Monday, May 22, 2017

The Linguistic Lie Behind Singular "They"

Recently I watched a confrontation between a student and University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson, who publicly took a stand against non-binary gender pronouns last year. The student kept stridently insisting Dr. Peterson was morally obligated to use the plural pronoun "they", claiming repeatedly and with absolute confidence that it was historically attested in English and went all the way back to Shakespeare.

Beyond the shocking rudeness with which this claim was asserted, it seemed a rather bizarre assertion to make, and I wondered where it came from. After a bit of digging, I was led, very unfortunately, to what seems to be the source of the claim: the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year for 2015.

Here's the problem. The ADS's statement is shot through with an improper and apparently politically motivated conflation of two historically and grammatically distinct usages of singular "they":

1) an old, often contested but stubbornly enduring usage that was always restricted to a particular context--that I will continue to call "singular they" proper
2) a very new misapplication of the pronoun as an alternative to individuals who refuse to identify with either of the two biological sexes, that I will call "non-binary they"

Note well: I am not asserting that the ADS is unaware of the distinction. Their statements show that they are quite aware of it. What I am asserting, rather, is that the ADS and some of its members are deliberately obfuscating that distinction to advance a political agenda.

The statement the ADS released in 2016 mentions the non-binary aspect of singular "they" multiple times, and indeed that new definition is the entire focus of their decision. Some illustrative statements can be seen in the passages below (emphases mine):

• "They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she."
• "While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms."
• “In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Zimmer said.
In a purely descriptive sense, acknowledging the existence of this new usage is certainly well within the purview and mission of the ADS. The issue is not that non-binary "they" was discussed or even voted Word of the Year, but rather that the organization defended and promoted it with misleading statements. For example:

“While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”
Has "they" been part of the English language? Yes. Indisputably. But here's the catch: it has never been part of the language in the way that gender activists imply.

Historically, singular "they" occurred when an unspecified individual from a mixed sex group was being referred to, such as: "Each one of you needs to pick up their stuff". An editor who does not want to use a circumlocution has a couple of choices in such sentences: either use singular "their", or use the (binary!) construction "his or her". Although not every editor acknowledges the grammatical correctness of singular "they", practically speaking these are the two common options. In my own work, I have found that the clunkiness of "his or her" has tended to tip the scales in favor of "they", particularly when multiple pronouns are required.

How did a plural pronoun find itself continually intruding in this position, with a singular subject? I have not consulted any research on this, but I suspect that common speech has tended to support it because of the implicit plurality of the subject as one of a group and also because the plurality of genders of the referents. This is just a hypothesis; I may well be wrong. But whatever its origins and theoretical underpinnings, its usage over the centuries is crystal clear. Singular "they" has only ever appeared in a very limited set of cases, which have themselves been strongly contested by grammarians.

Outside these cases, it is dead wrong. There is absolutely no historical justification for grammatically barbaric sentences such as these, culled from an actual news story: "In Britain, 20-year-old Maria Munir made headlines when they came out as non-binary", and "In the US, an Oregon circuit court went much further, ruling in June that Portland resident Jamie Shupe could change their legal gender to non-binary."

Obviously, gender/sexual identification is the underlying driving issue here, so we need to look at the way English has handled this issue in the past. Cases of uncertain or intermediate sexual identity, of course, are nothing new, and have been known and discussed since antiquity.

The practice has generally been in those cases to simply assign a sexually ambiguous person to the closest of two of the three established genders: masculine or feminine. This assignment could draw from widely different observational parameters, from a mere glance to a medical examination. However, in all cases, the judgment was always made on the same assumed basis. A person's biological sex, as nearly as that could be ascertained, determined their grammatical gender.

To illustrate how forcefully this principle held, we can look at a couple of lectures (here and here) given by Dr. Hay Graham in 1835 at the Westminster School of Medicine on individuals of doubtful sex. Watch the pronouns Dr. Graham uses. Of Maria Pateca: "…she became a man. He afterwards married, but remained beardless." Of Germain Marie: "when she was fifteen years old...she suddenly found herself furnished with the parts of generation of a man...Cardinal Lenoncourt, after the necessary examination…ordered him to assume the habits of his sex." And "Jean Pierre was a woman from the waist upwards, and a man from the waist downwards; and in the centre was a woman on the right side and a man on the left; yet, in point of fact, he was neither one nor the other." Marie Derrier's sex was likewise unable to be agreed upon by medical experts: "Hufeland and Mursinna pronounced this individual a girl; Stark and Marteus, on the contrary, considered it a boy."

