In the face of church's change, new liturgy is really 'Whatever'
Dec. 28, 2011
People stand in prayer during Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
We were visiting family over the holidays and attended Mass at a parish where there was evidence of the ongoing tussle with the new liturgy. At one point during an attempt to keep up with that unnecessarily unwieldy construction of "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof," someone nearby got tongue-tied and finished it off with, "Whatever."
I chuckled. It was good to laugh about it.
Those of us who by virtue of our circumstances (religion writers, for instance, or professional liturgists) know the back story to the changes are more likely than not to bristle at the rather saccharine presentation of reasons for the changes. The reality, of course, is that the changes were as much as anything else about power and maintaining control, rolling back the language that came to reflect the changes in theology and community disposition that occurred as a result of the Vatican Council of the 1960s. Yes, yes, it was to restore some of the majesty and awe, some of the precision of the Latin upon which the prayers are based, to restore anew the sense of mystery and to re-establish the distance between priest and people.
But those who know the story in its fullest details know that the "new" translation, a reform of the reform, was actually commandeered by a group of men who met secretly and, in a matter of days, undid a process that had occurred under two popes and with the wide participation of bishops and professionals in the English-speaking world. (See Fr. Richard McBrien's writing on the same subject here.)
Even after the initial ambush of the translation and the remaking of agencies responsible for the translation, the secret manipulations continued. That's why even some who were on board for the reform of the reform bolted, angered at the process -- or rather, lack of it. Some of us are privy to far more information than most in the pews have the time or inclination to take in. And I say, good for them.
So I am one of those who simply has to get over it for the moment. The first Sunday I attended a Mass in which the new language was used, I decided to adopt a Ghandian strategy toward the ecclesiastical shenanigans. I decided that I could absorb the silliness, knowing that it really didn't alter much. "Whatever" makes the point.
On Christmas morning, another related point came to the fore, one that's fascinated me and that underpinned much of what I learned writing the book The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community's Search for Itself. The simple reality is that the church has changed dramatically in the last half-century and shows no signs of slowing down the change curve. The Catholic community is living in a state of flux. You can apply all the old language you want, you can put up altar rails and resist having female altar servers and insist that lines be drawn anew between people and priests with their ontological distinction. But all of that won't change the facts on the ground where, despite all of the new line-drawing and determining of who's in and who's out, one keeps running into the intersection in which need meets theology. And all at once, we're struck with how different things have become.
Before the Mass began on Christmas morning, the priest, by this point fully vested, went to the front of the church, got hold of the microphone and announced that because of reasons unexplained, none of the Eucharistic ministers who were supposed to be on duty showed up.
So he needed volunteers. Six of them. Yes, he pointed, you and you and you, and so on. He quickly had the six. "And we'll figure out the wine and the bread" on the run, he said.
When I got home, I looked up the old "prayer for a worthy communion" in my tattered St. Joseph Daily Missal that sits on my bookshelf, a remnant, with its worn ribbons, as unused today as the antique Remington typewriter a friend gave me years ago. There I found the phrasing as I had known it as a child: "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof."
And that brought back vivid memories of that time of certainty and clarity. When the rectory was filled with priests and the convent was full of nuns whom I would occasionally encounter on my way to 6:30 a.m. Mass. They crossed the street with veils in front of their faces, two by two, specters moving like those Russian dancers in long dresses who seem to dart about on a cushion of air.
There was, to be sure, mystery, separation between the ordained and all other mortals, rules for everything, answers to everything. We've learned since that there was considerable corruption, too, and we've learned that faith based on certainty isn't faith at all. Neither I nor any of the priests I knew at the time could ever have imagined that one day a celebrant would get up before the congregation on Christmas morning and seek volunteers to help distribute Communion.
We are living in that tension between the yearning for the old certainties -- the old prayers that "worked" in a less complicated time, the clean lines that everyone understood -- and the reality that priests today have to do something as informal and lacking in decorum and majesty as asking for volunteers to aid in one of the most sacred moments in our liturgy.
The tacit admission (and I must note here, the priest in this instance seemed to have no problem at all dealing with the informality; in fact seemed to enjoy it) is that priests can no longer do it alone. The moment for me was symbolic of the sometimes holy chaos evident in contemporary Catholic life and the approach -- "Can you give me some help?" -- that works best where there is a sense of ownership, of genuine community, of a people educated to those tasks.
About that language that would suggest something other? Whatever.
[Tom Roberts is NCR editor at large. His email address is email@example.com.]
Dealing with the new translation of the Mass
by Richard McBrien on Dec. 26, 2011
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There used to be an anti-liturgical joke circulating that said that the only difference between a terrorist and a liturgist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist.
By the same token, there is a seriously mistaken impression abroad that the new translation of the missal was inspired and promoted by liturgists. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The great majority of liturgical scholars were opposed to the new, literal translations. Those who favored the changes were adherents of the so-called "reform of the reform."
In other words, the changes were inspired and promoted, not by liturgists, but by traditionalists in the hierarchy and a minority of ultra-conservatives within the Catholic church generally.
