By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 08, 2005
"The source and summit of our Catholic Faith is in jeopardy!" The agitation in the bishop's voice was plainly audible over my car phone yesterday morning when, at his insistence, I turned off the expressway and rushed over for an unplanned interview at the cathedral.
On entering the cavernous gothic structure one plainly saw it was indeed in the throes of crisis. As I greeted the bishop in the nave the entire building was being shaken by a loud, rhythmic shudder, like the engine room of a freighter with a damaged propeller shaft. Panes of stained glass rattled in their casements, and tiny chips of plaster tinkled musically down from the ceiling. The bishop was evidently distressed: ashen, drawn, with trembling fingertips raised to his temples. "Jeopardy is right," I said, examining the debris in the aisle.
The bishop gave a dismissive flap of the hand. "That's just the curates boffing the altar boys in the choir loft," he said. "I try to get them to knock it off during the Offertory but what can you do? As church we're a community that embraces diversity."
Until then I hadn't noticed that Mass was in progress. In the center of the sanctuary, prancing around an enormous gilt throne that might have been a prop for The King and I, was an obese creature of indeterminate gender in whitepaint and orange wig, wearing grotesquely oversized shoes and a giant polka-dot bow tie. He, or she, was skipping and singing "Here comes Peter Cotton Tail," while releasing helium-filled balloons in the air. I nodded meaningfully with a glance at the altar.
"Oh that?" said the bishop. "That's Fr. Rudy. He been into clown ministry for twenty years. Not my thing personally but he has a master's from Dayton and NCR did a great feature story on him. Head of my priests' council. But quiet now..." Fr. Rudy had sat down on the carpet in the lotus position and a woman in late middle-age had come to the lectern. She wore a robin's-egg blue polyester power suit and dangling earrings of beaten copper. Without preface she began to rant in a loud, shaky voice against papal primacy and the divine inspiration of scripture. Flecks of spittle collected in the corners of her mouth, and purple veins bulged on her forehead and on her hands and she gripped the sides of the lectern more and more tightly. She urged the assembly to throw over all forms of patriarchy and sacrifice to the gods of the four winds and to Astarte, mistress of night. "Now I see why you were rattled," I whispered.
The bishop's face darkened. "Please show the homilist the respect of silence!" he hissed in rebuke. "Expounding the Word is as much a part of the Sacred Eucharist as any other and deserves our full attention and besides Sister Moira is my diocesan DRE!" He gripped my lapel and led me through the south transept through a doorway into a dark hallway where choirboy cassocks were hung and thence into a linoleum-floored utility room with a slop sink, a circuit breaker panel, two brightly-lit vending machines for snacks and soft drinks, and a 1970s-style tabernacle made of cedar. He rapped his knuckles against the wood and said, "That's where we keep the Blessed Sacrament now. I confess moving it here made me a little uneasy at first. I was worried the cedar smell might get into the Doritos or the peanut-butter crackers, but the Liturgy Commission insisted."
"Now about that problem..." I ventured. I was interrupted by the entrance of two men in their 60s with salt-and-pepper hair and pocketless white slacks. They blew a languid kiss to my companion and continued into the cathedral. "Fine men, fine men," said the bishop in response to my unasked question. "Former bishops of Santa Rosa and Palm Beach. Both would be doing hard time if we hadn't brushed back the so-called victims with a counter-suit. I bring them down here to help develop my catechesis program."
"Of all candidates, why those two?" I asked. He gave me a look of puzzlement. "Why, they're Successors of the Apostles."
"Excellency," I said, "when we spoke on the phone you said the Church was facing a crisis at the source and summit of her Faith." "I was getting to that," he whispered. "I have an absolute duty to protect the liturgy from innovation and sacrilege. It has come to my attention that more and more congregants are not only receiving the communion wafer on the tongue but genuflecting or even kneeling before doing so."
"And why is that a problem?" I said.
The bishop turned red, then grey, then red again. He began to tremble all over, and his eyes stood out alarmingly from their sockets. He raised both fists to his quivering purple jowls and shouted so loud that the Dr. Pepper empties chimed in the trash bin.
"IT IS DIVIDING THE PEOPLE!"
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