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.
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