Cafeteria Catholicism: Why I Hate Armchair Theologians

It's been a long time since I've gone off on a rant about theological absurdity. Most of the time, I sit and let it eat away at me until I want to bash my head against the wall. No matter how much credit I give to Catholics, there's always someone out there that I have to apologize for.

I think Lewis Black said it best: "There has to be a time when we can come together and just agree on what the f*** reality is."

A perfect example comes from a blog I read about four days ago. My head was full of NyQuil and phlegm, so I couldn't tell if I was reading someone's opinion or if I was dreaming about a comedy show. I had to wait a few days before my head could clear up.

When I felt well enough to write a response, the blog was lost, and the blogger's profile no longer available. Since I cannot link, let me paraphrase the initial post:

The blogger talked about a new priest to his parish, and how he was doing something that he himself didn't feel was proper.

During the Nicene Creed, this poster's new priest was reciting it as: By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became human. I'm sure many of you have heard this at church sometime. The poster expressed concern about it's use, and how it may be a deviation from the original creed.

For what it's worth, I understood his argument and I know how he feels. When we become used to something at church, change is uncomfortable. Change is something different, and we need to be aware that different doesn't become out of hand. That's human nature.

When my priest started having us introduce ourselves to each other before Mass, it took me a long time to get used to. I never did this as a kid or at any other church. Is this OK? Do I need to call Rome and get clearance for this? Even now, I still think it's a little weird, but the purpose is obvious and it does bring the parish closer together.

So my response to the post was going to be simple and informative. Since the Creed is translated from Latin, and the word homo is gender-inclusive , there was no real need to worry. I was going to add how the nos homines is no longer used ("For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven"), and that the proper beginning to the Nicene Creed is "I believe..." not "We believe." The Nicene Creed

Again, I had no problem with the blogger. It was a good piece, and felt I was doing my Catholic duty by giving him some information and letting him make an educated decision.

But before I could add my nugget of info, someone else responded that made me want to put a fist through the screen of my notebook. The link is still unavailable, so I'll do my best to paraphrase this narrow-minded response as best I can:

"That priest is obviously wrong, and you should say something to him. There are too many priests who want to change the Mass, when in actuality they are straying from the One True Church. I pray you have the strength to stand up to this new priest. I will keep him in my intentions as well."

This is what I got out of it:

"Beware of liberal priests. You should fight his evil by standing up to his heretical dialogue. Most priests have no clue what they are doing. They want to change Catholicism. It's up to us to make sure they never do anything wrong. Call your bishop and tell him how this faux-priest is leading you and your parish astray. I will pray 437 Novenas in hopes that God gives wisdom to this fallen priest and shows him the true way."

Don't say "You're over-dramatizing that remark." I can show you sites and blogs where insolent Catholics trash, degrade, and condemn priests because they offer something a plaster saint can't: original thought. But instead of letting priests think for themselves, these self-appointed guardians of the Church monitor the tiniest variances.

It's like watching my buddy when the Detroit Lions play football. When someone drops a pass or when the quarter-back makes a bad throw, he screams at the TV like a screeching baboon. "Why did you throw to that guy? The other receiver was wide open! That's not how you win football games!"

There's a growing contingent of "young armchair theologians" who think a couple of college classes and four years of Latin gives them enough education to debate a man who's dedicated 10 years of his life to becoming a priest. These people disgust me to no end. I give them the same advice I give my buddy, spilling potato chips in front of the TV: Get off your ass and do their job for a day! If reading a few books and watching every weekend makes you an expert, then you lead everyone next Sunday! Try to make everyone in the parish happy. Try to teach those that don't want to learn. Try to reach out to those that won't open up.

A good priest doesn't give up on people because they don't understand the purpose of Adoration. A good priest will not count the number of masses someone has missed, but how many they have attended. A good priest doesn't sit back and tell people how shitty a job they are doing at being a Catholic Christian. Most importantly, a good priest doesn't think he's a better human being than those he preaches to.

