Liturgical anger

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.

19 Responses to Liturgical anger

  1. Fr. Paul Cleu March 5, 2009 at 7:08 pm #

    I’m affraid that I totally disagree with updating the English Mass. The changed words appear to be the kind of language used in higher Theological institutions rather than on the common streets. Latin is an old, classic language that is no longer used anywhere. Since the majority of people throughout the world who attend Mass are not college graduates, changing words from “and also with you” and “and with your spirit” is not part of our every day language and meaningless to common people in my community. These changes are not only going to push a number of people away at a time when so many Roman Catholics are leaving the Church but it also shows that the lay faithful have very little to say about how we worship. Language is an expression of faith and because of this, we should cling to the simplest, most expressive words that demonstate what we are trying to say. We need to express our faith in words that children can understand rather than theologians – “Let the little children come to me.”

    Paul Cleu – Diocese of Oakland California USA

  2. Thomas McFadden March 14, 2009 at 10:58 pm #

    Fr. Cleu,

    You’ve got to be kidding. When I was ten years old I could sing 5 settings of the Ordinary in Latin from memory. The condescension and patronization of your comments is beyond belief. What has chased many away from the Church is the banal, trite, and pedestrian language and music employed in the typical parish. I hear that comment all of the time. The Sunday Mass should be a foretaste of Heaven not a trip to Walmart. Tom

  3. Margaret Beveridge March 14, 2009 at 11:26 pm #

    It is incomprehensible and utterly understandable to read the comments following this article and get my head around peopl actually making and believing what they have said. Since most people are multilingual today, and there is absolutely no problem reading the right side of the page in English which corresponds with the left side Latin, what’s the big problem? Certainly, the more accurate translation is much, much “richer” in it’s ability to enhance the liturgical experience than the fodder that we’ve been using these past years.

  4. Margaret Beveridge March 14, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    ooooooooooooook. Let’s try again. Left side of page, Latin. Right side of page, English. Read the English, if you don’t know the Latin. Problem of understanding eliminated. Clearer, and more accurate translation? Absolutely. Enhanced liturgy? Absolutely. Will it take as much getting used to as the switch to venacular that was done ealier? Yes. Can we do it? Yes. Will the outcome ultimately be better? Yes.

  5. Margaret Beveridge March 14, 2009 at 11:34 pm #

    It would appear that the readers of the “Southern Cross” have made a rush judgement concerning the new translation without realizing that sometimes these “corrections” in translations need time for people to adjust to. To make an evaluation without allowing for the that factor, seems like a bit of a rush evaluation.

  6. Margaret Beveridge March 14, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    I guess that I’m just never going to be moderate enough to satisfy you.

  7. Tony Mc Murphee March 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm #

    Excellent article.

  8. David March 22, 2009 at 11:29 am #

    Fr Cleu
    You are very right. There is nothing sacred about Latin nor about the Roman rite in Latin. The liturgy has to be an expression of the living faith of the community. The moment the language becomes hieratic (belonging to the priestly class) and becomes obscure, e.g. “consubstantial” versus “of one being” or antiquated English, the liturgy has failed. The Mass is NOT the priest’s alone, but the community. If the words are not in a living language, but in a “goofy” version of it, the liturgy has failed.
    This new translation is so wrong-headed and opposite to what the bishops at Vatican II wanted. (And these were the very bishops that approved the text that is being dumped.)

    What did they want: a tranlation that aided the full, active and conscious participation of all in the liturgy. If I have a doubt about what the words mean, how can this aid my participation? The whole thing is quite looney!

  9. Joe October 31, 2009 at 4:15 am #

    Those who rush to defend the new translations have probably not read them. SA Catholics have had the unenviable privilege of actually having tried to pray these appalling, farcically incompetent translations. Their reaction was so uniformly negative — common sense in revolt against fatuous bureaucratism — that the Vatican bureaucrats have withdrawn the texts. Let’s hope no other English-speaking congregations will ever be forced to swallow this crap. Bring back the translations proposed to the Vatican 11 years ago and locked away in a drawer somewhere — they might be a good starting point for the linguistic renewal of the liturgy.

  10. Nat January 16, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    Some, it would seem, start from an apparently moderate position: ‘You are very right. There is nothing sacred about Latin nor about the Roman rite in Latin.’

