The Vatican’s Tahrir Square?

In 1975 in my role as Director of the Upholland Northern Institute (UNI) I was involved in arranging the very first In-Service Training course for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It was on the theme, ‘The Bishop as Teacher’ and was held at the UNI. When the bishops arrived, they all had embargoed copies of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] Declaration, Persona humana, on sexual issues which was due to be published during the week. Quite a number of the bishops shared with me their deep unease about the Declaration. They were highly critical of it and made no secret of that to me and to each other. I was given a copy and asked to run a special session on it. When I read it, I could see why they felt so critical. Despite its title, Personal humana was based on a theological approach which failed to do justice to Vatican II’s person-centered vision of moral theology. In my talk I suggested to the bishops that, if they were to be faithful to their role of teachers, they should be prepared to voice their criticism of the Declaration, if they were interviewed by the media. I stressed that we owe it to the truth to be honest and authentic in what we say. Positive criticism is intrinsic to good teaching. As far as I know, none of them followed my suggestion in their subsequent TV and radio interviews.

What disturbed me even more was the text of a telegram I found in an issue of Documentation Catholique a few months later. It was sent to the CDF from the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and thanked them for their excellent Declaration, Persona humana! That left a bad taste in my mouth. It suggested a kind of ‘double speak,’ as though there was a dysfunctionality in communications within the Church.

That seems to be relevant at present with regard to the new translation of the Roman Missal. I may be wrong, but I have the impression that at least some, perhaps many, of the bishops share the unhappiness about the new translation which is felt by many priests and lay Catholics. Yet the new translation is being promoted as a precious gift. Let me quote from a suggested insert for parish newsletters for the coming weeks sent out by Liverpool Archdiocese. “The new translation brings with it a deeper and more profound meaning of the mystery we have gathered to celebrate at Mass.” This is because “we have grown as a Church over the last 40 years in terms of understanding how to better translate our Latin texts into the vernacular language of the people.” Consequently, “the changes also bring us a wonderful opportunity as a Church to delve more deeply into the mystery of Christ Jesus and the praise and thanksgiving we offer to God, our Father, during Mass.”

I love the liturgy, I really do. I find it a rich source for my own devotional life. But I find those quotations deeply disturbing, arousing the same feeling of uneasiness I experienced with the Bishops’ telegram to the CDF. I simply cannot identify myself with what is being said. It smacks too much of a ‘double-speak,’ not the straightforward ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ that Jesus urged us to follow. On the Sunday following Mubarak’s stepping down as President of Egypt, I made the following point in my homily to the community of Notre Dame Sisters with whom I am privileged to share the Eucharist each day.

“Re-reading the first paragraph of Benedict’s 2009 social encyclical, ‘Caritas in veritate,’ has helped me to see beneath the surface of what has been happening in Tahrir Square. Benedict writes: “Love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of Justice and Peace.” He goes on to stress that this force “has its origin in God” and is a “vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person.” The crowd in Tahrir Square were mainly Muslims but also included many secularists and Coptic Christians. They showed “courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace” in their peaceful demands for a peaceful, non-violent transition to genuine human freedom and justice. Benedict’s amazing words applied to them and made me very conscious that what I was seeing on TV was God’s spirit present and active in these people.”

I am sure many people felt that same “extraordinary force” was tangible in the crowds during the Benedict XVI’s UK visit. I certainly felt that at Evensong in Westminster Abbey.

However, I also feel that this “extraordinary force” is also manifesting itself in the growing unease about the imposition of the new translation of the Roman Missal. A grass-roots resistance seems to be growing among ordinary Catholics who are deeply concerned at the impact this new translation will have on their Sunday Mass. They had no say in what is happening. They feel disempowered. To my mind, their instinct is right. The New Missal imposition is just one instance of the abuse of power in our Church. It is just the tip of the ice-berg. I sense a growing discontent among many very committed Catholics who have a deep love for the church. They feel it is losing touch with the Spirit-inspired vision of Vatican II and its hope for the future. They want to mount a protest against this but there seems no appropriate channel for such protest.

Vatican II placed collegiality at the very heart of church governance. Implied in that teaching is the involvement of all the faithful through collaborative ministry and co-responsibility. The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales made that abundantly clear in “The Sign We Give,” the magnificent 1995 Report from their Working Party on Collaborative Ministry. Sadly, these developments in church governance, so central to the renewal of the Church, have never been properly implemented. That continues to this very day. Until recently most Catholics have felt they had no choice but to tolerate of this abuse of power. Now, however, I suspect that the ‘Tahrir Square’ syndrome in the church is a sign that the “extraordinary force” of the fire of the Holy Spirit is beginning to disturb us from our complacency.

The flagrant misuse of power involved in the new translation of the Roman Missal is not just about its pastorally disastrous kind of language. It is also about the serious disregard for Vatican II’s teaching on collegiality in the process leading up to the New Missal. The original International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was set up after the Council and was a fine example of the implementation of collegiality, since it was answerable to the English-speaking bishops’ conferences throughout the world. ICEL’s only link with the Congregation of Divine Worship (CDW) was the requirement to obtain a ‘recognitio’ (a kind of ‘rubber stamp’!) for its proposed texts and translations. ICEL was also true to Vatican II’s ecumenical spirit since it worked with the liturgical agencies of other Christian churches to ensure that the common texts and the cycle of biblical readings would be shared in common by the churches. Moreover, it tried to avoid as far as possible exclusive language which might be offensive to women. These original ICEL texts were carefully vetted and voted upon by all the English-speaking bishops’ conferences and are still used today throughout the English-speaking world. However, from the start ICEL had been aware that the need to provide English texts as soon as reasonably possible after the Council inevitably meant that their texts were far from perfect. In fact, Archbishop Denis Hurley, a major figure at Vatican II and first Chair of ICEL, immediately set in motion the work of revising and refining these texts. He gathered together a team of liturgical and literary experts to undertake this task. The guiding principle for their work was based on Vatican II’s insistence that the “full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else” (Liturgy Constitution, n.14) Consequently, this team was commissioned to produce texts which, while not being literal word-for-word translations, should be faithful to the meaning of the original, as well as being simple, dignified and easily understandable. In this they were following the guidance enshrined in the Vatican II-inspired 1969 instruction, Comme le prevoit, approved by Paul VI.

