Sunday, August 29, 2010

Youth and Age and Tommy John Surgery

I guess like most baseball fans, I find this story exceptionally heartbreaking. No major league baseball player's debut in recent years was hyped more than Stephen Strasburg's; and no rookie ever lived up to his hype more convincingly than Strasburg did. Now Strasburg finds himself, at age 22, a man on whom time has already taken its toll. The ironies need no annotation.

Strasburg is handling his misfortune gracefully and with an introspective courage that is rare among people born in 1988. Rare, frankly, among people of any age who must face disappointment on the scale he is facing it. Earlier this season, he realized an ambition that must have occupied him, more or less exclusively, for at least 75 percent of his life. And now the fulfillment of that ambition is in serious jeopardy.

I can't help thinking about the experience of seeing something you've worked 15 years for suddenly taken away from you -- at least temporarily, and perhaps forever. How much harder must the experience be when those 15 years represent pretty much your whole conscious existence. For a person my age, the frustration of "long-term" dreams is something that has probably happened at least a few times in one's life. Eventually we learn that things we once thought represented our one and only chance of happiness--getting this girl or that job--usually aren't as defining a goal as we thought. When we don't get the thing we were certain we had to have, we usually find some other way of being happy and fulfilled. And even more importantly, we find that there are other ways of being happy and fulfilled, knowledge that will be a source of repeated consolation to us as the years and the disappointments roll by.

Mentally and emotionally, Stephen Strasburg seems to be fine. Every baseball lover has to hope that sometime next year he will be fine physically as well. (And, frankly, I know a few hundred thousand people in north Texas who also hope that he ends up in a Rangers uniform someday.)  But how hard a lesson it must be, at age 22, to learn that no merely human aspiration, regardless of how well supported it may be with talent and hard work and desire, can guarantee happiness. People my age often say--to the well-deserved scorn of their juniors--that youth is wasted on the young. But when I reflect back on the way in which disappointment and anxiety loomed unrealistically large for me when I was a young man--because of what I did not yet know--I sometimes think that the wisdom and perspective of age is wasted on the old.

A Cooking Tip (Don't Expect Many of These)

There are ideas so self-evidently right that merely naming them proves their rightness. For example:


I know -- it's the sort of revelation that makes you slap your forehead and mutter,"Why didn't I think of that?"

We had some for lunch today after church, preparing them pretty much as in the picture  (although, being Texans, we chose Jimmy Dean thick-cut instead of Rath). We kept a small amount of the fat from frying the bacon strips to grease the griddle for the pancakes (which never hurts). And we ate them with pancake syrup.

They were indescribably good. In the words of the old hymn, "All glory, lard, and honor...."

H/T -- Four Pounds Flour

Thursday, August 26, 2010

D. H. Lawrence and New Mexico

That D. H. Lawrence line in my last post is from a 1928 essay of his, written after his two half-year stays near Taos (on a ranch he purchased in exchange for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers -- make of that what you will, real estate agents!). Maybe the most interesting passage from the essay, entitled "New Mexico," is this:

"Those that have spent morning after morning alone there pitched among the pines above the great proud world of desert will know, almost unbearably, how beautiful it is, how clear and unquestioned is the might of the day. Just day itself is tremendous there. It is so easy to understand that the Aztecs gave hearts of men to the sun. For the sun is not merely hot or scorching, not at all. It is of a brilliant and unchallengeable purity and haughty serenity which would make one sacrifice the heart to it. Ah, yes, in New Mexico the heart is sacrificed to the sun and the human being is left stark, heartless, but undauntedly religious.

And that was the second revelation out there. I had looked over all the world for something that would strike me as religious. The simple piety of some English people, the semi-pagan mystery of some Catholics in southern Italy, the intensity of some Bavarian peasants, the semi-ecstasy of Buddhists or Brahmins: all this had seemed religious all right, as far as the parties concerned were involved, but it didn't involve me. I looked on at the religiousness from the outside. For it is still harder to feel religion at will than to love at will."

Well, that is quite a goulash of romanticism, mysticism, cosmopolitanism, and paganism--which is not a bad four-word description of D. H. Lawrence's literary style. He was obviously a very confused man--more confused than ever on account of the broad experience of life that his 40-odd years of living had brought him.  And yet there is something true in those paragraphs.

