Arizona Republic gets lots of the Latin Mass details right

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It’s time for a simple test. Yes, this does involve some Latin.

True or false. The following quotation is taken from the Communion passages in the Latin Mass.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; miserère nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; miserère nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi; dona nobis pacem.

Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccàta mundi.
Beàti qui ad cenam Agni vocàti sunt.

Yes, this is a bit of a trick question.

Actually, this is a short quotation from the modern Novus Ordo Missae, but drawn from the official foundation text — which is in Latin. Of course, millions of Catholics know this rite through its many official translations, from the Latin, into the languages common in their pews. There are parishes that, with the permission of their local bishops, perform this rite in Latin.

Thus, this quotation is taken from a Latin Mass. But it is not taken from the rite that is commonly known, for millions of older Catholics, as “The Latin Mass.”

Why do I bring this up? For this simple reason: The staff at The Arizona Republic recently waded deep into the details of Catholic liturgy in a lengthy feature story written as part of its coverage of the recent murder of a young priest named Father Kenneth Walker and the savage beating of another priest at the same parish, Father Joseph Terra.

Both were members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which, as the story explains, is dedicated to Catholic life and worship as expressed in the traditional Tridentine Mass. Here is some background from this long and very detailed story:

In 1988, about a quarter of a century after Vatican II was formed, the new pope, John Paul II, at the urging of conservative Cardinal John Ratzinger, who would later succeed John Paul as Pope Benedict XVI, allowed a limited return to the Tridentine Mass, but only with a bishop’s approval.

(In 2007, Pope Benedict issued what amounted to an executive order allowing any priest to celebrate the Tridentine Mass in any parish.)

Pope John Paul also approved the creation of a new priesthood order, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, named for the Apostle Peter, who is considered the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike other priestly orders, this one would be dedicated to maintaining the tradition of the Latin Mass.

So what is the problem in this story, which, frankly, is way better than the norm? From my perspective there are two issues.

First of all, while the historical details in the story are good, the Republic keeps switching back and forth between calling this rite the Latin Mass, when there are actually several Masses in Latin, and calling it the Tridentine Mass, which is much more specific. Trust me, I know that it is hard to get these details precisely right (I am sure that in this post I will use language that is not accurate enough for insiders), but it is important to be as precise as possible.

Consider the details in this passage. This is long, but crucial.

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Billy Graham’s 95th birthday bash: Happy or harpy?

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In the 1984 hit movie “Sixteen Candles,” Molly Ringwald’s character, Samantha Baker, awakens on what should be the biggest birthday of her life. Only, her family has forgotten the occasion.

Overshadowed by her older sister’s impending nuptials, Samantha spends the day hoping one of her family members will remember. Hilarity ensues. Eventually everyone wishes her a happy birthday — including her hunky, sportscar-driving, secret crush Jake. He shows up. And he brings cake! They kiss. Yippee!

I couldn’t help but think of this classic coming-of-age movie (the late Roger Ebert once quipped, “Molly Ringwald was the Molly Ringwald of the ’80s”) as I read USA Today’s rehash of last week’s celebration marking Billy Graham’s 95th birthday in Asheville, N.C.

Not that the Graham family didn’t remember their patriarch’s big day. Not that there wasn’t cake. It was that on this particular occasion, the MSM Graham storyline, like Samantha Baker’s, was just so very, very wrong. Friends and neighbors, was this really a political celebrity story?

At 95 and in frail health, Billy Graham often resists family entreaties to make excursions from his mountaintop home. But the nation’s most famous evangelist attended a birthday celebration Thursday night that featured hundreds of well-wishers and what is being characterized as his final sermon.

Given the lead player, his impact on the world religion stage and the role he has played in the lives of millions of believers in the 185 countries he has visited, you’d expect some retrospective in this story. Some context. At least allusion to the cultural changes that surrounded his ministry and the decades in which he preached. Words that attempt to capture the poignancy of Billy Graham choosing his 95th birthday to present his final sermon.

Instead we get a Fox News infomercial.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, for instance:

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The Merc is shocked, shocked, by Santa Clara U move

There’s nothing the mainstream press likes more than a controversy, even if it has to puff a protest to do so.

