To the outside observer, there is something mysterious about the Catholic mass. What with the funny costumes, various gestures, silent prayer, and even the Latin language, it would be easy to misconstrue what is going on with some magical incantation.

For just this, reason people have associated the origin of the phrase “Hocus Pocus” with the Catholic mass for centuries. While the actual origins of the phrase are unknown, all the way back in 1694 an Anglican priest suggested that it derived itself from the Latin phrase Hoc est enim corpus meum (this is my body) said during the Mass in Latin, a way for Protestants to make fun of Catholics. More recent speculators have even connected the “hokey pokey” dance to the same origin. And even though scholars have mostly debunked the former and completely debunked the latter, the fact that such ideas prevailed for centuries shows that there is at least an intuitive connection between the two. You can definitely see it being true, even if it isn’t.

Which presents an obvious question for us as Catholics: if what we are doing is not magic—and it most certainly is NOT—what is the difference between the sacraments and magic? An investigation of the two reveals differences in overall worldview, role of the minister, purpose of the ritual, and overall effect.

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“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.”

This is a quote from the Bible. The letter to the Ephesians to be exact. It is a part of what we called the “Word of God,” the codified and canonized list of individual writings meant to guide Christians in life. And it is completely antithetical to progress and 21st century morality.

As faithful Christians, texts like these appear to pose a difficulty for us, forcing us to choose between the Bible and our consciences. Or worse, they don’t challenge us at all but serve to reaffirm already distorted views of gender. What are we to do when we come across texts like these?

This week, Catholicism in Focus goes back to the beginning… the very beginning… to investigate this claim that women are inferior to men and are thus to remain subordinate. What do we make of this? How might we approach these texts in the future?

In the 19th century, of the (many) reasons that Catholics faced discrimination from their Protestant counterparts was over the issue of sex. While many Protestants had been swept up in the Victorian-era repression of sex, believing that sex was merely a means to an end and should be avoided except for the procreation of children, that all sexual desire should be suppressed, Catholics took a slightly different approach. Not only did we emphasize the importance of pleasure in sex, we freely talked about it, with Church leaders routinely commenting on sex in homilies or letters to the faithful. For those who thought that what happened in the bedroom was private and was no one’s business in the Church (even God’s?), the Catholic Church was a strange and promiscuous institution that one should be wary of.

Funny how the more things change the more things stay the same. Today, we’re still looked upon as strange by the outside world, but instead of being promiscuous and free we’re now seen as repressed and stuck up. And while our teachings have stayed the same all of these years, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that few people actually understand what’s at the root of these teachings. Why do we say what we do? What is at stake in terms of our definition of the human person? How does sexual activity require responsibility, morality, and (dare I say) even some virtue? Even for married couples, even for those in the privacy of their own bedrooms, the Church stands firm in believing that everything we do should reflect our faith. Marriage does not give someone the free pass to do anything they want just as a driver’s license doesn’t give someone free rein of the highway.

Obviously, there are many ways to exercise this and some may faithfully approach sex without coming to the same conclusions that we do. In fact, even within the Catholic Church, among the faithful and clergy alike, there is great debate surrounding our sexual teaching. To say that simply because someone disagrees with the official magisterium of the Church means that they are not taking this sacred act seriously would be a serious overgeneralization. There are many faithful ways to view the same issue.

What I present to you this week, then, is not meant to be dogmatic teaching inherent to the very nature of being a Christian. What I present is an attempt to understand the logic behind the Church’s teaching. Not everyone will accept this, I accept, but that is not my hope in taking on this topic. In a world so divided on such a controversial issue, my only hope is that people may come to a greater knowledge of why our teachings are the way they are so to engage them more critically in prayer and conversation. We’ve gotten a bad rap on this issue for centuries, and while some of it is certainly deserved, I think the vast majority of it springs from misunderstanding.

In some ways, the topic of this week’s Catholicism in Focus is a trivial one. It is the sort of topic that the Pharisees might have argued about, seemingly esoteric, having no effect on the lives of the poor and no relevance to a true faith.

In other ways, this topic finds itself at the very center of the most important aspect of our lives. How we answer this question is not simply a matter of preference or idiosyncrasy, but is rooted in the very theology that we bring to our Eucharistic celebrations.

Oh, and based on the comments on the video so far, it’s also a controversial question that is dictated more by emotion and nostalgia than a carefully tested Eucharistic theology…

The question that I tackle this week is of the placement of the tabernacle.

As you watch this video, I simply ask that you try to understand what the Church is saying and why it is saying it. Rather than trying to justify your own opinion or challenge what is being said, really try to get to the heart of the issue. In the interest of tradition and familiarity, many have already rejected the prescriptions of the Church, writing them off as irrelevant, out of touch, or just another mistake of the Second Vatican Council. They have looked to things they don’t like in the Church as a way to prove that this “new” practice is the cause. Even some bishops are trying to find their way around the rubrics and return to what the Church used to do. Try to fight this urge. Try to get beneath the surface, outside of your comfort zone, and see what is really at stake.

Reverence for the Eucharist is surely not what it should be. Our worship can definitely be lackluster at times. For some, this is reason enough to abandon our present practices and return to the old ones, a “magic bullet” to fix our issues. My opinion? While there are some obvious pastoral issues at play here and some clear problems that need to be addressed, the placement of the tabernacle is less of an issue than catechesis is. Putting it at one place or another might hide the issues we have, but it won’t actually address them if people don’t know what’s going on. Let’s address what’s going on under the surface, let’s correct what could be lacking in our Eucharistic theology, and none of this will be an issue.

If you frequent Catholic blogs or YouTube channels, you are bound to see one word come up in heated arguments: heresy. When someone challenges Church teaching or another person just wants to belittle someone’s opinion, the word can get thrown around pretty easily.

Luckily, in most cases, heresy has not actually been committed. While heresy is certainly prevalent in our world (and I will make a video next semester outlining a few of them) simply disagreeing with the Church is not grounds for being called a heretic. The actual definition is a bit more precise than that.

So what is a heresy? This week’s Catholicism In Focus sets out to give a basic definition.