George Ripon, in questioning the changes to the English version of the Mass, today asks "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" The response to George might be: but "they" think it is "broke". "They" honestly seem to think that why 86% have walked out of the pews is because we've all become more liberal, less pious and less reverent, and "they" are going to do something about it — and have been doing so for the last four decades with the determination of zealots to get their way. The implementation of these changes is one of "their" greatest victories. "They" are gunna show us how to fill the pews again with changes like this which re-introduce the world to "real prayer" — and get rid of this namby-pamby, watered-down, cafeteria Catholicism so beloved by the 'liberals' and 'geriatric stupido baby-boomers' who've driven everybody out of the pews!
If it aint broke, why fix it?
In dealing with this matter I have had the benefit of the publication "And Also With You" (AAWY) by Paul Collins published in July 2009 by Catholics for Ministry. The full text (well worth reading) is on the net at www.catholicsforministry.com.au [Direct link to the pdf file HERE]. Over recent years the subject has come up in many other publications, including The Tablet (UK) and various US publications.
A brief word about me, Irish cradle catholic, now well into retirement and I still attend Mass weekly. I have long since gotten over a lot of the nonsense put in my head, in all sincerity, by the Irish nuns. After all they themselves were victims of the same system. My secondary education in the nest of Ireland (Ballina Co. Mayo) introduced me to a high standard of English, spoken, written and expressed. Drawing on this and my life-long experience of "Church" I felt the urge to comment on the proposed new English version of the Mass. For current and proposed new wordings go to www.USCCB.org/romanmissal (US Catholic Bishops Conference).
Here and now let me state that I am not in favour of the proposed change and I quote the well known saying, "If it aint broke, why fix it?" The more I compare the two versions the more I appreciate the simplicity and relevance of the present wordings. The new versions seem to be the result of pedantic nit-picking rather than any form of English scholarship. So why change?
As with many things from Rome at present its about power and control and keeping us all — people, priests and, yes, bishops — in our place and letting us see who is boss. First a word about Vatican II, and JPII. I can recall my joy as Pat, my wife and I sang in the Papal choir at Flemington racecourse for the Papal visit in Nov, '86. He had put our Church on the world map. Sadly, later, during his reign much of Vatican II was quietly set aside. The windows opened by John XXIII were closed and boarded up. "Safe" bishops were appointed with no real consultation. I am open to correction on this. So what happened to the "Collegiality of bishops" (Lumen Gentium Ch.3) or dare I mention it the role of the "People of God" (Lumen Gentium Ch.2).
Back to my subject. If ever there was an area where collegiality should apply it must have involved the English translation of the liturgies, overseen by the bishops in the English-speaking countries and this they did well first time round. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) got to work soon after Vatican II and by the early seventies the Mass and sacraments had been translated into English and a new English lectionary had been prepared. In good modern English this was well "received" by the faithful. In 1981, aware of change and the benefit of keeping up with the times, the bishops decided to review the translations. (Many may now rue the day !!) However English scholarship proceeded and by the late ninties a Revised English Missal was ready.
Meanwhile back at the Vatican ranch things had changed and these are well described in AAWY. After some 20 years of great work the ICEL hitherto rightly under the oversight of the English-speaking bishops came to the attention of the CDW (The Congregation for Divine Worship). As the windows opened by John XXIII (Beatae Memoriae) were being closed and boarded up control and power were taken back by Rome. Some in the CDW resented the independence of the English-speaking bishops. This was reflected in the appointment to the CDW of anti-ICEL members. When we consider that a major part of the Catholic church is English-speaking this is a weird situation. Putting the ICEL under the control of a body with little or no english representation let alone scholarship is beyond belief.
So the years of dedicated work by the ICEL were rejected by the unrepresentative CDW and a new body set up. Long serving experienced members retired and new members were appointed. The work became secret and the "Latin" translation started. The CDW set up Vox Clara (Clear Voice) a committee of generally conservative-minded English-speaking cardinals and bishops. The proceedings were not entirely secret as some texts were sent to Bishops Conferences for approval (automatic?).
