Active Participation and the Things We Do with our Bodies at Mass

So let’s talk about the feet of Jesus.

God becomes Man, and the prophet sent to prepare the way for Him declares, “I am not fit to untie his sandals.”  We can imagine our Lord untied his own sandals most of the time.   She may or may not have been the one to remove his shoes, but we know the sinful woman did wash those feet.  That woman might or might not have been Mary Magdelene, but Mary certainly did know those feet as well.  The feet she saw pounded through with nails weren’t generic metal feet hanging in your hallway, they were the feet she had held and caressed and perfumed.

I have a friend who is a nursing student, and she tells me that when she has downtime working in the critical care unit, she’ll fill the hours by going around and washing the patients’ feet and massaging them with lotion.  Very sick patients typically have feet in horrible condition and a desperate hunger for human touch, both.

When Mary Magdalene met the resurrected Jesus in the garden, she wasn’t like Thomas who asked to see the pierced hands and side; had she asked, it probably would have been to see the feet.

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Cappellone di San Nicola, Basilica di San Nicola da Tolentino, Tolentino, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]


In my absence from the internet, another Catholic food fight has broken out over the question of what people should do with themselves during Mass.  The latest round concerns the direction priests point their feet.  Where your feet go, you go.

Because humans are body and soul both, what we do with our bodies at Mass matters.  The Mass can’t happen if the priest stands in a corner and prayerfully wills it to be so.  Human wills express themselves in bodily action.  In carrying out the actions of the Mass a priest makes the Mass happen — it can happen no other way.

The other sacraments are the same.  Thus the question of feet is important.


We Catholics get fervent in our opinions about what everyone should do at Mass because we know deep in our souls that our bodies matter so very much.  Thus we’re fifty-some years in to a massive Catholic food fight over how we laypersons might best carry out “active participation” in the sacred liturgy as mentioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium.  Says the Church:

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.

[Paragraph 14.]

It’s a food fight that typically devolves into two questions: Who else can we put a cassock on, and how do we persuade Catholics to sing more?

So I want to tell my story about active participation in the Mass, and singing, and the feet of Jesus.

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Maria Magdalene, 1899, Viktor M. Vasnetsov (1848–1926) [public domain] via Wikimedia.


I like words.  I am the person who pays attention to the words of all the hymns we sing at Mass.  I like to sing at Mass, because I like having all those words about God and to God moving through my body and coming out of me.  I was pretty happy at St. Populus, my home parish, where every Mass was a folk Mass in the best meaning of that term: We served up a four-hymn sandwich sing-along every Sunday, always and every time meant to be that part of the Mass when everyone joined in with gusto.

The actual amount of gusto varied.  But that was the goal.  It was a goal that I loved.

Then my husband reverted to the Catholic faith (good) and I discovered that he could sing (interesting) and he became a cantor at St. Populus (variable).  There wasn’t another bass available to help him with his cantoring skills, so he drove down to Our Lady of Classical Choirs and pestered the choirmaster until they got tired of his badgering and agreed to teach him to sing.  One thing led to another, and I ended up with 50% of my family in the choir loft at not-my-parish.

The trouble with OLCC, in addition to being not-my-parish, was that half the time you couldn’t even understand the words they were singing — even if it was English.  The sound bounced off ancient plaster mercilessly.  Furthermore, whether you could understand it or not, the bulk of the Mass on any given Sunday was done in the style of Not a Sing-Along.   I was aware that the whole thing was purported to be exceedingly beautiful, but couldn’t we all just have four nice easy hymns to sing together as a group?  Please??


Then some things happened.  One thing was that I was now living with three people who played this strange, purportedly beautiful, music around my house all the time.  I got to know the music better.  It was no longer weird sounds bouncing around a tall building, it was something my ear understood and could make sense of.

Another thing that happened is that over at St. Populous we had a little Latin club going on Friday mornings for about a year, long enough for we ignorant laypeople develop to a working familiarity with the meanings of the words that tended to bounce around during the Gloria and Sanctus and all those other things that were Not a Sing-Along down at OLCC.

I am persuaded that I am the Bread of Life is all the proof anyone needs that ordinary people aren’t quite as stupid as our betters pretend.  If you can teach we slobs in the pews to memorize the key points of John chapter 6 in an irregular, non-rhyming, voice-cracking, genre-less song, than we slobs can probably learn all the other, much easier, supposedly-too-hard-for-us stuff as well.

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St. Mary Magdalene, Piero di Cosimo (1462–1521), [public domain] via Wikimedia.


