A lay Catholic man watches “The Sisterhood”

There are some spoilers in this review.

I’m a lay, single Catholic man, which is probably not the target audience of “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns,” now airing on Lifetime, a network I don’t watch (I don’t even have cable). Still, my journalist instincts tell me I should watch this; it is an important show for Catholics for multiple reasons:

  1. It’s a mainstream reality show set in the Catholic world, and it appears there will be at least an effort to treat the subjects with respect.
  2. There are a lot of ways this could go wrong.
  3. There aren’t a lot of positive portrayals of Catholicism in the media, period, these days.
  4. The female religious life is struggling in the U.S. and could use a boost, especially in young women, as most orders are aging. Now, how many young nuns do you know? I know one (the lovely Sister Alicia Torres, ministering on the West Side of Chicago, where I really should pay her a visit). Most of you probably know zero. How many older nuns do you know? You may know a few. Some nuns who taught me in grade school are still alive, so there’s that.

So I [ugh] got the Lifetime channel added on my Roku (it doesn’t stream live, only offers on-demand episodes), and watched the first episode the day after it aired, then again after I said goodbye to my Thanksgiving visitors. Here are my thoughts — a note that one of the cast members, Claire, is a friend of one of my sisters and I’ve met her a couple times.

(Photo credit: Lifetime.)

(Photo credit: Lifetime.)


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It’s new hymnal season!

At my main parish, our hymnals are designed to be used in three-year cycles. The new cycle starts soon, so as soon as it was in, I picked up the new version and started perusing.

My main parish uses United in Christ, the bilingual three-year hymnal. So there is plenty in Spanish and English and at least a few changes. I quickly perused every page to see what I liked; fortunately, there is plenty. For example:

• New “old” hymns include “Adoro Te Devote” and “O God, Beyond All Praising,” which is one of my favorites.

• Other additions include an incredibly strong Advent litany and Tom Booth and Jenny Pixler’s “Sacred Silence.”

• There are now solid bilingual translations of “Christ, Be Our Light” and “Praise to You, O Christ Our Savior.”

But I do see some shortcomings:

• So many English translations of Spanish songs simply stink. I wish OCP would fix them; “Pescador de Hombres” is one of the notoriously awful versions. I know translating to fit a meter isn’t easy, but turning “Alabare” (literally “I will praise”) into “O Come and Sing” was just weird.

• The basic Latin Mass setting chants are there, but not the English versions.

Still, my parish has used this hymnal for a while, and it serves our needs fairly well. I’m cheered by the efforts OCP has put in to keep improving this, and I’m looking forward to another solid three years with the books.

Why aren’t readings sung? Easy, easy answer.

The question is asked by a CCWatershed writer: Why are the readings not sung at Mass? One of his suggestions, weirdly, is “psychological immaturity” on the part of the priest.

Even Jesus realizes this is a silly thing to say.


But that silliness aside, let’s address the question. I got my first experience of this at the CMAA colloquium this summer, and I think I can answer this pretty easily. I would never suggest singing readings (except in the EF, of course).

In every experience I had with the sung readings this summer (EF or OF), I noticed two things.

A: I couldn’t hear the singer.

B: If I could hear the singer (some were miked, some not), I couldn’t understand the singer.

Now, obviously, this was a very small sample size in a very big church (though I wasn’t sitting too far back). Others’ experience may vary, but my experience was uniformly negative.

There’s also a personnel issue. At my main parish, we barely have enough singers, period. Trying to get them to sing the readings would be a non-starter, and for the priest, singing a long gospel is a non-starter.

I’m sure some people appreciate sung readings, and that’s fine for them. But let’s not mistake preferences as guaranteed to be improvements from whatever you don’t like. And let’s certainly not confuse a preference for “psychological immaturity.”

Gee, thanks

Hello, parishoner! Good to see you. Let me shake your hand.

“¿Como esta, Tim?”

Excelente. ¿Y usted?

“No excelente. Tengo gripe.”

Gee, thanks for shaking my hand while you have the flu, sir.

Visting a very secular wedding

I may be Catholic, but many of my associates from work and college are not. Nonetheless, they still get married, believe it or not. And as such, I get invited to these weddings.

It’s not what I am used to, of course. There is something to be said for the Catholic rite, which eliminates a ton (though not all) of the stupidity you find in much modern wedding ceremonies. So really, I am unaccustomed to non-Catholic weddings, and even less so to weddings that don’t mention God at all.

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That was the case here; he’s an atheist and she (the coworker) more or less sorta is. On many important issues, we disagree. But we acknowledge the goodwill of the other; Pope Francis would, I hope, be proud.

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Death by liturgy committee

I was at a meeting for all the music ministers at one of my parishes. It was at this meeting that we would listen to the newly selected Mass setting and get ourselves acclimated to it. So the music director started to play it.

And the musicians all started to look at each other. The new Mass setting was not very good. It was a revised version of an old setting that was good, but this revised version was not good at all. Being the good musicians and complainers we are, we immediately complained. It was hard to sing the Gloria verses. The accompaniment stunk (although, to be fair, it wasn’t great the first time either). Who picked this, anyway?

Embed from Getty Images

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Is it time to retire “All Are Welcome?”

Let me make this case apart from the musical aspects. This isn’t my favorite hymn (I avoid it at my main parish but get stuck with it sometimes at others), and I like many things by Marty Haugen. There are more than a few people who simply loathe the hymn and want it gone for that reason. Fair enough. I want to make a different case that the answer is yes.

In and of itself, the hymn is something the Church should strive for and has nothing in particular that’s actually against Church teaching. But it certainly doesn’t contain the whole of Christian teaching.

But since it gives a truth that out of context can be twisted, it gives dissenting groups an opening. “Oh, yeah! So we’re actually welcoming, suckers!” they may say. And so they are doing their best to use the song as a semi-political shot at the Church, we are better off without it. Por ejemplo, this congratulations-you’re-excommunicated women’s “ordination” ceremony:

Now, church music can be hijacked for other reasons. You will never hear this Bach toccata and fugue at Mass , because the connotations give us Halloween thoughts, not sacred ones:

Back to our subject. It’s a popular hymn amid many non-dissenting Catholics as well. Perhaps, we could reclaim it from the dissenters. It’d be tough. Marty Haugen isn’t Catholic, and neither is the hymn particularly so. And really, is it worth the time and effort to do a reclamation project on it? Nah. Better to let it go and focus on other hymns.