Symbolism

Not Just One Reason

Growing up, my family had a lot of odd conversations, especially on the rare occasions we watched TV. One of these led to my mom pointing out that a lot of the “strange” things that the Bible told the Jews to do were not just for religious reasons (I think it came out of a TV character using ‘religious’ as a synonym for ‘serves no practical purpose’)—they made very good practical sense, too. Simplest example, pork is horrifically dangerous if you don’t have a fridge and don’t know about invisible dangers. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Meatless Fridays

An article in the Wall Street Journal by Francis Rocca today discusses the potential return of meatless Fridays in Great Britain.

Every year during the 40 days of Lent, millions of Catholics honor Jesus’s crucifixion by foregoing meat in their Friday meals. But starting this September, if the bishops of England and Wales have their way, Catholics there will abstain from meat every Friday, year-round. This change marks the revival of a practice that the church abandoned a half-century ago—and it’s the latest of several in recent years.

Catholic tradition calls for acts of penance every Friday, the day of Jesus’s death, but observance of that tradition has changed dramatically since the modernizing reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Bishops in most countries eliminated abstinence from meat or limited it to Lent alone, and each Catholic became free to choose his own form of Friday penance: skipping television, perhaps, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. This effectively meant the disappearance of Friday penance altogether. In my 11 years of Catholic schooling, I don’t recall hearing it mentioned once.

That’s why the announcement by the bishops of England and Wales is so significant. To anyone with a taste for sushi or smoked salmon, missing hamburger once a week might present little inconvenience. But then, lightly beating one’s breast, as Catholics do in one version of the Penitential rite during Mass, isn’t a serious form of corporal mortification either. Catholicism is a fundamentally symbolic religion whose teachings are typically embodied in conventional signs and gestures.

That last sentence is particularly intriguing.  One might quibble with Catholicism being described as a “fundamentally symbolic religion,” but there’s no doubt as to the importance of the little things that make up our identity as Catholics.  This paragraph further along in the article explains why this is all so important.

Sociologists such as Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, who study the behavior of “religious economies,” have observed that churches tend to lose vigor when they relax demands on adherents, especially those tenets and practices that cut against the grain of wider society. In economic terms, lowering the “costs” of membership in this way ends up diminishing its benefits, among other ways by loosening the bonds of community.

This is what bothers me with the Novus Ordo.  The first time I ever attended a non-Catholic Christian service (In this case Presbyterian) it felt hardly distinguishable from a Catholic Mass, although the small cups of grape juice being passed around at Communion did seem odd to me.  That’s because I had only ever attended a Novus Ordo Mass.  One of the many great things about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is how markedly different it is from other Christian worship services.  Sure the essential elements bear strong resemblances to one another, but no one would ever walk into the middle of an traditional Latin Mass and think they were in a Lutheran church.

At any rate, I applaud the Bishops for attempting to restore this valuable tradition.  For a few years I’ve made a concerted effort to go meatless on Fridays year-round, though I confess to being not quite 100% successful in this endeavor.  It is certainly something worth pursuing.

H/t: Rich Leonardi.

Toy Story 3

I’ve become a very big fan of Pixar’s works, especially their recent works of Wall-E and Up. I don’t know what Pixar’s philosophical leanings are, but I think there’s a lot in their movies for Catholics of all ages to chew on. Indeed, Pixar provides some of the few films that are excellent visually and in plot, a rarity in Hollywood these days.

If you haven’t seen Toy Story 3, I recommend you (and your family) go do so. While I don’t think viewing the previous ones is an absolute necessity, much of the emotional punch of the film is added by the backstory and so I would do so.

If you have, come on below for all the spoilers and discussion of the movie.

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Symbolic Action

Symbols mean things, but they do not necessarily accomplish things in concrete fashion, so they often seem to be a prime source of argument and misunderstanding in the political arena.

Last week, environmental activists throughout the US participated in a “green hour” in which they all committed to turn off all electricity-using appliances in their possession for one hour (from 8-9pm, as I recall). This was supposed to express to the leaders of the G-20 nations the importance of moving to implement regulations to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

Not being a major devotee of the global warming cause (I don’t think the kind of restrictions that could realistically be passed would do much good if global warming is in fact a man-made phenomenon, so I would be more interested in putting resources into mitigation than regulating power production) this gesture strikes me as a bit silly. If you really thought that reducing power consumption was important, it seems to me you should reduce your power consumption. Permanently, that is, not just for one hour and then go back to normal.

In the same sense, I suspect that the continuing controversy over Notre Dame University honoring President Obama looks silly to outsiders.

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