Vatican micro-managers of the Mass need to be shown the door.

There are times when I almost despair of my Church; times when a mixture of embarrassment and anger raises the blood pressure to dangerous levels; times when I wonder whether what we mean by ‘Out of touch’ has reaches new and undreamt of proportions. Other phrases, like ‘other planets’ and ‘parallel universes’ no longer seem to cover the ever-yawning gap between what makes sense in Rome and what makes sense to the harassed Catholic in the pew.
For some odd reason, in our Church we seem to have an obsession with solving problems that don’t exist and ignoring or even denying problems that are the equivalent of huge trains careering down the tracks that will bring devastation and chaos when they’re derailed.
An example of the first was the ‘reform’ that led to the New Missal. For the vast majority of Catholics in Ireland (and the English-speaking world) the
Mass that was introduced after the Second Vatican Council (when the vernacular Mass replaced the Latin Mass) had become part of the weather of our lives. It was simple, clear, and easy to read and, after almost half a century of use, was much loved by many people.
A small group of people at the heart of the Vatican decided that it wasn’t ‘sacred’ enough and contrived to inflict on the Church a translation that doesn’t even qualify as English. It is Latinate, complex, difficult to understand and impossible to read intelligently. Instead of solving a problem that didn’t exist it has created a new problem, damaging the fabric of our worship and silencing our congregations. People have been sent to jail for doing less damage.
An example of the second ­- denying problems that exist ­- is the refusal of the Church to take steps to prepare for the ending of Masses in parishes all over the country, a decade or so from now, with the now mathematical certainty of elderly priests and few ordinations.
What has raised my blood pressure is the directive from the Congregation of Divine Worship (CDW) in Rome ­- the geniuses that brought us the New Missal – that from now on, at the sign of peace, priests are not permitted to leave their place at the altar to exchange a sign of peace with the people, not even with those who are mourning a loved one or celebrating a marriage.
Bishops, including the Irish bishops, have been instructed to draw up guidelines so that the sharing of the sign of peace will be performed with more sobriety and less ‘excess’. Bishops have been asked to find alternatives to ‘familiar’ and ‘profane’ greetings and the Congregation of Divine Worship itself promised that they would offer ‘practical guidelines’ to moderate ‘excessive expressions’. I bet they will.
The problem with words like ‘reverence’, ‘familiar’ and ‘profane’ is that it depends what you mean by them. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. What’s ‘familiar’ for one is ‘friendly’ for another. What’s ‘reverent’ for a relaxed person could be ‘profane’ for a formal, stilted individual. The problem here is not that sometimes ‘signs of peace’ can be inappropriate and everyone has there own favourite story. (Mine is an Irish priest who served in America who when he returned home on vacation, at the sign of peace, moved up and down the aisle embracing his friends. The local PP with his head in his hands was left wondering whether he might have to re-consecrate the church!)
The problem is that the Vatican and the Congregation for Divine Worship try to micro-manage the Church around the world and often fail to understand or misinterpret local custom and tradition. For instance one expert pointed to the Congo where the congregation wash their hands together in bowls of water, a tribal expression of reconciliation. It makes the point that it’s simply not possible to incorporate in general guidelines regulations that respect the traditions of different cultures.
It would seem that the Congregation of Divine Worship, with an unerring eye for ‘reform’ in places where patently it’s not justified, needs itself to be reformed. That it has no idea of the mess it has landed the English-speaking world with through the New Missal seems obvious to everyone except themselves. A period of appropriate penitential exercises, possibly a full season on Lough Derg, would be in order or better still possibly a full clear-out of that congregation with personnel repatriated to awkward curacies with awkward parish priests.
It’s encouraging that Pope Francis and some bishops already appear to be ignoring this new insight from the Congregation of Divine Worship and it was instructive that the only Vatican congregation whose top officials weren’t confirmed in office by Francis is the Congregation of Divine Worship! And the word is that the clear out may have started already.
Could it be that, after the disaster of the new English translation of the Mass, Francis is about to conclude that (guess what?) we don’t actually need a Congregation of Divine Worship at all and that those officials anxious to translate us back to the sixteenth century might themselves be repatriated back to parishes in their home countries where they might get a better sense of what works at parish level and what doesn’t.
My own view is that often in our Masses the only real sign of participation or life is at the sign of peace when people rouse themselves from a communal inertia and seem to come to life. The Congregation of Divine Worship’s talent for getting things exactly wrong would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. Leaving things alone, as the Congregation of Divine Worship should have learned after the fiasco of the New Missal, is often the best policy. If it works, don’t fix it.
Moving the deck chairs on the Titanic is a useful metaphor. It might even be funny, if it wasn’t so serious.

