Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: December 1998

December 1998

Why Attack Us?

I am a Catholic who grew up after the Second Vatican Council, and I regularly attend the Traditional Latin Mass. I am often taken aback by Catholics who, finding no solace in the ancient rite themselves, deem it necessary to attack it as elitist, tacky, uninspiring, or unintelligible, as in the letters from Richard Cross and Deacon Patrick Hogan (Oct.).

Regarding the Traditional Latin Mass, Pope John Paul II has declared that “respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of those Catholics attached to the Latin liturgical tradition by a wide and generous application of the directives issued by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal of 1962” (Ecclesia Dei). Because of the Holy Father’s generosity, many have been reconciled to the Church and new religious orders have arisen whose seminaries are bursting at the seams.

Those of us who have found our spiritual life enriched by the Traditional Latin Mass do not want to impose our form of worship on others. Who knows better than many of my confreres the pain that is caused by this type of imposition? As we continue to grow, we only seek a share in the life of the Church that has always been large enough to accommodate different rites in order to strengthen the spiritual life of her children.

Charles F. Taibi

Bronx, New York

Readers Hogan and Cross seem pleased by the recent consigning of Latin to the dustbin of liturgical history. But Latin was not hauled off to the garbage dump but to the recycling yard. It is coming back. Deacon Hogan is decidedly hasty when he says that few can understand and appreciate Latin. Does he mean to insult those millions in this country who took several years of Latin in school? Does he forget that in the old days every lay Catholic’s Latin Mass missal had an English translation facing each Latin page? How is it that the Catholics attending that “unintelligible” Mass knew of and believed in the Real Presence, whereas today, with Masses and missalettes in English, two out of three Catholics do not believe in it? It is because the language of the Mass is above all an interior language, a language of the heart. Many today do not “have by heart” the vernacular Mass so well as they once had the Latin Mass of the ages.

How is “Hoc est enim Corpus meum” unintelligible to Hogan? We Roman Catholics have been linked by that tongue for nearly two millennia, and as the Second Vatican Council declared, “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #36). Perhaps Hogan needs better pastoral care, for the same conciliar document instructs that “care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (#54).

Richard Cross complains about “ugly fiddle-back vestments” prior to Vatican II. I’m too young to have attended Mass before Vatican II, but the old fiddle-back vestments I have seen are invariably made of handsome silk with fine embroidery. Might I remind Mr. Cross of the polyester vestments decorated with stick-figures that grace today’s “presiders”? He also finds genuflection before receiving Communion “tacky.” Yet Inaestimabile Donum encourages such a sign of reverence — which could be kneeling, genuflection, a profound bow, or the sign of the cross — to show, I daresay, that we have respect for our Lord in the Sacrament and are not of a mind that we are in a cafeteria line picking up French fries.

I am a priest who was born in 1966. The Mass I grew up with was Paul VI’s Mass of 1969. One fateful day, at the age of 24, I walked into an indult Latin Mass in Austin, Texas. I was jolted; I might even say, scandalized. For the first time I experienced what we call the Tridentine Mass but what is more properly called the Roman Rite Mass, for it dates back not just to the Council of Trent in the 16th century but — with a few minor changes — to Pope Damasus I in the fourth century. How had this Mass of countless saints, an awe-inspiring sacred ceremony, been replaced by a utilitarian do-it-yourself liturgy prey to the whims of revisionists? Shouldn’t the most sacred action we, as men, perform be a rite that uplifts us into unity rather than one that invites fiddling and faction?

Fr. Don L. Kloster

Greentown, Pennsylvania


In his letter (Oct.), Richard Cross says that to genuflect before receiving Communion would be “to interrupt” the rite with something “out of place, outlandish, and downright tacky.” In response, I cite the guidance provided by the Holy See’s Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, “Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery” (Inaestimabile Donum): “When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration. When they receive Communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Sacrament.”

Stephen Rombouts

Loretto, Pennsylvania

Why Latin Is Hated Today

I’d like to respond to the letters from Patrick Hogan and Richard Cross knocking the Latin Mass (Oct.).

Go to a vernacular Mass — especially in a church where the kneelers have been ripped out — and it’s usually like any Protestant service. The only thing that seems to resemble the Latin Mass of old is the collection!

I’ll tell you why the proponents of an “American” Catholic Church hate the revival of the Latin Mass today: It’s because Latin is a “dead” language — fixed and stable — and therefore they can’t “inclusivize” it by tinkering with it and denaturing it.

Joseph F. Schonberger

Rome, Illinois


If atheists were legally allowed to kill believers, we would only vote for candidates who would support legislation to protect our lives. We would realize that excellent education, a fruitful economy, and good medical care are useless unless we have the most basic right — the right to life. So why do certain Christians criticize those who vote only for prolife candidates? Do they place less value on the lives of the unborn and the elderly than on the lesser goods that certain politicians promise to give them?

Those who make abortion possible by law, including “prochoice” Christian voters, cannot separate themselves from the guilt associated with the horrendous and deadly sin of abortion.

Jeremy Jackson

Silver Spring, Maryland


Please keep the unpretentious format of your magazine — and no glossy paper! The NOR’s kind of simplicité monastique speaks to the heart of this reader.

