Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Letter to Paul Grimage continued:

Letter to Paul Grimage continued:
I have been told that my last letter was not very cheerful. I’ll have you know that one of my readers laughed so hard upon reading it that she suffered an asthma attack. If that’s not funny I don’t know what is! Now on to the next lighthearted, humorous installment:
Before Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD, there was no clear distinction between Jew and Christian; in fact there was no clear distinction between the Jew and Christian until the complete defeat of the Jewish nation by the Romans in response to the Bar Kochba revolt around 130 AD. Before then, Christianity was thought of as a sect of the Hebrew religion.
By then, there were a number of forms of Christianity. There were the Gnostics who tried to combine Egyptian and Persian religion with the teachings of Jesus. There were Israelites who believed Jesus to be the Messiah, but never conceded His divinity. Then there were His followers, the Twelve and the other disciples, who taught that Jesus was the Son of Mary and the Son of God, fully human and fully divine.
One often hears the question, “Why did the Jews reject Jesus?” Dr. Rodney Stark, a sociologist, makes the point that, in fact, the Jews didn’t reject Jesus. Many, perhaps most Greek-speaking Jews in the first centuries after Christ, accepted Jesus, His divinity, His humanity and His redemptive death. At the time of Christ there were 6 or 7 million Jews in the Roman Empire. Two hundred or so years after Christ there were less than a million. There must have been quite a bit of attrition through war and plague, but not enough to obliterate 6 million people. Dr. Stark, echoed by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, makes the point that much of the substantial Samaritan population and the even larger Jewish population of the Empire probably accepted Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ) and blended in with the Greek speaking population.
In this sense Christianity can be thought of as the first Reformed Judaism. One could eat pork and shrimp and not undergo circumcision but could still be a member of the House of Israel, reading the Torah and the prophets and singing the psalms that one had always sung — no worshiping Isis, or some snake-god or winged thing, and eating cheese on your hamburger. It was all good. Thus, though Jews were thrown out of Judea and enslaved, and though no Jew could enter Aelia Capitolina, the rebuilt Roman version of Jerusalem, there were always Christians there. The lines between Jew and Greek were blurred by Christianity, so the living memory of the places and events associated with Jesus were never forgotten. There was always someone on the site who remembered. In 190 AD, or thereabouts, Sextus Julius Africanus (a Greek Christian) who had been born in Jerusalem was able to interview the surviving relatives of Jesus regarding the discrepancies in Jesus’ genealogy.  By the year 190 AD, people were very interested in this Jesus, whether they were Jewish, Christian or somewhere in between.
I thought all this bother and brouhaha about the pilgrimage sites was a bunch of hogwash until I went on a pilgrimage led by one of the very few Arab Catholic guides in the Holy land. Arab Christians, especially those from Syria, the Holy Land, Lebanon and like places are most probably descendants of those first Christians who were among the Jews who accepted Jesus. I personally know a family that can trace its origin to exiles from the first siege of Jerusalem around 70 AD.  The Holy Land at the time of Christ was a mix of Greek and Jew and this mestizo culture blended even more under the reconciling influence of Christ. This Arab Catholic guide was no small intellect. He was a teacher and a graduate of the University of Albuquerque. He told me a wonderful story. His father took him to a field and pointed out a tree and told him, “My great grandfather proposed marriage to my great grandmother under that very tree.  I took my grandson and showed him that tree.” His point was that small, personal details are not soon forgotten among the inhabitants of the Holy Land.
I thought about it. I remember my old pastor telling me when I was a boy that he had seen the sun dance during the Fatima miracle in 1917. It is now a hundred years later and I have told the children in my parish who will bring the story into yet another century. Human memory is longer than we moderns want to believe. Another factor is the incredible smallness of the Holy Land. Most of the ministry of Jesus happened in an area called the Gospel Triangle, bounded at three points by Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin. It is a triangle about 5 miles, by 4 miles by 2 miles. The multiplication of the loaves took place down the beach from where the sermon on the miraculous catch of fish was made and just down the hill from where the Sermon on the Mount was preached. Jerusalem is only a leisurely 3-day hike from Nazareth. For an old man to show his grandson where Jesus worked unforgettable miracles would take no more than an afternoon.  By the time Christians were coming to Judea from all over the Roman Empire, these places were well known to many.
In the church of the Holy Sepulcher there is an interesting graffito. As I mentioned above, the emperor Hadrian obliterated what was left of the city of Jerusalem in 130 AD. Jews were not allowed to enter the city. But Greeks were allowed and Greek Christians and those Jews who had been Hellenized by their exposure to Christianity never stopped venerating the shrines associated with the life of Christ. In order to put a stop to it, Hadrian paved over the remains of Jewish Jerusalem and built his city, Aelia Capitolina, directly over the old quarry where the tomb of Christ and Calvary were located, he place a central plaza and a temple to Aphrodite over the tomb and a statue of Zeus directly over Golgotha. On the huge stone blocks of the retaining wall of that plaza, there is a drawing of a Roman ship and a graffito in Latin “Domine, ivimus” or “Lord, we shall go”   Possibly a reference to Psalm 122. It is thought to have written anytime from 150 AD to 300 AD. It was certainly written before the church of the Holy Sepulcher was built. Bishop Melito of Sardis around 150 AD said that the site of Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher were in the middle of the street, in the middle of the city, right below Hadrian's temple in honor of Aphrodite.
The story goes that when the empress Helena, mother of Constantine, came looking for the holy places in around 325, bishop Macarius of Jerusalem told her right where to dig. Eusebius the historian, who lived at the time of the first excavation of the tomb, said that the tomb showed “…clear and visible proof”. People think these signs must have been supernatural. I don’t. Christians as we have seen, scrawl graffiti everywhere. The tomb of Peter in Rome is covered with them. The house of Peter in Capernaum is covered with them, so why not the tomb of Christ, buried under the rubble of the old Jewish city?
Everyone knew where the Lord had been buried. It was not on hill far away, it was at one of the main gates of the city. The Romans reasoned, “Why waste a perfectly good execution? Have it somewhere where everyone can benefit by it.” And of course, the Bible says that in the place was also the tomb, and so it was found. The other tomb, the second tomb which you mentioned, called the Garden Tomb, was discovered only in the last century. A German scholar named Otto Thenius decided that a hill north of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem was the real Calvary because if you squinted and tilted your head the right way it sort of looked like a skull. He found a tomb nearby and decided that it must be the tomb of Christ. Another archaeologist upon hearing of the discovery said, “Ach, du meine Gute! I hope that’s not the tomb of Christ! I myself took the bones out of there just a few days ago!” It turns out that the tomb was from the 1st temple period about seven hundred years before the time of Christ. There is only one site continuously venerated as the site of Calvary and the tomb and that is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The site of Christ‘s birth was just as well known and commonly pointed out to pilgrims from the first days. It is only about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. It was a cave. Emperor Hadrian, (remember him?)  had the place turned into a shrine for Adonis, the Greek god of beauty. St. Jerome, wrote around 410 AD that the cave had been consecrated to Adonis by the pagans and that sacred grove had been planted there to wipe out the memory of the birth of Jesus in that place. Justin Martyr (© 100 – 165 AD) also a native of the Holy Land wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho that the Holy Family had taken refuge in a cave just outside of town.  “Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.” (chapter LXXVIII). Hadrian, far from obliterating the holy sites, marked them for posterity!
Why a cave? Homeowners took advantage of caves. They were pre-dug basements; cool in summer, warm in winter. They kept livestock in them which kept the place a little warmer in winter — space heaters on the hoof. The ancestral home of my family in lower upper-Hessia had a built-in chicken coop on the first floor. Mmm... chickens... nice, warm chickens.
Where was I? Yes. That’s the joy of being a Catholic, or for that matter orthodox. We have long memories. We, like the Blessed Mother have treasured these things in our hearts for two thousand years. There is a stone manger, a feed trough dug into the wall of the cave. It is like other feed troughs dug into the stone of that hard land. I have no doubt that you can go there and touch the very manger into which Mary laid the Baby Jesus on the first Christmas two thousand years ago. We have never forgotten where it was.
Merry Christmas,
The Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, December 20, 2013

