Yo, Father: Stop yapping, start chanting

LatinMassMy GetReligion guilt file is not as thick as Metropolitan Mattingly’s, unless you count stories on which I wish my insights (or opinions) gave me a strong enough motivation to blog.

Two pieces from Time — both released during my recent travels to the Deep South — have given me that motivation.

One is a news report about the growing trend among some churches to welcome the presence of ATM kiosks that enable parishioners to donate on the spot and receive a receipt that will satisfy the IRS.

The story is filed under Business, but reporter Rita Healy realizes that there’s a cringe factor at work here, too:

Pastors like to tell jokes about parishioners collecting Frequent Flier points on the way to heaven. A recent Dallas Morning News poll found that 55% of 200 local churches accept credit and/or debit cards.

Automatic checking account withdrawals are used by some churches, and more recently, ATM-like kiosks are now available in many church corridors and lobbies, where parishioners can swipe a card and receive a printed receipt, which they can either save for the IRS or plunk into the collection basket with a flourish, so pew mates will know they’re not spiritual freeloaders.

Healy quotes Dr. Marty Baker, pastor of Stevens Creek Community Church in Augusta, Georgia, and a marketer of the devices, as saying donations are up 18 percent in ATM-outlet churches and that “People don’t want to carry cash.”

This brief item is enough to make some evangelicals reminiscent for the days when some worried that every new techie innovation in banking was just another step toward an Antichrist system in which one either took the mark of the beast (and traded freely) or refused it (and starved). These days, such a difficult choice might be resolved much more easily: Dude, as long there’s no ATM fee, no prob.

Turning from reporting to witty essay-writing, we find Lisa Takeuchi Cullen (who recently confessed to losing nearly all interest in her once-infantilized dog after welcoming her first child) building a contrarian’s case for bringing back the Latin Mass in Roman Catholic churches.

Cullen’s argument amounts to this — she would much rather hear an incomprehensible Latin rite than endure her priest’s sermons based on some of the church’s moral teachings:

I clearly remember one [sermon] involving a newborn baby left in a Dumpster that somehow in the end advocated against laws allowing abortion. There was that time you beseeched us, Father, to write letters of protest to a Senator who supported stem-cell research. Not long ago, your homily excoriated divorce. You used as your rhetorical cornerstone the 1998 Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Parent Trap.

In her next paragraph, though, Cullen adds more heft to her argument:

Whatever our issues with the tenets of Catholicism the religion, we still cling to what unites us in Catholicism the faith: our devotion to the celebration of the Eucharist. I confess I adore the rich minutiae of the Mass: the frankincense, the Kyrie, the droning of creeds in a sacred space. It comforts me to know that my family around the globe takes part in the same weekly rites. The common purpose of shared ceremony helps me reflect on the Holy Spirit. With apologies, Father, homilies based on your Netflix queue do not.

One of the great surprises of Peter Occhiogrosso’s classic book of profiles, Once a Catholic, was how many people (including Frank Zappa) missed the Latin Mass. Cullen’s reasons for wanting the Latin rite back sound too consumer-oriented to persuade leaders at parish or diocesan levels. Still, her reasons are off-kilter enough to weaken some stereotypes of Latin Mass-lovers as just so many Lefebvrites.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    One reason so many Catholics want the mysticism of the Latin Mass back is that we were badly cheated by the Church Music Establishment when the Mass came into English. No attempt was made to treat English as a scared language with chant and vibrant, but reverent hymns. Instead we went from the great high spiritual worship that Latin chant and music encourages to nursery rhymes set to folk pop which is as deeply spiritual as an advertising jingle accompanied by a kazoo.
    I have heard beautiful chant, sung in English, based on chants originally in Arabic or Russian in Eastern Christian churches. But turning anything classic into English with a sacred character seemed almost heresy to the “pop” afficionados who ruled–destroyed–the day. Thus leaving people who want spiritual depth in their worship yearning for Latin.

  • Stephen A.

    First a technical note: “55% of 200 local churches.” Why this odd construction? Why not the old standby, “over half”? Why not “110 of the 200 local churches we surveyed”? I’m baffled. The percent is out of place here.

    That rant out of the way, this was an entertaining blog posting. I, too, remember my days in the South in which fundamentalists constantly brayed on about 666 and the number of the beast, almost to the exclusion of the entire rest of the New Testament. That unintentionally hilarious Chick Tract comes to mind, complete with its Vespa-style motorized guillotines!

