Monday, 27 April 2009

A better translation of the Mass is coming like it or not!

A reader alerted me to a piece by Paul Collins attacking the new translation of the Novus Ordo Mass before it is even implemented.

Good ICEL vs evil Rome!

Paul Collins, for my non-Australian readers, is an ex-priest who left the priesthood in the wake of a CDF investigation, a former Australian Broadcasting Commission journalist, and author of numerous books. He is the favoured commentator on matters catholic for several media organisations in Australia.

And what he has written is a (very long) curious piece indeed.

Strange partly because a lot of the things he invites us to be shocked and horrified by are actually things that one can only applaud! Like sacralising and formalizing the text of the Mass. Bringing the liturgy under tighter control. And having a penitential rite that actually emphasizes...sin!

And although he condemns traditionalists for character assassination (of Fr Bugnini and friends), he engages in lots of it himself! The slant is almost a parody of the liberal view at times, with its evil Rome vs nice ordinary Catholics/good ICEL as represented by the Bitter Pill (aka The Tablet) storyline.

Yet from my admittedly limited knowledge, discounting the slant, and character assassination aside, it isn't too far off the mark in terms of the detail of history of the machinations over the translation (though I'd be happy to be corrected by those more up on this subject), and is quite interesting on this. There are some good observations on the musical horrors of the 1970s. Not to mention a few tantalising rumours, such as AB Coleridge of Canberra (Collins' ordinary) to replace AB Ranjith.

Two key messages

His main thrust, though, is that this is another PR disaster in the making. Why? His case rests on the South African experience, but that was a situation where the bishops jumped the gun and used the texts prematurely, and failed to do any of the preliminary catechesis required.

And really, US Bishop Trautman's views of the inability of the laity to understand words like ineffable aside, it is hard to see what is so bad about formal language for ritual purposes!

His other point is that the new translation is all the fault of evil traditionalists. Mr Collins doesn't seem to have realised that most traditionalists don't actually care much about the translation - they've put their energies into the Extraordinary Form instead! Sure, we'd all like it to be better, for those times we have to attend a baptism, wedding or confirmation, or just can't get to an EF mass. But the real enemy from his perspective is surely not really traddies, but mainstream (and much more numerous) Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Coleridge and bloggers like Fr Z. But I'm afraid traddies are an easier target....

Here are some extracts with my comments:

This time with the liturgy

"Over the last twelve months the Vatican has made a series of disastrous mistakes. There was the pope's faux pas when he quoted a Byzantine Emperor talking about Mohammed's violence in the now famous lecture in Regensburg. [Was it a faux pas, given that firstly it points to an important dimension of this religion, and secondly has prompted some serious interreligous dialogue that no-one had previously succeeded in generating?] Then there was the attempted 'reconciliation' with the bishops of the schismatic Lefebvrist movement, including the Holocaust-denying Richard Williamson. [And seeking to reconcile those outside full communion is a bad thing?] This was followed by Benedict XVI's comment about AIDS and condoms in Africa. [Which not only reflect catholic moral principles but are backed up hard evidence on what does and doesn't work in practice.] And not forgetting, of course, the aborted episcopal appointment of the Austrian priest who believed that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for gays in New Orleans. [After a campaign led by priests living in sin with women, and a diocese whose practices seem to have little relationship to catholicism as such - go take a look at Cathcon!] At the very least the pope has been badly advised by a seemingly Curia.

But these and other debacles may well fade into insignificance with the kind of conflict that will hit English-speaking Catholicism within the next eighteen or so months. For it is then that the new translation of the liturgy will be foisted [!] on Mass-going Catholics in the pews of countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the US and the UK. In fact, there has been a rather arcane process going-on since 1998 which has understandably tended to slip under the radar of most Catholics, but which will certainly impact on all of us who still go to Mass.

To get some perspective we need to backtrack a bit.

One of the first and greatest achievements of Vatican II was the vernacular liturgy [Except the Sacrosanctum Concilium did not actually call for or authorise an entirely vernacular liturgy!]. After the Constitution on the Liturgy was finally passed by the bishops on 4 December 1963, the Latin texts needed to be translated quickly. [Why? What was the great urgency? If things had been taken a bit more slowly and carefully, the fallout from VII might have been substantially reduced.] The English-speaking bishops immediately set up a commission to carry out the work of translation, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), representing eleven national bishops' conferences: Australia, Canada, England and Wales, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Scotland, South Africa and the United States. While based in Washington, DC, its responsibility its responsibility was to the whole English-speaking world.