By 1998 ICEL’s revised version of the Roman Missal was complete and had been examined and approved by all the English-speaking bishops’ conferences. It was then sent to the Congregation of Divine Worship (CDW) for its formal ‘recognitio.’ This was refused, completely disregarding the key Vatican II principle of collegiality! Moreover, without any consultation, the CDW brought out an entirely new set of guidelines, Liturgiam authenticam, which insisted on a much more literal fidelity in translating and actually warned against any ecumenical involvement in the process. Moreover, it showed total insensitivity to women by ruling out any use of inclusive language! Archbishop Hurley, by then no longer Chair of ICEL, is reported to have said: “I find the attitude reflected in the proposed change in translation practice a distressing departure from the spirit of collegiality in favor of authoritative imposition.” He even wrote to a friend: “At times I find it difficult to understand the attitude of the Roman Curia. It seems to be more concerned with power than with humble service.” (both quotations from Paddy Kearney, Guardian of the Light: Denis Hurley, Renewing the Church, Opposing Apartheid, [New York, London, T & T Clark, 2009], pp.292, 295)

A radically reconstituted ICEL set out to produce a new Roman Missal following the new guidelines. In due course this was sent out to the English-speaking bishops’ conferences. They could have rejected this new Missal but instead chose to approve it. It looks as though they had given up hope of any genuine collegiality. The earlier revision of the Missal which all the Bishops’ conferences had approved in 1998 was virtually binned, despite being the fruit of years of dedicated expertise and ecumenical cooperation by the commission set up by the original ICEL. A full account of this sad and shameful affair is found in Chapters 4 and 5 of It’s the Eucharist, Thank God (Decani Books, Brandon, Suffolk, 2009) by Bishop Maurice Taylor who was chair of ICEL during the fateful years of 1997 to 2002.

This new Missal has provoked widespread dismay and disquiet, especially among many clergy, fearful of its negative impact on parishioners. For instance, in January of this year the eminent US liturgical scholar, Anthony Ruff OSB, withdrew from a commission given him by the US bishops to help prepare people for the new translation of the Roman Missal in dioceses across the US. In his letter of withdrawal he wrote:“…my involvement in that process, as well as my observation of the Holy See’s handling of scandal, has gradually opened my eyes to the deep problems in the structures of authority of our church. The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church. When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, … how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority…—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity…I weep.” (America, 14/2/11)

Anthony Ruff is not a lone voice. On 3 February the Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) issued a press release titled “New Translation of the Missal Unacceptable.” They described the texts as “archaic, elitist and obscure and not in keeping with the natural rhythm, cadence and syntax of the English language” and say: “from the few available samples of the new texts, it is clear that the style of English used throughout the Mass will be so convoluted that it will be difficult to read the prayers in public.” Moreover, they continue: “It is ironic that this Latinised, stilted English is being imposed on Irish people who are so blessed with world-renowned poets, playwrights, and novelists.” They ask the bishops to follow the German bishops who have objected to similar texts being imposed on them and urge them to defer the Missal’s introduction for five years to give them time to “engage with Irish Catholics with a view to developing a new set of texts that will adequately reflect the literary genius and spiritual needs of our Church community in these modern times.”

Two years earlier, an article appeared in America (14/12/09) titled “What If We Said, ‘Wait’? The case for a grass-roots review of the new Roman Missal” by Fr. Michael G. Ryan. He spoke out of his experience as pastor of St. James Cathedral, Seattle since 1988 and board member of the national Cathedral Ministry Conference. He tells of the reactions of “disbelief and indignation” of his friends to some of the translations; and of “audible laughter in the room” at a diocesan seminar for priests and lay-leaders. One reaction will strike chords with many:

“With all that the church has on its plate today—global challenges with regard to justice, peace and the environment; nagging scandals; a severe priest shortage; the growing disenchantment of many women; seriously lagging church attendance—it seems almost ludicrous to push ahead with an agenda that will seem at best trivial and at worst hopelessly out-of-touch.”

He also notes that when the new translations were mistakenly introduced ahead of time in South Africa they “were met almost uniformly with opposition bordering on outrage.” Fr. Ryan makes a gentle “What if?” challenge to his fellow priests:

“What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, ‘Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people’?”

I recommend Ryan’s article very highly, especially to priests. Many Catholics seem to have mixed feelings about the church at present. At one level they really do love the church and, in the UK at least, felt boosted by the Pope’s visit. Yet they also agree with Tina Beattie’s comment that the problems have not gone away. A lot of these problems are related to the way the authority of God is being used to shore up teaching which, at the very least, is open to debate and, in some instances, rejected as inadequate by many theologians and most people in the church trying to be faithful to the spirit of Vatican II. I am thinking, for instance, of the rich understanding of human sexuality found in current Catholic and Christian theology, revealing to women and men, gays and lesbians, the depth of their God-given dignity and the ultimate foundation for their sense of self-worth. The same is true of developments in liturgical and Eucharistic theology with its emphasis on full participation, so crucial to the spirit of Vatican II. Using authority to close down these legitimate debates paralyses pastoral imagination from exploring new ways of coping with such down-to-earth issues as the sacraments to the divorced-remarried, Eucharistic hospitality in an ecumenical context, general absolution’s highlighting the social dimension of sin, as well as stifling the much-needed debate on contraception, the ordination of women, and the presence of God’s love in the faithful love lives of gays and lesbians.

