We believe. And so do I.

September 6, 2011

Among the sundry tasks with which my new assignment presents me is overseeing the transition to the new translation of the Roman Missal in the parishes of the Rosebud Reservation.  The transition here promises to be rather smoother than in other places, at least in part because the people here do not seem to have as many ideological hang-ups as their sibling Christians in certain other locales.  And many, particularly elders, already have experience praying in another language—Lakota—which gives them intuition into the reasons behind the change.  As a lay cantor who participated in a workshop on the new translations explained to me a few weeks ago, “Lakota is a very spiritual language, and we understand that when we translate into English something gets lost.”  The new translations are simply an attempt—imperfect, like all human endeavors—to recover a bit of what has been lost.

Among the complaints I’ve heard about the new translations from other sources is the objection that changing the Creed’s “We believe” to “I believe” diminishes the communal nature of the Mass.  In some ways this is a strange objection, since the Creed’s first line is one instance in which the 1973 translation simply gets the Latin wrong, something obvious to anyone celebrating Mass in another of the major modern languages, which correctly translate “Credo” into the first person singular.  Given that the 1973 English version is the outlier in this instance, there’s something self-defeating in defending a supposedly more communal word that in fact puts a distance between English speakers and the rest of the international Church.

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Homily for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

November 7, 2010


For the 7:30 am crowd at St. Paul’s in Cambridge.  This one would have benefited from more concrete examples, but I had to weigh the benefits of brevity against those of vividness (most folks don’t go to Mass at 7:30 am to hear a long homily …).


In refuting the Sadducees in today’s Gospel, Jesus makes two points that shed light on the mystery of the communion of saints—the mystery upon which the Church invites us to reflect during this month of November. Read the rest of this entry »

The Society of All Souls

November 2, 2009


Few things are more opaque to folks of contemporary sensibility than the longstanding Catholic practice of praying for the “poor souls” in Purgatory.  I can easily recall my Mom encouraging me to “offer up” my suffering on their behalf—a counsel that she often dispensed to put the kibosh on my whining.  I admit, I never quite understood the efficacy of “offering it up” back then, but I did understand that Mom was deferring my complaints to the adjudication of a higher power.  And no favorable decisions ever seemed to return from that court of appeal.

The practice of interceding for the poor souls remained obscure because it supposed a deeper interweaving of human destinies than I had either the vision or courage to acknowledge. Read the rest of this entry »

Let the Earth Bless the Lord

October 3, 2009

"When everything is done apart, we forget our connection to each other and the world." Ken Burns at the 2009 Boston College Commencement

In a few other posts I’ve taken up the theme of theology as practiced by artists,  filmmakers (both cinema and television) and fiction writers. Once again, television audiences this past week were witness to a bit of theologizing. This time Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker who changed the way documentaries are made with his Civil War, offers his take on God and nature in The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

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The Angels as a Political Problem

September 29, 2009


The Feast of the Archangels always makes me—and others, I suspect—acutely aware of the divide between contemporary and ancient religious sensibilities. Angels—once as present in Christendom’s social imaginary as microbes in our own—no longer loom large. Perhaps mothers still say the “Angel of God” prayer with their children before bed (as my own mother did with me), but such devotions usually do not outlive Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

The ostensible explanation of our disenchantment with the angels points to technological progress. Read the rest of this entry »