The final thing that happened to me was decrepitude.  OLCC became an appealing parish to me for two reasons:

  • There was a wall I could lean against.
  • No one would try to speak to me.

Not-my-parish for the win.

I remember this night at Mass when active participation ceased to be about marching around or singing along.  I was at OLCC, sitting in the pew because standing was not on my to-do list (decrepitude), it was some feast or another, and the Gloria was going on forever, and ever, and ever.  The choir would sing some line of the Latin, and then sing it again and again in fifty different variations of hauntingly beautiful soaring tunes.  Then on to the next line.

Not a Sing Along.

It was a Pray Along.

I finally got, for the first time in my life, a chance to pray the Gloria with something that felt like justice.  No more wincing at the splendor of tu solus sanctus then quick keep moving, time for the next big idea.  Each idea, one at a time, washing over the congregation, swirling around in a whirpool of words, seeping into our thoughts and wetting the soul’s appetite for the next line of the prayer.


It isn’t that they don’t ever do hymns or plebeian Mass settings down at OLCC.  Nor do I have any less love for a good rousing Sing Along Mass.  Singing is good for you.  It’s good for all the parts of you, and it would be a strange and disastrous thing if we pewsitters all gave it up and used no other part of our bodies than our ears at Mass.

Curiously, the part where feet come into it was during a Mostly Sing-Along Mass down at OLCC.

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Noli me tangere, Titian (1490–1576), [public domain], via Wikimedia. I have no idea why the artist thought Mary Magdalene would think the gardener worked naked except for a loin cloth and a long white cape.


Because I am decrepit, I can’t always sing, or can’t sing the entirety of a Sunday’s pewsitter parts.  Because I am a word-person, lately sometimes I do the very weird thing of standing there with the hymnal open, mouth shut, eating up the words with my mind while the congregation sings them aloud.

This past Sunday, though, I was unusually decrepit even for me.  I found a seat against the wall, and didn’t even bother trying to lip sync the Our Father.  I was pretty happy to just be standing-along during the bulk of the standing parts.  I was secretly pleased that the side aisles were relatively empty and all I had to do was wave to a couple people several rows behind me during the Sign of Peace, and then I was freed to go back to my still, silent bubble.

I didn’t know, on Sunday, that Internet Catholics were busy arguing over which way priests point their feet.  The readings were not exactly about feet, except that they were.  The Law living within us, He is the image of the Invisible God, the parable of Mercy-Made-Flesh.

We don’t have to guess what active participation might mean, because Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us straight out:

11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain [28] . Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.

It means that when our Lord comes to us, we recognize Him and respond accordingly.

The carrying out of those laws governing valid and licit celebration aren’t the stones of an empty tomb.  The carrying out of those laws is the business of our bodies doing what our bodies are made to do.  What do our bodies do? Our bodies are the means through which ours souls express themselves.

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Mary Magdalene , Ambrosius Benson (circa 1495–1550), [public domain] via Wikimedia.


The Meal at Simon’s House, 1637, Frans Francken the Younger (1581–1642), via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

2013 Homeschooling / Kolbe Review Update

I’ve gotten a few requests for updates, so it’s about time. One mega-post to cover four kids, all subjects.  Here’s what we’ve got going for 2013-2014, and how we like it so far.  Quick version: Two bigs are in 8th and 6th, enrolled with Kolbe but doing varying amounts of the program.  Littles (4th & 2nd) are freelancing with a variety  of stuff, increasingly workbook-y, because that’s my life.

Long Version

Grammar: Mr. Boy is doing 8th grade per Kolbe, Voyages in English (now called “Lepanto English” I believe.)  Grammar nerd that I am, I still like it.

6th Grader is sitting through a year of Classical Conversation’s “Essentials” course, which is an exacting (some would say: exasperating) tour of grammar and heavy-handed editing.  It suits her fine, in an anything-that-doesn’t-kill-you way, but we’ll be back to Voyages next year.  NB: Classical Conversations has a strongly, strongly protestant world view.  Just sayin’.  FYI, I’m happy we are doing the class, it serves our purposes.

4th and 2nd Grader are doing the Language of God workbooks from Catholic Heritage Curriculum.  They don’t like them, because they don’t like anything in the genre, but I do.  Heavy on the Catholic-ness, makes Voyages/Lepanto look like secular city.  I’m good with that.

