09 February 2010

Are we driving men away?

On any given Sunday here in Rome, the congregations attending Mass will be mostly women, and most of them will be elderly women.  God bless them!  What you will almost never see is younger men.  Hispanic friars tell me that the same goes for Masses in Latin and South America as well.  Church-going is women's work.

Why is that?  Not so long ago it was suggested by critics of a modernist Church that the reforms of Vatican Two and the subsequent hijacking of those reforms by feminists had "feminized" the Church (esp. the liturgy) to the point where men felt excluded.  Men voted with their feet.  

As a student brother in St Louis I once attended a Newman Center Mass at a university in Illinois.  Among the 30 or so students in attendance there were exactly three men--me, the priest, and the boyfriend of a young woman who read the readings.  Father, unfortunately, was the stereotypical Newman Center chaplain--deeply committed to a 1973 reading of Vatican Two, tied-dyed vestments, syrupy homily, huggy-kissy liturgy, big chunky loaf of granola bread for consecration, etc.  

The Center's personnel were women.  All of the student officers of the Catholic Student Organization were women.  All of the communion ministers were women.  All the readers and the entire choir were women.  I saw several offices with name plates on the doors.  All women. 

The building itself was "female" as well!  Round building, the chairs arranged in a circle, the altar dressings were "hand-made" in that oh-so-1973 style.  Since the chapel was basically a multi-purpose religious celebration space, images of other religions were hung about.  The Episcopalians had recently painted the walls and ceiling pink and hung up "art" by their grade school children.  The whole place exuded the feeling of a kindergarten classroom. 

During the Mass, I noticed that the boyfriend was standing stoically by his girlfriend with his arms crossed.  He never opened his mouth.  He was especially resolute in his silence when we sung a hand-clapping rendition of the Gloria!  When Mass was over, I tried to introduce myself, but he hit the door faster than I could get to him.  

I asked the priest afterward about the conspicuous absence of men at the Mass.  He just shrugged his shoulders and seemed not the least bit worried that his summer camp Mass might be alienating his male charges. 

Fr. Z. has some thoughts on getting men back into the parish

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  1. I can't speak for anywhere else but male absenteeism is not a recent phenomenon in Spain. It has been suggested to me that it may have its roots in the polarisation caused by the Civil War. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of politicised men saw the Church as being aligned with the Franco régime. My uncle once told me of a village he knew in the 50s where on Sundays the men would walk out of church after the Gospel and would only return only after the homily was over such was their hostility to the politics emanating from the pulpit.

  2. men?


    who needs men???

    oh, sorry, just slipped out somehow....


  3. I am a member of an Evangelical Free church. We have a lot of men attending, as well as a lot of men involved in the community. It's expected, and done with joy at serving. I think the Padre' is right. Feminize something too much, and the men will disappear.

  4. How to get men back to the church:

    2)Male Altar Servers only

    hope this doesn't upset you father.

  5. Perhaps the American church isn't as sick as is often said. At our parish, the split between men and women seems to be about 50/50. Most of the ushers are men; most of the Eucharistic ministers are women (sigh); the lectors seem to be about half-and-half, as is the choir. (The priests we see, of course, are all men. :-)

  6. Maybe this is just me being The Historian, but I think this phenomenon has much deeper roots than simply the second wave feminist movement. Although this is somewhat outside my field, I suspect that we are talking about intertwined processes of secularization and feminization that go back to the mid-19th century (in Britain, I should clarify). I would also tend to point to the ideas about gender that emerge from the French Revolution and Napoleonic periods, esp the idea of Republican Motherhood. Furthermore, if I were going to write about this subject, I would also want to consider evolving conceptions of masculinity, particularly with regard to emotionality and even consumerism (I suspect the literature on the abandonment of color and trim in men's fashions could make a contribution). Not to mention the increasing insistence that religion is not the proper subject of and even has no real place in politics, which is a self-consciously exclusively male sphere throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. My "expertise" (such as it is) is limited to Britain, though, and I can't speak to the USA or predominantly Catholic countries, where I would expect rather different trajectories.

  7. Anonymous9:35 AM

    At my university, the male to female ratio has slowly decreased in the past three years. It used to be something like 1 male to every 8 females, maybe even higher. Now I would say it's about 1:4.

    I think a lot of it has to do with bringing FOCUS to campus. Having male missionaries who focus on the male population on campus... helps a lot.

  8. AJJP, you would be amazed at what it takes to upset me.


  9. The cultures in question are very chauvanistic. I don't think this is a new phenomenon in Italy or Latin America.

  10. I have a young adults group I am a member of and of one of the things we offer we have a fellowship of men who gather weekly. As of late one of our activities is a round table discussion regarding a price of religious literature. as we are approaching the end of this current book we are going to be looking for another book to discuss. I would like to find a book that will help to emphasize the masculine role that is needed to fortify the church. If I may ask Father do you have any book recommendations?

  11. Another good idea is supporting the Knights of Columbus in the parishes and letting the Knights support the parishes (you'd be surprised how many pastors don't like the KCs.)

  12. Anonymous4:00 AM

    The Church is an institution run by males. Yet somehow women are to blame for running the men off. This is the most ludicrous thing I've heard yet.

    THE MEN are in CHARGE in the CHURCH. Name one female pope, woman of authority at the Vatican, Cardinal, Bishop or priest.

    WHAT are you talking about? It's scandalous that women are allowed to pass out the Eucharist?

    Yeah, that kind of thing is really the nastiest business of the Church. You need to do some research about what went on in the Vatican prior to JPII.

    Clue in.


  13. MH, I'm not blaming women for driving men away from the Church. I'm blaming feminists--male and female feminists. Some of the most orthodox, tradition-minded Catholics I know are women.

    Clued in enough for ya?

  14. Anonymous11:23 PM

    No, you are not clued in enough for me. Not by a long shot.

    Why not give up "smug" for lent. With all respect, you are the one in the robes. N'est-ce pas?

    We know that doesn't, ahem, make one immune to vice but maybe vituperation?

    nah... not a chance. In heaven or hell.


  15. MH, tell ya what...let's make a deal. I'll give up what you call being smug for Lent if you spend Lent being an example of Christian charity. I mean, you have the lingo down already. Let's see if you can actually practice it!


  16. Anonymous9:25 PM


    You'll never make it...


  17. MH, and you've already failed!

    Let's pray for one another, shall we?