Are Scripture and Tradition reliable?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I was recently on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and our tour guide, Abdul ibn Turghaid, showed us the stone for lack of which Jesus had no place to lay his head and then he showed us the inn where the parable of the Good Samaritan didn’t happen, but would have had it not been a parable. Then we saw two tombs where Jesus rose from the dead. Abdul insisted that Jesus had risen at both tombs. He explained that apparently there was a matinee performance for those who had missed the early morning resurrection. Eventually we made our way past many check points and frowning bureaucrats to a dingy old church in Bethlehem where we stood in line to go down some steps into what seemed to be a basement that was in fact a cave when you looked behind all the tapestries and wall hangings. Come on, now.  I have been to enough Christmas pageants to know that Jesus was born in a stable, not a cave. Isn’t that what the Bible says? How do they know what was what after two thousand years? Isn’t most of this stuff made up? The Bible stories don’t agree with each other. I heard one theologian say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then another one said the whole story was made up. How do we know what happened
Paul Grimage

Dear Paul, 
You don’t know if you’re not a Catholic, or at least in an apostolic church. An apostolic church is one that can trace its origins back to the founding of the Church by Christ through the ministry of the Apostles. We have an early Christian writer, a Greek who was the bishop of a Roman city in what is now France. His Name was Irenaeus of Lyon.  He was born around 130 AD. That’s only 100 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s not a very long time. I know stories that my mother told about her father that go back to 1880. I am an American and we Americans have the memory span of distracted goldfish. If I can remember trivial details that go back 130 years, certainly an ancient Greek or Jewish Christian who was paying attention to the stories for which he eventually would give his life as martyr probably got the story down pretty well from the people who told it. The martyr-bishop Irenaeus was the student of St. Polycarp, born 69AD who was also a martyr. St. Polycarp was a disciple of St John the Apostle. This is what Irenaeus had this to say about apostolic tradition:
....It would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches.... [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul... which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with the Church (of Rome).... inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by them... (Adversus, Book III, Chapter 3)
I quote this text not for my usual smug “Hurray for our team!” purpose for which I usually quote sources, but to point out that 100 years after Christ, remembering and passing on these traditions was very important to Christians. This may be hard to believe for us moderns who can barely remember who won Dancing with the Stars last year, but ancient people valued their history and did their best to preserve it, though their sense of history was different than ours.
You have two questions, “Is Scripture reliable and is Tradition reliable?”  The Scriptures, especially the Gospels can be spotty, and even seem to be contradictory at times. The four Gospels leave out details like what color veil did the Blessed Mother wear? (Everyone knows it was blue, because the picture in my grandmother’s bedroom has her wearing a blue robe, the exact color of her blue eyes, framed by her flaxen blond hair.) There are things that just weren’t important to the ancients that we think crucial, like the exact time and date of birth of a poor boy, born in a barn. The great and mighty noted the time and date and place so that they could have their horoscopes prepared. Mary and Joseph apparently weren’t worried about Jesus’ horoscope. They were worried about Herod, who was very interested in the time and place of Jesus birth. I imagine a more important date for the Holy Family was the day they arrived safely in Egypt. The Gospels can be very disappointing if one is looking for gossipy details. Far more disturbing are the apparent contradictions. How many angels were at the resurrection? Did Jesus ascend to heaven from the Mount of Olives or from a hill in Galilee? Was he born in Bethlehem or Nazareth?  Why can’t the Bible seem to get it straight if it’s an inspired text? The answer is simple. The first Christians as we have seen from the text of St. Irenaeus handed down exactly what they received.
There are four Gospels that the early Church most respected, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. John is distinct from the others and seems to have been addressed to a very specific audience. My theory is that it was aimed at those who thought John the Baptist was the Messiah. It is probably the last Gospel to be written. The other three are called the synoptic Gospels. The word synoptic is a Greek word that means “look alike”. The look alike Gospels are pretty similar but, of the three, only the Gospel of Matthew has ever been thought of as eyewitness testimony. Luke and Mark were not among the twelve apostles. The long-standing tradition is that Mark had been an administrative assistant to St. Peter and that Luke had been a friend and assistant to St. Paul. Have you ever seen a car wreck? I hope not. But if you have, you know that two people describing the same wreck describe it differently. One notices the dent in the back of the car, the other the dent in the front, but not always both and so on. So it was with these very different and very human accounts of the events of the life and ministry of Christ. The three Synoptic Gospels weren’t written, at least in my opinion, as evangelistic tools. The Gospel was an oral phenomenon. St Paul says “if someone teaches another Gospel than the one I preached...” (Galatians 1:9)
The Gospel was shared by word of mouth. The texts we have were taken from a common fund of knowledge about the life of Christ. My theory is that Matthew was aimed at Pharisees to point out that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophesy and was the Messiah. Matthew was written to show that Jesus was the Son of God and Luke was written as a sort of “friend of the court brief” to convince the former High Priest, “your Excellency Theophilus”, a son of Annas and High Priest from AD 37 to AD 41.  The theory is that Theophilus was the high priest who delegated Paul’s trip to Damascus to clear up this Christian mess and, to Theophilus’ horror, Paul came back as one of them. Theophilus may have lodged the accusation against Paul with the Roman authorities and Luke, the only non-Hebrew author in the New Testament, wrote Luke/Acts of the Apostles as a two-part defense of Paul requesting that Theophilus withdraw his accusation. Just a theory.
If you think of the Gospels as modern style histories of the life of Jesus, you are going to be disappointed. They are, I believe, documents that were written by their human authors to make certain points about the life of Christ: that He fulfilled the prophetic expectations about the Messiah (Matthew); that He was the Son of God (Mark); that He and His disciple Paul were innocent of the charges (Luke/Acts); and that He, not John the Baptist, was the Messiah, the true Lamb of sacrifice of the true Passover (John). However the Holy Spirit meant, I believe, to show us the aspects of the life of Christ that are necessary for our salvation and redemption. What color Mary’s veil was is not essential to the work of our salvation.
All this doesn’t exactly answer the question, “Are they reliable?” The fact that they seem to be at variance with one another is the proof that they are reliable. That’s the nature of Sacred Tradition. If someone a couple centuries after Christ had tried to polish up the accounts of Christ’s ministry that would be suspicious. They said, “No, this is what we have received, this is what we hand on to you, whole and entire.” The small apparent discrepancies are not very important and are probably quite reconcilable. The four canonical Gospels are unedited because they are eyewitness accounts made by human beings, though inspired and used by the Holy Spirit. Two of them are quite probably eye witness accounts (Matthew and John) and two are probably second hand accounts (Mark and Luke). The Church has, from the very first, been scrupulous to hand down nothing less and nothing more than it received from Christ through the ministry of the apostles, even though that handing down has some questions attached to it. You can trust the Gospels.