Vocabulary / Spelling: 8th & 6th grader continue with Kolbe’s recommended vocabulary book.  I remain very happy with it, and they seem to do pretty well and not mind it.  Littles are using CHC’s Speller, same comment as per above.  The CHC 4th grade program is a much lighter program than the Sadlier-Oxford Vocabulary.

For phonics / word study, all three girls are going with the Kolbe-default, MCP plaid.  I continue to like it very much.  We skip some of the exercises that aren’t my favorite though, usually the “write a letter to your friend . . . ” ones. We’re in it for the phonics.

Geography: Kolbe changed their geography book, and I haven’t seen the new one.  I like the old one so much I bought the levels I didn’t have on clearance from the friendly Kolbe bookstore lady.  But we’re in an off-year for geography, too much going on elsewhere.  We’ll be back at it next year.

History: I’m sticking with my program of keeping all kids on the same general history topic.  They are anchored to Mr. Boy, who is in 8th grade and finishing out with American this year, and then he’ll be back to Greek next year.  Doing the four year cycle of Greek-Roman-Middle-Modern works pretty well for us.  We aren’t the kind of people who would fail to study Africa and Asia just because no one made us.  So, what it looks like textbook-wise:

8th Grader is doing Christ in the Americas, per the Kolbe plans.  He complains it’s all pro-Catholic agitiprop, but I like that.  (It is a survey of American History, but with a strongly Catholic orientation.)  He did Christ the King Lord of History last year, same complaints / parental approval.  Tip: Kolbe publishes two sets of course plans for these — one for middle school, one for high school.  If you aren’t sure what to choose, you can request both (if you’re enrolled), then take a look and see which is a better fit.

6th Grader is doing CHC’s From Sea to Shining Sea. Alert: There are other US History books with the same general title.  Make sure you pick the correct one.  We like it very much — colorful, informative, readable, happily Catholic. She likes this better than last year’s Founders of Freedom, which was a little too vintage black-n-white for her tastes.  Since she has a lot of work in other subjects, I’m just having her read the text (we did not purchase the workbook, teacher’s manual, etc.) and do one project a quarter for tangible work for the portfolio.

I was stymied on where to find suitable US History texts for the littles until I got to look through Seton’s table at the IHM Conference this summer.  My 4th grader is reading through both books 4 & 5 this year (Seton divides US history over two years), and the 2nd grader is reading book 1.  They are doing personal-choice reading to go with, heavy on American Girls novels and the like.

Religion.  I love Faith and Life.  Very happy with what Kolbe does there.  All four kids are on the program.  And I don’t care what anyone says, the Baltimore Catechism is one handy book.  I approve.  We fill out those two with lives of saints in literature or normal life.

Bible History. Kolbe makes this a  separate junior high class from either religion or history, it does a survey of the Bible spanning two years.  I’m happy with it, as far as it goes. There are workbooks for both this and Anne Carroll’s American history books mentioned above, and they are good for drilling memorization of key facts.  The boy is also reading through the Bible with the SuperHusband: I wouldn’t do *only* a survey book at this age, anyone reading on grade level should at least be doing the Mass readings, if not going through the Bible directly.

For the girls, 6th grader has split the The Catholic Bible Story Workbook from Fireside over two years, and she really enjoys it.  There’s no reason you’d need to stretch it that much, it could be easily completed in one year.  She gets to stretch it because I’m doing that coordinated-topics thing.  Littles are getting a read-aloud from a children’s Bible.

Latin. The outcome of my Latin Drama is reported here and here, and elsewhere as well, I’m sure.  Short version: We don’t attend Latin Mass.  So although I admire Kolbe’s go-to textbook, it wasn’t working for us.  What does work:

  • Visual Latin (8th grader)
  • Latin’s Not so Tough (6th grader’s in book 3 this year)
  • Song School Latin (all girls like it – the Monkey!)
  • Mr. Dunphy.  Everyone likes that one.

Mr. Boy is also rounding out his work with an assortment of reading from Familia Romana and the odd exercise from the Oxford Latin Course, which I still think is cool.

Head’s up on foreign languages: Next year we resume French.  We won’t be dropping Latin altogether, but I’m not going to push the boy through three consecutive years of More Rigorous Latin for high school credit purposes.  He’ll do a modest amount of Latin for an elective, and French for his official college-admission-worthy language study.  I have no idea what books I’ll use.  Something inexpensive, I think.  Normal people should not get ideas from me.

Math.  Still happy with Math-U-See.  We’re like that.

