Friday, January 27, 2012

Letter to Penny Quostal, part 3

Letter to Penny Quostal, continued:

At this point in our disquisition we come to an interesting point. God makes use of some very shady people. I am thoroughly tired of people complaining about Renaissance popes and their decadence. In the past century or two, the popes have been routinely virtuous men, but in times past there have been popes who came with, well, baggage. And sometimes with an illegitimate child or five. The Catholic Church has cleaned up its act over the past 500 years pretty well, despite some recent unpleasantness. The track record of Pentecostal faith-healer-miracle-workers is at least as dicey as the worst epochs of Catholic history.  I have already mentioned Brother Swaggart. Don’t forget the amazing Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Marvin Gorman, Ted Haggard and the great Benny Hinn whose wife is divorcing him. One only wonders who will get possession of the Gulf Stream jet that he purchased for his ministry at the price of $36 million.

Catholics have had their share of venal, sinful, money-grubbing  idiots and so has every other Christian group. The abuse of the manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit does not detract from their reality. I’ve had worried people asked me “If the preacher who healed my lumbago has been disgraced, will my lumbago come back?” 

We Catholics solved this problem in 313 AD when we dealt with the Donatist heresy. The Donatists held that sinful clergy, who may have handed over the sacred books during the Roman persecutions could not validly administer sacraments. In 311, a new bishop was ordained for Carthage by a bishop who had weakened during persecution. The Donatists eventually left the Catholic Church and chose a fellow named Donatus as their bishop, hence the name. Pope Miltiades said that the moral  perfection of the man is not the point. 

It is grace that saves and if the bishop or priest or deacon administers a sacrament doing what the Church says and intending what the Church intends, sinner though he may be, the Sacrament is valid. After all, you may think your confirmation was just swell followed by a great party and a lot of nice presents, but secretly the bishop who confirmed you was running guns to the Hottentots and losing Archdiocesan funds at the dog track, so, without knowing it, you wouldn’t really be confirmed! Or still worse ordained! The Donatists kept long pedigrees of perfect bishops to prove that they had nothing but saints in their background. Yeah, right.

Because of this episode, the Catholic Church developed the principal of “Ex opere operato” or “From the work having been done.”  ( It loses a little in the translation.) It means that if a bad priest says Mass it is still Mass if he says it the way he’s supposed to.  On the other hand a very good priest can say a very bad Mass. He may be a saint who is clueless, who writes his own consecration that is politically correct, consecrates twinkies and Hawaiian punch at children’s liturgies and is the nicest guy in the world. No matter what a sweetheart he may be and no matter how good he is with dogs and small children, his Masses are still not valid. Entertaining maybe, but not valid. 

A bad priest can say a good Mass, a bad bishop can ordain good priests, a bad pope can still count on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, because it’s all grace. Christ is the one who works in the Sacraments, not the priest or the bishop or the pope, and though God may work through a bad man, that man will have a harsher judgment, St. James tells us. (James 3:1) 

Herein lies part of the answer to the question asked: Sacraments are external and objective. The manifestations of the Holy Spirit are not. They are internal and subjective. They are a reaction of our humanity to the experience of God’s amazing love and grace. They are subject to our own personal interpretation and sometimes misinterpretation. They are words from God to the human heart and, to the degree that the heart clings to corruption, it corrupts the word that God may send prophetically. Sacraments are completely different. They are outward, objective visible signs established by Christ to give grace. More on this later.

The whole strange business points out some very important truths regarding the “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit. First, they are not necessarily signs of  a person’s sanctity. The Scriptures say that “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matt 7:16), not by their “gifts.” And what are the fruits of the Holy Spirit? (Galatians 5:22) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control ...” 