It seems to be increasingly recognized that abuse of power is also a key factor lying at the heart of the scandal of clergy sex-abuse and Episcopal cover-up. The eradication of this horrendous abuse of power seems to lie not just in dealing with the actual perpetrators but also in a radical conversion of the organizational pathology of the church itself. I cannot get out of my mind the telling words of Brendan Callaghan SJ: “The faces of this tragedy are always the faces of the hurt and betrayed children, and we must somehow find the courage neither to turn away from those faces nor to diminish what they show us of death and destruction.”

For some readers this article might seem too negative and disturbing, especially as coming from a 77-year old retired priest and emeritus (“past it”) moral theologian. I hope and pray that what I have written is empowered by the same “extraordinary force” of God’s love referred to by Benedict XVI which I mentioned in my opening paragraph. God alone can judge that. Certainly it is what I pray for each morning with the words, “Come, Holy Spirit, enkindle in us (and in me) the fire of your love.”

At the opening of the 2nd Session of Vatican II, Paul VI spoke of the church as “the Bride of Christ looking upon Christ to discern in him her true likeness” and reminded the bishops that: “If in doing so she were to discover some shadow, some defect, some stain upon her wedding garment, what should be her instinctive, courageous reaction? There can be no doubt that her primary duty would be to reform, correct and set herself aright in conformity with her divine model.” (Yves Congar, Hans Kung, and Daniel O’Hanlon, Council Speeches of Vatican II [Sheed & Ward, London, 1964] p.51.) Paul VI was not encouraging a spirit of negative criticism at the Council. He was inviting the bishops to show their love for the church by facing up to its need for healing and renewal. Positive criticism should be loving, inspiring and life-giving. I believe, with many others, that the church needs this kind of love more than ever at this point in time – not a soft love but a courageous reforming love. Henri DeLubac is reported to have said: “If we do not learn to love the church in its sinfulness, we will not love the church loved by the Lord but, rather, some figment of our romantic imagination.” (cf. George B. Wilson SJ, Clericalism: The Death of Priesthood [Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2008] p. x.) As members of this sinful church, each of us, myself included, needs to ask the Spirit to help us discern how we are part of that sinfulness and especially in this Lenten season ask for forgiveness and healing.

Kevin T. Kelly is a retired parish priest and emeritus Research Fellow in Moral Theology at Liverpool Hope University. The author has sent this text to all the bishops of England and Wales.



59 responses to “The Vatican’s Tahrir Square?”

  1. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
    M. Jackson Osborn

    What, pray, is wrong with the new Order of Mass? Some of the collects are less than masterful, even clumsy, but the order of mass itself exhibits no such ineptitude. I regard the order of mass AND the less-than-perfect collects as a great improvement over the present gossamer dynamic equivalent. I can’t wait for Advent Sunday to arrive so that we will be rid of it. It, too, was mercilessly imposed without consultation. What is evident is that those people who seem to detest anything that isn’t a flolksy, pedestrian speech, a not-very-dynamic equivalent, are dismayed now that the shoe is on the other foot. Compared to what we have, the new translation is a healing balm, an act of love.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      Your contribution smacks of a triumphalist smugness about the settling of old scores to your satisfaction, more than anything else.

      The imposition of the syntax of a foreign language on to English does not make for an exalted English style. On the contrary it debases the English language, which is perfectly capable of communicating elegance of style by itself, without having to mimic the word order of another language.

      The sentimentalism of your posting is offensive to good taste and fulsome in the extreme.

  2. Ben Blackhawk Avatar
    Ben Blackhawk

    Another “retired” priest shedding his “courageous reforming love” upon the rest of us. How courageous is he really?

    Fr. Anthony Ruff suffered some consequences for the stands he has taken, and I respect him for that, even though I might disagree with the way he has gone about it, and perhaps with some of his views. But he has shown the true courage of his convictions.

    We all know why other presently active priests with views similar to Kevin T. Kelly are not speaking out. They will live to fight another day, so to speak.

  3. Philip Endean SJ Avatar
    Philip Endean SJ

    I am delighted to see Kevin’s piece finally published–it has been circulating for a long time in the UK.

    Why the silence from others? I suppose it’s because those of us who think in this way face a difficult trilemma: between a) withdrawing from celebrating the Eucharist altogether, b) public disobedience precisely in the context of the Eucharist, and c) material collaboration with the abusive process. There are variants and combinations of these three, but basically that is where things currently stand. There is a real and painful tension between the obligation towards the unity of the Church (which leads priests and others to be reticent) and the obligation towards truth (which here indicates public denunciation). I’m not surprised that sensible and good pastors are burying their heads in the sand, and leaving the public field to charlatans peddling their disinformation.

