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Man and the Mass

The return to the Traditional liturgy has revitalized true manliness.  For decades, not-so-subtle abuse has been made of the provisional allowances for female participation in the celebration of the Mass, as lectors, altar servers, and extraordinary ministers (which are all-too-frequently abused regardless of sex).  This sad state of affairs is beginning to disappear in more traditionally-leaning parishes, even where only the Novus Ordo is present, and is altogether vanquished in what can only be described, in the most positive connotations of the word, as truly extraordinary parishes.  While this being accepted by men and women alike throughout the world, there is a stronger tendency towards traditionalism amongst men than women.  It is not as though all women view the movement with hostility, but there are nonetheless two ways in which their enthusiasm for the structures of traditionalism which are built both up from and up towards the Traditional Mass are mitigated; one is a good thing, as a sort of docile and understanding acceptance that some things rightly belong to men alone (just as some belong rightly to women alone), and the other is harmful, as a sort of reluctance in resignation to exclusion based on sex.

Fulton Sheen once wrote that woman is “most reasonable when man is most irrational.”1 Man finds the most complete privations of his rationality in the heights of his awe, his rapture, his love.  When a man is consumed with love, with a burning passion for some thing or some one, he cannot sit still; as the expression goes, he cannot contain himself, as though his whole person is ready to leap out of his body in a state of purest ecstasy, euphoria.  When a man becomes conscious of the potentiality of love realized, he wants to rush towards it and disregard everything else, even his own future; to give the entirety of his being in one intense thrust.  Propriety tends to go flying out the window for the man in love.  He throws it out in the depths of his irrationality.  As such does woman become most reasonable; she sees that he, in his burning love for her, cannot rightly disregard everything else, and reminds him of the value of propriety.  Out of love, he pays attention to those little and seemingly insignificant things that are pale lights beside her; the deeper his love, the more scrupulously he attends to them, and he loves propriety for the sake of loving her.

Curiously, this phenomenon manifests itself in the English language, as well.  When someone desires to communicate something of the most urgency, the most importance, he uses the fewest words possible; it is intense, but simply a burst of energy.  Oftentimes, indiscernible sounds screamed without any consonant formation, serve just as well as words; sometimes better.  An urgent cry of “marshmallows!” does not convey the sense of danger as well as “ahhh!”  But when man wants to convey something particular, definite, and intelligible, he relies on syntax; on rigidity, on rules, on structure.  Grammar and syntax allow for the nigh infinite possibilities of individual words to be placed into a meaningful utterance while retaining and even focusing the connotations each the individual word.  Thus when male pronouns are used in the singular to denote the entirety of the human race, that raging potentiality of the male is present, but restrained; the combination of the potentiality of the word with the definitive signification intended by a syntactical structure parallels the coupling of man and wife.  To use the feminine in the sexually undesignated singular would not necessarily be incorrect, but the connotation is one of particular actuality being further contained, rather than universal potentiality being made actual and meaningful (admittedly something of a paradox, if one is to consider the outlines of Chesterton’s perspective on man and woman – perhaps that is a topic to be reviewed later).  The word must be restrained by its sentence in order to be good, to be truly significant, to convey to the minds of men some definite meaning.

A man cannot take his eyes off his beloved.

Rigidly enraptured

It is no different, and indeed much more profoundly related to the human experience, within the Holy Mass.  To eyes accustomed to seeing love as wild, burning, as passion unrestrained, the Traditional liturgy is cold, dispassionate, a seminar in death-like rigidity, devoid of meaning and fecundity.  Indeed, the rigidity of the Mass is very death-like, but in no way is it cold or dispassionate; the reverence of the priest, the deacon, the subdeacon, and the acolytes is the most meaningful strictly human part of the Mass.

In Elizabethan English, the words “death” and “die” carried the connotation of sexual climax.  Though this meaning may have come from any one of a dozen significations, there is nonetheless a certain fittingness to it.  A seed must die in order to create new life.  A lover dies to his beloved; in the realization of one potential love, every other dies.  The greatest act of love in all history was death: Christ on the Cross, a posture of notable rigidity.  Just as Christ was willingly, is willingly, nailed into place, so too does the priest willingly nail into a rigid posture his earnest and inflamed desire to celebrate the Mass: Christ conformed Himself to the Cross for the sake of His Church; the priest conforms himself to the Church for the sake of the Mass.  To again quote Sheen, “Man is the raging torrent of the cascading river; woman is the bank which keeps it within limits.”2 So too is the priest, alter Christus, lovingly bound in the strict arms of his bride, the Church, for whom he willingly dies, to himself and to the world.