The Christian life and the indwelling of the Spirit of God are to be judged not by whether you fall over, or can heal the sick, but by a life of genuine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit are always prophetic, that is, they are in a certain sense, words from God and so are subject to our imperfect understanding. They are the reaction of the human person to the sensed presence of God. They are always part God and part us. In 1st Corinthians 13:9 we read, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part...”  In other words, no prophecy outside of the word of Scripture is 100% and even our individual interpretation of Biblical prophecy is incorrect, at least in part. That’s why God gave us a pope in Rome. Part of his job is to guard the authentic tradition of revealed truth. 

Without real authority, you get some really weird stuff.  Just think of the many times that “Biblical prophecy” has pinpointed the return of Lord at tea time of a Thursday, and then the prophet calls a press conference on Friday, explains how miscalculated and calls it for the coming Monday. You think people would get tired of it. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”  All these things are part God and part us. And that’s just fine. It makes them no less real, but I want to arrive at the point of holiness and humility that it is mostly God and not mostly me! 

Scripture tells us to “test the spirits to see if they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”(1John 4:1)  Sometimes it’s mostly  us and very little God.  This goes for Pentecostal faith healers and Catholic mystic wanna-bees who see the blessed Mother appearing every Tuesday and Thursday in a cabbage patch on the family farm. 

For all its problems and abuses, the Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal was not a waste of time. Fr. Branagan of St. Armadillo’s in Amarillo makes a good point. “The real struggle in the Church is not between the so-called liberal and conservative. It is between those who believe in supernatural reality and those who don’t.”  At a time when my teachers, most of whom left the priesthood, didn’t believe a word of this stuff. It was always “Christ as...”  Christ as liberator Christ as healer, Christ as leftist rebel, Christ as misunderstood rabbi... Christ as, Christ as, Christ as... never just Christ. 

They  were gnostics who believed in salvation by progressive theology, not by grace through faith.  St Paul told St. Timothy that “people will be lovers of themselves ....not lovers of the good,  ..lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”(1Tim3:2-5)  Novenas and rosaries and Eucharistic adoration were all discouraged to the point of being forbidden in my seminary days and a young man could be tossed from the seminary for being too pious. The Pentecostals were my hiding place until the worst of the storm was past and it was once again allowed to believe in the power of God to heal and change lives.  They were very dark times, but for all the abuses of the Holy Spirit’s manifestations, we Pentecostals never let the theologians quite forget that God works in a real and powerful way in the world. Still, I miss Pentecostalism and long for a return of the real thing. There is so little of it left these days.

So what’s the difference between the laying of hands that confers a Sacrament and praying over people in Pentecostal prayer groups? What are Sacraments anyway? That, dear reader, will have to wait until next week.....

Friday, January 20, 2012

Letter from Penny Quostal - part 2

Letter to Penny Quostal continued:

(This is ultimately going to be a disquisition on the nature of sacraments and in particular, the relationship between the diaconate and priesthood. Why then, you may well ask, has he veered off into religious strangeness? Simply because about one out of ten Christians alive today has had some experience with Pentecostalism, Catholic, Protestant and everything in between. This is particularly true in Africa, Latin America and Asia where lies the future of the church and the world. American Christianity is now the victim of the convenient theologies of the mega church which largely cater to popular feeling and are often a kind of “Pentecostalism lite.” This stuff is everywhere. The question with which I am dealing can be paraphrased: “How come when Pentecostal preachers pray over somebody, something happens? When Catholic bishops do, nothing appears to happen.” Fair question. I will continue now...)

So then, in order to answer the original question, I have to explain what it means to be “slain in the spirit?” It sounds a little frightening. Catholic Charismatics try to make it a bit more palatable by calling it “resting in the spirit.” A rose by any other name would still have thorns. In the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, there is a statue called “St. Teresa (of Avila) in Ecstasy” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Her heart is being pierced by an arrow of love and she is falling back, not unconscious, but absolutely aware only of the arrow of God’s love held by an angel. 

