Some men of the parish wanted to make a retreat before Lent, so I suggested we head to the hills for a Benedictine experience. We rented a cabin at a retreat center in the mountains, and I packed the car with all the clobber we needed for Catholic worship. Once there I set up an altar with crucifix and candles, placed a statue of the Blessed Virgin on a pedestal by the side and set twenty chairs in rows facing each other. We were going to do our best to recreate the atmosphere and schedule of a Benedictine monastery for forty eight hours.

Spending the weekend with other men on retreat got me thinking about why Catholicism continues to have an appeal for men that other religions lack. I’m convinced that the answer is liturgy. To understand why, we have to remember how men’s brains are wired.

It’s well known that the right hemisphere of the brain controls our more intuitive, creative and emotional functions, while the left half of the brain controls the more mathematical and logical functions of thought. Further studies of brain function have shown that men’s brains make connections within each hemisphere of the brain while women’s brains are better at making connections across the hemispheres.

To put it simply, “Women are better at relationships and making connections between their perception of reality, people, and emotions.” Men compartmentalize their experience. Therefore men’s feelings are more likely to be disconnected from their perception of reality. This is why when a guy’s wife or girlfriends says, “Talk to me honey. What do you feel about this?” she is likely to get a blank stare, a shrug of the shoulders and the reply, “I don’t know. Just tell me what you want me to do.”

Because of the common disconnect from our emotions, men sometimes seem uncaring or unsympathetic, but it also means we are able to take on tasks without our emotions interfering. A friend explained, “That’s why the man who has to provide food for his family can go out and shoot a deer, while the woman might cry for poor Bambi whose mother was killed. This “just the facts ma’am” objectivity is what makes the Catholic religion more attractive to men than other forms of worship.

This is because Catholic worship is liturgical. On our retreat the men were given a monastic schedule of prayer. We recited Vespers at six in the evening and Compline at nine. We got up for Lauds at six in the morning and said Terce at nine, Sext at twelve and None at three. The chairs were in straight lines. The prayers were established. The rules were observed and discipline expected. The discipline of schedules, calendars, and the orderly objectivity of the liturgy—“Just say the black and do the red” appeals to the way men are wired in a way that more free-wheeling, emotional, and subjective worship does not.

This is why the feminization of the liturgy is so unattractive to men. When well-meaning liturgists and priests feel they have to make everything in the liturgy emotionally relevant and “meaningful” to everyone, many men switch off. When Father Fabulous insists on being emotionally entertaining in the liturgy he is likely to please the women while the fellas roll their eyes. When Sister Sandals develops new age liturgies that attempt to connect with our emotions, or when Pastor Hipster tries to push the emotional hot buttons with his sermon, most men are not only ready to switch off, they’re ready to head for the door.

Traditional Catholic worship, on the other hand, is by the book and objective. Men perceive it as being dependable and rock solid—not emotional, subjective, and flighty. Does that mean that a man’s emotions are completely disengaged in Catholic worship? Not at all, it’s just that certain more masculine feelings are likely to be engaged through the objectivity, reliability, and established routine of Catholic worship.

In Catholic worship a man is more likely to experience the emotions of loyalty and nobility that come with commitment to a set and objective form of worship. Within traditional Catholic worship a man is more likely to experience strong emotions of love and admiration for a religion that has withstood the tests of time and persecution. With the high expectations of Catholic liturgy, orthodoxy and morality, a man is more likely to feel the emotions of solidarity with his brothers and determination to persevere in the face of hardship. The objectivity of the liturgy along with the traditional accouterments of Catholic worship help men access the proper apprehension of timeless beauty, truth, and goodness. In this way his heart opens in awe and wonder at the goodness of God and the richness of the Catholic faith.

Too often worship has become the domain of the women because the men have not gotten involved. It is important therefore, for Catholic lay men to serve not only as ushers at Mass, but help serve at the altar, train altar boys, sing in the choir, serve as lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy communion, help with the building and maintenance of their church, and for those who are able, to consider God’s call to the priesthood, diaconate, or religious life.

Catholic worship is, by design, the most attractive form of worship for men, but it can only thrive if men decide to be proactive, roll up their sleeves, and share the work of the people of God—which is worship.

