A reader writes:

I’ve been reading your blog for months now and enjoying it immensely. Something came up lately that I realized your particular blend of knowledge, wit and tomfoolery might be perfect for.

I was discussing the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal with some friends lately and I had someone of a generation close to mine (and I’m so old I get most of your references) state that “I don’t have a problem with change but I will not say ‘Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’. The church is just trying to make us feel guilty like they used to.”

I pointed out that we already say that we sinned through our fault, is the problem that we are saying it three times? And they said they just weren’t going to say it.

Got any deep thoughts for this one?

Nothing too deep. Just the observation that people are funny. I have no idea if the new translation reinstates the Mea Culpa, but it cracks me up that your friend can say, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” without batting an eye and see the Mea Culpa as somehow a plot to induce guilt. I suspect there is something almost purely acoustic in their reaction, since the Kyrie is just as much a confession of the need for mercy as the Mea Culpa.

I sometimes wonder how much language is a function of the sound and shape of words as it is their meaning. Very odd.

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  • I have no idea if the new translation reinstates the Mea Culpa,

    It does. Fear not, though, you only have to strike your breast once instead of three times, so we don’t hate on ourselves quite so much. *Eyeroll*

    • Was the mea culpa ever un-instated? Wasn’t it just reduced in the translation to a single “through my fault” rather than the three-fold repetition of the Latin?

      • Sure. I assumed Mark was referring to the threefold “through my fault…”.

  • As much as I find this guy’s attitude frustrating and annoying, I have to say that when pretty much everybody in a certain generation experienced the mass and the sacraments not as moments of grace but as occasions for condemnation, it behooves us eyerollers to take a step back and try to figure out:

    A. why that might have been, and
    B. whether the dynamics that created such a pathological atmosphere of guilt and condemnation are still in operation today (perhaps subtly).

    I grew up in a charismatic Protestant church half of the members of which were former Catholics who experienced freedom from the sacraments as a moment of Grace. That’s horrific and sad. I knew these people and their sincere hearts, and I cannot, absolutely cannot discount their experience. They loved Jesus, yet they feared and hated the sacraments of his church.

    So, it’s not just a desire to live happy little Moral Therapeutically Deistical lives that provokes people to refuse to strike their breast, but also a recognition that climbing the Scala Sanctum on your knees solely in a spirit of guilt and condemnation without the generous, bold response of joy in the overwhelming grace of God in Jesus Christ that Paul talks about is damned religion and a stench in God’s nostrils. (Not to mention a recipe for serious neurosis.)

    • Arnold

      I am puzzled why those people experienced freedom from the Sacraments as a moment of Grace. That doesn’t make any sense. I could understand if they rebelled against confession out of a misguided reaction but why fear the other sacraments like baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, marriage, holy orders and the anointing of the sick? What did they flee to in those charismatic churches? I have also been long puzzled by the general description of Catholicism as “guilt ridden.” I used to hear that from male non-Catholics a lot back in my college days in the 1960s and finally determined that it had more to do with the reluctance of Catholic girls to accommodate their sexual demands than anything else. In fact, when confronted they usually admitted this.

      • Without an understanding of Our Lord’s presence in the sacraments, and the intimacy of the encounter with him in each of them — and especially if they were celebrated with little or no regard for cultivating such an understanding in the uneducated — the liturgies can seem dull, repetitious, and pointless. Add to that the emphasis on obligation (which appears arbitrary) and the admonition of sin if one fails to attend, and it feels like a guilt trip for no good reason.

        Meanwhile, pentecostal/charismatic groups and other denominations emphasized a felt personal connection both with Jesus and with other members of the community. They focused on the inner experience more than the external obligation. Catholic approaches to worship appeared to be straining at gnats.

        Sadly, Catholic practice in many places has only reduced the sense of obligation without developing understanding or experience of the personal and intimate nature of the sacraments. They still seem to many just as pointless as ever.

      • I do not in any way dispute that terms like “Catholic guilt” have been overplayed in our society (just like folks who’ve never met a consecrated woman in their lives wink knowingly and chuckle when nuns and rulers get dragged out for their umpteenth cultural flogging). Nor do I deny that many denounced the guilt because they wished to quiet their own restless conscience.

        Nevertheless, whether it makes sense to us who love the sacraments or not, when Protestants spoke to these Catholics about the freedom of a relationship with Christ and the uselessness of dead ritual and mere law to save them, the Catholics immediately said, “Yes! My life has been till now a mere following of rules and regulations, but all my life I’ve known there must be something more.” Evangelicals proselytized Catholics like St. Paul on Mars Hill: “I see you have an altar to the ‘unknown god’. What has been unknown I now proclaim to you.”

        Back in the day, Catholics followed not the 10 Commandments, but the 10,000 Commandments:

        “Don’t eat meat on Fridays or you’re going to hell. Don’t brush your teeth before mass: you might get a little water down your throat and that would break your fast and make you unworthy. Don’t touch Jesus with your hands: only the priest can do that, sinner. Had an impure thought? Better go to confession and pull that little lever or God’s just waiting behind a Mack truck to send you to the evil place. Did you hear about the missionary in South America who never went to confession? If he just had venial sin it wasn’t worth a flight over the mountains. And if he had mortal sin it was just too dangerous.” Ha, ha. It’s funny because it’s true.

        Being Catholic used to be part of a joyful lifestyle, and the sacraments were the lynchpins, the clear and gracious moments when God most clearly and unmistakeably bound himself to us and shared our life. But in the United States, once the context of a cultural, unified, very social Catholic life was gone the sacraments became nothing more than rules you had to follow or go to hell. (I suspect this all really culminated when we escaped the ghettos and JFK was president, although our peculiarly Western pharisaical pathologies had started the process years before even back in the Old Country.) Thus Catholics started living individualistic, American, non-Catholic lives, and the church’s teaching on the necessity of the sacraments became merely an insistence upon superfluous and utterly decontextualized rituals, backed up mainly by the threat of Almighty displeasure, surely a terrible reason for enticing any Christian to do anything.

        The sacraments only achieve their full meaning within a joyful Christian lifestyle and life of grace. When we live that life, the response to the sacraments is not “Do I have to?” but “When do I get to?”

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Heaven forbid we should ever feel guilty over something. It goes against the grain of I’m OK, You’re OK and post-modern feelgoodism. After all, when truth is whatever heightens your feeling of power, then you discover truth to be wonderfully congruent with whatever appetite is driving you today.

    Culturally, the only alternative to guilt is shame, and shame implies that getting caught is the only thing that matters. Down the road from those two things, we find a) the Western tradition of law based on the autonomous individual knowing for himself right and wrong or b) the non-Western traditions of law based on the obedient individual who does what he is told by those who dictate right and wrong.

  • Jane Hartman

    My understanding is that in the Latin, the superlative of Holy would be Holy, Holy, Holy – in Latin, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus —consequently, the superlative of through my “worst” fault would be said 3 times. It’s just a superlative. Agnus Dei – 3 times. Father, Son, Holy Spirit (the trinity). On the third day, Jesus arose. I don’t think it has any thing to do with making you feel guilty. But I think that is the church’s job – to help us know when we mess up and help us get out of the mess.

    • I thought Latin did have a superlative (sanctissimus, maybe?), and it was Hebrew that didn’t.