Incense, hats and humor — oh my!

I’m sorry. I try not to pick on any reporters, especially one who is a former Bruin and is fighting the good fight on one of the more besieged religion beats in the country. But I have to ring this bell again.

Yesterday I mentioned his story about a Los Angeles parish that had a vibrant Catholic congregation. Before that there was the glorified news brief about the Vatican moving on from Cardinal Roger Mahony. Now the story causing this GetReligionista some consternation concerns the arrival of Mahony’s successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez.

What’s the problem with “L.A. officially welcomes its next Roman Catholic Archbishop?”

It’s not an issue of accuracy. Nor is it that the LAT missed an important story; in fact, this occasion was the sort of pro forma event that the search for Mahony’s replacement was not. Nor is the story overwhelmed by bad writing or shallow details, though it does again bang the Gomez-is-a-conservative drum.

But on the whole, the article is an enjoyable read — if, that is, you can get past the first paragraph:

Los Angeles officially welcomed its next Roman Catholic archbishop Wednesday with a celebratory Mass that included a bit of just about everything: tears, drama, majesty, song, hats, incense, a cast of thousands, prayer and even a little slapstick humor.

Now, I haven’t been to Mass since Pope John Paull II died. I’m no expert on Catholic celebrations. But this line made me to erupt in laughter — and it wasn’t due to the slapstick. Incense, HATS (!) … those are pretty common parts of a Catholic service. You’d think that someone on the Godbeat would be aware of that.

On the one hand, this intro immediately tips the reader to the fact that reporter Mitchell Landsberg might not know much about Catholicism. On the other hand, it may be an indication that the reporter is thorough in his fact-gathering and that he understands many of his readers won’t be masters of Catholic ritual.

But even if the details were included in the interest of exhaustiveness, they carry an air of triviality. Like I said: I don’t mean to harp, but the first words of this article, not so arguably the most important words of the article, left me with the impression that Landsberg had never been inside a Catholic church before (though I know he had).

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  • Jerry

    included a bit of just about everything: tears, drama, majesty, song, hats, incense, a cast of thousands, prayer and even a little slapstick humor.

    That brought to mind Monty Python skits, creme pies in the face and other forms of low humor. But the story really did not indicate what rose (or descended) to the slapstick level. Oh My! Indeed.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Indeed.

  • Martha

    Hats?

    As in the bishops’ mitres?

    Or the cardinals’ galeros?

    Or maybe the choirs etc. were wearing native costumes with hats (the video is up over at Whispers in the Loggia, but I’m too terrified to watch it because of fears of possible liturgical dance or wigged-out liturgy).

    Though maybe I should, seeing as how there are apparently these fabulous hats that are so wonderful they’re worthy of comment?
    ;-)

  • Martha

    Okay, watching the recording right now, and yep, plenty of incense (I approve; I’ve always loved the smell of incense in church) and the only hats I’m seeing are the bishops’ mitres as they process in.

    But my divine, if I was ever archbishop of Los Angeles, the first thing I’d do is have the plasterers in to cover over the stud holes in the walls of the cathedral (and to heck with trendy architectural theory about the visibility of the workings of a building). Second, I’d slap a couple of coats of paint on the walls, and the biggest reredos I could get my mitts on against that back wall.

    Just for starters :-)

  • Martha

    Still watching the video.

    Third thing I’d do if I were Dictator – er, I mean, Archbishop?

    No saxophone breaks during the hymns (or I suppose they’re called ‘praise and worship songs’, not hymns). No saxophone solos, accompaniments, or for that matter, no saxophones at all.

    Well, at least the Mass was recognisably a Mass, and they didn’t make a dog’s dinner of the liturgy – I was pleasantly surprised.

    Except for the saxophones, of course ;-)

  • http://happyrain.org/ Emily

    Okay, watching the recording right now, and yep, plenty of incense (I approve; I’ve always loved the smell of incense in church) and the only hats I’m seeing are the bishops’ mitres as they process in.

    But my divine, if I was ever archbishop of Los Angeles, the first thing I’d do is have the plasterers in to cover over the stud holes in the walls of the cathedral (and to heck with trendy architectural theory about the visibility of the workings of a building). Second, I’d slap a couple of coats of paint on the walls, and the biggest reredos I could get my mitts on against that back wall.

    Just for starters :-)

  • Bern

    Lousy first paragraph. I suspect the “slapstick” had to do with the “trying the chair on for size” bit. I think the writer had been inside a Catholic church before, but never been to a Mass for an occasion like this–how many of us have? Doesn’t come up that often. Hope he gets a bit more background before covering Bishop Gomez’s installation . . .

    Martha: what have you got against saxophones? :-)
    I like incense too but it makes me sneeze–and I’m not alone, either!

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    I have been inside Catholic Churches twice in my life, and have never attended mass.

    I think it is not unreasonable to write in a way that conveyes the essence of a Catholic Ceremony to non-Catholics. However, lines like the statement about hates and slapstick just seem to convey a profound irreverence.

    The article strikes me as having somewhat the tone of a 19th-century anti-Papist screed that treats the ways of the Catholic Church as inherently foriegn and outside the norm.

    I worry about Americans ability to ever understand religions like Islam if reporters insist on describing Catholicism and Orthodoxy as foriegn and antiquated, refering to Orthodox buildings as “14th century structures built in 21st century California” and the like.


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