The quality in nature that leads one to religious insight is not the beauty of nature, or the orderliness of nature, or the goodness of nature. It is the wildness of nature, the bigness of nature, the feeling that nature produces in us of something immensely larger and more powerful than ourselves. Perhaps no one is better situated to be open to such insights than an Englishman, for whom his own local nature is essentially something domesticated and cozy. It is the transcendent feeling that English Romantic poets referred to as a sense of the "sublime." And, tellingly, they pretty much had to travel outside England and its human-scaled natural terrain in order to feel it. The Alps would do it for them. And, if they could have gotten as far as New Mexico, the Rocky Mountains would have done it for them as well.

I believe that I understand, more or less, what D. H. Lawrence felt and wrote about in his description of New Mexico. The immensity of nature that one confronts in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is, of course, not the only source of religious experience that a person can have. (And I certainly am not willing to let D. H. Lawrence define that religious experience for me. I am in touch with a defining religious authority that Lawrence would not, did not, acknowledge--the Roman Catholic Church. It's the authority that enables me to distinguish between what is metaphysically true--and what is not--in the religious impulse of the Aztec, and the Brahmin, and the Buddhist, and D. H. Lawrence.) But nature, as Lawrence clearly perceived, is a source of one particular religious truth that is hard to come by from any other earthly source. Nature affords us a kind of proof -- or at least a kind of reassurance -- that faith is not simply a form of wishful thinking, not something that we fashion in our minds to meet emotional needs of our own. Religion, experienced even at only the natural level, is an encounter with something beyond our ability to use, beyond our ability to fashion into something comforting, something that will reassure us that the world makes sense (on our own terms). Religion -- any religion worth man's attention--must be something overwhelming, something frightening, something beyond our ability to turn to our own purposes. That is what nature in its "sublimity" (to use the old-fashioned but expressive term) can still communicate to us. That, I think, is what D. H. Lawrence felt in New Mexico. It sure is what I feel when I go there.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why I Haven't Been Blogging

I was hiking in northern New Mexico.

 To tell you the truth, I wish I still was.

"I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had." 

-- D. H. Lawrence

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Sound of Chesterton, Belloc, and Lewis

My blogger buddy Keith Rickert commented that Basil Rathbone sounds the way he wishes G. K. Chesterton or Hilaire Belloc or C. S. Lewis sounded. I had heard recordings of Chesterton before. Here he is, in rather dim sound, delivering a BBC lecture on architecture. And I had heard some of Lewis's war-time broadcasts that eventually became Mere Christianity. Here's one. (Scroll down almost all the way, to the "Beyond Personality" clip.)

But I had never heard the sound of Belloc's voice and wasn't really sure what I imagined it might sound like. Keith was kind enough to steer me towards some examples. Here is the great (and odd) man sounding great (and odd):

You can follow the text of the first song, if you like.

What we have here, I believe, are three good reasons why people think speaking with a British accent makes you sound more intelligent.

Bobby Thompson R.I.P.

He died yesterday at the age of 86.

The 1951 Major League season ended with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants tied in the pennant race, each with a 96-58 record. It was decided that the league championship would be settled in a three-game series. The Giants won the first game, the Dodgers won the second. In the third and deciding game, the Dodgers led 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth when Bobby Thompson, the Giants' third baseman, came to bat with two men on base. He took the first pitch, a fastball, for a strike. Then:

It's called "the shot heard 'round the world," lending immortality to a very un-immortal poem by that self-important hack Ralph Waldo Emerson; and of course to Bobby Thompson, who became the protagonist in what is quite possibly the most dramatic moment in baseball history; and to Russ Hodges, the voice of the Giants' radio broadcasts, whose famous quadruple announcement that the Giants did indeed "WIN THE PENNANT" reminds us all of baseball's power to turn a grown man into a little boy.
* * * * *
One final note -- and it's a cautionary note to any of my fellow Texas Rangers fans who may be reading this. In mid-August 1951, the Dodgers were leading the Giants by 13 games; by the end of September, that 13-game lead was gone, and the Dodgers ended up losing the pennant. The Rangers currently hold first place in the American League West division by eight games (although we're losing to Tampa Bay as I type these words). An eight-game lead is a nice thing to have. But in the long run -- and baseball is all about the long run -- it is no guarantee of earthly happiness.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cesare Siepi

He died on July 5, at the age of 87, and I'm a bit late in taking note of the sad fact. May he rest in peace.

