The sheep are not happy with their shepherds. In recent weeks, The Southern Cross has received a flood of letters, many published this week, concerning the recently introduced changes to Mass responses. Almost all of them are angry; none gave the revised version unqualified support. One correspondent, in a passage excised from the published version, went as far as writing: “I hate you, hierarchy.” Feelings are running deep indeed.
It is tempting to draw an analogy with the introduction of the 1969 missal, which thoroughly reformed the Mass and displaced the old Tridentine rite in common worship. But the latest innovations, which some feel are wholly anachronistic, are not nearly as revolutionary as those introduced four decades ago. Certainly those who are upset at the present changes will have an idea of the alienation experienced by those who have never recovered from the relegation of the preconciliar Mass.
The difference between the far-reaching reform of 1969 and the present revisions resides in the openness of the process. The Second Vatican Council was, for the most part, a transparent process. The Novus ordo, the Mass in the vernacular, reflected the spirit of the time and the mandate of Vatican II in its constitution Sacrosanctum concilium, and as such was welcomed and embraced by most Catholics.
The process leading to the present alterations has been much less transparent (though Bishop Edward Risi did explain in The Southern Cross the reasoning behind the revisions). The process, starting with the 2001 Vatican instruction Liturgiam authenticam, emerged without much empathy for the feelings of the faithful and clergy who by and large were quite happy with the way things were.
It is unlikely, however, that the new Mass texts, unlike those of Paul VI in 1969, will lead to a schism. Those who created the revisions and those tasked with supervising their implementation seem to have calculated that there would be initial discontent and perhaps even some defiance, but anticipate quiescence once the storm of protest has subsided. It may well turn out to be so, but it does not mean that the bitterness felt by many today will simply dissipate.
The anger of the people in the pews and many priests (and some bishops) seems to be rooted not so much in what they feel are anachronistic and clumsy translations — vexing though they appear to be to many — but in what they see as an arbitrary imposition of liturgical values that are foreign to them by faceless bureaucrats in distant Rome.
This perception may not correspond with reality — after all, bishops’ conferences were involved in the process and the objectives of Liturgiam authenticam were set out quite clearly eight years ago — but it is potent nonetheless.
What the people are saying to their shepherds is that they are being led to inferior pastures. More than that, they are saying they are not sheep, but quite capable of distinguishing between what truly expresses their faith and aids it, and that which diminishes their communal worship. They are saying that the top-down approach is as anachronistic as some of the responses they are now told to pronounce at Mass. And they are saying that Latin, perhaps representative of Rome, is irrelevant to them.
The people could be wrong in saying these things. But the hierarchy must not be so presumptuous as to think that the perceptions of the faithful don’t matter, that soon they will “fall in line” as they always do. The faithful may well conform to the new texts — if only as an expedient to prevent a cacophony of improvised responses during Holy Mass — but they will be reminded of their discontent with the hierarchy every week during the consecration.
And neither the Mass nor the Church would be served well by discontent clouding the mystery of the Eucharist.