Science. Mr. Boy is doing Physical Science per Kolbe, and it seems to be going pretty well.  Not a lot to report.  It’s a science book.  You read it, you do the work.  We haven’t had our giant Festival of Laboratory Activities yet.  It’s coming.  Probably over Christmas break.  NB: Some of the labs are definitely of the type you might want a scientist around to help you with.

Meanwhile, the girls are doing Classically Catholic Memory, because that’s what happened to us, happy accident.  My friend is teaching a 30-minute science activities class once a week at our new co-op, and it follows that program.  So for the girls’ science, I dug through my textbook collection (a combination of Kolbe’s go-to and ancient freebie copies of Abeka books, mostly), and picked out reading assignments that correspond with their work each week.

–> CCM is also providing quite a bit of supplemental work in everything — Literature, history, math, religion, Latin, geography etc etc.

Composition.  The boy is excused from the Kolbe composition book (Sadlier-Oxford – no complaints) because he has to endure my homegrown editing class once a week.  We’ll go back to stock plans on that next year.  6th grader is excused since she’s doing IEW with Classical Conversations.  We’ll go back to default for her as well.  Littles are just writing stuff.  They’re still little.

About IEW, what you need to know:

1. The instruction videos are so painfully mind-numbingly boring that strong language is probably appropriate.  All the CC moms have to watch them.  I write other things (rough drafts for columns, usually) during all the minutes that the video guy is belaboring his points.  There *is* useful stuff, but it’s a ratio of 5 minutes of useful for 30 minutes of pre-purgatory.  I jot down the useful bits and then go back to thinking about something other than elephant essays.  Yes.  Elephants.  I never, ever, want to see another elephant essay again in my life.  NB: If you were not a professional writer, you might find the hand-holding helpful.

1A.  Why yes, I realize the internet it littered with poorly-edited work of mine.  Knowing what to do is different from doing it.  I seem to recall a line in The Merchant of Venice to that end, pronounced just before splashdown.

2. The course calls for certain writing techniques that would make many an editor cry.  Mandatory use of “ly” words, changing out “said” for assorted exclamations and whispers and murmurs and so forth .  . . let us say: stylistically heavy-handed.  If you treat IEW as the last course you ever take before you submit your manuscript, people will laugh at you.  BUT it is fantabulous for teaching you to control your words and ideas.  If you don’t learn to develop the word control that IEW teaches, editors won’t just laugh at you, they’ll stick your stuff in the garbage while they do it.

3. So it’s basically like barre exercises, or push-ups, or C-warm-ups.  You train certain skills into mastery, so that you can call on them easily when you need them.  I like IEW for that.  That’s why were doing it.  Also, if you never ever plan to become a professional writer, you can learn IEW and you work will be organized, coherent, and suitably edited for everyday use.

4. The people who make the student book we’re using don’t know much about the Catholic faith.  Sometimes we laugh at them.  And then I have to go to confession for uncharitable thoughts.  So I won’t name that book here.

5. But hey, one of our parish co-op moms is an IEW instructor, and she’s going to maybe I hope offer the class next year, Catholic version. So then we can have our writing drills without the weird historical errors.  I like that.  I think for most kids, IEW is a class you could take once, or take once every few years.  Or you could do something else that’s just as good.

Literature.  So.  Literature.  Lots of stuff going on there.  8th and 6th grader are doing one book a quarter off the Kolbe course plans for their respective grades.  To fill that out:

-Both are reading selections from assorted historical works, as found in Classical Conversations’ handy Prescripts book, American History edition.

-Mr. Boy is reading a selection from CC’s Documents book as well.  It’s a high school book, for sure.  Most kids would not be reading this at his age, he is not normal.  He also has a mom-assigned book each quarter.  Q1 was The Fallacy Detective, Q2 is Frank Sheed’s A Map of Life.  He just reads those, no extra writing work.

-6th grader is reading mom-chosen selections from Book Six of the National Catholic Reader for her extra history-related literature reading.

They both read this and that for their own enjoyment as well.  Not necessarily high art, but I can work with it. Underhanded Mom Trick: If you read a book your kids would like if only they didn’t fear it was educational, don’t let them read it.  Lend it to their friends.  Then when it comes back, they’ll be curious.

2nd & 4th graders have mandatory self-selected reading from either National Catholic Reader or McGuffy, per their grade levels, one day a week.  They do other student’s-choice reading the other days, and CCM includes some poetry in its memory work.

Art: I’m not unschooling art this year!  My friend is teaching an art class at the co-op, using Catholic Schoolhouse’s art book (year 2).  We like it.  Very amateur-friendly.  Underhanded Mom Trick: I picked up some beautiful beautiful beautiful art-appreciation books from Seton this summer.  Then I lent them to the art teacher.  Because it’s much more interesting if it’s a book that Mrs. A uses, and not one that nutso mom-person says is so good.

