This is the weekend when Catholics in the United States begin to use the third edition of the English-language Roman missal, which makes several changes to the text of the mass. It is, overall, a more traditional translation, reinstating such things as the thrice-spoken “mea culpa” (rendered in English as, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”) and reverting to “And with your spirit” as the rendering of “Et cum spiritu tuo” (instead of the more mundane “And also with you”). Except for the hardcore ultramontanes who still pine for the old Tridentine mass in Latin, most conservative Catholics are gleeful, correctly seeing the new translation as further evidence of reactionary retrenchment in the Church—and a further diminution of the influence of Vatican II. Can veils for women be far behind?
In the past few months I have had occasion to step into two Catholic churches. (Before anyone asks, I will note that in neither case did anything shatter or burst into flames.) Both churches are modern constructions and had some notable features in common. In particular, they represented a big step back toward a more traditionally Catholic presentation, a far cry from the nearly featureless dark-paneled rectangular box that is St. Aloysius in Tulare.
Episcopal church. Holy Spirit's altar was a Protestant-compatible table and I'm sure the motley collection of art screens behind it provided ample peek-a-boo opportunities for the servers (both altar boys and altar girls at the service I attended).
The churches in Turlock and Fresno had another thing in common, and I regret not having any photographs to show you. Both of them have the Stations of the Cross (the “Via Dolorosa”) represented in mural form as a kind of frieze on the interior wall above the main entrance. In traditional churches, the fourteen Stations are usually wall plaques depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, seven of them equally spaced on the north wall and the other seven on the south wall (many old Catholic churches were preferentially oriented so that the altar was at the east end). The mural in Our Lady of the Assumption is dark and stark, graphically conveying the pain and anguish of the Savior's execution. I commented to my guide that it seemed more intense than some parishioners might prefer. He admitted that a few people in the community had lobbied to have the mural painted over after it had been unveiled, but that it was now generally accepted. The artist had had plans for other artwork in the interior of the church, but those had been shelved after the mural of the Stations of the Cross had been judged to sate the community's appetite for the artist's work.
It will take a few Sundays for practicing Catholics to work the kinks out of the new Roman missal, but I expect the complaints to be few. Regular mass-goers will quickly pick up on the changes and infrequent attendees (Easter and Christmas, anyone?) won't care. For former Catholics who outgrew religion and “put away childish things,” it's mostly a matter of curiosity and perhaps just a bit of nostalgia. The third edition of the Roman missal is yet another signpost that conservatives are in the ascendant in the Church, but we already knew that, didn't we?
In searching the web for photos of the Turlock and Fresno churches, I ran into the following dyspeptic reaction to Our Lady of the Assumption, posted by someone who thinks highly enough of himself to use “St. Christopher” as his handle:
What madness! A Catholic Church that has mostly Portuguese Mass. Oh yes — a TLM [traditional Latin mass] thrown in, at the Chapel at odd times on Sunday. Having cultural loyalty is a fine thing, and Portuguese is a wonderful language — but this focus on whatever is prevalent (Klingon Mass, anyone?) obliterates the meaning of what the Mass is supposed to represent. There is no question but that the Church must return to Latin, and a single, uniform Order of the Mass, as soon as is possible. Let those that wish to participate in something else, go to something else.Is there any chance that “St. Christopher” might consider taking his own advice? No one is making him attend a Portuguese-language mass. For my own part, however, I think it might be fun to attend a Klingon mass. Once, anyway.
The diligent searching of my friend Gene O'Pedia has uncovered a pair of on-line images of the Holy Spirit mural. The colors are more muted in the photos than they appeared to me in real life, but I recognize the compositions and can confirm that these are the Stations of the Cross that I saw in Fresno. Their resolution is not high enough to zoom in too closely on the panels of particular interest, but they can still convey a sense of what I was talking about. The first image depicts, right to left, Stations 6 and 7 (“Veronica wipes the face of Jesus” and “Jesus falls for the second time”). The flat perspective of Station 7 (not Station 5, as I said above) makes it look like Jesus is patting Simon on the behind. The other photo shows Stations 10 and 11 (again, right to left: “Jesus is stripped of his garments” and “Jesus is nailed to the cross”). Again, the resolution is limited, but you can just tell that the two Roman soldiers are gaping at the undraped Jesus in Station 10. It's a fine example of religious kitsch.