In early October, Santa Clara University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, decided it would no longer provide health insurance that pays for elective abortions. Given that SCU is a Roman Catholic school run by the Jesuits, that decision shouldn’t have been all that surprising.

Nevertheless, the editorial team at The San Jose Mercury News was shocked — shocked! — that a Catholic university acted in concert with the doctrinal content of its faith and clear guidance of the late Blessed John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae:

One week later, both sides in this argument — the Catholics and the local press — were at it again. Santa Clara University is now being joined by Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, also a Jesuit-run school, in dropping abortion coverage, and again, the Merc, as it’s known locally, is ON IT:

Santa Clara University saw a quiet protest Wednesday as some faculty members stood with signs objecting to the school’s decision to end employee health insurance coverage of elective abortions.

The decision last week, coupled with a similar one last week at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles — both Jesuit Catholic institutions — came out of a concern for their religious identity, school leaders said.

Catholic institutions are revisiting the issue after U.S. bishops’ recent battle to keep them from having to cover birth control and sterilization under the new national health insurance law. And some of their faculties reacted angrily.

Apparently, too, the faculty at SCU didn’t get the memo about the whole Catholic/Jesuit thing, and that church leaders — such as Father Michael E. Engh, S.J. (pictured), who is SCU’s president — have a commitment to uphold Catholic teaching. The school held a discussion on the subject, and a few instructors decided to skip the discussion to raise a squall of protest.

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WPost examines the demons (and a ghost) in ‘The Exorcist’

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It’s that time of year again, the time when reporters keep trying to reach author William Peter Blatty to talk about pea soup, noises in the night, long flights of stairs and the degree to which human necks can swivel.

Consider this one-liner, drawn from a much better than normal chat with the author just published in the Washington Post:

“As I say, every Halloween I’m dragged out of my burrow like some demonic Punxsutawney Phil,” says Blatty, a hale and hearty 85. “And if I don’t see my shadow, the horror box office is gonna be great. Either that or I’m dead. Nobody has had the guts — or the kindness — to tell me which it is.”

William Peter Blatty is not dead.

Now, this Post interview does have its snarky moments — hang on for its swipe at the legacy of the Blessed John Paul II — but I want to stress that the article at least attempted to take seriously the spiritual, even doctrinal, side of Blatty’s life and work. The sense of fairness breaks down when the Post team moves from a consideration of the themes Blatty wove into “The Exorcist” to his views of his alma mater, Georgetown University.

But first, God and the 40th anniversary of “The Exorcist.”

… Blatty will bear the cross of his mammoth success, which was fused long ago to the kitschy holiday by virtue of its terrifying imagery. Never mind, he says, that the story is more about the mystery and power of faith than the ultimate violation of a 12-year-old girl by evil forces. …

The cuffs on his denim jacket are flipped. Underneath his navy T-shirt is a silver medal etched with the three crosses of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified in the Gospels. The medal belonged to his son Peter, who died seven years ago. One reason “The Exorcist” has endured, Blatty thinks, is because it shows that the grave does not mean oblivion. That there is something after death.

“I’m not sure of what’s there,” he says, “but it isn’t oblivion.”

The story, as it must, quickly covers lots of ground in Hollywood and D.C. On one level this is a common tale, the story of the struggling screenwriter who suddenly finds a source of inspiration that saves his career and changes his life. In this case, we are talking about a comedy pro (best known for his work with director Blake Edwards) who, well, was inspired to spin his career in a totally different direction.

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Economist, New York Times tailor pope to their notions

One of the fascinating things about Pope Francis is the apparent mad rush among mainstream media scribes to recast the Bishop of Rome in their image, particularly if the image is in any way left-leaning, or, at the least, non-rightward-facing. After the conservative Blessed John Paul II and the conservative Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Jose Maria Bergoglio is now positioned in some media quarters as the Vatican’s version of the Barack Obama of 2008: At last, pontifical “change we can believe in.”

The Economist‘s Erasmus blog, is not exactly a hotbed of Christian, or Catholic, fundamentalism. It recently focused on Pope Francis’ interview with the editor of Italy’s liberal La Repubblica daily, the “atheist journalist, Eugenio Scalfari,” who elicited from the pope some rather hard words about a Vatican “bubble” that may have enclosed previous occupants of the Chair of St. Peter:

It was striking for the warmth of the “small talk” in which the two men engaged (they gave each a metaphorical embrace over the telephone while arranging to meet) and also for the pope’s devastatingly insightful comments on the corrupting effects of power, especially clerical power. “Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.” How true. This can also apply to prime ministers, head teachers, generals, perhaps even some newspaper editors (not the brilliant ones I’ve met, of course). But the pomp and circumstance of religious authority can be especially corrosive.

