October 31, 2011 by 8junebugs
This weekend, while trying to print the recipe for Smitten Kitchen’s most excellent Red Wine Chocolate Cake so I wouldn’t get batter in my keyboard, I realized we’d run out of printer paper and grabbed the first handy scrap paper with an empty side: A copy of The New Roman Missal Introductory Rite.
Yeah. I don’t blog too much about religion anymore, being of what my friends might call “indeterminate faith.” But I was raised mostly Catholic, I’ve checked off a couple of sacraments, and I still get to Mass occasionally for high holidays and nostalgia. I’m not what you’d call a practicing Catholic — I’m more of a respectful, skeptical seeker — but I have reason not to renounce my baptism, and there are times when I find it very, very comforting.
A couple of weeks ago, though, Graham and I found ourselves at Mass in San Ramon, where he stood godfather to the family’s newest member — his cousin’s baby girl. Technically, he stood “Christian Witness,” not being a Catholic by any measure — indeed, cohabiting with a woman considered by the Church to be married to another man (I paid for the divorce — my ex is on the hook for an annulment, should he want one) — but I don’t think the priest or pastor even asked.
Which kind of annoyed me. Not because I think he or the godmother are in any way unfit to share some responsibility for this kid’s future — it was an honor to be asked, and he takes it seriously (I gather she does, too, but I just met her). But canon law is canon law. If the Church doesn’t bother to enforce it, their insistence that the congregants follow it is…suspect. It felt too much like glossing over the details to sign up another unsuspecting, non-consenting infant. (I’m not renouncing my own baptism, but neither will I pretend it was made with my consent.)
So I went to Mass and immediately felt odd, as I do in newer, more contemporary churches. What can I say? My Catholic upbringing was relatively old school, and I am most comfortable in dark stone churches with uncomfortable pews. The more graphic the crucifix over the altar, the more at home I feel. (Gargoyles are optional.) (Don’t judge me.)
Speaking of my upbringing, I should note that I was never properly taught how to be Catholic. By the time I hit catechism, I was an inveterate questioner, which meant I wasn’t really satisfied with pat lessons or coloring books. And although I knew the prayers, NO ONE TAUGHT ME ALL THE OTHER RESPONSES. (Dear family: I am smart, but I was not born knowing. That’s my younger cousin, K, who could’ve coached football from her playpen.)
I may be a little bitter about this. I like chanting, and I remember feeling embarrassed because I didn’t know the words…and, as a wee thing, I never asked for help when embarrassed. Back then, too, there was less of an effort to welcome newcomers (and worried know-it-all kids) by telling them that all the words for the Mass were in the missals.
And that brings us back to the New! Roman! Missal! Introductory Rite. I’d brought home the flyer and set it aside, planning to read it to find out just what was changing now. When I went back to the Church in the year before Wedding 1.0, things were being sung that used to spoken, and some of the melodies had changed slightly. So…fine. Things change. Occasionally, parishes even step outside the liturgy just a little bit. No biggie.
But when I printed the (delicious, decadent) cake recipe on the back, I was forced to remember that I wanted to read it. And there are two bits that bug me the most:
Current Penitential Rite:
I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…
New Penitential Rite:
I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…
I have heard this “new” version, this “my most grievous fault” version, only one other time: In the penitent tone of Scarlett O’Hara’s deeply disappointed mother, and, simultaneously, in the reverent tone of the youngest O’Hara sister, who later became a nun. This takes place in the scene after Mrs. O’Hara returns from the bedside of the “white-trash Slattery girl” and snubs the O’Haras’ Yankee overseer (the father of said Slattery girl’s mysteriously dead newborn).
You see where I’m going here? This is not a communal confession for the 21st century. “Greatly” sinning “through my most grievous fault” is best left to the antebellum South — it’s a little harsh for running stoplights, illegally downloading music, and hacking your roommate’s Facebook profile. “Grievous fault” is a little too Vatican I, is what I’m saying, and I’m a child of Vatican II. Expecting today’s Catholics to beat their breasts over venial sins strikes me as unnecessarily punitive. Also counterproductive.
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth. (I cannot type that without hearing the old melody in my head. Damn you, indoctrination!)
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.
I’d be willing to bet that Jesus wished peace on all, not on those of good will. Unanticipated acts of peace can breed goodwill — no one would know that better than the person of Christ. Aside from providing an easy out for those who sin against mean people, I see no good purpose for this distinction.
The rants about these changes to the Mass do nothing to soothe my lingering fury over the stern lecture this San Ramon pastor delivered in place of a homily, either. The homily for that day could have been such an easy and timely message. The Gospel reading was Matt 22:21 — the “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” one. And in the bulletin, adult congregants were asked to consider what role society should play in taking care of the less fortunate, and whether they were willing to pay more in taxes to help with that.
I mean, the homily writes itself for these two together, am I right? Even a barely adequate priest could’ve hit that one out of the park. Money is useful for the care and feeding of people on Earth (goodwill notwithstanding), and taxes are due the state. We’re our brother’s keeper, yes? And we should heed the parable of the Good Samaritan, right? Then where do Christians get off cutting programs that help the less fortunate and supporting tax cuts for millionaires who could, if you will, render unto Caesar? Why are the needy demonized instead of the ones Christ would call hypocrites?
Okay, that probably a little too political, but you see where I’m going with this, right? There’s plenty of modern fodder for a homily on paying taxes and helping our neighbors when they need it.
Instead, we got a brass-knuckled, belittling lecture on how to participate in the Mass. How to get there on time — no, scratch that, early! How to genuflect — no nodding or curtsying! How to make the sign of the cross — slowly, with reverence, no rushing! How to pray about how much to contribute during the offertory — no hastily grabbing at whatever’s in your wallet! How to read the scripture before Sunday morning — show of hands, how many of you…?! How to sing loud and proud — no mumbling!
And wait! Don’t forget! DO NOT COME IN LATE.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been several years since my last confession, and I spent a good 25 minutes glowering at that priest, who is a poor representative of Your grace and glory.
Admittedly, this lecture would have been super-helpful when I was 7. But on this day, in this tone, during a time reserved for reflection on a very timely Gospel, I was angry and dismayed. This was the first Mass Graham had ever attended, and I’d hoped it would be the kind that makes people think, “Well, this may not be for me, but that was rather nice.” Instead, newcomers witnessed a grumpy old priest scolding his flock for…being human. Awesome.
Y’all really should try that cake, though. SO YUMMEH.