The two last cases mentioned—Jean Pierre and Marie Derrier—are precisely where we should expect to see the singular "they" of supposedly longstanding English precedent. But of course, we don't. And it's obvious why we don't. Graham could not have said "*Stark and Marteus, on the contrary, considered them a boy" because that construction would have been flagrantly ungrammatical in natural language. And still is.

If Graham gives us any justification for any non-binary pronoun, that would be "it"—and if that one seems jarringly cold and insulting, remember that we use it more commonly than you might realize at first. We are quite used to asking an expectant mother with absolutely no qualms whatsoever: "Do you know yet if it's a boy or a girl?" A co-worker may be complaining about being cut off in traffic, and you might mischievously inquire about the driver, "Was it a man or a woman?"

I have not reviewed the literature for pronoun use, but I have little reason to suspect that Graham's usage is anomalous. He sometimes presents us with a jarring switch between masculine and feminine pronouns following a medical event or diagnosis, and he sometimes gives us a constant pronoun throughout. But beyond the neuter "it", which for obvious reasons is employed for human beings only in quite limited circumstances, there is no gender outside of "he" and "she" to speak of, even in the most difficult cases of sexual identification. Not "they", not anything else.

As long as the sex of a person was known or was clarified from a previously indistinct or incorrect state, the language has always demanded that the corresponding binary gender—masculine or feminine—be applied. To be sure, in common social circles this application involves a practical, on-the-fly judgment that has worked in the favor of the gender activists: English speakers naturally find it insulting, demeaning, and rude to misgender people and call a man "she" or a woman "he". And since we do not, thank goodness, subject everyone we meet to a thorough anatomical and genetic panel, it has always been easiest to simply extend strangers the benefit of the doubt when visible markers tilted one way or the other. But it is foolish in the extreme to confuse that pragmatic application for a general underlying rule. No one's personal opinion, preference, or mindset has ever had anything to do with the assignment of gender in English. Biological sex dictates grammatical gender. Period. That is simply how English works.

So it's quite deceiving for the ADS to defend the current neologism with a statement so misleading as:

"The use of singular they builds on centuries of usage, appearing in the work of writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen."

Note what that sentence does not say. It does not say that singular they was used for centuries in a non-binary sense. It admits that it merely "builds on" centuries of usage. Again, the ADS knows full well that non-binary "they" is a new coinage, explicitly acknowledged not only in the text of the statement but also by linguist and columnist Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS's new words committee, in an interview with Business Insider:

"It moves beyond the traditional binary of 'he' and 'she'," Zimmer told Business Insider.

"It feels like an opening up of the language, allowing for a greater possibility of what these pronouns can refer to."

So here's my question. If non-binary "they" is indeed a newly invented term, then what exactly is the purpose of mentioning "centuries of usage" in the first place? Are we explaining its appearance, or trying to justify its appearance? Are we describing language as it exists, or are we actively trying to make it something else?

Of course, language is not permanently fixed, and semantic categories can expand. But linguists have typically been preoccupied with watching words naturally expand to new semantic categories. They have not been typically been encouraging them, artificially, into those categories. And that for a good reason. Attempts to coerce linguistic change do not have a very good track record of achieving what they aim at.

University of Illinois Professor of English and linguistics Dennis Baron has compiled an extremely useful list in his "The Words that Failed: a chronology of early nonbinary pronouns".

What is immediately striking about these pronouns is their lack of consistency. There are over a hundred cited: strange invented combinations from academic and lay proposals, and a few obscure dialect variants. They are a thorough mishmash in terms of derivation, construction, and overall form. Baron is absolutely right to call these "words that failed" and contrast them with the comparatively successful singular "they"—and his thought process, linked on the ADS-L listserv in December of 2015, likely influenced the ultimate ADS decision.