I became an opera fan in the late 1960s, which means that all the singers who were then in their prime and played a big part in winning me over to the art form are now dying, or dead. It also means that I am slowly turning into one of those crotchety old fans who believe there aren't any great singers anymore and who respond to a younger fan's praise of any current star with a condescending "Yes, but you never heard _____________." The blank is to be filled in with the name of some long-retired diva whom I got to hear in person and the younger fan never will. It's a game that I imagine has been going on for centuries.

I knew Siepi from his many recordings, but I didn't get to hear him in person until the last decade of his active opera career. He was Philip in Don Carlo, the first performance I ever saw at the Met. It was a role he had also sung 21 seasons earlier, in his Met debut, and most fans thought he was better than ever. His voice combined the two qualities that usually are an either-or choice for an operatic basso--dark richness (so you know he's not really a baritone singing low) and agility (so you're tempted to think he might actually be a baritone singing low). There was never any question about what you were hearing when Cesare Siepi sang.

A couple of years later I heard him as the bass soloist in the Verdi Requiem at Carnegie Hall. My reaction that night was the reaction of most people to any Siepi performance: "That's exactly the way that music was meant to sound."  In those days, I went backstage to get autographs. For some reason, Siepi didn't have the felt-tipped pen that singers usually have at the ready for such occasions, so in addition to handing him my program, I offered him the gold-filled Cross fountain pen that my parents had only recently given me as a college graduation present. He took the pen, looked at it admiringly, and gave me (in the attractively accented English that apparently drove women wild) a bit of advice that I have taken to heart ever since:

"Thees ees a very nice pen. You should not lend it to people. Someone might lose eet."

Here he is, in the serenade from Don Giovanni. A simple-sounding tune that is surprisingly difficult to sing well.

And here, for something completely different, is Siepi in American operetta. It's a hokey staging of "One Alone" from Romberg's Desert Song, but it displays Siepi's voice (and that attractively accented English) wonderfully. He tosses off a world class high F (pretty much the highest note a bass ever has to sing) at the end.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Looking around for a painting of the Assumption to use as an illustration for this post, I was struck by how curiously pedestrian and uninspiring they all are. And yet somehow I find the unsatisfactoriness of all these visual representations strangely...satisfactory. Would it help us in any way to know what Mary's Assumption "looked like"? I have no very clear idea what the experience of being "assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven" even means. Obviously Titian didn't either. (That's his famous version to the left.) He can make a pretty picture out of the idea, but there's no sense in which he--or Veronese, or Andrea del Sarto, or Perugino, or Rubens, or El Greco, or anybody else--comes close to expressing either a theological or even an emotional truth about it. Perhaps by making it pretty the artist is saying as much as he is capable of saying.

The theological truth of the Assumption is important because it is directly connected to the truth of the Immaculate Conception, which is directly connected to the truth of the Incarnation, which is, of course, the central truth of human history. So I give the assent of faith to the Assumption because I recognize the theological superstructure of which it is a part (and because I do not wish to incur that bloodcurdling anathema at the end of Munificentissimus Deus, about which more in a moment). But incorporating the Church's dogma of the Assumption into my everyday life as a Catholic is a bit harder to do.

The teaching doesn't particularly make me love the Blessed Virgin Mary more. To be honest, I find the Annunciation--and the heroic example of humble trust in God that it provides--to be a vastly more moving incident in Mary's life. Nor does the Assumption really teach me anything new about the Last Things or our eternal destiny. The Church is wisely vague about whether Mary even "died" as we understand the word, or whether being bodily assumed simply marked the end of her earthly life as death marks the end of ours. We know (hope) that someday, after we die, we will once again be both spirit and glorified body with God as Mary is now, but we would know that even if we knew nothing of the Assumption.

"Give me something I can use" is my not infrequent reaction to the more rarefied and abstract elements of Christian theology. For a long time, though I acknowledged it as true, I couldn't find much useful in the truth of the Assumption. Then, fairly recently, one passage from Munificentissimus Deus, the apostolic constitution in which Pope Pius XII defined the dogma, jumped off the page at me. Maybe it was because, after 60 years, the Pope's words still seemed so timely:

We may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father's will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined.