  4. Charles Culbreth Avatar

    With great respect for Fr. Kelly, I still cannot get passed the fact that his premise has a presumptive naïveté that ascribes a fundamental and universal nobility to human events such as “Tahir Square” and turns into an anachronism for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I’m not going all “Ann Coulter” here, but Father himself enumerated just a few of the factions of people present at the Arab Spring, v.Cairo in “Tahir Square.” To be sure, the “people” there, peaceful Muslims, Coptic Christians, freedom-seeking secularists (no doubt accompanied by cadres of Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist cells) cried out the old song “Freedom, oh freedom” along with our old protest saw “No justice, no peace.” But Father goes on to say that, as regards the process of MR3, that the “people” were not “empowered,” and that the ecclesial authorities charged with MR3 “abused their power.” Again, I’m confused about this dichotomy: is all this about “power?” I’m all for truth, justice and the American way, but to misappropriate “Tahir Square” as a laudable moment and lens by which to deconstruct the flies in the ointment seems intellectually dishonest. Unity of purpose among peoples can sometimes go way south, such as seen in the transition from the Weimar Republic through Krystalnacht to the National Socialists. We don’t know where “Tahir Sqare” will lead for Egypt, the Middle East and freedom-seeking Islamic nations. Politically and diplomatically, the USA government has to cheer lead for any path to democracy. But underneath that diplomacy how can there not be other strategies to deal with the contingencies that come with revolutionary change.
    I admit, this is my hang-up about his analogy. To me it’s almost an identical parody of a scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where the serf, waist deep in the bog outside the castle wall, reacts to King Arthur’s impatience by screaming “See the…

  5. Charles Culbreth Avatar

    (Sorry, Fr. Flynn)

    To me it’s almost an identical parody of a scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where the serf, waist deep in the bog outside the castle wall, reacts to King Arthur’s impatience by screaming “See the violence inherent in the system!” Well, duh.
    Allowing for all the palace intrigue, multiple universes of “truth,” and lack of transparency, MR3 ain’t no “Tahir Square.” Move on.

    1. John Farley Avatar
      John Farley

      Uh, no. Arthur was trying to make the man shut up, by force. Only then did Dennis complain of being repressed.

  6. Alan Robinson Avatar
    Alan Robinson

    Is this a priests’ problem ? Most of the complaints seem to be coming from priests and most of the praise from the laity. Most of the laity say:Thank God it’s here and it might not be perfect A++*** but it is so much better than what we have now.
    That’s my impression, maybe I am wrong.

    1. Chris Grady Avatar
      Chris Grady

      Maybe you’re right, too. And maybe it’s because the supporters (laity, cheerleaders, whatever you call them) haven’t tried to read and pronounce and proclaim and understand it, whereas those who are disappointed with it have actually read it.

    2. Tom Poelker Avatar

      It seems to me, in contrast to AR, that most of the complaints are coming from those with specific training in the relevant areas and most of the praise is coming from those with non-liturgical personal agendas or with subjective preferences of taste.

    3. Dunstan Harding Avatar
      Dunstan Harding

      Perhaps, the clergy have taken the time to read the missal.
      I doubt many of the laity have, but,instead, simply mouth what
      the Church’s PR/propaganda organs have told them. Most Catholics will never even notice a change, no matter how good, bad, or indifferent the changes may be.

      It is too much to hope for, but it would be great if a message was sent to Rome and Vox Clara by the world’s English-speaking hierarchy deciding to delay the implementation of this disappointing missal for the next five years.

    4. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      How many in the laity are really aware of the upcoming changes?

      If they are aware, and disapprove of the changes, what can they do? Does silence mean consent, or does it mean people have given up?

      1. Lynn Thomas Avatar
        Lynn Thomas

        Based on my terribly informal and small polling sample, the latter; at least among those who’ve indicated any awareness of the actual content coming at us.

  7. Henry Edwards Avatar
    Henry Edwards

    I have now studied carefully not only the Order of Mass but many hundreds of the proper orations. There are some that are clumsier than I would have permitted if the Church in its wisdom had appointed me the Final Redactor. But nowhere near the density of dogmatic and/or doctrinal missteps in the soon to be replaced translation with which the English-speaking Church has somehow survived the past forty years.

    I can sympathize with those have “issues” with the process with the new translation that’s now on the cusp of implementation. However, now that the matter is settled, I cannot understand why they cannot admit forthrightly that—even if it could or should have been even better—is is indeed a precious gift. Why not devote their energy to working constructively (rather than griping incessantly) to insure the benefits of this gift to the faithful.

    1. Claire Mathieu Avatar
      Claire Mathieu

      The matter is open until we see the new missal in action. It will be a precious gift if it helps evangelize and draws in Catholics to come to church for Mass. It will be the opposite if it hinders evangelization and repels Catholics, preventing them from coming to church for Mass.

      We will see which holds when we count heads. We cannot declare the matter settled until we see if it is a “precious gift” or a dreadful mistake.

      What’s been happening in South Africa? Any head counts yet?

  8. Margaret O'Connor Avatar
    Margaret O’Connor

    Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Alan Robinson :

    Is this a priests’ problem ? Most of the complaints seem to be coming from priests and most of the praise from the laity. Most of the laity say:Thank God it’s here and it might not be perfect A++*** but it is so much better than what we have now.
    That’s my impression, maybe I am wrong.

    There are those of us laity who are not looking forward to the implementation of the New Missal at all, including myself. The language is clumsy and archaic. It does not make the Mass more real to me than the current one does.

  9. John robert francis Avatar
    John robert francis

    A number of Sunday Mass-goers have still, one, three months out, only a minimal knowledge of what is coming. And there is a sizable group that has no knowledge of these changes at all. When I have mentioned to friends and family members, hardly all “liberals,” that the texts of the Mass will change in the US in late November, the first reaction is unfailingly, “Why?” And then, “Aren’t there more important issues in the Church needing attention just now?”