As a Melbourne resident I would like to know when, how and if any of these texts were referred to our local Deaneries. As Melbournians would know the Deaneries were established by a great Vatican II supporter, Archbishop Frank Little (Beatae Memoriae) for this purpose, to encourage parish clergy and the faithful to take counsel together and be heard on the future of our Church. Anyhow objections were ignored as by now the "mind" of the CDW was a closed book. Here again I refer to the pamphlet (AAWY) from which readers will decide for themselves and draw their own conclusions.
Having reviewed the history of the destruction of ICEL Paul Collins goes on to look at the new wordings and expression in the proposed revised texts. I see the following as significant:
As with many things from Rome to-day we are going back to the past.
Life experience teaches us that major problems are rarely if ever solved by going back to the past. Nostalgic yearning for "The Good Old Days" is just an illusion. Life goes on! and it saddens me to see Vatican support for antediluvian English, Latin Masses, communion on the tongue, priests turning their backs to the people, Gregorian Chant and, of course, the Yahweh nonsense. Next, how about the return of the Altar Rails with kneeling down for Communion. This would help to emphasise the distinction between priests and people as personally promoted by B16 in the "Year of Priests". I make no apology if I appear cynical as I have a genuine fear that if the present "reforms" go through some in the Vatican will see the green light for more insensitive changes. Sadly the obsession with trivia obscures the need for attention to be directed at finding solutions to the real problems in our Church.
So where do we go from here? For a start I'd like to address a few questions to our Australian Catholic Bishops Conference...
To what extent were proposed new texts referred by the new ICEL?
I suspect that under instructions from Rome all decisions were already made with little or no consultation even with our bishops. Here again I am open to be proved wrong.
Here I have to share the concerns expressed by Paul Collins. I can see the Tower of Babel revisited as those still in the pews struggle with new wordings in the Creed and Gloria as well as other responses. Is it worth all the expense, hassle and confusion it will cause? Will Rome provide subsidies for poorer parishes to cover the costs of new Lectionaries, Missals, Hymnals and instruction books for the congregations? I repeat is it all worth it? I suspect not.
One of the "Buzz" expressions now popular in Rome is "Reform of the Reform". Sounds positive but what does it mean? Its a euphemism for undoing aspects of Vatican II's work. Close to a lie, does Rome lie? and is it still a sin to tell a lie? Me being flippant. Back to the serious.
As I prepared this an article in The Tablet (3 Oct) caught my eye: CHANGING RITE, UNCHANGING TRUTH by John F. Baldovin. A Professor in Theology and Liturgy at Boston College Massachusetts USA John Baldovin deals in a scholarly way with the development of liturgy over the centuries. He makes the point that liturgy has always been subject to change. The Latin liturgy was introduced in the 4th century and variations documented by him continued over the centuries. Here we focus on Pius the 5th and the Council of Trent in 1570 with the Tridentine Mass. It's a long way to go back for inspiration for a translation appropriate to the 21st Century and it's here that "reformers of the reform" seek a return to a basis for modern (?) translation. Coupled with this is — nudge nudge, wink wink — support by Rome for greater use of the Latin Mass.
Finally another gem from John Baldovin. In 1786 the Synod of Pistoia (Tuscany) sought to simplify and reform the liturgy. It recommended that Sundays be given greater prominence, that novenas, octaves, tridua and public processions be banned. The people were to be instructed and encouraged to have a closer involvement with the priest at Mass, Communion should be available to all and . . . wait for it . . . the vernacular was recommended! However eight years later Pius 6th condemned the Synod, so what's new?
Repeating, John Baldovin's article in The Tablet is well worth reading as is Paul Collins' And Also with You on the Net.
George Ripon October 2009
What are your thoughts on this commentary?