We have examples of something similar in the Bible. In the Apocalypse, we read about St. John’s vision: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One.”(Rev. 1:17,18) In the first book of Samuel, the nineteenth chapter, we find the story of Saul who, on his way to kill David, meets a group of prophets and is seized by the Holy Spirit and he rips off his clothes and falls to the ground where he lay naked, prophesying all night and all day. When the temple guard came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane we read something similar. “Jesus asked, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said to them, ‘I am He’... They drew back and fell to the ground.” (John chapter 18)  Then we have the story of the conversion of St. Paul. In the ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read, “He (Paul) fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”   

Interestingly the experience seems to happen to bad people, more often than not.  Saul, Paul and the Temple guards were all on their way to commit murder. They were stopped in their tracks by an experience of the power of God to which they responded by falling to the ground. One may presume St. Teresa of Avila to be a different case. 

I have witnessed and experienced the phenomenon. I remember one Pentecostal faith healer who would just touch a person, often on the arm and start talking about the glory of God and over they would go. I’ve seen whole rows of people collapse like puppets with their strings cut.  This particular faith healer even used this odd gift for the purpose of crowd control, not unlike the Lord when he stopped Saul, Paul and the temple guards. 

The questioner mentioned that when a charismatic preacher prays over someone, that person “fall(s) unconscious for some time.”  This is not quite accurate. The sensation is not one of unconsciousness, but rather one of complete peace. It’s as if the person says to himself “I’m standing, but there is no particular reason to do so because I feel so absolutely peaceful!” and down they go! It’s a real thing. I have no idea whether it is natural or supernatural. I suspect it is a bit of both, but it does happen. It is not illegal and when it is a spontaneous response to the sense of the nearness of God, I don’t think it is immoral.

Now, on to the abuses of the phenomenon which, quite frankly are immoral.  I have attended countless prayer meetings and revival meetings during which there is prayer for the healing of the sick. People routinely fall over, and if they don’t fall over the faith “healer” will pray with great intensity until they do. Sometimes when the “healee” is not cooperative, the “healer” will give them a little shove when they have wasted enough time with that particular supplicant. I have had disconsolate people come up to me saying, “Father, God didn’t bless me! When they prayed over me, I didn’t fall over!”  This makes me want to turn out the lights and send everybody home. It’s absolutely nuts! The phenomenon is real and when it’s real it’s full of joy and peace. Often it is faked and contrived and even dangerous. I have known people who injured themselves when shoved by a faith healer. I have never known anyone who was injured when the experience was spontaneous and genuine. 

You may think from all this that I disapprove of Pentecostalism. On the contrary! I miss Pentecostalism. There isn’t much of it around any more either in its Catholic or  Protestant form. There are a lot of showy non-denominational churches that are all about making people feel good. There are a lot of Catholic prayer group leaders who try to get people excited like in times past. The means by which they harangue the crowd into a kind of hysteria is the microphone. I remember one prayer group that had fallen on hard times. They really believed that if they felt it, it must be true, and if it was louder they would feel it.  Needless to say a lot of the leadership had fallen into terrible sin and the group which had numbered in the hundreds was down to 15 or 20 members. They insisted on having the meetings in the large empty church and on using five microphones. If only they could make things louder, everyone would come back and the glory days would return. It never occurred that if they got quieter, that might actually happen. A really good prayer meeting is where everybody is going nuts and there’s no amplification. If the Holy Spirit doesn’t show up at the meeting, well, there’s always electrical noise.

When most people think of Pentecostalism, they think of noise. Pentecostalism is really about quiet. Profound and expectant quiet. Pentecost was one afternoon of supernatural ministry that changed the world. It was preceded by nine days of expectant waiting.  The heart of the Pentecostal movement when it still had anything to do with Pentecost was the “tarry” service. The old King James’ version of the Bible in Luke 24:49 reads “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”   

Tarry is an old word meaning “wait” the Pentecostal tarry service was the very heart of the movement. People would lock themselves into a church or wherever they happened to meet on a Saturday night and just wait on the Lord. Sometimes they would wait for days. They weren’t going to do anything until the Holy Spirit arrived. There were no hymn books, no prayer leaders, no sermons, no “order of service.” They just waited. 