We are not just spirits longing to be freed from inconvenient and corruptible bodies so that we can get closer to God. Our eternal destiny is as much the destiny of our bodies as it is of our souls, because our bodies belong to God too and will be saved by and in him along with the rest of what makes us who we are. Reminding ourselves of that from time to time (say, every August 15?)  should make living in the body a very different undertaking for the Christian than it is for anybody else. It should help us, as Pope Pius XII suggested, to withstand "the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings." In the Collect for the Feast of the Assumption in the extraordinary form, Catholics pray that by looking always to the things of heaven ("ad superna semper intenti") as Mary did, we might be worthy to share in the same glory ("ipsius gloriae mereamur esse consortes") that now is Mary's. What she was, we are. What she is, we can become.
* * * * *
Getting back to Munificentissimus Deus for a moment. It is well worth reading, among other things for Pius' thorough review of the history of the dogma, showing that it has been a tradition of the Church from ancient times--not one of those useful fictions that non-Catholics think the popes are always concocting to consolidate their own control over the rest of us. As formal dogmatic definitions have conventionally done, it concludes with an anathema, which somehow sounds especially forbidding in the original Latin:

Quamobrem, si quis, quod Deus avertat, id vel negare, vel in dubium vocare voluntarie ausus fuerit, quod a Nobis definitum est, noverit se a divina ac catholica fide prorsus defecisse.

("Therefore if anyone--God forbid--should dare of his own free will to deny or to call into question what We have defined, let him know that he has completely fallen away from the divine and catholic faith.")

I guess some people might say that that sounds pretty medieval (especially the kind of people who regard "medieval" as a derogatory term), and that we live now in an age of kinder, gentler papacies--"God's Rottweiler" notwithstanding. But to me there's something singularly healthy about a straightforward statement to the effect that "This is the Catholic faith, and the Catholic faith is serious business." To speak in that way is to treat people as adults, which is the best way of encouraging people to act as adults.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Writing to his brother Warnie in December 1939, C. S. Lewis includes this offhand report about his current reading habits:

"After years of estrangement I found myself this week going back to Horace, who has at least this advantage--that a single ode makes just the right length of reading for the odd five minutes before a pupil appears, or between the last pupil and dinner. I suppose the first lines would still wake in you as they do in me a flood of reminiscence--Solvitur acris hiems--O fons Bandusiae--Vides ut alta stet nive candidum...."

I'm not sure why Lewis--whose critical judgments I have always admired--would refer to the reading of Horace (the greatest poet who ever lived, as any of my well-coached children would be happy to tell you) as having "at least" a single advantage. Talk about damning with faint praise. Could Lewis have been reading Horace's rich, dense, and allusive Latin too quickly?  (It certainly takes me longer than "five minutes" to get through one of the odes -- even one of the short ones.)  Perhaps if Lewis had paid a little more attention....

Okay, I jest. I know that Lewis's Latin was a lot better than mine, and that de gustibus non est disputandum. What really caught my eye was that the last of those quoted opening lines in Lewis's letter ("Vides ut alta stet nive candidum") is from my favorite of all the Horatian odes. You can find it, and a parallel English translation, here. Horace looks out at the snow atop Mount Soracte north of Rome, realizes that winter is on its way, and uses that realization as the occasion to lecture his male servant (whom he fancifully calls Thaliarchus) about the necessity of enjoying life while one is young. Pretty much the quintessential Horatian sentiment--a philosophical commonplace turned, in Horace's magical hands, into poetic gold.

I was thinking along these lines recently because I bought this 1833 engraving...

...of Mount Soracte, the subject of Horace's ode. And in reading around about the mountain itself, I discovered that there is almost never any snow on its summit.

Global warming?

Chesterton As Economist

Over at Maclin Horton's blog Light on Dark Water, there's an interesting discussion going on concerning distributism -- the economic system that G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc thought could save the world from the moral toxins of both socialism and capitalism. The threads are here and here.

My position (currently under review as a result of reading Mac and his commenters) has always been that distributism, while picturesque and intellectually alluring to a certain kind of Catholic, would require an excessive amount of governmental intrusion into the affairs of everyday life in order to get established. One retort to my position is that capitalism -- at least as practiced in the industrialized world -- is itself a pretty artificial and governmentally propped up system.

There is undoubtedly something to that opposing view. As evidence, I offer this infuriating portrait of government-protected "free enterprise" in all its thuggish grandeur.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


It's been a long time since I read about, or saw a picture of, a far-off place and found myself daydreaming about going there. (I guess Wanderlust is not the only kind of lust that fades with age....)

