Problematic missal changes hinder future
The new translation of the Missal is symptomatic of a wider shift away from collegiality in the Church, writes Fr John Mannion
What we have been given in the new translation of the Roman Missal is an awkward, Latinised English in the name of ‘renewal’.
This is very problematic for the future of the Church throughout the world. We are entitled to ask the question: why did we get this?
The official answer is that the late Pope John Paul II ordered a new revised version some years ago. Vatican II (1962-65) had talked about the collegiality of the bishops and the vernacular translations we have had until the present represented some early flowering of that concept.
In the years following on the Second Vatican Council, there were some outstanding flowerings of episcopal initiatives throughout the world.
The Dutch bishops produced an inspirational new catechism with an existential approach which was severely criticised by Rome.
The South American bishops produced an equally inspiring reflection on the task facing the Church in South America at Puebla, and the first Synod of Bishops following Vatican II produced its own document.
But there is evidence that there was a determination in Rome that this should not continue to happen and the first hints came with the election of the late Pope John Paul II.
How he dealt with the Church in Holland has been thoroughly researched and reported on by the late Fr Joe Dunn in his penetrating and insightful book No Lions in the Hierarchy.
By his episcopal appointments, Pope John Paul effectively silenced the Dutch Church. Reform of the future synods took the form of changes in Canon Law (Canon 344) to ensure that anything to do with a synod was under the complete control of the Pope, such as having the agenda prepared by Rome, all of the submissions and results of the deliberations handed into the Vatican and the Pope issuing the final document on the outcome of the synod.
In effect, anything submitted that does not conform to the Roman agenda is discarded.
A similar fate befell the Church in South America — it was ‘reorganised’ to include North America, its venue was changed to Rome and again, the Vatican controlled both the agenda and the final statements.
Coming then to the present ‘revision’ of the liturgy, the instruction Liturgiam authenticam (Authentic Liturgy) was issued in 2001 under Pope John Paul II.
It decreed that ”the Latin text” was the official one of the Roman Rite. As regards translation, it was decreed that ”the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in a most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content and without paraphrases or glosses” (Par. 20).
So, true to form, the Vatican left no room for any initiative by the various bishops’ conferences.
They were handed a fait accompli and instructed on how it was to be translated.
And so, in the introduction to the new edition of the missal, we find letters from the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship addressed to Cardinal Seán Brady ”confirming and approving” the text of the English language translations of the text.
So it is Rome, where Italian is spoken, that instructs the English speaking countries of the world on how to pray in their own language.
As mentioned previously, after Chinese, English is the most widely spoken language in the world, so there is reason for thinking that if collegiality of the bishops meant anything, it is English speaking bishops who should have the final say in consultation with the clergy and laity, on how English speakers should pray to God.
I do not know of any English speaking clergy or laity who were involved in the preparation of the current texts.
If there were, I do not think it probable that they would have advocated returning to 1st Century modes of thought and expression in preparing prayer forms for present and future generations.
Even bishops are ultimately dependent on Rome and very specifically on the papal nuncio in each nation who has a decisive role in determining who and who does not became a bishop in the Catholic Church.
Today, our laity is very educated, often more so than some of the clergy.
The Vatican, by comparison, has dealt for centuries with a western world with an uneducated laity.
Additionally, the present Vatican was for centuries an absolute monarchy in a world of absolute monarchs.
For example, the Roman Inquisition was operative in the majority of the South American countries prior to their gaining independence from Spain.
(Pictured: A workshop participant takes notes during a presentation on changes in the Mass. Photo:CNS)
It was a classic example of the Church using power to control thought. Paradoxically, it was at the time that the European monarchies were on their way to oblivion that Pope Pius IX in 1870 persuaded the remaining bishops present for Vatican I to proclaim him as effectively an absolute monarch in the Catholic Church.
This position is enshrined in the new Code of Canon Law (1983) Canon 331 which says ”by virtue of his office he has supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power”.
This is a very far cry from the model of the early Church presented in the Acts of the Apostles, which evidences both collegiality and lay involvement in all decision making.
It was no less a theologian than the late Fr Karl Rahner SJ who continually reminded us that ”the Church is ultimately under the judgment of the New Testament, not the other way round”.
Styles of governing and of administration change slowly in all institutions and the Vatican is no exception.
The manner in which the present liturgical changes were imposed amply illustrates the problem.
Vatican II may have spoken of the Church as the ”People of God”, but in the above process the Vatican still continues to treat the laity as being called to ”pray, pay and obey”.
If bishops are to be told exactly how Roman texts are to be translated, without having any say in their compilation, it is difficult to see the concept of collegiality of the bishops with the Pope as being other than mere lip service.
Not surprisingly, the younger generation of the laity have, by and large, said ”no thanks” to this model of believers united in prayer and have voted with their feet.
Fr John Mannion is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, working as a pastoral associate in the parish of Mullagh and Killoran, Co. Galway.