Moral Theology and Using the New Tranlsation

by Ligouri

As we prepare to use the new Missal for the first time next Sunday, Pray Tell and other fora are carrying eloquent statements about the need to grieve for what we are losing.

Such talk is understandable, but it seems to me to have some false implications. The normal context of grief-talk, of the move through denial, anger, depression and bargaining to acceptance, is when death or disaster cut across us in ways that we cannot do anything about. Our present situation is not quite like that.

There are points of likeness that sustain the comparison with the suppression of the 1973 Sacramentary, to be sure. We cannot now alter the fact that our official liturgical texts will be different. But it is not the case that we Catholics on the ground, priests and people, are powerless in the face of this reality. We remain, to a limited extent, agents. To the extent that we make a choice to “obey” misguided authority, then, prima facie, we are complicit, and are at least materially co-operating with this misguidedness.

That statement is of course far too rigorist; it needs immediately to be qualified and supplemented. Priests in particular will need to avoid scandalizing and disturbing members of their congregations who are accepting the changes in good faith. If decent people are following the new texts in hand missals, then generally priests will need to judge in favor of not further compounding the confusion. There are questions, too, of protecting immediate ecclesiastical superiors—who may themselves be uneasy about the new texts—from being placed in impossible situations. Double-effect reasoning, even proportionalism, will need to be deployed when we suspect that the temple police are watching. In practice, such considerations will probably demand outward conformity of priests, just as they are determining the decision to submit this post under a pseudonym.

Nevertheless, we still have choices. To the extent that it can be done without scandal, presiders can and should correct the excesses of Vox Clara 2010, perhaps drawing on the 1973 or 1998 formulations. And people in the pews aware of what is happening can, it seems to me, gently and without disruption whisper the old responses and prayers (just as many now say “for us and for our salvation,”) or alternatively keep silent. Perhaps it would be more honest just not to show up, and to pray at home or elsewhere—but perhaps too it’s important that we not overreact to the moral failures of our hierarchy by letting these failures provoke us into absenting ourselves from the Church of our baptism. Such integrity from the ordinary members of the Church amid authority’s failures has noble precedent.

Of its nature, the casuistry here is obviously difficult. The point of this post is not to argue for particular conclusions, but rather to insist that this casuistry can happen, should happen. In Kubler-Ross’s terms, the terminus of our grief-process is not, as in the case of death, acceptance of an inevitable reality over which we have no final control, but rather the fourth of her stages, bargaining. We cannot prevent the abuse of authority and many of its effects on our liturgical life, but we can at least maintain our integrity by seeking for and striking feasible compromises, as creatively and non-violently as possible. A Catholic belief in authority does not license our abdicating our own responsibility. To the extent that our consciences tell us that the new text is misguided, the acceptance of this new text can be justified only as the prudential application of principles to difficult cases. Compliance with these new directives is, at best, the least bad option in a most unsatisfactory situation.