As for your question about the places associated with the life of Jesus, that will have to wait until next week!

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Christmas, can't you lighten up?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Why must you always write such depressing articles? Lighten up. It’s the Christmas season.

Joy S. Tydings

Dear Joy,

Depressing?  Me? Depressing? I’ve always thought of myself as a lighthearted commentator on the foibles of the modern world, at least as lighthearted as lower-upper-Hessians can possibly be. In the town of Allendorf, Hessen whence comes the family of my father, it is the custom to send the young men of the village out into the forest armed only with bottles of schnapps and axes. There, they cut down a pine tree, drag it back into the village and set it up again. This is not associated with Christmas but with the patronal feast of St. Catherine. No one can explain why this is done or for how long it has been done. Allendorf means the “Old village” a name it has born since around 700 AD. I suspect we have been doing it ever since the Neanderthals found out that rotten fruit was still edible, or at least drinkable. Sending young men into the woods with booze and potential weapons has always been our idea of fun.

A few miles east of Allendorf is the town Neustadt, Hessen whence comes my mother’s family. The forest east of town is thought to be the place of origin for the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, told by the well-named Brothers Grimm. It is the tender children’s story of a little girl who is attacked by a wolf that has just eaten her grandmother. These stories were told to generations of lower upper Hessian children to help them fall asleep. Grimm fairy tales indeed!

In the hills of Westphalen, north of us, there is a charming Easter custom. Giant wooden wheels, 7 feet in diameter and 800 pounds in weight are packed with straw, set on fire and rolled down the hills. Most people just watch and cheer as the flaming wheels roll down the hill. They wait anxiously to see which wheels make it all the way down still on fire. I have also heard that the young men run down the hill in front of the blazing wheels, a sort of Germanic “running of the idiots” not unlike the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. I have also heard that if one of the runners is hit by one of the wheels it is considered a mark of great good fortune for the coming year.  I suppose it’s a matter of, “If I survive being run over by an immense flaming wheel, nothing worse is going to happen to me this year....probably.” 

I am not sprung from people who could be called cheerful in the conventional sense. All this considered, I suppose I am doing my best to be cheerful in the face of a culture that is even screwier than a bunch of drunken German adolescents chopping down trees or trying to get run over by flaming wagon wheels.

So, here goes: A cheerful article about the date of Christmas! 

No matter what you have heard, Christmas may actually have occurred on December 25th! The first indisputable mention of December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth is found in a Roman calendar written about 350 AD that lists the deaths of various Christian martyrs. In it we find, “December 25, Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” By 400AD, St. Augustine says that the heretical Donatists observed Christmas on December 25, but didn’t celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, the Donatists claiming it was an innovation. The Donatists traced their origin to 312 AD and were notorious for their rigid conservatism. This would mean that some Christians in the Latin speaking world regarded the 25th of December as the anniversary of the birth of the Lord from before the date when Christianity was still persecuted and certainly not the religion of the Roman Empire. 

At around 200AD, St. Hippolytus of Rome seems to favor the December 25th date, or possibly late March. He is ambiguous and people argue about the manuscripts anyway. At around the same time Bishop Clement of Alexandria mentions a few dates as possible candidates for the anniversary of Christ’s birth. His favorite was the 25th day of Pachon. Pachon is an Egyptian month and 25 Pachon is sometime calculated as the 20th of May. Clement also mentions the possibility that Jesus was born in late November.

The problem is that it is very difficult if not impossible to co-ordinate ancient Egyptian calendars with modern western calendars. The calendar was moveable. Before the beginning of the 3rd century, no one was very interested in the date of Christ’s birth. They were much more interested in the date of Christ’s death and of his conception. After all the Word became Flesh not on Christmas but on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. The reason that March 25th was celebrated as the feast of the Annunciation, (the conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin), is that the date of Christ’s death was fairly well known and there seems to have been a belief that a true prophet should die on the anniversary of his conception.

Tertullian, who like Clement wrote around the year 200 AD, dated the death of Jesus to March 25. That means if Jesus died on March 25th, he would have been conceived on March 25 and nine months after March 25 is December 25. Bingo! (Don’t beat this theory to death. Remember the western calendars were quite inaccurate, and the Jewish calendar like the Egyptian had very flexible dates, so the equating of March 25th as the same thing in all calendars, modern and ancient, is not possible.) St. Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In “On the Trinity” (© 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before Him nor since. But He was born according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

The Eastern Church with whom we in the West have never been able to coordinate our calendars marked it as January 6th, so it seems that the 12 days of Christmas were all-inclusive from Dec. 25 to Jan 6th. Until my childhood that was Christmas, Dec. 25 until Jan.6. The tree went up on Christmas Eve and stayed up until the feast of the Three Kings. That way, all the possible dates venerated by Latin and Greek Christians from around the year 200 were covered. Now of course, Christmas begins just before Halloween and we are sick of it by the afternoon of Dec 25th When we start shopping for the after-Christmas sales and try to figure out how drunk to get on New Year’s Eve. The whole schmear ends with enduring a headache on Jan. 1st as we watch football and take down the tree. 