Handwriting: I am not a successful handwriting teacher. If you have ever seen my handwriting, you understand why.  Pay no attention to me.  But my naturally-talented, crafty and feminine handwriting girl learned cursive using Cheerful Cursive and she liked it fine.

Whew.  That’s enough for now. Did I miss any subjects? See the whole series here.

Something Funny: WordPress has started putting ads in the free blogs (like this one).  Which appear to this blogger as ads for WordPress’s paid services.  Sometimes I wonder what you see.  If you see something objectionable, do tell me.  I don’t pick the ads.  I am good at complaining on your behalf (and mine) as needed.

Plague Week – Things to Read, Buy, Be Happy About, Etc.

Plague week here at the castle.  We started light with a round of coughing and sneezing, and just when we thought we were in the clear (thank you, praying friends), in entered Part 2: Stomach Virus Edition.  Miserable child now in quarantine, and teen boy being left to sleep, because this waking up business is getting overrated.

Meanwhile, things to read:

1. Up this morning at New Evangelizers, my thoughts on what to do with very bad priests, and other sinners who haunt our parishes.  You know you’ve done something right when this guy (the one at the top of the pile) e-mails you with his favorite quote from your column.  Happy day.  (I’ll leave you to pick out your own.)

2. Here, I say all kinds of things about what’s going on exciting in the Catholic Writers Guild. By “warm fuzzy feeling”, I mean both the usual understanding of the phrase, and the kind of warm fuzzy that grows in the vegetable bin if left unchecked.  You get both.  Consider running for office, it’s great.

3. More me, possibly fuzzy, and other smart people, less fuzzy:  Links here to my CWG radio gig the other day, and to the Catholic Underground, who picked up on the thoughts of this guy.  I had no idea the USCCB put out its own style guide.  I want one.  Sort of.

4. I don’t think I’ve posted here since I put up my review at AC of the Arma Dei coloring catechism-y things.  Short version: They are really cool, and loaded with content.  One packet, carefully chosen, will last your class the whole year.  In the same review, I mention the Inklings game from Cactus (scroll down on the page).  What I don’t mention: When I saw the game this summer at CMN, I was totally stoked, because it completely affirmed me in one of things I said in my book.

5. People who teach well: Christina LeBlanc.  Sure, I knew he said smart stuff and wrote a really good book, and he doesn’t expect snacks with his beer, which is to his credit, for certain.  And then I heard him talk this weekend.  Wow.  I totally want that man on the speaking circuit.  Big time.  Great presenter.

Book him now while he doesn’t cost as much.  Videos.  I want a video series.  Someone put that man in front of a camera.

6. I’m once again affirmed at home on the effectiveness of quiz games for teaching. My littles are both acquiring vocabulary and liking Latin, learned via the shiny flashcards from Classical Academic Press, which are well-suited to about about 5,000 different games.  Yes, I know, juvenile: A talking monkey is what it takes for us to get school done.  But hey, the talking monkey sells to my younger crowd.  Song School 2 DVD is finally coming out, and they have a coupon code for 20% off, which applies to either the DVD alone, or the whole shebang.  From my e-mail:

20% Pre-order Discount Code: SSL2DVD 

Valid through Oct 6th. Product ships on or before Oct 7th

BONUS – Free SSL2 Coloring Pages HERE!

7. Meanwhile, what we’re using for Latin until the Monkey arrives (and then some), is this:

Patricius et Hilda, Alone in Rome

Mr. Dunphy is a local, and I bought his textbook used off a friend whose son was in Mr. D’s class and loved the book.  Now it’s available to the general public here:  The book follows the adventures of a pair of escaped slaves; the text is in English, with gradually more and more Latin mixed in.  At the end of each chapter there’s a vocabulary list and a set of exercises.  There’s also a bit of Irish, because, you know, why not?

Another homeschooling friend says her kids love the book too.  Suitable as an intro to Latin for boys ages 4 and up, and for girls a little bit older.  Because: Swords.  Figure for the less-violent types, target age is 2nd – 8th grade, but it’s fun for grown-ups, definitely.

More like this, Latin scholars.  Please oh please.


8. Reason #648 I’m happy this week: Simcha Fisher agrees with me about something.  Yes, I am that cool.  Simcha Fisher looked at my blog.  I’m pretty stoked.  She’s my hero.