I remember with fondness the Puerto Rican grandmothers who would lock themselves into a church on the west side of Chicago with a coffee pot, a few blankets and pillows and just prepare to wait out God, and as they put it, they would “pray through.” There is none of that now. There are music ministries and preachers and healing Masses.  There are mega-churches with theater seats and membership drives. There are programs and seminars and what began in the Spirit is sadly ending in the flesh. (Galatians 3:3)

Next week: More interesting Pentecostal weirdness. Also, the finest defense of classical Pentecostalism out there is the movie “The Apostle” by Robert Duvall.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What happens at an Ordination?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
During priestly ordination, the Bishop places his hands on the head of the one to be ordained to fill him with the Holy Spirit. Nothing extraordinary visibly happens to the candidate for ordination. At certain meetings of the Charismatic Renewal, when the priest imparts the Holy Spirit for charismatic healing people are "slain by the Spirit" and fall unconscious for some time. Can you explain the difference?

Thank you and blessed New Year,
Mrs. Penny Quostal

Dear Mrs. Quostal,

The simple answer is that one (ordination) is a sacrament. The other (to be “slain in the Spirit”) is an experience.  Now, on to the complicated answer.
For those who are not aficionados of things charismatic, or as I prefer, Pentecostal, let me provide some background. In his first letter to the Corinthians, (12:7-11) St. Paul tells us that “...the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each for the good of all. To one is given the word of wisdom ... to another the word of knowledge ... to another another gifts of healing ... the working of miracles... prophecy…discerning of spirits... tongues and interpretation of tongues.  Phanerosis  is the  word in the text that means “manifestation.” “Charisma” is rendered “gift” and is used once referring to healing in the previous passage. “Manifestation” seems to refer to the whole list. Only healing is specifically called a gift. The Charismatic Renewal, so called, is specifically a renewal of the external manifestations of the Holy Spirit, not the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are  Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (Right Judgment), Fortitude (Courage),  Knowledge, Piety (Reverence), Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe).

I prefer the word “Pentecostal” to the word “charismatic.”  The gifts of the Holy Spirit have never been de-emphasized though manifestations have been. Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after the Passover, was the Jewish feast on which God’s power was made visible through the apostles by the gift of tongues. The purpose of the gift of tongues wasn’t to make the apostolic preaching of  the Gospel understandable to the assembled crowd of Jewish pilgrims, all of whom were Jews from around the world. The crowd  spoke Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and possibly Latin. They had three or four languages in common. The marvel was that they heard the apostles speaking in the  languages of their respective places of residence. The Pentecostal gift of tongues was a prophetic manifestation of the Holy Spirit, telling the assembled crowd that the Gospel was universal, not just Jewish. It was a prophetic moment. The first Pentecost was a call to arms. The Church of Jesus would be missionary and universal (in Greek,“apostolikos” and “katholikos”) or Apostolic and Catholic. 

So what is Pentecost, Pentecostalism, Pentecostal churches, Charismatic Renewal and what is “slain in the Spirit?” It sounds frightening! Fasten your seat belts. This will take a while.

Modern Pentecostalism started as a movement. It ended as a church or perhaps I should say an “ecclesial community.”  Actually it ended with a lot of divided, theologically splintered churches. For the sake of precision I will use the word Pentecostal” or “Pentecost” referring to the movement of which I have been a part for 44 years. When I am speaking of those groups who have organized the brains out of the whole thing, I will use the words “Pentecostal church(es)” in the case of Protestants or “Charismatic Renewal” in the case of Catholics.

There have been many “Pentecostal” outpourings in the history of the Church. In 180AD, 150 years after the first Christian Pentecost, St. Irenaeus wrote about the visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit including the gift of tongues and healings. He taught that one way to tell the difference between gnostic heretics and Catholics was that the Catholic Church had the manifestations of the Spirit, especially the gift of healing. Another way was to find out whether the teacher in question  agreed with the bishop of Rome. The Gnostic heretics didn’t do either!  As the Church made its peace with the world and the Roman Empire,  the outward manifestations of the Spirit became common only in the lives of great saints, particularly monks. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) thought that these wonders were meant only for the early Church to attract the world’s attention to the Gospel. He changed his mind when he saw a renewal of miracles in his own community. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and his followers seemed to manifest the Holy Spirit visibly including a sort of spontaneous prayer not unlike what modern Pentecostals and Charismatics call singing in tongues.

