Monday, October 30, 2006

The changing language of God

Have a sip of scotch before you read this. Put on a hazmat suit. Hazardous material called "contempt" in abundance.

~by James Carroll in the Boston Globe
Countering the Reformation, the Catholic Church emphasized Latin more than ever, a rigidity that did not end until my time. The dismissive monsignors of my youth were wrong. The first vote taken by the bishops of the Second Vatican Council in 1962 concerned liturgical reform, centering on use of the vernacular at Mass. If the Council fathers had voted against worshipping in language ordinary believers could understand, the revolutionary impulse driving that Council would have been stopped dead in its tracks, but the tally was overwhelmingly in favor. The Latin Mass was finished. With that single vote, the Council set loose a current of change that is still running.

Once Catholics entered into the mystery of the Mass as literate participants instead of as dumb spectators, an unprecedented renewal took hold. The vitality and warmth of today's typical liturgy, involving intelligible encounters with sacred texts, has Catholic parishes surprisingly full, even in a time of widespread disillusionment with clerical leadership. The structure of order that was embodied in the old tradition, and its language, turned out to be dead letters in comparison to the meaning and nourishment that now regularly draw Catholics to the Eucharistic meal. What Tyndale did for English, English has done for American Catholicism. And so with other vernaculars, elsewhere.

One still hears of Catholic nostalgia for the Latin Mass. Classicists regret the loss of the Church's museum function. Esthetes decry the banalizing of liturgy in which all worshippers are fully able to participate. More pointedly, reactionaries have never stopped campaigning for the restoration of Latin, understanding its twin significance as symbol and pillar of the old order. Unsurprisingly, that campaign has been reinvigorated lately, with a blessing from Pope Benedict -- a futile shoring up of a rapidly collapsing clericalism. But Catholic Latin is a lost cause. For which one says, "Deo Gratias."

Diogenes answers:
Once a Paulist priest, James Carroll now makes his living bashing the Church, as the most vituperatively anti-Catholic columnist on the staff of the notoriously anti-Catholic Boston Globe. Today's rant against the Church involves the rumored return of the Latin Mass.
Carroll knows nothing about those rumors, except of course that the cries for the old Mass come from "reactionaries." He does treat his readers to a bit of history, noting that the leaders of the Reformation were keen on using the vernacular. By Carroll's logic, since the leaders of the Reformation disagreed with the Catholic Church, it follows that they were right.

Then came the changes of Vatican II, and...
Once Catholics entered into the mystery of the Mass as literate participants instead of as dumb spectators, an unprecedented renewal took hold.

St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese of Lisieux: all "dumb spectators."

But wait. Speaking of "dumb," here's Carroll's very next sentence:
The vitality and warmth of today's typical liturgy, involving intelligible encounters with sacred texts, has Catholic parishes surprisingly full, even in a time of widespread disillusionment with clerical leadership.
Surprisingly full? Surprisingly full?!

Carroll is writing from Boston, where about 15% of the Catholic population attends Mass each week. Dozens of parishes are closing, because there aren't enough parishioners tossing nickels in the collection baskets to pay the fuel bills. Pick one of the surviving parishes at radom, pop into a Sunday Mass, and you'll see row upon row of empty pews.

I am "surprisingly full" of admiration for the journalistic integrity of James Carroll, and for the perspicacity of the editors who let this howler get into print.

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