‘Youth minister gets ready to meet her groom’

You’ve perhaps heard the term “consecrated virgin” but don’t know what it means or why someone would become one. Here’s an answer, courtesy of The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., which interviewed a local youth minister who plans to become one this weekend. Among the facts you’ll learn: there are about 180 in the U.S. and 1,800 worldwide.

Tony Blair’s low-key conversion

At the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, attendants present a towel to you after washing your hands in the bathroom. It’s the kind of place where journalists cover events, but don’t bother to look up room rates.

Catholicism on his mind? Tony Blair arrives to speak at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York. (CNS/Paul Haring)On Oct. 18, the ritzy Al Smith dinner was held at the hotel, and the guest of honor was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Photographers from AP and Reuters mentioned that Blair, an Anglican, might announce his conversion to Catholicism during his speech to the black-tie crowd. As he began speaking in the elegant ballroom, it seemed as if Blair might be leading up to make the big announcement. The wire shooters, a New York Times photographer and I had our long Canon glass trained on him during his speech, ready to seize the moment of the big announcement. We were stationed on a balcony overlooking the vast room, lit as for an evening dinner in a fancy restaurant.

When CNS freelance writer Beth Griffin sent her story by e-mail to the office, she said she thought Blair sounded a bit nervous. But that seemed to fade as Blair launched into a speech about how America and Europe must stand together against terrorism. It seemed a speech that Blair had given many times, and he was comfortable giving. As is customary at the Al Smith dinner, Blair interlaced funny remarks with serious content. Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate, said that “if you can make a man laugh, you can make him think and make him like and believe you.” The idea at the dinner is to say something funny in recognition of that statement.

As Blair continued his speech, it seemed less and less likely that he would drop the bombshell of his conversion to Catholicism. Last week, The Tablet, a Catholic weekly newspaper in Britain, reported that Blair will formally be received into the Catholic church in the next few weeks. The news spread like wildfire throughout the media, with major news organizations crediting The Tablet for the story. Blair has already regularly attended Catholic Mass with his wife Cherie and their four children, all of whom are Catholic.

So did Blair choose to reveal his conversion in a low-key way to a relatively small Catholic paper and just let the news spread? While we haven’t be able to confirm the news of Blair’s conversion, it seems likely. As for the fancy New York hotel room, maybe this wasn’t the right spot for Blair to reveal something so personal and meaningful. Plus, as one CNS editor said, he would essentially have been revealing the news to a roomful of New York socialites. (By the way, we have nothing against New York socialites, if you happen to be one.) Maybe it made more sense to break the news to The Tablet in London. This clearly would have been the more modest choice, in keeping with what has likely been a very low-key road towards Catholicism.

A new liturgical translation with very little fuss

Cover for new Italian lectionaryAfter the Italian bishops announced Monday that their new Lectionary was approved by the Vatican and ready for parish use, the story made all the newspapers and the most popular Catholic blogs.

The focus generally was on changes made to familiar biblical passages. For example, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray to God, “Do not abandon us to temptation” rather than “Lead us not into temptation.” And the Angel Gabriel, in greeting Mary, no longer says, “Hail, full of grace,” but, “Rejoice, full of grace.”

But no one seemed particularly upset. And no one accused anyone of being too casual or too formal, too innovative or too old-fashioned.

Instead of planning a series of educational efforts to help Catholics understand the new translation, as English-speaking bishops are doing, the Italian bishops are putting extra energy into commissioning artwork to decorate the volumes.

Bishop Giuseppe Betori, secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference, told reporters that the two main goals in the new translation were fidelity to the original language of the Scriptures and ridding the Italian text of “archaic” terms.

Name-calling aside, the English-language debate over the new translation of the Mass prayers usually focuses on how familiar or formal the prayers should be.

The Vatican itself called for the balancing act in the 2001 document, “Liturgiam Authenticam,” when it said, “So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision.”

What our faith teaches us about death

A funeral in Utah for an Army staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan brought words of consolation from the priest who celebrated the Mass. The Intermountain Catholic in Salt Lake City has the story of what our faith teaches us in such times of sorrow.

George is not first cardinal elected bishops’ president

For you trivia buffs, Cardinal Francis E. George is not the first cardinal to be elected president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, as is being reported in some places.

The first was the late Cardinal John J. Krol of Philadelphia. He was elected vice president of the conference in 1966, was made a cardinal in 1967, and then was chosen president in 1971.

Another cardinal who also served as president of the bishops’ conference is retired Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, but he became a cardinal in 1994, two years after his election as president.