When a woman enters the sanctuary, she is trespassing into the “bedroom” of a priest and his Bride; with what intent does she enter?  The closer one draws to the sacrifice of the Mass, the deeper, the more burning, the more intense must one’s passion be; the more one must be fitting to the situation, to the role, not only in virtue but also in nature.  The sanctuary, the sacristy, and most especially the altar are places for men to be men, to be manly, to love so deeply that they hold themselves erect, that they walk only in straight lines, and that precision guides their every move; like a young man courting a young woman.

1 Sheen, Fulton J., The World’s First Love. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1952, 121
2 Sheen, 158

Categories: General
  1. David
    July 15, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Raskolnikov – thank you for writing this piece, as there are seems to be a dearth of positive writing about what it means to be male.

    However, I am hoping you can clear up a few things for me. The first is what you mean by the word “love.” Do you mean a feeling? a relationship? As I’m sure you know, our scriptures tell us that “God is love,” and to posit irrationality of God (as you do of the man in love) would be absurd, so you clearly don’t mean “love” in the way the 1 John does. But what, then, do you mean?

    Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

  2. Raskolnikov
    July 15, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    David, thank you for your comments. As far as the subject of love goes – that’s a big question! As far as I know, one of the other writes is working on an article that deals with the topic. Hopefully that’ll give a decent answer, and if not, I may write on that for my next.


  3. David
    July 16, 2009 at 7:40 am

    Raskolnikov – I realized that I said I had questions, and then only asked one – silly of me.

    I am still curious, however, where you get your anthropology from. You have been descriptive but not argumentative in this regard. Why is it – or perhaps, what is the underlying principle – which enables you to provide the description of the male as “raging potentiality” (it seems that you do not think this is exhaustive of the definition of male)?

    Thanks, and I look forward to future writings on love.

    • Raskolnikov
      August 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

      David, if I had to pin down a source of anthropological information, I would choose St. Thomas; basically, the idea of man as creature, created. With everything that is created, there is some potential for fulfillment of its being by interaction with other objects. For some, this potential is actualized by being the mobile piece, that which instigates, and for others the potentiality is actualized by being the immobile, fixed piece.

      As an analogy, basketball: the ball itself has much more potentiality within its molecular structure to movement; there are many more ways the ball can move, and it can move much more easily, than the basket. But without the basket, the ball is just another ball. Unless the ball goes through the hoop, that movement has not been successful.

      Of course this analogy involves strong generalizations and a rather strictly drawn dichotomy, but I think it captures the idea. The traditional more of men approaching and courting women is not, as commonly said today, determined simply by social standards, but instead is directly related to the basic human nature of man and woman. Men are psychologically less capable of handling a multitude of task simulaneously (or nigh simultaneously), and tend to do much better if focusing and containing their energy and efforts with one task at a time. This is the only way that a man can love a woman; if, in saying “I love you” to her he says “I don’t love you” (at least, not in the same way!) to all others.

      With the woman, it is similar, but relies on her accepting one and only one man’s love.

      If you think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll see that this has a basis in physical intimacy as well, from the marital act to the procedure of conception/fertilization.


      • David
        August 9, 2009 at 10:46 pm

        I see. But what I don’t understand is how you have decided that males are “psychologically less capable of handling a multitude of tasks simultaneously” or that they need the restraint of women (which was, I believe, your argument in the blog entry) or that women are (on metaphysical principle, as you seem to argue) the restraining piece to the puzzle of the male raging potentiality. You seem to have assigned these items to potentiality/actuality categories without argument. Why is that males are given the description you give them, and the same for women? Does it rest on a natural principle? Something revealed?

        Moreover, I am puzzled as to how a priest could be anything but crazy under the schema you have described, since there is no woman to restrain his raging passion.