Eric Simonis

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Brave German Clergy

Jeffrey Ziegler in his article “The Least of the Least of Our Brethren” (Oct.) commits a hideous slander when he asks us to “recall the cowardice of most of the German clergy in the face of Nazism.” This is defamation without evidence, a cheap and gratuitous calumny against dead and apparently forgotten members of the Church Militant. He and his editors at the NOR owe an apology to the heroic clerical members of my own family, to the dead priests of my hometown parish, and to the murdered lay members of my parish who perished in Dachau. Some of these clergy whom Ziegler calls cowards extended sacramental consolations to the other “cowards” as they were worked to death or murdered by the Nazis. Ziegler briskly slanders “most of the German clergy” without naming a single one whom he knows to have been, in fact, a coward.

Is this Ziegler-idiot aware of what he is saying? Is he out to pile on unnamed German clergy whatever defamations could not be piled on saintly Pope Pius XII? And Ziegler according to his byline works in the development office of a Franciscan university. What is he developing, new calumnies? One of the priests I mentioned, a second cousin of mine, was a Franciscan professor of theology, a famous Lenten preacher who never, before or after his (illegabpinduction into the military, showed a trace of cowardice. I am sending a copy of this letter to Fr. Scanlan, the president of the Franciscan university where Ziegler works, so that he might know what sort of trash his employee is writing.

Cowardice, Mr. Ziegler, is a grave charge, and particularly unseemly when blithely tossed off by an untroubled resident of these luxurious and free United States. I suggest you study the Chinese Catholics who preach Evangelium Vitae illegally in the boondocks of China. And I suggest you look thoroughly at the actual record of the bravery and suffering of the German clergy. Thirteen years of study — the duration of Nazism in Germany — would be long enough. Let us hear from you then your estimations of heroism and cowardice.

Margarethe M. Kemner

Lock Haven, Pennsylvania

Automatically Excommunicated?

Thanks for publishing Jeffrey Ziegler’s article on abortifacient contraceptives, “The Least of the Least of Our Brethren” (Oct.). It was a wake-up call. I’m concerned, however, that his information regarding automatic excommunication could be misleading.

First, the article states that “anyone older than age 15 who knows of the canonical penalty and procures or assists in procuring a completed abortion is automatically excommunicated.” There are potential problems here: the age given and the type of assistance by which an accomplice incurs the excommunication penalty.

As a confessor, I have assumed that an automatic excommunication cannot occur before the 18th birthday, based on the following reasoning: Although penalties in general can apply starting at the completion of the 16th year (canon 1323, #1), they must be diminished or substituted for by a penance under a list of conditions, one of which is that of being a minor who has completed the 16th year of age (c. 1324, #1.4). Automatic excommunications are specifically singled out as not applying under these conditions (c. 1324, #3). Since a “minor” in canon law is someone not having completed the 18th year of age (c. 97), people who are 16 or 17 do not incur automatic excommunication of the type that accrues to consummated abortions in c. 1398.

Accomplices to a consummated abortion could incur the excommunication even if the female minor having the abortion does not incur it, since it is the age and conditions of the accomplices that are relevant to the penalty for accomplices. But who is an accomplice? It seems too broad to say as Ziegler does that “anyone” who “assists” incurs automatic excommunication. Since specific provisions for accomplices are not mentioned in the legislation on abortion (c. 1398), the usual law for automatic excommunications applies: Accomplices only incur the same penalty as the offender if the crime would not have been committed without their assistance (c. 1329, #2). I assume there could be formally evil assistance that nonetheless does not meet this criterion.

Secondly, Ziegler’s exhortation to priests to instruct their faithful that “the Church has ruled that the penalty of excommunication applies not only to surgical abortions but also to every means of killing the fetus after conception” can inform us that chemical methods such as RU-486 are included in the offense of abortion penalized by excommunication. In the context of Ziegler’s article on abortifacient contraception, however, this statement might lead us to infer that users of contraception with abortifacient mechanisms, if they are conscious of the abortifacient possibility, would automatically incur excommunication. Would they?

I think not, but the answer is far from clear. A reluctant recourse to products containing abortifacients could be a fully imputable willing of an abortion, through what the moralists call the indirectly voluntary act. But can someone who cannot say with certainty that her action in fact led to the completed effect necessary for the penalized crime to exist, be automatically excommunicated? An answer of “yes” would require a sophisticated discussion of canon law. If this is what the article meant to imply — that users of products with abortifacient effects do in fact incur automatic excommunication — such a presumption should be either documented further or suspended pending clarification.

I don’t want to nitpick about an article that courageously reminds us that the culture of death is closer to us than we like to think. But while automatic excommunications help remind us of the gravity of a few of the most serious sins, they do complicate penitential practice and should not be multiplied beyond the minimum necessary.

I am not a canon lawyer, but these issues are important to me as a confessor. I would like to see what a trustworthy canonist would say about them.

Rev. William G. Shaughnessy

Princeton, New Jersey

Strong, But Not Ugly

I am not Catholic. I grew up in a church that thinks that Southern Baptists are too liberal. (I got over it.) I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned about Catholicism from reading the NOR. I’ve been particularly impressed by the lack of condemnation in your pages (not necessarily in the letters, but in the articles). The ability to express disagreement, even strong disagreement, without becoming ugly toward the persons with whom we disagree is one of the most important things we can learn to do.

Nelson Page

Austin, Texas

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