The Editor and the Letter

Fr. Anthony Ruff has been characteristically modest in publishing, in America (and in excerpts on this blog), his “Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal” (America, February 14, 2011). The letter is quiet, even though it means what it says. If you have had any trouble finding the complete document along with the 77 responses to date, here is a link, at least for now. The Pray Tell response area was closed to comment, which is the privilege of anyone who writes a main article.

In America, most of the responders praise Anthony for his “courage and wisdom”—virtues we have witnessed on Pray Tell. But, and I did not count them, significant “ad hominems” are there as well, going after the man, not his position. He is said to have “a problem with his vow of obedience and acceptance of authority.” One person prays that he will overcome his faith issues and return to his vows. He is not “brave,” another says, because “brave is being a faithful, obedient Catholic in today’s material world.”

I suppose Anthony opened himself to such kinds of personal diagnoses by writing a letter about his actions and reactions. But I have known Anthony for years now and I believe him literally when he says that he has wept over the matters he refers to. All of us should acknowledge that he knows a lot more about the spidery trail of the translations than any of us do. He has been in a position to see what happened. True to his vows, to the advice of his confessor, and certainly in consultation with his Prior, he has chosen to keep silent on a great many of the egregious mistakes that have been made. I am proud of him for that, and I believe his words, “I love the Church, I love the sacred liturgy, I love chant in Latin and English, and I treasure being involved with all these as a monk and priest.”

I do have respect for the America respondents who think he sees “the authority of the Church in general as a ‘top down imposition’.” But I don‘t find that sentiment in the letter and I do not for a moment think he referring to the Pope. Anthony talks about “a larger pattern of top-down imposition by a central authority.” Who is that? He does not say, but he nowhere says we should get rid of obedience in the Church. I believe he is asking for restoration of the practice of consultation, something Vatican II established as an integral part of obedience. He implies that matters for decision need to be shared so that the Holy Spirit can speak not only in the name of God but also in the name of God’s presence at the various levels of the Church.

Vatican II had more widespread discussions and consultations than any other council in history. These are mistrusted by some, I know, but they do show how the Church itself values shared discussion as opposed to ubiquitous secrecy. I think this is what Anthony is pointing to, and especially in the present case. I hope his eyes will remain opened, and help us resolve what has turned out to be pretty messy.

Share:

38 comments

  1. These sort of things seem to attract the worst kind of criticism. I left my comment on the Protect the Pope blog.
    It seems important that those of us who take different views should be polite to each other. With luck we might all benefit from the discussion.

  2. Unfortunately, too many Catholics have been fed an understanding of how authority and obedience work in the Church that has more to do with early Modern secular authority than the traditions of the Church. Premodern monarchy was ideally highly consultative, and while it did not have quite the kinds of formal “checks and balances” we tend to seek in the late Modern era, churchmen learned the hard way if they went too far afield with their authority.

  3. In his letter, Fr. Ruff refers to “promoting the new missal translation, and putting the new missal in a positive light.” Perhaps as a part of our “top down approach” we are putting too much emphasis on the “selling” of the New Missal. As if, everyone is going to like it if priests and pastoral staff just tell them all the reasons they should buy it, and leave out the potential problems. As if people are not going to figure out things and make up their own minds.

    Let me give an example of a “bottom up approach” to implementation.

    A few months back, the major liturgy music publishers put their New Masses on line for us to listen to them. I enjoyed hearing them, found some I like, but was disappointed recently to find that now only OCP has their Masses on line. The rest give little samples and ask you to buy their CDs. or downloads to hear the whole thing.

    Why not put them all back on line and encourage people at the parish level to rate them. A computer program could easily give feedback to the publishers as well as a printout for people to give their pastor, music director, liturgy committee, etc with their choices.

    If people did their ratings during the Spring, in the summer parish choirs could audition the top rated Masses say at a parish festival or picnic. Remember it is not only how the choir performs these New Masses but also how the people take to them.

    In other words, for choosing new Mass music, I am suggesting we do what we did not do for the texts, namely allow ordinary Catholics to give us their feedback and help shape the Mass in 2012.

