Wednesday, May 16, 2012

SEPARATING MEN AND WOMEN IN THE CHURCH DURING THE CELEBRATION OF MASS--HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED IT?

Saint Andrew's RC Church, Judique, Cape Breton (Nova Scotia)




On another post, someone commented in light of the SSPX school that wouldn't play ball with another team who had a girl on it, if they (SSPX) would start making women and girls sit at the back of the Church (similar to what the old south use to do to African Americans who boarded public buses, which I witnessed quite frequently as a child as my mother didn't drive and we took the bus everywhere in Atlanta and Augusta between 1957 to 1967.) The implication of course is that the SSPX and perhaps even the Catholic Church discriminates against women which is equal to the situation of African Americans during segregationist period of southern history.

But that is not really the point of this post. This person's comments brought back vivid memories for me when my Dad drove the family in the hottest part of July, 1962, when I was 8 years old, from Augusta, Georgia to Judique, Cape Breton, his birth place and where the majority of his family still lived at that time.

It was a great vacation and I had the best fun on my father's farm (his brother, my Uncle Allan, then owned). The home was the very house in which my father and his siblings were born. My father was the youngest but born in that house in 1910. His mother, my grandmother, died in that house in 1912 during childbirth. But the farm experience, making hay and the fresh air was wonderful and at that time I wanted to live there.

But there were some traumatic experiences too, that have left a lasting impression. I'll count them down in order of occurrence:

1. We drove in the hottest part of July to Judique from Augusta in a small 1962 Chevy Nova without air-conditioning with five people in that car and it took us four days to get there! I remember my father saying a prayer for safety before we left home and sprinkling us with holy water, all of which really freaked me out as an 8 year old. Little did I know what was in store!

2. We stayed at all the finest motels that US 1 had to offer all the way up to Holton, Maine--I think I saw some signs at these motels that said you could rent them by the hour. I thought, how neat. I suspect my father like that as we would arrive at the motel around 6:00 PM and then depart the next morning around 1:00 AM!

3. As soon as we got into New Brunswick, Canada, things became magical and surreal for me. I was no longer in America and my father warned us children that we were not to mock the monarchy or England and that the Queen was very important in the eyes of his Canadian family and they would be offended by America's derision of the monarchy of England. And sure enough the paper money we got had the queen's image on it, the same Queen of England as the one of today, but quite young of course. I've always admired the queen since that day my father warned us.

4. I loved the Trans Canada Highway until we crossed over into Nova Scotia, when all of a sudden it turned into a gravel road, practically all the way to Cape Breton about 200 miles! That slowed us down. And on top of that a rock pierced one of our tires and we had to take all the luggage for five people out of the small trunk of that Chevy II in order to change that tire in the middle of no where. I really though big foot would attack us!

5. But the most traumatic experience for me was our first gasoline fill-up somewhere in Nova Scotia off that gravel road when I told my dad I needed to go to the bathroom and I could not find it in the normal place that filling stations in America usually had them. He pointed to a shack behind the filling station and told me that was the restroom, without further comment. Like a lamb led to the slaughter I went to that shack by myself, opened the door to the most horrendous stench I have ever smelled, saw what looked like a toilet seat on a shabby wooden box like structure with a hole leading to the ground with the droppings of how many people I don't know. Horrified and traumatized, I ran out of that outhouse panicked that I would not be able to hold going to the bathroom until we arrive at my dad's home. Of course he was laughing and told me to go and pee behind the filling station, which I happily did.

6. Thank God, my uncle's home, my father's birthplace had indoor plumbing but installed I think in the 1950's. My father's sister, my aunt, at the time had six children and lived in a very small house about two blocks away and they did not have an indoor bathroom, only an outhouse. She was very poor and her husband had died the winter before leaving her with 6 small children. But they made do and never complained about the outhouse--it was a way of life for them at that time. Today I realize that "so go I if not for the grace of God!"

