The Age has yet another attack on the Church by Barry Zwarz today (M/T Fr Z), following on from his recent run - on the weekend on bishop selection; yesterday on Cardinal Burke, and now today, back to the new Missal!
And yet again fed by ex-priest Paul Collins.
If in doubt, trot out Paul Collins - anti-Catholic spokesperson
Apart from his status due to membership of the Old Boys club, it is difficult to understand why the media take the slightest bit of notice of Collins - just who is he supposed to represent after all?
Why not actually talk to some mainstream catholics for a change (and maybe our bishops should consider trying to ensure there are a few constructive lay voices voices in the public arena on such issues to supplement the voices of the bishops)!
I won't bother going through the whole article, it's mostly the same tired old rant about who controls the Church and so forth.
But there are a few issues worth drawing out. First the possible impact of the new missal on mass attendance. Secondly, migrants and the use of less idiomatic language. And finally, the case for 'accomodating' those who do not wish to accept the new translation.
The liturgy does affect Mass attendance rates!
Mr Zwartz dismisses out of hand the suggestion that improving the liturgy might actually encourage people to go to Mass:
But it takes a particularly fervent advocate to suggest, as William Oddie does, that a liturgy-led revival will reverse declining church attendance.
But in fact of course Mr Oddie has a very strong case.
Zwartz relies on some very unhelpful remarks from Bob Dixon of the Australian Bishops' Pastoral Office, who claimed that:
"...When we asked people why they stopped going to church, almost nobody said it was because the church has lost its sense of reverence by using modern English. They said they stopped because they can't find relevance, they can't see a connection between the church's agenda and their own agenda, they disagree with certain church teachings.''
Ideologically driven research?
But you have to actually ask the question!
Because here's the thing. As far as I can see, the studies of why people stopped attending Mass undertaken in this country that Dixon refers to completely failed to actually ask about whether or not the liturgy was a factor in their decisions, or to do any probing on the subject!
The 1996 Catholic Life survey offered a number of alternative reasons for non-attendance at mass, but the closest it came to asking about the liturgy was 'Mass holds little or no meaning for me', a reason selected by 16% of non-attenders.
And the qualitative research that was undertaken by the Pastoral Projects Office to follow this up seems not to have seriously probed whether banal, irreverent or worse liturgy was a factor at all.
Surely a very strange omission...
Even stranger that a Church employee should be out in public attempting to undermine the implementation of the new Missal. A case of inter-Office bureaucratic warfare? And thus helping make case for a serious slashing of the size of the Australian Bishops' Conference bureaucracy!
Liturgy does matter!
In fact, of course, as Fr Peter Williams of the Bishops' Liturgical Office (and, I gather, newly appointed Vicar General of Parramatta diocese) pointed out in his commentary contained in the 2007 report to the bishops, there is every reason to think that liturgy is an important factor in Mass attendance.
He commented in relation to the report that:
"Whilst a number of participants identified poor leadership, institutional inertia to change and what was perceived as intransigence in matters pertaining to moral issues, the report states:…they (respondents) did not get anything out of going to Mass any more and …came away from Mass feeling angry, frustrated and wondering why they were still attending."
That is a sentiment I, and many others, can completely identify with!
And consider the sentences in the 2007 Report before those highlighted by Fr Williams: "A common cause of declining attendance among participants was that they did not find much intellectual satisfaction in going to Mass. Ten participants commented that the homilies in their parish were of poor quality, being ill-prepared, theologically unsound, badly delivered and irrelevant."
He could also have pointed to a number of other problems identified in the research that also hint at liturgical discontent: a belief among some that 'the people at Mass lacked sincerity in their worship', and 'a lack of a sense of community'. Could it perhaps be in fact that all that liturgical fakery such as over-enthusiastic greetings at the sign of peace comes across to many as exactly what it is: insincere and artificial?
And international studies and comparisons I've previously referred to on this blog aside, there is a lot of other anecdotal evidence to support the importance of liturgy as a factor - take for example the phenomenon of attending mass in parishes other than their geographical one. It is widespread.
The reality is that underlying all of the other factors that undermine mass attendance, liturgy remains the elephant in the room for the liberal establishment.
The new Missal itself won't, of course, solve the problem. But it is certainly an important step in the right direction.
Non-English speakers and the Mass
There is another issue raised by Mr Dixon of the Bishops' Project Office that I think warrants a comment, namely his suggestion that "a more elevated, less idiomatic liturgy" will create language hurdles for the nearly one-third of non-English speaking Church goers.
In reality of course, as any language teacher could tell you, precisely the opposite is likely to be the case. It is idioms that those less familiar with a language struggle most with because they tend to mean things other than what the words literally suggest!
Thus, while it does have to be learnt, a more hieratic style of language can actually make it easier, not harder for migrants (one of the reasons of course the Church used Latin for centuries).
Make provision for those who refuse to change?
But surely the most outrageous lines in the article belong to a Fr McGinnity, who says that:
"...when the church moved from Latin to English 40 years ago, the Vatican accommodated those who refused to change, and suggests the same should happen this time."
Now there is of course a big difference between suppressing a rite used for centuries, and changing a few words, however important, in a translation that has been used for only a few decades.
All the same, personally, I think we could go with the level of 'accomodation' Father proposes.
Because as far as I can gather, that 'accomodation' was to allow retired priests to apply for special permission to say the old mass strictly in private only.
So go for it Father, retire (if you haven't already) and see if you can get that special permission. And stop bothering the rest of us.
**A Priest Down Under has a helpful post on other aspects of Mr Zwartz's article.