    Unless liturgy committees, music directors, and pastors become more open to such bottom up input, we can hardly expect the bishops and Rome to be more open.

    Who knows we might generate a lot of interest in the implementation.

    1. I agree with the penultimate paragraph in particular.

      I’ve encountered many erstwhile progressive clergy and ministers who don’t have radical trust in their parishes at large, but they expect prelates to have radical trust in The Faithful. It’s not gonna happen at the top unless we start practicing it at the bottom – especially on issues, albeit probably mundane, that pose a significant risk of results we might not like (think of it as an ecclesiastical analogue to the falsifiability principle in scientific argument).

      Grandiosity of ideals can get in the way of the work of the Spirit. Think whispers more than thunder and fire.

    2. “Unless liturgy committees, music directors, and pastors become more open to such bottom up input, we can hardly expect the bishops and Rome to be more open. ”

      I wish I could put those words into blazing headlines. It’s a pet peeve of mine to see a priest come into a parish, discard traditions and redecorate the church to his tastes, then leave after five years wondering why the parish never warmed up to him.
      I saw a good priest come in to one parish and promptly shoot himself in the foot by stripping the altar space of all the extraneous statues and portraits. Another fine priest at a different parish unilaterally “lost” the choir robes. In both cases, while I may approve of what they did, the way they went about it was wrong. It would have been very messy if they had publicly proposed the changes and tried to develop a consensus. The consensus may have been to leave things unchanged. So be it. The discord they planted by imposing change from above crippled their other efforts.

    3. This is exactly what I hope and plan to do, and have in fact sent criticisms to publishers who DON’T have their music online, either for listening or for mp3 purchase. I’m not opposed to purchasing mp3s of Masses I particularly like, and creating sampler CDs for my choir, liturgy committee, etc, but if everything were available from everyone online, free to at least listen to and look at in pdf, it would really make my job easier, and would increase the level of input I can request from my parish. There’s a limit to how many samples will fit on one CD, and a limit to how many CDs I can produce. For now, since OCP is the only publisher with everything online, those are the settings I’m focusing on.

      1. Kevin,

        It would be more precise to say that while OCP has continued to make available the entire Gloria, etc., the other publishers have given us various amounts of the Gloria, etc. probably because they are marketing to pastors and music directors who have a limited amount of time to inspect materials. (an example of the how much the top down approach is engrained in our practices).

        The idea that many parish members might enjoy listening to the new settings at home and become involved in the decision making process is probably not a part of the thinking of many people in the implementation process.

        Brigit,

        My concern is less to remind people of the numerous examples of authoritarian behavior at the parish level, and more to raise consciousness of how embedded the top down approach is in many subtle ways at the parish level.

        Jeanne,

        Your comment is a good example of how the inherent top down assumptions in the system make it difficult for people who want to involve people from the bottom up.

  4. I feel a great admiration for Fr Anthony Ruff, because I can only imagine how much he has had to agonize over his decision to write such an open letter.

    I do not like the top down way of the current Holy See and I ignore it most of the time. It is just when I see a person such as Fr Anthony having the courage to express his deepest feelings and being hammered by people who happen not to think like him that I feel the need to come out myself and stand by his side.

    Fr Anthony Ruff gives me hope in the future.

    Thank you, Fr. Anthony 🙂

    Hang in there. Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

  5. I’m deeply concerned with comments such as #29 in the combox of the America article on Fr. Ruff’s letter. This poster (pre)judges his pastor to be a heretic. A superficial judgment of another Catholic as a “heretic” not only cheapens the notion of heresy. A summary judgment of a brother or sister as a heretic betrays an absolute objectification of another person’s courage and conviction. Now, any statement of conviction that’s not to another person’s liking is “heresy”. This is a dark shadow of Catholic traditionalism: the rigidly “orthodox” distort a truly orthodox notion of Magisterium with private and simplistic so-called “magisterial” statements.

