Monday, February 16, 2009

Liturgy Wars in South Africa

My sincere thanks to the reader who sent me the link to this article:

A furor has erupted in the South African Catholic Church over the first round of English-language changes in the Mass.

The Southern Cross, a southern African Catholic weekly newspaper, reports that clergy, liturgists and laity are up in arms about some of the new language being used during the constant parts of the Mass, saying the changes are confusing and fail to reflect the common usage of the English language and culture in the region.

Some commentators have said the changes fail to recognize the different ways English is spoken. Many fear that similar confusion and anger will rise up in some of the 10 other English-speaking countries governed by the revisions should there be no recognition of language and cultural differences.

The Southern Cross has reported extensively on the changes and reaction to them in recent weeks. The newspaper also has devoted more space on its Web site to its bloggers, such as Jesuit Father Anthony Egan, and more space in its print version for opinion pieces, commentary and letters to the editor since the Dec. 1 changeover.

The changes, which the South African bishops put into effect the first Sunday of Advent, are among those being discussed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

What kind of furor are the changes causing? Well, consider this, from a letter written by Bishop Kevin Dowling: (all emphasis added--E.M.)

To me there is no cogent reason why the language which the People of God in any place use to express their faith and spirituality, and to celebrate the Eucharist, the sacraments and so on has to conform to a Latin text. People ask why — and rightly so. I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II during the past years.

I believe the English-speaking conferences of bishops should have stood their ground and challenged the decisions taken at the Vatican as an expression of collegial discernment. We should have communicated to the Vatican that “it seems good to the Spirit and to us” that we proceed with our discernment together with the whole People of God about what is the best way we can express and celebrate our faith in English and every other language.

Our objective as Church should surely be that instead of making everyone conform to a dead-language text we need to allow diversity in cultural and linguistic expressions of faith communities around the world.

Bishop Dowling has, I think, however unwittingly, illustrated just why we so desperately needed a new English translation in the first place.

The Mass is not supposed to be a vehicle for cultural and linguistic diversity. Nor is the Mass supposed to be a reflection of what the community thinks is the best way to express and celebrate their faith.

The Mass, instead, is supposed to be the highest form of worship, the fitting sacrificial prayer offered to the Father in Heaven. What it is, and what it is supposed to express and convey, is very much expressed by those "dead language" texts, which are then supposed to be faithfully and carefully translated into the vernacular--or left alone in the Latin language, if faithful and careful translation is considered too difficult to accomplish for some reason.

There are plenty of devotions, prayers, etc. by which a community can express their faith with all the cultural diversity wanted. I've seen lovely examples of this, such as processions in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, wherein the ethnic and cultural celebrations blend beautifully with ancient Catholic customs and prayers. But the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass transcends the here and now, and transports us all back to Calvary. When we kneel as the Eucharistic Prayer is offered by the priest, we are not there to express ourselves in any way, but to unite ourselves to Christ's sacrifice, re-presented in an unbloody way upon the altar.

And the "vision, theology, and ecclesiology of Vatican II" does not contradict this. Only a false imposition of agendas far removed from the Council itself, and left to run riot for the last four decades, saw in the Council a chance to reshape the Mass into a vehicle for cultural expression and communal self-importance, in a way that was very much at odds not only with the Council, but with the Church throughout the ages.

Now, at last, some of the disruption and chaos packaged as authentic worship is being reined in, and a new focus on the proper sort of worship we offer to God through the celebration of the Mass is being seen. The good efforts to retranslate some of the more loose and problematic of the English texts, especially those which stripped the language of majesty, reverence, and a celestial focus, replacing those things with familiarity, irreverence, and a very mundane focus, are finally underway--but, as can be seen from the reaction in South Africa to an early version of those new texts, it's going to take a lot of education about what worship is and why it does, indeed, matter how closely our prayers resemble those Latin texts before people--and even bishops!--understand why this must be done.

I hope that the situation in South Africa will be handled well, and that the new texts will eventually be accepted by all Catholics there. There is much to be celebrated in the new English translation of the Mass--but we should probably take the example being set by our South African brothers and sisters seriously, and be prepared to offer our enthusiastic acceptance of the new prayers when they are given to us here, so as to offset some of the agitation by those who fear, rightly so, that they are losing their chance to use the Mass as their own personal plaything, a blank slate on which they can impose their own agendas, personalities, and desires quite apart from the Church's understanding of what worship really is.


Irenaeus said...

