Joseph A. Brown, S.J. has curious ideas about the origins of the Mass. The Michigan Catholic, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Detroit, reported Brown as claiming “the Roman Catholic Mass grew out of voodoo ritual. ‘If you don’t think voodoo had something to do with the Catholic faith — then you are really out of the ballpark. If you ever saw a voodoo ceremony in Haiti, New York City, Milwaukee, Detroit — if you step back and aren’t afraid of it — you will see the structure of the Roman Mass.’ ” The newspaper featured a photograph with this caption: “A voodoo altar was part of Fr. Brown’s presentation at the ‘Say Yes to Jesus, Again’ conference at Detroit’s Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Community Center.”
Brown is guilty of a basic logical error. He notes similarity between voodoo ceremonies and the Mass and concludes the Mass borrowed from voodoo. But voodoo is recent, the Mass ancient. If whatever similarity there may be came from borrowing, it can only be that voodoo borrowed from the Mass, not the other way around. (Every reference work we consulted confirms this.) Voodoo is found mainly in Haiti. Most Haitians are descended from slaves who were brought from Africa less than five centuries ago. The Mass, in its present form, goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity.
If Brown’s thinking is faulty, also faulty, it seems to us, was the editorial decision to feature his talk across two pages of The Michigan Catholic — with no editorial comment on those pages that certain of his ideas promote misunderstandings of history and Catholic doctrine. Worse yet was the decision to erect a voodoo altar on the grounds of the Cathedral and to feature a photograph of it. Nothing in the article or caption would disabuse a reader of the notion that a voodoo altar is on a par with a Catholic altar.
Score this episode as a loss for true evangelization.
Each issue of Mission to Catholics International’s Challenger newsletter features testimonials from one or more “Ex-Catholics for Biblical Christianity.” The December issue included a short piece by Bob Petrie. He grew up in the fifties and sixties and harbors peculiar ideas about what the Catholic Church taught. For instance, “You weren’t allowed to read the Bible – only the priest could.” What’s more, “you couldn’t pray to Jesus. That was forbidden.”
What diocese was this guy raised in? We too, most of us, were raised in the fifties and sixties. We remember being able to read the Bible, even if some of us didn’t. We regularly prayed to Jesus. In fact, we learned to pray to him from our parents and from teachers at our Catholic schools and CCD classes.
Petrie explains his leaving the Catholic Church this way: “But one day I met a man who told me Jesus died on the cross for all (not just one) of my sins. I was upset. I thought he was trying to change my religion. So, after many hours of arguing, I took a Catholic Bible to him and. . .”
Whoa! If laymen “weren’t allowed to read the Bible,” if the Bible was kept in the possession of the priests, how did Petrie happen to have a Bible at hand? Was he a faithless Catholic, disobeying priestly commands not to read the sacred text, or, as is more likely, is he modifying the account of his Catholic years to justify his abandonment of the faith of his youth?
MTC’s sister organization, The Conversion Center, which has been reduced to one elderly anti-Catholic, Rev. Donald F. Maconaghie, announced in its November newsletter that the development of Catholic doctrine marches on — or it would, if not hindered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It seems that “Ratzinger has held back John Paul II from potentially damaging excesses. The conservative wing, for example, was thought to be ready to exploit this papacy by encouraging him to issue an infallible statement. . . . The pope is rumored to have been keen to add that, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, there was the real presence not only of Christ but also of the Virgin. Ratzinger is said to have stopped him.”
So much for another reliable report from an organization which distributes, among other things, a tract which is especially apt for this issue of “Dragnet”: From Voodooism and Catholicism to the Living Savior. (See Catholicism and Fundamentalism, page 68, for details.)
If you want more to read from The Conversion Center, ask for a copy of its latest tract, Roman Catholic Doctrines & Practices Contradicted by the Bible! It is a good example of an argument which unlearned folks find convincing. Here’s how it works. Maconaghie lists “Catholic” words that don’t appear in the Bible. It follows that Catholicism isn’t “biblical.”
Examples (much abbreviated): “Presumptuous Claims of Authority, Unscriptural Words and Phrases: Deposing rulers, interdicts, benefices, burning heretics, inquisitor general, banns, removing crowns [we concede: Scripture nowhere mentions dentistry], Index Expurgatorius, immunity.
“Titles and Terms of the Roman Church not Found in the New Testament: Prefects apostolic, Maximus, abbott [sic] nullius, chancellor, apostolic camera, licentiate, laic, interstice, curator, laity, legate, dean, ostiary, doorkeeper, sodality.
“Garb & Ornaments of the Clergy not Mentioned in the Bible: Discalced, rachet, cardinal’s red hat, humeral veil, soutane, pluviale, sedia gestatoria, cope, flambella.
“Vessels and Articles, etc. not Mentioned in the New Testament: Asperges, breath blowing by priest, stamped bread, triangle [triangle?], saliva [but Jesus used saliva (John 9:6), and saliva is mentioned three times in the Old Testament], clapper.
“Doctrines not in the Bible: Canon law, sprinkling, 19 different rites, introit, ritual, prebend, blessing distilleries, Miraculous Medals.
