Fr. Ryan on his article and online petition

Pray Tell recently visited with Fr. Michael G. Ryan, author of the article in America, “What If We Said ‘Wait’?”, which inspired an online petition calling for trial use of the text before it becomes official. Another petition, “We’ve waited long enough,” is also online. A response to Fr. Ryan’s article, “Defending the New Missal,” was penned by Fr. Peter Stravinskas. Pray Tell has already invited Fr. Stravinsaks to offer his comments here if he wishes. But first, Fr. Ryan:

Pray Tell: Your article appeared last December.  What has been the response to it?  Have you heard from many people?

Fr. Michael G. Ryan: The response has been overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive.  And it has come from around the entire English-speaking world, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Australia.  The response from the US has been the largest; Canada’s response has been surprisingly small.  I have personally heard from hundreds of people, lay, religious, and priests.  The majority of them thanked me for saying what they were thinking and for giving them a vehicle that allowed them to weigh in on something they care about deeply.  And, interestingly, many of the responses I’ve received make it clear that this is not a “conservative/liberal” issue.  It’s more an issue of people wanting some say in how they are going to pray our most important prayer – and not wanting changes made when the proposed changes, with some exceptions, are anything but an improvement!

PT: Did anything surprise you in the responses you received?

MR: I think I was most surprised – and disappointed – at the number of people who signed the initiative anonymously.  Many were priests and religious.  It says something about the fear that is out there.  How sad that priests would be so in fear of their bishops that they wouldn’t feel free to express themselves openly.  I see this as quite a commentary on the current climate in our Church. Of course, in the case of women religious, it’s probably understandable given the fact that the Visitation is underway and they may have been concerned about drawing attention to their congregation or community.

PT: Have you received many critical comments?  Have some individuals criticized your attitude?

MR: Our website has gotten some negative criticisms but very, very few, and most of them were anything but reasoned and were clearly from people with an extremist point of view.  We also received quite a number of fictitious names (some of them quite scurrilous or downright obscene – quite a commentary, I thought, on the maturity level of some of our opponents).  As to my attitude, I suppose there are some who have criticized it but most seem to agree with it and have thanked me for what they saw as a reasonable and balanced approach.

PT: Fr. Stravinskas wrote a response to your article.  Is there anything you would like to say in response to his response?

MR: Not really.  By choosing to assume that I was defending the translation presently in use, Fr. Stravinskas set up a straw man and then attacked it.  But, in fact, nowhere have I defended the 1973 translation.  Strangely, Fr. Stravinskas also made no reference whatever to the translation that ICEL spent 15 years in developing — translations which were approved by the bishops, submitted to the Holy See in 1998, quickly shelved, and then summarily rejected following the 2001 publication of the highly controversial Liturgiam Authenticam. Frankly, I found that quite disingenuous.

PT: Over 21,000 have signed the online petition.  Why do you think so many have signed on?  Do you suspect that many people signed because they really want to say “No!” and not just “Wait”?

MR: I am not surprised that so many have signed the online “wait” petition.  My surprise is that more haven’t!  The reason for that, I suspect, is that the vast majority – perhaps as many as 90% of the faithful – still don’t have a clue about the new Missal and what it will mean for them.  When they do learn about it, I suspect there will be a great deal of angst and anger.  As to those who have signed on, it is instructive to read the comments that many have made.  Some are angry, to be sure, and they probably really want to say “no,” but most are considered, intelligent, insightful, and they see the usefulness of testing the Missal before it is imposed.  I might add that many signers are prominent theologians, liturgists, church historians, church leaders, pastors, and administrators.  All have this in common: they see the wisdom of giving the people whose prayer this is, and who pay the bills, some say in the matter.  People are not naïve.  They know what is important to them and they also know a power-play when they see one.  As one prominent, recently retired Archbishop in this country told me not long ago, “this is not about liturgy, it’s not about translations, it’s about power!”   Well, he’s got that right!

PT: Does a part of you want to “Just say no?” or do you really believe that waiting and testing it would be the best.

