Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him [Timothy] circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem.

It is ironic that Paul had his new disciple Timothy circumcised although he had just finished a lively discussion in Jerusalem over that very question. He had opposed requiring gentiles like Timothy to undergo the ordeal upon being baptized. He had faced down much opposition from more conservative leaders of the church. In fact, in the very next breath, Saint Luke tells us they were announcing as they went "the decisions reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem."

Although the apostles had agreed to relax the old rules during that “First Council of Jerusalem” -- it was the will of the Holy Spirit -- the controversy did not go away. Years later Saint Paul would display some anger about it in his Letter to the Galatians. In fact he had some distinctly unsaintlike opinions of certain "so-called super apostles” and their "other gospel."
Apparently young Timothy didn’t mind the imposition and could honor his new brothers and sisters in the Church despite their reservations about him.

The story reminds us of how reluctantly religious people are to alter their religious practices. Beliefs and opinions can change but they don't really matter until we get to the actions -- the rituals, gestures, songs and words of the religion.

After the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI promulgated a revised way of celebrating the Mass. The priests should face the people across the altar of our worship; we should read the Eucharistic Prayer aloud for all the people to hear and participate. In fact the best historians and liturgists could not tell us why that cardinal prayer of all the people had become the whispered prayer of a solitary individual. After the Council every syllable should be articulated clearly and audibly so that everyone might meet in one voice, one prayer and one heart.

But there were some old priests -- old guys in their sixties (like me) -- who could not make the adjustment. Many were retired and "said" their daily Mass without a congregation. So the Holy Father compassionately allowed them to continue in the old ways. The Tridentine Mass, it could not be denied, was a legitimate way to "say" the Mass.

However, that compassionate gesture proved to be the camel's nose under the edge of tent. The rest of him was coming in!

So a few old people wanted to watch the old priest say his solitary Mass while they prayed their rosaries. And then some young people, disenchanted with the determined (deterministic?) enthusiasm of their parents for the "New Mass" wanted to observe the "old Mass."

Then Pope Saint John Paul II permitted the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated with congregations with the local bishop's permission. One canonist I knew grumbled that he split our religion into two religions by permitting two different rites. The Saint was not a canonist; he had a compassionate heart.

Pope Benedict XVI went further, giving all priests permission to use the old rite.

Personally, I can understand a lay person wanting to be left alone and undisturbed while she prays -- even if she does it while people are joining as a congregation around her. I've had my days when I wanted no one around me. 

But I cannot support a priest who would not permit the congregation to understand the words he prays in their name. How can they say "Amen" when they don't know what he said? He might be simply mumbling, as I did when I was an altar boy and still hadn't nailed down the Suscipiat.

They tell the story of the old Byzantine priest who was instructing a younger Roman priest in the particulars of that rite. As the two incensed the altar the old man muttered, "Learn these prayers now because if you don't get them now you never will!" Meaning, he had never learned them in his eighty years of ministry. Who would know?

But if it doesn't matter -- as some might say -- then words don't matter and nothing that happens in our church matters. It's just sentimentality for the masses. 

Dear Saint Paul and the compliant Saint Timothy went along with the old folks in Derbe and Lystra, allowing them to have their old ways for the time being. These dear hearts would not have to pray with a gentile, not even a Christian gentile. Paul could let God's plan work itself out in God's own time. Perhaps I can learn from him. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.