Feb 15, 2010

News and Views

Online Edition: February 2010, Vol. XV, No. 10

News and Views

The New Missal Texts and the "Voices of the People"?

“It is now 45 years since the Second Vatican Council promulgated the groundbreaking and liberating document on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium…. Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have”.

So began the article “What if We Said ‘Wait’”, by The Reverend Michael Ryan, pastor of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, in the December 14, 2009 edition of the Jesuit publication America.

Father Ryan continued,
For evidence, [of the “systematic dismantling”] one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool — some would even say as a weapon — to advance specific agendas. And now on the horizon are the new translations of the Roman Missal that will soon reach the final stages of approval by the Holy See. Before long the priests of this country will be told to take the new translations to their people by means of a carefully orchestrated education program that will attempt to put a good face on something that clearly does not deserve it.

Father Ryan was chancellor and vicar-general under Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, and served on the board of the National Catholic Reporter, according to his biography on the St. James Cathedral web site (www.stjames-cathedral.org/history/pastors.htm).

At the same time that his America article appeared, Father Ryan launched a web site to gather signatures of those who agree with him (www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org).

A few weeks later, he published an updated version of his article, “Act in haste, repent at leisure”, in the January 16, 2010 edition of the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet. The Tablet announces: “more than 10,000 people from 43 countries have joined in a campaign for the text to be given a test run first”. Father Ryan calls it a “road test”. (After The Tablet got behind the project, about 3,000 more names appeared on the web site.)

Father Ryan’s campaign web site features this “Statement of Concern”:

We are very concerned about the proposed new translations of the Roman Missal. We believe that simply imposing them on our people — even after a program of preparation — will have an adverse effect on their prayer and cause serious division in our communities.

We are convinced that adopting translations that are highly controversial, and which leaders among our bishops as well as many highly respected liturgists and linguists consider to be seriously flawed, will be a grave mistake.

For this reason we earnestly implore the bishops of the English-speaking world to undertake a pilot program by which the new translations — after a careful program of catechesis — can be introduced into some carefully selected parishes and communities throughout the English-speaking world for a period of one (liturgical) year, after which they can be objectively evaluated.

Calling for delay in “imposing” the new English translation of the Missal may at first seem a moderate proposal — but only to those who did not experience the chaos and disruption in the years following the Council. The liturgy of that troubled time, rather than being a source of unity and solidarity, mirrored the confusion and rupture in society. This was hardly “liberating”. But the result was inevitable when radical changes of all kinds — language, music, architecture — were imposed on people by “experts” who decided what “the people” needed. One of the major methods used to effect these changes? They were “introduced into some carefully selected parishes and communities” for “evaluation”. Rupture followed the “road tests”.

The campaign to resist the new Missal translation in the name of “the people” is, in the light of the actual history of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, deeply ironic. Catholic people have often been betrayed by a few who claim to speak for all — “some are more equal than others”.

Among the names that had appeared on the web site by mid-January are those of about 40 influential liturgists, theologians, musicians, academics and activists. Here is a sample of a few names from the “Signatures” pages on the web site, www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org/signatures.aspx, between December 9, 2009 and January 10, 2010 (identifications are ours):

Father John Baldovin, SJ, theologian at Boston College, author of books on liturgy, critic of Vatican intervention in the liturgy.

Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, feminist theologian, professor emerita of Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, president of the executive board of Catholic Biblical Association (CBA).

Father Alexander A. Di Lella, OFM, professor of biblical studies at The Catholic University of America (CUA); member of CBA credentials committee.

Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, Birmingham, England, former international Master of the Dominican order.

John R. Page, former secretary of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

Richard Proulx, Chicago, composer for music publishers GIA and World Library Publications, music director at Holy Name Cathedral.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, editor of Commonweal.

Father Peter C. Phan, Georgetown University theologian, whose works have been questioned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Father Gerard Sloyan, Trenton, veteran liturgist, influential in post-conciliar reform, emeritus professor of Temple University, CUA, and Georgetown.

Father Jim Schexnayder, Oakland, Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM).

Father Richard Vosko, Albany, church design consultant, designed Los Angeles cathedral.

Paul F. Ford, Los Angeles, former Benedictine monk, composer of “By Flowing Waters” and “Psallite”.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, who was prohibited by the Holy See from any public teaching on homosexuality.

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, columnist for National Catholic Reporter, past superior of Erie Benedictine community.

Sister Christine Schenk, CSJ, Cleveland, founder of “FutureChurch”, feminist, pro-women’s ordination.

Marek Bozek, St. Louis, pastor of schismatic St. Stanislaus parish, dismissed from the priesthood in 2009.

(Signers comments are also accessible: www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org/readcomments.htm. We did not verify the signers.)

The issue in launching this cyberspace resistance movement is not about translation, nor is it primarily about the liturgy. And it is not about giving Catholic people a voice. It is a dispute over Church authority and over what the Second Vatican Council intended.

Tom Fox, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, acknowledged this in his December 22, 2009 editorial, “Pastor’s effort merits support”:

… Some might dismiss Ryan’s campaign as fruitless and impractical. Powerful clerics in Rome and certain U.S. bishops are intent on having a missal translation that studied liturgists find stilted and awkward and, in places, grammatically incorrect.

Maybe Ryan’s efforts will inspire an outpouring of support.… Whatever the outcome, however, the effort has significance well beyond this moment and this issue.

The liturgy flap should not be viewed as a discrete occurrence but as one of a string of events, some ongoing and others more episodic, that are part of the overarching post-Second Vatican Council narrative.…

The undeniable reality is that the council … envisioned a significantly changed church. The council opened doors to ideas of serious collegiality and dialogue. While the documents were hardly prescriptive about how such concepts would eventually work themselves out, what was clear from the outset is that the hierarchical culture stood the most to lose from the movement toward decentralized authority and influence indicated by the language of the council.…

The recent struggle over liturgical translations is part of a larger church panoply: the censures of theologians; the investigation of U.S. women religious; moves by bishops to excommunicate and silence voices who ask hard questions; a lack of episcopal accountability; and, of course, the hierarchy’s woeful cover-up of the sex abuse scandal.


The Tablet revisited the matter in an editorial January 30, “Vatican II’s irreversible changes”, noting that the new Missal translation and “reactionary elements in the Curia” have “sparked fears of an imminent counter-revolution against the Council”. The editorial mentions “Stand Up for Vatican II”, another petition effort begun in London; it also quotes Father Anscar Chupungco, OSB, as saying, “the agenda [of the liturgical reform] is, to all appearances, an attempt to put the clock back half a century”. Father Chupungco, of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at San Anselmo in Rome, was addressing the launch of a program of Liturgical Studies in Sydney, Australia, January 21. (Full text available from www.praytellblog.com)

We agree with Father Ryan that “it has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used … to advance specific agendas”. But the agenda behind resistance to the new Missal translation is not the agenda of the Catholic Church. It is the agenda of an influential faction wedded to their own views of the Council, and who resist the Church’s authority over the liturgy and other essential matters of faith — as they have done for nearly half a century.

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The Editors