instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, April 17, 2003

On encyclicals and the Ginger Factor

So I'm racing through Ecclesia de Eucharistia, to finish it before tonight's Mass of the Lord's Supper, and I get to the point (in no. 37) where it mentions that the Code of Canon Law "states that those who 'obstinately persist in manifest grave sin' are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion."

And it suddenly hits me why reporters seize on such bits of rehashed doctrine as the hook on which to hang papal letters. It may have less to do with reporter's prefab notions of the Church than with everyone's experience of the Ginger Factor.

The Ginger Factor, named for a well-known "Far Side" cartoon, is a measure of the ratio of words said to words understood. A dog named Ginger, for example, only understands the word "Ginger" in the sentence, "Okay, Ginger, if you get into the garbage one more time, you'll be spending the night outside."

I think most people, not just benighted reporters, experience a high Ginger Factor with most papal encyclicals; my post below includes a paragraph from an apostolic letter that has a high G.F. for me. Naturally, a reporter doesn't report on the parts of a papal statement that sound like, "Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah.blah" And naturally, a reporter does recognize (and report on) the part that sounds like, "This means Senator Rawkins is being naughty."

But as I say, it's not just reporters. I haven't seen much commentary on St. Blog's yet about Ecclesia de Eucharistia; let's see how much of it amounts to, "The liberals better watch out!"

A corollary of this -- which is what made me stop reading the encyclical to post this -- is that all the other stuff sounds like "Blah blah blah," even to us knowledgable Catholics.

To choose a sentence more or less at random, in no. 4 the Pope writes, "Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated at the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, there is an almost tangible return to his 'hour', the hour of his Cross and glorification." I read that and think, "Oh, umhm." It's not till I get to the bit about clean consciences that I sit up and think, "Oh, he's saying something to me, now."

The parts about specific, concrete disciplines or doctrines seem to actually be more concrete than the parts about union with God and others. The identity of the sacrament celebrated at St. Moribund's with the sacrifice on Calvary, that's just part of the comfortable background humming which is my experience of the riches and depths of the Catholic faith. But ooh, tell me an Episcopalian can't receive the Eucharist in my church, and now you're telling me something real.