Things I’d Rather Not Think About

1. My article for March is up.  It’s on homeschooling when you struggle with self-discipline. It’s one of those topics where I wish I could be showing off my tremendous compassion for those poor people who just can’t seem to get it together.

I drew the line at posting a snapshot of my kitchen for the photo.  Instead, you get a picture of men hitting each other with sticks.  Same concept, seemlier illustration.

2. Have I mentioned how much it irritates me to have to follow the entirety of the Catholic faith, and not just bits and pieces? I assume others hate it just as much as I do, because so far no one has commented on my post this month at New Evangelizers. In which I take up the topic of whether Cardinal Mahoney ought to attend the conclave, and how that question fits in to a wider question of mercy and evangelization*.  And good administration.  You knew that was going to be fit in somehow.

3. I set the kitchen timer to tell me when to pull SuperHusband’s dress shirt out of the dryer. (Yes.  Dryer.  I know.)  It worked.  I just went and pulled it out and hung it up right away.  I can be very diligent about laundry, IF I’m supposed to be doing the taxes.

4. Taxes, episode 2.  That’s today.  Backside of the 1040, and yeah, it’s the Schedule A I don’t feel like dealing with.  Tired of being responsible.  I get tired of that very quickly.  But I’ll do it, of course. There’s nothing like, “We will seize your house if you don’t mail in this worksheet” to really motivate a lady.  UPDATE: DONE. WOOHOO!

5.  About that NE post.  Whenever I think “conclave”, the plot for a murder mystery pops into my head.  It’s a good thing other people volunteered to answer questions at Dorian Speed’s

6.  Please pray for the repose of the soul of Mr. W, our elderly farming neighbor who passed away peacefully in his sleep.  Funeral was packed, SuperHusband tells me, not a surprise.  Then pray for this family, who would be very grateful for any number of miracles.

7.  You can discourage the Friday meat demon by quick throwing all your meaty leftovers into the freezer Thursday night.  (Or give to dog if close to spoiling, but not quite inedible yet.)  Pull them out and return to fridge Saturday, when the coast is clear.

And something I’m happy think about:

Señora M., my catechist friend from down the road, reports a big milestone: She led her first English-language religious ed class the other night.  We first met in the Our Lady of Guadalupe room at the big Advent event in December, and since then she’s been helping out as a classroom assistant at her parish.  She phoned me this morning, and I made it through the greetings in Spanish, and then I had to plead, “No entiendo.” She gave me the big news in English.  But she isn’t giving up on me that easy, she’s determined to get my Spanish into working order.  I’m honored.

*Some people equate “mercy” with “giving them a pass.”  Those who have been privy to my ire know that the moment you start bungling on sexual abuse prevention and prosecution, is the moment I become a lady you do not like.  Do not confuse mercy with tolerance.  It’s not about overlooking the trivial flubs.  It’s not about saying, “Really it wasn’t so bad.”  Mercy only has meaning there where we want to give it least.

My vote for Most Important Book of 2012

I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world.  I bought one book.  This is it:

Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours.  Perfect timing.

What it is:  Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC.  Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right.  Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman.  But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring.  Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.

The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here.  It’s what happened.  The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler.  (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.)  The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details.  Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.

–>  I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen.  If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few.  Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.

Why “Most Important Book?”

This is a story that needs to be known.  It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today.  And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:

  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Diplomacy
  • Poverty
  • Immigration
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom, Period
  • Refugee Camps
  • Cultural Clashes
  • Corruption
  • Goodness and Virtue
  • Faith
  • Priestly Vocations
  • Religious Vocations
  • Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
  • Lying
  • Rape
  • Suicide
  • Generosity
  • Orphans
  • Welfare
  • Stinky Mud
  • Used Cars
  • Huggy vs. Not-Huggy

You get the idea.  There’s more.  Without a single moment of preaching.  Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.

Buy Bread Upon the Water by Deanna K. Klingel, published by St. Rafka press.

Kolbe Reviews – Latin

Children do not teach themselves Latin.

Children.  Do Not.  Teach. Themselves. Latin.

Okay, now that we have that cleared up:

Kolbe Academy prescribes The New Missal Latin – Book One for upper-elementary Latin — typically grades 5-8.

If you purchase the book set from Kolbe, it comes with the book, a test booklet and separate answer key, a teacher’s manual with answers to the book exercises, and a pronunciation CD.  Easy to overlook is the Supplemental Exercises, which are called for in the course plans, and which you need to purchase separately.  It will not surprise you to learn that I have no idea what is in the Supplemental Exercises.