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  1. Roy Donovan says:

    I take advantage of the extra hour! I find that the only times I now use the new Missal are when there are con-celebrations just for some kind of fraternal stuff – otherwise I use the old Missal. When I do use the new Missal it’s just for No 2.
    As one ‘down to earth’ priest said over a meal with an Archbishop before its introduction – “there is no need for this new Missal, nobody on the ground is looking for it”. My memory tells me that everybody at the table nodded. If only we had listened to this wise priest who knows people so well on the ground.
    I too find that the new responses make my blood boil. I believe with conviction that if you wanted to find a way to destroy worship and warm feeling among the congregation you couldn’t have come up with a more effective way. It is creating huge divisions within many people and priests. It further alienates us at funerals and weddings. Many people tell me they will never ever use the ‘with your spirit’ response. They whisper ‘also with you’ under their breathe. Liturgy for them has become a form of protest!
    This craic about the Peace sign is just another attempt to destroy a God who has become a human being. I am sure it could be argued that the new Missal is mostly a denial of the Incarnation.
    What could be something beautiful and unifying has now become a form of decadence and fatigue – soul destroying. I am absolutely sure Jesus would never use most of the language of the new Missal. He spoke simply.
    He silenced the Sadducees not by force or violence but with simple persuasive arguments and vision that appeals to the best in any human being. Yes this new Missal was forced upon us by ideological terrorists.
    Yes you are right. Very few seem to want to face what an absolute disaster it is. It has become another elephant in the room. Let’s soldier on/ put up with it/ conformist fatalistic kind of attitude. It is another nail on the Church’s coffin.
    Yet while all this is going on there is the contradiction that Francis of Rome speaks with such simplicity, freedom and spontaneity. Did not some bishop recently criticize Francis of Rome in declaring that the language of his ‘Gospel of Joy’ is over simplistic!
    I think it was the late John O’ Donoghue who said “we have an enormous capacity to build prisons around ourselves”. I will continue to refuse to allow the new Missal to build prisons around myself and the people I worship with.

  2. Thank you Brendan for this fine article. The CDF seem determinedl to put the toothpaste ( Vatican 2renewal) back into the tube( pre Vatican 2). This is avery messy task and much is lost in the process. This is so clearly evident in the incomprehensible language used at Mass. At Mass this week with less than ten people the priest said “let us offer each other the sign of peace” and while the faithful few did that the priest stood like a statue and made no effort to join in in spite of saying “let us”, and God forbid that he should leave, what he believes to be his place of privilege, the altar to acknowledge the one baptism which we all share and the peace of The Lord present before him.
    Yes we the faithful are harassed, confused, and being moved ever further away from that to which we should be coming close,the love and life of Jesus and our neighbour. May we never offer ” kind admittance “, so cold, co clinical, so different to the warm open armed embrace of the father of the prodigal son.

