Pray Tell recently visited with Fr. Michael G. Ryan, author of the article in America, “What If We Said ‘Wait’?”, which inspired an online petition calling for trial use of the text before it becomes official. Another petition, “We’ve waited long enough,” is also online. A response to Fr. Ryan’s article, “Defending the New Missal,” was penned by Fr. Peter Stravinskas. Pray Tell has already invited Fr. Stravinsaks to offer his comments here if he wishes. But first, Fr. Ryan:
Pray Tell: Your article appeared last December. What has been the response to it? Have you heard from many people?
Fr. Michael G. Ryan: The response has been overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive. And it has come from around the entire English-speaking world, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Australia. The response from the US has been the largest; Canada’s response has been surprisingly small. I have personally heard from hundreds of people, lay, religious, and priests. The majority of them thanked me for saying what they were thinking and for giving them a vehicle that allowed them to weigh in on something they care about deeply. And, interestingly, many of the responses I’ve received make it clear that this is not a “conservative/liberal” issue. It’s more an issue of people wanting some say in how they are going to pray our most important prayer – and not wanting changes made when the proposed changes, with some exceptions, are anything but an improvement!
PT: Did anything surprise you in the responses you received?
MR: I think I was most surprised – and disappointed – at the number of people who signed the initiative anonymously. Many were priests and religious. It says something about the fear that is out there. How sad that priests would be so in fear of their bishops that they wouldn’t feel free to express themselves openly. I see this as quite a commentary on the current climate in our Church. Of course, in the case of women religious, it’s probably understandable given the fact that the Visitation is underway and they may have been concerned about drawing attention to their congregation or community.
PT: Have you received many critical comments? Have some individuals criticized your attitude?
MR: Our website has gotten some negative criticisms but very, very few, and most of them were anything but reasoned and were clearly from people with an extremist point of view. We also received quite a number of fictitious names (some of them quite scurrilous or downright obscene – quite a commentary, I thought, on the maturity level of some of our opponents). As to my attitude, I suppose there are some who have criticized it but most seem to agree with it and have thanked me for what they saw as a reasonable and balanced approach.
PT: Fr. Stravinskas wrote a response to your article. Is there anything you would like to say in response to his response?
MR: Not really. By choosing to assume that I was defending the translation presently in use, Fr. Stravinskas set up a straw man and then attacked it. But, in fact, nowhere have I defended the 1973 translation. Strangely, Fr. Stravinskas also made no reference whatever to the translation that ICEL spent 15 years in developing — translations which were approved by the bishops, submitted to the Holy See in 1998, quickly shelved, and then summarily rejected following the 2001 publication of the highly controversial Liturgiam Authenticam. Frankly, I found that quite disingenuous.
PT: Over 21,000 have signed the online petition. Why do you think so many have signed on? Do you suspect that many people signed because they really want to say “No!” and not just “Wait”?
MR: I am not surprised that so many have signed the online “wait” petition. My surprise is that more haven’t! The reason for that, I suspect, is that the vast majority – perhaps as many as 90% of the faithful – still don’t have a clue about the new Missal and what it will mean for them. When they do learn about it, I suspect there will be a great deal of angst and anger. As to those who have signed on, it is instructive to read the comments that many have made. Some are angry, to be sure, and they probably really want to say “no,” but most are considered, intelligent, insightful, and they see the usefulness of testing the Missal before it is imposed. I might add that many signers are prominent theologians, liturgists, church historians, church leaders, pastors, and administrators. All have this in common: they see the wisdom of giving the people whose prayer this is, and who pay the bills, some say in the matter. People are not naïve. They know what is important to them and they also know a power-play when they see one. As one prominent, recently retired Archbishop in this country told me not long ago, “this is not about liturgy, it’s not about translations, it’s about power!” Well, he’s got that right!
PT: Does a part of you want to “Just say no?” or do you really believe that waiting and testing it would be the best.
MR: I suppose there’s a part of me that would like to “just say no.” As I stated in the America article, that was my original thought. But I abandoned it long before I sent it to America for the reason I set forth in the article: “dialogue is better than diatribe.” I honestly believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through the people we serve as well as through the hierarchy. I believe there’s good theological support for that in our Tradition and in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Why wouldn’t we, therefore, want to hear from the people about something that touches them and their faith life so profoundly? Why wouldn’t we take the time to do this in as painstaking a manner as necessary? What is the hurry? Shouldn’t we want to get it right at this point rather than suffer through the consequences of having individual priest-presiders making their own adaptations and corrections to texts, some of which are manifestly flawed and others of which are just plain bad?
PT: Some priests are already saying they simply won’t implement the new Missal. What is your advice to them?
MR: I’m not sure I’m the one to be offering advice to them! I have heard my brother priests (including some who are quite traditional, by the way), state that they will not implement the new Missal or that, if they do, they will make their own changes as they see fit. I personally think this is inevitable, given the fact that the translations are being imposed on them in the same way they will be imposed on their people. For me, this is another reason to take a breath, to step back, to stop putting forward the stale argument from authority (or loyalty, or holy obedience), and to give the Holy Spirit a chance to speak through the holy People of God.
PT: What will be the approach in your cathedral parish? Will you be honest about your misgivings, which surely the parishioners will be aware of? How will you strive to maintain and project a positive attitude during the transition?
MR: When (and if) the time comes, we will follow the directives given us. As a cathedral church we are called to model liturgy for the entire archdiocese, and so, in the implementation of a new translation we will make every effort to make the transition as smooth as possible. It will not be necessary for me to be honest about my misgivings since they are already known. People will develop their own attitudes in response. They are intelligent. They will not need me to tell them what to think or how to react.
PT: Many are saddened about the more recent direction of liturgical renewal in the Catholic Church. Are you?
MR: Well, I wouldn’t use the phrase “liturgical renewal” to describe what is currently going on. It is not renewal; it is retrenchment! Anyone who has steeped him- or herself in the Conciliar documents and in some of the many respected and comprehensive historical analyses of the Council (What Happened at Vatican II? by John W. O’Malley, S.J. is an excellent example) knows that the so called “reform of the reform” is not about renewal but about imposing a pre-Conciliar vision of liturgical theology on the ground-breaking reforms of the Council. So, to say that I am saddened by what is going on is an understatement. I expressed that in my America article and, if anything, I feel it even more strongly some six months later. The Church does need renewal, of course. The recent international explosion of the whole sexual abuse issue and the hierarchical cover-up is ample and distressing evidence of that. Among other things, the renewal I and many are talking about needs to involve such things as the outmoded way authority is exercised in the Church, the Byzantine way leaders are chosen, and the anything but transparent way decisions are made. This is where the real renewal needs to take place and our people know it. This whole matter of the new Missal with its power plays and its top-down, authoritarian approach is very much connected to the current controversies that are swirling within and around the Church.
PT: What gives you hope about the Church, the liturgy, the future of renewal?
MR: My hope is in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about true renewal. The same Spirit who inspired the great and Blessed Pope John XXIII to call the Second Vatican Council will bring about renewal in the Church today. I wouldn’t want to put a timetable on it, but I am confident it will happen. Every Sunday I am privileged to preside at four or five incredibly beautiful Eucharistic liturgies at which several thousand people participate prayerfully, actively, enthusiastically, and more and more go forth on fire with love and a deep commitment to serve the poor and advocate for justice. I know the power of good liturgy to form and shape a community of people. I see it every week. Not even a seriously flawed Missal with some distressingly poor translations can stop that, although a beautifully translated Missal could certainly help!