These people make me sick. Benedict must live to be 120 and outlast them all. And I know the LC have problems, but when are gonna finally surpress the Jesuits?

opey124 said...

We will try and do our part and be open (excited) about the changes although they are going to be difficult, meaning they are different, to begin with. But we so need these new translations. It is so needed. Even the Nicene Creed, something as simple as replacing the "We" with "I" now is going to have a big impact. Because just right there, our faith becomes owned by us personally.

Thanks so much for the post. I totally agree.

Anonymous said...

Um - actually I agree partially with Bishop Dowling.

The Mass is the primary means of catechesis (see SC 14). If its syntax is only partially intelligible or, worse, annoying to its hearers it fails as their primary prayer. In my opinion the present generation of leaders are busy (unintentionally) dividing the Church like never before, all in the name of restoring the sanctity of the Mass. Instead of focusing on improving the manner of celebration and liturgical training of priests, they have chosen to change the language in the (vain) hope that this will somehow improve the quality of the celebration. We will continue to have the same old sloppy liturgies, but now dressed up in questionable (sloppy) English. Sigh!

I can foresee the 1973 ICEL translation living on indefinitely in pockets of the world because its English is so much better and more meaningful to ordinary Catholics than the Liturgiam Authenticam translation. Eventually it will probably be recognised the CDW as an official English "use", or years from now it may form the basis of a new African English rite (similar to the Zaire rite variant of the Latin Rite). Heaven knows, the '73 translation needs improvement, but reworking it in obscure English is going to make things worse not better. Knowing the South African Church as I do their bishops would do well to reflect long and hard on the reactions of a normally very obedient English-speaking minority in the country. And what lessons are there in this for the rest of the English-speaking Catholic world?

I can foresee years of liturgical uncertainty ahead. After having recently approved the new translation, the South African bishops have already petitioned the Holy See to alter the new Creed and Eucharistic Prayers to gender-inclusive texts -- something many of their parishes have already done by themselves. Another Sigh!

- Gray

scripturelink said...

Their stats are wrong:

Dowling also has stated support for condoms etc, as with the "Southern Cross"

Note the Catholic culture review linked to.


siemprefiel said...

Gray said "The Mass is the primary means of catechesis (see SC 14)"

This is incorrect. The Mass is not the primary medium of catechesis, nor is catechesis the primary function of the Mass.

Maybe Gray intended to refer to SC n. 33 (not 14) which states:-

"Although the Sacred Liturgy is principally the worship of the Divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful . . "

I agree that the Mass must be intelligible, but it is far too subjective to insist that it must not be "annoying", since there can hardly be any form of words which does not annoy somebody. Many of the hymns written in the 1970's and 1980's are deeply "annoying", but we are not excused from approaching the Divine Mysteries with the proper disposition (SC n.11).

The people need a "good understanding of the rites and prayers" (SC n. 48) which implies some effort on the part of pastors and people (SC n. 19). The Second Vatican Council never said the Sacred Liturgy is an effort-free zone.

I have yet to see any example offered of where the new translation is "unintelligible".

Anonymous said...

Our bishops in South Africa (it seems) are denying that the English-speaking Church in SA has been thrown into a mess with the implementation of this ghastly mass text. Why else would they appeal Rome? They, sadly, are deluding themselves. They have said that the problem is not the text but the implementation date. That is untrue. The texts have caused major division and have, on the whole, not been well received. They have made an appeal to Rome asking that we continue to use them after Rome has said stop (funny how blind obedience doesn’t work both ways!). We hope Rome has the courage to say no. It has been a disaster. Worst of all is the fact that the bishops just will not listen to us - two of them have written public statements negating any concerns people have expressed. They believe that issues like inclusive language are not important, that the laity (and most of the clergy!) are incompetent to comment on the bad English (only experts can do that according to the Cardinal but we are the ones who have to use this horrible text. Why was an English expert not part of the translation board I wonder? If there was he should be fired!) I hope that the rest of the English Church is following this. Are these the poor shepherds that the prophet Ezekiel speaks out against? People will talk with their feet, I know some who have already. South Africans have been docile up to now, this is perhaps a turning point. We will no longer subscribe to blind obedience. Our Cardinal and Bishops have lost credibility and I cannot respect these men anymore if they treat the laity with absolute contempt.There are sinister dark forces at work in the heart of the Church. Thank God for the Jesuits and people like our beloved Bishop Dowling. They are true shepherds!