Author Archives: Gail Finke

Rident Stolidi Verba Latina

I’m not a “Latin or Bust” Catholic. but I do admit a certain fondness for Latin left over from my days as an idealist who studied the language in high school and college in order to become like the old-fashioned scholars I admired. (I drew the line at Greek — so much for my ideals.) But I am outside the walls of the fierce, at least in some circles, fight over whether the old mass in Latin, the new mass in Latin, or the new mass in English is the best for all mankind.

In an effort to explore just what is the big deal about Latin mass, I went to St. Cecilia’s in Oakley Friday, where Fr. Earl Fernandez is celebrating the new mass (that’s “novus ordo,” for us Latin fans) every other Friday morning as an experiment. I offer my impressions to you, gentle readers, as a public service:

1) It is definitely more reverent. With (male) acolytes in cassocks and lace-trimmed albs, no extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, two priests, at least half of it sung, and all the music chanted, the mass was beautiful and centered on the Eucharist. It was restful not to cringe at music choices or at the apparel (or lack of such) of laypeople crowded around the altar. It was less about “the assembly” and more about the mass itself.

2) It is not hard to chant. Before mass started, Fr. Fernandez helpfully went over the chants (except the “Salve Regina,” which was chanted after the mass and which your correspondent could not even find in the missal). Only the Our Father (“Pater Noster”) gave me much trouble. Being longer and complicated, it probably takes a few times to master. Chanting prayers is not a brain drainer and is not beyond the abilities of the average person.

3) It is not all that hard to respond in Latin. The prayers and responses that are not sung are a little harder than the chants, because it’s harder to read quickly in another language than it is to sing. But not beyond mastery.

4) I didn’t understand a word. Having left the house without my handy-dandy book of the mass in six languages, I was forced to rely on the little handout for the responses and for understanding the Eucharistic prayers. Studying Latin decades ago does not, I discovered, help much when you hear it sung or said very quickly. I was hoping to pick out some words here and there to figure out where we were (after all, I can practically recite the mass myself in English having heard it so many times) but it was the printed translation that saved me. Having the complete text, which St. Cecilia plans to do in the future, and then hearing it frequently would change that.

In all, I found that attending the mass at St. Cecilia helped me to appreciate both the Latin and the English versions. The N.O. mass in Latin emphasized reverence, the liturgy, and the Eucharist. Much of what I find lacking (or too abundant) at masses in English was not even an issue. Listening to the Latin, even though I didn’t understand it by ear, was not dull or like listening to nonsense syllables. On the other hand, I discovered that I pay more attention than I knew to which prayers in the liturgy change every week or every day, and which of the Eucharistic prayers are being said. The immediacy of hearing and understanding my own language is a dear and valuable thing.

Most of all, I saw clearly the need for a common liturgy. The Tridentine mass (that’s the one used before Vatican II, for those still learning all this) is beautiful and reverent but is very different from the N.O. mass. At St. Cecilia’s, even though the language was different, I felt a real connection to the same mass being offered at altars all over the world, all the time. What was different about this N.O. mass in Latin were its “accidents,” to borrow a Thomist term. In essence it was the same. Any resistance to offering the N.O. mass in Latin seems to me to be misplaced. Surely offering the same mass in two different guises is an acceptable way to accommodate many different people. I understand the reluctance pastors have to start dividing their parishes up into passionate devotees of this type of mass or that type of mass — and never the twain shall meet. But what many parishes have is a compromise that satisfies no one, and a flashpoint for people who prefer tradition and reverence to complain about, often with good reason.

They’re the same mass, folks. I can hear people say, “Well, if they’re the same mass why bother with the Latin one?” To which I can only say, why NOT bother? Why deny a perfectly valid option to people, one that is beautiful and valuable, for the sake of conformity to an arbitrary standard? Getting rid of Latin was throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It divides the church for no good reason.

I’ve been to a mariachi mass. Yes, all the music was really played by a mariachi band wearing big sombreros and costumes by the same folks who gave us “The Three Amigos.” If the Catholic Church has room for mariachi masses, it surely has room for the N.O. in Latin. I would like to thank Fr. Fernandez and St. Cecilia pastor Fr. Jamie Weber, for trying this experiment. I hope it is a successful one. As they say, “Fools laugh at the Latin language.” Rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated for centuries. May it continue a long and happy liturgical life for many years to come.

An Official Call for More Fish Fries

According to this morning’s Enquirer, the City of Cincinnati may soon call on residents to skip one meat meal a week.

Believe it or not, we have an official city Food Task Force — part of (again, believe it or not) our official Green Cincinnati “climate action plan.” Stay with me here. The food task force met for the first time last week, and its members are considering numerous recommendations about eating more fruits and vegetables. They say cutting down on the city’s meat consumption would reduce global warming, and they have great ideas for t-shirt slogans, including my personal favorite: “Cooling the Earth… With My Fork!”

Consider this my pre-order.

Anyway, once I stopped laughing, I realized the great potential this has for Cincinnati’s parishes. We’re all still supposed to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, which may come as news to those of us (perhaps most of us) who never heard that if you choose not to refrain from eating meat on Fridays, you are supposed to perform another small act of penance instead.