But in another article "The politics of He. Literally", Baron strangely argues as follows:

Today, the literal politics of generic he is settled. As the second-wave feminist slogan puts it, “A woman’s place is in the House, and in the Senate.” And in the White House, as well. And the gender politics of the form is settled as well: all the major grammars, dictionaries, and style guides warn against generic he not because it’s bad grammar (which it is), but because it’s sexist (which it also is). The authorities don’t like the coordinate his or her, either: it’s wordy and awkward. The only options left are singular they or an invented pronoun. None of the 120 pronouns coined so far over the past couple of centuries has managed to catch on. And despite the fact that there are a few purists left who still object to it, it looks like singular they will win by default: it’s a centuries-old option for English speakers and writers, and it shows no sign of going away. Many of the style guides accept singular they; the others will just have to get over it if they want to maintain their credibility."

If you'll permit me to roll my eyes at the cheesy triumphalist progressivism that brackets this paragraph, I can address the essentials of his argument. Baron's logic behind preferring an existing pronoun to an invented one like thon is certainly understandable. It is a sound theoretical instinct, and if I were lobbying for a new pronoun I'd make the same case myself. But here we see the same sloppy conflation that underpins the ADS statement: singular "they" is indeed a centuries old option, but absolutely not for the use he is advocating.

And is it really any easier to force a pronoun into grammatically forbidden territory than to invent a whole new one? Baron characterizes the acceptance of "they" as so inevitable it will destroy the credibility of those who oppose it. Which "they" does he mean here? Singular, non-binary, both? We are left to guess—but while I may heartily agree that the prevailing winds are in favor the former and have set my editorial sails accordingly, I am utterly unable to imagine the latter doing anything but floating ignominiously in the doldrums of the Great Linguistic Garbage Patch. After all, Baron's own research shows that a desired expansion of the word "one"—advocated by quotes he collected from 1868, 1884, and 1888—failed just as badly as "thon" and the rest, despite a history of use much more solid than non-binary "they".

In a slide presentation, Baron gives two disadvantages to singular "they": first that it "drives the sticklers nuts", and second that "People aren’t so comfortable using singular they for specific, named, individuals, especially when the referent is in the same syntactic unit as the pronoun".

Aren't so comfortable??? For goodness' sake, that's admitting the entire point right there! People aren't comfortable with it because they know it isn't natural to the grammar they speak. The activists are blithely minimizing the objections of millions of Anglophones and are trying to impose an invented construction onto a public that does not want it or need it. The sticklers in this controversy are the gender activists, who have invented their own phony grammar for completely non-linguistic reasons and think they should be allowed to cram it down everyone else's throats without so much of a whimper of dissent. To object to their linguistic Jacobinism is not some prissy grammatical fetish—it is defending the good sense of the common folk against the insufferably imperious diktats of the Academy.

So here's the bottom line.

I cannot stand here in 2017, in the middle of the veritable graveyard of failed pronouns that Baron has so helpfully uncovered, and place the mantle of inevitability on a completely unnatural coinage invented by radical gender activists and obsequiously ratified by irresponsible academics and publishers. I am only one editor, but I will happily throw my lot in with Dr. Peterson on this. I will never ever acknowledge non-binary "they" as anything other than atrociously ungrammatical English. Period. But more importantly, the English-speaking world at large will never acknowledge it either. This linguistic hijacking is doomed to eventual failure because it is founded on fallacy, and there's not a stitch any activist can do to change that. Punto, e basta.

In the meantime, since it seems fashionably stylish to make demands on academics, I am calling on the American Dialect Society do three things.

First: retract its grossly misleading conflation of singular "they" and non-binary "they", and specify clearly that the latter has no grammatical precedent in the English language and is an entirely new coinage on par with many other failed prescriptivist proposals of the past.

Second: publicly correct the false claims made by gender activists on the historicity of non-binary "they".

Third: clarify more forcefully to parties outside and inside the society that the ADS only offers its Word of the Year in a descriptive sense, and that it is in no way a prescriptive ratification, approval, endorsement, or advocacy of the words in question.

