Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen and Heard (November 13, 2008)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published November 13, 2008

This past Saturday, I celebrated Mass and had a breakfast session with a group of folks at Transfiguration Parish in Marietta who have established a Society of the Holy Name assembly. The name Holy Name Society is a venerable title that probably strikes a chord in the memory of many adult Catholics. The Holy Name Society is really almost 750 years old—dating back to the High Middle Ages and having experienced numerous reconfigurations over the centuries.

What prompted Catholics then and now in Cobb County to consider such a venture as both important and helpful? The reverence due to God’s holiness has constantly been under assault—and perhaps never more so than in our society today.

In an earlier moment in our nation, the Holy Name Society was usually a group of gentlemen in a parish who followed traditions that included a monthly Mass, a breakfast, a focus on watching their own language, and generally a male spiritual program that might include having an occasional smoker at the rectory and that enjoyed the special attention and support of the pastor of the parish.

While the Holy Name Society has never completely disappeared from the parish scene, this new incarnation of the society at Transfiguration is unique. First of all, in the past the Holy Name Society was an exclusively male assembly. At Transfiguration Church it is a mixed group including women and youngsters—entire families can enjoy membership. They do have monthly gatherings and breakfasts that follow. I proposed to them—and to you now—that our reverence for God certainly needs expanded attention well beyond our sometimes disrespectful language.

Our society has taken an increasingly blasphemous posture in the public arena that not only seeks to dismiss any religious symbols from the marketplace but that includes an escalation of “artistic expressions” that are openly and intentionally offensive to religious sensibilities.

These “artistic expressions” enjoy safeguards under the Constitution’s First Amendment clause. No matter how odious they may be to the general public, they appear ever more present on the contemporary landscape. Some of these renditions have incited quite hostile reactions from religious people, but in those situations public attention is often subsequently focused not on the offensive material so much as on the irate reaction of people whose religious sensibilities have been insulted.

In such an environment, we might all well remember that while we may not be able to do away with such offensive behavior in the marketplace, we must do all that we can to reverence, honor and respect the name and image of the God who is all holy and all deserving of honor. Bravo, Holy Name Society!

As we approach the Christmas mystery, many of us are preparing to purchase, address and send Christmas card greetings to our friends and relatives. I suggest that before you purchase your Christmas cards and stamps, you pause to remember that Christmas is a religious holiday and festival. It is the commemoration of the Birth of the Word Made Flesh. Catholics ought to send Christmas greetings that clearly and proudly acknowledge that truth in whatever artistic style they choose. Businesses and corporations may feel that they have to commemorate this time of year with non-specific religious texts and images, but Catholic homes ought to send out messages that reflect our faith.

There has been a clear shift to remove or gloss over the religious nature of the season in order not to offend those who may not share our belief in the Word Made Flesh. But what about those of us who want to keep this holy time of the year clearly and unquestionably associated with the Mystery that gave rise to feast? Or are we merely to succumb to another disappearance of a religious value in the sea of secularism that has so influenced the world already?