This is our opportunity to bring back the Friday fast, make some money for our parishes, AND be environmentally friendly! Far be it from me to tell Archibishop Pilarczyk what to do, but if I may make a suggestion, His Excellency might want to look into a joint press conference with Mayor Mallory. When the official recommendation does come out from the mayor, the Archbishop can suggest that all Catholics resume the Friday fast and all parishes put on perpetual Friday Fish Fries, which he can then invite all Cincinnatians to attend.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, one that would ease many strained parish budgets. We could even sell t-shirts: “Cooling the Earth… One Fish Fry at a Time.”

An Official Call for More Fish Fries

According to this morning’s Enquirer, the City of Cincinnati may soon call on residents to skip one meat meal a week.

Believe it or not, we have an official city Food Task Force — part of (again, believe it or not) our official Green Cincinnati “climate action plan.” Stay with me here. The food task force met for the first time last week, and its members are considering numerous recommendations about eating more fruits and vegetables. They say cutting down on the city’s meat consumption would reduce global warming, and they have great ideas for t-shirt slogans, including my personal favorite: “Cooling the Earth… With My Fork!”

Consider this my pre-order.

Anyway, once I stopped laughing, I realized the great potential this has for Cincinnati’s parishes. We’re all still supposed to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, which may come as news to those of us (perhaps most of us) who never heard that if you choose not to refrain from eating meat on Fridays, you are supposed to perform another small act of penance instead.

This is our opportunity to bring back the Friday fast, make some money for our parishes, AND be environmentally friendly! Far be it from me to tell Archibishop Pilarczyk what to do, but if I may make a suggestion, His Excellency might want to look into a joint press conference with Mayor Mallory. When the official recommendation does come out from the mayor, the Archbishop can suggest that all Catholics resume the Friday fast and all parishes put on perpetual Friday Fish Fries, which he can then invite all Cincinnatians to attend.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, one that would ease many strained parish budgets. We could even sell t-shirts: “Cooling the Earth… One Fish Fry at a Time.”

Top Ten Catholics

Reading Matt’s list, I realize how completely unqualified I am to write a top ten list of the most fascinating Catholics of 2008, at least in terms of general fascination. However, here is a list of the Catholics I find most fascinating at the moment:

1) Pope Benedict XVI. Surely one of the world’s smartest people, Pope Benedict is of course much more. But what I find most fascinating about him is that he is the least-heralded of what I think of as the Big Three — great saints (or at least saintly people) to emerge out of what was a massive attempt to wipe out religion in the 20th century. Mother Theresa came out of Albania, one of the first countries taken over by the Axis powers. Pope John Paul II came out of Poland, suffering from both the Nazis and the communists. And Benedict XVI came from Germany, the country that undertook so much of the destruction. Unlike the others, whose countries were taken over, he grew up in the conquering country. But none of those things could kill the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict proves that its strength is not lost, no matter how dire the situation was or is. Much is changing in the world, and Europe is no longer the bastion of Christendom that it once was. But our pope is a living sign that Christendom is not dead.

2) Nancy Pelosi. What is with this woman? A prime representative of the “Catholics” that are now prominent politicians because they have pretty much jettisoned everything in the church but its name, she doesn’t seem to be a simple hypocrite. She seems to actually believe that she is a devout Catholic. Much food for thought there.

3) Justin Catanoso. Author of the lively and engaging My Cousin the Saint, Justin Catanoso is like many young people who are Catholics by birth but secular Americans by default. He believed that he had given religion a lot of consideration until discovering his extended Italian family and his grandfather’s cousin, who was about to be canonized. What is a secular American supposed to do with a saint in the family? Too bad the reading up on religion he did featured Gary Wills…

4) Gary Wills. What is with this guy? Now in the running for most egotistical religious author ever (What Jesus Meant, What Paul Meant, etc.), Wills has produced a steady stream of books for decades about how the Catholic Church is wrong, how he is right, and why he nevertheless remains a Catholic. His views don’t fascinate me — the fact that anyone still reads him does.

5) The Priests. This trio of singing Irish Catholic priests got a record deal, a PBS special, and a lot of media attention — despite their singing being (in my opinion) very nice but nothing special. They are famous for being priests, nice guys, Irish, and normal human beings. Who’d have expected that in 2008?

6) Dwight Longenecker. Author, priest, and blogger, Fr. Dwight is a convert whose delight in being Catholic is infectious. His journey to the Catholic Church was uniquely American, though it took him to England for years — the sort of American who is enamored of all things English, he wanted to be an Anglican pastor so much that he flew to England to be one. How charming is that? The fact that went there from Bob Jones University is even more charmingly American.

7) Prince Gallitzen. Do the most fascinating Catholics of 2008 have to be alive? I am transfixed by the story of Prince Gallitzen, a real Russian prince who became a mission priest in the mountains of Pennsylvania where my parents grew up. When I visited Altoona, PA, with them two years ago I saw references to him everywhere, and they told me his story. There is a movement for his canonization.

