Letters | ‘An echo of clericalism’


I welcome Cardinal Cupich’s essay (“Context & Commitment,” November), but I couldn’t help but find an echo of clericalism (certainly unintended) in his stance on active participation in the Eucharist as a lay shortcoming: “How many of our Catholic brothers and sisters seem to conceive of the liturgy as a spectator sport? How often do we hear, ‘But I don’t get anything out of it’? The passivity suggested by such an approach is the opposite of active participation.”

I would suggest that the notion of liturgy as spectator sport and active participation as limited to the fulfillment of “offices” lies primarily in the weak catechesis of the clergy, and subsequently the laity, in the reform of the liturgy. This results in a one-dimensional notion of worship. When the bishops met for the Second Vatican Council, one of the key principles they put forth is that Christ is present in the liturgy in four unique ways. First, especially, in the Eucharist broken and shared, as well as in the person of the minister, in the Word of God, and in the assembled people of God. How many U.S. parishes are informed by a vibrant sense of a fourfold presence of Christ operative in our Eucharistic celebration? How many pastors work tirelessly toward such a sense of worship? And how often are our bishops fostering such awareness?

Our impoverished worship due to the lack of a sense of active participation is based on an excessively vertical lens concerning our Eucharistic celebration. The vast majority of U.S. Catholics have been formed into passivity when it comes to liturgy: it is an obligation, it is centered on the priest, and it is tightly scheduled to assist with other obligations (including the parish Mass schedule). The corrective, rooted in an effective and efficacious catechesis concerning the fourfold presence of Christ in our Eucharistic celebration, is hiding in plain sight. All that the bishops, pastors, clergy, and laity need do is remove the bushel basket and let the light shine.

Ed Beckett
Philadelphia, Pa.



I was happy to see Commonweal publish Sharon Mesmer’s review of the new translation of the poems of Juan de la Cruz (“Silence & Contradiction,” October). Mesmer makes a number of perceptive points about the challenges his poetry presents to the late-modern English translator. As she points out, these challenges stem not only from his use of Spanish idiom and Spanish poetic conventions but also from the elusive, apophatic nature of his thought. 

I was struck, then, to read in the first paragraph that Juan de la Cruz was a “medieval Carmelite friar.” On the contrary, as a sixteenth-century reforming Carmelite he was an eminent product of what was, ecclesiastically and politically speaking, the era of the post-Tridentine Church, or the Counter-Reformation; and, culturally and artistically speaking, the Baroque era. It was also the age, as Mesmer reminds us in pointing out that Juan came from a family of conversos, of the Spanish Inquisition. The framing of Mesmer’s review is its own declaration that even the most lasting poetry requires adequate historical framing. To twenty-first-century eyes, sixteenth-century Spain may still look medieval. In fact, a good deal had changed. For all its mystical, otherworldly tenor, Juan de la Cruz’s poetry is also a representation of that change.

J. M. Baker Jr.
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.



Susanna De Stradis makes a convincing case that the papal censorship of John Courtney Murray has been misunderstood and at least somewhat exaggerated (“Not Quite Silenced,” December). But what Murray came to represent for lay Catholics in the 1950s and early 1960s is still hard to overstate. Having been raised a “Commonweal Catholic” from an early age, I can attest to the nearly universal appreciation progressive Catholics had for him, not only for his strikingly intelligible theological judgment but also for his evident moral courage in the face of what was certainly believed to be adversity.

John C. Hirsh
Georgetown University
Washington D.C.



In our time of marked upheaval, established structures and institutions have been receiving fresh scrutiny and are often found wanting. The movement to eradicate entrenched racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder has been a primary groundswell. So bravo to Mollie Wilson O’Reilly for her scathing essay on Archbishop Gomez’s now infamous keynote address (“Struggling to Listen,” December). And when she appropriately points out his ominous shift from a Church leader emphasizing listening to one blasting the social-justice movement as one of the trendy “pseudo-religions,” she is highlighting Catholicism’s long-standing ambivalence on race. Indeed, in touting various retrograde positions in his speech, Gomez suggests the American bishops, whom he leads, side not with the victims of an unjust status quo but with their persecutors. In doing so, he also refutes the words of the late German theologian Jurgen Moltmann: “Active resistance for the sake of the oppressed neighbor is not only a right but also a duty of the Christian.” How else can the seismic fault in our midst heal? 

R. Jay Allain
Orleans, Mass.



I loved the story of “The Rabbi’s Gift,” which Griffin Oleynick recounts in his article, “Embracing Uncertainty” (November), and which was an apt and hopeful complement to Brad East’s review of Timothy Jackson’s book, Mordecai Would Not Bow Down (“Still Supercessionist?” November). I was happy to find the story online, as told by Fr. Francis Dorff, illustrated by the paintings in the abbey library that Mr. Oleynick references.

The story reminded me of Boccaccio’s tale of the three rings, retold by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in his Enlightenment play Nathan the Wise. Three sons inherit rings from their father, only one of which is reputed to confer a special grace. Not knowing who has the truly magic ring, all the sons are advised to behave as though they have it, moving them all to behave more graciously than before. For Lessing, the parable applies to the three monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As Lessing himself might have said, sometimes it takes a good fable to set us on the right track.

Ernest Rubinstein
New York, N.Y.

Published in the January 2022 issue: 
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