7. Then on the three Sundays we were there the Mass was just like the one in Augusta, the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin. They had a very lovely Church built around 1917 after the original one had been burned down and they had imported a very beautiful altar (similar to the one in the SSPX church in Atlanta) which was the pride of that little village. But the traumatic thing for me as an 8 year old was that the men and boys sat on one side of the Church and the women and girls on the other side (hence the reason for this post in terms of segregation). I was 8 year's old, just finished the second grade and did not want to be separated from my mother and sister who were on the other side as I had to sit with my father and older brother. I never figured out why they did this in Judique. My father only said, that's what they do up here. That ceased after Vatican II when the post Vatican II pastor gave Saint Andrews a post-Vatican II face lift and dismantled that beautiful, pride of Juidque, pre-Vatican II altar and modernized the church to 1960's sensibilities. When we returned to Judique in 1968, I was happy that I could sit with our family together but traumatized by what that priest did to that Church as was the whole of the Judique community.



10 comments:

ytc said...

Father, you have to understand that Catholicism in Canada was for the longest time extremely Jansenistic and quite different than it was here.

The Canadian government held onto Jansenism because it was a political tool for them.

I am not saying separating men from women in Mass is Jansenistic, but there are many oddish Canadian Catholic practices that originate in the Jansenism that was perpetuated by the government.

This is why now in Canada the liturgy is usually even worse than it is here in the US (THEY USE THE APOSTLES' CREED AT ALMOST EVERY MASS THAT REQUIRES A CREED WHAAAAT!), a sort of rebellion against what they perceive was universal in Catholicism prior to the Council. Their liturgies are usually very low quality and Protestantized.

rcg said...

Great story, Father. But is that phrase "so go I if not for the grace of God!" in reference to the lifestyle of poor Canadians or their lavatory arrangements?

In all seriousness, when you meet a family like your aunt, it makes a person humble and appreciate what we have and how little we need.

Marc said...

I was a volunteer for the Jesuits in the late 70s at their mission on the Rosebud reservation in SD. There had been in force (and some still observed by custom) the practice of the men's side and the women's side in the churches.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Heh, heh...I love this thread. I'm just having mental images of Ignotus and Millie and others turning flips and gnashing their teeth. God, I love it...my heart is beating rapidly!

Jacob said...

yes I have attended mass at a SSPX chapel in Mexico City and the sexes were segregated. I liked it

John Nolan said...

If you go to a Sikh Gurdwara (temple) you will find that the men and women sit on different sides - it's not front or back, or upstairs or downstairs, so does not denote inequality. Incidentally, I admire the Sikhs, who rejected the superstition and caste system of Hinduism, and fought valiantly for the British Empire in two world wars (and incidentally stayed loyal during the Indian mutiny of 1857-8).

Not long ago on a pilgrimage to Rome led by an Oratory priest, Mass was celebrated in S Georgio in Velabro, Newman's titular church. The orientation is as normal for Roman basilicas (east being away from the altar) and the congregation, divided on each side according to sex, all turned to face the doors for the Canon. Now, that's tradition for you!

Henry said...

From the parish bulletin at reform-of-the-reform leader Prince of Peace Church (Taylors, SC):

"Sunday Vespers and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament will be celebrated
in Latin according to the Breviary of Pope Blessed John XXIII (1961) on the Sundays of
Eastertide from 29 April to 20 May at 4.30p. Booklets with English translations will be provided. Please join us and sing Vespers with us. Women will sit on the Lady Altar side of the church and men on the St Joseph side, and chant back and forth."

There's nothing odd or quaint about antiphonal prayer.

ghp95134 said...

I worked in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for six months in 1978. That Christmas I attended Mass at St. Martins Kirche (1734) with my friend's family. As I followed his wife and daughters to the pews, my friend redirected me to the left side pews where all the men sat. It was only then that I noticed the church was divided with men on one half of the church and women on the other half.

I thought it was culturally different, and therefore interesting. I do not know if they still segregate the sexes.

--Guy Power

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

The high schools in Macon were sexually segregated into the 70's. This caused the boys to really appreciate the girls a lot more. It also made for really great Friday and saturday night dates...LOL! Absence do make the heart (or whatever) grow fonder...

Jim said...

I never experienced the separation of men and women during Mass; however, my mother who was born in the 1920s and says that men sat on the left side on the church and the women on the right side of the church. Mom's parents where Lithuanian and they attended St. Francis in Youngstown Ohio.