But after reading about the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe in the Washington Post -- and especially after seeing some pictures of the place:

...I find it unsettlingly easy to imagine myself sitting on a verandah, drinking some kind of rum-and-fruit-juice concoction with an exotic name, and just staring out at that landscape. The Post's Julian Smith puts it well:

"Nicaragua is a country drawn by a child: bordered by oceans, filled with jungles and volcanoes and a giant lake - and two volcanoes in the lake. Concepcion and Maderas, a pair of mountains joined by ancient lava flows, make up the hourglass-shaped island. Both peaks wear toupees of clouds."

Somehow I never bought into that Bali Hai business. Until now.

Christopher Hitchens Interview

It's engaging and sometimes moving. Death turns out to be yet one more topic on which Hitchens has interesting things to say.

But his preemptive invalidation of any possible religious conversion he might yet undergo (around 7:30 of the video) reminds us that religion is the single topic on which Hitchens has nothing interesting to say, and now he's promising us that he never will. Can you imagine as lively and intellectually honest a thinker as Christopher Hitchens declaring that he will never change his mind, never acknowledge contradictory evidence or experience should it come his way, never credit superior opposing arguments -- on any possible question? When the question is the existence of God, unfortunately you can.

Fr. George Rutler once predicted to his face that Hitchens would die a Catholic (see the entry for May 1, New York City). Who knows? But that eventuality, or something like it, obviously seems plausible enough to Hitchens that he wants to inoculate himself against it with a declaration of very uncharacteristic closed-mindedness. At least he isn't bothered by people praying for him. I shall continue to do so.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The California Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

I may or may not have additional comments on this. There really seems to be no good reason to say anything until the decision has wended its inevitable way on appeal up to the Supreme Court and been decided there on the basis of which other justice Anthony Kennedy talks to last before casting his vote.

But I do find one component of Judge Walker's findings extraordinary. No...make that outrageous. No...make that intellectually and morally shameful.

Judge Walker's decision hinges on 80 "findings of fact" -- facts that range from the peremptory and pedestrian -- "Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of California" -- through the argumentative and questionable -- "Eliminating gender and race restrictions on marriage [notice the rhetorical trick?] has not deprived the institution of marriage of its vitality" -- to this remarkable assertion (Fact #77):

Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.

What is one to make of that statement as a philosophical assertion, or even as a simple declarative sentence? I suppose there are contexts in which the statement, understood conditionally rather than categorically, could in theory be true -- although the choice of interpreting it conditionally rather than categorically would be a demonstration of charity towards Judge Walker's command of the English language that I'm not sure he or it deserves. To demonstrate the point, let's take this analogical statement:

The belief that the Boston Red Sox are a superior baseball team harms New York Yankees fans.

If, after a Red Sox-Yankees game, a couple of fans were to get into a physical disagreement over the respective merits of their teams (something that I believe does in fact happen from time to time), and if the Red Sox fan were to succeed in his efforts to break the Yankees fan's nose, one could legitimately say that the Red Sox fan's "beliefs" about his team's superiority had in fact harmed a Yankees fan.

Is something along those lines what Judge Walker is talking about when he makes his "finding of fact"? Perhaps, but I doubt it. There admittedly are people who believe, on the authority of their religion, that homosexual relationships are sinful and who, compelled by that belief, beat up homosexuals. Such actions would be directly analogous to my baseball hypothetical. Those same actions would also be antithetical to the moral convictions of the vast majority of people who believe that homosexual relationships are sinful. 

Are deplorable incidents of that kind the way in which Judge Walker is asserting that religious beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexual relationships "harm gays and lesbians"? Not on your life.  Judge Walker believes -- rules, actually -- that a mere religious conviction about the sinfulness of "gay and lesbian relationships" -- apart from any overt action taken in response to that conviction -- harms homosexuals. The grounds for Judge Walker's private opinion on this point can be seen in the citations he makes to the transcript of oral argument in the case itself. He quotes testimony from several witnesses as to various Christian bodies' teachings on the immorality of homosexual activity. (He's fashionably "inclusive" in his scorn for Christian doctrine, Protestant and Catholic, on the point.)  But he singles out the teachings of the Catholic Church as one example of religious beliefs that, in and of themselves, "harm gays and lesbians." One of the supporting footnotes to "Fact" #77 is this:

PX2545 (Young Nov 13, 2009 Dep Tr 55:15-55:20, 56:21-57:7: There is a religious component to the bigotry and prejudice against gay and lesbian individuals); see also id at 61:18-22, 62:13-17 (Catholic Church views homosexuality as “sinful.”)