  • Rae Marie

    I just want to chime in and say I am a woman and I HATE subjective, touchy-feely worship and love the discipline and rigor of the Traditional Latin Mass. I also prefer to think about matters objectively.
    What I’m trying to say is that I do not believe all women prefer a certain worship type due to their gender- or even that men do, but it depends on personality type. While more men may have the personality type that likes a strict schedule and discipline, it doesn’t not by any means exclude women. I know men, on the other hand who are as emotional as one can get.

    I agree that Catholic worship has become the domain of women- but rather the wrong kind of women. There is a whole other group of women that gets unnoticed maybe because we are more rare but I think it’s because we are hard to categorize.

    On a lighter note, what I wouldn’t give to have a retreat like that! Please pray for me.

  • Jim_in_CO

    This is very good, and wise about men in worship. Joining an army for the Lord is what makes men tick. The Knights of Columbus is a good example, because these men would rather soldier on for their priest, parish and their group than sit in fellowship lectures. We are wired for action, provision, and solidarity, and blessed is the pastor that recognizes this need, and the one who does not try to squelch that need to band together.

  • Kevin

    This article presents a point of view that seems to have resonated for a good number of men and some women based on the comments. But at times it tends to create rivalry and scapegoats in order to make its points. Categorizing feelings as masculine or feminine can cause one to misunderstand or avoid listening to the heart, leading to shame or confusion. If for example, I feel love, is that a masculine or feminine feeling? And if it is feminine and I’m a man, do I try to push that feeling away because it isn’t a masculine feeling? If I do, where does that leave me? Where does that leave men? Ashamed of certain feelings? Not permitting themselves to have or experience what the article categorizes as non-masculine feelings? Having a bit more sensitivity when writing these types of articles could be more supportive to readers; lacking it could be damaging. The liturgy is all (male and female) Catholics’ framework for worship. Scapegoating certain clergy or certain laity because of how they try to make it accessible to all doesn’t feel responsible or supportive. Rather there’s more validity in exploring why it is that men roll their eyes (close their hearts) to liturgy at all. How do those same actions show up in how men shut down in other areas of their lives? In their other relationships? The same patterns of receiving or shutting down show up both in the liturgical experience as well as outside of it. So, yes, I agree with the article as far as trying to get more men involved with liturgy and parish life and community…but the healthy path to get there isn’t through blaming or scapegoating or assigning certain feelings to certain genders. How do we bring together instead of scatter? Paying attention and being sensitive to how we speak and write is a good starting place.

  • Bette

    You ae exactly right, Father. We came through RCIA 10 years ago from Episcopal (conservative), then mainstream, then non-denom churches – 20 years. I used to watch the grown men in our congregations as the band revved up. They hated it (I did too). Way too touchy-feely. And they looked like mature men trying/ being asked to act like 19 year olds. Not appropriate. We love the Catholic Church, the liturgy, the solemness, the MEN, the whole families. You are very right about this Father.

  • Al

    I totally agree with you and I think you nailed it.

  • Paul

    Has there been any quantitative study indicating greater involvement of men in Catholic vs other churches?

  • Gallibus

    I think that the tendency of women these days to psychologically muscle men out of religious matters (and everything else) is a form of envy that is sinful and also unattractive. Each creature has its role; let us not make ourselves ridiculous by trying to be something we are not.

    • Child of God.

      Affirmative! What do you mean by everything else?

    • CarolAnne

      Hmmm, and have men become so mushy and immature that they are unable to say ” no thank you madam, we’ve got this.”?
      Don’t blame women for the failings of men. That was Adams shtick. His reply to Gods question of why he ate the fruit was ” that women, that you sent me …” In other words, Eve’s fault, God’s fault, not Adam’s.
      Stand up, get involved, support your brothers, be a man. No whining

  • Michele

    Very good! It seems to me it was quite a good retreat, with very productive fruits. I completely agree with Fr. Dwight. Men needs to be leaders in worship, in moral and in action. And women will benefit from it all, they will admire them and love them and they will show their support by using their own inter relational gifts, nurturing and organizing and feeding, with grace. Should I add that I am a woman, a daughter, a mother and a grand-mother?

