| | | |

Post-Christmas reflections from the coalface

I love the writings of Bryan McMahon. There is a warmth in his work. In The Master, he says that the purpose of education is ‘to stir up the curious wonder of a child.’ The feast of the Epiphany stirs ups that curiosity in all of us. It sums up those who have the head and heart to search for what is good, wonderful and beautiful; to go beyond the obvious.
Our Church officially often failed because it was too rigid; too fixed; too dead; too certain; too sure; too fearful; too inward-looking; too unimaginative; too caught up in supposed sinfulness. The feast celebrates those who come out and try to make sense of life today, in our world; in our country; in our own community/ place. It celebrates those who hear the Word of God and let that Word be birthed in their own lives and experience. This is a rich feast if we could only live it. We are the ‘wise’ men and ‘wise’ women who live up to the ambition of God for each of us – and live out ‘ the curiosity of the child within.‘ We don’t need camels or stars but guts and gumption. Thanks to all who inspire us (in- spirit us). Suenens said some years ago:’ Dream dreams and be willing to pay the price to make those dreams come true.’ Pope Francis has spoken with a similar heart and freshness – to make real the imaginative story of the Epiphany.
The very heart of this feast was missing in the new missal. It is dull. It is dreary. It is stodgy. It is leaden. Paddy Jones suggests that it may be looked at again. May be? There are serious issues to be addressed immediately. How could our pastoral leaders have allowed this book through? It fails as theology, as liturgy and as an English document.
Did any of the ‘collective’ which makes up the hierarchy, read the document before allowing it through? Were they so convinced that any such document had to be infallibly correct? Did they just wave it through? Were the New Zealanders and the Germans the only people who were awake or less deferential? Is this a resignation matter for all those concerned or not concerned? (!) Were the nuncios alive or alert to the local churches? Should they be indicted also? Before the issue of the New Missal is addressed – the whole way of management in our Church has to be reviewed plus the very meaning of liturgy.
Brendan Hoban, amusingly but tellingly, writes on the ‘Francis effect’. The Church presented by Francis is very familiar to many of us. It is true and strange that the version of the Church presented by the ACP is very similar to what Francis is now saying. It all seems so obvious and so real. It is fired with life and imagination and warmth.
The Church was stuck in recent years and was cold. But that never was the Church of Jesus Christ or the Christ of the Gospels. Yet somehow, the ACP were seen as a threat. A threat? How could a thousand priests be a threat? These are the men who are the ministers of the Gospel in the local Church. And yet it became such an ordeal for anyone officially to speak with the ACP. Where is Communion? Is there any theological understanding of the Eucharist – when people can’t talk or won’t? The Feast of the Epiphany is about people searching for the truth – they travel anywhere and everywhere to meet the Christ in life. Do we?
Around Christmas, I mused over the numbers. Many came to Mass. A Francis effect? I’m not convinced. But I also know that huge numbers didn’t come to Church for Christmas and if people don’t come to church at this time: definitely ‘God is missing and not missed.’ God is not important enough for some. I don’t blame people. This is a reality. Many are actually too busy about Christmas to make time for Christ. (In our own families – we recognise the same pattern). And then so often the language and ritual (at Church) is beyond their experience.
Ritual or Liturgy has to be rooted and steeped in the language and experience of ordinary people. Otherwise the Word hasn’t become flesh. I liked young Katherine Welby’s blog. She has moved back in with her father Justin (what a gift he is – like Francis?). She said: “just didn’t feel like going to God. Church is where I feel worse. I cannot sit still for the length of a Service without getting anxious, so often I find a reason not to go. You feel slightly foolish if you are getting up and down three or times and can’t but feel that people will be questioning your attentiveness, ability to listen and how committed you really are.” And then she says: “ I just can’t be bothered to give it (the Jesus story) the time it deserves.” It sounds very honest. A Welby – would be!
I went into a few shops (in the past week) looking for Pope Francis’ recent words on the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’ It wasn’t there but Tony Flannery’s book was! I went into a monastery (Melleray) to check whether it was available there: neither Tony or Francis appeared! I didn’t go to Veritas…. But in the light of the Feast, I will keep searching. My last word, I will whisper; be gentle with Keith O Brien. He too is in exile. He too is silenced. It isn’t fair to ask him speak; he is not allowed. Those of us who know the man well; recall the warmth, humanity and the Joy of the Gospel in his ministry among us.
Seamus Ahearne osa is a member of the ACP Leadership Team. He ministers at St Oliver Plunkett Church, Rivermount, Dublin 11.

