Saturday, July 7, 2007

Magic date

I don't know whether or not the world in general has been behaving similarly, but many people here in France are somewhat bewitched by today's date: July 7, 2007. They see 7-7-07 as a magic date. Apparently hordes of couples have planned their marriages for today. Others have simply bought lottery tickets.

Not to be outdone, Pope Benedict XVI chose today to announce the restoration of an ancient and magic ritual referred to as the Latin mass, which is the epitome of ecclesiastic obscurantism, because ordinary parishioners simply don't understand this language any more (if ever they did). In other words, a priest could say anything he liked in Latin, even to the extent of reciting Ovid's Art of Love, and the congregation would still carry on believing that the reverend gentleman was praising God. Moreover, the Latin ritual is performed by a priest who turns his back to the congregation, which means that they wouldn't even see if he happened to be yawning or grinning. Maybe it's preferable that people don't understand the words of the Latin mass, because certain folk might not appreciate the presence of the prayer that implores God to convert Jews to Christianity.

Many Christians in France still have the habit of referring to their nation—without necessarily knowing why—as "the eldest daughter of the Church". [As was often the case in ecclesiastic matters, it was a story, not of peace and love, but of bloodshed. An 8th-century French king fought a battle and gave the spoil to the pope, who promptly thanked the king by inventing the daughter tribute.] Well, the most that can be said today is that the eldest daughter doesn't appear to be particularly concerned by the Holy Father's encouragement of a return to Latin. It wasn't mentioned in the French Google news, whereas US media seemed to handle the subject as a major story. This lack of attention to the papal decision is all the more unusual in that the French Church was even brought to the brink of schism not so long ago because of a renegade ultra-traditionalist archbishop in Paris.

The Pope's decision might be a tempest in a chalice, because the truth of the matter is that few priests today know enough Latin to conjugate the verb amo, amare, amavi, amatum... let alone speak it for an hour.

I must ask my neighbor Madeleine what she thinks of this decision. Not long ago, I happened to tell her that I was unable to find a Latin specialist who was capable of deciphering the 14th-century parchment in medieval Latin that describes the agricultural properties at Choranche. Madeleine advised me to see a priest. I replied laughingly: "Madeleine, village priests don't know medieval Latin." She didn't agree: "Of course they do, William. Everybody knows that every priest speaks Latin." Maybe, on this magic seventh day of the seventh month of the year 2007, Benedict XVI will urge the Holy Spirit to descend upon the heads of village priests, bestowing upon them the magic gift of tongues, so that Madeleine's presumption becomes a reality.

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