    Fr. Ruff, thank you for exposing the frailty of so-called “traditional” defenses of the new translation. You speak with conviction and responsibility for your position. This level of responsibility has not been matched by most in the “traditional Catholic” community. Any self anointed “traditional Catholic”, including myself, who has lobbed accusations of heresy, deceit, or malice at Catholics who oppose the new translation display an absence of conviction predicated on fear and not charitable reason.

  6. I am a Catholic and live in the UK but I would like register my support for Fr. Anthony in his views and his temperate expression of them. He has integrity and courage and I respect him.
    I am saddened and disheartened at the way in which he has been attacked in comment boxes.
    Some Irish priests have also recently been criticised for saying the same and the hostile tone and animosity against them disgusts me and debases our church. There are other issues too that bring out “the stormtroopers ” who seem to seek to annihilate a person rather than allow proper dissent.

  7. I contribute this comment out of loyalty to our Church, whose mission is world-wide and is the place that, in faith, is my home. The comments expressed should therefore not be seen as those of a disaffected Catholic but rather as a statement of sincere belief and concern for the well being of our Christian Community.

    Our language evolves. Usage and circumstance gives rise to change and we gradually adapt to the time we live in. We have been presented with a translation that runs counter to such natural progression. Whilst we all used Latin, there was no problem. It was a non-current language whose tone and sound we were familiar with and of course, in many cases, did not understand. It was at times a holy comfort zone in which we felt secure.

    With the advent of the decree on the liturgy of the Council, all this changed. At last the church was to use a living language, with all the joy and difficulty that comes with that experience. It was a decision that we welcomed, and it was a decision that is not reversible.

    It would seem that the text now to be the accepted norm should be criticised on three counts.

    It is an attempt to revert to a literal translation closer to the Latin texts of an earlier time. Yet translation is about current understanding and nuance, not just literal meaning. At a time when the age profile of those attending the Sunday Mass is steadily rising, we are effectively excluding younger generations of English speaking Catholics who will not find archaic phrases supportive of prayer.

    It is a Vatican-felt need centrally to control textual experience across the church, that all must do the same. Yet those of us who speak English are acutely aware that the North American use of words is often at variance with that experienced in England, Australia, South Africa, India and other English speaking parts of the world, and vice versa.

    And finally, the text has been presented to the faithful as a fait…

    1. “It was a decision that we welcomed,”

      That was a comment I made to my husband just this morning. Did the transition to the vernacular succeed because it was imposed from above, or because it was so well received by most of those below? The success of the original transition should not be used as proof that the transition to the new translation will be as smooth.

  8. “Now, any statement of conviction that’s not to another person’s liking is ‘heresy’.”

    Jordan, I stand with you on the “prejudgement” issue. Times of trouble (such as the Church’s present time) tend to bring out extreme positions. But I wonder if your statement, which I have quoted, isn’t perhaps a bit emotional. I would never say that every “traditional Catholic” is basing his/her position or even declarations of heresy on merely a liking or disliking. Some do so base their arguments. Maybe many do. But I think it would be “superficial,” to use your word, to judge all traditionalists as just satisfying their own prejudices. The same goes for liberals. But I take you point, that many of us do tend to exactly that. My question would be, what translation, music, ritual enactment, brings to bear the Paschal Mystery.

  9. “He implies that matters for decision need to be shared so that the Holy Spirit can speak not only in the name of God but also in the name of God’s presence at the various levels of the Church.” — does Fr. Ruff know for sure the Holy Spirit has not spoken through those who had worked on the new translation ?

  10. [FINAL PART OF MY COMMENT SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN LOST IN THE BLOG VERSION]

    And finally, the text has been presented to the faithful as a fait accompli. Those who are to experience their faith through the words of the Eucharist are the last to realise the full implications of the proposed change. How is it that it has been kept such a closely guarded secret until we now reach the point of no return? The Website set up in Seattle (What if we just said wait?) offered a small (and welcome) voice to those who are sincerely concerned for our church in these post-Vatican years. Its signatures are testimony to that concern.