MR: I suppose there’s a part of me that would like to “just say no.”  As I stated in the America article, that was my original thought.  But I abandoned it long before I sent it to America for the reason I set forth in the article: “dialogue is better than diatribe.”  I honestly believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through the people we serve as well as through the hierarchy.  I believe there’s good theological support for that in our Tradition and in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.  Why wouldn’t we, therefore, want to hear from the people about something that touches them and their faith life so profoundly?  Why wouldn’t we take the time to do this in as painstaking a manner as necessary?  What is the hurry?  Shouldn’t we want to get it right at this point rather than suffer through the consequences of having individual priest-presiders making their own adaptations and corrections to texts, some of which are manifestly flawed and others of which are just plain bad?

PT: Some priests are already saying they simply won’t implement the new Missal.  What is your advice to them?

MR: I’m not sure I’m the one to be offering advice to them!  I have heard my brother priests (including some who are quite traditional, by the way), state that they will not implement the new Missal or that, if they do, they will make their own changes as they see fit.  I personally think this is inevitable, given the fact that the translations are being imposed on them in the same way they will be imposed on their people.  For me, this is another reason to take a breath, to step back, to stop putting forward the stale argument from authority (or loyalty, or holy obedience), and to give the Holy Spirit a chance to speak through the holy People of God.

PT: What will be the approach in your cathedral parish?  Will you be honest about your misgivings, which surely the parishioners will be aware of?  How will you strive to maintain and project a positive attitude during the transition?

MR: When (and if) the time comes, we will follow the directives given us.  As a cathedral church we are called to model liturgy for the entire archdiocese, and so, in the implementation of a new translation we will make every effort to make the transition as smooth as possible. It will not be necessary for me to be honest about my misgivings since they are already known. People will develop their own attitudes in response.  They are intelligent.  They will not need me to tell them what to think or how to react.

PT: Many are saddened about the more recent direction of liturgical renewal in the Catholic Church.  Are you?

MR: Well, I wouldn’t use the phrase “liturgical renewal” to describe what is currently going on.  It is not renewal; it is retrenchment!  Anyone who has steeped him- or herself in the Conciliar documents and in some of the many respected and comprehensive historical analyses of the Council (What Happened at Vatican II? by John W. O’Malley, S.J. is an excellent example) knows that the so called “reform of the reform” is not about renewal but about imposing a pre-Conciliar vision of liturgical theology on the ground-breaking reforms of the Council.  So, to say that I am saddened by what is going on is an understatement.  I expressed that in my America article and, if anything, I feel it even more strongly some six months later.  The Church does need renewal, of course.  The recent international explosion of the whole sexual abuse issue and the hierarchical cover-up is ample and distressing evidence of that.  Among other things, the renewal I and many are talking about needs to involve such things as the outmoded way authority is exercised in the Church, the Byzantine way leaders are chosen, and the anything but transparent way decisions are made.  This is where the real renewal needs to take place and our people know it.  This whole matter of the new Missal with its power plays and its top-down, authoritarian approach is very much connected to the current controversies that are swirling within and around the Church.

PT: What gives you hope about the Church, the liturgy, the future of renewal?

MR: My hope is in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about true renewal.  The same Spirit who inspired the great and Blessed Pope John XXIII to call the Second Vatican Council will bring about renewal in the Church today.  I wouldn’t want to put a timetable on it, but I am confident it will happen.  Every Sunday I am privileged to preside at four or five incredibly beautiful Eucharistic liturgies at which several thousand people participate prayerfully, actively, enthusiastically, and more and more go forth on fire with love and a deep commitment to serve the poor and advocate for justice.  I know the power of good liturgy to form and shape a community of people.  I see it every week.  Not even a seriously flawed Missal with some distressingly poor translations can stop that, although a beautifully translated Missal could certainly help!

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21 comments

  1. It would be more interesting to hear Fr Ryan not just defend his position but identify what he thinks are the greatest weaknesses in opposing the new translation and what the greatest strengths of the new translation might be. (And vice versa for Fr Stravinkas – to ask him what the greatest weaknesses of the new translation might be and what the greatest strengths of the 1998 translations were.)

    There’s altogether too much of letting people simply reaffirm their own talking points. They should be asked to engage their own points critically, and show appreciation for the points of their opponents. Otherwise, everyone stays in his or her own comfortable ideological ghetto.