    That said, given the odd embrace of consumerism by some in the conservative Christian movement, this is not a surprise, and the articles are a welcome “update” on this phenomenon.

    I actually saw national TV stories on these ATM-like things in the churches, too, though I cannot remember which network aired them.

    The concept that a Latin Mass would at least obliterate the (orthodox, Pope-friendly) moral ramblings… I mean PREACHING… of the priest is indeed a novel one, at least to these eyes. I wonder if this person knows that the Homily has been a part of the Mass for quite a while, at least since the time of Origen (185-c.250), who noted it in his works.

    And surely, this person doesn’t expect the homily would be in Latin, too, does she? Her argument falls apart on this point.

  • Chuck

    There is a growing elitism within the Roman Catholic Church that disturbs me. Thriving more on the spirit of the Council of Trent than Vatican II, these traditionalists, or theocons, are more involved with liturgical trappings than meaning. Complaining of parishioners who dislike the Tridentine Latin Mass because they get nothing from it, they complain themselves about the Novos Ordo for the very same reason. They cling to the “Righteous Remnant” references in the Bible, secretly believing they are the ones preserving truth, while venomously deriding opposing views. Lacking the main evidence of Christianity, they display more discontent than love, showing no concern for the Church’s evangelistic mission and ignoring Catholic social teaching regarding the dignity of the worker, the immigrant, the poor and other Catholics who may not feel as “Tridentine” as they. The essence of their elitism stems from the belief that they are more Catholic than the Church. Yet still small, they have the ears, and more than a heart or two, in the Vatican. Even so they are pestiferous because they seem bred more by angst than agape.

  • Maureen

    The coverage of this issue has been really weird. I mean, for one thing, it shouldn’t be an issue. There’s no reason that the Ordinary Form shouldn’t have been celebrated all or partially in Latin, on a regular basis. Seminaries were never supposed to stop teaching Latin. (Or Greek, or Aramaic….) And there’s no reason that the Extraordinary Form should be controversial. But it is.

    Then you have bishops (whose seminaries were supposed to be teaching Latin) telling the world that their priests don’t know Latin, and anyway, there’s going to have to be a test on their Latin knowledge. One would think they would be issuing apologies for turning out priests with insufficient educations, but there you are.

    Hmm. Spot the rewrite!

    “….these [Spirit of VII-ists] are more involved with liturgical trappings than meaning [or the actual mandates of Vatican II]… They cling to the “Righteous Remnant” references in the Bible, secretly believing they are the ones preserving truth, while venomously deriding opposing views. Lacking the main evidence of Christianity, they display more discontent than love, showing no concern for the Church’s evangelistic mission and ignoring Catholic social teaching regarding the dignity of [anybody except them]. The essence of their elitism stems from the belief that they are more Catholic than the Church. Yet still small, they have the ears, and more than a heart or two, in the Vatican. Even so they are pestiferous because they seem bred more by angst than agape.”

    The basic difference is that the “Spirit of Vatican II” types have been the folks in power in most American parishes and publishers for _as long as I’ve been alive_, and I’m closer to 40 than I’d like to admit. So much for the power of the laity; whenever the normal laity get a chance to speak their mind, these people reveal that they don’t really care what we think. Pay, pray, and obey, ne?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Elites who see themselves as “… more Catholic than the Church.”

    Do you include Benedict XVI in this camp?

  • curtis

    ATM’s in a church?!?! Money changers in the temple!

  • Dan

    Chuck is right that no one is going to mistake the “Spirit of Vatican II” liberals as part of a spiritual elite, or think of them as champions of the faith.

    Traditionalists, Chuck says, dispute with liberals and in doing so are un-Christian. Unlike liberals like Chuck who dispute with traditionalists. How can one read Chuck’s post without noticing Chuck’s abounding love for traditionalists who, he says, “secretly” believe they are the ones preserving truth (who let Chuck in on the secret?), “venomously” deride opposing views, lack “the main evidence of Christianity” (put so charitably and undivisively!), “display more discontent than love,” show “no concern for the Church’s evangelistic mission” (really? evidence? isn’t it liberals who are more likely to say all faiths are more or less the same and who were upset about the prayer for the conversion of the Jews?) and ignore “Catholic social teaching regarding the dignity of the worker, the immigrant, [and] the poor” (really? evidence?), and are “pestiferous because they seem bred more by angst than agape.”