    We must seriously question the apparent silence of our hierarchy in so many English speaking countries. This whole issue should have been a matter of much greater discussion in our parishes long before now, led by parish priests informed on the detail and able to support examination of the text by the laity. Leadership and pastoral care sometimes demands that a bishop leads his diocesan community by saying wait, or even, dare we say it, no.

    I would ask that even at this late stage that due consideration is given to the voices raised in concern out of loyalty to the Church.

    Our sincere thanks are due to individuals like Anthony Ruff for their willingness to offer comments that should have been made long ago by our Bishops

    Chris McDonnell

  11. “I suppose Anthony opened himself to such kinds of personal diagnoses by writing a letter about his actions and reactions. But I have known Anthony for years now and I believe him literally when he says that he has wept over the matters he refers to. All of us should acknowledge that he knows a lot more about the spidery trail of the translations than any of us do. He has been in a position to see what happened. True to his vows, to the advice of his confessor, and certainly in consultation with his Prior, he has chosen to keep silent on a great many of the egregious mistakes that have been made. I am proud of him for that…”

    I agree whole-heartedly. Thanks, Fr. Anthony, for risking such attacks in your painful honesty. You have, as always, my respect and my affection.

  12. There is much that is remarkable in that letter.
    – The quiet tone (I wish I could learn from that.)
    – The fact that someone who seemed on his way up to a promising career in the church has spoken up in spite of the knowledge that he will surely become persona non grata. (It’s easy for me to be outspoken when there are no personal consequences, but for him, it’s courageous.)
    – His ability to change his views over time as a result of his experiences. (So many of us are so entrenched in our positions that it’s quite a contrast!)
    – His acrobatic position as a lover of traditional liturgy and simultaneously a critic of excesses of authority. (A few people on this blog are like that, but it’s not easy at a time of sharp “left-right” divisions.)
    – His uncompromising take that he simply cannot “say things [he] does not believe.” (that’s what won me over.)

    What is not entirely clear to me is why he has taken such a public stand. He could have sent that letter quietly to the eight places where he had speaking engagements. By publishing it, he is not merely refraining from “saying things he does not believe”, but, beyond that, taking an active stand against the new missal. What is the purpose of that? Is he hoping for something to happen, or is he just so overwhelmed by his strong feelings that he has to speak up even if it leads nowhere? What is the next step, if there is one? I don’t see it.

    1. Claire,

      Thank you for your fine analysis: it rings true regarding Fr. Anthony as I have known him over the past seven years or so.

      I cannot speak for Fr. Anthony as to the questions you raise regarding the publication of an open letter: I suspect (though the idea likely never crossed his mind) that there is a prophetic gesture here, a pointing toward, with the interpretation and the tough-question asking left to others.

  13. Claire – good summary and excellent points. Not to speak for Fr. Ruff but a key insight in his statement is the use or misuse of power and authority (e.g. top down/imposed).

    Would suggest that part of this imposed authority has demanded secrecy, silence, “extreme” loyalty, etc. A private letter to the training sites – it would seem that this just continues the secrecy. The sites are not the issue here. Nor would he have any control over how/what/where his cancellations would be interpreted, etc.

    Yes, it is a “public” letter – but that just may be the point. Transparency, removal of motives being questioned or made up, etc. is a different process than what Vox Clara has done to date with this complete translation process. Fr. Ruff is modeling a process of dialogue, honesty, and integrity, IMO.

    1. I really hope (and pray!) that the hierarchy will learn something of Fr Ruff’s humility. His actions tell of his love for the liturgy, he could have made himself a thorn in their side but chose to remain silent.
      He is a fine example of how the Church at large as well as us individually should act.
      Thank you, Fr Ruff.

  14. I’m not weighing in here on Fr. Ruff, but on this articles take on something…

    “But, and I did not count them, significant ad hominems” are there as well, going after the man, not his position. He is said to have “a problem with his vow of obedience and acceptance of authority.”

    I think the issue of obedience is directly related to his position on the issue. His position is disobedience…that’s what makes this whole letter worth anything. I’m not taking him to task here, as there are indeed actual personal attacks on Fr. Ruff flying about right now… but bringing up his lack of obedience is certainly pertinent to the issue at hand. Whether you judge that as a good thing (courage) or a bad thing (dissent) is up to the individual, but I think to deny that he is being disobedient here is not accurate.