    1. I second this proposal. This current post is about the petition,

      When we get the real (i.e. authentic) Missal, perhaps both persons would be willing to do what KLS proposes, to evaluate both its strengths and weaknesses.

      Perhaps that might place us on the road to dialog and collaboration.

      1. ««both persons would be willing to do what KLS proposes, to evaluate both its strengths and weaknesses.»»

        That’s exactly what Fr. Ryan is asking…that we have time to really evaluate the new “translation”…not just have it imposed…we need a trial period or a trial of a region or two to see just how confusing and, really, how weird the English is…the new dismissals have something good to say, but perhaps even those not in a language that will inspire…language doesn’t have to be confusing or ungrammatical to inspire…”Sí, se puede” is about as simple as you can get and it has inspired thousands for decades…rambling sentences just lose hearers…we’re supposed to be at worship, not an advanced systematics class!

  2. Agreed with Karl. His suggestions are necessary to move this beyond cheerleaders with pom poms and into a spiritual discernment. Additionally, I would like each of them to address the weaknesses in the MR3 itself and how they would address these in the next edition.

    1. Agreed.

      Discernment of this sort must necessarily involve evidence of serious, good faith identification of and engagement with (1) the limitations and weaknesses in one’s own arguments, and (2) the strengths of opposing arguments. Yes, one must learn to argue the other side better than the other side before one can present one’s own side with greatest credibility.

  3. Why was not the language of our current Sacramentary improved as needed and not thrown out with the bathwater? There was no need of a wholesale “translation”…that “need” has never been explained…especially the grab from the almost-finished ICEL updating by Vox Clara (now there’s an oxymoron!!).

    1. Actually, there was a fair consensus across the spectrum that the interim translation from the 1970s was both unlovely and lacking in desirable substance. Few would convincingly defend just keeping the current translation for long.

      1. Again…why throw out the entire Sacramentary & start all over again…the current translation needed a few tweaks, but not an entire overhaul…

  4. Thanks for this interview. I find it fascinating that so many of us can pontificate with certain infallibility about how the Holy Spirit has led some movements in the Church and how He has absented Himself from others. I find this certitude rather arrogant. Whether you liked the reforms after Vatican II or not and whether you like the current reforms, just how the Holy Spirit directed these things and in what way human sinfulness is involved is opened to debate and a variety of responses, none of them actually matters of faith. Presumption, I believe, is still classified as a sin. Whether or not every post-conciliar act of “renewal” was of the Holy Spirit and whether every “reform of the reform” is not an act of the Holy Spirit will be determined by the fruit that is borne or the strife these cause but no one will be sure until we are on the other side of time and see things from the perspective of eternity. Those who hated the reforms of the post conciliar documents but who remained faithful and obedient to the Church nonetheless and prayed for her and those who hate the reform of the reform but remain faithful and obedient nonetheless and pray for her, both striving to create the least amount of schism will be called blessed in the kingdom of God which for most of us even if we live to be 100 will be here none too soon. Get a grip! And to imply that those who do not celebrate exciting liturgies with all the personal external manifestations described in the last answer somehow don’t care for the poor or go out to serve the least of their brothers and sisters nonetheless, is highly questionable. I suspect there are some “Dorothy Day types” who love the EF Mass and celebrate it quietly. I know people who don’t even go the Mass who are some of the most caring and loving people toward the poor and have a great fire in their heart for justice. I suspect God planted it there without them even experiencing external manifestations of liturgical zeal.

  5. As a signer of the petition I would like to discuss with others what they saw valuable in the petition and where that might lead us forward. I see:

    1. A desire to move beyond the liturgy wars of a“Just Say No” petition

    2. A significant movement not just internationally but locally. In my diocese the 252 signers included 22 diocesan priests, 4 religious priests, 1 deacon, 31 women religious, 46 lay ministers, and 148 lay persons. At least one priest and one woman religious have national reputations.

