Monday, November 28, 2011


We like to chuckle if we toss out the hackneyed pseudo-profundity, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life" -- but sometimes the line is a statement of simple truth.

It happened a couple of weeks ago , at an otherwise unremarkable First Sunday of Advent Mass. In a quiet but definitive transformation, 45 years of substandard vernacular prayer were consigned to the ash-pot of history, and the English-speaking Catholic world welcomed back into use a mode of expression that at least attempts to praise and petition God with the humility and graciousness He is owed.

For those of us old enough to remember the days of a Catholic world united by the Tridentine Latin Mass, it was a long-awaited return to what had, for 45 years, stubbornly remained the norm, even as it disappeared from use; and it was a clear reminder of the suppressed truth that, back in the pre-vernacular days, those of us who attended Mass with a missal in our hands and read all the well-translated English on the right-hand page while the priest recited the Latin printed on the left, were engaging in ACTIVE PARTICIPATION on a scale barely imaginable to the Catholic who knows only the post-conciliar Church.

After 45 years, I stood ready to feel the balm of restoration when I first uttered aloud (on purpose, not by accident, as has often happened over the decades) the words "And with your spirit" in response to "The Lord be with you." My moment came -- and I blew it. The Novus Ordo reflex proved too powerful. I shocked myself. And it's a shock I have undergone several times since over the past two weeks -- damn! Some old habits die so hard.

[sidebar -- old Catholic joke: Priest steps up to the pulpit, looks around and fiddles with the mic, taps it, and mutters under his breath, "There's something wrong with this microphone." Mind-numbed Novus Ordrones reflexively chime in, "And also with you."]

However, some habits are older and die harder than others. When it came time to respond to "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world," I was primed and ready to say what I have always said at this moment, no matter what ICEL* monstrosity was printed on the Novus Ordo page: "Lord, I am not worthy that You [or Thou] should come under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed."

This Biblically-based prayer [Matthew 8, Luke 7] makes use of concrete imagery, so favoured by Christ Himself, to reference the body as both the temple of the Holy Spirit and the physical receptacle of the Holy Eucharist. The mal-translated abstract banality "Oh Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed" is, to my mind, the ultimate embodiment of the *International Commission on English in the Liturgy at its most perverse. And never in the 45 years since ICEL put the liturgy into a choke-chain of "dynamic equivalence" have I been able to utter their version of that particular prayer.

So on the First Sunday of Advent, 2011, I stood ready to proclaim the old words aloud, and no longer be the one muttering something else under my breath. I got through "Lord, I am not worthy..." and I couldn't go on. I choked, and tears filled my eyes. I felt the balm of healing pour out over a near-half-century wound, but it could not diminish the emotional pang of realizing how much I wished my parents could have lived to see this day.

Heck, I wish they could have lived to attend their own funerals! Five years, and one year, ago we sang each of them out into the next world with funeral Masses in the musical and liturgical traditions they loved so dearly and had been denied for half their lives. (They were Novus Ordo, but we had full co-operation from the celebrants regarding the traditional forms and aesthetics.) My father was in the grip of advancing dementia when my mother died, but he was able to take some comfort from the beautiful Latin ordinaries and hymns, including a portion of the Dies Irae, which we sang for her sending forth. As his dementia worsened over the next four years, and he got to the point where he could barely identify family members as anything more than a familiar face, he was still able to join in with the Missa de Angelis, Gloria VIII, and Credo III when he was taken to churches where the tradition was being revived -- despite their long absence from his weekly Mass experience, they were burned into the deepest recesses of his memory, and he called them up effortlessly.

But the ghastly, grating, anti-euphonious "And also with you," along with all its nasty little ICEL-manufactured companions ["Let us pray with confidence to the Father in the words our Savior gave us"] dogged my parents through most of the second half of their lives, and never, ever ceased to irritate.

On this day, however -- the first of days, Advent, 2011 -- a half-century's festering wound began to heal.

It is only a first step on the road to healing, and it is only a particle ingredient of the balms needed everywhere in the world to heal a thousand other festering wounds of every sort. But it is a start. And it was wonderful to stand next to two more generations of our family, one that is open and accepting of what is, to them, a new path; and the other so young that she will grow up knowing only the restored prayers and nothing of the paltry substitutions which gave miserly insult to the debt of worship for generations before. [And she will never get that old Catholic joke about the microphone - hooray!]

It was a good day. And despite all the tribulations that come with the bonds between parents and children, I was grateful to feel the tugs and jolts of those transformative moments in church, grateful to the parents who were the reason I learned to care about such things.

May the peace of the Lord be with them always.
And with their spirits.

Addendum: seems like an appropriate moment to re-post an oldie but a goodie:
Recovering the "Merry" in Christmas from 2006.

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