The current Pentecostal movement traces its beginnings back to New Year’s Eve, 1900. A  Methodist Bible College founded by Rev. Charles Parham of Topeka, Kansas, experienced what they believed to be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They claimed to have received a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” evidenced by the gift of tongues (“Baptism” is simply the Greek word for  “immersion” and “tongues” here refers to a kind of ecstatic speech.) This “Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues” became the required norm for the Pentecostal churches. If you had not spoken in tongues, you did not “have the Holy Spirit.”  I have no idea how they came to this conclusion. It’s not in the Bible and is certainly not part of Christian tradition or Catholic faith. 

The classical Protestant churches, such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist and even Methodist followed the Lutheran/Calvinist doctrine of dispensationalism, saying that God works one way in a certain age, or dispensation, of the world and differently in another age. Luther and classical Protestantism after him have maintained that the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit were valid only for the initial spreading of the Gospel. “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1Cor 13:10) They interpreted this to mean that when the last verse of Scripture was written, miracles were no longer necessary for the life of the Church. 

Catholics and orthodox Churches maintain that miracles are an integral part of the life of the Church. This meant that, in some ways, Pentecostalism with its belief in miracles, seemed more Catholic than it did Protestant. This is at the heart of an interesting problem. Pentecostalism is more Catholic than Protestant. The experience is very much like Catholic mysticism. The theology and ecclesiology that Protestants tacked on to the experience are a strange brew of Calvinism and Congregationalism.  Mainline Protestants vehemently and sometimes violently resisted Pentecostalism, so in April 1914, 300 Pentecsotals met in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and formed the Assemblies of God Church. The church then splintered into Independent Assemblies of God, that denied the authority of any church beyond the local congregation, foursquare church, the already extant and pentecostalized Church of God and on and on.

In 1967, at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, students who had been exposed to pentecostalism shared their experience with others at a retreat, from there the experience took root among the Catholics. That’s where I come in. In my misspent and liberal youth, I was on an ecumenical committee and thus made contact with what seemed to be the ultimate ecumenical movement: Pentecostal prayer meetings. When I came home from school, an 18-year-old who already knew that he knew it all, I told my parents that I had experience a Baptism in the Holy Spirit and that you could have a personal relationship with Christ, that God spoke prophetically in our times and that He worked miracles and healed the sick. They said, “We are Catholics and we’ve always believed these things and are glad that you finally agree with us.” That took all the wind out of my sails and I realized that I was still a Catholic and always would be.

Pentecost is not a theology or an organization. It is an experience. We used to call ourselves Catholic Pentecostals, until 1983 when Jimmy Swaggart, an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God church, the largest single Pentecostal church, wrote “A Letter to my Catholic Friends” which essentially said you couldn’t be saved and Catholic at the same time. I remember it well. At that point the whole Pentecostal movement foundered. The Catholic Pentecostals responded “If you are going to beat us with your Bibles, we’ll strangle you with our Rosaries.” I suspect that the Holy Spirit got disgusted with the whole thing and took a much needed vacation.   

I remember a great gathering of Pentecostal/ Charismatic ministers and group leaders in New Orleans in 1988. Perhaps I have the date wrong, but I will never forget the event, organized by Dr. Vinson Synan. It was, by my lights, the last high water mark of the Pentecostal movement before much of it dissolved into silly emotionalism and strange theologies. Brother Swaggart had been invited to participate in the conference that we all thought would be pleasing to God. He refused to participate because he would not stand on the same stage with Catholics. Apparently he was busy that weekend at the Travel Inn Motel, also in New Orleans. He was ultimately de-frocked by the Assemblies of God and started his own church. 