If your priest adds 2 letters to the Profession of Faith, he's not changing 1700 years of established dogma. It's no big yank.


Now if he starts reciting the instructions to the "Holy Hand Grenade" during Mass, then you might wanna call the Bishop. Until then, sit back and let the priest do his job. If he's doing it wrong, his boss will let him know.

P.S. Let me know if you moved your blog, D.

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9 Response to Cafeteria Catholicism: Why I Hate Armchair Theologians

Anonymous
August 16, 2007 at 2:52 PM

this is a difficult topic, and one that people feel strongly about. But...the mass is Christ's sacrifice, and through the Real Presence contains his risen body. As such the words and rites of the mass do not belong to the Priest as much as to the Church (here Church is the Church universal of believers and the church as Christ's mystical presence on earth). When the Priest starts changing the words of the mass he is tinkering with something beyond the words of the homily. Innovation and informality are welcome in the homily, but in the rites of the mass, particularly the transubstantiation, discretion and conformity to tradition and precedent are preferable. Having said that I don't consider myself an armchair theologian or a theologian of any kind. I am a convert to Catholicism and attend mass at a parish run by one of the more liberal or progressive priestly congregations, the Paulists, and I am exceptionally happy with the good Priests at this parish. Attendance at their daily mass helped lead me to the church. But I like the mass to be the mass not father ed's mass or father charley's mass; perhaps for no other reason that personalizing the mass makes it less universal. And the universality of the Church has always been, to me, one of its strongest selling points. It is an ancillary point but one that I feel strongly.

August 17, 2007 at 12:22 AM

I understand what you are saying, and while I went through a certain phase after my reversion, I have to say that I echo what anon just said; the Mass does not belong to the priest, but to the Church. And speaking as a woman, inclusive language is the most insulting thing EVER.

It has no place in the Church. Period.

Some clarification needed from your post, however:

You said:

"...there was no real need to worry. I was going to add how the nos homines is no longer used ("For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven..."

Um....I've never been to a parish where this term is not used. "For us Men and for Our Salvation". Well, maybe one or two...but they are dissenting parishes, I didn't know any better, and the use of their dissent is actually not common. Anywhere.

If this is your perception, that it is not used anymore, I may have to suggest you are in a diocese that is, well, not quite faithful to Vatican directives such as Redemptionis Sacramentum.

About greeting before Mass...always drove me nuts when I was in my reversion process. The parishes that had this practice just seemed superficial to me, and all those around me for the most part seemed a bit put off by it, did it out of obedience. I was truly seeking my way into the Church, but was NEVER made a part of a parish through this process, although I was open to it. Read: uncomfortable does NOT mean "not open to friendship with strangers." But I'd be greeted and never recieve a second look. And all my friends were telling me to meet people at church...and funny thing, those churches that were all about greeting and befrending were the most clicquish of all!

No, thank you. I go to Mass to see God, and after Mass...that's time to socialize. And the Catholic friends who are so a part of my life have become so OUTSIDE OF MASS, not through some enforced greeting ritual adopted from Protestant Evangelicalism.

I realize by your post you do not feel the same, but I have to respectfully disagree. It has no place in the mass; the mass is not about us, but about God, together. There IS a difference.

There should be plenty of time to socalize outside of mass and we all have a responsibility to make others feel welcome before and after Mass....but not during or immediately before when we should be preparing our hearts and souls for the miracle to come.

If you'd like, I'll give you my post on inclusive language and why it's such a travesty, although I'm wondering if you're really open to it - it remains one of my more strongly-worded posts (not profane...not really...)

I really like a lot of what you have to say, but at this point I'm taking issue. Are you open to further discussion? (Sorry, have to ask...some bloggers are not, and as this is your space I don't want to tread on your toes.)

August 17, 2007 at 1:48 AM

OK, the third thing I hate: the fact that I simply don't have the time to respond to comments in a timely manner. =(

I love to discuss and debate, and both posters make wonderful points...points I would love to debate. Thank you both for your responses.

