Denis McNamara on the Meaning of Vatican II and the ‘Manliness’ of the Mass
If Vatican II was a great and needed Council of the Church, why does the Mass and Church architecture fall so short of what it was meant to be?
That’s one of the questions Denis McNamara answers in his interview with The Manly Catholic, a podcast hosted by James Caldwell and Father Dominic Courtourier.
The two welcomed Dr. McNamara who is an Associate Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Beauty and Culture at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
McNamara holds a BA in the History of Art from Yale University and a PhD in Architectural History from the University of Virginia. From 2000 to 2019 he was a faculty member of the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, in Illinois. Father Dom knew McNamara in seminary by the nickname “D-Mac,” a name many call him to this day.
The podcast described the episode this way, “Dr. McNamara was bringing the heat and sweetness of music, architecture, and history in this action-packed episode. Learn how music is the most beautiful form of prayer, why the liturgy should be sung whenever possible, and how architecture should order the Church and our lives.”
McNamara describes how the mistakes in the way we celebrate the Mass after the Second Vatican Council are related to the mistakes in how the low Mass was preferred before the Second Vatican Council.
He also sees great hope for the future. “I think the Holy Spirit is all over the place,” he said. The young priests we have in the Church “should not have turned out the way they did. If you think about the pastors from the ’70s and ’80s, they should not have produced two to three generations of priests who want Latin chant. They didn’t reproduce themselves.”
Instead, he said, Vatican II is taking effect. “People are reading the texts of the Council and saying, ‘How do we do what it says?’”
Other issues he mentions:
- How the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s didn’t cause the council, but thwarted it.
- What the “Spirit of Vatican II” has to do with “liberals” and “conservatives”
- The “middle way” of Pope Benedict XVI
- How devotional prayer and liturgical prayer are different.
- The place (or lack thereof) of hymns in the liturgy.
The Manly Catholic podcast came about because “Masculinity is under attack,” say the hosts. “Too many men are on cruise control, letting their environment take them with the wind versus being decisive and taking action. Even worse, Catholic men are passive, indecisive, and allowing the culture to control their children. We have lost the meaning of our masculinity.”
McNamara addresses the podcast’s theme several times in the podcast.
“Churches can be manly,” in both their architecture and their liturgy, he insists. “There is this noble simplicity that comes out of the Roman sense of military efficiency which is a characteristic of the Roman rite.”
A Church properly designed, with strong liturgy is like training for life in heaven. “You walk around in the vision of heaven.” McNamara said. “And if you want to know who’s there with you, you hear them in the musicians and you sing with them and then you see them, and the whole vision of your heavenly future in the Church building.”
The Liturgy offers feminine virtues, which are important for both women and men — but it also offers masculine ways to experience Christ, McNamara says.
In the Eucharist, Jesus represents his sacrifice to the Father. “He offers, he pleads, and he praises. What does he offer? He offers himself. As members of the mystical body we can say ‘sacrifice me, too!’”
A man’s prayer at Mass is: “I give you my will and all of its willfulness, and all my addictions, all my temptations. I’ll nail that to the cross. I will die to that by putting it on the altar with the priest. And my intellect, all the things I don’t know about God. All my laziness, all my strengths.”
McNamara’s conclusion: “You die at Mass because you are a member of Christ’s body, then you rise at Mass.”