  4. Raskolnikov
    August 9, 2009 at 11:11 pm




    Now, these studies are by no means conclusive, nor are there not studies which show evidence to the contrary. More strongly do I find it true in my own life experience; I cannot hold a conversation while writing, nor can I read while the TV is on, or talk to someone with real attentiveness if I’m surfing the internet. Most men I know are the same way, at least to some degree. Most women I know, on the other hand, are much better at that sort of thing. Additionally, even women who have not been brought up in traditionally domestic roles have a natural tendency, at least that I have observed, to do better at cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, and taking care of children, all in a more-or-less simultaneous fashion, than I or most men I know could ever hope to do.

    In general, men can do things better, but can do fewer of them at one time. Being in a marriage, or relationship oriented towards one, gives man a more specific, concrete direction, an end in accord with which he may actualize his potentialities, namely to be a provider.

    And a priest most certainly does have a woman; or at least, a Bride. That was basically the thesis of the whole article. A different kind of bride, to be sure, but one that exacts out of him a very specifically actualized potency. Which might just make the priest the sanest man of all.

    • David
      August 10, 2009 at 12:35 pm

      If you are identifying the Bride with the church, I have to wonder how biblical your argument is. After all, Ephesians 5:21-33 identifies the relationship of Christ and Church as that between a married man and woman, not as between a priest and ____ (insert your ecclesiology here).

      Secondly, I find it interesting you turn to the empirical sciences to justify your position. As you note, these studies are not conclusive. Moreover, I am puzzled by your appeal to experience. You must be aware that others have different experiences of the sexes, and without some principle (which is the ‘why’ question in the last post) it is hard to say which of these is better or worse or more descriptive of the sexes as they ought to be. In other words, you have your experience; I have mine, and unless an argument can be made to universalize that experience, all we are left with is experience.

      So I suppose I’m trying to say I find your position unconvincing because there is no metaphysical principle at work, only an assertion that males are of a certain type and then justifying that type by an appeal to inconclusive empirical studies and your own experience. Is there anything else you can offer to convince me that your convictions about the sexes are correct?

  5. Raskolnikov
    August 11, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at with your first point. Christ(husband):Church(wife)::Priest(alter Christus(husband)):Church(wife).

    With regards to your second point: even the most universal principles to which we can appeal must, insofar as we are human, be related to some experience (what the Scholastics would call returning to the phantasm). Anything you want to justify needs to have some experiential basis.

    However, there is most certainly a metaphysical principle at work, insofar as all beings are differentiated to operate in a particular manner. Despite this particular differentiation, we nonetheless universalize based on similarity in the sense of genus and species (dog is “universal” to Fido but particular to animal). Thus while we speak of “man” and “woman,” they are actually meaningful insofar as they signify individual men and individual women. There is no universal man, simply a concept which is universal insofar as it contains a set of likenesses to which we relate individual men. Thus, the metaphysical principle has to do with created beings, insofar as they participate in being, and insofar as such participation has a requisite set of limitations and conditions, a set of actions and means by which that being can fulfill its end. There could be a woman who more closely approximates the universalized idea of “raging potentiality” than some man does, or many men, but she would be an exception to that universalization constructed out of particular experiences.

    Part of this particular differentiation which is evident in men is their lack of focus without something to guide them; not necessarily a woman, but a woman is very frequently the most fitting guide for a man’s potential. It is part of the complementary nature of created beings to rely on one another.

    If you’re looking for some universal, absolute law, you’re not going to find it. Individual men and individual women are not universals. This is a poetic generalization which recognizes an analogous quality which generally inheres in the male sex and a similarly analogous quality which generally inheres in the female sex.

    • David
      August 12, 2009 at 11:27 am

      Well, we can leave off the bit about Ephesians, since it is tangential and distracts from the main point. Perhaps some other time we can talk about why the priesthood is the way it is.

      Yes, I think now we are getting to the heart of the matter. What I am interested in is how you make the connection between “all beings are differentiated to operate in a particular manner” to ‘the male’s particular manner is that which requires restraint, most perfectly by a woman.’ Why is it that you think that particular way of being is correct for the male species (if you do, in fact, think males are a seperate species from ‘human’)?

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