“Roman Catholic Organizations not in the New Testament: Monarchical bishops, councils [what about the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15?], parish, Jesuits, Templars, synods, Hospitallers. The list can easily be extended! “
So it can. Here’s our contribution: Fundamentalist Terms and Ideas not Mentioned in the New Testament: Rapture, grape juice instead of wine at Lord’s Supper, accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, asking “Have you been saved yet?”, Protestant Reformation, altar calls, Baptist Church, sola scriptura, parachurch ministries, use of “Rev.” as a title (as in “Rev. Donald F. Maconaghie”), neckties and dark suits worn by ministers, collection baskets made of wicker and lined with green felt, pews (especially padded pews), electric lights used during worship services, hymnals, printed Bibles, Sunday schools, pulpits, church buildings, signs announcing sermon topics, The Conversion Center, Mission to Catholics International, and all other sorts of anti-Catholic silliness.
Human Life International will hold its twelfth world conference in Houston from April 14-18, 1993. The topic will be the family. For information call (301) 670-7884.
Young Catholics Spread the Faith Dept. Joel S. Peters is the youth minister at St. Luke’s Church in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey and edits a newsletter called Searchlight, which he describes as “the main vehicle for our Search program, a spiritual retreat for high school juniors and seniors as well as college-age youth.
The Search program is comprised of about ten parishes in Bergen County, and its list contains 700 names.” This must be a good program — Peters included a blurb on Catholic Answers and its tracts in his December issue.
Special thanks to Bishop Harry J. Flynn of Lafayette, Louisiana. He likes This Rock — “I have read this magazine and am quite impressed with it” — and put an announcement for it in his diocese’s clergy bulletin.
Thanks also to the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Msgr. Thomas J. Rodi, Executive Director of the Department of Pastoral Services, has written that “in January notices will be sent to all priests of the Archdiocese so that they may be aware of Catholic Answers.” Although this is not an official endorsement of our work, “the priests of the Archdiocese will be aware that the Diocese of San Diego has found Catholic Answers to be a very helpful ministry [that] could be of assistance here in our area in ministering to Catholics who are confused about Catholic teachings.”
Some people belong on the streets, and Joe Stark of Phoenix is one of them. For the last three years he has been pounding the pavement, going door to door and inviting drop-out Catholics back to Mass and introducing non-Catholics to the Catholic faith. Stark doesn’t just follow the mailman’s route. He also evangelizes in enclosed shopping malls — which, after all, is where you find people during scorching Arizona summers. He carries a pen, clipboard, and short questionnaire — plus a Bible. His technique works and can be used by others. For information, call him at (602) 276-6758.
One of the most medicinal magazines is U.S. Catholic. Reading it is good for people with low blood pressure. Recently readers were surveyed about “The Laity’s Role in the Church.” The results appear in the February 1993 issue. At press time we don’t have those results, but we do have the questions, some of which are what lawyers call leading.
Here’s one: “I would feel comfortable if lay people performed the following functions that are now reserved for priests only (please check all that apply): baptism, Eucharist, reconciliation, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, anointing of the sick, other (please explain).”
Notice how the question is phrased: “I would feel comfortable.” The respondent is not asked whether these duties, theologically speaking, are transferable to laymen. Of course, not a single one now reserved to priests (or bishops) can be transferred because they all presuppose ordination: confecting the Eucharist, hearing confessions, administering confirmation and anointings, conferring holy orders. Only baptism and marriage can be (and are) performed by laymen – baptism in extreme circumstances, marriage always (the priest merely officiates, but the bride and groom perform the sacrament).
What this question does is undercut the Catholic way of thinking about sacred reality. It reduces theological thinking to warm fuzzy feelings. This is retrograde; this is unprogressive. We should be expanding our mental powers, not turning them off.
Another statement says, “Ordaining women and married men would be an asset to the church (please check only one): agree, disagree, other (please explain).”
Here two entirely different things are confused, a doctrine (that the sacrament of orders is restricted to males) and a custom (that in the Latin Rite, with rare exceptions, only celibates may be ordained). At a time when there is much confusion precisely on the doctrine/custom front, U.S. Catholic does a disservice by mixing up the two. Why a disservice? Because customs can change, but doctrines can’t. To toss them together is to encourage the erroneous – and ultimately frustrating – notion that certain doctrines will change when enough Catholics “vote” for them in surveys.
Then these two questions are subsumed in a third, really confusing things: “I would rather see women priests or married priests in the church before lay people are allowed to administer the sacraments.”
The sad fact is that Catholics, like other people, are immensely malleable. Look at what happened in England when Henry VIII broke away from the Church. Most Englishmen didn’t complain. They were told, falsely, by priests that the changes in doctrine didn’t amount to a new religion. They accepted the explanations largely without incident.
Today many Catholics are being led to believe that nearly any doctrine can change if enough people “feel comfortable” with a contrary doctrine. Why are they putting up so little fuss to such a basic restructuring of their religion? For the same reason many sixteenth-century Englishmen put up little fuss: Most of them didn’t know what they believed or why, and they simply didn’t believe much. Their faith was thin. There wasn’t much substance to it. It was more habitual than intellectual.
We see the same thing now. Most Catholics are nominal Catholics. They go to Mass more out of habit than belief. If, under a future persecution, they were prosecuted for the crime of being Catholic, it would be hard to find evidence to convict them. This means they are today easy prey for people with agendas.