Two suggestions on how to move forward in the current situation.
1. Given the sincerely held but conflicting views within the Irish Catholic community, we need to step back to fight gracefully rather than to engage in vitriolic denunciation of ‘the other side.’ The first Christians ‘met in Jerusalem to consider the matter’ – one far more divisive than ours – and they reached consensus (Acts 15:22).With imaginative leadership from the Bishops a listening forum could be established, to explore what the Spirit is saying to the Irish Church at this time.
At Mass we pray for the unity of the Church. St Paul emphasises that we are one body, and adds the consequence: If one part hurts, all the other parts hurt with it (1 Cor 12:26). We need to regain that Christian sensitivity. The liturgical changes of Vatican Two hurt those who were at home in Latin, but only belatedly their request to continue to worship in that tongue was recognised. Did we hurt enough for them then?
The Church tends not to do change well. But let us try to advance creatively, and as mature Christians, listen to convictions which challenge our own, and hear together what the Spirit tis saying to the Irish Church.The well-tried Christian adage, ‘In necessary matters, unity: in doubtful matters, freedom: in all matters, charity’ needs application now.
2. The moratorium requested by the Association of Catholic Priests has merit. We already have a constellation of disastrous factors to cope with in Ireland: economic meltdown, political turmoil, emigration, family disruption, increased suicides. Ecclesial faith is fragmented. Our self-images both as nation and as Church are shattered. While the Eucharistic Congress of 2012 is seen by some as a ray of hope, by others it is dreaded as an untimely overload. A creative moratorium would give us all space to draw breath and explore the way forward. If however, both the texts and the timing of their introduction is ‘set in stone’ as we have been told, let there at least be a sensitive and gradual introduction of the changes, to minimise confusion. The needs of the People of God should have first priority. Appetiser and soup come before the main course, with pauses to aid digestion!
Some Catholics are glad of the linguistic changes, because the current texts are imperfect. Liturgy -worship by the people – needs periodic revision as cultures change. To live well is to have changed often, as Newman remarks. But others, while accepting the need for changes, read the signs of the times differently and judge that the intended changes are out of sync with people’s needs. They sense that the new texts are being imposed by Rome through a dubious process of consultation. More deeply, they are dismayed by the reversal of Vatican Two’s mandate for legitimate variations and adaptations in local liturgies (Liturgy 38). They admire the opposition of the German bishops to what they see as linguistic colonialism.
Priests have to decide whether to go along with the changes for the sake of the unity of the Church or to continue to urge their bishops to invoke the principle of subsidiarity approved by pope John Paul but denied in the present situation. Vatican Two admitted that the Church always stands in need of reform: Ecclesia semper reformanda (Ecumenism 6). For the sake of unity I will use the new missal if it is introduced. But I will not accept its linguistic sexism, which was abandoned twenty years ago by the editors of the NRSV (Catholic edition). Why? Because domination and exclusion have no place in the kingdom of God where all are first-born citizens (Heb 12:23): in Christ there is neither male nor female: all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
Brian Grogan SJ
35 Lower Leeson St