Realistically, though, I am not expecting any of this to happen. Because we all know the climate of American academia is such that the "Social Justice Warriors" (there's a phrase for 2017) would then show up at the ADS's doors and dish out the same bullying treatment that they gave to Dr. Peterson. And given the plainly telegraphed views of some of those involved, I am not hopeful for any result besides continued capitulation to the hubris of the social engineers and their Babelian fantasies of piercing heaven with a tower of invented pronouns.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Natural Inculturation: The Heartberry

This morning, while reading "Dickon Among the Lenape", a children's story by M.R. Harrington, I learned that the Lenape Indians call the strawberry the "heart berry". Harrington's book is well known for its attention to detail and accuracy about Lenape culture, and this is no exception. One of my Lenape dictionaries has wde for heart and wtehim for strawberry: -im being the Lenape suffix designating a fruit or berry.

Heartberry. What a perfect name, no?

We get our English name from the straw that was traditionally used to keep the berries off the ground while they were ripening. Which makes sense, but is not terribly descriptive of the fruit itself.

But using the Lenape name as a springboard allows to add something of a new element to our ecclesiastical observances throughout the year.

The heartberry ripens in June.

Which also happens to be the month of the Sacred Heart.

I'm not sure if my Old World ancestors who picked Fragaria vesca among the Appennines ever made any connection between these two June events--they didn't have the etymological connection, and the Sacred Heart isn't terribly old of a feast after all.

But for us here in New World it is simply too excellent of a relationship to pass up. What better way to tie our devotional calendar to the natural cycles of the seasons?

Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, miserere nobis!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The End of Evolution

I'm the first to admit I am not a philosopher, but this article in the WSJ seems to me to betray a massive amount of confusion on the part of some defenders of natural selection.

In a nutshell, Dr. Keleman is saying that we need to understand natural selection without recourse to "teleology" and "design". Well maybe if that is our goal we should refrain from using the word "selection"--because the minute you say "selection" you are implying a selecting agent and a process which implies a goal and an end. But we'll lay that aside for a moment to attack the larger point.

Dr. Kelemen primarily objects to kids explaining "biological facts in terms of intention and design, such as the idea that giraffes develop long necks because they are trying to reach the high leaves."

Hence the example of the pilosas:

Dr. Kelemen and her colleagues thought that they might be able to get young children to understand the mechanism of natural selection before the alternative intentional-design theory had become too entrenched. They gave 5- to 8-year-olds 10-page picture books that illustrated an example of natural selection. The "pilosas," for example, are fictional mammals who eat insects. Some of them had thick trunks, and some had thin ones. A sudden change in the climate drove the insects into narrow underground tunnels. The thin-trunked pilosas could still eat the insects, but the ones with thick trunks died. So the next generation all had thin trunks.
Whoa. Wait a second though. Does this really argue against teleology and design?

Dr. Keleman seems to be arguing that the trunk width of pilosas was just a random happenstance that a random climate change operated on in a random way. And I often hear people throwing the concept of "randomness" around a little too freely when it comes to evolution.

But let's not forget something. We tend to think of sexual reproduction as a given because we reproduce that way and most organisms that we know of reproduce that way. But it isn't a given at all. There are plenty of organisms who can clone themselves.

Any gardener can tell you there is an inherent advantage of cloning. A clone assures you of getting the exact copy--so if a vine has exceptional grapes, the clone will have exceptional grapes as well. But an exact copy can be a mixed blessing--in that it transmits not only all of the benefits of the original but also the disadvantages of the original. If that exceptional grape vine is very susceptible to attack by disease, for example, then all its clones will be equally susceptible.

If a plant breeder wants to improve on the original vine by, say, keeping the exceptional grape but also reducing its susceptibility to disease, there is only one way to do that. And that is to forget about cloning the thing, and sexually reproduce it. In other words, breed the grape with another grape, and select from the offspring.

This is the essential element that Dr. Keleman is missing: that genetic variability in a population is, in fact, no random result but rather an end that was deliberately sought and achieved. The very fact that there were pilosas with different thicknesses of nose is an adaptive end of meiosis and sexual reproduction. That is exactly what they are there to bring about.

In other words, the genetic lines of the pilosa were designed to have a certain level of variability specifically to mitigate against the kind of environmental changes Dr. Keleman is talking about.

She introduced the fictional scenario of the pilosas' prey going into underground tunnels. That's a plausible scenario. But we can offer completely opposite ones. Suppose it was a spate of frigid winters, such that the appendages of small animals would be extremely susceptible to frostbite. In that case, the thick-nosed pilosas, with their increased nasal mass, would likely fare better than the thin-nosed ones.

