When I withdrew from speaking engagements and invitations on the new English missal in the dioceses, I learned interesting things about some people’s true feelings toward the new Missal. I had been in contact with the various diocesan liturgy offices for some time, and I thought I had an accurate sense of how supportive they are of the new missal. This is an opportunity for renewal is the sort of thing I heard. We have much programming to promote the new missal. We’re excited that Fr. Ruff will help our priests and people welcome it.
This made it rather difficult for me to inform them of my decision – my “betrayal.” But it had to be done.
Then came the reactions. Some excerpts, all verbatim, from diocesan offices:
I really struggle with this as well. You are a prophetic voice in a church searching for direction.
I’ve had similar thoughts. I am finding it more difficult to be honest and supportive.
Thank you for your courage and honesty.
Father I, too, am heavy-hearted with this Missal. I have shared with a colleague that I feel as though I am lying or keeping the full truth from people as I present on this. I have justified it by trying to reason that most people don’t want to know about the faulty processes. With my position here in the diocese, my hands are tied…
I know the inner struggle to promote something you can’t in your heart accept. Please know I appreciate you reflection and discernment. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if the powers to be could have done that! You have my greatest respect. You represent the Church I want to be part of.
Know of my prayers for you. Most days I feel the Church is closing in on itself and forcing those who don’t adhere to lace, Latin and liturgy in extraordinary forms out of the Church. I try to take solace in the quote of John XXIII that ‘we are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.’ I find that the Church seems to forget that, especially those who give legislation for the Liturgy.
You will likely be hearing much positive promotion of the new missal from diocesan offices. Beware: it is possible that the people speaking don’t really believe what they’re saying.
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In one of the dioceses where I’ve presented in recent months, the priest organizing my talks was particularly enthusiastic about the missal. The efforts in this diocese are particularly extensive and impressive. They are sending around resources. They are training the trainers. They are gathering their people in small groups to renew their sense of Eucharist. And so on.
Part of being on the lecture circuit is that you’re taken out to eat when it’s done. I admit that I didn’t look forward to this social engagement. Though the priest is extraordinarily welcoming and friendly, I sensed that we were on different wavelengths regarding the missal. I was still keeping my deep misgivings about the translation to myself at this point. I didn’t look forward to having to pretend during the whole meal. Please let it be a short meal, I thought to myself.
Over salad I cautiously mentioned some misgivings. The priest responded in kind, and then some. I went further. So did he. So it went, step by step, until I said that I don’t really believe in this missal. Neither does he.
It was a long meal. By 9pm, the priest was sketching out organized resistance. Which bishops would come over? Which ones are nearing retirement and, with little to lose, more likely to postpone implementation? How can we organize and network to prevent this?
Beware: sometimes even the most enthusiastic promoters of the new missal don’t really believe what they’re saying.
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For a time, as chair of the ICEL music committee, I was attending the translation sessions to get a sense for how the text developed. The idea was to have good collaboration between translators and musicians. I very much enjoyed observing the translation process. I was impressed by the high level of expertise and attention to detail.
Some years ago, at one of the breaks, a cleric particularly involved in the process spoke privately with me. “This approach doesn’t work, Anthony, does it?” At this point I still mostly believed in the translation principles of Liturgiam authenticam. I thought I was part of a noble enterprise bringing beauty and dignity to Catholic worship. My face must have betrayed my bewilderment. “No, these texts won’t work,” the translator opined. “But the only way the Church can learn that is by trying them. So I’ll help the Church create these texts, and I’ll help the Church learn from the problems and, I hope, develop better principles and better texts some day.”
A bubble was burst for me that day. It was the first of what was to be many such experiences. I was learning that some people intimately involved in this process, priests and bishops, don’t really believe in it.
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At the Southwest Liturgical Conference in Salt Lake City last week, I visited with a diocesan priest friend. He doesn’t see his bishop a lot, but he was able to ask his bishop several weeks ago what he thinks of the new missal. “I think it will be a disaster,” the bishop said. Now I see that this bishop writes in his diocesan paper that the new missal will be a “blessing.” I wonder what the bishop really thinks. Actually, I don’t.
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My open letter to the U.S. bishops went online at America on Friday morning during the SWLC conference. A woman on the local conference organization team caught me in private. To thank me. To say that it’s not easy for her to stay in the Catholic Church. To say that an honest priest helps her stay a bit longer. This from a woman who has volunteered lots and lots of time over the past several months to organize a conference promoting the new missal. I’m privileged to know what she really thinks about it.
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It would be too easy to accuse others of dishonesty or hypocrisy. I see, rather, highly dedicated people placed in difficult situations by the Church. For the most part, the Church does not ask for their feedback, does not allow them to say what they really think, punishes them for speaking out. And yet, they love this Church. They love the liturgy. Their love is so deep that they keep on serving the Church, keep on trying to make the best of a missal they don’t believe in. The personal cost must be high, but they’re willing to pay it.
I am particularly blessed to be in a position where I can be honest. The truth has set me free, and I’ve never felt better. I hadn’t realized how much my soul was weighed down by my entanglement with the new missal. I have increased empathy for those many people who don’t enjoy such freedom.
This isn’t about me. It’s about the whole Church. One thing, more than any other, encourages me on my path. In my privileged and blessed position, I get to hear what many people really think. It is highly rewarding to give those people a voice.