  3. Hazel Cooper says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen!

  4. Prof. Aaron Milavec says:

    Thank you, Brendan,for your polite refusal to allow the Congregation of Divine Worship to micro-manage liturgy with its “one size fits all” formulas. . . .
    While the rabbis tried to introduce some standardization into the prayer life of those who followed their lead, Jakob Petuchowshi notes that “spontaneous expression of our deepest concerns” was always encouraged following the mandate of R. Eliezer: “He who makes his prayers a fixed task–his prayers are not [valid] supplications” (m. Berakhot 4:4). By “fixed task,” the Babylonian Talmud understood either prayers recited “as a burden” or said by rote “in which one cannot say something new” (b. Berakhot 29b).
    In the case of delayed rains [required for planting the seasonal crop], for instance, the Mishnah goes so far as to suggest that the prayer leader chosen to lead the morning prayers on the day when the fast cycle begins ought to be “an experienced elder who has children and whose cupboard is empty so that his heart should be wholly in the prayer” (m. Taanit 2:2). The choice of an “experienced elder” with hungry children surrounding him at home was clearly done with the expectation that his personal suffering combined with his mastery of the prayer form would allow him to improvise forcefully so as to move the hearts and minds of those present. Seemingly, for the rabbis, even God did not respond well to rote repitition.
    If a standard prayer (memorized word for word) was at the origin of Jesus’ own practice of praying, then it would be difficult to understand how or why (especially in an oral culture) the disciples of Jesus were so dim-witted as not to be able to exactly remember the prayer used hundreds of times by Jesus and by the disciples he left behind. On the other hand, if Jesus spontaneously reconstructed “the Lord’s Prayer” for every new occasion, then it becomes quite understandable how and why the template for this prayer would vary. This explains why Luke’s Gospel (11:1-4) has a noticeably different version of the Lord’s Prayer than what one finds within Matthew’s version (6:9-13). Furthermore, since one finds in all the various ancient Judaisms no tradition of memorizing standard prayers (other than the Shema of Dt 6:4f), it would have been a remarkable “departure from tradition” had Jesus imposed upon his disciples a prayer of fixed “recite after me” words.
    Prayer leaders in synagogue Judaism or in the early church were not prone to memorize and recite fixed prayer formulas. Justin Martyr (C.E. 150), for example, spoke of “the presider” at the eucharist as giving thanks “at considerable length” and “according to his ability” (First Apology 65, 67). He surely was not thinking of a rote recitation of canonical prayers. The Apostolic Tradition (C.E. 220), in its turn, presented an elaborate set of Roman eucharistic prayers for use by the presiding bishop on various occasions. Following this set of prayers, however, the following telling rubric was offered:
    “It is not at all necessary for him [the bishop] to utter the same words as we said [note oral emphasis] above, as though reciting them from memory, when giving thanks to God; but let each [bishop] pray according to his ability. If indeed anyone has the ability to pray at length and with a solemn prayer, it is good. But if anyone, when he prays, utters a brief prayer, do not prevent him” (sec. 9).
    This rubric clearly testifies that the presiding celebrant was not reciting a “canned” prayer of fixed length but improvising more or less while following a standard progression “according to his ability.” Leslie Hardinge reminds us on this score that “it was the predeliction of Celtic monks to improvise prayers” (The Celtic Church in Britain, p. 67).
    When the liturgical reforms were undertaken following Vatican II, one notices that the rubric inviting the celebrant to “use these words or other words that better fit the occasion” occurs more and more often after the liturgical renewal was underway (The Rites). At other times, alternative prayers were given or the celebrant was invited to use his discretion: “The celebrant immediately adds the following or some other suitable prayer.” This is tantamount to recognizing that every prayer leader has the right, nay, even the obligation, to use discretion even when dealing with canonical prayers. The written text serves as a model and template for the thematic progression that the celebrant draws upon and fleshes out using, from time to time, appropriate words that spontaneously occur to the celebrant as embellishing the rite. This is a disciplined art of entering into the soul of prayer. This is not to be confused with wild and irresponsible fabrication.
    So, in effect, the Vatican insistance on a new (ideologically driven) translation (closer to the original Latin) is ultimately wrong-headed, as Brendan has made clear. I am building on what he presented by showing that Catholicism has an older tradition wherein no presider worth his salt would be rotely reading canonical prayers Sunday after Sunday; rather, the celebrant would be mildly improvising so as to capture the spirit and energy particular to this gathering with these people at this time. This would presume a sound familiarity with the canonical template. It also presupposes that the celebrant has the empathy to enter into the trials and tribulations, the joys and hopes, of those in the pews. When such a rubric is carried out rightly, the entirety of the eucharistic prayer becomes an offering of the people giving thanks to the Father just as Jesus would have them do. . . .
    I have been blessed to witness such gifted improvisations by many priests myself. I have tasted the heartfelt fervor that crowns such eucharistic celebrations. The fierce participation of the faithful is evident. I can even be modestly certain that God is happy to escape the soul-deadening rubrics of the Congregation of Divine Worship.
    But be warned! Some bishops and not a few priests still insist that a word-for-word reading of the canonical prayers is the ONLY WAY to please God. Parce Domine!

