One Image, One Thousand Messages?
On Tuesday, before succumbing to election fever, I attended All Souls' Day Mass. One of my favorite holy days, All Souls' Day provides me the opportunity to think about and remember my friends and relatives who have passed on, and to reflect on what the Catholic faith offers in terms of hope and redemption. And beyond remembering those I knew personally, the day prompts me to reflect on those to whom I owe my faith: my forebears from Ireland and Germany who brought their Catholicism with them across the Atlantic all those years ago. While not exactly up there with Easter, Christmas, or even some major feast days honoring various saints, All Souls' Day nonetheless is a beautiful aspect of the Catholic faith.
During Mass, I was looking up at the sanctuary, and I noticed that there were many, many people participating. Joining the celebrant were several priests and deacons, lay lectors, Eucharistic ministers, musicians, and altar servers. Attending Mass at a cathedral usually means the sanctuary is quite crowded, so this wasn't unusual. But during a quick moment, when I should have perhaps been focusing on prayer, I did a quick count. There were 20 people present in the sanctuary. 18 were men.
I point out the male to female ratio not to criticize this particular church (in fact, this parish does an admiral job presenting its gender and ethnic diversity), but to ask the question: what does an image like that say to girls and women sitting in the pews? That is, what do women and young girls feel while looking up at a sanctuary filled overwhelmingly with men? Of course, on any given Sunday in any Catholic church, a man is celebrating Mass, but the point of this post is not to raise the question of female ordination, but simply to ask what impact this image is having on Catholic women. Do Catholic girls and young women, who have more professional and social opportunities now than ever before, feel resentful and excluded? Do they look up at the sanctuary, and compare what they see with images from other churches that ordain women pastors and bishops? Perhaps they shrug it off completely, realizing that the image they see is like that for a reason, and accept things the way they are? Some may appreciate the clear gender roles the church offers? Not being a Catholic women myself, I don't know the answers. But I do know that images are powerful, and that they quickly present complex messages, ideas, and values. What is the church saying to women and girls with images such as the one I saw on Tuesday?