Over the last fifty years, there have been no shortage of men in the military and in professional sports; namely, the NFL, the MLB, and the NBA. The imagery and the appeal have traditionally been masculine in nature. Boys who have aspired to these professions have said, “That is a guy thing!”
Throughout most of Catholic Church history, the sanctuary, the priest and the altar servers symbolized Christ the Bridegroom. The assembly or congregation, in turn, symbolized the Church, the Bride of Christ. However, this reciprocal symbolism has been diminished with the common practice of having female servers at the altar. Your average boy, seeing the priest surrounded by male and female altar servers, is much less likely to say, “That’s a guy thing.”
In fact, in one diocese in 2009, a campaign was started to increase vocations to the priesthood. A poster was created and it reads: “Some men are called to nourish the body. Some men are called to nourish the soul.” Now, the Sacraments, to be sure, are maternal functions of the Church. But this appeal to young men to consider the vocation of the priesthood is ill-adapted to the male psyche. It is feminine in nature. And it is representative of the problem the Church has with its own masculine identity.
To be sure, Jesus was tender towards children, forgiving towards wayward sinners and one who knew how to endure persecution in silence. But he also overturned tables when he cleansed the Temple; he publicly chastised his critics; and foretold the dire consequences of sin. Moreover, he used masculine and even violent language to get his point across at times. He proclaimed that he had “conquered” the world. He talked about “tying up the strong man;” namely, Satan. He said that he had not come to bring peace, but a sword. When it came to that which led to sin, he said, “Pluck it out!” and “Cut it off.”
St. Paul also used this masculine imaginary. He wrote about “fighting the good fight,” being a “soldier” of Christ, “training the body” and crossing the “finish line.”
Boys grow up wanting to be like superheroes and even professional athletes. In each of these categories, there is an opponent to overcome and obstacles to hurdle. Yet, this masculine aspiration of boys and of young men is rarely, if at all, attended to by today’s Church. In fact, to use masculine expressions- even as it comes to us in the New Testament –is seen as extreme or divisive by many Catholics. If truth be told, masculine virtues are held in suspicion.
In saving the human race (or mankind) the Lord not only revealed himself as Father and Son, and as the Bridegroom to the Bride (which is the Church), but he also revealed who we are as male and female. And the Catholic Church, being the bearer of God’s revelation, has also been the custodian of that divine blueprint of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.
However, this important gender distinction is being lost in many public institutions. Yet, a proper understanding of men and women, and a healthy relationship between the two sexes, is absolutely necessary for our national prosperity.
One service that the Church has provided different cultures throughout the ages is to reinforce what men and women were created to be. Through liturgical symbolism, through the preaching of the Gospel and even through the priesthood itself, God’s divine blueprint of man and woman is better grasped.
But, I am afraid that when a priest is surrounded by female altar servers for no other reason than that of social necessity, the sanctuary and the priest as symbolizing Christ the Bridegroom who lays down his life for his Bride is clouded. With this, boys are less likely to look at the priesthood and say, “That’s a guy thing!”