    It will take at least a full liturgical year after introduction before any judgment on success or failure will be possible.

  10. Dylan Bahrkuhr Avatar
    Dylan Bahrkuhr

    The good Father can probably receive permission from his Bishop to celebrate the 1970 missal since he’ll be unable, due to age, to properly transition.

    1. Fr. Jim Blue Avatar
      Fr. Jim Blue

      Dylan, you make an interesting point. I have not yet heard of any rescripts permitting older priests to use the existing translation. Should that happen it will be very interesting. It would certainly prove that the existing translation will continue to be valid, thus anyone who continues to use the ICEL1974 will be guilty merely of illicitness.

  11. crystal watson Avatar

    I was reminded of the missal translation situation when reading a book about the history of the eucharis. When I got to a part about the Council of Trent, the author wrote that the council made an untrue statement: that the doctrine they proposed had “always’ been held to be true, when actually the ideas had been debated for centuries. Though many of the council’s participants knew this, they agreed to the statement.

    What’s disturbing is not just that the church can make decisions all must agree to, but that they work to shape even the truth surrounding those decisions. If people like Fr. Kelly don’t speak up, then everyone will be left with the “truth” of guys like Cardinal Pell.

  12. Charles Culbreth Avatar
    Charles Culbreth

    Tom Poelker :

    It seems to me, in contrast to AR, that most of the complaints are coming from those with specific training in the relevant areas and most of the praise is coming from those with non-liturgical personal agendas or with subjective preferences of taste.

    Tom, I’m quite used to being reminded by m’ good friend, Todd, that not being a studied or degreed “liturgist” can be a liability here and elsewhere. I get that. I don’t get the none too subtle inference that we “others” aren’t qualified to comment upon any portions or aspects of this perceived “debacle.”
    Your seeming insistence that we ought to be excluded from the dialogue due to perceived lack of competence reminds me of another parody couched in a well-known punchline of a famous joke- “you can negotiate with a terrorist.
    Wonder how that squares off with the “Arab Spring” analogy?

    1. Tom Poelker Avatar

      Quit reading things in that are not there.

      I said nothing about “aren’t qualified”, “ought to be excluded”.
      I just pointed out a different way to describe the source of the points of view offered.

      One cannot negotiate with a person who insists their own taste is the determinant on the subject. That seems to be whence you come, since you are disdainful of expertise or the applicable principles of liturgy, preferring what you like instead of trying to understand what liturgy is meant to do, in contrast to what you expect or like.

      1. Charles Culbreth Avatar
        Charles Culbreth

        In the parlance of our time, what you seem to think about from whence I come indicates more about your egotism than mine or others; in simpler terms, you don’t know Jack Snot.
        Disdain is not part of my vocabulary nor missio. Your acquaintence with its “power” appears part and parcel of your raison d’etre, and of some of your fellowes here. But fear not, I don’t plan on fleeing your disdain and wrath just because you know it all and are blustery; in fact consider this me turning my other substantial cheek. Slap away.

      2. Tom Poelker Avatar

        Of course, in his rush to condemn, CC has ignored that he has misquoted me to the extent of putting words in my mouth.

        Nor did I say anything about his expertise or opinion, just concerning ways of categorizing two camps.

  13. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    “I’m quite used to being reminded by m’ good friend, Todd, that not being a studied or degreed “liturgist” can be a liability here and elsewhere.”

    I would have to confess to that liability. My training is as a systematic theologian. I think the point is more that if you want to hang with the big dogs, you need to learn to bark. I happen to believe a cat can bark–I’ve had at least two that thought they were dogs and “barked” at birds and the like.

    As for our friends at CMAA, my main complaint there is that there’s no problem confessing a lack of liturgical expertise. But it’s those who falsely claim they have it, or worse–say it doesn’t matter–who are vexing.
    I think a person can say “I hate Bach.” Some musicians and non-musicians might back that up with complaints about how the vocal lines sing like instruments, and that’s not always a good thing. And others focus on the good aspects of that composer. And you get some people, musicians and non-musicians, who just state their opinion, and all they tell you is that it’s a simple matter of taste. Fair enough, but that’s not going to get you either a passing grade or a passel of converts from the skeptics.

    That said, way too much MR3 apologetics seems based on some need to denigrate history, be it the 1990’s, which was a very consultative time, or the most ancient traditions of the Church. The “I hate MR1” meme is very tiresome.

    Personally, I don’t find myself edified by retired “untouchable” clergy mouthing off about the new translation. I’m finding myself growing even more impatient with these guys.

    My pastor says we’re going to implement. So I have a job to do. But my ministry is to invite and facilitate believers and seekers to go deeper into the liturgy. MR3 is an obstacle to that, much like trying to sing Bach with only a one-and-a-half octave range might be.

    Thanks be to God we haven’t been stripped of all our spiritual and liturgical resources. And that there’s still a lot of work to be done once we get this debacle of implementation behind us.

    1. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
      Fr. Steve Sanchez

      Well, thank God they never took Bach and missed with his composition to make it more simple and understandable to the people of today and still try to pass it off as a composition from Bach. People who really appreciate Bach wouldn’t have any of it. It’s analogous with what was done to the Roman Missal from the Second Vatican Council that last 40 years, no?

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        +1 to Todd’s comment.

      2. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn


        Once again, Father,…….?

    2. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      “I think the point is more that if you want to hang with the big dogs, you need to learn to bark.”

      I think something else that needs to kept in mind is that the “big dogs” are hanging with people who are not (this is a blog comm-box, after all), and therefore need to have some tact and patience with non experts. Even experts need to back up their positions convincingly, otherwise they seem less like experts and more like know-it-alls regardless of how much study and experience they have under their belts.

