Friday, August 20, 2004

They do WHAT?!
[Poster's note: Okay, before you read this post, read the one immediately below, then come back and read this one. Finally, after reading this one, go back and read once again the post immediately below and remember that I really am a nice guy.]

I have lots of roots in St. Louis and so I always enjoy getting my copy of the St. Louis Archdiocesan newspaper. In particular, this week's edition had a front page article on the now retired Monsignor who baptized me at my family's home parish. However, I was disturbed by another article in the paper. And, if I may be so bold, I would be a bit worried if I were Archbishop Burke of St. Louis. For anyone with access to the St. Louis Review, it is the August 13, 2004 edition, on page 15.

The article recounted the strategies of a second-grade religious education teacher, a lady who has devoted more than two decades to that level of RE. We all know what the focus of second-grade RE is: The Sacraments of Confession and, most especially, the Holy Eucharist. Now, let me state that I am sure this lady knows what she is doing. I am confident that more than two decades of RE teaching has provided her with insights still years to come for me personally, indeed, if they come at all. I even appreciated several of the other tactics reported in the article. However, one tactic has me rather worried: She has the children dress up in miniature versions of the priest's vestments and re-enact the Mass.

Now it is not the re-enacting the Mass that bothers me. But it is the institutionalization (keep in mind this takes place at a parish RE program) of girls dressing up in priest's vestments. I just don't think that is good. It is misleading, and obscures the nature of another Sacrament (Holy Orders) so intimately related to the very Sacrament about which the teacher is trying to impart solid knowledge and formation. Could this also not set the girls up for misunderstandings, even expectations, that cannot and will not be realized? I am sure little girls in second-grade RE can't verbalize the concerns I raise, but the image of Holy Orders placed in their minds is, I have no doubt, quite strong and mistaken. I think the idea is a good one, however, at the risk of being misunderstood as mean and cruel, I think only the boys should be allowed to play the part of the priest. That is my serious concern and objection. I really wish the article had not included a picture of little Marissa in vestments and holding a clay chalice [sic].

Now, the inability to control my cynicism means I will highlight a few lines from the article and provide some humorous (I hope) commentary. Quotes from the article appear in italics and my commentary in bold. Speaking of the origins of this teacher's creative way to teach kids about the Mass, the article states:

"It started when two mothers made...child-sized priest's vestments more than 25 years ago..."
25 years ago!? Oh, great, so the "kids' vestments" must be at least as trashy as what I find in most sacristies. I mean, those moms didn't have to go through the trouble, I would have gladly donated some of the garbage I have found for downsizing. Now the poor tikes won't think Mass is Mass unless Father is wearing a denim or tie-dye chasuble!

"I have one of each [vestment] color: red, white, purple, and green," the teacher said.
If you have one of each color, then you also have black and rose. Minus two points, M'am. However, since you did not erroneously consider grey and blue as optional colors, you get two points and it all evens out.

"Students get to experience wearing a priest's vestments, including the alb..., the cincture..., a chasuble..., and the stole, a long, narrow piece of fabric worn around the neck and over the chasuble."
Okay, unfortunately, based on what most priests wear or don't wear, I would bet the kids have never seen a cincture before! You know, that part of priestly vesture associated with that prudish, unnecessary virtue of CHASTITY! Secondly, and can we all please get this through our thick skulls (yes, I know dumb priests are responsible for this), the stole DOES NOT, NOT, NOT, go over the chasuble. It is NOT the outermost vestment. The stole goes under the chasuble. Somewhere in the more recent history of liturgical vesture some bozo priest or some bozo vestment company (which came first, the chicken or the egg?) began wearing the stole on the outside, or began manufacturing stoles that could only fit on the outside, respectively. That is not traditional vesture and it is poor symbolism. The stole represents authority, the chasuble charity. Father is actually supposed to cover his authority with charity (stole covered by chasuble), not the other way around! And yes, you will be lucky, Father readers, if I see you with an "outside" stole and I do not do you physical harm.

The students and teacher reflect on each week's gospel in their play Masses and "ask such questions as ... 'What does Jesus want you and me to work on for Sunday or for next week'?"
Let me guess, this activity is followed up by the childrens' color-by-number posters for the Women's Ordination Conference, because we all know that Jesus wants us to listen to His Spirit and become activists for the day when little Susie can wear "big-girl vestments"!

Okay, I had better stop. Remember, you are supposed to now re-read the post immediately below.

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