Where are the men in Church?

Where are the men in Church?

It’s a question that comes up about every six months or so and it was the Washington Post that brought it up this time: “Where are all the churchgoing men?”

The good folks at Get Religion look at this latest article and previous attempts to address the question, including a mention of Lee Podles’ book “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity”.

The common theme is that in most churches there is an imbalance in the ratio of men to women in the pews, and the more liberal the denomination, the more tilted toward women it becomes. One of the theories is that much mainline religion, especially mainline Christianity, has become feminized and stripped of its masculine components. Podles traces this decline back to the Medieval rise of courtly romance and the rise of devotion to Mary, while many others look to the rise of feminism in the Sixties. At the other end of the extreme is Islam, perhaps the most masculine of religions, but not in a good way. It’s masculine in the way that biker gangs are masculine.

What struck me most in the Get Religion entry was a quote from David Murrow, who wrote “Why Men Hate Going to Church”.

Men being asked to be brides of Christ

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  • Last Sunday at my parish was “Altar Server Appreciation Day.”

    (Of course, I thought it was “Trinity Sunday” but who am I?)

    During Mass, every altar server in the parish—including the English and Latino servers—were seated in the sanctuary.

    Most were girls.

    As the celebrant wryly noted before giving the final blessing, there seemed to be more altar servers on the altar then there were worshippers in the pews.

    The majority of the servers did nothing (and to be fair, there was really nothing for most of them to do! They were there to be…appreciated.)

    Before the final blessing, the senior altar server—a man in his mid-forties, who, to be fair, works very hard to train the English-speaking servers—gave a little speech. After distributing awards “for service to the parish” to three high school grads on their way to college, he gestured to the seated servers (again, mostly girls) and proclaimed: “this is the future of our Church. I don’t think we need to worry.”

    And, of course, everybody applauded like mad.

    But something struck me as being…wrong somehow.

    Altar servers are present at every Sunday Mass. They are not at all present at any weekday Mass. (And with good reason…weekday Masses at my parish are at nine AM, when the kids are in school.)

    For the most part, the altar servers are girls. Therefore, it is impossible to expect much in the way of vocations from this pool of young folks.

    Mike wondered:

    if being an altar boy is a common path to the priesthood, how is this helpful?

    It isn’t.

    Mike, again:

    At my parish’s Holy Thursday Mass, the regional bishop was the celebrant and he was exhorting the parish to foster vocations to the priesthood.

    Then your parish is different from mine. During the intercessions, we publicly pray for vocations, yes, but there’s no discrimination. I don’t have the exact wording, but we pray for vocations to the “priesthood, diaconate, religious and lay ministry.” Something like that. In other words, we’re “inclusive” in our vocational prayers.


    Feelings, nothing more than feelings…Forget about actual doctrine.  It might hurt some ones “feelings.”

    That about sums it up, at least from my vantage point. Boy, do I hope I’m wrong.

  • Mark –
    Deacon Bresnahan being on the altar is otherwise occupied, but, you and I in the pews can do something about this girlish hand holding.  We can boycott the move.  Stand there like men.  Ignore the grinning woman on the left and refuse the grasp from the right.  I do it and it feels good despite the stares.  In my parish I am happy to be able to look around at such times and see the Director of RCIA standing proud and empty handed.  The message is: stick together lads!

  • Its interesting to note that the GREAT new USCCB vocation video (paid for by the bishops but produced by the CFRs in New York) shows ZERO pictures of Altar girls throughout the promotional video, but may of altar boys. Zero pictures of folk masses, balloon masses, or clown masses, but a whole lot of pictures of solemn masses, military masses, and the administration of the sacraments in difficult situations.

    Why?  Because the CFRs realize that men are attracted to manly endeavors.  To battle, hardship, even to death, things that are taboo in todays modern Church.  Thats why an order that sleeps on the floor (the CFRs) is growing expodentially while the ArchBishop of Dublin is telling religious to give up and hand over their ministries to the laity.

  • Myself and RPF, God willing, will be serving in a diocese where the number of priests will drop from 120 to 60 in 15 years.  Not only are we looking for men to go to Church, we are looking for manly men to join the priesthood.

  • …and this is why I go to “Tridentine” Mass and have been since 1994 on Sundays. There is definitely a different ecclesiology at work. I believe the Indult’s existence (the Archdiocese of Boston in my case) is a key component of the New Evangelization the late JP II called for. It is a major source of grace that is sorely needed at this time.
    This remains true whether this generation of Bishops are largely blind to its value. I personally know at least 8 men that went on to the seminary since 1994, 4 of whom were in our Holy Name Society.

    We have several boys (ages 8-18) that serve or have served the Mass on a regular basis. The oldest boy, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor last December and still insists on struggling the altar rail every Sunday despite his worsening condition. His example completely embodies the heroic virtue all Catholic men should exhibit.

    I pray that Cardinal O’Malley comes to the same realization. The traditional Latin Mass is right in his back yard.

  • The typical American “worship” service is mostly entertainment for women. A psychologically healthy man goes for the sake of his family.