Similar Posts


  1. Donal Dorr says:

    Thanks VERY much, Seamus. A deeply moving and courageous piece.

  2. Another piece of great writing. Thank you Seamus, for spelling out so clearly and gently the dilemma in which our Church finds itself. If only we all had the “guts and the gumption ” as shown by Tony, Brendan, Sean and yourself we would be able to fulfil our dream for the Church, ” all that is good, beautiful and wonderful”, a meeting with Christ in each other.

  3. Margaret Trench says:

    Truly uplifting piece.
    Really taken by your plea for Keith O’Brien.
    It’s so easy to be harsh in our comments and thoughts when we stand outside a situation.
    Appreciate the reminder not to condemn.
    Thank you.

  4. A great piece as always, Seamus. Thank you. We needed some uplifting and enlightenment after some of the stuff we have had to endure in some of the posts here this last while. I agree with Jo and what she has said on another thread. The nasty homophobia that has appeared here recently is upsetting. And the strident defence of the seriously flawed new translation ….. now you wonder what is that all about! So, the excellent pieces by Brendan, Tony and yourself are very welcome. And, of course, Eugene Cullen Kennedy. Apparently, he is very proud of his Irish ancestry.
    Thank you especially, Seamus, for you kind – and true – words about Keith.

  5. Kay Mcginty says:

    Thank you, Seamus, for that uplifting and honest piece. It gives me strength as I sit here and struggle with the prospect of going to mass today. My faith in the church that I love is being truly tested and I feel I cannot pay lip service to an institution that has hurt so many wonderful and dedicated priests.

  6. John Lindsay says:

    Thanks for this and especially your final whisper: I too know “the warmth, humanity and the Joy of the Gospel in his ministry among us.”

  7. Thank you Seamus for raising yet again the consequences of the translation that has been foisted upon us.
    The report in the Tablet recently that there may be a review of the New English translation of the Mass, is to be welcomed, even if it is a little late. Since its introduction at the beginning of Advent, 2011, we have experienced two difficult years during which time the convoluted language of literal translation from the historical Latin text has been imposed on 21st Century English-speaking peoples.
    And to what effect?
    For many, it has been a time of confusion, solved only by a Sunday Silence. The familiarity of well-used words has been lost, to be replaced by the aggravation of a text that hinders rather than helps our prayer. I have lost count of the times we are encouraged to be “gracious”.
    The ICEL translation from 1998 that was so unceremoniously set aside, had received acceptance from the hierarchies in the English speaking world. But to no avail. Bishop Maurice Taylor, one time chair of ICEL, from 1997 until 2002, painfully described how that text was discarded in his book “It’s the Eucharist, thank God”, published in 2009.
    Now we are caught between a rock and a hard place, between the urgent need to re-appraise this Translation and the cost and confusion of doing so. But re-appraise it we must. If only we had taken the advice of the Seattle website prior to this change sweeping through the English-speaking Church, “What if we just said wait?” we could have ironed out many of the now apparent difficulties and be in a happier place today. But Fr Michael Ryan’s sound advice was ignored.
    It is time to look for realistic leadership from our Bishops as has happened in Germany. Might we not revisit the 1998 text? Is that too much to ask?
    As to the curious wonder of a child to which Seamus refers, I am reminded of the opening of Neil Postman’s book, The Disappearance of Childhood, where he suggests that “children are messages we send to a time we may not visit”. How true is that of a pilgrim church? What a great responsibility rests on us?