  5. Peter Shore says:

    And what about those of use who love the new Missal, who find the language helps us reflect better on the mysteries? What about those of us who want the priest to offer the sacrifice, and not be worried about entertaining us, hugging us, or making up his own liturgical variations on the fly? Yes, we all offer the sacrifice together, but only the priest acts “in persona Christi”. Please priests, do the job for which you were ordained. If the sign of peace is the only time the congregation gets animated, maybe they’re not appreciating the rest of the liturgy for what it is. Maybe some homily time explaining it would be well spent, instead of trying to create some cosy love-in by which everyone loses their liturgical senses. Maybe explain what “and with your spirit” is supposed to mean, and how it was already the standard form in every language other than English. And maybe let people make up their own minds about the new liturgy instead of sowing dissension by saying it’s been inflicted on them by some out-of-touch committee. Those of us who have to suffer priests ad-libbing from the altar will try to be equally charitable.

  6. Seamus Ahearne osa says:

    What do we see? What do we miss? Where is the blind spot? Brendan makes his points clearly (as always). The naïve stupidity of Rome is obvious (Re Missal etc) : Their theology was suspect. They had no sense of Liturgy. The pastoral application wasn’t understood. The English was crude. (Maurice Taylor pointed all of that out if anyone was listening).
    I want to add a more critical comment. The Bishops’ Conference accepted it (The Missal). How was that possible? Had the bishops read the drafts? Had anyone paid attention to the documents? Our Bishops were the official overseers of the Irish Church. They were pastorally responsible. And they did nothing. That is shocking. Did they just assume that Rome knew best or were they overwhelmed and overworked (which is also very likely)? In Leadership now, it is hard to celebrate ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ in the drudgery of daily life for managers! Many of our bishops have to cope with relentless demands and impossible expectations. But as John Healy said long ago: ‘ No one shouted stop.’ That applies to the New Missal.
    It was amazing that Pope Francis told the Synod- gathering that they had to speak honestly and openly. He also apparently had to tell them to speak up and out even if their views differed from his. I can’t begin to understand how it could be necessary in the Church of Jesus Christ that Ministers of the Gospel had to be told to speak the truth. The success of the Synod may be only that – people did speak and did differ. That at least gives us hope.
    How now can all of this Process be applied to the local Church and throughout our Dioceses? There has to be some acknowledgement of the mistakes made but a sincere and humble commitment to listening. We can discover and even rediscover ‘the joy of the Gospel’ if we begin to believe in each other. It makes for a healthy beginning if we realise that Rome were so foolish and that our bishops were asleep on the job.
    Seamus Ahearne osa

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Irish Bishops felt they were not being asked by the Vatican to approve or disapprove the new translations, but simply to offer their “observations” or suggested improvements (and they did so without much hope of any attention being paid to the observations, and some of them with a sense that the focus on translation from the Latin was unhelpful from the start). Bishop Maurice Taylor’s account of the process behind the new translations is a damning indictment and a clear expose of this scandalous episode in modern church history.

  8. I found Bishop Maurice Taylor’s account of the ‘process’ behind the new missal at:
    What an extraordinary affair, and what questions it raises about the apparently supine role played by the Irish Bishops’ Conference!
    In relation to the treatment of their own commission, ICEL, by the Congregation for Divine Worship, Bishop Taylor’s concluding paragraph is worth quoting:
    “Finally, it is tantalising to wonder how the congregation, or indeed the Holy See itself, would have reacted if the conferences of bishops, or even the conference presidents, had claimed that their legitimate authority had been infringed by the congregation’s behaviour. Such a complaint was not, I think, put forward strongly enough. If it had been, is it too fanciful to dream that it might have led to a thorough examination of the role and activities of the Roman Curia?”
    Even yet the implicit invitation extended to national conferences by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium – to look to themselves rather than to Rome for guidance on local crises – has apparently been ignored by the ICBC. Time is running out for it to show the slightest spark of courage and inspiration – and its attitude to the grotesque new missal is demoralising in the extreme.

