A 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.