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The New Translation of the Catholic Mass doesn't exactly appear to be firing great enthusiasm around the world except from the predictable minority. In this second-part of his essay, Dr Anthony Lowes offers a general comment on the role of liturgy; takes a more detailed look at two elements of the new language; and ends with a criticism on the seeming intention of the entire exercise to say "up yours" to the liberals, feminists and progressives in the Church.
At a loss: the dumbing [up] of the new English liturgy...
To continue with this syllabus of errors, let me mention several interesting features associated with the moment of consecration. The first is a non-plussing inconsistency. In the new translation, the word 'cup' has been replaced by 'chalice' presumably to render more sacred the associations we surround it with as the receptacle containing the consecrated blood of Christ, and as a closer rendering of the Latin 'calix'. Yet in the second acclamation which is meant to signal the people's awareness of the same transcendent transformation, we still find retained what was in Acclamation C of the previous translation, namely: 'When we eat this bread and drink this cup . . .' Why the lone instance of 'cup'? If it could be retained in this instance, why not in all?
Little acclaim for the new acclamations...
But in fact there are many stylistic problems with the new acclamations, taken together. Acclamation A in the previous translation possesses a driving masculine rhythm, all three phrases beginning with name of Christ; the three mount to a crescendo in the final verse with its third repetition and its directly expressed conviction of hope in the parousia. This vigour is largely lost in the superfluous insertions 'proclaim' and 'profess' of the new first acclamation, so that the power of the rhythm is attenuated and it limps to a conclusion with a much weaker acknowledgement of the triumph of Christ. Read both out loud and note the difference.
And nowhere now does the magnificent eschatological conclusion, 'until you come in glory' of the previous Acclamation C, appear at all. In itself, this absence is yet another instance demonstrating that the avowed aim of elevating the style of the vernacular in the new translation has not succeeded. What we have in too many places is not so much an elevation as a manifest woodenness.
While we are examining the deficiencies of the new acclamations, the third acclamation begins awkwardly with the juxtaposition, 'Save us, Saviour . . .' which offends the ear, and the acclamation diminishes the dignity of the 'Saviour of the world' by relegating the notion to a parenthetic clause. By contrast, the previous Acclamation D concludes with the full-blooded applause of, 'You are the Saviour of the world.' Which further gains in power by being based upon the prior premise of the liberating sacrifice of the crucifixion and the triumph of the resurrection.
A darker penitential posture...
Now to cast a belated glance towards the Penitential Act. The renaming of the rite is in itself significant and troubling. It may be as the Pope has emphasised that we have lost a sense of sin, but if that is a conclusion based upon the vast majority of Catholics, at least in developed countries, ignoring the First Rite of Reconciliation or Confession, or upon a greater emphasis on the role of a more mature and therefore more liberated conscience, it is concerning. Is the way ahead for Catholic Christians a return to an uncritical acceptance of and immature psychological dependence upon even the ordinary magisterium of the church?
In the realm of sin and repentance are we to re-adopt the abjectness of the penitential way which focuses upon sin and corruption rather than grace, forgiveness and healing? Is it not a false realism to have all Catholic Christians confessing Sunday after Sunday that they have 'greatly sinned' through their 'most grievous fault'? To over exaggerate the degree of one's sinfulness may well be an act of spiritual vanity or scrupulosity in the excessively pious and meaningless ritualism for the many whose lives are mired in a trivial mediocrity, and as pointless ritualism, may well serve to confirm them in their status quo. At any rate, is it a sign of psychological health to be fixated on the dark possibilities of sin and the need of forgiveness, rather than to live lives marked by gratitude for grace and endless life given?
Christ's descent into hell...
Two points of praise and then a final carp.
The substitution of 'communion' for 'fellowship' in the priest's greeting at the beginning of the liturgy is a pronounced plus. It picks up a consistent focus of post-Vatican II theological reflection and it adds a further existential intensity to the reality which the eucharistic liturgy celebrates.
'Fellowship' is one of those 'thin' words, one of those 'wan' words, which attempt to, but fail dismally to, express a substantial and colourful facet of human life: namely, the way in which we must thoroughly mesh and interconnect if we are to mature as persons. The way to richly lived personhood is via ever more fulfilling intimacy.
'Communion' is the only word that captures this dynamic. By contrast, all that 'fellowship' implies is a polite proximity, a holy hob-nobbing. Heaven, which is the glorious outcome of grace, is unimaginable encompassing and interpenetrating of divine persons and human persons. It is the Spirit-inspired communion complete.
The new liturgy has also done well to include the Apostles' Creed in addition to the Nicene Creed. Elimination of wordy components or the provision of more succinct and simpler options is to be desired, since the eucharistic liturgy in our tradition is too complex and too wordy.
But having committed this act of liturgical virtue, why muddy it with the inclusion of the translation, 'He descended into hell'? Why not retain the discretion of the previous English translation to be found at the back of the Sunday Missal, namely: 'He descended to the dead'? That after all was the point of the initial creed, using a predominantly Semitic cosmology. Jesus, it avers, authentically died. He went to the underworld, sheol. A profession of authentic death of this nature emphasises the victory of resurrection.
Further, to use the word 'hell' in the current context is to invite confusion. To conceptualise hell as an abode of the eternally damned, a 'place', is problematic enough. Admittedly, in this conceptual context theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar have viewed Christ's visit to the damned as the final opportunity, the final persuasion of even the most obdurate of hearts to accept God's mercy.
But even this ingenious construction is made contradictory if, as most theologians currently agree, hell is a 'state of being' rather than a 'place'. How could Christ in beatific bliss in the moment of death, which is also his moment of entry into risen glory, even though Easter Sunday is a later epiphany in time—how could Christ in the state of being of glorified bliss 'descend' into the state of being of the damned? (All such discussion, of course, pre-supposes the existence of an eternal state of being of freely chosen self-alienation from the presence of God—namely, hell—in the first place, and that may in itself pose a further theological problem.)
Our rituals and cassocks are pompous...
I have tried, in the main, throughout this series of essays to instance my concerns with the new English transliteration of the Roman Liturgy as concretely as possible to demonstrate how ungainly and how anti-pastoral the enterprise has been. But more profound than these critical considerations are those that reveal the flawed nature of the overall process. It was essentially born of an excessive and less than transparent centralism that removed effective responsibility for oversight and approval of the translation from local bishops' conferences; that emasculated the ICEL; that, in turn, frustrated the manifest intentions of Vatican II of providing liturgy in the vernacular in a manner which would engage and inspire with a poetic and transcendent simplicity. The result is notable, I have to say, for its opacity and the crudity of its style.
It is an endeavour that is yet further proof of the validity of Cardinal Martini's reproof of the church, delivered in an interview shortly before his recent death. As reported in Cathnews Blogwatcher September 2, 2012 (and in several other online sites), he said, "our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous. ... The Church has remained 200 years behind the times. Why has it not been shaken up? Are we scared? Fear instead of courage?"
Like Fr Philip Endean SJ who reviewed the new liturgy in November 2011 in The Tablet, I am flabbergasted at the clumsy arrogance of those who orchestrated the coup that replaced the competent membership of the ICEL and the legitimate authority of the local bishops' conferences and ultimately delivered . . . well what? Like Philip Endean, I am at a loss; completely at a loss!
©2012Dr Anthony Lowes