    1. Jeffrey, I believe (and correct me, Father Anthony or some other vowed Religious, if I am wrong), that in the Benedictine monastic life to which he is vowed, Father Anthony is only being “disobedient” if his Abbot gave him the specific assignment of taking part in the United States’ bishops’ project of implementing the new Roman Missal.

      If, however, Father Anthony’s participation was something for which he volunteered, and for which the Abbot gave him permission, then his withdrawal from such a project, again if he had his Abbot’s permission to withdraw, is in no way disobedience.

      More important, and far more interesting (to me at least!), is the question of the obedience to the Holy See on the part of those who prepared the revisions. It is hard to look at the examples of inexact translation (not to mention faulty English) and not wonder about the compliance of the revisers with the pertinent translation directives of the Holy See.

      1. Even if Father Anthony had been commanded by his Abbot to participate in the US Bishops’ implementation of the Missal project, the Rule of Benedict provides a process by which Father could have asked to be relieved of that obedience, i.e., chapter 68, “When a Monk is asked to do an impossible task.” (The monk doesn’t always win of course! *smile*)

      2. And for Benedictines, almost all authority lies with the Abbot.
        So much so that Pope Pius XI complained it was “an order without order”

    2. “I’m not weighing in here on Fr. Ruff … but I think to deny he is being disobedient here is not accurate.” Gee, sounds like a weigh in to me Jeff. Anyhow as others have pointed out you’re wrong.

  15. And St. Benedict likely would not require one of his monks to do something so utterly contrary to the monk’s conscience as this is to Father Anthony’s.

    G. Michael McGuire :

    Even if Father Anthony had been commanded by his Abbot to participate in the US Bishops’ implementation of the Missal project, the Rule of Benedict provides a process by which Father could have asked to be relieved of that obedience, i.e., chapter 68, “When a Monk is asked to do an impossible task.” (The monk doesn’t always win of course! *smile*)

  16. Who exactly is he disobeying? Is there an order he has been given that he has refused? I am genuinely confused about this claimed disobedience.

    Okay, I’m projecting. Maybe “opposition” is the word that would be better understood here. In a practical application given my position, opposition means disobedience, so speaking out publicly against the Church (and I’m not talking about keeping silent about child abuse, so just tuck in your flaps folks…) is disobedience. The Church has produced, approved and implemented a new translation. You can wish it weren’t so (I have to constantly do things at church that I vehemently oppose, but such is the nature of our work), but it is actually so. Opposition is fine…. but what ever happened to bowing out of one’s obligation for health reasons, or personal reasons? To jump up and down and declare that the Church (disclaimer: I mean the Church… the upstairs office…all that) has erred and is wrong, particularly about an issue that is, in the end, really a matter of opinion, is a very different thing from just disagreeing.

  17. I think Anthony Ruff is a prophetic voice in today’s church. He speaks the truth in love. This new translation is flawed. We can do better. We have liturgists and translators in the United States who can produce a better translation of the Roman Missal.
    We need some strong bishops in our country to speak this same truth to the Roman Curia. We are the Catholics who are to live the Catholic faith in North America….we should have a Missal that helps us live our Catholic faith in the year 2011. Thanks Anthoy, for taking a stand and for speaking the truth in love. Wishing you God’s peace.

  18. Kevin Keil :

    It does seem that recordings of the GIA masses are not online, butI just went to http://www.singthenewmass.com/
    and listened to all sorts of recordings of WLP masses.
    Maybe GIA assumes that musicians can read the music and know what it sounds like.

    I am fortunate because I am a music minister who can read music and know what it sounds like. But many of my fellow music ministers cannot. Our pianist has to play the music and our director has to sing it with her so people can hear the pitches. Sometimes he has us clap the rhythms before we sing them, because the syncopation is so tricky. Many of the choir directors and professional cantors and accompanists can read the music and that’s who these recordings are geared to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *