And in other news, water is wet

2008 02 01It appears that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has a new co-cathedral, which is the kind of thing that happens when a little inland town called Houston grows into a megacity and you need a giant new sacred space to symbolize that. It’s formal name is the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

The Houston Chronicle did your basic dedication story on this, stressing precisely what you would expect a newspaper to stress — multiculturalism and the details of the three-hour rite. I have no problem with that at all. I mean, Houston is one of the giant, complex, sprawling, multi-ethnic cities in America, if not the world.

“The church is genuinely a sacred space, and holy people have assembled in there and have been nourished,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo said after the service. “That means it is ready. It is ready from now on.” …

At the interior door, DiNardo accepted the keys, plans and designs to the co-cathedral from the architect, builder and designer of the artwork. During the ceremony, symbols, words and actions blessed, cleansed and consecrated the walls, the altar and the people gathered in the co-cathedral. Water was blessed in the baptismal font that sits in the middle aisle of the co-cathedral. It was then sprinkled on the crowd and walls throughout the building.

Passages from the Bible were read in Spanish, Vietnamese, Latin and English. … Incense was burned for the first time in a brazier on the altar as a Psalm was sung to the tune of a traditional a Vietnamese folk song. The previously bare altar and the sanctuary were decorated with flowers, linens and candles and then the lights were turned on for the first time, resulting in a gasp from the congregation.

So far, so good.

But then comes the really strange passage that left me shaking my head a bit. I am a fan of simplicity in reporting and writing, but this is a bit too simple.

And then Communion, a main ritual of Catholicism, was celebrated for the first time.

Yes, and I know that Baptists baptize people. Actually, I think that the term here should be “Mass,” since Communion is usually a term used more by Protestants. For Anglicans, it’s usually the Holy Eucharist and the Orthodox service is called the Divine Liturgy.

Now I know that these terms are often used in different churches in different ways. It is also possible that the reporter was searching for the right word for this piece of the ritual, inside the structure of the whole dedication Mass.

But, at the very least (help me, Catholic readers), shouldn’t the reference here be, at the very, least “Holy Communion”? Also, isn’t it safe to say that the Mass is more than “a main ritual” in Catholicism? Could we call it “the” main ritual?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Roberto Rivera

    But, at the very least (help me, Catholic readers), shouldn’t the reference here be, at the very, least “Holy Communion”? Also, isn’t it safe to say that the Mass is more than “a main ritual” in Catholicism? Could we call it “the” main ritual?

    Where to start? Catholics don’t do “rituals,” we have sacraments. The Mass is a sacrifice, not a mimetic device. “Ritual” suggests symbols and as Flannery O’Connor said in response to something Mary McCarthy said about Catholic “symbols,” if all they are only symbols, the hell with them.

    Yes, it is Holy Communion. I wish the Chronicle would have explained the arrangement by which the Cathedral was given to “the city of Houston as well as to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.” How exactly does that work? A dessert topping and a floor wax?

  • Brian

    On the plus side, at least it looks sort of like a cathedral, unlike the nightmarish monstrosity that Cardinal Mahoney built for Los Angeles.

  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    Following up on Brian’s architectural critique, another saving grace of this cathedral is that from the drop shadows on the building, and my preconceptions of what’s likely the layout inside, the altar is at the east end of the sanctuary. Hooray! Looks like Duncan Stroik at Notre Dame is having an effect on church architecture and site planning. ‘Bout time! And yes, the oft used term is Mass.

  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    Roberto asked

    I wish the Chronicle would have explained the arrangement by which the Cathedral was given to “the city of Houston as well as to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.” How exactly does that work?

    My guess here is that the Church and the city made a deal with parking. This is not untypical in metropolitan areas. The Los Angeles Cathedral mentioned by Brian has an enormous parking garage attached for which the city bargained shared use. A church of which I am familiar in a coastal community also made an arrangement during construction permiting the “shared” parking with the municipality. [It makes sense inasmuch as a church needs its parking on weekends and workers typically are not downtown on weekends.]

    Depending on the easement language one might construe a gift. But that would depend on what the lawyers worked out; and does not imply a church-state conundrum.

  • Jerry

    There is a great big assumption in the story: that non-Catholics know what a co-cathedral is. I know what a cathedral is but I’ve never heard of a “co-cathedral” before. A fast glance at your references were not enlightening. That term is defined in wikipedia as it turns out, but shouldn’t stories mention what one is rather than assuming everyone knows?

  • pen brynisa

    On the plus side, at least it looks sort of like a cathedral, unlike the nightmarish monstrosity that Cardinal Mahoney built for Los Angeles.

    No, it’s a nightmarish monstrosity in its own right. It’s typical of modernist architecture: it incorporates shapes which suggest a church, but in a vague, flat, bland sort of way. I’ll bet that the interior looks like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

  • Roberto Rivera

    There is a great big assumption in the story: that non-Catholics know what a co-cathedral is. I know what a cathedral is but I’ve never heard of a “co-cathedral” before. A fast glance at your references were not enlightening.

    I’m Catholic and I was unfamiliar with the term, as well.

  • Brian

    pen: It’s really bad, I agree. Note that I said that it “looks sort of like a cathedral.” But the Rog Mahal doesn’t even reach that level.

    I don’t even care for most Gothic architecture–give me a good ol’ Norman cathedral any day.

  • Canadian

    “A co-cathedral is a cathedral church which shares the honor of being a bishop’s seat, or cathedra, with another cathedral.”
    from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-cathedral

  • Augustine

    No, the Mass is not simply “a main ritual” of Catholicism, but

    “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.’”