  • Mark

    Ditto, spot on.

  • enness

    Not that I necessarily disagree, but perhaps you appreciate knowing that there are women who hate the saccharine sentimental crap too.

  • Joseph

    I think this is very good insight. Although, I am not sure if you are suggesting a man that enjoys the “feminization” of the liturgy as you call it is less of a man spiritually. I enjoy both forms of the liturgy. I also feel that having both (more orthodox AND contemporary) available to parishoners whether male or female would be feeding more of the flock than just one or the other. I know it isn’t possible in smaller parishes but I think it is a great assett to cater to people where they are best served spiritually. Not to change the liturgy so much it isn’t “Catholic” but to tweak it , in my opinion, isn’t a negative. I know this is just my opinion and again, I really love this article and now I understand a bit more of why my son and I like certain styles and why my daughters and wife like the other. Thank you for this great site of information and spiritual guidance.

  • Gerald

    That was really good Father D. That was validating from a male perspective. Of course, I live out my faith within the limited incarnated reality of my masculinity, but I’ve never thought how I am engaged as a man in liturgy. That short blog increased the solemnity of the experience for me.

  • Brian

    Yeah. This made me realize how much I like my anchors, especially my spiritual ones. A faith that is firm requires a Church that is firm, IMHO.
    Suggestion for follow-up: how is being emotionally connected to Christ important to women, what situations/rituals cause them to experience that emotional closeness, and how should we men engage with women who like emotional connections when we like constancy and coolness.

  • Barbara Levich

    I had a discussion about this very thing after mass last week. I wish the Church would explain to women what their role in faith really is, following the examples of Mary, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritian women at the well so that they would stop trying to change what men value in their faith. Men need and want structure while women are all about community and connection, never will the two be interchangeable.

  • Rose Sweet

    What IS the Liturgy, and who is the central focus? Certainly the Bride is present, as Mary stood at the foot of the cross, and she is the sweet object of Love. But the Mass is primarily about the Bridegroom taking charge over evil. Coming to terms with that which has harmed and threatened his Beloved since Eden, It is a going into the “wild” of the God-Man, Jesus, as he conquers sin and death for all eternity. He gives his very Body for his Bride. This is what masculinity means, and yes it can’t (nor should it) be separated from the feminine. Some may respond that your use of “feminization” is a harsh word, or implies a negative toward women. As a woman who grew up around many brothers and have sons, I didn’t think you were criticizing the feminine. I know you deeply respect and value women and their gift to the world. I think you were trying to stress bringing back balance and perhaps, in the Liturgy, ORDER, which is Christ first. His action for us first. Our response to him is vital but secondary. He first loved us…and he does that perpetually through the Mass.

  • Jeff Stevens

    Respectfully, Father, the “left brain/right brain” distinction is a myth. It is unwise to use it as the basis for your article.

  • Romulus

    All of which helps to explain why altar servers should be exclusively male.

  • Chip

    Thank you, Father..I couldn’t agree more.

  • Doug

    WOW, Thanks Father; I think this is spot on.

  • Andrew Kelly

    I reentered the church last October, having departed 15 years ago before I was due to take my confirmation. I am now undertaking RCIA and looking forward to the Easter Vigil! I was advised by the parish priest and my catechist to pray often, and I have found the rigid structure of the Liturgy of the Hours to be ideal to my personality, and so I pray Lauds on waking, Vespers on returning home from work and Compline just before sleep.

    Despite it not taking up much time and the fact that I really enjoy it, I’ve got my girlfriend (full catholic) saying things like “Aren’t you taking this a bit too seriously?”. She prays daily too, but more of a personal discussion prayer. It bothered me that she would think this… until I read your article. Now I can see a factor that may explain why she thinks this.

  • Iranaeus

    Absolutely right. The hipster doofi, the Haugen, Haas and Schutte drivel that poses as “music,” all of the emojis of those obsessed with “feel good-ism” aren’t a legitimate part of the liturgy. The liturgy can stand on its own, no window-dressing required. All the frills and unnecessaries need to get out of the way of He Who gave us this tremendous gift in the first place.