8) Archbishop Chaput. Read his book Render Unto Caesar. That the things he says should be either courageous or news to Catholics is even more interesting than what he says, and that’s interesting enough.

9) Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.
Hopes and fears about our new coadjutor bishop are running rampant in some circles, but what will he actually do? It’s hard to top this in terms of local fascination but…

10) The Sacred Heart Radio Staff. SHR has been on the air for years now, and while the story of its growth and success may not have as much folksy appeal as Mother Angelica and her Sisters, it’s pretty compelling. To go from a one-man operation to recording a national show for EWTN is quite a story! Congratulations, everyone, and THANKS!

Grade-School Football

As a transplant to Cincinnati, I’m just not up on all the parishes and schools and football rivalries, even after almost 20 years. Though I do have the Elder-Moeller-St. X thing figured out — I think.

But grade school football, itself, is new to me. I don’t even know if there WAS grade school football where I grew up. Until a couple of years ago I didn’t know kids strapped on pads and donned helmets in third and fourth grade. Boy, do they!

My son just finished his second year of football playing for the CYO Division II City Champion Reserve team, the St. Bartholomew Panthers. He knows a lot more plays than I do (not a difficult feat) and he can play several positions (much more impressive). He’s learned a lot about sportsmanship and working hard and being gracious in victory and don’t I sound like a greeting card? But it’s true. We’ve played all around the city against kids of all backgrounds, on back-lot fields like our home field and in spectacular stadiums such as the truly amazing Summit Country Day complex.

Remember that great scene in Rudy when the Notre Dame football team says the Hail Mary, and then the priest says “Our Lady of Victory –” and all the players shout, “Pray for us!” Well, our team doesn’t do that. But they do pray the Our Father together at every practice and before every game. And at a time when churches everywhere seem more and more the province of women and whispey, “spiritual” men, I find the prospect of 22 hardy young men in football gear saying the Our Father to be a reassuring one. The Catholic church is for everyone.

SBAA Panthers (Reserve) Say the Our Father

SBAA Panthers (Reserve) Say the Our Father

Our Amazing Selves

The other day, during yet another hymn to what Fr. Richard Neuhaus calls “Our Amazing Selves,” I had to take a break. I’m not proud of it, but I got up and fled to the little alcove in the vestibule that a statue of our patron saint, Clare of Asissi, shares with some folding chairs (and, formerly, the recycling).

It’s a small but very beautiful alcove, and our statue is large and a very beautiful statue. Narrow stained glass windows gave only a mute blue glow. I looked up at St. Clare and prepared for a little pouting session for My Cranky Self.

“You were a contemplative,” I thought to her. (I believe that the saints possess telepathic powers.) “You repelled a Muslim army with a Host. You spent your whole life praying for everyone. Is this what you had in mind?”

I’m not sure exactly what I meant by “this” — everything, I guess. Everything that frustrates me and gives me high blood pressure about the liturgy, my fellow American Catholics, myself, and the whole sorry world, for that matter. Substitute your own concerns.

Because the answer — and I did get an answer — was “yes.” Clare and the Poor Clares down through the ages have prayed for us, whatever we choose to do out here outside the convent walls. They pray for us because we need it. Like soldiers who fight so that the next generation of kids can be spoiled and can squander their freedom if they want to, they are also in battle.

So, chastised, I went back to my pew. The Poor Clares are praying for us, in Cincinnati and around the world. We all have a battle to fight, and that’s the best place to start.stclare

Two Last Things

“Wow!” my daughter whispered to me after the homily Sunday. “It’s not every day someone actually tells you you might go to Hell!”

No comments about the desirability of this state of affairs, please. The point is that I don’t remember hearing anything about Hell in the homily, beyond a mention of the “four last things” — death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Father spoke about death, and told a moving story about what he became convinced was his own father’s deathbed vision of Heaven.

But in the car, and again at home, our daughter repeated the same thing. “It’s not every day someone actually tells you you might go to Hell!”

Several months ago, I heard a CD by Catholic motivational evangelist (for lack of a better term) Matthew Kelley. He suggested starting every mass by praying to hear one vital message in the readings, liturgy, or songs.

I think my daughter heard hers, while I heard mine. At 14, my daughter is steeped in the relativism of our culture. We are careful what she watches, what she listens to, who she hangs around with, and what she does. But you can’t get away from the pervasive cultural message that nothing is really bad, no one is really wrong, and everything just comes down to a choice between many options — all of them valid. At her age, it’s a revelation to be told by a sane and credible person you respect that yes, there really is a Hell, and yes, you really could go there.

I’m older. I fell for relativism — and I’m still in recovery. I know there’s a difference between a bad choice (taking an extra donut in the break room) and doing something bad (taking an extra $20 from petty cash). Doing bad things makes you a bad person, being a bad person has consequences, and human nature means even the best of us do bad things. You have to hear that bad news before you can hear the good news — after all, who needs salvation if there’s nothing to be saved from?

Father said a lot about purgatory and cleansing fire — yes, in Cincinnati! — but what they lead to is Heaven. So while my daughter heard the sobering message that Hell is real, I heard the good news of salvation. Two last things. More than enough for one day, I guess.