      1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        Most experts I know have already backed up their positions in articles, books, and talks.

        You’re right that this is a combox. And agreement on patience and tact. However, there is a long back-story that goes into liturgical theology. It can help to review what people have already written and said, and not expect that basic liturgical points are *always* going to be recounted in comments and posts.

  14. Charles Culbreth Avatar

    Ditto, Todd. That’s the matter at hand, after all.

  15. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Will we ever know whether the New Missal succeeds or not? I doubt it.

    Few parishes keep weekly Mass statistics. The implementation is very likely to be affected by changes in music: some pleasing; others displeasing. Will it be a wash? Who knows? No one is going to correlate changes in the music to people’s Mass attendance behavior.

    We will get the usual biased claims. The people who support the Missal now will notice the good things; the people who are opposed will have their horror stories. The claims and counterclaims will lead nowhere.

    National Mass attendance in the next five to ten years will continue to decline (except perhaps in Hispanic or immigrant communities). The people who oppose the Missal will blame the Missal; those who like the Missal will blame the usual suspects the “sixties” or “Vatican II.”

    Could this be Tahrir Square? Remember that Tahrir Square occurred in response to the uprising in Tunisia which occured because of an event some what like Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus. In other words, an accidental straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Will “pray, pay, and obey” Catholics ever stand up? I doubt it.

    And that is why most priests are unwilling to lead the revolution. They are company men; it is their only support system. Privately they will not only encourage you but point out the best effective way. But they are not going to get out there with you because at the end of the day as one put it when the shouting is over, laity will return to their families and jobs, and we “company” men have only the company which will seek retribution.

    But it is possible a “Rosa Parks” incident could happen. It has to have immediate personal relevance to many Catholics unlike the sex abuse scandal or parish closings. The Liturgy is a good candidate. But some very symbolic catalyst is required like kneeling for communion. A creative campaign of “civil disobedience” could bring the Vatican to its knees.

    1. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      “But some very symbolic catalyst is required like kneeling for communion. ”

      As in mandating that people kneel, or something else? I have doubts that most Catholics would oppose kneeling for communion or see it as an act of oppression that needs to be resisted. I find that the anti-kneeling crowd is rather tiny.

      I think that some people might leave due to the upcoming change, but that it likely wouldn’t be reflected in surveys and polls. Dissatisfaction with liturgical change tends to be more like a final push for a lot of people – they will probably cite some larger issue they had as being the one that drove them away if asked to provide a reason. No longer having a familiar liturgy just makes it easier to leave.

      I have no doubt that few Catholics left the Church in the 60’s and 70s due to the liturgical changes, but I imagine that many of the people who did leave for other reasons probably had an easier time leaving if they didn’t really care for the new liturgy either.

  16. Matthew Hazell Avatar
    Matthew Hazell

    More of the usual suspects: retired priest gives what is a seemingly standard, negative, even stereotypical, view of the new translation, mentioning America magazine, the ACP, the articles of Frs Ryan and Ruff, the “spirit” of Vatican II (indeed, talking about Vatican II as if it were the only ecumenical council ever held!), Tina Beattie, Hans Kung… and the 1960s revolutionary view of the whole has been brought up-to-date by the mention of Egypt. A lovely rhetorical flourish there. (Well, it is if you think the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power in Egypt is wonderful for “democracy”.)

    In 20-30 years, people will look back over all the noise being made about the new translation and wonder what on earth all the fuss was about.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      20-30 years? I think not.

      I spoke yesterday with a book-binder. He is delighted with the prospect of the new missal. He anticipates that lots of business will be generated because the binding will fall apart after a short period of time.

      I reassured/disconcerted him that the inferior binding will last longer than it will take for the the new ‘translation’ to be emended.

      1. Matthew Hazell Avatar
        Matthew Hazell

        “I reassured/disconcerted him that the inferior binding will last longer than it will take for the the new ‘translation’ to be emended.”

        We’ve had what is, in my opinion, a very poor translation for the last 40 years. A whole generation, catechetically malformed by a paraphrase.

        You obviously consider the new translation to be poor, but that is no reason to not expect that this translation will be with us for at least as long. After all, if we’ve had what is effectively a paraphrase for 40 years, why would we not have an actual translation for longer?

  17. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    Todd Flowerday on August 8, 2011 – 3:38 pm: My pastor says we’re going to implement. So I have a job to do. But my ministry is to invite and facilitate believers and seekers to go deeper into the liturgy.

    What is “implementation”? Until the mid-20th century, the Universal Church, and more specifically the Latin Rite, developed and evolved as a macro-organism of sorts, enveloping and jettisoning ritual without the need to pause and “explain it to the people”. Rites evolved, artistic tastes in furnishing and architecture changed, the Christian East and West -ized each other, but the Sacrifice and Eucharist always continued unabated. Why did the Holy Mass suddenly require a massive owner’s manual for the brand new 1970 model year (with a deluge of inserts for each succeeding year)? Why did this new genre require the intervention of many to explain the inexplicable sacrament?

    The Mass re-presents itself til the parousia, precisely because and also despite those who march stoically to eventual beatification and those who dance to their annihilation. Some will understand the texts well. Others will merely adore. Both are called to salvation, “for the many”. Which chapter of the manual teaches some to read minds and souls? Even Jansenius himself could not promise this to the elect.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur


      It’s rather simple.

