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Friday, February 4, 2011

A Winter of Discontent

With the way some circles are reporting the coming implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal, one would think that they were confusing it with the purported 2012 Armageddon predictions.    Many are calling the process flawed.  Others seem to be longing for the fleshpots of the 1998 translation.  Still others claim that we don't need one at all.

Having worked for the Texas House of Represenatives (including a brief stint in the Texas Senate) for 12 years, I call tell you that legislative processes, be they secular or sacred, are never pretty things to watch.  They can sometimes be downright brutal.  However, the end result is, more often than not, of great benefit to those for whom the laws and measures are intended. 

In the Church's case, we must remember that She is not a democracy.  The work that she undertakes in such massive projects is meticulous and not based upon popular opinion or polls.  This is why the letter, written by Fr. Anthony Ruff, that appeared in a recent edition of the magazine America leaves me with sadness and a great deal of concern.

Fr. Ruff's open letter to the bishops of the United States expresses his displeasure with the coming revised translation of the Roman Missal.  He went so far as to say that:

The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church. When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity…I weep.

I see a good deal of disillusionment with the Catholic Church among my friends and acquaintances. Some leave the Catholic Church out of conviction, some gradually drift away, some join other denominations, some remain Catholic with difficulty. My response is to stay in this church for life and do my best to serve her. This I hope to do by stating the truth as I see it, with charity and respect. I would be ready to participate in future liturgical projects under more favorable conditions.

With all due respect to Fr. Ruff, I believe that some of the assertions of displeasure that he is raising really have no credence, unless the folks airing their discontent are the signers of the infamous "What if We Just Said Wait" petition.  It is ironic that Fr. Ruff talks about Jesus' teaching on unity and love.   The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament par excellence of unity and love.  However, over the past four decades, there has been some semblance of unity missing in the English translation of the Roman Missal that we currently have in place.  For example, while the rest of the world prays "And with your spirit", we pray "And also with you."  We say similar things, in essence, but, we are not saying the same thing.   Thus, there is that perceptible rupture to the unity.

Fr. Ruff's concern that people will leave is also something rather difficult to fathom, but, sadly, it's not new to the Church.  Even in Jesus' time, folks leaving Him was a sad reality.  Recall Jesus' discourse on the Bread of Life.  Recall the reaction that some of his disciples had to this:'

[61] Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it? [62] But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you? [63] If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? [64] It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. [65] But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was, that would betray him.  [66] And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father. [67] After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him.
Now, I am not saying that the folks who are contemplating leaving the Church because of the translation are betraying Jesus; however, as I see it, the reasons for their pending departure are superfluous.  They want to leave because words are being changed, or, more specifically, because the words that we are going to pray at the Mass are being restored to better reflect the awesome mysteries that unfold before us at every Holy Sacrifice. 

The charges of decption that Fr. Ruff raises are, I believe, unfounded. He alleges that the process was not followed.  Rome mandated a  new process because, for whatever reason, the previous one had some issues.  The process was followed and respected.  Naturally, edits will occur and bumps will mar the road from time to time, but, the process was followed.  The charges of mischief and deception are, I believe, smoke screens to hide a deeper issue.

That Fr. Ruff decries the notion that the priests nor the laity were consulted about the process seems to me like selective amnesia.  Over 40 years ago, when the Mass changed practically overnight, comments were not solicited from the priests nor the faithful.  The changes came, abruptly, but, they happened.   It is ironic that Fr. Ruff is having the same reaction to the coming Roman Missal that countless priests and faithful had over four decades ago.  It's as though the liberals of the late 1960s-early 1970s have now become the new conservatives, as they are trying to conserve the current translation.  

The bishops were the ones consulted by way of the English-speaking national episcopal conferences.  They were given the ICEL versions of the texts (grouped in diferent booklets) to review, possibly revise and adapt, and vote to approve, submitting their amended versions to the Holy See.  That is how the process is supposed to run.  Neither Sacrosanctum Concilium nor Liturgiam Authenitcam states that the Holy See has to consult with priests or the faithful about the process.  Any final changes that werer made, came from the Holy See, as is its right.

I trust the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the decisions they have made regarding the coming translation.  I trust Pope Benedict XVI and the decision that he made to promulgate this edition of the Roman Missal.   As the Holy Father told the bishops of England and Wales:

Finally, I should like to speak to you about two specific matters that affect your episcopal ministry at this time. One is the imminent publication of the new translation of the Roman Missal. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for the contribution you have made, with such painstaking care, to the collegial exercise of reviewing and approving the texts. This has provided an immense service to Catholics throughout the English-speaking world. I encourage you now to seize the opportunity that the new translation offers for in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist and renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration. “The more lively the eucharistic faith of the people of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 6).

We must trust the Holy See on this one.  We should take the same attitude that St. Peter had when Jesus posed this question to him:

[68] Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away? [69] And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. [70] And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.

For us, to have fear is useless.  We need to trust.

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