I have recently returned from England where I worked for 46 years. The many involved, deeply spiritual, priests I have met since my return have impressed me. This has been a cause of great joy for me. However I am deeply disturbed by the current state of the Eucharistic Liturgy they have to celebrate, along with all of the English speaking countries in the Catholic Christian church.
The present translation is Pre-Vatican 2 in its theology. It encourages a deep sense of sin which only reinforces the ego and is contrary to the message of Christ who came to say that our mistakes, our failings aren’t what matters but surrender to His transforming power is. This is what brings us closer to God and to each other, not focusing on our faltering attempts to follow his example, which only endear us to Him.
What I mean by this is that in the so called “new” translation, we start the Mass with the most abject apology imaginable for our mistakes saying first that we have greatly sinned with all the connotations this has for most people who do not view sin as a mistake. We then beat our breasts three times increasing our sense of guilt when for most people their sins are simply times when they were not able to live up to – as they would have liked – the high ideals they had set themselves. If anyone apologised to me in such a way, I would be horrified. It would seem that they felt I did not accept their apology so they have to repeat it. We are saying this to God! This is followed by the Lord have mercy. It sounds like we still do not believe we are forgiven so we plead again with this “unforgiving” God, not the one He revealed to us but the one we have created. Then even in the Gloria we plead again for mercy.
When we move to the Liturgy of the Eucharist the first part is all about praise and thanksgiving, which is refreshing, but at the Lamb of God we return to this theme again. While it is true that the last three of these prayers were in our previous post-conciliar liturgy what this “new” one is doing is placing great emphasis on sin in a way that wasn’t there before. Even one of the Eucharistic prayers stresses this once more by using the phrase “give kind admittance to your kingdom”. The image of God this portrays is alarming!
A second issue is the very poor translation that has been produced. I am a linguist. If I had translated a text so badly in my first year at University I would have failed and been advised not to repeat because I would never pass as I had no feel for the language. A literal translation is a bad translation. As a result the beautiful previous translation of the response to the salutation “The Lord be with you” “and also with you” has been replaced by “and with your spirit”. This apart from being a literal, hence a poor translation, also teaches dualism and the separation of body and spirit which cannot happen in this life. It relegates the body to second place but the spirit cannot manifest itself without the body. We need both and both are good.
This is followed by so many badly translated Opening Prayers, Prayers over the Gifts and Prayers after Communion that are too numerous to mention. Some are grammatically incorrect and don’t make sense so the celebrant stumbles as he reads them and we all wonder what the prayer means. When I discovered that the person who translated these prayers was not translating into his first language – the most basic rule for all translation – I understood the reason for these serious errors in the texts. No wonder the President of the International committee on English in the Liturgy resigned and these texts are not attributed to this committee, as they could not endorse such poor quality work. All of this happens in the context of a beautifully worked translation agreed on by the English speaking Bishops of the world that was rejected by the Curia, a tiny group who knew better than the Bishops and professional translators! It is so arrogant! I suppose it wouldn’t matter except that the Eucharist is the central part of the Roman Catholic Christian liturgy and is valued very highly by all. Yet now it has a third rate text.
I know that the German Bishops rejected the translation that Rome tried to impose on them. What I cannot understand is why the Bishops of the English speaking world or at least of Ireland and England did not do the same. I know it was hard to accommodate the Australian Bishops but it was achieved. (Another issue would be why do we all have to have the same text? The English spoken in Australia and the U.S. is different to that spoken here and in England. Surely the liturgy should reflect that or are we confusing uniformity with unity again?)
The issue is very serious because some deeply spiritual people, friends of mine, contemplatives, who spend at least an hour a day in meditation have found this to be the last straw of a power driven authoritarian church which now touched directly on their highly valued prayer life. As a result they no longer have attendance at Roman Catholic Eucharist as a part of their practice. Instead they find a church of another Christian denomination that has an up to date liturgy with whom to celebrate Eucharist. This is a sadness for them as they miss their previous congregation but they have no alternative. Their prayer is too important to them.
I have made a different choice but for me it is a great distraction from the liturgy I used to love. I am unable to say some of the prayers as I cannot pray to the God I love with words I do not believe in, so I have to find another way of being at Mass which is a continual struggle. It is also distressing in other ways because for example, once I accompanied a person who not only meditated twice a day but also ran two weekly meditation groups from her home. In spite of this she felt alienated from the institutional church. However after several years of listening to her, she decided to return but when faced with this liturgy she was unable to continue. This was a long piece of work for me and she was disappointed too but she could not pray in that way.
I also worry about the message this gives to young people when they do attend Mass. We are emphasising their shadow side and playing down the goodness and positivity that flows out of their young lives. Is it any wonder that they do not return?
Of course I am just a member of the laity. We are the ones who fund everything but have no say in what goes on in the church but then if the institutional church ignores the opinions of its Priests and Bishops what hope is there that our opinion and the distress it causes us will be listened to? Still my purpose in writing this is that there must be some way to present these ideas in such a way that change can happen because I do believe that the Spirit moves us forward always. If we embark on it in some new way it will be difficult but we have the example of Pope Francis who is working against the odds to reform the Vatican and that is an enormous task. I do think we could make some progress if we keep such an important topic on the agenda in a sustained way.
I hope it will be possible to discuss this with some people in this group to identify clearly the blocks that exist and together find creative ways to troubleshoot them. I know that – although I have put this document together on my own – I speak for many other members of the laity as I have discussed all of these ideas frequently with fellow lay people. I just decided today to document them and hopefully spark a new way of resolving them?
With kind regards and full of hope,