This event is almost forgotten by the historians of religion. I believe it is one of the most important events in the history of Catholicism. Jimmy Swaggart was an amazing preacher and was expertly dubbed in Spanish and Portuguese. He was well financed and widely heard throughout Latin America, so much so that Latin America was at the point of abandoning the Catholic faith. I used to irritate my confreres in the Spanish-speaking apostolate by calling Brother Swaggart the most popular theologian in Latin America, which he most certainly was. His hobbies, which seem to have continued, ended all that. It also ended any real progress in grass roots ecumenism. 

So what is “pentecostalism?” It is the experience of Pentecost, an immersion in and a  manifestation of the power of God to change lives. It is not perfect. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” (1Cor.13:9) It is part me and part God, unlike Christ who was completely God and completely man. It needs authority. It is the manifestation of God’s presence filtered through sinners like me. It  often involves ecstatic speech call glossolalia, also called speaking in tongues, or by prophetic speech or healing. When it is subject to the appropriate authority, the Church established by Christ, it can be a very fine thing. When it is not, it is dangerous and divisive. When it is simply the experience, stripped of the add-ons of bad theology, it is a renewal of our calling to be missionaries in our daily life.

(You will notice that, at this point, the Rev. Know-it-all has completely failed to answer the question. He has not even defined what it means to be “slain in the Spirit.” That’s because, as usual he is far from finished on the topic.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why the new translation of the Mass? part 11 Final thoughts

So there you have it, Verne, a blow by blow attempt at explaining the meanings behind the changes of the congregational responses in the Mass. There is not time to go through all the changes, but the change in the parts the priest says are everywhere. It feels like I am saying a different Mass than I have said since I was ordained getting nigh unto forty years ago. It is maddening. I am an old dog expected to learn new tricks. I have to keep my eyes glued to the Missal. 

The words aren’t even the hardest part of the whole exercise.  It is the grammatical structure that makes one crazy. It is a Latin structure not an American-English structure.  Latin uses periodic sentences which have a dependent clause after a dependent clause that make no sense until you get to the final clause or phrase. An example: “When the barbarians stormed the gates, the gates being tightly locked, the king, who being at table, which was set for a feast, told them to make an appointment with his secretary.”  Dis ain’t duh way we talk on duh sout’ side of Chicahhhgo. I am very partial to the Chicago version of American English, especially the evocative and poetic way it is spoken on the south side. 

The Latinized periodic sentences of the new translation seem foreign and removed from everyday life. At times, they even seem like the bad translations handed to me over twenty five years of giving Latin exams, and still worse, they remind me of the horrible translation I handed into to my professors in a past century. 

"So then Rev. Know-it-all, you are opposed to the change?"

On the contrary! I think the whole thing is long overdue, but Heaven has its timing.

First of all, the language used in the newest Missal is the common language, not the local language. According to Wikipedia, there are 375 million people in the world who speak English as their native language. There are almost two billion who speak English, to some degree as a second language, making English the most widely spoken language in the world. The vast majority of these people are clueless when they hear Americans speaking English. 

I will never forget meeting some American cousins in the kitchen of the ancestral tavern in lower, upper-Hessia. (There actually is such a place.) We were coincidentally visiting the old country at the same time and were feasting on Germanic microwave pizza. Yum. We lapsed into American, and the German cousins, who had learned Oxford English, were completely dumbfounded when I asked a fellow American to hit me with a piece of pizza. The Germans present had no idea why I would want to be struck with a wedge of hot, gooey cheese and tomato sauce. Of course I was requesting a piece of pizza, using the colorful, Las Vegas idiom, “to hit” as in to give me another card at the blackjack table -- not that the Rev. Know-it-all is an aficionado of games of chance.

We, Americans seem to think that we are at the cutting edge of everything. During the halcyon days of the Second Vatican Council, we believed that America was the land created by God to enlighten all those backward countries in Europe. We had stormed in to save them in the Second World War, as every good American boy knows, never mind the sacrifices of the English (almost 400,000 military deaths) the Poles (250,000) and even the Russians( 7-8 million), so we would storm in to save them theologically, and liturgically in the Council. Guess what? Things have changed. There are about 70 million Catholics in the Untied States. Perhaps 30 or 40, million of them speak Spanish. That means the English only speaking Catholics of the United states are a tiny group of perhaps 30 or 40 million, who tend to participate in Mass and the life of the Church when they feel like it. About half of them, 15 to 20 million, attend Mass regularly.

In Africa there are 140,000,000 (One hundred and forty million) Catholic. There are between 4 and 15 million Catholic in China. The Catholics of Africa talk to one another in English, not in American. The same is true in large measure of the Philippines. In the Philippines, there about 170 different languages spoken. Tagalog is spoken by only  22 million as a native language. English is the language preferred for professions and for many textbooks. My point is this: Spanish, French, Portuguese and English are the languages of the vast majority of Catholics and the English used is not necessarily American English. We Americans have no idea how odd our English is.  Sometimes, it is so informal as to be incomprehensible. 

English-speaking America which prided itself on being the Catholic vanguard, is fast becoming a backwater of graying, irritated progressives who think the high point of Catholic culture was the age of Aquarius back in the glorious sixties. The “new translation” is a reminder to the young liberals now that they are seventy and eighty years old, that the there is no such thing as an American Church. There is a Catholic Church in America. The English speaking Catholic clergy of this country must decide; will they be part of a Universal Church or will they continue to pretend that they are the arbiters of all things truly Catholic? 

The Mass has never been said in the local language. It has always been said in a sacred language, a common language, not a local language. Aramaic, the first language of the Mass was the common speech of people from the Jordan Valley to India and beyond. Koine Greek was not the classical Greek of the schools of Athens, nor the patois of Alexandria of up-country Turkey. Koine Greek was the common Greek of the Mediterranean world.  The Latin of the Mass was not the Latin of Iberia that was evolving into Spanish, nor the Latin of Tuscany that was evolving into Italian. It was the Latin of the empire that was spoken in law courts, not kitchens. So it is with the English of the Mass it is a common English, not the English that we butcher in our everyday lives. It is a lingua sacra, a lashon kodesh as different from our daily speech as the Hebrew of the synagogue is different from the Israeli shouted on the streets of Tel Aviv. It is understandable, though that may take a little effort, but it isn’t quite the way we talk.

There is one more interesting aspect of the change. It is a matter of justice. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:2)  The law of measuring is an incontrovertible principle of the Kingdom of God. It would be easier to break the laws of physics than the principles of the Kingdom. What goes around comes around. I will probably never be able to say Mass without working at it a little bit, with having a book in front of me, without having to think about it. I will never be able to “wing it” again and to think about what I am going to do after Mass or what I need to get done today. As a celebrant, I will have to pay close attention to what I am saying and doing. Offering the Holy sacrifice of the Mass will never again be as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. It will always be a bit foreign to me and to the all of us older priests. What goes around comes around.

I think back on my old pastor, Monsignor O’Brien. When he was up in years, everything changed. He obeyed, I suspect grudgingly, but he obeyed. The liturgy that he had learned in his childhood, for which he served as an altar boy which he had studied in Rome during the First World War by the light of an oil lamp, the liturgy that he had celebrated for almost fifty years of priesthood was gone over night. It was strictly forbidden to continue to say the Mass of a thousand years without specific permission. It is a matter of great wonder and even humor to me that apparently there are some aging liberals who are planning to ask the Holy Father for an indult, permission that is, to continue to say the Mass as it was until a month ago. These same progressives who fought the indult to say the Tridentine Mass now want an indult for themselves. The mind boggles!  

Remember, what goes around comes around, whether you call yourself a liberal or a conservative. Both are bound by the principles of the kingdom of God.  If this whole thing proves anything, it proves that the word of the Lord endures forever.  “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”