We don’t know the exact date of Christ’s birth in terms of a perfect atomic clock, but I suspect that we have got it essentially right in the 12 days of Christmas, by which I don’t mean the song about waterfowl and dancing aristocrats. The important thing to remember here is that Christmas did NOT originate as a distraction to the Roman Saturnalia or the feast of the unconquered sun. Saturnalia was celebrated originally for only one day on December 17th and when it expanded in later times, it was definitely over by the 23rd which was the feast of the Sigilaria which at some point did involve gift giving. Christmas gift giving is a very modern custom. Gifts were traditionally given on St. Nicholas Day and on the feast of the Three Kings (Epiphany). The feast of the unconquered sun did not enter Roman calendars until after many Christians were already celebrating Dec. 25 as the feast of Christ’s birth. It is more likely that the feast of the unconquered sun was emphasized to distract pagans from the Christian celebration of December 25th.

So, be of good cheer. We really are celebrating the wonder of Christ’s birth and not simply some really good bargains at the big box stores. And this is my attempt at cheerfulness. Merry Christmas!

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, December 6, 2013

Can my pastor turn his back to me?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
My piece-of-work, hare-brained pastor has done it again. He is now celebrating the first Mass of Sunday facing the wall. There is already some Latin sung at the Mass, and he allows people to receive communion kneeling. Now this! Doesn’t he know that the Vatican Council did away with Latin at Mass and kneeling for communion and facing the wall? Is he trying to drag us back to the dark ages?  My parents built this church and now he is changing my Mass, the Mass I have always gone to. How dare he turn his back on us! What are we? Chopped liver?
Patty D. Maison
Dear Patty,
It is clear to me that you are an enlightened progressive person, who will not tolerate intolerance. I can see that you want nothing but the best for God’s Church and you will not allow people to slip back into former modes of prayer from the dark days when the churches were full and confessional lines long. It is clear that you feel it your duty as an enlightened person to make sure that everyone does what you think is right. Bravo!
I fear however that you may be mistaken about a few things. Before launching into a few slight corrections, I urge you to be flexible with your old pastor. He is probably an aging hippy who read Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book one too many times, particularly the line “Let a thousand flowers bloom....”  You said that he allows people to kneel for communion. Does he force them to kneel, or does he let them make up their own mind about the matter?  He has brought back Latin, or is there Latin at all the Masses? It is curious that you say it is your Mass. Are there other people at the Mass, or are you the only person in attendance?  The Mass I would think belongs to the Lord and the Church Universal. If you don’t benefit from his antique style at the early Mass, you might go to one of the Masses that is more to your personal taste. It doesn’t sound like he has forced this foolishness on all the Masses, just the earliest one on Sunday.
As for the Vatican Council ending kneeling for Communion, that is not quite true. As far as I can find, the first incident of standing for Communion had nothing to do with the council. It was something used at a liturgical convention in Seattle in 1962. The reason given for the change was that it would speed things up, a deeply spiritual reason if ever there was one, I’m sure.
And as for the Vatican Council taking Latin out of the mass, it just isn’t so. Surprisingly, the Vatican Council foresaw a limited use of the common modern tongue at mass for pastoral reasons, but intended the Latin rite Mass to continue in Latin. The Council said that “. . . the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.”(Sacrosanctum Concilium, #36; December 4, 1963)
The council never mandated that the priest face the people at the liturgy. Altars were to be moved out from the wall, making it possible to walk around them, but I have never been able to find the document that says the whole liturgy must be offered facing the congregation.
Still more shocking, the newest Roman Missal assumes that the celebrant is facing away from the people for large sections of the Novus Ordo, or Ordinary Form of the Mass. In the Missal there are black letters and red letters. The red letters are called rubrics, form the Latin word for red. The black letters are what the celebrant is supposed to say, the red letters indicate what the celebrant is supposed to do. In the 3rd Roman Missal the rubrics indicate that the celebrant must face the people only seven times, as far as I can tell. Here are the citations from the missal. You can look ‘em up if you don’t believe me.
1.      When the people are gathered, the Priest approaches the altar.....venerates the altar with a kiss... then... with the ministers, he goes to the chair. When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the Priest, facing the people, says: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  (The rubrics  seem to imply that the greeting and the penance rite are said facing the people, since they are addressed to the people, not to the Lord and thus are included in the rubric indicating that the celebrant face the people at this point in the Mass.)
29. Standing at the middle of the altar, facing the people, extending and then joining his hands, he says: “Pray, brethren...”  (The end of the offertory)
127. The Priest, turned towards the people, extending and then joining his hands, adds: “The peace of the Lord be with you always...” (The sign of peace)
132. The Priest genuflects, takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb...”
139. Then, standing at the altar or at the chair and facing the people, with hands joined, the priest says “Let us pray...” (The final prayer)
141 Then the dismissal takes place. The Priest, facing the people and extending his hands, says: “The Lord be with you...”  (The blessing)
144.  Then the Deacon, or the Priest himself, with hands joined and facing the people, says “Go forth the Mass is ended.”
The part of this that I find most interesting is not just that the priest may face away from the congregation, but that it seems expected. Still more interesting is that almost no one except the Pope Emeritus and a few curmudgeons like your pastor seem to notice or follow what seems to be clearly implied in the rubrics. Go figure. 
Why no one seems to notice, much less follow the rubrics is completely beyond me. I suppose that’s because no one actually reads the rubrics. They assume these things were mandated by the council and are demanded by the rules. You know what they say about the word “assume.” “To assume makes a beast of burden out of you and me.”
I suppose that it is allowed to say Mass facing the people, but it seems odd when you think about it. The rubrics seem to indicate that when the priest is speaking to the people, he faces the people. When he is leading them in prayer, standing in for Christ, he faces the Lord, with the people. This makes sense. It isn’t as earth shattering as it first appears. The priest faces the people these seven times and while he is seated in the presider’s chair. In the average mass of 50 minutes, using the 2nd Canon and including a homily, the priest faces away from the people for all of 10 minutes maximum.
In the old days there were quite a few mortal sins that a priest could commit while saying Mass if he willingly altered the structure of the Mass. It used to seem absurd to me that the rubrics were that important. I have had my mind changed in my old age. After seeing enough clergy skipping down the aisles distributing Easter eggs, or wearing clown makeup or dressed as Barney the Purple Dinosaur, I understand that the prohibitions were aimed at clerical narcissism. They were not simply medieval taboos.

