Sunday, October 29


Radio Days

Dave: You can't just pluck someone off the street and put him on the air.
Bill: Of course you can. How do you think Edward R. Murrow was discovered?
Dave: That is not how Edward R. Murrow was discovered.
Bill: Don't confuse me with the facts.


So I got interviewed by NPR today.

Really. It's about time I had a shot at it. The Shrine's Emily made the front page of the Chicago papers earlier this year, and I'm sure Drew would have gotten on TV by now if there wasn't that whole nasty Witness Protection Program thing he has to deal with--oh darn, now I blew his cover and they'll have to send him to Wichita now. Actually, he very seldom ventures out of the Drew Cave except when he comes forth on dark nights to fight heresy in his customized Drew Mobile.

Wait, I ought not have mentioned that either.

But seriously. What happened was NPR sent a little news team down to St. Agnes on 43rd Street to do a parishioner-in-the-street interview. And I was the parishioner. This is another bit of evidence that Indult Fever is verily and truly upon us, and it's not merely a wee rumor percolating within the blogosphere. Also, this actually is pretty old hat for me--the top of my head was in a crowd scene on a local Tampa news channel when I was 12.

So I know all about showbiz.

Why me? Or, since Dawn Eden got interviewed with me, and Andrew Cusack was there too, why us? I don't know if we stuck out, well, that much. The crowd at St. Agnes is a little bit older than I've seen at St. John Cantius in Chicago or the other St. Agnes, the one in St. Paul, but there's still enough young folks and families with kids to be worth commenting on. More interesting is the fairly sizable number of middle-aged Tridentinists; truly the lost generation when it comes to these circumstances. Dawn Eden, Andrew Cusack, my friend Joel, and our mutual friend Drusilla, and I were young and also conveniently in the closest clump to the reporter and her microphone-bearer. So I started pontificating into the recorder.

I'm not sure what bits they'll splice out as their soundbites, but I gave them, in capsule form, a little run-down on what the old rite means to me, and what I thought Benedict was trying to do with the indult. I explained that I alternate back and forth between a Novus Ordo parish that does a tradition-minded mass in mixed English and Latin, and the Tridentine Rite, and that I benefitted a lot spiritually from both forms of the mass.

The reporter was especially curious about what in particular I got out of it. The old Mass, I responded, was something which was most rewarding after continual rumination and meditation. Not everything was perceptible on the surface, and that while it might seem confusing or foreign at first glance, it was a ritual and a form of prayer you could come back to again and again to find fresh meaning within the same sets of words and gestures.

"So it's more meditative and thought-provoking?"

Yeah, pretty much. I said it was possible to participate in a very overt way by chanting the responses, and that Catholics had been encouraged to know basic chants both before and after the Council, and that an inner participation, one of listening, was another valid way of praying the Mass, and an essential component of our outward active participation no matter what we do.

Given the way media coverage has focused on the indult from the nostalgia angle, that it was important to not just chalk this up to schismatics and old people, but that it was a way of re-connecting with the past that would impact both those attached to the Traditional Rite and those in the mainstream. In other words, the spirit of reverence embodied in the Tridentine mass would, one hopes, trickle down into more ordinary forms of liturgy as well. I enlarged on this theme, commenting that the numerous young 'uns I know who would be likely to hang out at St. Agnes don't see the whole Old Rite/New Rite, Vatican II/Tridentine business as a matter of either/or. It's possible to be a "Vatican II Catholic" and still love the old rite; Benedict and all the popes before him have said time and time again that Vatican II did not wipe the slate of history clean, and that its decrees always had to be interpreted in light of tradition.

Dawn, as a neophyte newcomer to the Latin Mass, proved, as one would expect, very pleasantly articulate as she explained her experience to the reporter. The immediate genesis of her visit had to do with a run-in a few weeks earlier with a loosy-goosey Mass she'd run into at a church that had suffered a bad wreckovation some years back. Understandably, the solemnity and tradition are the ultimate antidote to liturgical purple shag carpeting, and she wanted to be reminded once again of the transcendent heavenly realities we so often miss amid our modern liturgical abuses.

Dawn also made the point we didn't know all this stuff by heart, that we had missals! And she pulled out the little red booklet she'd picked up earlier at the bookstore, the omnipresent and ever-handy Ecclesia Dei reprint that I've seen sitting on pews everywhere from South Bend to Rome. Which made me chuckle, not at the NPR crew, but at myself for assuming everyone knows everything I do. This explained the earlier question of the reporter, whether I knew Latin; I'd never thought to explain we Catholics have our time-honored tradition of book-length liturgical cheat sheets!

So we both survived our brush with the press--and a very polite and thoughtful press it proved to be. I admit I was a little skeptical at first. There's the question of how to make this stuff alive to the folks outside the wonderful world of Catholic Nerddom. And I'm always a little leery about getting put on tape. Maybe it's that I don't like the sound of my voice--everyone assumes in their head that they're James Earl Jones and are always shocked when it comes out on the Camcorder like Mickey Mouse--maybe it's the result of a bad experience with a rogue answering machine. But it all worked out well.

Anyway, check out NPR tomorrow afternoon and see what choice snippets they got out of my sidewalk pontification. I found the whole experience to be a remarkably pleasant one, with the reporter being very open and understanding to my remarks, and very happy to have stumbled across someone who knew, so to speak, the rest of the story. I'm grateful that NPR thought enough about what one might suppose would be a story buried on the figurative back page of the soundwaves to go out and find some folks to talk to and get the real deal about a matter of faith that isn't always well-received these days.

And I always love pontification, In a good cause, of course.

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