    True, for the Roman Rite includes Greek and Hebrew, not just Latin – so the use of one language over another is a means not an end (and that is as true of English, Swahili or Gaelic). The end desired, in the Roman Rite, is unity – not the same as uniformity per se, true, but certainly a dgree of willing conformity (or it cannot be the ‘Roman Rite’).

    Yet even a moderate state can fly off into the heart of protest: ‘The liturgy has to be an expression of the living faith of the community.’

    The living faith of a community may be heretical, schismatic or simply lax – as has all too often been the case since the mid-1970s, not least in regard to the divine public service of worshipping God as God; hence, whether it is welcome to some or not, the Roman Rite requires a sense of faith among the faithful, yes, but also a committment to actual communion with Rome as a practical expression of this faith (not just a grudingly mouthed credence).

    Among the spirit of protest there remains a bitterness in regard to priestly language, which, since we are all priests and kings in Christ, should not daunt us: ‘The moment the language becomes hieratic (belonging to the priestly class) and becomes obscure, e.g. “consubstantial” versus “of one being” or antiquated English, the liturgy has failed.’

    There is nothing that makes ‘one being’ over ‘constubstantial’ easier to understand other than that one is a six year old’s catechism term the other demands the confirmand and adlult faithful to exercise his mind, vocbulary or, perhaps, patience; for, again whether it pleases or not, the Roman Rite requires those who can do so to understand the difference in faith between God ‘the Father, Son and Spirit’ as one being, in a ‘personal’ sense, and the Trinity as ‘three distinct persons’ yet – substantially (in underlying reality) – being ‘One God’ (the liturgy that does not confront the faithful with the faith that is shared has failed, not the liturgy that prompts teaching, consideration and even learning on the part of the faithful – priestly minister and served people).

    The, of course, comes the odd outpouring of exteremity of protest, and all moderation is left dangling far, far behind: ‘The Mass is NOT the priest’s alone, but the community. If the words are not in a living language, but in a “goofy” version of it, the liturgy has failed.’

    The liturgy of the Jerusalem Temple was not in the common language of the vast majority of Jews in Jesus’ day, yet he faithfully attended to his own Law, his apostles too faithfully fulfilled it at the Temple and in its Synagogue imitations, even in formal Christian worship; there the Psalms were a bedroock of continuity, and far from having the highly priestified language stripped out they expressed heavenly worship in words more powerful than man’s petty mind can often gather; any goofeyness with regard to priestly and unliving language in Jewish worship – redemption, sacrifice, sin, condemnation, acclamation, holiness, purity – must be taken up with God .. similarly, Christ’s body is not a passing fad to fit today’s itching ears .. so swiftly becoming yesterday’s trash, a failed liturgy if ever there was one (consider also applying your brutish manner to the Greek of the Liturgy of John Chrysostom, or the Russian of an Orthodox All-Night Vigil rather than the Roman Rite of Paul VI just because it is ‘in Latin’).

    And so to the usual, long expected – and perhaps inevitable – cloncluding assault on a restorative justice that seeks to apply what actually binds on those who protest only against being considered as bound to what the say they hold in communion: ‘This new translation is so wrong-headed and opposite to what the bishops at Vatican II wanted. (And these were the very bishops that approved the text that is being dumped.)’

    The Fathers of Vatican II did not request, advise or command any of the loose – and at times theologically damaging – translations into the vernacular of the Mass in the Roman Rite set out in Latin; Paul VI’s New Order was not intended to be a dismissal of the liturgical reforms formalised under John XXII and Pius XII, rather their consumation; it was not – by any means – a Mass for the Hippy era or Age of Aquarias, but a new presentation of the Liturgy of Ages (including man as ‘a spiritual whole’ not just a passing ‘you too mate’- however ‘common’ a greeting that may still be).

  11. sello mokoka February 11, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    i am very,very shocked and flabbergasted to realised how little faith some catholic have in the catholic liturgy. the various comments i have read concerning the english/latin changes in the order of the mass has left me withso much to be desired. some have even left church, meanwhile others are threatening to follow them as well. my question to these disgruntled catholics is ‘ what made them to join and become roman catholics’? was it because of the english language used or their faith to become roman catholics? roman catholic church is a universal church with a rich calture and tradition. it has survived the schism of the early centuries and will continue until the end of time. since time imemorial the holy see has been a great shepard and has been entrusted with keys by st. peter ‘the rock’ to be the custodian of the roman catholic flock. all those who feel that the churh has renegated or erred against the use of proper english. it is their prerogative right to church floor crossing. i am proud to be a catholic and i will defend the catholic faith with whatever it costs.
    sello mokoka

  12. Fr. John Keough February 26, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    “Almost all of them are angry; none gave the revised version unqualified support.”