      For many centuries, the involvement of the people was notional. The Missal did not address what they did or didn’t do. The servers and schola (if present) and ministers in the sanctuary “did” everything, and what happened on the other side of the sanctuary rail was not a topic of concern. It was a praxis designed through a legal mindset to ensure that everything was done according to Hoyle; if A, B, and C did the ruber and said the niger as prescribed, all was right with the world.

      Once you integrate the people in the pews back into the Action, then changes require a broader kind of implementation.

      It’s not a bug, but a feature.

      1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        Karl, Byzantine Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) still do not have directions for the people in their liturgical books. This lack of instruction and guidance has never impeded the participation of the faithful. I have seen hearfelt piety in the faces of those who revere the Theotokos on the icon stands or bow adoringly to the communion chalice. Yes, there have been debates on vernacular translation from time to time, but never has there been an impulse to didactically rend the Divine Liturgy.

        The one aspect of (post)modern Western Christianity, both Catholicism and liturgical Protestantism, that has always bothered me is this: why and when did we “westerners” develop the notion that liturgy is unintelligible without periti? Does a Muslim need to be re-educated periodically by an expert in the meaning and ideology of the shahadah? Does a Shinto priest need an “expert” to explain the meaning of the ancient Japanese language prayers and time-obscured motions before, during, and after the ceremony? In both cases, the ritual takes precedence over cognition and recognition, even if the movements of ritual no longer contain contemporary significance.

        I suppose that we “western” Christians cannot exit the Hegelian roundabout into which we so eagerly merged. Many (wrongly) believe that Mind will grow to supercede the transcendent and inexplicable. Rather, its time to yield to liturgy as a living being capable of full explanation without human intervention.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        You can direct your complaint to Clio, the muse of History. The failure of the Roman church to include directions for the people in its ritual books did have a different effect on its people than such failure did in non-Roman context (and thus, undoing this has different effects). Because …. people are people in given cultures. Roman rite people operate in a western, Roman-rite cultural context. Bemoaning their failure to operate otherwise is misplaced effort.

        I know you feel your preferred “pietistic” approach is now marginalized in the Roman rite, but it was long unvalued for ordinary pewsitters anyway (though it probably could be accommodated more easily in the past).

      3. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        Karl Liam Saur on August 9, 2011 – 10:19 am:

        The failure of the Roman church to include directions for the people in its ritual books did have a different effect on its people than such failure did in non-Roman context (and thus, undoing this has different effects). Because …. people are people in given cultures. Roman rite people operate in a western, Roman-rite cultural context. Bemoaning their failure to operate otherwise is misplaced effort.

        I suppose, then, that we western Christians are enslaved to the Enlightenment and liturgical rationalism. The redesign of the Mass in 1970 conceded a certain defeat of pietism and mysticism in 20th century society. The reformed Mass traded divine transcendence for empiricism simply because the “enlightened” mind of the “modern man” could think of a god in no other manner. Hence, expert advice flows from a liturgy that values sense-perception more than a trusting security in animated and living rituals.

      4. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        That rationalism long pre-dates the 18th century, by several centuries. It just took longer for its consequences to be worked out in this context, and that work is still evolving.

        And “enslaved” is way overstrong on that point. One of the hallmarks of Western culture is its rationalist bias. Like any bias (including biases towards the mystical and towards pietism, among others), it has its pluses and minuses. I would not idealize it, nor would I idealize the other biases.

    2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar


      I would also note that if the 1998 translation had been given the recognitio by the Vatican then I suspect that there would have been little talk about or anxiety over “implementation,” largely because the people’s responses, for the most part, remained unchanged, this meaning that music remained unchanged, etc. I further expect that if a wise pastor decided to forego the trendy new options in the ordo Missae (stripped down entrance rite, alternate texts for the invitation to communion, etc.) most the the people in the pews would not have noticed much in the way of change.

      But what we are getting this Fall is a pretty massive change for the laity; almost every text that they have committed to memory over the past 40 years is altered. In the face of so much change, some self-conscious plan of implementation seems called for.

    3. Jim McKay Avatar
      Jim McKay

      why and when did we “westerners” develop the notion that liturgy is unintelligible without periti?

      JP2 describes catechesis as going back to the charge given to the disciples at the Ascension. An integral part of catechesis is preparation for participation in the sacraments: “sacramental life is impoverished and very soon turns into hollow ritualism if it is not based on serious knowledge of the meaning of the sacraments…”

      Often the discussions here seem to be headed into that kind of “hollow ritualism” but that is not the purpose of every discussion of ritual. Understanding our rituals is the ordinary route to understanding the sacraments and the faith they express. (I suppose that is the problem many have with obscure translations.)

      I just hope that everybody keeps this in mind when we implement the new translation, so that faith in Jesus Christ is always central.

  18. Chris McDonnell Avatar
    Chris McDonnell

    The comments of Fr Kevin Kelly deserve widespread circulation beyond the bounds of the Pray Tell blog.
    Here is a reasoned and and carefully structured analysis of a very real problem. As outlined in Fr Philip Endean’s posting, the options that are open as we near the formal introduction of the New Translation this Advent are stark and clear. I noted in my own posting a couple of weeks ago “Our Net Contribution” that the silence of Bishops concerning the real difficulties (and pain) of both lay Catholics and many priests has not been publicly addressed. There is a pervasive attitude of you will get to like what is being offered, especially now as the new glossies are being published for use in the Parishes.
    Fr Kelly’s text should be made available to every parish in the UK and beyond for it carries a far more substantial argument than was to be found in the recent pastoral letter from the Bishops of England and Wales.
    Some people will argue about anything just to oppose.
    Fine, let them do that if it makes them happy.
    Others will argue for a sincerely held belief and raise their voices out of a concern for truth, even though it might cost them. Thank you for your comments Fr Kevin, they are much appreciated.
    Chris McDonnell UK

  19. Jeremy Stevens Avatar
    Jeremy Stevens

    I hear tell Father Paul Turner, who has about forty-seven books out on the new translation, is at Societas Liturgica in Reims where there was a fine discussion of the ecumenical advances made in recent years through liturgical matters.

