all the people of God? That’s why I think option 3 is good. Men are not children who need a program or agenda handed to them. We recently started a men’s fellowship and bible study here in the city and are drawing men from 12 different parishes. This initiative was started by clergy, but the men themselves do the turnout and set the agenda.

      1. “Do you just mean clergy, or all the people of God?”

        For myself…I would understand it as most of the clergy and lay leadership in parishes and dioceses. And in that respect, I think that there is a great deal to what Greg says, alas. Too often, the normative lived experience of the Church in the West seems geared to appeal to a middle class, middle aged professional woman, or at least one of a particular sort. It’s a development that precedes the Council (though certainly accelerated in its wake), and was unpacked with some penetration by Leon Podles in THE CHURCH IMPOTENT.

        My concern is that the Option 3 you offer is not descriptive, but prescriptive. And there is nothing wrong with that. But in many parishes, finding a critical mass of such men to exert such leadership is no mean feat – not just because such men are largely vanished, but because there is often very real resistance to them when they do make such efforts. Too ften, it’s just easier to go somewhere else (say, traditional or semi-trad parish, or Eastern Rite, or, alas, to leave for some other denoimination). Or nowhere at all.

        It goes without saying that this doesn’t apply to your own parish, a happy exception in many ways.

    2. Greg,

      I have been reading today about the numerous schisms and anti-popes in the history of the Church. It seems throughout, there have always been disagreements and hereseys. Heck, even in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul chastises Peter!

      The fact is, as human beings, we have and never will be one big happy family. But as we are the Body of Christ, we must remember that not all body parts are equal or even if they are, they do not work equally (think left hand versus right).

      But to call out “incompetence!” or gender bias is highly unfair. Perhaps, my friend, the fault lies in us. Perhaps, as men pulled back, the priests noted who was actually there not only for masses, but for other parish functions and activities and began to speak to them. If so, this was a simple human error, and entirely forgivable.

      So, how to fix?

      CALLING ALL MEN! CALLING ALL MEN! Get invovled with your church! You have nothing to lose but your lives, and nothing to gain but eternal salvation!

      Of course, I imagine the majority of male readers of this blog are likely already on board. At least I hope they are. 🙂

      1. None of us has any control over homilies, of course, but it does seem to me that if men want things in their local parish to be different, they have many options. Don’t think all the RE teachers should be women? Volunteer to teach! Have music preferences? Volunteer to be in a choir or form one! Want to do “guy things”? Form a group to go to ball games, hiking, car shows, etc.

  11. This information can be helpful to me as a choir leader. I often ask my choir members to suggest songs for us to learn – but they’re all women! I think I’ll ask some of the men in the congregation for suggestions.

    I wonder, though, whether the musical preferences differ substantially by culture. Our music is in Spanish, and there are a variety of popular rhythms from different Latin American cultures in use. I’m fond of a simple march tune, but it’s not what the Hispanics are used to.

  12. Yes, I agree with Msgr. Pope that the third option exists. It’s exceedingly simple. Attend the Traditional Latin Mass or an Eastern Rite liturgy. Provide financial support for religious orders and other organizations tied to these liturgies. Pray. The great cathedrals and the culture that built them didn’t appear overnight. Neither will we pull out of the post Vatican II disaster overnight.

  13. Dr. Joseph Shaw, the Chairman of the LMS in Britain, has spent a fair amount of time digging into this question, quite thoughtfully. As he summed it up recently, “the Church’s liturgy and parochial structures have been feminised to such an extent that, instead of being any kind of refuge for men, the Church can often seem a particularly unfriendly environment for them. As responsible men become a scarce commodity, the Church has sent the signal that they are not welcome.”

    In my experience (and not just mine) there seems to be a point of no return in a parish, where the men vanish not just from leadership and service in the parish, but even from the pews, and the result does seem to be, in fact, a kind of feminisation that manifests itself in liturgy and homilies. And too often what follows is a demographic point of no return, because the disappearance of men usually means a disappearance of young families – something that has struck me about more than one parish in the archdiocese here. And the data on the impact of fathers in transmitting the faith to children is rather striking.

    It doesn’t mean that men shouldn’t take responsibility for trying to restore balance. But in many parishes, this can be a very lonely venture, and not a welcome one. The problem is, once the men are gone, it’s much harder to get them back.

  14. Our parish has the music part down (which I know is unique because too many of the parishes around us or virtually anywhere else for that matter still is stuck in the kumbaya era), but as a woman, I can say I detest the wordy emotive “Jesus loves you so much” type homilies that we tend to get over and over again. I too wouldn’t mind a little variety and a more substantive message from the homilies as well!

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