  9. Cornelius Martin says:

    I’m not supposed to say this on this blog but I like the new translation. I do not compare it with the old. It explores routes of reflection that facilitate broader understanding of the Mass.
    One of the great experiences in life is to be able to praise God with vigour and conviction. When this is lost sight of, in any context, heat rather than light is generated. It is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

  10. Patrick T. Darcy says:

    This wonderfully written, thought-provoking article reflects the quality of thinking and the pastoral approach of all the writers who contribute to this website. For that I am very grateful.
    How did we come to this point where the church’s leadership refuses to deal with real problems and rather focuses its attention on non-problems?
    The recent Synod was unique. Unlike previous synods, Pope Francis called for honest dialogue and conversation, without fear of saying anything that could be taken as disrespectful to him. We haven’t seen such openness since Vatican II. At the Council bishops and theologians spoke their minds without fear of retaliation. All that changed, however, with the election of St. John Paul II. The final session of the Council ended in 1965, and a mere 13 years later, JPII stifled that spirit and that also became the modus operandi of his successor. Vatican II never had a chance to be implemented fully. Lip service was given to the Council, but the reality was all about control and power centralized in the pope and in the Vatican departments. Various issues could not be discussed: e.g., celibacy, a married clergy (there is something wrong with an organization that doesn’t permit honest discussion). The concept of conferences of bishops, once supported at Vatican II by theologian Joseph Ratzinger, was emasculated, and synods produced rubber-stamped statements.
    JPII and Benedict XVI chose bishops who passed the various litmus tests: supporting celibacy and following the traditional teaching regarding contraception as well as the church’s position on homosexuality. He created bishops in his own image who “spoke the party line,” non-thinking, passive, rigid personalities incapable of looking at an issue except from the traditional point of view.
    I believe that is the context which has made most bishops incapable or unwilling to deal with the real problems facing the church. Instead they deal with issues which they can control. They make a “mountain out of a mole hill”, creating, as Brendan said, problems where none exist. Some bishops will not speak up for fear they will come off as disloyal. In my country only a few bishops voiced any disagreement about the insipid translation of the New Missal. Rewriting the Missal is an example of rigid personalities imposing their literalism on the wider church. They got what they wanted, and any thinking bishop, theologian, liturgist, or Latin scholar was dismissed or resigned in utter frustration and disgust.
    To voice any disagreement, especially in public, wasn’t acceptable. As an example, some American bishops questioned the wisdom of giving the public a summary of the pros and cons of issues discussed at the synod. It will confuse the people! Others said that any discussion of the indissolubility of marriage was heretical, although the discussions centered not on indissolubility but rather pastoral approaches to divorced Catholics who want to receive Communion.
    What are some of the real problems? (1) There is a priest shortage. Without priests there is no Eucharist. (2) How can leadership be balanced between the clergy and laity, men and women? (3) Revisiting the church’s prohibition of the use of contraceptives both in marriage and as a means of protecting a person’s health. (4) Removing the church’s disgraceful position that a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered. Interestingly, that teaching introduced in the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church changes the church’s teaching that the orientation is good, but not the acts. There is nothing more heretical by denying the goodness of each person created in the image and likeness of God. When did God start creating intrinsically disordered persons? (5) Revisiting the discipline of celibacy and a married clergy, including, God help us, women priests. (6) Restoring the credibility of our bishops. Until they admit that they or their predecessors made conscious decisions, not mistakes, in dealing with the sexual abuse of children, they remain hypocrites.
    The fact that Rome is burning down doesn’t matter as long as we acknowledge that we are not worthy that Jesus should come under our roofs.

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