    How much more of Chuck’s kind of love can we stand?

  • Dan

    As for the essay about not listening at Mass, I always am suspicious in the extreme when someone who does not attend Mass frequently claims to have heard a priest decry euthanasia, abortion or embryonic stem cell research in a homily. I have attended many Masses and I have very rarely heard theses issues even mentioned. In fact I have never heard a homily in which a parish priest devoted the entire homily to one of these issues. Even more suspicious is the claim that a priest “excoriated divorce” in a homily.

  • LogicGuru

    Why do churches take away liturgy people like, promote nursery rhymes set to folk pop music and then excoriate lay people who complain that they don’t like this stuff for “consumerism.”

    What is the alternative to this “consumerism” here anyway? The only alternative I can see is NOT getting what you like–or find alive, aesthetically pleasing, and spiritually nourishing. It’s putting up with whatever the authorities promote because they’re in authority, because they’re ordained, because we’re supposed to pay, pray and obey.

    “Consumerism”–the word that figures in lots of these discussions–is a loaded term, suggesting crass commercialism, materialism, the whole business of over-consumption and greed that drives the American economy. It’s an argument-stopper: no one wants to be accused of religious consumerism. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s simply a matter of making what people like available to them, recognizing them as adults who know what they want and need.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc


    There’s no need to confuse what I have written, as one blogger, with what churches do. I am in no position (and I seek no position) to deprive people of any liturgy they want.

    That said, I agree that consumerism is a loaded word. I do not intend it as an argument-stopper, but as my best effort to identify part of the problematic side of Lisa Takeuchi Cullen’s witty argument.

    I think the alternative to consumerism is to remember that the main purpose of liturgy is to focus a congregation’s minds and souls on glorifying God through their worship. Of course that includes individuals’ ideas about what is aesthetically pleasing and spiritually nourishing.

    In that respect, I find myself thankful for the work of compassionate and talented liturgists.

  • Mary

    I recently passed a Protestant church that on it’s main church sign advertised “ATM inside”. I wondered if the church had been a bank. Little did I know that this is one of the new church “trends.”
    As for the writer who wants more Catholic Masses said in Latin so she would not hear some Catholic sermons on topics that she does not agree with the official RC stand, that could be still a problem since the sermon at the Latin Mass is still in English! (I am old enough to remember the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass and the sermon was the only part in English.)

  • Julia

    For comments about a big event in the Catholic Church, why does Time turn to a woman who is a Catholic in name only and doesn’t even know the basics about her religion:

    1) “I come today having heard that Pope Benedict XVI has just removed restrictions on celebrating Mass in Latin.”

    Boy, she blew it right up front. There has NEVER been a restriction on celebrating Mass in Latin. At my church we do it every Lent without having to get permission from a bishop or anybody else.

    The difference between the New Mass and the 1962 Mass is the amount of scripture readings, the calendar used, the additional optional versions of the ordinary parts of the Mass, and the dropping of the Propers of the Mass, such as the Introit. The new Mass has a changed structure and composition. The absence of Latin has nothing to do with it.

    I was in college during V II so I remember how there were almost yearly changes in the Mass begining during V II and ending with the greatly altered new Mass in the early 1970s. Vernacular language was staring to enter the picture in about 1965 before the New Mass was composed about 5 years later.

    2) The writer wasn’t kidding when she said she was bored and fell asleep during religion instruction as a kid. About the movie “Parent Trap” she says: “as previously divorced people, the characters played by Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson would be denied communion in the Catholic Church.”

    Why on earth would they be denied communion? It is getting re-married that is a problem, not the civil divorce. In the Church’s eyes, the parents are still married and can just go right back to where they were before. On the other hand, they will have to get civilly married again to regain their prior civil marital status under US law.

    Maybe Time should let me opine on the goings-on in the Presbyterian Church because my mom used to be a Presbyterian and I went to their services whenever I visited my grandmother. I know as much about Presbyterians as the Time writer knows about Catholics. This was just an opportunity to print some witty comments that the non-Catholic majority in the US would find funny – it was not a serious article at all.