    3. Having priests, religious, lay ministers, and “laity” in the same movement is a good idea. Too much discussion of the liturgy occurs in various separate church and professional organizations were “laity “are not present. I like the proportions in my diocese. As a lay person I would be able to influence significant numbers of priests, religious and lay ministers, but would not be lost among the crowd in the pews.

    4. A real commitment to hearing the laity in the pews. This movement has to be committed to the many laity who really love the liturgy and have no ideological interests. They need to be able to help shape a liturgy which serves all the people well.

    5. The movement of those who signed the petition needs to be a bottom up not just a top down movement. Therefore it needs to have a website that allows us to interact internationally, nationally, and at the diocesan level. It has to get beyond signing petitions and writing letters.

    1. I don’t think that the petition was helpful at all except to consolidate a subgroup of the like-minded, often in established positions. It’s not a helluva lot more ground-up than the approach of the other side.

      Real ground-up would look *much* messier and its timeline would have to involve decades. It would start with un-loaded questions, involve structures that are not designed towards a given result (that is, progressives who advocate for this must be seriously committed to the possibility that our desiderata will not only not be embraced but be rejected – otherwise, it’s just another shell game), and would have to seriously disrupt the hijacking of the center by the wings, as it w were. There are already plenty of ways for the passionate 20% wing to ignore or co-opt the vaster middle that would prefer to move on to other matters, and most of what passes for discussion is merely a mask for that modus operandi.

    2. I had 3 main concerns with the petition. First, contrary to the words of Fr. Ryan above, many comments both on his website and by signers on other sites do not push for “what if we said wait” but indeed are for “we say no.” The only “waiting” called for was not for any “pastoral reasons” but one of indefinite waiting or hoping to “wait Rome out” until they scrap the whole project. The second is that there has to be at least some, and probably a good many, of the signers who are under the impression that “if we get x number of signatures then we can stop this,” which even Fr. Ryan would probably not hold as the case. Now when the stopping or waiting does not occur regardless of how many people sign the page, they become even more angry because “there voice was not heard.” A third concern was the names themselves. They did clean it up, but for awhile among the real signatures were many members of the Church long gone. I believe Peter the Bishop of Rome signed on more than one occasion, as did Fr. Z and Bugnini. Honestly, I thought all that was pretty funny. But the large number of anonymous signatures is a big problem, as Fr. Ryan addressed above.

      1. I’m sure the other signatories can speak for themselves, but from my viewpoint,

        1. The opposition is more to the poor quality of the result than a desire to scrap MR3.

        2. I don’t think most reasonable observers would expect to delay this. Rome is committed and stubborn, and stands to lose face on all sides by pulling thw work and starting over. Perhaps the weakest portions of the work would be looked at. And if key changes could be made on obvious errors, that would do some good, no?

        3. Yes, well, I wouldn’t take the internet seriously either. Jokers of all sorts of ideology try to insinuate themselves in activities like this. The bottom line is that the petition stung many people, and others devoted a lot of time to debunk it. It is what it is: pretty much the only way for the pro-quality crowd to take a stand.

  6. Fr. Ryan: The Church does need renewal, of course. The recent international explosion of the whole sexual abuse issue and the hierarchical cover-up is ample and distressing evidence of that. […] This whole matter of the new Missal with its power plays and its top-down, authoritarian approach is very much connected to the current controversies that are swirling within and around the Church.

    Fr. Ryan’s insinuation that both the mismanaged abuse scandal and the revision of the Roman Missal translation derive in part from misappropriated episcopal power unfairly smears the translation effort. Please, let’s not descend to this level.

    In America Fr. Stravinskas observes the necessity of philological analysis in Missal translation. Fr. Ryan’s critique of new Missal mentions nothing about the philology of the Mass and its scriptural allusions. Rather, Fr. Ryan’s critique centers almost entirely on subjective metrics such as “lay reception”.

    Both liturgical camps should justify MR translations through rigorous philology. Any liturgical ideology must correspond not only to theological truths but also an idiomatic and accurate translation of a well-examined Latin philology. Fr. Ryan’s focus on lay reception without rigorous philological justification imperils the relationship between modern translation and historical antecedents (per Stravinskas).