Such Catholics were never supportive of the liturgical reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council: turning the altar around so that the priest would face the congregation during Mass, receiving Holy Communion in the hand, celebrating the Mass in the vernacular, having altar girls as well as altar boys, and so forth.
In the extreme, they attended Latin Masses wherever they were available. Their celebrants continued to wear the so-called fiddle-back chasubles and birettas. A Catholic Rip Van Winkle awakening from a long sleep beginning sometime in the 1950s would assume that nothing had changed in the meantime.
To be sure, the advocates of the "reform of the reform" have won only a partial victory with this new translation (for example, "I believe ..." rather than the more communal "We believe ..." in the Credo). But the Mass is still in the vernacular; the altar is still turned around; the great majority of people receive Communion in the hand; and there are more likely to be altar girls in the sanctuary than boys.
Such changes as these are anathema to traditionalist Catholics, who continue to receive Com-munion on the tongue (as is their right), grit their teeth when they see girls serving Mass and attend a Latin Mass from time to time.
But they are happy nonetheless to see so many of their fellow Catholics out of sorts because of the new translation of the Mass. They know that it galls Catholics for whom Pope John XXIII is a hero and Vatican II was a great event.
I've heard Catholics say that their pastors, though not conservative, have praised the new translations. Either their pastors are not being honest because they don't want to be reported to their bishop or they are deep-down right-wing in their thinking.
A retired pastor I heard prepare his congregation the week before the changes were to go into effect had the congregation practice giving the simple response, "And with your spirit." But he said by way of introduction that the "what" of the changes he and they could handle; the "why" he would leave to the Holy Spirit.
I suspect many older priests had the same reaction. Only some of the younger (or not-so-young), conservative priests, ordained during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, would more likely be in favor of the changes than opposed to them.
But what good would come of outright opposition? A well-respected priest in Seattle led a movement recently to have the U.S. bishops slow down the process until all the kinks could be worked out, but that movement, though it gained thousands of supporters, fizzled and died in the end.
The Vatican had already made up its mind, and the largely conservative U.S. hierarchy would not buck the Vatican, even if it were disposed to do so.
Some Catholics may continue to say "And also with you" rather than "And with your spirit," or "We believe ..." instead of "I believe ..." in the Creed, or "one in being with the Father" instead of the highly technical and indecipherable "consubstantial," also in the Creed.
Presiders at Mass will have the most difficult time because there have been many tongue-twisting changes in the texts of the Eucharistic prayers.
Those priests who have been reciting these prayers for many years will inevitably stumble over the new wording, and those priests whose eyesight has failed them and who have memorized unchangeable parts of the Mass will continue to recite the words with which they have been long familiar. At least, that is what I would advise them if they were silly enough to ask.
This column will return to this subject a number of times in the future because it affects us all. In the meantime, I wanted to dispel a few of the most common misunderstandings about the new translations and their origin.
© 2011 Richard P. McBrien. All rights reserved. Fr. McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
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My elementary teachers would be so angry with me right now. Reading for comprehension has failed me today. When first reading through this, I immediately began looking for the "unfollow" button as I mistook the first piece for your own thoughts. I then saw the author at the end and re-read your title to the piece (which is hilarious...if only I had actually read it at the beginning!! Imagine that).ReplyDelete
Four further comments:
1) "In other words, the changes were inspired and promoted, not by liturgists, but by traditionalists in the hierarchy and a minority of ultra-conservatives within the Catholic church generally." I read that, and immediately threw my hands in the air and said, "FINALLY!!".
2) "When the rectory was filled with priests and the convent was full of nuns whom I would occasionally encounter on my way to 6:30 a.m. Mass." Ironic that he never puts together the cause-effect here. It never occurs to him to wonder WHY that's no longer the case.
3) "Those priests who have been reciting these prayers for many years will inevitably stumble over the new wording, and those priests whose eyesight has failed them and who have memorized unchangeable parts of the Mass will continue to recite the words with which they have been long familiar."
(Cue violin playing "My Heart Bleeds for You")
"Many" years is such a humorous term. Many in a single human's life span, maybe. Many in the eyes of the Church? Hah! 50 years is a blink of an eye. He seems to forget that these "poor old priests" used to say Mass in Latin and somehow managed to make the change to English. I bet he wouldn't have complained about that.
4) "The great majority of liturgical scholars were opposed to the new, literal translations." This is so comical. They were opposed to a literal translation? Seriously? They didn't want people to know the actual words of the liturgy? I am almost speechless at such a clearly moronic statement. I realize translating can be difficult when languages use different sentence structures and one of them (Latin) lacks things like articles, however, shouldn't these "liturgical scholars" at least START by trying to create the most literal translation possible?
Anyway, thanks for bringing these to our attention. Much appreciated.
Merry Christmas and God bless!
Rev. McBrien has lamented several times a small group of traditional Catholics wield great influence and power in the Vatican. Ooh Rah! The National cAtholic Reporter and their readers live in an alternate universe. Thankfully the biological solution is in effect. The Church has survived worse, we'll get through this crisis.ReplyDelete