Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Most Masculine Mass

 From times when I read more about the liturgy than I generally do now, I vaguely recall some spats within the Catholic blogosphere about whether the Tridentine Mass was “feminine” or “masculine”, and whether being either was a particularly good or bad thing.  At the height of one particular wave of discussion, I seem to recall someone claiming that the Mass was actually feminine, but that was cool because so was Our Lady, and this was why men where more attracted to the priesthood in the days of the Old Mass (or, today, in dioceses that made its celebration easier).

Perhaps it is a sign of excessive levity, but I tended to find such convoluted arguments more entertaining than convincing.  Fond of analogy as I am (how could a student of the Renaissance survive otherwise?), and always delighted by the discovery of difference between the sexes …

Speaking of which, R.I.P. Phyllis Schlafly.

… attempts to identify anything as complex as the Tridentine Mass with anything as complex as an entire gender (if that is indeed the word I want) struck me as dubious (although I did make a mild attempt to contribute pacifically to the Which Mass Conversation from another angle).  And, enormous respect for Fr. Z notwithstanding, I am at this point quite leery of arguments which purport to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that one form is objectively superior to the other.  Subjectivity, now, is a whole ’nother matter.  After having had one of many brain waves this summer on the topic of male-female distinctiveness …

It’s amazing, by-the-by, how being married to a man 
will tell you more about men 
even than growing up with seven brothers.

… I realized that, while the Tridentine Mass may not itself be “masculine” or “feminine,” there is at least one good psychologically-based explanation for why it might be (if it is) more attractive to men: sound.

On the balance, we are told that the average man tends to be more oriented towards what he sees, and the average woman more toward what he hears.  Thus, a man might be more apt to learn from reading a book or seeing a thing done, whereas a woman might be more apt to learn from having a process described to her.  A man will remember find a new location better if he has seen a map, but a woman is more likely to replay her interlocutor’s directions in her head (hence perhaps one—only one—of the reasons why women more willingly ask directions: verbal directions are more helpful when one processes information verbally).  In school, girls are more comfortable being lectured at, and seem to naturally acquire the ability to concentrate on what the teacher is saying—and while part of this is certainly due to boys’ higher energy levels, I’m convinced that at least some of it has to do with the fact that boys just find verbal information takes longer to process.  The difference goes on all the way into the area of romance, where women are delighted by the whispering of sweet nothings into their ears, whereas men prefer to feast their eyes on their beloved.  Ironic, then, that women are the ones who seem more able to carry on conversation … but I digress.

What, then, of the two sexes at Mass?  There is no doubt that the Tridentine Mass is rich in layers of meaning.  A Missa Cantata (which was the standard Sunday Tridentine at the parish where my husband and I sang in choir together) has plenty of ear-worthy material for the devout to latch on to.  You may not hear “Introibo ad altare Dei,” but you can hear the Gregorian Chant proper; you will miss “Benedictus Deus in saecula” but be rewarded with a motet by Victoria; “Te igitur” will be inaudible, but you get a Palestrina Sanctus instead.  (And so much the better if one is in choir, and able to SING all these things instead of merely hearing them!)  There is plenty of food for the Catholic who needs to hear prayer in order to pray well.

There is a reason, you know, that Holy Mother Church 
indulges spoken rosaries more generously than silent ones.

The problem—for me, in my weakness—arises when there is no choir, and the priest is concerned with saying as rapid a Mass as possible.  Sotto voce becomes more and more sotto and less and less voce; and if you’re not sitting in the front row you have to watch his gestures very carefully; and if you are in the front row, the rapidity with which things proceed is less than edifying.

One can, of course, replay the propers in one’s head, or turn to a missal or the classic little red book in the pews.  But it’s not the same.  Love wants the tangible; the Beloved wants to hear—or, since the canon is not actually addressed to the people, in this case to overhear—the Lover.

Now I know that Silence Is Golden; that there is something transcendental about it; that after music, it is the best herald of Heaven that we have on Earth; that all the great saints and contemplatives enjoyed it.  And no doubt I will appreciate silence more after my several hours of daily silence (oh, the life of an academic!) begin to be regularly punctuated by wails, whines, yells, and the slamming of doors—oh, for the next twenty-five years!—yes, I will certainly appreciate silence more, then.  And the silence of the Irish-influenced Trid is undoubtedly more conducive to my spiritual well-being than the sounds of Praise and Worship—our only other current Sunday option.

But nevertheless, I miss my Tridentine Missa Cantata, and my Tridentine Dialogue Mass, and my Latin Novus Ordo; and I wish I didn’t feel pangs of guilt, as if breaking some unwritten law of the parish, every time I whisper “Suscipiat Dominus.”  There is an abundance of formettes (pardon the levity) available, and at the moment my husband and I seem to have a binary choice between the two extreme ends of the devout liturgical spectrum.

Still, both Masses are full of devout, reverent, well-intentioned and not too terribly catechized Catholics.  I shouldn’t complain.  At least there are no clowns in sight.

I thought about a picture of some actual clowns, but then 
realized it might trigger PTSD in folks of a certain age.   
You’re welcome

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