Yes, he really said that. Abbot Cuthbert Johnson, OSB, abbot emeritus of Quarr Abbey of the Solesmes Congregation in England, said this when asked about the online survey of The Tablet:
The Tablet‘s survey, however, appears to indicate that while there is an openness and a degree of appreciation for the new translation, there is a desire for an improvement that will ensure that the English flows more smoothly, and that the vocabulary, while being more dignified is not, as sometimes appears, a little abstruse and pretentious.
This is significant because Abbot Cuthbert Johnson is advisor to the Vox Clara, the Vatican-appointed committee to advise the Congregation for Divine Worship in its approval of English-language liturgical texts, and also a consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship. We now have someone from within the Vatican structure saying openly that the new Missal texts are abstruse and pretentious.
This maybe interests me more than you, but Abbot Cuthbert also said that English texts need to be adjusted sometimes for the sake of the musical setting – just as Solesmes received permission to adjust the Latin text (this primarily concerns prefaces) in their Latin chant settings. I agree with him.
The Tablet invited numerous people to reply (me among them). It is striking that no one, not even those from officialdom, claimed that the new texts are good, that the missal is a good thing, that we have beautiful and poetic English. Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff, for example, said only that “…prayed properly, these texts will yield greater insights into the mystery of faith” celebrated in Mass. I think that means that if you work hard enough, you can make it work and even get something out of it.
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, chairman of Vox Clara, conceded, “Neither is there a unanimous enthusiasm, especially among the clergy as they adapt to more sophisticated patterns of thought and language. It is also of interest that those who were apprehensive before the texts appeared generally felt their fears were justified.” The most he can hope for is some benefit if we just stick with it: “Patience and repetition of the translation will produce a spiritual deepening, slow, long-term changes for the better.”
Bishop Trautman, retired bishop of Erie PA, famous for being the most vocal opponent of the new Missal, said in part:
Before we translate additional liturgical books according to the principles of formal equivalency used in the missal, would it not be pastorally prudent to ask celebrants and the assembly their experience in receiving the new translation? Could there not be a brief evaluation commissioned by the bishops’ conferences in English-speaking countries? Do we not owe the Holy See an objective and honest discernment? It is not a question of being critical; it is a question of assessing the pastoral implications of the most important activity Roman Catholics do – celebrate Eucharist.
See the full comments of these people at The Tablet, and of others too, here.
Such comments from a wide range of people are encouraging. They show that no one, not even those responsible for the new Missal, is defending it very strongly. Church officials are quietly admitting that something didn’t go quite right. Word has gotten through to them from their priests and people, and of course they also have had to use these texts when celebrating Mass, and officials are cautious now and a bit more honest in their comments.
At the height of the missal controversy a couple years back, back when I was becoming increasingly critical of the Missal project here at Pray Tell, I received intriguing advice from someone involved in preparing and promoting the new Missal. He emailed me something to the effect of, “Relax, Anthony, and don’t kill yourself fighting this thing. You don’t have to – it will fall on its own merits after it appears.” Then he predicted that we’d have something like the 1998 Sacramentary within about a decade.
I hope he’s right, and I increasingly suspect he is. The comments from The Tablet story give me hope.
I wouldn’t re-do the whole Missal, by the way. I wouldn’t change the people’s parts yet again, not now and not in ten years. Maybe a little tweaking here and there, such as “of one substance” instead of “consubstantial.” But the presidential texts could be reworked entirely, and without much difficulty.
He said optimistically.