The pilosas, like all organisms, are not mind-readers. They are not prognosticators. No creature, rational or not, can direct itself or be directed to an end that is unknown.

So they do what any sensible, rational human being would do when faced with wealth to protect and a set of unknown circumstances to defend it in: diversify.

Genetic diversification is, itself, the purpose, the intention, and the design behind sexual reproduction. Meiosis and sex exist specifically to provide it.

This is why Dr. Keleman's argument falls flat. Arguing against teleology on the basis of environmental randomness is nonsensical. You might as well argue there is no intention or design in a diversified portfolio because of the randomness of the economy. You might as well argue there is no intention or design in a computer program because of the randomness of its variables.

There absolutely is an end. There absolutely is a design. An end and a design that, like the investor and like the computer coder, recognizes the inherent instability of the environment and has built in a way of dealing with it.

It seems to me that the "folk biologists" here--the natural tendency kids and others have to explaining things as the result of design--are actually exactly correct, where Dr. Keleman is the one who needs a philosophical reorientation. The pilosas did have an end in mind. Their end was to live. To reproduce. To survive and pass on offspring to the next generation. That's the teleology.

In that sense, giraffes DO, in fact, develop long necks because they want to reach the leaves--they want to reach the leaves because they want to live.

No no no, the dogmatic biologist may object, reacting against this bit of "Lamarckism." It's completely random, he asserts. But he is wrong. Meiosis and sexual reproduction may seem to us to give random results. But they are no more random than the various asset classes in the portfolio or variables in the program code.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Seton Breakfast

"So earnest was every heart that carrot-coffee, salt pork, and buttermilk seemed too good of a living." --Mother Seton, on her community's first days at Emmitsburg, MD.
In honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's feast today, we will be having a special breakfast based on the fare of the sisters’ first winter in the log cabin at Emmitsburg. Their meals often consisted of bread made of coarse rye and such fare as Mother Seton described above.

So here's our modern version of this breakfast, with admittedly a more festive than penitential spirit!

* Bacon (for Salt Pork)
* Rye Toast
* Buttermilk Pancakes
* Carrot Coffee

Carrot Coffee??! Yep! Believe it or not this coffee substitute was often used in early America when the real thing was either scarce or too expensive.

How to make Carrot Coffee

Wash and cut up a carrot into slices about 1/4” thick. Dry the slices in a dehydrator or in a low oven (around 150°) until they become crispy. Then lightly roast them until they brown, after which take them from the oven and let them cool. They can then be ground in a coffee mill and brewed just like regular coffee.

We'll also be praying the Chaplet of Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Have a great feast day everyone!!

P.S. Catholic Cuisine has a recipe for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Colonial Brown Bread that is worth checking out.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October Rosary project: Heraldic Rosaries

Have you ever noticed that a rosary naturally takes a shield shape when you hold it by the middle of the first and fifth decades?

This seemingly useless tidbit was going through my mind a while back when I become fascinated with the rich symbolism and art of ecclesiastical heraldry, thanks to Fr. Jessie Somosierra, Jr.'s blog at

Then the inspiration hit...could we transfer one shield design to the other and have a heraldry-inspired rosary?

Luckily I happened to have a few different color beads on hand, including the right ones for the coat of arms of my childhood archdiocese of Philadelphia:

Compare with the Philadelphian Archdiocesan coat of arms in the pic below. It proved fairly easy to just imagine the rosary in a shield shape and then transfer the colors of the coat of arms to the beads. I used a spare crucifix I had and I like the way it turned out, but I am considering cutting a custom cross shape if I do another. Here are some more ideas:

I never did find a good way to add the elephants!

In case you want to try designing your own heraldic rosaries, here is a full-page template that you can print out and color. I've left the crucifix/medal out so you can draw that in yourself.

And just a quick note: if you are researching the coat of arms for your diocese you may find images where it is combined with the personal arms of the bishop on a single shield. In those cases, the diocesan arms will be always on the left side. Just extrapolate that left half across the whole shield and ignore the right half.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Revising the Christmas Proclamation of the Roman Martyrology

The Christmas proclamation is one of the most famous parts of the Roman Martyrology. The traditional Proclamation has been in use for centuries, but in recent years it has been significantly revised.

