Thursday, August 28, 2008

Catholic worship and the death of the subjunctive.

"Subjunctive, \səb-ˈjən(k)-tiv\ : of, relating to, or constituting a verb form or set of verb forms that represents a denoted act or state not as fact but as contingent or possible or viewed emotionally (as with doubt or desire) " (Merriam-Webster).

The observation I make is both a curious point of grammar and the linchpin of the modern paradigm shift in western Catholicism.

Catholic prayer written after a certain date--a date that, perhaps, could be pinpointed to a day, just as one can find the first gray class photo in which someone cracked a smile--ceased almost entirely to make use of the subjective mood. "We may be" became "We are;" "That the Lord may" became "The Lord will"; and "The Lord be with you" on occasion became a resounding indicative, "The Lord Is With You".

If the subjective mood connotes contigency, possiblity, doubt, or desire, then perhaps it is not difficult to speculate as to the cause of its death. We are a resurrection people, after all. The Gospels contain no small amount of reassurances for the distressed and uneasy. Fear, anxiety, and despair arising from uncertainty--from a "subjunctive" way of looking at the world--rightfully dissipate before the hot white light of a triumphant Lord. Christ showed no ambivalence about the right of his flock to rest easy in certitude and trust. Do not worry! Do not fear! Do not fret about your material needs! The Father knows you need them. Do not preoccupy yourself with what you will say before your interlocutors! The Holy Spirit will instruct you. Make no mistake: God has already won the battle. The Kingdom is already here. The gates to Heaven have already been broken open, like a great beautiful golden pile of Berlin rubble.

The Gospels are chicken soup for the anxious soul. Christianity is the great answer to the one who cries out in pain and fear, who long ago abandoned hope for joy, who is starved for a smile. And far be it from me to challenge that message, or to rob those souls of their great consolation.

Yet I cannot help but inquire: whence the change? If we were a dreary bunch of uncertain doubters before, what caused us to

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