The book is a vintage-rescue.  Originally written in 1941, it was republished by St. Mary’s publishing in 1996, and St. Mary’s has written the teacher’s manual and test books as well; together they are designed for the Latin enthusiast hoping to learn enough Latin to follow the Mass with ease.  The teacher’s manual provides explanations and encouragement for how to teach yourself the language.

The text drops you straight into depths of Latin grammar with a minimum of warm-up.  It was originally written for students who were hearing and praying the language weekly if not daily; therefore the text centers on helping students make sense of, and use intelligently, a language with which they are already familiar.  I like the book, but I’d recommend it to others only if:

1. You actually want to learn Ecclesiastical Latin.  We do, so this is great for us.

If you prefer to study classical Latin complete with Siege of Troy and all the best monster stories, consider using the Oxford Latin Course, which the boy and I have used and we both liked.  It is fun.  I like fun.  Here’s a link to professor Robert Cape’s Internet Workbook for that text.   It is not designed to be a self-study course, but you can make it one by supplementing with a few references along the lines of Latin for Dummies and so forth.  [Notice this is supposed to be a college textbook. Except that when I saw it in my public library, I assumed it was a middle-school textbook.  Goofy cartoons.  Thin book.  Anyway, it’s entry-level classical Latin.  If you move slowly, it will work for young students once they can read (English) fluently at a middle-school level.  Read the historical notes yourself before having your children read them, so you can provide any necessary parental guidance.]

2. You can provide some amount of “Latin Immersion” to go with the program.  That could be your conversation, the memorization of select prayers in Latin, or the singing of Latin prayers or hymns.  We do a little bit of Latin-fun, but not as much as we really need to.  It shows.

3. You have time to learn with and teach your child. This is the part that is kicking my rear this year. Even with the teacher’s manual and course plans, you may need to do a little researching around to get all your questions answered.  I’m a firm believer in picking up bargain-table texts so that if I have a question I can go see how someone else explains it.

4. Your child has studied a foreign language before, or has an incredibly sound grasp of the analysis of English grammar.

Kolbe suggests Latina Christiana as a possible supplement in 4th grade, and that would make a good warm-up program.  (I’ve looked at bits of Latina Christiana and I did not fall in love; I prefer the monster stories and goofy cartoons at Oxford Latin.) But there are any number of  early-years Latin choices, including just doing some memorization work.  Studying a different language would work as well.

The important thing is to be able to accept foreign languages as something other than merely English Re-Coded, and be able to understand how words sometimes work as objects, sometimes as subjects, sometimes show possession, etc.  If you’ve mastered Seton-quality English grammar in the early years, that would be sufficient.

The Kolbe Course Plans.   The course plans provide instruction and explanations for each chapter.  I find them very helpful to have on hand.  Recommended.

If you are enrolled with Kolbe, make sure you request the course plans for the year of Latin you are actually studying, which may not be the default for your student’s grade level.

Where to begin? Although the boy and I had done Latin in the past, we opted to start in with New Missal at page 1, and I am happy with that decision. The grammar is intense from the very beginning, much of the vocabulary was new to us, and frankly I needed to be able to coast for a while.

If you are switching into this program after several years with something else, I’d take a look at the book and judge for yourself.  If you are enrolling with Kolbe, call and explain your situation, and ask for some guidance.  Remember that you can request a limited number of extra course plans.  So you could decide to speed through year 1 as a review, and pick up with year 2 (or later) when you reach the point where the material begins to be more difficult for you.

Should you study Latin?

Note that if you like Kolbe overall but are hestitant about the Latin, you can choose to skip it altogether.  For high school, Kolbe does not have a wide variety of foreign language offerings, but you are entirely free to study whatever language you like, using materials from another program or taking a course in your community.

You can also delay starting Latin until 6th grade or later.   If the pace of the course is too intense for your addled mom-brain, you could choose to cover the material more slowly.  There is nothing dumbed-down about this course, and it would be valuable even into high school.

We Catholics have a longterm interest in the language.  Even if you study Latin only lightly during elementary and middle school, this is a handy course to have around for continued use as an adult wishing to dabble and slowly learn more and more over the years.

UPDATES 3/26/2012:

  1. The boy begged me — not a whining beg, but a non-nonsense plea of manly desperation — to please go back to OLC.  So I’m going to let him, even though it means more work for me.  We both like it.  Cartoons, you know?  I made a little sidebar section with various internet helps for that book.  He loves the hangman games at the Internet Workbook.
  2. You’d be remiss not to check out Dr. Peter’s Ecclesiastical Latin Page before making a decision on what Latin program you wanted to use.

