Time on the new missal: Theological hairsplitting?

On the heels of Tuesday’s New York Times story about the new missal, Time Magazine’s Tim Padgett checks in with an article titled: “Heat-Seeking Missal? Fight on Liturgy Divides Catholics.” He writes, in part:

The Catholic missal melee is unfortunately a reminder that the tiresome practice of theological hairsplitting is still alive and well in the 21st century… we Catholics look a little foolish right now — and not very Christ-like.

Read the full story here.





20 responses to “Time on the new missal: Theological hairsplitting?”

  1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    In America one can get quite a lot of mileage out of playing the “I’m just a plain man and all these here pointy-headed intellectuals are just spoutin’ nonsense” card. Mr. Padgett seems to be quite proud of what he doesn’t know (such as the difference between being “born” and being “incarnate”). But he figures that if he can declare a pox on both houses then he is somehow being even-handed.

    It’s about what I expect from Time magazine.

  2. John Drake Avatar
    John Drake

    Reminds me that I’m glad I let my subscription expire.

  3. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

    I sometimes wonder who proofreads articles about the Catholic Church. Maybe I’m splitting hairs myself, but…

    a bitter dispute over the addition of three words, “and the Son” (in Latin it was one word, “filioque”) — I would have written: a bitter dispute over the addition of one word, “filioque” (“and the Son”)…

    that kind of medieval nonsense — Inflammatory.

    As Deacon Fritz pointed out, the born-vs-incarnate issue is not a matter of “sensible” and “rhythmic”, but of the difference between two verbs. To be born and to be incarnate (made flesh) are two different things. And I think that language is supposed to “evoke [the] mystery” of the Incarnation for us, and we should be happy to receive it.

    He doesn’t explain what he means by “consubstantial” being “theological arrogance,” although I’ll readily admit “of one substance” would be a more generally palatable expression.

    The Vatican II version says … Vatican II revisionists — Inaccurate description of the current translation’s origins.

    if Vatican II had made some space for Latin and Greek — Again, inaccurate, and it makes me wonder if the author has read the Vatican II document on the liturgy… or any of its documents at all.

    1. Tom Poelker Avatar

      I am in favor of using the most basic English vocabulary which will get the job done with simple accuracy and clarity for most people..

      Made/became flesh

      of one substance

      Even “substance” seems a little academic for most people, I expect.

  4. Lee Bacchi Avatar
    Lee Bacchi

    Whether he has read the documents of Vatican II at all or not, this is important because it represents a person-in-the-pew perspective of what many typical Catholics think Vatican II permitted, and how the translation debate must look when compared to the sexual abuse stories from Philadelphia, Ireland, etc.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      I agree that this is probably pretty typical.

    2. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      But this isn’t just a “person-in-the-pew” perspective. This is an article in Time magazine (or on Time’s blog). I would have expected better research and greater accuracy. Bad reporting doesn’t help anything.

      1. Tom Poelker Avatar

        That’s the truth.
        It is amazing how easy it would be at least to get the vocabulary right, but they will not run the copy by a competent person.

        This seems to be normal journalism re Catholicism, though.

        I wonder if other denominations perceive journalistic competence the same way?

      2. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        What makes it more embarrassing or disappointing is that the author of the article is a Catholic.

    3. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

      So the problem is one of catechizing the “person-in-the-pew” about Vatican II, right?

      1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        That’s one element, yes. It would be nice if Catholics would read the documents of Vatican II, rather than simply rely on other people to summarize and give commentary (all of us included).

        I was glad I read them. (Still haven’t made it through Gaudium et Spes, though… does it show? ;)) I was also glad I’d read earlier documents, so that I could see that Vatican II wasn’t operating in a vacuum.

  5. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    TIME knows its audience very well and its articles are systematically pitched at a very low level (this is not the TIME of the 1950s, you know). None of the intelligent articles that have been linked to on this website would have a whisker’s chance of getting published in TIME. TIME tries to match the average lowbrow impression of a given topic, suppressing any information or reasoning that goes beyond that lowbrow horizon. It has thus become a huge commercial success, like Coca Cola. Just one example of the way money rots everything in US culture.