Adoro: send me an email sometime. I'd be more than happy to look at what you've written. Perhaps we can better exchange ideas via email. I simply don't have time during the day to even check on my blog.

For the record, I have always said "became man" and will always do so. Not because I think "human" is less meaningful or changed, but I'm a creature of habit, and that's how I was taught. I was also taught "For us and for our salvation." I have never heard the ad homines as part of the Creed, and I've been to a lot of Masses in a lot of locations with a lot of people.

Send an email. I'm always willing to talk. Besides...if everyone agreed with me, we're all doomed.~

August 17, 2007 at 9:13 PM

The world would indeed be a boring place if we all agreed all the time! lol! I will send you an email with the info, and you can get to it when you get around to it.

August 30, 2007 at 5:43 AM

I think this was my blog you were referring to here & I apologise for not commenting sooner. I decided to quit blogging but have had a change of heart & started it up again.
In my post I was talking about a new priest in our parish, who drops the word men from the Creed.
"for us men & our salvation He came down from Heaven".
I realise this is not a cause for huge alarm & the priest is quite a good priest. It just annoys me a little when he drops that word from the Creed, which the congregation has now copied. I wanted to know if this was also the practice in other parishes & if it annoyed anyone else, though I know it's not cause for the priest's excommunication or anything.
Thanks for your advice.

August 30, 2007 at 9:32 AM

Good to see you're up and running again. =)

I wanted to let you know I was going to use a comment from your blog in my post, but I couldn't connect to your site. Happy to see you haven't completely left the blogosphere, and that you find some spiritual therapy in it's use as I do.

Peace,
Vito

January 4, 2009 at 8:12 AM

I can't help thinking there's an ecumenical imperative here: the Nicene Creed is something we share with the Orthodox, the Anglicans, the Lutherans, and others. Unilateral changes are what split the Eastern and Western churches apart. Keep the worry in perspective, for sure (it's not like he's leaving out the words of institution), but all the same: a new priest who thinks it's fine to do some homegrown tinkering with a text hammered out by an ecumenical council would give anybody pause for thought.

January 4, 2009 at 9:02 AM

I find it interesting to look back on this post, and see how my perspective on things have changed over the years. I don't know if that's because of my exposure with The Church, further understanding of Tradition (capital T intended), of with being a part of Liturgy. Either way, I must thank you for bringing this back to my attention.

The usual change comes from priests who feel the language of The Church should be more inclusive to women. As a Capuchin, I see this more and more. We even use an inclusive breviary here (Sing Praise).

I'm still middle of the road about inclusiveness in Liturgy. I understand why some might change the Creed to say "human." However I do see those that overcompensate for what they feel is hyper-Patriarchal language. "Extra-clusive" language(e.g. "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his/her people on Earth") is something I find annoying, but I don't feel it is taking from the true message.

I guess I see it more as an issue of taste rather than an ecumenical imperative; addressing issues of gender bias in an old text doesn't seem as catastrophic a debate as the "filioque" between East and West in my opinion. I find two things to be true for me now: I think we need to be more present towards the opposite sex, and I think sometimes people get carried away on both sides of the topic.

Now if the presider says before the prayer of humility: "This is Jesus, breakfast of champions. Happy are we who are called to receive him!" then yes, there would be cause to worry. =)

January 5, 2009 at 5:44 AM

Particularly with "homines" being gender-inclusive, I'm not sure I'd be so worried by what is, after all, a valid translation option (even though its not the one once agreed upon by the English-language bishops for the liturgy in English). Like Danny Donellan says, this is an irritant I could live with. In the parish here we sometimes get a "Creed" that runs: "I believe in a loving God. I do not believe in exclusion." etc. etc. I envy those who can complain of such minor woes as a new rendering of a single word in what is still recognizably the creed of the Nicene fathers.