Here it is important to emphasize that ICEL's line of responsibility was explicitly to the English-speaking bishops' conferences, not to Rome and the Vatican. This was later to become a real bone of contention. Also the translator's task was to find a 'faithful but not literal' English equivalent of the Latin and that 'the unit of meaning [was] not the individual word, but the whole passage.' [And Fr Z's, and others, series on the prayers of the mass demonstrate just how unfaithful those translations are.] Further 'the prayer of the Church is always the prayer of some actual community assembling here and now. It is not sufficient that a formula handed down from some other time or region should be translated verbatim, even if accurately, for liturgical use. The formula must become the genuine prayer of the congregation [! No wonder congregationalism has become so rife!] and in it each of its members should be able to find and express themselves' (All quotations in this paragraph come from the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 3 April 1969, paragraph 4).....

But right from the beginning there was a tiny minority who, for whatever reason, refused to accept the new translation. They accused it of being 'banal', 'untrue to the original', insufficiently 'sacred'. The model for these reactionaries was the so-called 'Tridentine Mass', more accurately the 'Mass of Pius V' because it comes from the missal this pope issued in 1570; the Council of Trent had concluded in 1563. [!] The followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre were the most extreme of these reactionaries, but after they went into schism there were always others who remained within mainstream Catholicism but who fought tooth and nail to retain the Latin liturgy and to oppose the ICEL translation. They always claimed that they were trying to preserve the sacred character of worship and that they were horrified at what they described as an uninspired and dull English text. Some of them went in for the most outrageous character assassination attacking those they considered to be 'responsible' for all that had happened.

Part of the problem was that the musical accompaniment produced for the English liturgy was poor. The folk idiom predominated and very little music of quality was written in the decades after the Council. In a genuine attempt to move away from the sentimentality of the words of the Victorian-era hymns that dominated Catholicism before Vatican II, there was a strong emphasis on wording that reflected biblical themes. The problem was that some of the accompanying melodies were almost unsingable as the music was strained to fit the words. The basic principle that good music can take the most banal of words and give them flight was forgotten. Most operas, for instance, have complicated and often prosaic, badly written plots, but great music lifts them up and gives them an impact that the words on their own completely lack....

I've already mentioned the tiny minority of Catholics (and they are a tiny group - less than one per cent of all English-speaking Catholics) continued to reject the new liturgy. Nevertheless they have had an influence that far transcends their numbers. As older reactionaries died, they have been replaced by younger people, particularly men, who are attracted to 'bells and smells' and an extravagant, dressing-up style of worship. Many of these are technologically literate and have elaborate web-pages that reflect their point of view. [Unlike the Tablista's who have to be told what a blog is!] They are also politically very savvy in that they know how to influence Rome... Austen Ivereigh has pointed out that 'To traditionalists, ICEL had become the symbol of the Church's sell-out to fallen modernity, the target of wealthy American traditionalists who had the ear of Rome' (The Tablet, 17 January 2004). Medina was supported by the-then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who 'had long held', says Ivereigh, 'that vernacular Masses were to blame for the drop in church attendance and vocations' to the priesthood. Ratzinger has long been concerned about the loss of a 'vertical' dimension to the liturgy. He says that much contemporary liturgy has lost a sense of reverence and a deep consciousness of the presence of God. He feels that nowadays we are far too concerned with the community and human relationships. As he said at the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday 2005 just before he was elected pope: 'How often do we celebrate only ourselves without even realizing that Jesus is there.' Understandably, then, the reactionaries who got through to Medina and Ratzinger have had undue influence.

But Medina didn't need convincing. As soon as he got to the CDW he set about systematically dismantling the whole liturgical renewal. Essentially he is nothing more than an old-style fascist and liturgical reactionary who had strategically decided that if he could bring the English-speaking bishops to heel, the largest linguistic group in the Catholic world, he would have no trouble bringing other linguistic groups under Roman control, including his own Spanish-speaking world....

In 2002 a complete revision of all ICEL's translation work began in secret. 'ICEL was no longer to seek the advice of poets and other writers, but only of patristic scholars. The language is to be distinctively Catholic, sacral, Roman; as the mind and heart are raised to God, they should be sure to stop off in Saint Peter's' (Austen Ivereigh, The Tablet, 17 January 2004). ICEL was now to be assisted and guided by Vox Clara, a committee appointed by the CDW of generally conservative-minded English-speaking cardinals and bishops ('Clear Voice'), (a couple of 'moderates' like Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster were thrown in to give the appearance of 'balance'), chaired by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney. Its precise function was never really clarified, but it seems to have been a kind of reference group who could assess the translation work of the reconstituted ICEL. It was well-known that Pell was unhappy with ICEL's work under John Page and his colleagues.....

Ranjith has often said publicly that there needs to be 'a reform of the reform'. What he means is that the reforms of Vatican II 'went too far' and they need to be further 'reformed' along more conservative lines. For him the liturgy is the natural staring point in reforming the reform.