    1. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

      I think you give TIME a lot more credit than it probably deserves. If it were as savvy as you describe, it would not be…. oh what’s that term… oh yes! A FAILING publication.

      Lowbrow would be setting the bar a bit high for TIME.

  6. John Molnar Avatar
    John Molnar

    Overheard a discussion about the translations in a church meeting room. The consensus of the 4-5 people was that many mistakes were committed by the Synod (V2) and subsequently by others. And that the approved translation is one step in the direction to remedy past errors. Obviously, not a scientific survey.

    However, it impressed me that the group was talking about a big picture with theological implications, and not about translation minutiae. It further occurred to me that the affects of the new translations are probably greater in the long run than what we think now. For instance, in another year or two, further changes will be much easier to initiate and implement once the new texts are internalized. Remember, in politics one is aiming to capture the imagination of independents. In Church affairs the majority do not have a very deep understanding of the faith. Emotional appeal usually carries the day.

    In fact, the new Mass texts will inspire people at the grassroots to initiate the new changes. This is not to assert that those who are calling for reversing the new texts will change their minds. However, the present opposition if they continue in an adversarial role, will become irrelevant to the greater faith community or will drop out of the Church which would be a shame.

    Words have power. I am with those who believe that words have a power to change thinking and attitudes as well.

    1. Bill deHaas Avatar

      That is why SP and continued steps in that direction create confusion and loads of “unintended consequences”…it challenges rather than reinforces ecclesiology.

      1. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar


        I’m not sure that most people, at this point in time, really understand what the effects of SP will be in the long run. I am among those who feel that it was a particularly prudent document as it at least calmed down the growing conflict between liturgical Traditionalists and what you might call the “mainstream”. If Traditionalists were all aging clingers longing for their childhood liturgy, SP would not have been necessary, but as I can attest from my EF parish, it is an increasingly “Youth Oriented” movement. I think Benedict saw this pretty clearly. I don’t want to get into a debate about the wisdom of SP, but going forward it may well allow for the development of the OF to be more “moderate” than would be the case without it. In other words, it created the possibility for the response – “well, I can always go to the EF parish rather than fight for more drastic changes in the OF”.

  7. Tom Poelker Avatar

    I see some problems with the assumptions of Molnar and Herbert.

    From my point of view, forty years of reading about why and how the changes came about since V2, the existing OF is a very moderate document. Those strategically opposed to V2 fought for and received some limitations in the direction its editors were headed. Now the compromised results are thrown out all together and the rules of the game are changed. The curia has taken its ball and gone home where it is playing its game in secret.

    The VC text is exactly “more about” changes in the long run than about being a good translation. It is “more about” influencing independents, changing the basis of the discussion, capturing the passive and uncommitted.

    The liturgy battles are part of the ecclesiology war. This text is a pre-emptive strike to capture the influential terminology high ground. The strategic objective is a return to a centralized, triumphal, clericalized ecclesiology, and a liturgy which supports that is a tactical accomplishment.

    The further changes the curia would have in mind would be in these directions, and imposing the VC texts is intended as a way to marginalize those who oppose them by imposing antique language instead of what is the vernacular in modern countries.

    The strategic targets include ecumenism, collegiality, subsidiarity, feminine equality, even married priests.

    The EF is a distraction, a feint. What many want, including many youth, is a wondrous liturgy. They have been sold a myth that wondrous liturgy is not possible in English or the OF. This distracts their energy from finding wondrous ways to celebrate the OF 1998 which the strategists oppose for its efforts at ecumenism, at clarity, at simplicity instead of hierarchy, at inclusivity, at proportionality in using images of God.

  8. Ray Marshall Avatar
    Ray Marshall

    “it represents a person-in-the-pew perspective”

    The author might be a Catholic but there is a 75% probability if so that he is rarely seen ‘in the pew.” Time doesn’t vet their Catholics for orthodoxy and regularity, I would guess.

  9. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    I agree with Jeffrey Pinyan that the article was poorly researched. It especially irked me to see the author attribute the crucifixion to the centurion whose words we quote before communion. He’s got the wrong centurion!

    Biblical illiteracy?

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