A revision was definitely necessary. The old version manufactures a precision which is neither in the Biblical text itself nor in the chronographers’ interpretations thereof. Anyone who has worked with Biblical chronology knows well how murky it can be--mainly because the Bible does not give us a solid chronology but merely implies one. Actually, the Bible actually implies several chronologies, as the Septuagint, Masoretic, and Samaritan recensions differ, often substantially.

Yet I don't think the revised Christmas Proclamation has quite solved the problem. In fact, it has imposed novelties of its own. Instead of exaggerated precision, it imposes an exaggerated ambiguity which seems completely divorced from Scripture: "unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth", and "several thousand years after the flood". Whatever we may think of the improved scientific accuracy behind the new Proclamation, we cannot lose sight of its liturgical purpose, which is to recap the whole of salvation history that has led us to the singular event of the Incarnation. Salvation history, of course, belongs more to the domain of Scripture than science, so it is rather odd in a liturgical context to suddenly throw the Scriptural text overboard and insert the language of cosmology.

There is, I think, a better way to revise the traditional Proclamation.

First, the Creation has to be dated not according to shaky chronologies cobbled together from the ages of the Patriarchs, but according to the same time scale that is operative in Genesis 1: the Six Days of Creation. A reader may take these days as either six 24-hour periods or unfathomably long ages--"days of the Lord"--but for the purposes of the Proclamation it is immaterial. The point is that they mean in the Martyrology the same thing they mean in Genesis, and that the Incarnation can be pinpointed to that seventh day--or age--when the Lord rested after he had created and adorned the Universe.

The second problem is the dating of the Deluge. Modern attempts to date the Flood range all over prehistory, which is why the new Proclamation is so vague on the point: "several thousand years". But these alternative theories, though intriguing and suitably cataclysmic, have no obvious connection to the Genesis account. It seems better to simply bring in the Deluge accounts of Mesopotamia, which almost everyone admits are closely related traditions that the Hebrews would have been familiar with and perhaps made use of in compiling Genesis. If the Scripture and the Mesopotamian texts indeed refer to the same event, then the Martyrology’s dating and the archaeology of Shuruppak (where the Sumerian flood legendarily occurred) are in agreement: 3000-2900 B.C. The flood at Shuruppak may not be the universal cataclysm we expect, but it is worth remembering that it was cataclysmic enough to be remembered and sung about for thousands of years. Until the matter is settled, I see no compelling reason to depart from the date as given.

From Abraham on, the problems of dating become much less pronounced. The chronographers may be off by a hundred years in any direction, but the approximate time periods are fairly well established, and the revisers of the Proclamation no doubt felt comfortable with them. Abraham, Moses, and David can be associated with dates around 2000, 1500, and 1000 B.C. respectively. The new Proclamation uses the term "centuries" rather than "years", which is not a bad solution, though the same ends could probably be achieved by simply reducing the significant figures in the traditional Proclamation: 2000 years, 1500 years, and 1000 years. Either solution is satisfactory, though the latter retains more of the traditional language.

After citing the prophetic weeks of Daniel, even the new Proclamation becomes very specific, with exact years being cited. But here, unlike previously, we have a good idea of the dates from non-Biblical sources. It seems best to simply leave the text as is. For instance, it is unclear when Rome was actually founded, but 753 BC was the traditional date as it was understood in antiquity.

Applying these principles, here is a proposed revision of the Christmas Proclamation of the Roman Martyrology:

In the seventh day of the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created heaven and earth; three thousand years from the flood; two thousand years from the birth of Abraham; one thousand five hundred years from Moses and the coming of the Israelites out of Egypt; one thousand years from the anointing of King David; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two from the founding of the city of Rome; in the forty-second year of the empire of Octavian Augustus, when the whole earth was at peace, in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ, eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, desirous to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months having elapsed since His conception, is born in Bethlehem of Juda, having become man of the Virgin Mary.—THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, ACCORDING TO THE FLESH.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Catechetical Chaplet of the North American Martyrs

This chaplet is based on the various prayers and catechetical formulae that were among the first texts translated into American Indian languages by the missionaries of Canada. It is made with a cross, a single bead before each triad (set of three beads in honor of the Trinity), and eight triads in honor of the eight canonized martyrs.

