I have a “baker’s dozen” worth of responses to Father Ryan:
1. He argues that the vox populi should be a controlling factor in matters liturgical since they are the prime beneficiaries and since they foot the bills. When has that ever been the case in the history of the Church? Of course, what is so amusing about the suggestion is that it is being proposed by people who, thirty years ago, treated popular input to their program with total disdain.
As anyone should know, being involved with liturgical texts calls for many things: acceptance of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); a wide-ranging knowledge of Scripture and Tradition; an appreciation of liturgical history; linguistic ability. Needless to say, the average lay person (or priest) does not possess these competencies. Nor did most of the members of the original ICEL team, individually or collectively – which was why the end-result was so flawed.
2. Father Ryan suggests that far more people would have signed onto his petition, except for the element of fear. Fear of whom? “The bishops,” he says. Here we are faced with a contradiction because, in his America article, he said that the vast majority of bishops only grudgingly voted in favor of the final text. If that is so, why would they persecute those who thought like them?
3. He expresses his “surprise that more haven’t” signed his online petition. He can’t have it both ways. Either the vox populi is with him, or it’s not. He then proceeds to attribute the slim results to the people not “hav[ing] a clue about the new Missal.” Whose fault is that? Most folks in his camp have tried to guard this project more carefully than the Third Secret of Fatima. Last fall, I was invited to make a presentation on the new translation to a parish community, only to have the pastor told by the diocesan liturgical director that the talk was to be cancelled! The pastor did not acquiesce, and the faithful were positively impressed by the new texts.
4. I am chided as “disingenuous” for failing to mention the 1998 text proferred by ICEL to the American bishops and subsequently sent to the Holy See. I never mentioned it because Father Ryan never mentioned it in the article, to which I was responding. However, I would be happy to comment on it now: It was a defective work, largely a warmed-over version of what we got in 1973, which is why it got panned by the Holy See. If you have essentially the same players, would you not get the same results?
In turn, I feel compelled to chide Father Ryan for not engaging a single one of my critiques of his position or of my defense of the new translation.
5. Father Ryan refers to Liturgiam Authenticam as “highly controversial.” It was controversial only to those who had been used to functioning as loose cannons on deck and long overdue from the perspective of many, a point to which I shall return later. Finally, the Church had provided a clear philosophy of translation.
6. When the “recently retired archbishop” tells us “it’s not about translations,” I agree. I don’t agree that it’s about power, though. The conflict is not about translation, per se; that’s the visible part of the iceberg. The hidden part is a conflict over worldviews and theological perspectives. One group is about using liturgical texts to consolidate doctrine and morality; the other is about using them to change traditional positions to accommodate modernity. And that fundamental divide will not be bridged by having tea together.
7. Which leads to the next point: dialogue vs. diatribe. It’s interesting that when some people want to get their way, insistently and forcefully advancing their agenda, it is called dialogue; when the other side operates in a similar mode, it’s called diatribe. Dialogue is useful to discover commitments and then, where possible, to forge a common position. If the differences are as stark as I maintain above, there is no common meeting ground. For over two decades, the Holy See repeatedly instructed ICEL to change course (and was roundly ignored) and then took drastic measures by denying the recognitio to the funeral and ordination rites for years until significant changes were made.
Endless dialogue gets us nowhere, as Chesterton reminded us: “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
8. I am not shocked at all by the prospect of certain priests refusing to implement the new Missal and/or of “mak[ing] their own changes as they see fit.” As Ecclesiastes teaches us, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Men who will operate in that fashion have, in all likelihood, been doing their own thing for decades already – and doing so with impunity, which emboldens them to continue down the same divisive path. What is sad is that Father Ryan seems to rejoice in that prospect, subtly supporting them, just as his “just wait” petition gave tacit support to the “just say no” approach.
9. What Father Ryan dubs “retrenchment,” I see as “ressourcement,” going back to the sources of the original liturgical movement and the ecclesiastical documents of the entire twentieth century, including and especially Sacrosanctum concilium. Which makes me ask, Just what were “the ground-breaking reforms of the Council”? I am aware of none. Indeed, every one of the liturgical reforms proposed by the Council has a footnote to some prior source. Continuity, not rupture, is the optic through which the Council must be viewed, as has been stressed by every Pope (and synod) of the post-conciliar era.
10. We are told that many petition-signers were “prominent theologians, liturgists, church historians, church leaders, pastors, and administrators.” That smacks of an elitism and even arrogance. Besides that, I didn’t recognize any “prominent” ones, but perhaps I haven’t been reading the right materials.
11. Father Ryan speaks of “when (and if)” the new translation is implemented. The “if” is a strange parenthetical addition, and I’m not sure what we should glean from it.
12. The figure of Blessed John XXIII is brought forward, perhaps to silence opposition. I rejoice in his memory and call to mind his wise apostolic constitution (promulgated on the eve of the Council), Veterum sapientia, in which he mandated a serious return to Latin in every sphere of ecclesial life. He was also the pope who reversed Venerable Pius XII’s approval for the Neo-Vulgate, attempted to shore up clerical discipline in the Diocese of Rome, and added Joseph’s name to the Roman Canon. It is easy to prognosticate about what a dead man would do; it is much harder to confront the reality of what he did do. I often think a nice new Catholic parlor game would be “Will the Real John XXIII Please Stand Up?” with its sequel, “Will the Real Vatican II Please Stand Up?”
13. My last reaction is to the contribution of a blogger, who insightfully calls for serious “philological analysis.” Language is the bearer of meaning. Words are not insignificant, particularly for those who worship the Word-made-Flesh. Those who know Christian history can never assert that “it doesn’t make one iota of a difference” since they know that blood flowed in the streets over “one iota” at Nicea. And if words are not significant, then what’s all the fuss about with this new translation?
Let me say a word about what I’ve learned from the whole process and how I view things at this point. The first thing that surprised me – pleasantly – from the exchange in America was how the preponderance of bloggers there actually supported the new translation. Given the fact that America and its subscribers have never been accused of right-wing extremism, this was most interesting. That says to me that thinking people know that something had to be done to make our worship more transcendental, more beautiful, more faithful to the Tradition and, as the response-blog put it, “we’ve waited long enough.”
Secondly, it seems to me that the Holy See should have been much more decisive much sooner in handling the “translation wars” and should not have been sending mixed signals for a long period of time. Of course, we cannot ignore how the divided-house phenomenon of the American bishops allowed confusion to persist as well. Thankfully, both sides of “The Pond” seem to be on the same page now.
Finally, I believe some “product-testing” of the new translation would have been worthwhile. In all likelihood, that got ruled out when it became clear that an attitude of obstructionism would delay the process of promulgation and implementation until the Second Coming of Christ.
What’s needed now is for all loyal sons and daughters of the Church to get on board, moving forward together, as we were encouraged to do in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II.
Pray Tell blog
Rev. Peter Stravinskas is the editor of The Catholic Response, publisher of Newman House Press and executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation.
Rev. Michael G. Ryan, is the author of What If We Said “Wait” in the December 14, 2009 issue of America magazine, has been pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle since 1988 and serves on the board of the national Cathedral Ministry Conference.