    1. I respectfully suggest that it would be important to immerse oneself in the area of liturgical semiotics before condemning Fr Ryan’s position. How things are perceived and received is crucial to our prayer life.

      As far as philological analysis is concerned, this needs to be undertaken at a rather deeper level than anything I have seen so far from those who advocate a literal translation of the Latin. A kind of “proof-texting” technique seems a very immature way of going about it.

      The problem with going down the philological path alone is that one lays oneself open to the can of worms opened up when it becomes clear that the Latin itself may be deficient and, some would say, completely inappropriate to the spiritual needs of 21st-century Catholics. If the Church wants to embark on that debate, many would welcome it, but I suspect that those in the Vatican Curia would quite simply prefer a reversion to a preconciliar status quo and would not even comprehend the necessity for such a debate. But the so-called hermeneutic of continuity does not mean stasis, as its proponents seem to imply, it actually means development and change in the broad context of tradition.

  7. “Proof-texting” and overly literal translations are not the way forward. I agree that many on both sides of the translation debate have ignored philological and literary studies of the Missal. As a result, the new translation’s slavishly literal renderings confuse rather than clarify.

    An academic study of the Missale Romanum might have bridged the ideological divide over the new translation. This study would necessarily study rubrical evolution, medieval/early-modern and patristic-era prayer, the syntax and semantics of late and medieval Latin, and classical Latin rhetoric. Postmodern modifications rely on historical-critical study. An analysis of the Latin Rite from a purely 21st c. standpoint removes the rite from its socio-cultural-linguistic genesis and genius.

    A solid semiotic understanding of the Mass derives not from one generation’s perspective. I fear that Fr. Ryan’s critiques needlessly disregard the accumulated commentary and rubrics of the Church. Any cause for innovation should advance from liturgical precedent and not from the reflexive presumption that “modern Catholics” require invented liturgical expressions. Conversely, “traditional Catholics” should avoid semiotic fundamentalism and fossilization. Historical rubrical norms should be defended through the language of today’s Church. Both Fr. Ryan and Fr. Stravinskas shy from certain academic questions that surround translation.

    1. Actually, this type of academic study has been undertaken. If one were to flip through back issues of Notitiae (which is notably difficult to get your hands on), a history of every prayer in the revised Missal has been conducted. Also, to their credit, before revising the Missal in preparation for the 1998 Sacramentary, ICEL conducted a very thorough study of each of the prayers. The results or mentioned in the 3 Progress Reports which were issued in 1988, 1990, and 1992 respectively. ICEL and their translation expereinces for the part 47 years have certainly positioned themselves to be the best people to translate texts. Since their reform in 2003, they have been operating under incredible limitations, not only that, but the real issue is the lack of consistency about what is expected from them on the part of CDWDS.

  8. I believe that any study of Latin Philogy will really not matter much to the average praying member of a Catholic parish. All of our study and research and analysis will not mean much, if reception is hostile.. both in terms of the process in getting there, as well as the final result.

    1. I think what David says is especially true if the final result deviates all over the place from the Latin, and words gets out that that is the case. But again, this will affect the professionals (clergy, musicians, etc.) more than the people in the pews.
      For the record, I’m all in favor of accurate translation of Latin. BUT: put it into good English that works in the liturgy! The 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer is a good model for really beautiful collects which don’t keep interrupting themselves unnaturally, like ours will do.
      awr

  9. Fr. Ruff,

    Amen! to your last. What I’ve seen of the new work is less translation than transliteration, and it doesn’t work well. Some of it strikes me as ugly with a capital UGH.

    I have another question: Has the Latin source material been examined for its inherent quality? I’m not speaking of the Scriptures, which should be translated from their original Greek anyway, but the Mass parts. Just because they’re official doesn’t make them inherently good.

    1. This topic has been mentioned several times on this blog, but no one has actually yet gone forward and made any definitive statements, to my knowledge.

      So, in the opinion of the contributors to this blog, did the Consilium which produced the new form of the Roman Rite do a good job with the “externals” (structure) but a poor job with the “internals” (the content of the prayers)? How defective are the propers in the E.F. compared to the O.F.?

      How soon until there’s a full-scale revolt against the typical edition of the Roman Rite?

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