Thursday, July 20, 2006

From the Spirit of the Liturgy

After the second Vatican Council there were a great many changes (“reforms”) made to the Roman Catholic mass and the church’s liturgy. Now there is a growing momentum for a reform of the reform and support appears to coming from the very top of the hierarchy. Pope Benedikt (the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) is the intellectual father of the reform of the reform.

Why do we need a reform of the reform? What can we expect from the call by Vatican II to reform the liturgy of the Roman Rite? Here is some background from a very personal point of view.

Through most of the twentieth century, there was something called the liturgical movement (in German, die Liturgische Bewegung.) In the years prior to the Council, a great many good things were being done. Scholars were rediscovering the depths of meaning in the liturgy. They were studying the history of the liturgy. Sacred music was being rediscovered and reformed. Here and there the liturgical movement was spreading to a few churches. I was in high school 1959-63. We did dialogue masses in Latin with the congregation doing the responses aloud. Chant was being revived. Unfortunately this spread of the movement to the pews was much less than a mustard seed and a far cry from a mustard tree.

The bishops of the world met with the Pope in an ecumenical council from 1962-1965 at the Vatican. The first major document adopted by the Council was Sacrosanctum Concilium ( ), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In 1969 the Vatican issued a new missal and General Instruction to reform the Roman Catholic liturgy. This was translated into English in 1970. These changes, the translation, and the actual implementation of the new mass and liturgy were directed by the “experts,” middle level bureaucrats in the dioceses and their counterparts in the universities and in the national ecclesiastical organizations. These liturgists took no quarter.

My comments to these “reforms” grow from my own personal experience of the mass as translated into English in the U.S. Personally I feel the bureaucrats who implemented the Constitution on the Liturgy betrayed the liturgical movement and defiled the liturgy itself. I have shed many tears over the vandalism that was done in the name of the Council.

Still I have no illusions: the mass as performed in the U.S. in my youth was in need of reform. Not the radical reform of Paul V after the Council of Trent nor the vandalism of the liturgists after Vatican II, but the organic growth, pruning and restoration that would have made richer and more meaningful the relationship between the people (the "plebs" to use the Council's word) and the clergy and their God as expressed in their praise and adoration. I believe the people’s parts needed to be restored to them (in Latin.) The masses should all be sung (chanted.) The rest of the family is skeptical that the mass would be more meaningful in Latin and using chant (both advocated in Sacrosanctum Concilium.) My daughter Brigid has just returned from Slovakia. There she was a fellow at the Slovak Seminar on the Free Society with Michael Novak. She told me they had mass every day sung in Latin. Experiencing done well convinced her that there may be something to this after all.

The reform of the reform is a new liturgical movement that seeks to do what the Council actually said should be done as opposed to what the liturgists actually did do.

But the promise of the liturgical movement was more than just renewing the liturgy. The liturgy should join scripture as a source of our spiritual life and our theological understanding. According to then Cardinal Ratzinger, the liturgical movement in Germany was started by one little book by Fr. Romano Guardini, S.J., Vom Geist der Liturgie. The German means “From the Spirit of the Liturgy.”

There is a Latin phrase, lex orandi lex credendi, that is often misused. Search the Internet and you will be overwhelmed with the number of hits. It has come to mean “What we pray is what we believe.” The implication is that liturgists can change what we do in liturgy and replace what we believe from revelation with what we “experience” in our “community celebrations.” Quite the contrary, the Latin maxim was first proposed as an argument against heresy. What we pray in the mass provides proof of what we believe in. The original quote attributed to Pope St. Celestine in 422 A.D. and probably written by Prosper of Aquataine was “Legem credendi statuit lex orandi.” In other words, the ancient rites give us evidence of what we believe in. Guardini says this quite plainly: “The liturgy, the lex orandi, is, according to the old proverb, the law of faith—the lex credendi—as well. It is the treasure-house of Revelation.”

Thus there is a very personal payoff from studying the liturgy. Prayerful reading and meditating on the liturgical texts will deepen our faith. This goal was at the very heart of the liturgical movement before the vandals hijacked it. This is the ultimate pastoral promise of the reform of the reform.

Hope is a theological virtue and thus I am an optimist. I believe in Christ’s promise that the Spirit will be our paraclete. The first Vatican Council did not bear fruit until forty years after it ended. We are now experiencing the blossoming of the fruits of the second Vatican Council. We are now led by the last great man of the Council, a man deeply in love with the liturgy of the Roman Rite. Benedikt, before he became Pope, wrote very thoughtfully and beautifully about the liturgy.

Please pray for him.

