St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Women in the Church

After writing about priests and vocations, many readers have told me that I can't blog about the (male) priesthood, and not talk about women in the Church.  So for the sake of world peace, here it is! (Just kidding about the world peace part.)

A male dominated, hierarchical institution.  Does that describe the Catholic Church?  Yes, it does. Is the statement true? Yes, it is.  It's true that the clergy (deacons, priests, and bishops) are all men, therefore the decisions regarding doctrine will always be made by men.  I can't change that.  Blessed John Paul II said he couldn't either. 

With that in mind, I would like to offer a different way of looking at things.  First, let me say that I'm not a woman.  Even though I have a mother, sisters, wife, daughter, and plenty of female friends and colleagues, ultimately I don't know what it's like to be a woman.  However, I think it's okay for me to have an opinion about women and Church, and that's what I'd like to share here.

How we think of women and Church largely depends on how we see the Church.

When we think of the Church, it's common to think clerically or administratively, i.e. the pope, cardinals, bishops- men that wear zucchettos (skullcaps worn by bishops/prelates).  But realistically speaking, how often does the average Catholic actually see the bishop? What about an archbishop, cardinal, or even the pope?  Don't get me wrong, these are key people in the life of the Church, but not necessarily the main people in the average Catholic's faith life.  So let's not think administratively; let's think about where the life of the Church really is.

The life of the Church isn't what happens at diocesan chancery or at a Vatican dicastery, it's what happens at your local parish church.  That's where we are week after week, and that's where we will continue to experience the Church the most.  It's mostly through the parish that the Gospel message is spread.  It's mostly through the parish people get to experience Jesus through the sacraments and the Christian people.  This makes the parish the center of life for the Church, not one of the basilicas in Rome that most Catholics will never visit.

Putting the central view of the Church on the parish offers us a very different perception of men and women in the Church, and who's actually doing the bulk of God's work. 

The next time you're in a full church, pick any pew and compare the number of women to men. Unless your at a special commemoration for the Knights of Columbus, or a bus load of high school varsity football players has decided to stop in for Mass, you'll find that the women easily outnumber the men in church.

If your parish bulletin lists the leadership/ministers of your parish on the front cover, take a look at the number of women and men.  On my parish bulletin, the pastor and deacon are listed (both men of course).   Then the lay leadership follows: business manager (woman), school principal (woman), director of religious education (woman), parish secretary (woman).  The last two are men: director of music and the youth director (the youth director position was held by a woman until last year).  So the majority of the parish's lay leadership is primarily women.  Of course, there are other ministers that aren't listed, but from what I know, the sacristan is a woman, the person who helps take care of for the church building (called the custos is some places) is also a woman.  I won't list the parish council, but guess what- the majority of members is women.

So as a male layperson, I'm feeling a little bit in the minority.  A woman once said to me, "How come when I see a man in church, he's either the priest or an usher?"  Well, I just confirmed her point.  If you quantify all the parish's ministries into number of hours worked, the majority of them will be worked by women.  I don't think this is atypical for a parish; the women majority is probably the norm in most places (at least in the United States).  

So where did all the men go?  Well if you look at the numbers of priestly vocations, they didn't go there.  I once talked about this in a small group at a Catholic men's retreat.  The consensus was that the typical Catholic parish doesn't appeal to certain groups, and one of them is men.  Think about all the things you see when you walk into a church- fresh cut flowers in the sanctuary, decorations that resemble nick-knacks, altar cloths with pretty colors, banners to match them, etc. To top it off, the celebration is led by a guy wearing pretty vestments.  These things don't exactly appeal to a man's machismo.  

I don't know if the absence of men has led to a more femininity in the parish life, or if the femininity in the parish life has contributed to the absence of men.   Nevertheless, in modern times, the laity has a much stronger role in the ministries of the parish, and since the active laity is mostly women, that means a woman will likely have a much bigger influence on the life of the average Catholic than we might realize.

So ladies, I know that women can't be priests can seem unfair (to say the least).  However, in the life of the parish church where it really matters, clearly you're running the show and the clergy can't do it without you. 

You've heard the saying, "Behind every great man there's a great woman."  Well when it comes to the Church, perhaps we should say, "In front of every good priest there's about twelve women."

