That one, this first one, is about the pope's alleged recent reminder to parents that we're supposed to give our children Christian names. Canon lawyer Ed Peters weighs in here to point out, helpfully, what this does and doesn't mean. Another blogger takes a lighthearted look here. And it turns out the pope may not have said any such thing, anyway. Still, this is a topic that gets people talking.
Now, I know there's a lot of debate as to what actually constitutes a "Christian" name. There are those who argue in favor of the formula: use one of the twelve Apostles' names for a boy, and a recognizable saint's name in combination with a form of "Mary" for a girl. Thus, the ideal Catholic family would have boys named Peter, James, John, Matthew, Bartholomew, Simon and Jude along with girls named Mary Therese, Mary Katherine, Mary Anne, and (just for variety) Maria Rose.
There's certainly nothing wrong with adhering to that formula, but I would suggest that this is definitely not the only way to find a Christian name for one's children. In addition to names from the Bible and from the over 10,000 saints both historical and canonized (see this list for hundreds of Irish saints names alone!) there are derivatives of these names, female forms of male saints' names (Philippa or Thomasina, etc.), the names of virtues or other Christian characteristics (Grace, Faith), names associated with saints (Avila, after St. Teresa of Avila), names linked to events in Christ's life (Anastasia, which means "resurrection,") Marian feasts or apparitions (Annunciacion or Pilar)--and on and on. So a Catholic who tells you her daughter's name is Stacey Lonan Smith should not be frowned at for choosing a trendy-sounding name: Stacey is a derivative of Anastasia, and Lonan is the name of at least eight Irish saints.
Now, what if Mrs. Smith wishes to name her baby son "Henderson," because it's a family name? What if the reason it is a family name is because Mr. Smith's great-great-grandmother, the former Miss Clara Henderson, was one of six children, five of whom were girls, and the sixth of whom became a priest? What if the former Miss Henderson, when she became Mrs. Smith and a mother, wanted to name her first-born son "Henderson" to carry on her father's name and in honor of her father and grandfather, two exemplary Christian gentlemen known for their charitable works and piety? What if, ever since Miss Clara's day, at least one male child among the Smiths' growing extended family is named "Henderson" to carry on this nice tradition? Does "Henderson" (which literally means "son of Henry" and is thus tied to all the St. Henrys out there) fit the bill as a Christian name, or not? (And does it help if little Henderson's middle name will be "James"?) Does the baby's name need to be "James Henderson Smith" so that he will go by "J. Henderson Smith" in future? (Or does that just guarantee that he'll end up in law school?)
Lots of possibilities.
In all seriousness, though, I think that most pastors would tell the Smith family that "Henderson James" is fine, especially since, being a boy, the child will probably go by "Jim" as soon as he's outgrown "Jimmy." The family is clearly not ignoring Christian principles in selecting a name. They are not choosing a name that has clearly anti-Christian connotations or is otherwise incompatible with the Christian dignity of their child; they are not naming him "Unprintable" or "Pandemic" or "Cthulu," or anything that really would negatively reflect on their desire to raise the child as a serious Christian.
The second topic that is being discussed originated at Father Z's website; it covers people's opinions of the Sign of Peace at Mass. The difference between the E.F. Mass and the O.F. Mass apparently including the belief that it is fine to criticize the latter but not the former, opinions were very much expressed by Father's seventy-plus commenters--but the UK Telegraph's Damien Thompson weighs in with a damning confession: he actually likes the little-old handshake:
He's kidding. One hopes. But still, the point is taken: is it fair that a practice supposed to encourage Christian love and brotherhood quite frequently turns into a duck-and-cover exercise in neighbor-avoidance?
Hardline traddies whose blood freezes as they hear the words “Let us offer…” face a dilemma: do they extend a hand while inwardly cringing, or do they risk appearing rude by refusing to take part? Indeed, is there a polite way of ducking out of the sign of peace?
I reckon the answer to that question is no. True, you won’t cause offence if you pretend to faint or fake a heart attack at the appropriate moment, but that definitely comes under the heading of stunts you can only pull once.
At this point I have to make a confession: most of the time I like the sign of peace, so long as the twinkly-eyed celebrant doesn’t turn it into an excuse for working the room, Bill Clinton-style. There are worse things than being forced to show cordiality to a stranger, and being on the receiving end of it can be unexpectedly cheering. Also, there’s nothing more infuriating than turning to your neighbour only to find that they’ve sunk to their knees in prayer – the most common traddie escape route. The last time it happened to me, I felt like taking my outstretched fingers and strangling the woman with her mantilla.
To be honest, I have two particular gripes with the Sign of Peace. The first is that it's poorly placed; I like the notion that's been floating around for a while that Rome may relocate it to the beginning of Mass, where it will replace the totally illegal "Rite of Greeting Your Neighbor and Making the Visitors Stand Up so We can Clap for Them" (because, apparently, bothering to go to Mass when one is traveling is so rare these days that it is worthy of applause). The second is more important: people who are sick need to realize that they should not shake anybody's hand, and anybody who grabs them anyway should be rebuffed so they don't innocently end up being the equivalent of Typhoid Mary in a small parish. For some reason, not only do entire families who have been coughing and sneezing all of Mass think they should shake hands, they especially love to sit near and shake hands with the choir; I was sick so many times one winter a couple of years ago that I started fretting over the Sign of Peace, and longing for a real church building with a real choir loft.
I know that bringing this up is asking for trouble; don't I know that people with allergies cough and sneeze a lot, too? And don't I know that people who are coming down with something might not cough at all, but can still spread germs? And aren't I being so mean to people who have dragged themselves out of their beds of suffering because their great longing for the Mass makes their hundred-and-two degree fever and copious congestion seem like a small hardship to sacrifice for the Lord? And after all that, am I really going to be so cruel as to refuse to shake their hands at the Sign of Peace?
I can--and do--wish that our cultural exchange of peace involved a simple, charming bow of the head and smile to those in the immediate vicinity, instead of the present three-pew-radius minimum handshake striking capability. I can--and do--wish that the Sign of Peace were placed at or near the beginning of Mass, instead of just before Communion. But do I wish it would be removed altogether? Not really; I know myself well enough to know how easy it already is to adopt an "us vs. them" mentality when dealing with one's fellow Catholics, and how hard it is to model throughout the week the kind of Christian charity and brotherhood the Sign of Peace is supposed to remind us to practice.
Even if we have good Christian names.