Thursday, May 3, 2007

Authentic Femininity and the Bride of Christ

Contemplate the imagery in these words for a few moments:

...the Church, at her nature, has ALWAYS been feminine, for the soul of the Church is Marian. The soul of the Church projects us all as the Bride of Christ, of which Mystical Wedding was consummated upon the Cross. It is the place of the Church as a whole to be receptive to Christ, who gives everything for us, thus for we, His Bride, to give fully of ourselves.

Just take some deep breaths. Let it sink in. Feel a cozy thrill run up and down your spine.

And then read the original post from whence it came, which addresses the important issue of men fleeing the Church.

My original take on this was, "It's all their doing. The women are just picking up the things they've abandoned". But the post I've linked to above has me re-thinking this in part.

Those of you who have read books like The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands are aware of certain persons who theorize that men will respond quite readily if their wives use the power of their femininity properly. This isn't about some 50's notion that women should be subservient sex objects. It's more a question of understanding our men and how they work and using that understanding to help them to be happier people. One suggestion: make a concentrated effort to make your inner beauty shine. Another: be willing to do some basic maintenance with your outer beauty. You don't have to look like a pin-up. Just be healthy and well-groomed--and wear a smile now and then. The results of such efforts, the theory goes, are that good men will feel more "warm fuzzies" and automatically become more interested in understanding and pleasing their women. In short, we women can take the lead in creating a mutually satisfying marriage, even after the first one or two blissful years have come and long gone.

In the post referenced above, the same principle has been applied to the liturgical life of the Church. I think there is something to this. Beauty and femininity are usually associated with one another. Feminine beauty, both internal and external, varies widely from soft and delicate to stern and regal. Though each man has his particular preference, all men are attracted to what they perceive as beautiful. This is not a problem when beauty is accompanied (and enhanced) by dignity.

The Church, though her clergy is entirely male, is, as a body, usually referenced in the feminine (Bride of Christ, Holy Mother Church, etc.).

If one is to adapt this notion to the current state of liturgy in many parts of the Church in America (and possibly in other parts of the world), one could say that, of late, she has been struggling a bit with beauty. You could say the honeymoon is over and she has kind of let herself go. She is not producing the kind of great artistic works she used to. As Barbara Nicolosi noted in one of her lectures, the Church used to enjoy another feminine designation: "Patroness of the Arts". There was a time when the Church would commission great works of art, architecture and music.

Such artistic endeavors are still appreciated by people today. The Sistine Chapel, for instance, receives throngs of visitors of many faiths, hundreds of years after it was painted. Liturgical music from the Renaissance, though seldom used at mass today, is now frequently performed in concert for non-religious listeners because its haunting beauty draws people to it. Even if one does not understand Latin, such music certainly achieved a sense of divine beauty.

But what of today? How many churches built in the last 40 years make us catch our breath, or give us that little ache of longing in our hearts when we walk into them? How much of the music written in the last three decades will still be sung in 400 years? How many of us are so thrilled by the skills of our liturgical musicians that we wish we could record their efforts and take them home? How many scripture passages are proclaimed in a monotone?


J.R.R. Tolkien understood the value of beauty in our journey toward salvation. There is certainly thorough appreciation of natural beauty woven through his writing. Creation, he argued was the ultimate work of art, and sub-creation (the artistic works of created beings such as ourselves) comes from both our love of the beauty of this world and our longing for the perfect beauty of the next.

That is what the Liturgy should do. In the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, we are allowed, for a brief moment, to witness as Heaven and Earth meet. Tolkien put it this way,"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth." We catch a glimpse of paradise itself.

Our church buldings should be reflective of the awesome power of God which we witness in them every week. They should be places where our hearts burn within us--where our longing for perfect beauty, and our hope for its fulfillment, reaches the forefront of our thoughts. Nobody, male or female, can resist that kind of call.

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