Yo, Father: Stop yapping, start chanting

LatinMassMy GetReligion guilt file is not as thick as Metropolitan Mattingly's, unless you count stories on which I wish my insights (or opinions) gave me a strong enough motivation to blog. Two pieces from Time -- both released during my recent travels to the Deep South -- have given me that motivation.

One is a news report about the growing trend among some churches to welcome the presence of ATM kiosks that enable parishioners to donate on the spot and receive a receipt that will satisfy the IRS.

The story is filed under Business, but reporter Rita Healy realizes that there's a cringe factor at work here, too:

Pastors like to tell jokes about parishioners collecting Frequent Flier points on the way to heaven. A recent Dallas Morning News poll found that 55% of 200 local churches accept credit and/or debit cards.

Automatic checking account withdrawals are used by some churches, and more recently, ATM-like kiosks are now available in many church corridors and lobbies, where parishioners can swipe a card and receive a printed receipt, which they can either save for the IRS or plunk into the collection basket with a flourish, so pew mates will know they're not spiritual freeloaders.

Healy quotes Dr. Marty Baker, pastor of Stevens Creek Community Church in Augusta, Georgia, and a marketer of the devices, as saying donations are up 18 percent in ATM-outlet churches and that "People don't want to carry cash."

This brief item is enough to make some evangelicals reminiscent for the days when some worried that every new techie innovation in banking was just another step toward an Antichrist system in which one either took the mark of the beast (and traded freely) or refused it (and starved). These days, such a difficult choice might be resolved much more easily: Dude, as long there's no ATM fee, no prob.

Turning from reporting to witty essay-writing, we find Lisa Takeuchi Cullen (who recently confessed to losing nearly all interest in her once-infantilized dog after welcoming her first child) building a contrarian's case for bringing back the Latin Mass in Roman Catholic churches.

Cullen's argument amounts to this -- she would much rather hear an incomprehensible Latin rite than endure her priest's sermons based on some of the church's moral teachings:

I clearly remember one [sermon] involving a newborn baby left in a Dumpster that somehow in the end advocated against laws allowing abortion. There was that time you beseeched us, Father, to write letters of protest to a Senator who supported stem-cell research. Not long ago, your homily excoriated divorce. You used as your rhetorical cornerstone the 1998 Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Parent Trap.

In her next paragraph, though, Cullen adds more heft to her argument:

Whatever our issues with the tenets of Catholicism the religion, we still cling to what unites us in Catholicism the faith: our devotion to the celebration of the Eucharist. I confess I adore the rich minutiae of the Mass: the frankincense, the Kyrie, the droning of creeds in a sacred space. It comforts me to know that my family around the globe takes part in the same weekly rites. The common purpose of shared ceremony helps me reflect on the Holy Spirit. With apologies, Father, homilies based on your Netflix queue do not.

One of the great surprises of Peter Occhiogrosso's classic book of profiles, Once a Catholic, was how many people (including Frank Zappa) missed the Latin Mass. Cullen's reasons for wanting the Latin rite back sound too consumer-oriented to persuade leaders at parish or diocesan levels. Still, her reasons are off-kilter enough to weaken some stereotypes of Latin Mass-lovers as just so many Lefebvrites.

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