You said that the 8 am Mass was your Mass. I understand what you mean. It is your custom. However a priest who decides that the Liturgy of the Church is “his” to play with as he pleases does commit a very grave sin. The Mass is unfortunately a wonderful stage for those who fancy themselves actors. The Mass is no one’s property except the Lord’s and the celebrant is nothing more than the servant of the Lord and of His bride, the Church. To personalize the Mass excessively is to take what belongs to the Lord for one own self expression and even aggrandizement. Perhaps it is a good thing that the priest occasionally turns to the Lord with the people whose servant he is and of whom he is just a part by virtue of his Baptism. Perhaps by turning away from the people and facing the Lord with them, the celebrant will remember that he is not the center of the Mass. It is the Lord who is the object of adoration as Pope Francis has reminded us.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 6

(Continued from last week)
Here is my proposal.
St. Dymphna’s in Frostbite Falls will offer the church and the church hall absolutely free of charge to any parishioner who wants a simple exchange of wedding vows.
First let us define parishioner. In these days of cafeteria Catholicism, a parishioner in my book is someone who has a genuine pastoral relationship with their pastor, attends Mass faithfully and is registered in the parish. Canonically I must also include anyone who is baptized and has received their First Holy Communion and lives in the parish boundaries, even though I may never have met them and couldn’t pick them out a crowd of two.
Now let us define simple exchange of wedding vows.
The wedding party has a bride, a groom and two witnesses, one male and one female, no more. Parents may walk up the aisle with their daughter or accompany their son, but that’s it -- no bridesmaids, no wedding march, no little kids, no flower girl, no ring bearer. One witness can carry the rings. As for music, the parish organist can be hired, but that’s it. No soloists, even your cousin Hildegard, no musicians, no harpist, flautist or kazoo players. The groom and the male witness may not wear rented tuxedos. Just decent pants, shoes, shirt and tie with a suit jacket if desired. No ridiculous novelty bus, hummer or stretch limo. There can be a wedding mass or just the exchange of vows as is felt appropriate. The bride may wear a white dress if appropriate, with sleeves or a shawl or vest that covers the shoulders. (It has always struck me as odd when some bride dressed in reams of gleaming white mosquito netting stands there with her five children.)  There may be photos, but no professional photographer. If you are going to pay the outrageous cost of a professional photographer, it’s no longer a simple wedding. The congregation may then adjourn to the parish hall for a simple wedding breakfast immediately following the ceremony. Finger food, hors d’oeuvres, a cake and champagne or wine for the toast. No music. No beer. No booze. No DJ. No sit down feast for four hundred -- just a receiving line and a “nosh”, cake and a toast. The entire expense of the event would be the dress and the food. No place cards, no long boring videos of the bride and groom as infants, no roasts, just the sacrament.
Who would do this? It sounds depressing. It’s a lot less depressing than starting married life with a huge debt and an aching head, and possibly a fight with the new in-laws. Use the money to take a trip or buy a house or pay off your student loans. I have had weddings like this and they are actually elegant in their simplicity. The simple wedding allows a couple to prepare for a life together in a relaxed and spiritual way and when the day of their wedding arrives, they are not at the end of their wits, thinking about nothing but the screw up with the place cards and the gifts for the bridesmaids and whether they should acknowledge the groom’s father’s second and third wives thereby enraging the first wife and risking a brawl in the ladies room and the arrival of the police at the banquet hall.
I said much earlier that no one thinks weddings are important anymore except homosexuals, wedding planners and divorce lawyers. It is time for the Catholic Church to get out of the wedding business and get back into the business of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The government has never agreed with the Catholic Church on what a wedding really is. We believe in an indissoluble, covenantal sacrament that ends only with the death of one of the parties. The government wedding is a contract that ends when it is convenient to end it. Now legislators are falling all over each in the attempt to assure the electorate that they are more tolerant and nicer than their political opponents by being the first on their block to approve the redefinition of marriage and the family to include anyone you may please. 
When all states and all the legislators have approved same sex weddings, doubtless they will move on to demonstrate their open mindedness by approving multiple couples weddings, male and female harems, and then weddings with pets and perhaps with inanimate objects. What the world has decided to call a wedding, is not something of which we even approve. I have said it often enough and will say it again. Some clever Catholic lawyer should get a class action suit going to make the point that government’s involvement in weddings is a violation of the separation of church and state. If I have a wedding for which there is no wedding license, I am guilty of a FELONY!!! In effect that means I cannot bless a wedding that the state has not first approved. It will not be long before my refusal to bless a wedding of which the state approves will come with a fine and perhaps imprisonment. Now the state is content to tell me who I may not marry. In a very little while the state will insist on its right to tell whom I MUST marry.  The state and the culture have redefined marriage and thus it is not something with which I care to be involved. We must dump weddings and return to the old and tasteful wine of the exchange of marriage vows.
If you are a couple, and by this I mean an engaged couple, or even people who are living together in a civil marriage or without benefit of any marriage at all. What you may ask is the difference between a wedding and the exchange of vows? Simple. The first is a photo-event and a great pain in the neck. The second is a simple statement that, “I promise to be faithful to you for the rest of my life, and to care for you and for any children that God may give us.”  
Ladies, if the old goat with whom you are sharing your life at the moment will not vow before God and the Church in the most solemn way that he will be faithful to you for the rest of your life, I would drop him like a bad habit. Change them locks! Get a new phone number, password and E- mail address. He’s a bum and not worth your time. If Becky Sue, that hussy, gives you the business about a bargain basement wedding, or some such nonsense just tell her that she may have had a perfectly lovely wedding, but you have a husband who loves you, your children and the Lord.
Yours monotonously,
The Rev. Know-it-all
P.S. Fr. Simon of St. Lambert’s in Skokie, a loose cannon if ever there was one, and a remarkably poor theologian,  has written to tell that his experiment with changing the method of educating children for First Holy Communion has been a raging success, despite the fact that he was involved with it.  The first confession class was the best prepared he had ever met and the desire for Holy Communion was very real and he really recognized the candidates from their regular participation in Sunday Mass with their parents. Instead of a post-reconciliation party after the first confessions, there was an enrollment in the Scapular which was very moving.  The program apparently only met with a sort of mentor once a month. The rest of the time the parents were provided with teaching materials and they themselves taught the children. It worked splendidly, the parents and their children spent almost an entire year growing together in faith and love for Christ. It was amazing to watch faith become a family affair, rather than a “drop ’em off, pick ‘em up” sort of thing. The joy of the sacrament shared by parents and children alike was deeply touching. The parents really fulfilled the hope expressed at Baptism that they would be the first and best of teachers in the ways of faith. I know that the program did not succeed because of Fr. Simon. He is a fog-bound idiot. The credit must go first to the Holy Spirit, and then to Mrs. Dorothy Amorella, the mentor and Jonathan Rivera, the co-coordinator, and above all to the parents who loved their children enough to try a difficult experiment.

