How many times did I sing that Greek phrase in the Latin “Missa de Angelis” and other versions of Gregorian Chant’s best-known mantra ? How many times did I recite it at Mass, as an altar boy, as a seminarian, as a priest and as an ex-priest “reduced to the lay-state” ? Everyone knew what it meant, though the Latin of the Mass remained Greek to 99% of Catholics : “Lord, have mercy !”
I have two problems with this prayer. The first concerns the first word, the second the second.
I have been called all sorts of things during my four-score of years on this planet. For seven of those years I was addressed respectfully by everyone, as a Catholic priest, with the title of “Father” (it is ironic that now that I have children, only they – naturally – call me “Dad”, or “Papa” in French; I’d prefer they called me “Pater”). Had I pursued my ecclesiastical career, I could have been called “Father Guardian” as Superior of a friary, or even, had I been elected, “Father Provincial” for all of Australia and New Zealand, or perhaps “Father General” of Franciscans all over the world. Chances are (my arrogance again !), I would have been recognized as having enough of the right stuff to become a Bishop, an Archbishop, a Cardinal, or even Pope, with titles ranging from “My Lord”, “Your Grace”, “Your Eminence” to “Your Holiness” (Pope Frank the First). Because of my degrees in Theology I would have been addressed in Italy as “Dottore”. On my diploma, in Latin, from the Faculty of Theology of the Institut Catholique in Paris, I am actually identified as “Dominus”, “Lord” ! That’s pretty close to “Kyrios” and my problem.
I have no hesitation in France in calling public notaries and attorneys “Maître” (“Master”). I address judges in English as “Your Honor” and ambassadors as “Your Excellency”. It would be more difficult for me to address members of the royal family as “Your Highness” and the Head Hancha as “Your Majesty”. But I guess I would do it, if ever they had the privilege of meeting me and pressing my flesh. (I would bow and even curtsy, if I had to, to the Queen whom we ask God to save; “noblesse oblige”.) But I draw the line at calling Peers of the Realm “My Lord”. I refuse to call even God “Kyrios” or “Lord” (though I have no problem capitalizing the nouns and pronouns in God-talk).
My first problem is giving a figment of imagination the status of nobility or even royalty (“King of Kings”). I am myself from “noble Irish stock”, which I consider a joke. Cricketers and the Beatles and Nobel Prize winners deserve knighthood for their achievements. Inherited “nobility” and its titles are to me meaningless. But calling God “Lord” gives me the willies or worse. It just reinforces the rubbish of thinking that He is the Big Shot believers claim He is, so we must fear and tremble, bow and scrape, flatter and beg. I have more respect for people we call the dregs of human society – hobos, bums, winos. At least they are real.
My second word and problem is even more serious. To beg mercy implies recognition of the power to pardon. What sort of a God have religious crazies invented – a God ready to inflict the most excruciating of punishments on His “children” (!) who break His law and defy His will ? Such a tyrant deserves the fate of any despot. I can’t imprison or banish an imaginary deity (capital punishment is out of the question for anybody, even a No-Body). I just find it incredible that believers would actually beg for His mercy.
Get off your knees and abandon your stupid beliefs ! If God existed He would have to be better than the Monster you have created. Lord have mercy, when will they ever learn ?
P.S. Some readers are still consulting a previous post on this subject of two years ago : “Pardon My French”, October 24, 2013.