Mailbag 13

Yes, we're still alive. Apologies for the alarming lack of activity over the past week and a half. So much for our resolution, eh?

To start to make it up to you, dear readers, here's a recent note from our mailbag. And because the subject asks a lot of questions, our responses are spliced in.

Hello,

I like your Philadelphia Church Project. I have a few comments. Good, because if you didn't I wouldn't be printing your letter right now. Just kidding. (Or am I?) Re the Immaculate Conception church in the Germantown area.....I was shocked when I read that the priest asked you to stand up and introduce yourselves in the middle of Mass. How Protestant! Where did that creepy custom come from?

I wouldn't call the custom creepy--just inconvenient. And I wouldn't call it Protestant, either, since they haven't yet made us do it once.

Regardless, said custom is borne out of desperation. It's no coincidence it's almost found exclusively in our Fat Girl parishes. Simply put, they're starved for attention from the outside world. And when they get it, especially from people who seem "out of place," so to speak, they naturally want to know more. Their insistence on doing it in front of everybody is an extension of a carefully cultivated sense of community: mass isn't a collection of strangers, it's a family.

Also, in your review of Holy Name in Fishtown, I was startled to read that the priest interrupts the mass and tried to be oh so cool with casual shout outs and so forth. Wow, how ignorant. No wonder people are flocking back to the Traditional Latin Mass. This Novus Ordo stuff is so pedestrian. Did you ever draw a connection between these practices and the fact that many of these congregations are failing? The reason why Catholics have stayed away from the Mass in droves since Vatican II? Just a thought. There may be a connection. Look, we get shout outs in the street or in the theater, we don't need pedestrian stuff in church.

Your attitude toward the current Roman Catholic mass depends almost entirely on your generation. Those born and worshipping before Vatican II generally revere the Tridentine mass as the be-all and end-all. Those born after, like the Project, have no problems whatsoever with the current format. The Project's grandmother, for example, falls into the former category. And never lets us forget it!

But honestly, a mass is only as beautiful and reverent as the people who celebrate it. Those who praise formality and condemn informality should remember that. The Project has had informal mass experiences that left us speechless, and formal mass experiences that left us empty inside. It's not the language you use, it's the passion and love behind said language.

As for Vatican II, you raise an interesting point. The Roman Catholic Church's slow decline in its wake can indeed be traced to Vatican II, but not in the way you might think.

If you haven't read it, I recommend Peter Steinfels' excellent book A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Catholic Church in America. Steinfels, a longtime New York Times columnist, lays out a pretty broad and compelling analysis for what is often seen as a rudderless ship.

One of his points, and it's one the Project agrees with, is that Vatican II did create the Church's current predicament. But it's not because the reforms weren't overdue and crucial to religion's future survival--they were, and still are. It's because of the way they were handled. Prior to Vatican II, the Church hadn't changed much throughout it's entire existence. And suddenly, you're going to uproot everything and change the entire face of Church overnight?

Such a monumental shift needed to be done slowly and deliberately. By simply flicking a switch and expecting the faithful to just up and abandon hundreds of years of tradition, the Church undermined its own authority and drove scores of people away. Those people didn't pass the faith on to their offspring, and the rot continues to this day.

There as other critical factors, such as the sex abuse scandal and the Church's own increasing isolation on matter of social policy, but Vatican II did indeed have a profound and lasting impact, much of it negative.

(And the fact that its liturgical reforms convinced many parishes to rip up their stately interior architecture drives the Project all kinds of crazy.)

As for the Eastern Catholic church in NL, Immaculate Conception, I was there, the people are friendly. Icy stares? Try going to an orthodox church, talk about ice! But you don't mention the nuances of the Eastern liturgy, the beauty of it--NO shout outs! Also, communion is on a spoon does not touch your lips--it is dropped into your mouth. Why were you such a Fussy Wussy and afraid to receive? Come on, grow up a little! You give the impression that that eastern Catholic church is very plain. It is not, really, compared to many modern Catholic churches, which resembled SHOUT OUT Baptist churches. The icons are impressive. And they incense!

At the time, the Project couldn't tell that the spoon doesn't touch the mouth, so it's a logical reaction to someone unfamiliar with the practice. Taking something from someone's hand is much different than sharing a spoon with dozens of strangers. Even given our newfound understanding of the rite, it's not something we're inclined to do. Whether or not we do, though, is not a matter of maturity or immaturity--simply personal preference.

And by the way, we've been to one Eastern Church so far. There are no doubt ones out there that are very ornate. The Cathedral is not one of them.

Keep up the good work--oh by the way the abbreviation for saints is SS> not Sts.

and when you mention the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, you should have said ICON.

One of the results of doing nearly 100 reviews is that we don't have a photographic memory of everything we've ever said. I can't pinpoint when said errors were supposedly made, so please be more specific.