[Originally posted 7-18-06, republished 7-20-06]

The Irish Factor in the Translation Wars

Note: The U.S. Catholic bishops voted to adopt with numerous amendments the translation of the mass proposed by the International Commission for English in the Liturgy. Amy Welborn explains the issues well. The NCR has a rather unfriendly editorial on the subject.

Let’s say you are a church bureaucrat. You don’t like the new international translation of the mass. You want to influence your bishop against it. What do you whisper in his ear?

First, you tell him that those meddlesome bureaucrats in Rome are trying to tell him and his fellow American bishops how to translate the mass. You could also tell him that it is that pope isolated in the Vatican that is the problem. But you better know your audience before trying any such risky tactics. Of course, if you have been managing your boss well, he would never think of you as a meddlesome bureaucrat.

Second, remind him of how mad the folks in the pews got when all the changes in the mass were made thirty five years ago. He will not want to repeat that again! Of course, couch it in terms of his pastoral concern for his flock. Don’t remind him that you (and maybe he) were on the side of the bureaucrats who made a hash of the original translation in the first place.

Third, and this is the ultimate winner, tell him that the new translation is “so very British!” The American hierarchy traditionally was dominated by the Irish and their descendants. Like the old political bosses, the sons of the old sod had the advantage of language in an immigrant church and they were excellent infighters in ecclesiastical politics. The odds are still good that any given bishop is at least partly of Irish descent. The one thing they all have in common is a dislike for the British.

Moreover the English have a way with their native language. Perhaps theirs is an unfair advantage, but that advantage is wont to create an unconscious inferiority among some Americans.

Consider these remarks about the new translation by the Bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, Robert N. Lynch (a fine Irish name that): “The text is highly anglicized (that is to say, replete with words more likely heard spoken in England than the United States), somewhat wordy when compared to common parlance in the U.S., and also occasionally inconsistent in the application of the principles of translation.”

This is odd. From what I have seen of the new translation, there is nothing particularly British about it. True, it is not written in standard American bureaucratic English. Deo gratias! You do not know what I mean? Consider Bishop Lynch’s next two sentences: “We made some minor changes or amendments to the text, which other countries will not use, even if they are ultimately approved by the Holy See. But in answer to the question where will this text be used, the answer would not be inappropriate to say throughout the English-speaking world.” If this style is the alternative to “highly anglicized” English, I’ll take the latter. You can read all of the good bishop’s letter on the web.

Do tell me if I have done him any injustice.

[Originally posted 7-2-06, republished 7-20-06]

The Battle of the "Dew."

The Catholic bishops of the United States votes to approve a new translation of the words of the mass. Adopting a new translation was long overdue (I almost typed "overdew!")

In their unseemly haste to translate the mass into English in the 1970s, the delegated experts made a hash of it. Why do I say that? A little event in my life crystallized my grasp of the issue: It was after we moved to Virginia in 1994. Late that year we settled into St. Leo's Parish. A great parish. Each first Sunday, the "new mass" was said in Latin at 8:30. I had to try it! Beforehand, I had thought there was no ounce of emotion left in me to be scandalized. The scabs had hardened and shallowed into pale almost invisible shapes on my psyche. Then I read the Latin words next to the English words we said each mass. The wounds reopened. It had never occurred to me that the Latin and the English could be so far apart. Was I really praying the divine liturgy, when the two texts diverged so much?

Eventually the Vatican responded to the cries of the faithful and started the long campaign to reform the institutions responsible and to call forth a new translation both faithful to the actual words of the original and fleshed in sacred language. You can read that history on the Adoremus site. Well the good bishops of the United States could not stand the thought of using the word "dew." "Dew" induces a wealth of concrete and scriptural allusions. (Bishop Roche's defense of the proposed new translation is well worth reading. It displays a scholarship, a love of words and their power to move, and a love of the liturgy that every diocese should be graced with. Read especially his exegesis of this phrase.) To me this pregnant little word, "dew," evokes an image of the Spirit's working invisibly, yet tangibly. It is both concrete and evocative. But rest assured. "Dew" has been censored by our shepherds and the folks in the pews have been saved from its baneful influence.
I was once accused of having "the soul of a bureaucrat." The phrase cut me to the quick. Now among our bishops we have been blessed with many men of action. They are well trained in administration. They have studied management and absorbed the lessons of the social sciences. They know how to lead and to delegate. Above all, they get things done. If you should meet one of these, there is one thing you should never do! Do not accuse him of having the "soul of a poet." They do not like to be mocked.
[originally posted 6-21-06, republished 7-20-06]