Each of the eight triads begins with its own catechetical text to meditate on and consider prayerfully.


On the cross, make the Sign of the Cross.

On the bead before each triad, say the appropriate Meditation (see below), then the following prayers:
On the first bead of each triad say the Our Father.
On the second bead of each triad say the Hail Mary.
On the third bead of each triad say the Glory Be.
End each triad with an invocation of one of the martyrs.


The First Triad: the Ten Commandments
 1. I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt,     out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before     me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness     of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor     of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt     not adore them, nor serve them.
 2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
 3. Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath day.
 4. Honor thy father and thy mother.
 5. Thou shalt not kill.
 6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
 7. Thou shalt not steal.
 8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
 9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.
Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. Jean de Brébeuf, pray for us.

The Second Triad: The Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified; died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Our Father….
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. Isaac Jogues, pray for us.

The Third Triad: The Theological Virtues
1. Faith, the Divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed.
2. Hope, the Divine virtue by which we firmly trust that God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it.
3. Charity, the Divine virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.
Our Father….
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. Gabriel Lalemant, pray for us.

The Fourth Triad: The Four Last Things
1. Death, the separation of the soul from the body.
2. Judgment, in which Christ will judge us immediately after our death, and on the last day.
3. Hell, the state to which the wicked are condemned, and in which they are deprived of the sight of God for all eternity, and are in dreadful torments.
4. Heaven, the state of everlasting life in which we see God face to face, are made like unto Him in glory, and enjoy eternal happiness.
Our Father….
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. Anthony Daniel, pray for us.

The Fifth Triad: The Precepts of the Church
1. To hear Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation.
2. To fast and abstain on the days appointed.
3. To confess at least once a year.
4. To receive the Holy Eucharist during the Easter time.
5. To contribute to the support of our pastors.
Our Father….
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. Charles Garnier, pray for us.

The Sixth Triad: The Capital Sins and their Opposing Virtues
1. Pride, the excessive love of our own ability.
2. Covetousness, the excessive desire for worldly things.
3. Lust, the excessive desire for the sinful pleasures forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.
4. Anger, an excessive emotion of the mind excited against any person or thing, or an excessive desire for revenge.
5. Gluttony, the excessive desire for food or drink.
6. Envy, the feeling of sorrow at another's good fortune and joy at the evil which befalls him.
7. Sloth, a laziness of the mind and body, through which we neglect our duties.
Humility is opposed to pride; generosity to covetousness; chastity to lust; meekness to anger; temperance to gluttony; brotherly love to envy, and diligence to sloth.
Our Father….
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. Noël Chabanel, pray for us.

The Seventh Triad: The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
1. To feed the hungry
2. to give drink to the thirsty
3. to clothe the naked
4. to ransom the captive
5. to shelter the homeless
6. to visit the sick,
7. and to bury the dead.
1. To admonish the sinner
2. to instruct the ignorant
3. to counsel the doubtful
4. to comfort the sorrowful
5. to bear wrongs patiently
6. to forgive all injuries
7. and to pray for the living and the dead.
Our Father….
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. René Goupil, pray for us.

The Eighth Triad: The Beatitudes
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
3. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
4. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
8. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Our Father….
Hail Mary…
Glory Be...
St. John de la Lande, pray for us.

When all the triads are concluded, recite the Collect of the North American Martyrs:

O God, who didst consecrate the first-fruits of the faith in the northern regions of America by the preaching and blood of Thy blessed martyrs John, Isaac and their companions: vouchsafe unto us, we beseech Thee, that through their intercession the fruitful harvest of Christians may everywhere daily receive an increase. Amen.


A prominent example of the kinds of prayers and catechesis used by the Canadian missionaries is found in the Ledesma Catechism translated into Huron by St. Jean de Brebeuf. The Jesuit Relations often mentions such prayers and texts three of the most typical are the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed. We also have a set of Piscataway prayers from the Maryland mission, written by the English Jesuit Andrew White.

The catechetical texts in this chaplet are taken from the Baltimore Catechism, with the occasional emendation. I have included the Beatitudes as a meditation, although they so not seem to have been commonly taught by the Jesuit missionaries, because they are more appropriate as devotions for the praying Catholic than, say, a factual list for catechumens such as the Seven Sacraments.