"After being turned down by various publishers," George Ade said of a certain author, "he decided to write for posterity."
Peter Stravinskas writes for both publishers (by whom he is much in demand) and posterity (who will reap the benefits of the work he is doing for the Church today). A rising star among writer-priests, Stravinskas has the knack of communicating truth in a clear, concise, compelling fashion and doing so for a wide spectrum of readers, from the Reginalds with champagne tastes to the Joe Six-Packs who are more likely to follow bowling than ballet.
The Bible and the Mass: Understanding the Scriptural Basis of the Liturgy delivers on the promise of its title. It clears up a mass of confusion--confusion about the Mass. Stravinskas walks us through the entire liturgy, providing the scriptural rationale for each prayer, each action of the celebrating priest and worshiping congregation. This should be of immense help for two audiences.
First, there are Catholics who aren't sure why we worship the way we do. They may be familiar with the Mass due to a lifetime of attendance but relatively unfamiliar with the Bible, and the result may be inadequate awareness of the organic relationship between these two depositories of the Christian faith, Scripture and sacrament.
Second, there are non-Catholics, particularly Fundamentalists, who believe the Mass to be essentially pagan. Stravinskas writes with an eye to these potential readers, displaying the skill he has shown in his book The Catholic Response (to Jimmy Swaggart's anti-Catholic book) in communicating to Protestants the biblical basis of Catholic beliefs and practices.
Catholics, he points out, hear more of the Bible at Mass than Protestants do in their worship services. In addition, his stress on the Christ-centered character of Catholic worship, the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary, and grace as "God's completely free and unmerited favor toward us" (p. 31) will go far in building a bridge of understanding to our separated brothers and sisters.
In addition to this awareness of Protestant problems with the Mass, there are four other.aspects to this book I wish to applaud.
First, Stravinskas brings out the marriage symbolism inherent in the Mass: The Bride of Christ (the Church) and her heavenly Husband draw toward each other in rehearsal for that wedding supper slated for the end of time (Rev. 19:7). I only wish the author had drawn out this marital imagery more thoroughly, from the procession to the reception of Holy Communion.
Second, I am enthusiastic about Stravinskas's stress on the importance of a Hebraic mindset in understanding our world and our worship.
"Hebrew thought categories," he tells us, are "necessary to adopt for a healthy liturgical spirituality" (p. 86). Catholicism is far more faithful to our Judaic roots than is Protestant Christianity, and Stravinskas is right to draw out these continuities.
Third, being a priest as well as a writer, Stravinskas's pastoral concern for his readers is always evident. He is concerned to clear up misunderstandings which may arise about the Mass, particularly in our day of frequent liturgical abuses.
In commenting on the formula of absolution pronounced by the priest at the end of the penitential rite, for example, he notes that this "does not free one from grievous sin, which requires a personal sacramental encounter with Christ through the agency of the priest. Mortal sin might well be repented of [during the penitential rite], with the firm resolution to confess such sins at the earliest opportunity, but neither the resolution nor the prayer at that moment entitle one to reenter the fullness of the communion of saints by partaking of Eucharistic communion in that celebration" (p. 27).
Stravinskas also spells out what is required for a worthy reception of the sacrament (pp. 126ff) and continually stresses that if the congregation's various liturgical responses are not to be "meaningless" they "must be supported by the witness of a holy life" (p. 37).
He provides pastoral direction in letting the worshiper know when he should bow, kneel, and genuflect--actions increasingly unfamiliar to (or at least infrequent among) many Catholics attending Mass. When reciting the Creed the people of God are required to bow (and on the feasts of the Annunciation and Christmas to genuflect) during the words "by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man" in honor of the Incarnation (pp. 53-54).
Likewise, "liturgical law for this country requires the congregation to kneel for the entire Eucharistic Prayer--regrettably noted more often in the breach than in the observance" (p. 93). And those who stand to receive Communion "should either bow or genuflect beforehand as a profession of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and as an act of adoration" (p. 130).
Fourth, Stravinskas sets a good example for his fellow priests in comments he makes about how Mass ought to be celebrated. "As much as possible should be sung during the sacred liturgy," he says, and explains why (p. 22). He also tells us why "secular greetings like 'Good morning' are . . . out of place" in the opening rite (p. 24).
I particularly appreciated his explaining that in the greeting "The Lord be with you" the priest is "praying that the Lord will come and make His dwelling within you. He is asking Almighty God to come to everyone in the assembly. . . . He is beseeching the Christ of the sacraments to come into our hearts, to maintain and strengthen His gift of grace" (p. 33).
One hopes this will discourage priests from substituting for the subjunctive "The Lord be with you" the indicative "The Lord is with you," since the greeting is not supposed to be a statement about what is, but a request for what should be.
The matter of those who assist the priest is also touched upon. Acolytes "must be boys or men. This rule reflects the Church's understanding that the ministry of the acolyte is preliminary to ordination; and in a certain sense, the acolyte's service at the altar is an extension of the priest's ministry" (p. 72).
Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers are only to be used when there is "the lack of an ordinary minister, the inability of an ordinary minister to distribute Communion because of illness or advanced age, or an unwieldy number of communicants with an insufficient numbers of ordinary ministers.
"To let the use of extraordinary ministers prevail on a regular or normal basis without such circumstances is a serious abuse, sadly all too common in certain places, and described by Pope John Paul II as a 'reprehensible' practice" (p. 130).
Each chapter ends with Scripture readings which show the roots of the action in question, meditations on these readings, and questions for group discussion with space, workbook-style, for the answers to be written in. Three appendices are also provided: one on Latin in the liturgy, one on posture in worship, and one on sacred vestments, liturgical colors, and other liturgical objects.
-- Gerry Matatics
The Bible and the Mass: Understanding the Scriptural Basis of the Liturgy
By Peter M.J. Stravinskas
Ann Arbor: Servant, 1989
The Secret Side of Mormonism
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--commonly called the Mormon Church--began in 1830 in frontier America and today has 7.5 million members around the world. By the year 2000 it is projected to have between 18 and 20 million members. This quick expansion, combined with the unsettling fact that many freshly- baptized Mormons are former Catholics, is causing consternation in Catholic circles.
But why, you might ask, is this so alarming? Isn't Mormonism just another Protestant sect--muddle- headed in some areas but more or less okay on the essentials? Besides, Mormons are excruciatingly wholesome. How could the growth of such a patriotic, clean-cut, family-value-oriented religion be alarming?
The fact is that Mormonism is not a Protestant sect. It isn't even Christian. Although its adherents use Christian terminology (Trinity, sacrament, heaven, salvation, priesthood, grace), they mean by these words things completely opposed to the traditional Christian meanings.
The problem for the average Catholic is discerning the real Mormonism that lurks behind the facade. Mormon missionaries, when they come to your door, present only the most palatable segment of Mormonism, not the whole thing.
They do not volunteer to you that the Mormon Church teaches that Hispanics and American Indians are "cursed" by God. The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and successive Mormon leaders all maintain that American Indians and, through intermarriage, Hispanics are direct descendants of a tribe of people called Lamanites who, though originally white- skinned, were given dark skin and hair as a "curse" by God because of their moral turpitude.
Blacks fare no better. The Mormon Church ascribes to them a similar pigmentation-changing "curse," but for a different reason. According to Joseph Smith, all who ever lived, are now living, and or will live were once together in what is called the "pre-mortal existence." God the Father called a "council of the gods" to explain his plan of salvation.
Lucifer (who, according to Mormon theology, was originally the "spirit brother" of Jesus and of each of us) tried out for the position of savior but was rejected. Jesus also asked for the job and was accepted. Lucifer became angry and rebelled against Jesus, causing a war in which one-third of the heavenly host was cast out of heaven.
What does any of this have to do with blacks being "cursed"? Mormons claim those who fought on the side of Christ but who weren't valiant in their efforts are born black. This is their "curse" for being slackers.
There are other skeletons in the Mormon closet, including the many false prophesies uttered by Smith and subsequent prophets; modifications, contradictions, and outright reversals in revelations and, therefore, beliefs; polygamy (by some accounts, Smith himself had over 40 wives); Smith's involvement in Masonry and in occult practices such as money- digging and the use of magic talismans.
As long as the list of Mormon oddities may be, there is an equally long list of Evangelical ministries and authors less than scrupulous in their criticisms of the Mormon religion. Some anti-Mormon books, such as Ed Decker and Dave Hunt's The God Makers, are so vitriolic that they do more harm than good. Mormons won't read or heed material dripping with venom.
Where can you go for a calm, accurate critique of Mormonism, the kind of book you wouldn't feel uncomfortable giving to a Mormon friend or relative? The Changing World of Mormonism is perhaps the best book around.
Written by former Mormons who have become Evangelicals, The Changing World of Mormonism is a comprehensive look at the difficult areas of Mormon theology and at embarrassing episodes in Mormon history. The Tanners have done their homework. They methodically scrutinize more than two dozen of the most spectacular problems in Mormonism, backing up their conclusions with copious citations from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, scores of Mormon periodicals, diaries, and even photographic reprints of rare documents. They do this in a readable, non-inflammatory style.
While avoiding God Maker-like sensationalism and the heavy sarcasm so common to other Protestant books on Mormonism, the Tanners make short shrift of Mormonism's claims to be the true Church. In exposing Mormonism as a facile and contradiction-ridden theology they ignore the urge to hold either the religion or its adherents up to ridicule. They refute Mormonism without resorting to misrepresentations and taunts. After all, Mormonism can unravel quite nicely under its own power.
-- Patrick Madrid
The Changing World of Mormonism
By Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Chicago: Moody Press, 1981