Nor, one might suggest, is the Roman Catholic Church the only ecclesiastical body where the top leader is, well, cosseted by praise and pomp while holding office, only to find themselves in a lonely place after a sudden departure. In the past 15 years, this writer has witnessed exactly that happen in two (very different) Christian organizations — one just a few months ago — and I’m guessing there are many similar stories elsewhere in religion-land. But I digress.

Ersasmus’ author, identified only as “B.C.” in a byline, moves beyond the “court” talk to zero in on something truly important to many wondering about where Pope Francis will lead his global flock:

The comment from Francis that upset religious traditionalists was this: “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

The Economist then notes the discomfiture of Rod (Friend of this Blog) Dreher and others about what was an almost-universalist turn in Francis’ phrasing. On the contrary, Erasmus argues, we should view the pontiff’s words through the prism of the Pampas:

Yet the pope is not merely being fashionably modern (or post-modern) when he recognises integrity in people whose metaphysical views are different from his own, and detects dishonesty among people of the church. He is speaking out of his own experience of living through an urban guerrilla war and an exceptionally brutal dictatorship in his native Argentina. He hints at this in his exchanges with the editor, recalling his youthful encounter with a communist professor, later killed by the military. He didn’t accept her materialist world-view but he did respect her as a “courageous and honest” person. Doubtless he was also deeply disappointed by the clerics who fawned on the dictators.

But Erasmus appears to have forgetten that Francis isn’t a tweedy, pipe-puffing college professor or the proprietor of an ecclesiastical Algonquin Round Table. He is the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, and as such apparently feels the need to get as many people as possible to hear what he’s saying so that his message can reach out to them. Relatability seems to be Francis’ stock-in-trade, and, after whatever remoteness some perceived in Benedict, it’s not a bad thing.

There is, however, a difference between respecting the views of others and accepting those views as equal, or making a friendly remark about folks getting along into a vote for syncretism of some kind. It’s nice to “make the world a better place,” but nothing in Francis’ comments suggests that should be the end of the matter. If Scalifari didn’t press the point, the La Repubblica editor not only missed an opportunity, he also gave Erasmus (and others) leeway to pigeonhole Francis in a way the pope might not want to be classified.

A day earlier, Jim Dwyer of The New York Times, whose beat is interesting people stories, and not religion, played the “leprosy of the papacy” card in his “About New York” column about two nuns, Sister Camille D’Arienzo and Sister Helen Prejean, the latter of “Dead Man Walking” fame.

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Can we get some historical context on the canonized popes?

If you’re elected Bishop of Rome, you join one of the world’s most exclusive lists. As the Supreme Pontiff of the 1.2 billion member Catholic Church, you are — quite literally — one in a billion. But after you die you have a chance to join an even more exclusive group: papal saints. Out of the 264 deceased popes only 78 have the honor of being canonized.

If you were one of the first 54 popes you had a good shot of making the cut (all of the first 35 popes and 52 of the first 54 were canonized). But since the 1500s, only one man — Pope Pius X, who died in 1914 — has been added to the list. Sixteen others are on the track to sainthood, but last week two former popes were moved to the front of the line: Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

From 1572 to 1954, only one pope was declared a saint. And now, in 2013, two more are added to the list. In other words, this is significant religion story. So why then isn’t it being treated that way?

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the media covered the second miracle attributed to JP II. This weekend tmatt also wrote about the way journalists cover the divine healing in response to the intercessory prayers of the saints. But while some reporters have covered the miracles, the significance of the event seems to be lost on the media.

Consider, for instance, the lede in the New York Times:

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Round two: How not to report on a miracle

Being recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church is a difficult process — almost as difficult, apparently, as trying to explain that process in a mainstream new story.

I realize that tmatt just wrote an early post on this topic, but, trust me, there’s plenty more coverage out there, complete with new and unique gaffes. Let’s go with round two.