    The heart of the mass is sacrifice, an inherently masculine function, and men should understand that they have a special obligation to offer the eucharistic sacrifice for the domestic church which is entrusted to their authority.

    But the mass in the typical American parish is buried under layers of feminine (often effeminate and heterodox) piety. Preaching and catechesis step gingerly around what the Church teaches about the complementary roles of men and women in the family, the Church and society.

    How does the kind of teenage boy who would make a good priest react to this environment? Maybe he’ll join the Marines.

  • I think most of what everyone has said here is true. But it does raise a question for me. Doesn’t it seem like the majority of Catholic Bloggers and those who frequent these blogs are male? I could be wrong, I haven’t done any analysis. Why is the Catholic Blogosphere full of faithful Catholic men, but not the Church pews?

  • Rob: One of the things that bowled me over when I went to the Tridentine at HT was the number of guys (family and single) in the pews. Completly opposite from whatever parish I have attended in the Archdiocese. How refreshing! What an example for my own son!

    Doesn’t it drive you nuts when the answer is right there in front of their face and they ignore it?—- Now, I don’t necessarily mean that TLM is the answer but certainly there is something in the solemn and holy and reverent – and might I same timeless – that attracts men.

  • Colleen,

    It not only drives me nuts, I feel like shouting. I suspect this illustrates how those responsible for the application (of post V-II) “reforms” most often are unwilling to acknowledge or even yield to the timelessness of our collective tradition. Perhaps their own mark on change is more important than the overall health of the Church. I think we need a “time out” to re-evaluate where we are headed as a Church Militant.

    I do know one thing, it is imperative that we support the primary mission of the Church both spiritually and corporally. In the process we must pray that the Holy Spirit raises up great saints to bring about true reform. We at Holy Trinity Church (HT) in Boston’s South End find ourselves in a time that places us increasingly at “Ground Zero” in the cultural war (both within and without the Church).

    Diocesan support for our apostolate, if the last three years are any indication, has been lackluster at best. In fact our existence as a parish continues to remain indefinite. The HT Parish Council finally met with His Eminence to present our case on September 1st, after months of zero communication.

    I realize the Cardinal has a very full plate; however, I don’t understand why we continue in absolute Limbo. What does it take to make a decision? The lack of decision on this and many other issues discussed on this blog challenges me to practice virtue daily. It is no picnic, as you all know. This is at a time that many seem to accept many forms of institutionalized decline in the name of unity. Accepting that RCAB reconfiguration as “renewal” only exacerbates our temporal visibility in a culture that is increasingly (secular)“god-less” and proud of it. 

    Witness the South End “Pride” events of last weekend. What is our response to the therapeutic half truths that continue to facilitate self destructive life styles around us?

    Perhaps we have a duty to teach people that Humility is a part and parcel virtue of the Catholic message. Somehow secularists have turned vice into virtue. We live in inside out times indeed.

  • I seem to be the lucky one. No hand holding or female altar servers at my old parish, St John the Evangalist in Stamford, or my new, Father Rutler’s Church of Our Saviour in NYC. But then I am a good shopper.

    And plenty of men in the pews, btw….

  • St John the Evangalist in Stamford

    What a joy to worship in that parish, tkozal! I visit Stamford on occasion and the church is indeed a sanctuary. The Mass is offered with no frills…none are needed, since the Sacrifice is perfection and the folks at Saint John’s seem to realize it. When I needed the Sacrament of Confession, my confessor—blessedly—pulled no punches. Once I had to stay over into the week and was overjoyed to pray the Rosary, followed by the noontime Angelus.


    The Mass is usually a performance.  There is incessant clapping for: the good job done by the altar servers (aka “girl altar boys”, there are few altar boys anymore), the good job by the choir, the new secretary/head of the knights/the ushers etc., etc.

    You truly haven’t lived until you heard someone poke her head into the sacristy just prior to Mass and encourage all to “break a leg.”

    I am not making this up.

  • My 9-year old son and I attended a Mass recently and during the Our Father he had his hands resting on the pew in front of him, but his hands were turned upwards, like all those (**) who do the “orans” thing.  I told him that men don’t do that, and that actually nobody should be doing that stuff in church.

    We’ve attended the Latin Mass in Harrisburg, and he (and I) prefer that one.  The “regular” masses anymore are just so sappy and idiotic sometimes I can’t stand to go – and I don’t.

    It’s a mass that calls me to “be nice” and “feel great about myself” and “know that God loves me” and all that kind of junk.

    Who needs that stuff?  I can watch Oprah if I want that. 

    Today’s Church is “sissy-fied”.  And I think it’s that way on purpose.  Many of the hierarchy would be classified at limp-wristed “sissies”.  What man wants to follow that kind of guy? 

    But I’ll end on a good note.  There was a priest at a parish I attended for a couple of years – he was about 40, was not a sissy, played basketball with the men, and was a manly as they get, AND as holy as they get.  Everywhere he was, he was swarmed by people – and not just women.  All of us men wanted to be around him too.  He was what we all look for in a priest.  And we don’t have enough of them.