I donned my pantyhose, conservative dress, and pentacle and made ready for the hour-long Christmas mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary, my husband's parish. I do this every year on Christmas and Easter out of respect for my husband's beliefs. It's only right; he respects mine, though you won't find him dancing skyclad under the full moon anytime soon.
We arrived early and took a seat in the back for my husband's comfort; he can't kneel because of bad knees and so we sit in chairs at the back so he is not expected to kneel. My own discomfort is slight; nobody says much to me and all are polite. My discomfort comes from the memory of being asked to leave the church when I was a precocious 11 years old - but that's another tale for another time.
Before mass, the choir leader announced that some of the parishioner responses had changed, and that they could be found on a special pamphlet in the cubby in the pew. Curious about the changes, I picked up one of the pamphlets. A wry smile came uncontrollably over my lips as I read. The Church is changing her message. Slightly. But, significantly. Things that hadn't been changed in at least 30 years were being updated and concepts ever-so-slightly altered. Why?
Well, either the church has been provided irrefutable evidence that intelligent life on other planets exists and is preparing its followers for fellowship with extraterrestrials, or they are attempting to counter the exodus of the faithful from the church who find comfort in pagan religions by adapting a more universal dogma. Allow me to explain.
Since I was a wee lass, Church teachings stuck with the New Testament declaration that the Christian god created heaven and earth, meaning everything that people a few thousand years ago were familiar with. References to Jehovah's creation always referred to the Earth or the world and what was known about it. My mother-in-law, a staunch Catholic, will barely admit there are other planets, much less acknowledge the possibility of living microbes or, *gasp!* intelligent life anywhere but on Earth.
Church dogma through the 1990s stated that there is no life on other planets and many other Catholics I know are still quite stuck on that concept. The Earth holds the chosen people of Jehovah. Period.
Mass began. My ears perked up when the priest declared that their god created the "Universe and everything in it." What? This was the first time I had ever heard that phrase in a Catholic church, and I pay attention. In fact, I think I'm one of the few who really listens to the mass, especially from an outsider point of view. So, what brought about this "Universe and everything in it" change? The geek in me hoped it was the discovery of aliens but research was needed before I could make any conclusions.
Later that day, I read through the updated Roman Missal for clues (http://usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/roman-missal/general-instruction-of-the-roman-missal/girm-introduction.cfm).
Apparently, the Catholic masses were officially changed in November 2011 for the following reason:
"… while a great number of expressions, drawn from the Church's most ancient tradition and familiar through the many editions of the Roman Missal, have remained unchanged, numerous others have been accommodated to the needs and conditions proper to our own age, and still others, such as the prayers for the Church, for the laity, for the sanctification of human labor, for the community of all nations, and certain needs proper to our era, have been newly composed, drawing on the thoughts and often the very phrasing of the recent documents of the Council."
"On account, moreover, of the same attitude toward the new state of the world as it now is, it seemed to cause no harm at all to so revered a treasure if some phrases were changed so that the language would be in accord with that of modern theology and would truly reflect the current state of the Church's discipline."
The phrases that stick out here are "conditions proper to our own age," and "certain needs proper to our era," and "phrases were changed so that the language would be in accord with that of modern theology." Again, I ask, was life discovered on a distant planet or was the Church going back to her pagan roots?
There was one more thing said in mass that prompts me to think the Church is going back to her pagan roots. There is a prayer and response segment before the receipt of the Eucharist and communion with Jesus. For those unfamiliar with this concept, I will briefly explain. The Catholics believe that during the last supper, Jesus took bread and converted it to his body and shared with the apostles in ritual communion. He then grasped a cup of wine, converted it into his blood, and shared it amongst his followers, also in communion with him. Yes, ritual cannibalism. This ritual is repeated at every Catholic mass so that Jesus's loyal followers can commune with their Christ as the apostles did. It has worked for them for over a thousand years, so who am I to judge?
Anyway, prior to the communion, there are prayers joining everyone in spirit in preparation for the communion. The priest leads the prayer and the assembly responds. The prompt, "The Lord be with you" used to require the response, "And also with you." Parishioners are now instructed to respond with "And with your spirit." Let's analyze this for just a moment. "The Lord be with you, and also with you" joined the priest and parishioners in spirit as human beings (sinners). But, now, "The Lord be with you, and with your spirit" gives a completely different meaning. The faithful now address the priest's ethereal self instead of his flesh and blood being. Why? Again, I searched the Missal, but this time, my searches turned up empty.
So, I did what any curious, red-blooded American would do: I searched the Internet - and found an article about the Eucharist response on the Archdiocese of Washington Blog. (http://blog.adw.org/2010/05/and-with-your-spirit-its-not-what-you-think/).
According to Msgr. Pope’s Blog, the phrase "and with your spirit" comes from the original Latin "et cum spiritu tuo." It further explains that the congregation is, in fact, acknowledging the presence and spirit of Christ within the ordained priest. To put it paganly, the congregation is acknowledging the drawing down of Christ into the priest who is ministering the mass "in persona Christi."
So, the Catholic church has experienced a phraseology makeover. Apparently, its purpose is to incorporate the modern evidence that there is a universe and not just a world encompassing the Earth and heaven. Cleverly, the Church has positioned itself so that, if there are microbes discovered on Mars or an extra-solar-system planet, they can claim them as Jehovah's creation. And, part of the makeover attempts to spiritually engage and incorporate its parishioners instead of keeping the distance between "us priests" versus "them congregation." One could say that this is a more pagan approach to spirituality.
Darn. I was hoping for the extraterrestrials.