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Friday, March 19, 2004

The Long, Long Shadow of Sr. Margaret Flagrum and Her Six Foot Rosary Belt.

There is a certain type of older Catholic for whom the word "nun" causes the color to drain from the face, replaced by ashen shellshock.

"Aiiiee! The Little Sisters of Vinegar and Gall used to march up and down the classroom aisle, razor-stropping anyone who didn't have the Baltimore Catechism lesson memorized that day! And we chopped wood at recess! And then we'd go home to clean out the paper bag we lived in, and dad would wake us up half an hour before we went to sleep....!"

All of which adds up to a great big "Whew! Goodbye to all that, and thank heaven for the fact we sing the soundtrack for Jesus Christ Superstar at Mass these days. In English! Or Spanish! Or Esperanto! Or Apache! Doesn't matter if we don't understand it! Just so long as it's different."

Pretty much any language will do. Except the one that brings on nun flashbacks.

Dennis Kavanaugh, columnist for the Arizona Republic, appears to be a flashback sufferer. Bishop Thomas Olmstead of the Diocese of Phoenix has announced he's going to actually be generous and offer the Tridentine Mass. Mr. Kavanaugh begs to differ and says this simply will not do:

The announcement by Bishop Thomas Olmsted that Latin masses will be allowed in the Phoenix diocese after a 25-year absence troubles me, particularly in the context of other recent changes in church policy and procedures.

Well, you know, when your previous bishop offers a desert homage to Chappaquiddick with his Buick, consider yourself on notice that change is in the offing. Even if it takes strenuous persuasion to get the "artist" to leave.

Understand that I am the product of a Catholic education throughout grade school, high school and college.

There are certain phrases I see in print that activate the ol' Spider Sense. The first is "raised Catholic." Usually because it's followed by a description of the new spiritual sensibility of the subject, which runs the gamut from $cien---ogy to Aztec ritualism to Buddhism to Four Square Storefront Mini-mall Fundamental Reborn In The Spirit of Elohim's Gospel Church.

It invariably causes serious eye-rolling.

The second phrase is a related one, part of an infinite series of variations where, as here, the speaker offers his Catholic bona fides: "Understand that I am the product of a Catholic education throughout grade school, high school and college."

It's usually offered with an authoritative flourish calculated to plant seeds in the reader's mind. Something along the lines of "Wow. Why haven't I heard this guy's name on the short list for Cardinal?"

But if you've been following generations of catechetical follies, it offers the opportunity for gales of laughter.

It's not something you want to lead a discussion with. "Speaking as an animist with a associate's degree..." might be better.


I lector at my parish and have served on its parish council. My first training as an altar server was in Latin. And, I don't regret the two years of Latin I took in high school.

See above. My suspicion is that he doesn't "regret" the two years of Latin only because (1) he didn't have to take four, and (2) he's a lawyer.

Res ipsa loquitur, bro!


However, permitting or encouraging Latin masses is part of a misguided trend to go back in time to the romanticized church of the 1940's and 1950's. Today's Catholic Church is not the fictional movie church of Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman or Barry Fitzgerald.

Yeah. Those of us who were itches in our dads' pants during those decades are suffering from restorationist nostalgia. Especially those of us raised Methodist and unable to pick Barry Fitzgerald out of a lineup.

Although I suspect Mr. Fitzgerald would be the one acting an awful lot like Terry Kiser in Weekend At Bernie's.


We don't speak Latin to each other.

Unless you're a lawyer. Then, it's Katy bar the door! Res judicata! Mens rea! Actus reus! Illegitimus Non Carborundum!

I greet people with "hello" and not "salve".

Hmm. Gonna have to try that one today. "Salve, Espous-ed One!"

Don't worry--I get that look every single day.


There was a reason that the Second Vatican Council called for services to be held in the vernacular.

Alas, for all those years of Catholic education. From Sacrosanctum Concilium s. 36(1):

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

Which explains why, in my six years there, I've heard more Spanish than Latin at my Polish/Italian parish.


Greater understanding and participation by lay members led to a renaissance of the Catholic Church in the 60's and 70's.

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No, of course not. He did not just say that. Not possible. No freaking way. Let's try that again:


Greater understanding and participation by lay members led to a renaissance of the Catholic Church in the 60's and 70's.

He freaking did!

Where do you begin to respond to this?

Maybe: "What color is the sky in your world?"

"Renaissance"? What part would that be? The flatlining Mass attendance? The wholesale de-Catholicization of formerly Catholic higher education? Priests and religious abandoning their vows by the trainload? Vocations dwindling away to nothing?

If that's a "renaissance," God spare us a dark age.


Sadly, some in the church today would prefer to reverse many of the Vatican II reforms.

Most of us are not so interested in reversing the reforms so much as exorcising that Spirit™, which is lingering like a fart in a ballroom.

Conservative groups such as Opus Dei have infiltrated the clergy in many communities and are subtly wielding power to influence many of these changes.

Dennis--Look out! THE ALBINO IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

Such groups would be much happier if all priests wore cassocks and birettas and all nuns returned to wearing habits and living in convents, instead of actively participating in community affairs and in encouraging social justice.

Actually, again, most of us would just settle for our priests and religious acting like, well, priests and religious. Instead of bad stand-up comics/performance artists/talk show hosts.

Admittedly, though, we do find it odd that Sts. Martin de Porres, Clare, Vincent de Paul, and even Francis of Assisi were prayerful, wore distinctive religious garb and yet somehow managed to "participat[e] in community affairs and [] encourag[e] social justice."

But Fr. Cool and Sr. Moonbeam can't. Strange....


This past year, we have seen a de-emphasis in the role of the laity in Mass services, with lesser roles for lectors and Eucharistic ministers and an emphasis on the roles of priests and deacons.

You mean, your bishop actually expects your Presiding Sacramental Technicians to do something other than wave a little hocus pocus over the Wine 'n Wafers?

Where is this all leading?

YOU'LL NEVER FIND OUT IF THE ALBINO KILLS YOU--TURN AROUND!!!

Will the next papal bull require women to again wear hats in church?

Uh, Dennis? They're called "encyclicals" these days. Have been since the 18th Century. Do keep up, or I might think you are suffering from some unreconstructed nostalgia for the "good ol' old days." Lord knows, we'll have to do something about that.

I don't know where this new church road is leading, but going back to Latin Masses certainly is not going my way.

On that happy note, we'll finish.

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