Kindle for les francophiles . . .

A little franglais for you, hehe.

H/T to David Gaughran for pointing out Amazon now has a Kindle store in France, *and* french language titles available in the US.  (A couple weeks old now, but maybe you missed it too.)   A quick search at the US store for kindle books “en francais”, and wow, piles of interesting stuff.  Lot of classics in the public domain available for free.

This one totally has my name on it: Le Docteur Omega (Aventures fantastiques de trois Français dans la Planète Mars)  Circa 1906, it’s like a source document for Dr. Boli & the Young Chesterton Series both.

I like paper.  Strongly prefer it.  But between the cost of print books and the space constraints for storing them, plus Gibert Joseph has yet to open an outlet in my corner of the backwoods, getting what I want to read is not so easy.  I might have to take this up with Mr. Claus.

Zombie Literature. Bedrock of any good homeschool program.

Christian LeBlanc says in the combox on the grammar book:

Except for God, the most interesting thing in the world is grammar. Consider that grammar is the operating system for your brain; now speak another language for a bit.

That frisson you get is the brain imagining itself with a whole ‘nother OS.

Hmmn.  Maybe so, maybe so.

But look here: Jimmy Akin links to the ASL version of Re: Your Brains.   Which is maybe more appealing to certain boys than “Signing Time”.  Great way to see the difference in grammar between English and ASL.


other people’s words

Hey, look I’m being like Dorian and outsourcing.  Because I’m teaching tonight, plus I was being responsible today (reduced goofing off), plus Christian LeBlanc e-mailed this link to an article of his on the origins of the French language.

So go read that.  It’s interesting.  And then if you’re still bored, you can come back here and click on the link to the Verb Conjugator (many, many languages offered) and entertain yourself with that for a while.  That’s what he was doing when he had the presence of mind to entertain me.

–> Try not to blush when your boss asks you what you’re doing, and you insist you were just, er, conjugating.  Oh yes, one of THOSE sites.  Sure.

Figuring Out What’s What in Medieval French

I’ve been reading The Story of French by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow on and off for a while now.  Picked it up from the library about a year or so ago and never got past the introduction; got it out again recently, and have been browsing through it in spurts.  Pleasantly surprised tonight to discover I have one more renewal left before it goes back, so I may yet make some headway.

I should say right now that if you pick up this book, go straight to a chapter that interests you.  I had to slog through the introduction (I’m not saying *you* shouldn’t read it, just saying, don’t judge a book by its intro), but was rewarded in chapter one with a great lesson on the basics of what-was-what in medieval french languages.

So far I’m up to p. 100 in the cover-to-cover reading of the book, but I’ve also skipped ahead and read some bits farther along, and it was all good.  Assuming you have at least a smidgen of background on the topic, you can pretty safely just pick up and read wherever you like, and come away entertained and educated.  You do not, by the way, need to know French — English translations provided for all the non-obvious French words tossed out as linguistic examples, and some of the obvious ones, too.  (Say you couldn’t figure out that the word zéro meant, er, zero?  Don’t worry, there’s a translation there for you on p. 30.)


What struck me in reading the chapter on medieval ‘french’ is just how busy a time it was, linguistically.  By the year 800 a language distinct from latin had emerged, to the point that the church had to require homilies be given in the vernacular.  But this new language was both very local — not so much a unified language as a collection of more or less mutally understandable regional dialects — and vigorously international.  In addition to the exportation of Norman French to England with William the Conquerer, there was the development of the lingua franca, an italian-french dialect used in the mediterranean.

(Why did French become the, er, lingua franca of this region?  It was the dominant foreign culture.  Not unlike how the Amish call the rest of America ‘the English’, or a non-hispanic American might be called an ‘Anglo’, the Arabs apparently call all the crusaders, regardless of country of origin, ‘French’.)

–> And still more going on in addition to all that, over the five or so centuries that are especially middle of the middle ages.  Borrow the book and read Chapter 1 to get the introductory course.

There’s something worth understanding here.  When we think about language and geography and politics and culture, we Americans come from a perspective of a single highly standardized common language that has been fairly stable since as long as we can remember.  It is important in looking at medieval history and culture to understand that it was not this way then.  By getting a grasp of what was going on linguistically, we can avoid some common blunders in our historical analysis, and even hope to understand why certain elements of medieval society worked as they did.  Good stuff.  Well worth your time.