Mar 15, 2010

Australian Archbishop Coleridge: New Moment of Renewal

Online Edition: March 2010, Vol. XVI, No. 1

Australian Archbishop Coleridge:

New Moment of Renewal

Chairman of ICEL Roman Missal Editorial Committee explains preparing for the new translation

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

“Drinking from the wells of tradition passed on supremely in the liturgy is what this new moment of renewal is all about”, Archbishop Mark Coleridge told 200 diocesan liturgists in his keynote address to the National Liturgical Conference in Perth, Australia, on February 6. A full account of the conference, by Anthony Barich, appeared in The Record, published by the Diocese of Perth.

The group gathered to consider the new translation of the Roman Missal, expected to be released by Easter 2011 in Australia. Archbishop Coleridge, of Canberra-Goulburn, a former chaplain to Pope John Paul II, is the chairman of the Roman Missal Editorial Committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL); he is also chair of the Australian Bishops’ Commission for Liturgy.

The newly translated Roman Missal will help address the serious theological problems of the Missal currently in use, Archbishop Coleridge said. He pointed out that while the Missal translation, in use since 1973, has made gains in accessibility, participation, expanded use of Scripture and in other ways, it also has “serious problems theologically” and “consistently bleaches out metaphor which does scant justice to the highly metaphoric discourse” of Scripture and of the Church Fathers. These problems are the result of a misunderstanding of Vatican II’s reforms, he said.

The archbishop stated that those who claim the new reforms are a “merely political right-wing plot of the Church” to turn the clock back miss the point of reform and of the purpose of the Mass, which is primarily Christ’s action, not just that of the faithful. The Liturgy is a “gift from God, not something to be manipulated”, he said.

“Nothing will happen unless we move beyond ideology and reducing the Church to politics and the slogans that go with them, which are unhelpful”, he said.

“A claim that troubles me is that this initiative [the new Missal translation] is somehow a retreat from all that Vatican II tried to promote and enact, and a betrayal therefore of the Council and, by implication, the Holy Spirit”, Archbishop Coleridge said. “If I thought that were remotely true I would not have shed the blood, sweat and tears of the last seven years and the thousands who have been involved in this process. We would have saved ourselves a lot of time and money if we’d just stuck with the Latin, but that’s not what the Spirit is saying to the Church”.

Archbishop Coleridge emphasized that Vatican II reaffirms the Council of Trent, and that it is a serious mistake think that the Second Vatican Council represents a rupture. He referred to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), whose Preamble expressly states this continuity: that the revised Missal and its norms “bear witness to the Church’s continuous and unbroken tradition” (GIRM §1); that the “sacrificial nature of the Mass, solemnly asserted by the Council of Trent in accordance with the Church’s universal tradition, was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council” (GIRM §2); “Moreover, the wondrous mystery of the Lord’s Real Presence under the eucharistic species, reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council and other documents of the Church’s Magisterium in the same sense and with the same words that the Council of Trent had proposed as a matter of faith, is proclaimed in the celebration of Mass…” (GIRM §3).

“If the elements of this tradition are reflected upon, it becomes clear how outstandingly and felicitously the old Missal of 1570 is brought to fulfillment in the new”, Archbishop Coleridge said. He further explained that Trent enacted relatively few changes from the 1474 Missal — which in turn looked back to the Missal of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) — due to “convulsive cultural change and radical attack” at the time and the lack of manuscripts to look at the norms of the Fathers of the Church to reform the liturgy. In 1570, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the ministerial priesthood and the real and permanent presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species were under attack in the Reformation, as was the use of Latin and silence. The circumstances of the time help to explain why the Council of Trent decided against using the vernacular, and decided that people would receive Communion in only one kind, the bread but not the wine.

Vatican II came in the wake of the collapse of Western Christian civilization after the two World Wars and, by this time, countless hitherto unknown texts became available, he pointed out. However, the Second Vatican Council’s reforms were not properly implemented, were taken too far, and the Latin texts were translated in with “breathtaking speed”.

He observed that because of this, the liturgy has largely lost the sense of its being primarily Christ’s action, as something received, “not just what we do; a mystery into which we are drawn”.

“We can’t just tamper with it”, he said. “Celebrants sometimes act as if it’s their own personal property to do with what they like. You can’t. You also need to find the balance to make it something we do as well. But it’s not something we control because of our supposed superior liturgical perceptions”.

“We are passing through a critical threshold moment in the ongoing journey of liturgical renewal that traces its roots not just to Vatican II but the Council of Trent”, he said.

The archbishop also noted that an overly cerebral approach to liturgy, loss of ritual, over-simplification of rites, loss of a sense of silence, beauty and an unwitting “clericalization” have all diminished the potential of the Mass itself to catechize the faithful and renew the Church. The Second Vatican Council’s “catechetical thrust” that encouraged priests to catechize in the process of celebration has led to the Mass “drowning under the weight of supposed catechetical verbosity”, he observed.

There will be an attempt in the new translations, he said, to control “clerical verbosity and, dare I say, clerical idiosyncrasy”. There will also be an attempt to render the texts in a way that’s less overtly catechetical. “Let the texts stand as [they are] and let catechesis draw out from the texts in a way that communicates to the community, rather than trying to build into the texts a catechesis that runs the risk of corrupting the texts or diluting their power”, Archbishop Coleridge said.


Archbishop Coleridge’s complete address, "’The Norm of the Holy Fathers’", Liturgical Renewal, Past, Present and to Come", is accessible on the Canberra-Gouldburn web site:



Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.