  8. Mary O Vallely says:

    Yes, as usual,Fr Seamus Ahearne speaks from a full heart, a heart that is alive and wondering. We need to wonder, to be in awe and we need to be re-awakened to that sense so many of us have lost.
    Now, he talks about people not going to mass, not being aware of God in their lives. Cardinal Brady speaking at mass here, Sunday week last, spoke of his sadness in receiving a letter from ‘a person’ (don’t know if m/f or if young/old) who wished their name to be taken off the baptismal register. Yes, it is indeed sad but the greatest sadness is that no one seems to be reaching out to the disaffected to listen to them. In a letter to my PP I suggested that he should see this as a great opportunity for learning, for engaging with someone who CARED enough to write, who was passionate and courageous enough to write and not just slip away quietly as so many do. (I also reminded him of the need to dialogue with those priests in limbo like Sean Fagan, Tony Flannery et alia.) I wish Seamus Ahearne could have a wee word in SB’s ear(and +E. Martin’s) about this great opportunity to engage with people. What a vibrant people of God we could be at the end of our engaging!
    While I have the chance,what on earth is happening with our episcopal brethren that they cannot consult with survivors in this new programme “Towards Peace”?? Surely they need survivors’ input! Have they learned nothing?? THAT saddens me more than anything but no doubt our Seamus here will soon lift my spirits with another of his heartwarming, ALIVE pieces from Finglas. Love ’em! 🙂

  9. The introduction of the new English Translation for Mass (2011) was at best, a dubious process, at worst a shameful one, as seen in this brief timeline I came across. Lest we forget….
    Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred liturgy urged translations of the Latin texts, especially for the Mass, into vernacular as soon as possible.
    Bishops of English speaking countries, representative of 11 English speaking bishop’s conferences, formed International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), composed of scripture scholars, liturgists, linguists, theologians, to work on translations. Vatican II had opened the path to translations of the liturgy into vernacular languages without specifying how far this should extend (SC 22).
    Pope Paul VI gave permission for “the territorial Bishops” to take full responsibility in his directive titled (in French) ‘Comme le Prevoit’.
    The first translation of the missal into English was approved by English speaking bishops of the world and confirmed by Rome. It was a hurried translation in the hope of making improvements later.
    ICEL began work on another English translation by scholars from around the English speaking world to improve the 1973 translation.
    The new translation of the mass was APPROVED by all of the English speaking bishops conferences. A two-thirds majority vote was required in each conference. The translation was sent to Rome for the needed recognitio.
    The approved translation remained in the Vatican without a recognition and without any explanation, until it was finally REJECTED. (Meanwhile, the Congregation’s work on a new edition of the Roman Missal in Latin was already well advanced).
    About this rejection of more than 16 years of scholarly work, Bishop Taylor (chair of the ICEL) asks: “Who exactly made that decision? A native English-speaker employed at the CDW’? Whom did he consult? We are not told.”
    Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Prefect of Congregation on Sacred Doctrine) withdrew the Vatican’s imprimatur of the English translation of the Book of Psalms that was to have been used in the revised liturgy.
    Cardinal Medina Estevez of Chile, (non- English speaker, appointed new prefect to head the CDW by John Paul II) wrote a “peremptory and draconian” letter to Bishop Taylor (chair of the ICEL. Bishop Taylor asked for meeting with the CDW, but received an “icy” reply. Ultimately, he was told to clear out the entire ICEI staff and translators, and also to sever the ecumenical contacts that ICEL had cultivated for over 40 years.
    In January, the ICEL Episcopal Board attempted to reconfigure ICEL in the way demanded by Cardinal Estevez and the CDW.
    Later that year, Bishop Taylor asked for and got the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to host a meeting of presidents of the 11 conferences of English speaking bishops in Washington DC to discuss ICEL’s situation. Subsequently, the conference presidents went twice to Rome for meetings with the CDW and Congregation for Bishops. The meetings produced no effective results.
    The English speaking Bishops wrote to Rome, reminding the Vatican that they were responsible for translations into the vernacular, as required by Vatican II, and noting that an ecumenical council is more authoritative than any congregation in the church’s bureaucracy. But the Vatican was secretly preparing a document called ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’ (Authentic Liulrgy), which called for an extremely literal translation instead of a “dynamic equivalent” of the Latin, as called for in Pope Paul VI’s directive, ‘Comme Le prevoit’.
    An official body called Vox Clara (Clear Voice) was set up by the Vatican to make a new translation of the Roman Missal into English following the principles laid out in ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’. It was composed of a newly constituted ICEL and other scholars chosen and approved by the Congregation on Divine Worship.
    The Vox Clara translation was approved by the CDW and Pope Benedict XV1, but it continued to make further changes afterwards.
    The English speaking bishops approved the Vox Clara translation of the missal.
    The Third Edition of the Roman Missal was implemented on the First Sunday in Advent.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.