November 16, for example, is St. Gertrude the Great, for whom the Epistle is taken from the Common of Virgins (2 Cor 10): “I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” This, of course, is being applied to Gertrude, but it describes the entire Church as the chaste bride of Christ. The Gospel is about the ten virgins (Mt 25) who go out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. The Offertory is about the daughters of kings and the queen. In the spiritual order, we are all receptive and made fruitful by Christ the King: that is our basic baptismal vocation.
November 17, in contrast, is St. Gregory the Wonderworker, a mighty man of valor. The Introit nobly announces: “The Lord…made him a prince, that the dignity of priesthood should be to him for ever.” The Epistle from Sirach strikes the same note: “He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him a crown of glory…gave him a great priesthood…” The Gospel is about the man of faith who moves mountains (as Gregory literally did on one occasion, to clear space for the building of a church). The Offertory: “I have found David My servant… My hand shall help him, and my arm shall strengthen him.” The Communion: “This is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord setteth over his family.” It’s all very active and virile: we are now looking at the ordained priesthood, a special participation in Christ, the Bridegroom, at once the Head of His spouse and the one who lays down His life for her.
November 18 is the dedication of the basilicas of SS. Peter & Paul. And what is the Epistle? “In those days I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The theme of the bridal church is once more underlined. This theme is brought into even greater prominence when the priest uses the Gallican preface for the occasion, as all priests are now permitted to do, and as our local chaplain did:
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God: Who, being the Giver of all good things, dost dwell in this house of prayer which we have built and dost sanctify through unceasing operation Thy Church, which Thou Thyself hast founded. For this indeed is a house of prayer, expressed in the semblance of visible buildings, a temple for the indwelling of Thy glory, the unchangeable seat of truth, the sanctuary of eternal charity. This is the ark that leads us, snatched from the deluge of the world, into the port of salvation. This is the beloved and only Spouse, whom Christ bought by His own Blood, whom He quickeneth with His Spirit: in whose bosom we are reborn through Thy grace, nursed with the milk of Thy Word, strengthened with the Bread of Life and warmed by the aid of Thy mercy. She fighteth faithfully on earth, assisted by her Spouse, and, crowned by Him, doth gain everlasting victory in heaven. And therefore with the Angels and Archangels, with the Thrones and Dominions and with all the hosts of the heavenly army, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, evermore saying: Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus…
Saint Gertrude the Great
November 19 is the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The Epistle is from Proverbs: “Who shall find a valiant woman? Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her. The heart of her husband trusteth in her… She will render him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.” This entire reading from Proverbs 33, though the Church applies it to the holy women saints, deserves above all to be read as a parable about the Church herself—a parable that takes flesh (so to speak) in the Blessed Virgin Mary with absolute perfection.
November 20 is the feast of St. Felix of Valois, who belonged to the royal family, renounced his goods, retired to a desert, and eventually founded an institute for redeeming captives from the Muslims. The Common Mass assigned for him—Justus ut palma—is, once again, thoroughly manly, if I can so express it, as is the proper Collect of the day.
What we see, in other words, is something like a liturgical dialogue between bride and bridegroom, like a shuttle weaving back and forth, producing a tapestry all the more beautiful for the contrasting functions of warp and woof. And, since the feasts are not optional, and the readings are in harmony with the sanctoral cycle, all of this is ALWAYS presented, year after year, to the faithful who assist at daily Mass.
Over time, the faithful cannot help but be formed in traditional, that is, God-given, intuitions about the roles of men and women, about what is appropriate to masculinity and femininity, about the ideals we should set before us and the models we should strive to imitate. Although family culture and catechesis surely play the largest role in developing a healthy understanding of the sexual duality of human nature and the various ways, in practice, that complementarity can be lived out—for surely it is not “one size fits all”: there are singles who have not yet chosen a path, consecrated virgins, wives, mothers, and widows, just as there are bachelors, religious brothers, priests, husbands, fathers, widowers—there can be no doubt that the formal public prayer of the Church, too, plays a subtle role in giving us shining and unambiguous examples from which we receive principles of thought and action. We see these examples both in the conducting of the liturgy itself, with its masculine ministries and the veil-wearing of the women, and in the cultus of the saints presented to us with such appropriate Mass formularies.
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One thing I particular love is that the image of woman in the traditional liturgy is an image of royalty, of dignity, of power—not of priestly and kingly power, since that would not be fitting or even possible, but rather of the daughters of kings, and of queens who serve in order to reign. In other words, the difference is not “men are in charge and women are indentured servants,” but men and women alike rule in their proper domains: they are perfected by what they have in common as the baptized, as well as by what differentiates them in their specific vocations. All Christians are together the Bride of Christ, the Church. Consecrated virgins, led by the Blessed Virgin, are Christ’s bride in the fullest way possible. Mothers of Christian families emulate the maternity of the Church and of the Mother of God. All priests, as such, stand in the place of Christ the divine Bridegroom, and exercise divine paternity. The classical Roman rite has the power to accentuate and develop what is masculine in men, what is feminine in women, what is human in all of us, what is divine in us by God’s gift.
At a time when traditional sexual roles have been rejected and even criminalized by secular society, when the very worth of mankind is called into question, the restoration of our traditional worship is all the more important in avoiding gender dysphoria, misanthropy, abortionism, and other such psychological diseases that rarely if ever occurred in healthy societies but that are now proliferating in a decadent Western world unmoored from nature and grace. These diseases can be prevented by the proper care of the soul. It is the great liturgical rites of Catholic tradition that serve as templates, preventatives, vitamins, and cures. Even if these rites are not enough by themselves to ensure health, we will never have health in the Church without them.