Kudos and Many Blessings! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 5

Here’s a plan to remedy the craziness that the sacraments have become. It’s from the Bible — you know, that big book on the coffee table. There is a passage in the New Testament that has always bothered me.  “No one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new, for he says, ‘The old is pleasant. ’” (Luke 5:37-38.)
Everyone knows that Jesus is saying that innovation is good, after all isn’t he recommending new wine? Why then does he say that old wine is good, and that having drunk the old, no one wants new? It makes no sense!
(CAUTION; I am the only person I have ever heard say the following things, so I am probably wrong. Don’t say you weren’t warned!)  The phrase new wine appears only in the context of this New Testament dialogue with the Pharisees. The Bible mentions new wine in the Old Testament, but the references are pretty negative such as Hosea 4:11 “old wine and new wine take away their understanding” and Job 32:19 “Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.”
If you look up new wine on the internet, there is an unending succession of New Wine reverences: New Wine movement, New Wine church, New Wine magazine and so on. It never seems to occur to anyone that Jesus seems to say that new wine is not always the best. There is a catch.  Jesus is talking to the Pharisees who are criticizing him for eating with sinners, which by their standards would render him ritually unclean. I think He is saying that their teaching about radical ritual purity is new wine, and I don’t think he means it as a compliment. 
The Pharisees, a name that means “the Separated”, got started about a hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ. They taught that all Israelites in all places were bound by the halachic laws of ritual cleanliness which had formerly had applied only to those going up to the temple and to the priestly classes. Jesus taught that this was a departure from Israelite tradition that turned the worship of God into legalistic observance.
The old wine of the covenant of God with Abraham and Moses is better and Jesus claimed to be the fullness of that covenant. He was warning that the new wine of the Pharisees would burst the wineskin of Israel. He was absolutely correct. The rabbinic Pharisee movement which most people simply call Judaism has kept its adherents outside the mainstream of Israel and of the wider world. The Pharisees believed that was the purpose of the Law of Moses. However, most Israelites, especially in the Greek speaking Roman Empire seem to have accepted Jesus as Messiah in the first three centuries after Christ. Thus, they brought the beauty of the religion of the Israel to the whole world. Rabbinic Phariseeism is not responsible for the dispersion of the ethical and moral treasure of the faith throughout the world. The Notzrim are. (Notzrim is the ancient Hebrew/Aramaic word for the Israelite sect of the Nazarenes, also known as Christians). The Notzrim accepted gentiles into the family of Israel without the imposition of ritual purity laws.
Jesus also said that, “A disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matt 13:53)    CS Lewis says the same thing in chapter 25 of The Screwtape Letters, a delightful correspondence between two demons, a senior devil and his nephew, a junior tempter. In chapter 25 Screwtape advises Wormwood, “The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart — an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.” 
We moderns love the new, no matter how chintzy and garish it may be. Have you ever bought a product that was not marketed as new and improved? Has it ever occurred to you that if something is new, it cannot be improved? One can only improve something that is already old enough to have been a flop, and chances are the improvement will only make it worse. The phrase new and improved — which usually means “bigger box, less product” — was, as far as I can tell, coined by a fellow named Irving B. Harris around 1943. He had developed a home permanent that burned peoples’ hair, so when he figured out how to stop burning peoples’ hair with his product, he called it “new and improved”. He saved the business!  After all, who would want something that was old and unimproved, unless of course it was a good bottle of wine or the undying faithfulness of God to Israel.
Since the home perm was invented, it appears we Americans have been wild about everything new and we American Catholics we have been utterly gaga over progress for a little over forty years: new nun’s habits, new liturgy, new liturgical styles, new music, new morality, (which coincidentally seems to be the same thing the old immorality, new everything. Heaven save us from the same old boring thing. The new and improved religion seems to have the same result as the new improved breakfast cereals — bigger box, less product. New patches and a perfectly good old garment, new wine in very useful old wineskin. Kaboom! And a mess all over. Bigger programs, bigger religious bureaucracies, fewer priests, nuns, weddings, baptisms, funerals, and few believers. Time to reevaluate, I would think.
For 40 years we have tried to make the sacraments new and meaningful. I don’t think it has worked. Perhaps we can go back to a more practical and meaningful understanding of the sacraments, taking some old things out of the storehouse. For instance baptism. Now it’s a celebration of life. Maybe we could talk about the human condition and the need to wash away original sin. First Communion. Maybe we could do away with the photo-op- rite of passage-welcome to the banquet of the community of faith. Perhaps we could return to the idea of offering our lives to the Lord at the Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in return.
And weddings. (Always with the weddings. This guy is obsessed.) At the time of Christ, the cost of burial was bankrupting Israelite families. The burial garment and the cost of the coffin and tomb just kept getting higher. The poor were embarrassed by the shabbiness of their funerals and would have their faces covered because their poor diets caused their faces to discolor quickly. Eventually the great Rabban Gamaliel ordered that he be buried in a simple shroud, face covered, and thus it became the fashion to do things simply. Extravagant mourning is still forbidden to the Jews, and I have heard it said that a toast is still drunk to Gamaliel in thanksgiving. We Christians should drink a toast to Gamaliel too, for protecting Peter and John. There is a tradition that Gamaliel may actually have accepted Christ. He is regarded as a saint in the Eastern Church.  Christian or Jewish, Gamaliel is a person to whom the world owes much.
We need a new Gamaliel, someone who will make simplicity fashionable again. How wonderful it would be if the longing of those to be married, or communed, or confirmed was the sacrament, and not the photo-op. How wonderful it would be if the family of the deceased thought only of the repose of the soul of their beloved dead and not just of their grief and the humorous eulogy. Where is a Gamaliel now?
I am not fashionable by any stretch of the term, but allow me to make a suggestion regarding weddings. One of the reasons that people are not getting married in church these days is the outrageous expense and bother of the whole thing. What struggling couple can afford the $40,000 needed for the wedding? There are the headaches of planning, the expense, the decision whom to pick for the bridesmaids, whose irritating little offspring will be the flower girl, the little couple, the ring bearer and if we pick nephew A, cousin B will be horribly insulted and the bride would be embarrassed to tears if her wedding wasn’t at least at as big as Becky Sue’s, that hussy!  Wouldn’t it be nice if somehow we could remember that a wedding was first and last a sacrament established by Christ to give grace for a family life together?
Here is my proposal.
To be continued…

