National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
February 27, 2004

LettersMoving with the spirit

My daughter, a French language major in college, traveled to France. She is excited to inform me that when she went to Mass in France, instead of the French words for “And also with you,” the French liturgy translated “And with your spirit.” She thought that was totally cool. When I informed her that’s what the Latin says, she was much surprised.

I don’t know what the revisers have in store for us, but I would like to say that I think “and with your spirit” is totally cool, and that I am totally cool with the change.

Staten Island, N.Y.

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Just finished reading John Allen’s Jan. 23 article on the changes to our Sunday prayers from the International Commission of English in the Liturgy. The stilted formalities they’re going to drop on us English speakers are meant to take us back to a “pre-Vatican Council” liturgical style.

I cringe at the memory of the stupidities of 38 years ago (“And with your spirit!”) and I know that with the wisdom of hindsight the new stupidities will be even more stupid when they arrive next year.

In 50 years of praying at the Mass, I have left many services grinding my teeth at those who worry out loud about how we’re praying. A priest, for instance, will often shout out the last syllable of a phrase, forcing the congregation to slow down to a statelier, more “reverent” cadence. That their antics make us concentrate on how we pray and distract us from the prayer itself doesn’t bother these overbearing martinets a bit.

So now the hierarchy has impaneled a group of right-wing zealots with the express charter of concentrating precisely on how we pray.

To those who love simple, direct, non-Latinized English: Get ready to grind your teeth! Not me. I’m going singing with the Quakers.


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I wish I could say that I am joyfully anticipating the coming liturgical “reforms.” Instead, I find myself simply dreading what can best be described as liturgical deforms. Two of the proposed reforms are worthy of mention here.

First, when the presider prays the invocation “The Lord be with you,” the people of God will be asked to respond, “And also with your spirit.” Hmmm. There’s that body/spirit separation still at work among us. To respond with “And also with you” directs our words to the whole person, not simply one aspect of his/her being. After all, should we not be praying for the entirety of one’s being?

Second, the proposed reforms would have the congregation pray these words as part of the Confiteor: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” (accompanied by a breast-striking gesture).

The energy that has been spent on these pending “reforms” is yet another sad commentary on the state of leadership within the church. This was summed up well in a recent issue of NCR when one writer said, “They [the bishops] are simply rearranging the deck furniture aboard the Titanic.” Using the same analogy, one could also say this: While some are frantically bailing water and others are literally jumping ship, there sit the bishops sipping wine and listening to a lone violinist playing “Nearer my God to Thee.” And in so doing, I hope it is the bishops who are striking their breasts and praying, “through our fault, through our fault, through our most grievous fault.”

Wichita Falls, Texas

On Unsworth

We thank you, NCR, for the great job you’re doing. If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t really know what’s going on in the church.

In particular we congratulate you for having Tim Unsworth as a columnist. He has a wonderful command of metaphor (especially of the humorous right-on kind, such as “the guys with the big antlers” -- a perfect image for the male-dominated church and the hint of the Alpha male roaming about) and great insights into the church and the clergy.

Our positive suggestion: Let’s have a lot more of Tim.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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Tim Unsworth’s recent column (NCR, Feb. 6) prompts this letter. He seems offended that in the conclave that elected John Paul II there was discussion among some of the cardinals or “arguing,” to use his term, about the electability of some of the candidates. Did he really expect that choosing the man to lead the church would come off in monastic silence? Then he sums up the choice of Karol Wojtyla with the self-assured declaration: “The Holy Spirit had nothing to do with it.” A pretty dogmatic statement coming from one who is forever impugning the dogmatism emanating from Rome.

This pope will forever be remembered for achieving what not even the United States with all its might and power could accomplish: the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. An outsider to Rome and coming from behind with a slim five votes, according to Unsworth, it would seem the Holy Spirit had everything to do with his election, especially if many of the Italians in the majority refused to budge.

Unsworth’s being put off that advancement in the church comes about through word of mouth from one bishop to another and then to the Roman curia and the pope is amazing if not amusing. How else does he think one learns about another? In the Gospel we read that Herod heard about Jesus and wanted to see him. Apparently, someone must have told him. It’s no secret that the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, one of the nation’s great prelates and presumably on Tim Unsworth’s “good boy” list, was a protégé of Archbishop Paul Hallinan. Although we can never know for sure, it seems safe to say that Bernardin’s ascension to the hierarchy was abetted because he had a “sponsor,” to quote Unsworth again, in Hallinan. Is there something awry about this?

Unsworth complains that the process at work is “intensely human.” Of course it is, but that does not imply the absence of the Spirit or nullify the Spirit’s work now or at any time in the church’s history. Impede it perhaps, but how could it be otherwise?

Lisle, Ill.

Caryll Houselander

In the article about Caryll Houselander (NCR, Dec. 12), there was no mention of her book Guilt -- a wonderful read!

Warrenton, Ore.

The prophetic church

So many of us belong to church within church. This marks the difference between institutional and prophetic church. This awareness bombarded me with the reading of two reports from recent issues of NCR.

The first was the news that the National Federation for Youth Ministry and the Military Services archdiocese had joined forces to set up a ministry for youth in the military (NCR, Jan. 23). I was reminded that Catholic colleges have ROTC programs on campus.

The second report was of the clash of Fr. John Dear with the youth in the military in Spring, N.M. (NCR, Jan. 16). A more expansive report was given in The Catholic Peace Voice (January/February). The youth in the military stationed in a camp near Fr. Dear’s church had deliberately decided to do their exercises in front of this house because of his outspoken opposition to the war. Standing yards away from his front door in the street in front of his house, they shouted and screamed, “Kill! Kill! Kill! Swing your guns from left to right; we can kill those guys all night.”

Fr. Dear courageously came out of the house, walked into their midst and said loudly for all to hear, “In the name of Jesus I order all of you to stop this nonsense, and not to go to Iraq. I want all of you to quit the military … and not kill anyone. … I want you to practice the love and nonviolence of Jesus. God does not bless war.”

The contrast between these two reports reminded me of the characterization of the Christian church by a figure in the best-selling book The Life of Pi: “The Christian church has a few gods and a lot of violence.”

It is sometimes lonely in this church within the church, but so much more comfortable. I feel closer to the nonviolent Jesus.

Brecksville, Ohio

Church spending

Pages 4 and 5 of the Jan. 30 NCR have two stories about sex abuse victims.

In the article “Religious seek reconciliation, conversion, with sex abuse victims” on Page 4, the last paragraph says the Atlanta Marist Province had to sell part of its stock holdings. The article on Page 5, “Bishop nails ‘promises’ to cathedral door,” says the Orange, Calif., diocese paid a public relations firm $90,000 for a pledge statement.

I don’t care what anyone says of my statement, but a vowed religious community should not have stockholdings to begin with. Also, the bishop has lost sight of where this $90,000 comes from: the small coins of the poor in the collection plate.

It looks to me like the Catholic church spends money the same way the Pentagon does. Wasteful!

Spotsylvania, Va.

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004