I look forward to reading your comments and feedback.  (Keep it kind, please!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's Your Favorite Part of the Mass?

Have you ever thought about this? I have to admit, I have.
(I realize this makes me look like a total nerd when it comes to going to church.)

Having a "favorite part" of the Mass is a good thing. After all, so many go to church because they feel they have to, not because they want to. When you start having a favorite part of the Mass, then you're probably there because you want to be there. You even looking forward to being there.

I haven't thought about having a favorite part since I was a little boy. Even as a small child, I remember always liking the liturgy. The rhythm, the ritual, the expected prayers with a little variation from week to week, it all seemed to fit me very well.

I can remember liking the entrance procession- always trying to get a glimpse of the the priest and servers walking to the altar, lead by cross and candles. I think I even pretended to do this at my house growing up when I was about 4 or 5 years old.

I've always liked the bells, whether the ones in the bell tower which rung before Mass, or the smaller ones at the altar, rung at the elevations of the Eucharist. The parish I attend now doesn't have either, so there's a bit of nostalgia for me when I'm at a different church and hear the bells rung.

As I grew older, I started to look forward to the bigger liturgical celebrations for holy days because I liked the more celebratory music and the use of incense and candles.  This became quite a delight for me when I arrived at Saint Meinrad- every Sunday and feast day called for chanting, incense, and additional candles for Mass and Evening Prayer. Liturgically speaking, the Benedictine monks who ran the place could easily compete with the Vatican!

So what's prompted me to talk about my favorite liturgical things? It's actually two unrelated things that have come together- my young kids and the new edition of the Roman Missal.

Let's talk about my kids first.  I had no idea that my kids would start having preferences, especially about church, at such young ages.  My son will soon be three years old and he already has preferences and opinions from which church clothes he wears, to which children's books he borrows from our church's cry room. He notices it when we go to a church other than our usual parish, and and doesn't hesitate to tell us where we should go to eat afterwards.

One Sunday, my son felt that the church should have crayons during the children's Liturgy of the Word, and he thought the pastor needed to know of his concern. I was thankful when he became a more typical two year old and buried his face into my wife's shoulder when the pastor said hello to him after Mass. His one year old sister may not be as shy. She's starting to prefer a particular stained glass window when we go for walks in the back of the church, and she knows her way from the pew to that window, regardless of where we sit. I might be in trouble when they start telling me what they think about the homily!

Now to the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, which has been in use for several months now.  Since the change over, we've all paid more attention to the language the Church uses in the liturgy. There is a lot of redundant description, and much of the text makes more grammatical sense in Latin than in English, but overall the language is much more poetic, scriptural, and ceremonial.

Between the priest and the people, the new text seems much more uneven- the celebrant gets to use all these descriptive, long worded phrases, and the faithful simply respond "Amen." As a layperson, I feel a little slighted, but I've come to really appreciate the parts of the liturgy that the faithful do have.  

The part I've come to appreciate the most is the "Mystery of Faith" which immediately follows the consecration, formerly called the Memorial Acclamation. Here are the three options, and I really like each one:
We proclaim your death, O Lord, 
and profess your Resurrection 
until you come again.
When we eat this Bread
and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your death, O Lord,
until you come again. 
Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your Cross and Resurrection,
you have set us free.
These acclamations are proper (that's liturgical talk for 'belong') to the people at Mass, and in saying (or singing) them, the faithful get to use the same poetic, scriptural, and ceremonial language that the celebrant uses.  They are also speaking directly to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, not just responding to the prompts of the minister.  So you can see, these are much more than the usual short responses "And with your spirit" or "Thanks be to God."

Other parts of the Mass I like, too.  There's a strong sense of conviction when reciting the new Confiteor, and when using "I believe" with the Creed. I'm also a fan of the response for the Invitation to Communion (that better reflects Luke 7:6-7). The difference though, is that all of those parts are proper to both the celebrant and the people.  Instead, the Mystery of Faith is proper to us as laypeople, and the celebrant joins in.  That's not very common in the liturgy.  To use a phrase not found in any edition of the Roman Missal- I think that's pretty cool.

If you have a favorite part of the Mass (or also used to play church as a kid), please share by writing a comment below!


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