    What an amazing assertion to make, especially in light of the fact that more than half of the people who have commented on this editorial have been unqualified in their support of the new translation (and not just this editorial, but comments in other areas of this website too). It can make one wonder if only letters that reflect the opinions of the editor (and a seemingly very vocal minority) get printed in the hard copy of the Southern Cross, while the opinions of others are either ignored or swept under the carpet. Or perhaps it is just a case that those who support the changes are seen as not really having an opinion? Or that their opinion does not matter? I must say that nowhere have I discovered the HUGE levels of dissent among the faithful in the pews that is hinted at in this editorial.

  13. Günther Simmermacher February 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Fr Keough, the editorial was written more than a year ago, when the public reaction among those who care about such things was indeed overwhelmingly negative (you will also be familiar with the sentiments among the clergy of the archdiocese of Cape Town at the time).

    It strikes me as bizarre that you will accuse an editorial of not including subsequent responses to it. How could it do so?

    I should like for you to produce evidence that I personally have stated an opinion about the translations one way or the other, or to withdraw your very insulting insinuation that my personal views (real or perceived) influence what is being published in The Southern Cross.

    As it happens, I have published every letter in support of the translations (plus several articles by Bishop Risi on the subject), and did not publish several letters against the trannslations because these had covered already well-trodden ground. Had you asked me before making baseless allegations I could have told you that.

  14. Fr. John Keough March 4, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    My humblest apologies, Mr. Simmermacher. I concede your point that the artice was written more than a year ago, and perhaps there was a vocal group that complained to the Southern Cross while others who were happy with the changes did not have anyting to say. Sorry about my insinuation too, it was most uncharitable. However, I still stick to the point that I have yet to encounter this huge opposition to the translations. But then again, this would be true only for the parishes in which I have served, where I have encounered little or none. I wonder why that is? It is my personal opinon that the priest in the parish’s view on the issue can perhaps colour the view of the parishioners.

  15. Günther Simmermacher March 5, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    Thank you for your response, Fr Keough. I agree with you that it’s difficult to measure the responses. As I said in the CNS article that quoted me, I think that most Catholics in the pew are happy to go along with whatever revisions they are given, trusting that those who introduced the changes knew what they were doing. Their assent is mostly passive.

    I would say that Catholics who take an active interest in matters liturgical are likely to read The Southern Cross. And those engaged Catholics responded in great numbers. Most of those responses were negative. But there’s the caveat: people are more likely to complain than to praise. Nevertheless, the responses to the complaints were not overwhelming. So my guess is that among people who care, the reaction has been more critical than positive.

    Your point about the opinion of the pastor’s view influencing opinion is a good one. And, of course, there is also the general nature of the parish. You’ll know that many of your parishioners could be part of the parish up the road, and vice versa. So — and I’m guessing here — it might well be that a constituency of Catholics from across parish borders who more likely to agree with a more conservative mindset have settled in one parish, and Catholics with a less conservative mindset have settled in another. Especially if there have been long-serving pastors in both parishes.

    Having said that, I’m not at all persuaded that the personal preference for either philosophy of translations can be broken down along “conservative” and “progressive” lines. Of course, these lines apply, especially when the translations are seen to represent a restorative agenda. But in my experience, some people whom I’d call broadly conservative have criticised the translations sharply, and some progressives have not been much bothered by them.

    I think there’s a doctoral thesis waiting to be written about this.

  16. anonymous October 22, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    There is absolutely religious fanatacism involved in this decision to change back to the Tridentine Mass Style. If you don’t believe it just look up the controversies behind Archbishop Lefebvre and you will see this whole authenticum change is exactly what he would have wanted if he were alive to see it today. It started with the Latin mass being permitted in certain settings and now it is being dumped on the Church in a literally translated form. The modern Vatican II changes are not bad and I think many people will be sad to see the old style of mass again.
    -anonymous

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