Friday, November 15, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 4

Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued. 
Baptisms and Funerals! Here I am really torn. On the one hand, if you say “No” to someone who wants to have a child baptized, they will probably be angry enough to never darken the door of your church again. If you say “Yes” to someone who rarely comes to church and is in no sense a member of the parish, or even a practicing Catholic, they will probably never darken the door of your church again either. That is until it’s time for the kid’s first communion. You will see them again for weddings, confirmations and other photo events.
If you say “No”, it’s goodbye. So most priests want to be pastoral and say “Okay, but you’ve got to start coming to church.” “Okay, Father we will.” And they do come: three times — 7, 13 and about 25 years after the baptism. Here is a typical phone call:
(Bridezilla) “Hello, Are you the priest?” 
(Pastor) “Yes I am.”
(B) “I want to rent your church for my wedding.”
(P) “Are you a parishioner? “  
(B) “...... (long pause)...yes I am.”
(P) “What’s your name?”
(B) “I’m Diadora Shickelgruber. Certainly you remember me, Father.” 
(P) “I can’t say that I do.”
(B) “Well I probably go to the service you don’t celebrate.” 
(P)”I say most of the Masses and am always in the vestibule after Mass. Why do you want to be married here at St. Dymphna’s? 
(B) “I went to school there and got all my sacraments there. When I was little I always dreamed of walking down that aisle on my wedding day.” 
(P) “Are you currently attending another church?”
(B) “Oh yes, Father. When we’re not at your church we go to a church closer to our house.”
(P) What is the name of the church?”
(B) “I can’t remember it right now.”
(P) “Because you live twenty miles away, don’t attend regularly, and are not registered here, I am going to need a letter of permission from the pastor of the church you normally attend.”
(B) “....long silence....How do I get that?”
(P) Introduce yourself to your pastor after Mass and he will tell you how to make an appointment.”
(B) “Oh.” Click. Phone goes dead.
They are either going to have a wedding in the park with the local shaman, or they are going to pester the nearest Catholic priest who has also never met them for a letter of permission until weakened by hunger and fatigue he gives it to them. If not they will write a long letter to the bishop pointing out that their grandfather gave a lot of money to the parish and the priest treated them terribly. Some diocesan functionary will call and Father will give in.
The bride invariably shows up dressed like a frigate in full sail at which point I am tempted to wax eloquent on the beauties of virginity symbolized by the reams of white lace and taffeta in which she is festooned, but that would just evoke another letter to the bishop about how un-pastoral I am and so I preach a few platitudes that will sound inoffensive on the video. And so the cycle starts all over again.
We will see them again a few years later when they want a baptism or something like it; or someone they love, or at least fell guilty about, needs burial. We, the clergy, refer to this sort of religion as “hatch, match and dispatch.”  However, this is becoming much less common. Very few, except homosexuals, wedding co-coordinators and divorce lawyers think that it’s important to get married anymore; and most Catholics think birth control is just fine. This abandonment of the sacramental life eases up the pressure for baptisms, weddings and, oddly enough, even for funerals.
Ever since, at the urging of Margaret Sanger (Foundress of Planned Parenthood), Drs. Pincus and Rock invented the birth control pill in the early 1950's, things have been changing. Puerto Rico was selected as a trial site in 1955. I suppose Puerto Rico was chosen because the US government was already trying to reduce the number of Puerto Ricans in the world with a string of birth control clinics on the island. Perhaps Ms. Sanger, former friend of and collaborator with Adolph Hitler, figured there were more Puerto Ricans than anyone wanted or needed. Perhaps she figured if it worked on Catholic Puerto Ricans, it would work on Catholic Mexicans, of whom Ms. Sanger also thought there were way too many, even back then.
Guess what? Puerto Ricans went for it despite their Catholicism and now most Puerto Ricans aren’t Catholic. They are an aging population that has lost much of its beautiful art and culture. Ms. Sanger couldn’t give a fig for their wonderful food, delightful music, beautiful painting and wood carving. They were the wrong color and the wrong religion as far as she was concerned, so let’s test the pill on them. Those who renounced their faith in order to have a more relaxed reproductive morality and a higher standard of living soon also renounced their culture, and eventually renounced their progeny.
Having devastated the Puerto Rican family, Planned Parenthood went on to devastate the families of the USA proper. Catholic faith had not stood in the way of modern narcissism in Puerto Rico and it would not stand in the way of the reduction of the European American population of the United States, even though the birth control pill had been designed by Sanger to get rid of all those brown and black people cluttering up our lily white shores.
How, you may ask does this take the pressure off for funerals in Catholic churches? We just had an example here at St. Dymphna’s in Frostbite Falls. An elderly woman died who had been active here as long as her health held out. After that, the family put her in a very nice home. The woman had only one daughter. The daughter didn’t seem very interested in having a large family and so there were only two resultant grandchildren. Like their mother, they had little use for grandma. I don’t think she got a lot of visits.
When I heard that she had died, I was curious that no one had requested a funeral. It turns out that she had died a while ago and no one had told us.  The daughter said that they thought it foolish to go to the bother and expense of a funeral. They cremated grandma and went their merry ways. They all had lives to live.  So it is, that there are fewer and fewer funerals because there are fewer and fewer left to grieve and even fewer to pray for the dead.
Our small families have relieved us of the economic and financial burden of former times. The one or two children we thought optimal were given everything except faith. Why should the little narcissists mourn the dead? We gave them everything but never mentioned that they in turn should be generous. The death of a grandparent is cause for rejoicing. The few descendants are freed from the guilt of never visiting Grandma and now they get all her money. Having not wasted her money on a brood of demanding little rug rats, Grandma had amassed a tidy sum, which her one or two heirs, or their lawyers will divide. Why waste any of it on a funeral that no one wants? No one but Grandma, that is.
Remember that scene in Dickens’ Christmas Carol? Having used his finances very prudently, old Scrooge is un-mourned by anyone. The ghost of Christmas future shows him his own overgrown grave. That poor dear woman I mentioned above does not even have an overgrown grave. I imagine her ashes were scattered, or maybe they are somewhere in the basement to be thrown out with the rest of her stuff.
When there are still enough people who remember religion in some form, they schedule a funeral in a church where the deceased may have more or less gone. They want the choir, the eulogy, the sermon, the wake, the grave side, the whole nine yards and a video of the proceedings... The most crazy-making thing that I get asked at funerals is about scheduling. I have actually had people request a funeral months in advance. When I looked confused and asked isn’t that a long time to wait?  They responded, “Oh no Father, she’s not dead yet, but she will be by then. We have to get everybody on the same page as to the best date of the funeral. We have to check our calendars and we won’t take her off life support until we have a tentative date picked.” I thought I was dealing with a family of vampires.
It is now very common to put grandma on ice, or if it’s going to be a really long time before the calendars open up, Grandma will be burned and there will be a “Memorial Service” whatever that may be. The modern mourners haven’t a clue what Mass is about especially if they are born in the USA. They want the whole enchilada and they darn well better get it. After all, they are paying for it! And these are people who know the value of a dollar! They certainly haven’t wasted any of it on having large families.
Of fifty Americans at many funerals, perhaps two of them will be under the age of 30. Do you really think those two remnants of once Catholic large families will bother to have funeral masses for the childless multitude around them? When I offer a funeral Mass, my grief is very real. I don’t however grieve for the departed whom I have probably never met; I grieve for a way of life, a culture and a community of faith that has died.
The Church is growing: Africa, China, the Philippines, South America, Korea and so many emerging cultures are on fire with faith. There has never been a time when so many Muslims converted to Christianity. The faith is made glorious by those made martyrs by their Muslim neighbors.
The faith is not dying, the culture is. We have chosen ourselves over the God who made us and loves us. We are now 60 years, give or take, after the invention of the little golden pill, (as the singing nun called it). We have been born into the birth-controlled, baby boomer consumerist revolution and are reaping the reward of our own narcissism: extinction.