    No word if there was a discussion about the Roman Catholic Church dropping the ecumenical translations of the liturgical texts we have in common, which, of course, was one of Liturgiam Authenticam’s goals and one of the primary motivations behind the new translation.

    That was one of the prescriptions of Liturgiam Authenticam they decided to follow, as opposed to, oh say, #51 about the Latin being translated “in the most exact manner.” 🙂

    Reminding us all of that great little witticism:

    Q. Does the new Vox Clara Missal follow the prescriptions of Liturgiam Authenticam exactly?

    A. Yes. Except when it doesn’t.

  20. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
    M. Jackson Osborn

    Yes, Yes, Yes, a thousand times to Fr Sanchez’ very apt and accurate Bach analogy. And come Advent this boiled down ‘dynamic equivalent’ (which was imposed without consultation) will be history.

    1. Nick Young Avatar
      Nick Young

      If the Bach analogy were followed through, the music would be listened to more effectively using the instruments of the period. (17C). Whilst sounding lovely and making ‘sense’ of JS bach it does, however, create an orchestra that would be of no use to play contemporary music or indeed the music of the last 150 years. Contemporary music requires contemporary instruments. Contemporary church requires a contemporary missal using contemporary language. Otherwise it would only be an archaic anachronism.

      1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        Well said, Nick!

        I’m appalled that the name of J.S.Bach is being sullied by such an ugly and ludicrous attempt at an analogy.

        Fr Sanchez has shown in almost every posting that he has problems with English orthography.

        Why would such a person have any difficulty with the new interlinear ‘translation?’ Indeed, how could any one invoke the name of J.S.B. to support such a seriously flawed and discredited production?

        “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder.”

      2. Matthew Hazell Avatar
        Matthew Hazell

        “Contemporary church requires a contemporary missal using contemporary language.”

        Does it? Or is this notion just another expression of Hegelian dialectics and liturgical modernism, i.e. new = progress = good, old = regression = bad?

      3. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB


        Some things new ARE progress and good. We don’t need Hegel or terms like modernism to affirm that. Our Lord spoke positively of old and new, for Pete’s sake. Sometimes (throughout Church history, for example), new things happen for solid pastoral and evangelical reasons.


      4. Matthew Hazell Avatar
        Matthew Hazell

        Fr Ruff, of course some things that are new are also good. I’m in my 20s–it would be daft of me to claim otherwise! 🙂

        I’m just questioning the assumption within Nick’s comment that a “contemporary” Church requires new things to the implied exclusion of what he considers “archaic”.

      5. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        “Or is this notion just another expression of Hegelian dialectics and liturgical modernism, i.e. new = progress = good, old = regression = bad?” M. Hazell

        It’s quite clear that the current situation has nothing at all to do with Hegelian or any other type of dialectics.

        The point is not that this new travesty of a translation is either an instance of progress or that it is good.

        In your attempt to justify the unjustifiable, I suggest that you look for another paradigm.

      6. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay


        Nick’s comment has nothing to do with progress. The things of Bach’s era were appropriate for Bach’s music, but not for music of our time. This is not saying that Bach’s music is worse than ours. I am sure Nick thinks it is quite a bit better than most of ours. No question of progress, just of properly using the things of our time.

  21. Jaye Procure Avatar

    In discussing the changes and supposed difficulties with our bi-ritual priest yesterday, he told me that the new translation sounds a lot more like the Eastern Rite. Score one for unity.

    He anticipates little problem with the prayers.

    As a lay-Catholic woman who has a better than average knowledge of liturgy (I’ve been tasked with organizing the implementation), and no connection to the pre-Vatican II days, I welcome the new Missal whole-heartedly. It treats us like grown-ups who are capable of speaking and understanding big words and deep thoughts.

    I also appreciate its usefulness in unifying the English renderings with those of many other languages. My own parish is bi-lingual (English/French) and it will be nice to have ALL of us replying “And with your spirit”.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      The big words are only a part of the problem. It’s the order of those words, namely, the syntax which is problematic. The word order of Latin has been imposed on the English language with this translation. That makes it an interlinear translation.

      Interlinear translations have their places. They give a person who has no knowledge of the original language, some idea of the syntactic character of that language. However, that’s as far as it goes. To complete the process of translation, the text of the original language needs to be phrased in the syntax of the recipient language. This the translators have failed singularly to accomplish.

      1. Claire Mathieu Avatar
        Claire Mathieu

        Of course. That’s basic common sense. It’s like saying that the emperor has no clothes. How did we ever get to a situation where that was in question? Once in a while a comment like this one reminds me of just how baffling this whole thing is.

        The Galileo case created a wedge between astronomers and the church. The new missal will create a wedge between professional translators and the church. I hope it will take less than 350 years before the Vatican recognizes that Liturgiam Authenticam is a mistake!

  22. Jim Lunney Avatar
    Jim Lunney

    While I find the analogy with Tahrir Square a bit far-fetched, and tending to distract from the thrust of Fr. Kelly’s argument, I think this text speaks for many who fear the fundamentalist thrust which taints the revisions to the liturgy. I want the church to go forward, not backward, and hope that this message will be heard.

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