And just when you thought it could not get any worse, in December 2008 after the retirement of Arinze, Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera (he of the cappa magna in the previous two news items on our web page) as Prefect of the CDW [how the liberals hate that cappa magna, pictured above!]. Ranjith stays on as the CDW Secretary, although there are rumours that he will soon replace the present Archbishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka who is already 77, two years over retirement age. There is another rumour that Ranjith will be replaced by Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn.
The new English text of the Ordinary of the Mass was gradually approved by the English-speaking bishops' conferences, with the US conference being the last to pass it. On 23 June 2008 the CDW gave the new text an immediate recognitio. The text only includes the Ordinary of the Mass: the penitential rite, the Gloria, creed, offertory, Eucharistic prayers, acclamations and other prayers and responses used in the daily and Sunday celebration of Mass. The rest of the missal remains to be translated and approved. The CDW wants bishops' conferences to begin a 'pastoral preparation' for an introduction in late-2010 or 2011. (A copy of the translated text of the Ordinary of the Mass is available on the web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

A foretaste of what might happen pastorally was provided when, in a misunderstanding, some South African parishes started using the new text in late-November 2008. It was met with widespread rejection by Mass-going Catholics. Thomas Reese, SJ of Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, DC said 'I think the Church has been very lucky the South Africans jumped the gun because it's showing the Vatican there is going to be a worldwide problem when these new translations are put into effect. Once again the Vatican isn't listening to the critics, and we're going to have another major embarrassment … when these translations … are forced on people in the pews.' One of the major shocks experienced by the South Africans was the shift from a more conversational style of English to a sacral, more formal form of address...[Because the last thing we'd want in liturgy is a sense of the sacred, right?!]...

Immediately flowing this is the Penitential Rite (which ICEL now calls the 'Penitential Act' because the Latin uses the word actus). The text of the 'I confess' will change with the insertion of the word 'greatly' for it to read 'I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned …'. In case that was not enough emphasis on sinfulness, ICEL have added 'through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault' to the text. This kind of overly dramatic repetition is inappropriate, even embarrassing in contemporary English. [Yes, sin is embarrassing - especially to those who consider themselves to be sinless, 'perfect just as we are' to steal a phrase from Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica!]. It may work in an operatic, romance kind of language; it doesn't in more phlegmatic, matter-of-fact forms of speech used by ordinary English speakers. The other optional penitential formulas have been changed, again with a strong emphasis on sinfulness.....

I won't go through all this analysis of the texts - suffice it to say that in a supreme irony, he accuses the CDW of promoting heretical texts!

...My own view is that this exercise will be a disaster, the last nail in the coffin of the credibility of the leadership of the Church. The history shows that this whole process has been ideologically driven by a tiny, unrepresentative minority who are insensitive to the real pastoral needs of the Catholic community and who, at heart, reject the Second Vatican Council. Worse, they don't care about what happens, they are not interested in how many more people are driven out of the Church by the pomposity of what is essentially mid-Victorian English rather than some type of 'sacred' language. [What is this thing about it being 'mid-Victorian langugage? Ans who are we talking about being upset - the ageing liberals whose antics have seem millions of catholics cease practicing and fail to transmit the faith to their children?]

PS If you do go to his website, do take a look at the 'The pictures tell you everything' item. Some lovely eye candy!


Arabella-m said...

It's a joke for Collins to complain about the new translation being foisted on the people. Just consider the many unauthorised changes foisted upon congregations by the priest admirers of Collins!

Peter said...

by all accounts a 2nd rate historian, on the clerical front, well he isn't one anymore, and despite him apparently hating what the Church actually stands for it continues to provide his meal ticket as he can be wheeled out by the ABC as their 'expert'.

A sad little man.


Louise said...

Can I just say that the Cardinal in that picture looks absurd all wrapped up like that! I have no objection to the Cappa Magna in general, but this is ridiculous.

Other than that, well, Paul Collins is Paul Collins. We should pray for the silly man.

Terra said...

The photo is the new Prefect for the Congregation of Sacred Worship. And yes, I tend to agree that it is rather over the top. But you've got to love the assertion of catholicity in it all the same!

Son of Trypho said...

The most interesting piece for me in this is the indulgence in conspiracy theory about traditionalists (reactionaries) - sounds like something straight out of the Protocols. Really weird thinking coming out of Collins here!

I hope someone calls him out on who exactly he is referring to.

It's also deeply ironic when you consider that the hard-right of the traddies argue essentially the reverse regarding V2.

Anonymous said...

He even blames the Pope for the BBC giving the misimpression that a quote he read in an academic lecture was his own.

I believe that this guy even supported a priest in Brisbane who claims in the newspaper that he doesn't believe in a deity. It seems he wanted the atheist priest to remain teaching people the faith. He calls himself a Catholic but hates the mother Church with avengance.