So, an official at the Vatican claims that a new miracle has been attributed to the late John Paul II, clearing the way for his canonization. The news may be fairly straightforward, but journalists seem to make the same three mistakes in their reporting:

Not defining the theological terms — The AP must assume that its readers are familiar with the process since they don’t attempt to define or explain any of the terms used in their report:

A Vatican official says a commission of theologians approved a miracle attributed to his intercession, clearing a key hurdle. The case now goes to a commission of cardinals and then Pope Francis. John Paul’s canonization is possible in autumn to coincide with the 35th anniversary of his election, though the official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal details about the case that it may be too soon.

The Polish-born pope has been on the fast track for sainthood ever since retired Pope Benedict XVI waived the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the investigation into his life and virtues to begin just weeks after his 2005 death. John Paul was beatified in 2011.

Leaving terms like “intercession,” “canonization,” and “beatified” unexplained might be acceptable for the National Catholic Reporter. But a mainstream wire service should not assume its readers are fluent in Catholic.

Claiming the process makes a person a saint — As EWTN explains, “By canonization the Pope does not make the person a saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by the faithful.” That’s not the impression you’d get, though, from reading The Daily Telegraph:

The Polish pontiff is likely to be formally made a saint in the autumn.

Or as CBS News says:

Pope John Paul II has moved a step closer to sainthood.

Well, no. John Paul may be closer to being recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, but his status has already been determined and is not due to what CBS refers to as “the saint-making process.”

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AP frames Benedict XVI in some warped timeframes

On one level, I am rather disappointed to note that the editors at the Associated Press have already fixed an awesome typo that a Beltway journalist sent to me early today, the one that said the Pope Benedict XVI has, as is common among elderly men, experienced “some prostrate problems” in recent years.

Yes, that’s certainly the truth. Arthritis can make it hard to do prostrations during liturgical prayers.

Perhaps that typo crept into the copy while members of the AP team frantically worked to turn the basic obituary story that they had stashed away in a digital file into a live, breaking news report about the pope’s stunning announcement that he was retiring.

The nearly 3,000-word report that quickly hit the wires today contains a sweeping overview of Benedict XVI’s life, just like an obituary. It doesn’t contain the kinds of errors that will make faithful Catholics scream and spill coffee into their computer keyboards. That’s good, since this AP story is the one that millions of newspapers will see in their local newspapers — the many, many local papers that do not have fulltime religion specialists.

What this AP story has, however, is the kind of framing language that always makes me think of those moments in sporting events — especially in soccer and basketball — when one player fouls another, forcing the angry person who was fouled to lash out in response. The referees then, inevitably, call a foul on the second player. We do live in a sinful, fallen world.

All too often in daily journalism, reporters (and especially editors) have a tendency to think that big important stories actually begin when they first realize that they exist, as opposed to when these stories actually start affecting life in the real world (as opposed to newsrooms).

Take, for example, that whole “Anglican timeline” thing, with all of the stories proclaiming that the Episcopal Church battles over doctrine, sacraments and sexuality started in 2003 with the election of an openly gay, non-celibate bishop in the tiny Diocese of New Hampshire. In reality, the battles had been going on — with international consequences — for several decades.

In this AP story about the retirement of Benedict XVI, the big story is the sex-abuse scandal. There are times, in this report, when the editors truly seem to realize that there is no singular scandal, but a series of connected scandals that have been unfolding since the early 1980s. Many of these flareups actually received attention in the mainstream press (as well as in Hollywood).

However, the headline at AP states the thesis: “Pope’s mission to revive faith clouded by scandal.” There are several places in which the AP team fits Benedict into this picture. For example:

The German theologian, whose mission was to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe, grew increasingly frail as he shouldered the monumental task of purging the Catholic world of a sex abuse scandal that festered under John Paul II and exploded during his reign into the church’s biggest crisis in decades, if not centuries.

That isn’t bad, but, actually, the scandal did much more than fester during the long, long tenure of the Blessed Pope John Paul II — it exploded into view several times. For example, didn’t The Boston Globe win its Pulitzer in 2003 for earlier coverage of the scandal, before Benedict XVI became pope? I am aware that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was already involved in the story, but it’s simply wrong to make it appear that the scandal began on his watch or that the worst abuses came to light during his papacy.

You can see the timeline struggle again a bit later in the report.

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