There you have it. It is a finding of "fact" by a Federal district court judge that my religion is a "component" of the prejudice that is practiced against gay and lesbian individuals. My belief as a Catholic that homosexual acts are sinful constitutes an example of the bigotry that has deprived homosexuals who want to marry each other of their constitutional rights. One hears a lot of loose talk these days about a culture war. But can you blame Catholics for listening sympathetically to such talk when their government officially declares that the Catholic Church teaches "bigotry and prejudice"?

"Raccoon Terrorizes Family"

Here's a horror story that could engulf anyone.

And yet one simple precaution can prevent a similar fate from befalling you. Do as the Woodwards do. Keep a blue tick coonhound on 24-hour guard.

That's right. Any excuse to put up a photograph of my pride and joy....

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Congregation Ordains Catholic Female Pastor"

I'm going to let that headline go, no matter how much it begs to be fisked.

No, here's what caught my eye -- the explanation of how Ms. Corran, apparently a Presbyterian, came to discern her vocation to the Catholic priesthood.

"After returning to San Diego to care for her ailing father, she became 'certified and ready for call' to ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  But intrigued by Mary Magdalene, she attended its first liturgy and noticed the shift in the locus of power."

Boy, that brings back the memories. I'll never forget the first time I went into a Catholic church, noticed the locus of power, and said, "Hey, this is for me."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Basil Rathbone

If I could write English prose like anyone in the world, it would be Ronald Knox.

If I could paint like anyone in the world, it would be Raphael.

If I could play baseball like anyone in the world, it would be Joe DiMaggio.

If I could sing like anyone in the world, it would be Enrico Caruso.

And if I could talk like anyone in the world, it would be Basil Rathbone.

Maybe I was the only little boy in the world who ever thought that Rathbone should have won at least one of those swordfights with Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power or Leslie Howard just because he sounded so good.

I mean, really now. Isn't this the human voice and the English language at their very best?

Today Turner Classic Movies was having a Basil Rathbone day, and I missed most of it. But I have many of his films on DVD, including one of my favorite Rathbone performances, as an intriguingly sympathetic Pontius Pilate in the 1935 Last Days of Pompeii. TCM also showed a Basil Rathbone movie I've never seen--The Bishop Murder Case (1930), based on a Philo Vance mystery. I'm sorry I missed it.

The New Mass Translation

My 17-year-old daughter, who works part-time at a Catholic bookstore, brought me home a copy of this booklet yesterday.  I really hope that it, or something very much like it, will be widely used in parishes across the United States to prepare Catholics for the new--and much improved--missal translation next year.

The booklet, written by Fr. Paul Turner and prepared under the supervision of the Archdiocese of Chicago, does an excellent job of explaining the innumerable ways in which the new translation is more accurate and precise, both linguistically and theologically (theologically because linguistically, one might say). It also makes a case for the new translation as a more euphonious and collectively pray-able text. I'm not quite convinced yet on that point, but I'm willing to wait and hear what it sounds like once my fellow parishioners and I have it down pat.

As a sample of just how clear, commonsensical, and fair-minded the booklet is in its presentation, consider these comments on the use of the word consubstantial in the Nicene Creed--that "elitist and remote" word that Bishop Trautmann is so afraid will completely befuddle us all.

This word is a mouthful. In the entire revised translation of the Mass, this is probably the one word that will raise the most eyebrows. It replaces the expression "one in Being," and it describes the relationship between Jesus and the Father. In the current translation, "one in Being" was thought to be more comprehensible and closer to the original Greek of the Creed. However, the revised translation chooses a word that lies closer to the Latin equivalent, "consubstantialis."  The question of how Jesus relates to the Father has immense importance. Heresies have divided Christians over this very issue. The early Church councils forged a vocabulary that carefully articulates orthodox faith, and they chose this word to express the dogma of Jesus' divinity. The Latin word means "having the same substance," which is even more fundamental than "one in Being." "Consubstantial" is a very unusual word. We don't use it for anything else. But it is describing a very unusual thing--the nature of Jesus Christ. He is not like anything or anyone else.

Understanding the Revised Mass Texts is full of helpful and winning explanations just like that. If the new missal translation can be presented to American Catholics in a way that is informative and respectful of their intelligence, I believe the coming transition--back to something more faithful to the prescribed Mass texts themselves--can be made without much disturbance.

The booklet can be ordered from Liturgy Training Publications for $1.25. Bulk discounts (may there be many!) available.