Next week: So what do we do?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 3

Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued.
I have pontificated at great length about weddings as sacramental travesty and blasphemous abuse. Today I want to talk about weddings as performance art. This absurdity requires wedding planners ($2,000) photographers ($2,400) and videographers ($1,500). I was recently at a First Communion that meant so much to the people involved that they actually forgot to take pictures until the event was almost over. Grandma took a few photos at the end with her camera. The young man (of 7 years) beamed with happiness at receiving his First Communion. There was no bevy of frenzied adults playing at paparazzi to distract him by snapping pictures. It was a rare and wonderful experience.
I am always competing at sacraments now with the photographers. I have actually been asked to “do it over again” at First Communions and weddings because the camera jammed, or the battery died, or they didn’t like the pose. Now photographers have opened up a whole new market: funerals.  The funeral I mentioned earlier for which sake I ended up in the police station trying to keep the grieving family from being jailed was thoroughly video graphed by a rather large person invited for the purpose by the would be eulogist. I suspect that the clown who took the pulpit against my expressed prohibition was about to issue a broadside denouncing the family of the deceased. I further suspect that this masterpiece of oratory would then have been put on the web for the enjoyment of others. It was certainly intended to be used as evidence, should the need arise because, as the frustrated orator was escorted from the podium, he screamed “This is being filmed! This is being filmed!” It certainly was being filmed and when I and a few others managed to see the film, we got quite a laugh out of it, despite the sadness of the event.
Another funeral not long ago, I had to watch my step because some woman whose acquaintance I have never made, kept moving around up and down the aisles and up onto the altar with an I-pad. I think she was taking a video of the proceedings, so she kept getting in front of me. I guess I was in the way of the best view of the action.
There is a wonderful piece of wedding video on YouTube. I doubt that it was a Catholic wedding. The presiding minister has the kind of collar more favored by Lutheran or Episcopalian clergy, and it is a garden wedding, the poor fellow’s first mistake. The celebrant is bantering with the bride and groom (second mistake) when suddenly he turns to the videographer and, I assume, the photographer. The following dialogue ensues:
“Please, sirs. Leave.”
The photographer asks “Where do you want me to be?”
The celebrant says “Anywhere other than here. This is a solemn assembly, not a photography session. Please move or I will stop. I will stop this ceremony if you do not get out of the way. This is not about the photography. This is about God.” (Third mistake, it was not about God. It was about the photo shoot).
 The celebrant (priest/minister/wearer of the backwards collar/whatever) looks like the most humorless and smug Ichabod Crane-esque practitioner of the religious arts you could ever hope to meet. He comes off as the jerk. The cameraman wasn’t bothering anyone.
When I watched the clip on YouTube I didn’t even notice the cameraman. (This is all snide sarcasm on my part). Of course one doesn’t notice the cameraman. The cameraman is the dispenser of reality. We live through our lenses now. Experience and truth is dispensed in video form on our thin screen TVs, on our phone on our I-pads. Our brains have relocated to that part of the body formerly reserved for sitting. 
The new locus of our brains grows ever wider as life becomes a spectator sport. The fellow mentioned earlier whose eulogy summed up his life in two words, booze and sports did not actually play golf or football or baseball or basketball. By “being into sports” it was meant that he spent most of his free waking hours watching them on television. The life portrayed on television is much more interesting than my humdrum life. If I am lonely I can watch happy people on television enjoying friendships and laughter. There is always a rerun of Seinfeld or Friends or the Big Bang Theory to help me forget that my life is a bit dreary. And there is drama! All around me there is hunger, both spiritual and material. There is suffering and anguish, illness and death in my own neighborhood, but it is not nearly as thrilling as the drama on TV. TV somehow seems more real than the unexceptional suffering of those whom I can actually help. There is nothing I can do about the TV people expect to feel sorry for them, or feel interested in them. Perhaps you remember my telling you that, as CS Lewis says, the devil wants us to feel charitable. God wants us to be charitable. The devil has found quite an ally in the camera. When we turn a sacrament into photo event it becomes less real not more real. It is certainly not wrong to take pictures at a wedding. But to make the pictures the purpose for the wedding is wrong.
I should be more careful about bad mouthing weddings these days. No one is getting married anymore, except of course for homosexuals.  We have only a few weddings every year. All the priests I talk to report the same phenomenon. When I was a boy being intimate (a euphemism for the more sensitive reader) outside of marriage was a cause for real shame. Now it’s a cause for housewarming gifts and congratulations. There is the old adage about the foolishness of purchasing a cow, when in fact dairy products have become widely available without any cost or commitment. 
I suggest another video. (See, even I can’t get away from it.) It’s called Cohabiters Vows and is easy to find on the web. In it a minister/officiant stands before a couple seated in bed, half covered, she in a ratty robe, and he in an old white t-shirt (no nudity or indecency.) The minister stands alone. There are no witnesses or well wishers.  The minister begins by saying, “Blank look into Blank’s eyes and with all the truth you can muster up, repeat after me: I, Blank, take you Blank to be my cohabiter, to have sex with you and hold you responsible for half the bills, to love and to take advantage of you from this day forward or as long as our arrangement works out. I will be more or less faithful to you as long as my needs are met and nothing better comes along. If we should break up, it does not mean that this wasn’t special because I love you almost as much as I love myself. I commit to live with you as long as it works out, so help me...Me. In the name of Sex, Selfishness and Options. Amen.” Then the minister says “Well, Blank and Blank, let me be the first to congratulate you both. You are now officially living together. I sincerely wish you the very best and I hope that this does work out. You may now...  well, you know what to do.” And off walks the minister.
Why bother with all the legal encumbrances and expense if not for the photo event that will make all the bride’s friends drool with envy and the grooms friends look forward to a series of drunken parties at which they can exchange all the pledges of “bro-mance” such as the best man’s toast: “I like mean like I really love you man. I really mean it. Like not in a weird way or anything, but really, dude.” (Bro-mance: a new word describing a non “intimate” yet very romantic relationship between two men who never ever consider anything more, well... intimate. This relationship, not expressed intimately is expressed by the two traditional pillars of male friendship: sports and booze.)
There is simply no reason to go to all that rigmarole and not take $5,000 worth of pictures. What’s the point? Mommy and Daddy used to threaten to cut you out of the will. Now they try to be supportive, praying secretly that it breaks up before anyone gets pregnant. Not to worry. No one gets pregnant much anymore either, at least not until they have an established career that will at least pay for the day care. So what’s the point, if not pictures and a party (with more pictures)?
The sacrament is the point, the stability and safety ‘til death do us part covenant relationship that creates the environment in which a man and woman can work out their own salvation and bring children into the world in an environment that is safe and nurturing. 

(More to follow)