    -Catechism of the Catholic Church, s. 1324,

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    I think you’re nit-picking.

    ‘Communion’ is fine but ‘Mass’ might have been better.

    It is ‘a main ritual’ of Catholicism. So are baptism and praying the office.

    Middle-of-the-road and Evangelical Anglicans call it ‘Communion’.

    Professional mainline Western church types who don’t want to call it ‘Mass’ but believe something higher-church than generic or evangelical Protestantism go Greek and call it ‘(Holy) Eucharist’.

  • DJY

    As Catholics, we go to Communion and celebrate mass.

    That distinction is minor, however, and given the interchangeability of the terms in other Christian churches, most Catholics would shrug it off, if notice it at all. The concept is readily understood.

    However, what seriously grates, and in conjunction with the above mistake raises the question of how much the reporter understands his subject, is the referral to it as a “ritual”.

    There are many rituals within the Catholic Church, however, a Sacrament such as the Mass or Baptism, though made up of many of these rituals is seen to be much more. They are not just series of actions, but “efficacious signs” that confect an actual reality.

    Even “Baptists who baptize” would likely cringe to hear Baptism called merely a ritual.

  • DJY

    minor correction: “confect an actual change in reality”

  • FW Ken

    What the picture doesn’t show is the old co-cathedral on the block in front of the new one. The elevated I-45 looms over it; the setback of the new one is a major improvement, although there is still the question of what to do with the old church.

    Interesting that the “co-cathedral” question would come up. I used to it since Dallas/Fort Worth had co-cathedrals before the split into two dioceses. The Houston/Galveston situation is rooted in history rather than dual (and dueling) population centers.

    Finally, a picky point: some connection should have been made between the new cathedral and the newly created cardinalate. In fact, the elevation of Galveston-Houston to an archdiocese is still fairly new. It strikes as a worthwhile angle for a story.

  • http://www.catholicradiointernational.com/ Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, there is the glorious Cathedral of St. Paul and the equally glorious (though somewhat profaned by current usage and leadership) Co-Cathedral of the Basilica of St. Mary, which is the first basilica in the U.S. The Archdiocese was originally known only as St. Paul, but then the “Minneapolis” was added to the name to acknowledge the fact that it is actually larger in population than St. Paul and was equally (if not more) influential in terms of monetary support. These realities are essentially why co-cathedrals are named. And you’re right — this is something that should have been mentioned in the article.

    Houston is obviously a much larger city now than Galveston is and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sacred Heart becomes the de facto cathedral by usage, especially since it’s the largest church building there and since the cathedral in Galveston is in need of $5 million in repairs.

    Personally, I would rather go the old cathedral. Brian’s “sort of looks like a cathedral” comment is correct. Archbishop Fiorenza told The Chronicle that he wanted “noble simplicity,” a term used in Vatican II’s document on liturgy. Well, he got simplicity alright. How noble it is — that’s another question.

  • FW Ken

    This comment is unlikely to be seen, but here goes. My best friend lives in Houston and sent me the Houston Chronicle section on the dedication of the co-cathedral. I had read most of the material and seen the pictures online. Online was clearly the better experience. The printing was less clean and clear on newsprint; the pictures on line were more vivid and arresting. There were more of them, too.

    I tell this because I was listening to a radio ad (or interview; I wasn’t listening that close) for a film playing at a Dallas film festival. It’s a number of interviews about the decline of the print news business, largely due to the internet. Today was an interesting lesson in why that is happening.

  • Chuck

    Communion is fine. Holy Communion would have conveyed higher status, which I think the writer wanted to communicate. Holy Eucharist might have required an explanation that maybe space couldn’t accomodate. The reporter saw this as a story about a building in the city rather than a community event. Could have taken a different turn in explaining the Traditions of the event to the reader. Reporter could be an evangelical who believes writing about Catholics is like writing about Satan. Who knows.

  • http://mesocatholic.wordpress.com Kevin

    Yeah, I don’t see the reporter’s description all that relevant, either. It’s the report’s job to describe something in order to sell newspapers and provide content for advertising… not go into the intricacies of blessing buildings the way one might learn about this in RCIA, a religious college, or the seminary.

    This article simply illustrates the “good enough” standard we now see in journalism every day.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Kevin:

    That’s the kind of cynicism that I reject.

    I read thousands of religion stories a year, I bet, and I wouldn’t have raised a question about that rather weak and inaccurate wording if it wasn’t unusual. Lots of reporters get this stuff right.

  • Julia

    The Catholic Mass is divided into parts:

    - Liturgy of the Word – scriptural readings and homily

    - Liturgy of the Eucharist – the canon of the Mass – the eucharistic prayer and consecration

    - Preparation for and reception of Holy Communion

    - Conclusion and dismissal

    So Catholics don’t usually refer to the Mass as “Communion”, because that’s only part of the Mass, and sometimes people don’t receive Communion.

    I don’t have a problem with calling the Mass a sacred ritual. It’s a standardized event, thousands of years old, during which we think something actually happens on the altar, even though others may think it is only a re-enactment. That seems to qualify the Catholic Mass as a ritual. Of course, I’m in my 60s and may have missed the word taking on negative connotations of which I am unaware.

    Certainly the reporter could have run it by a Catholic colleague or editor. If I was writing about a special event dedicating a Mormon temple I would try to find a Mormon to look it over and avoid embarassing myself with innacurate descriptions. After all, it would be people of that faith who would most likely read the article.


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