Weigel and Ruff on the New English Missal

Over at First Things, George Weigel has a well-written discussion of the new English Missal. He begins:

It was just about a year ago that U.S. parishes began using the new translations of the third edition of the Roman Missal—an implementation process that seems to have gone far more smoothly than some anticipated. Wrinkles remain to be ironed out: There are precious few decent musical settings for the revised Ordinary of the Mass; the occasional celebrant (not infrequently with “S.J.” after his name) feels compelled to share his winsome personality with the congregation by ad-libbing the priestly greetings and prayers of the Mass. Some of the new texts themselves could have used another editorial rinsing, in my judgment. But in the main, the new translations are an immense improvement and seem to have been received as such.

Drawing on Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, Weigel says that

liturgical language—the language of the Church at its formal public prayer—has always been understood to be different: different from the language of the marketplace or public square; different from the language of the home. Liturgical language, at its best, is multivalent; it does many things at once.

Though I’m more critical of the new translation than Weigel, and he surely doesn’t share my critique of the process and the power structure that produced the new Missal, I agree with much that Weigel writes. The implementation has gone more smoothly than expected. Liturgical language should be different – how much, and in what way, of course, are the key questions. And even Weigel acknowledges that some of the texts are in need of editorial improvement.

Our Sunday Visitor recently asked me what I thought of the new Missal, a year later. I emailed them two statements and said they could only quote me if they included both of them. (I know a thing or two about how media twist one’s words to fit their story.)  The OSV piece “Reflecting on the Roman Missal translation” is very laudatory of the new Missal, except for the part where I appear:

A year later, Father Ruff, who is an associate professor of theology at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., said that the transition among the faithful has been better than expected. “The new texts are a step forward in that they are more serious and dignified,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.

However, he cautioned that from a pastoral perspective, he feels that people are tuning out the new texts due to their “awkward and difficult collects that do not proclaim well.”

Next week National Catholic Reporter will run my essay on the new missal. There, you’ll see my critical side come out again.

BTW, who are these people with “S.J.” after their name? Is this something I should know about?

awr

 

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28 comments

  1. What are the metrics of success?

    The transition has been smoother than expected, but that may signal acceptance and enthusiasm -or- people tuning out.

    Will there be a CARA study, or something like it? I recall reading that the new Association of U.S. Catholic Priests called for one. Do I remember that correctly? Has there been any movement toward some sort of study?

    At this point, considering all that has come up ’til now, any discussion of success or failure is as fatuous as it only deepens existing divisions. Without data and meaningful measures, we’re just talking past each other.

  2. Let’s see if I get this right. When the practice of using Latin in the liturgy began it differed from the common language because it needed to be loftier? Are we forgetting that by the time this happened the clergy were already thought of as high above the ordinary folk and that they formulated prayers suitable to their superior grasp of the sacred mysteries. It would be anachronistic to suppose there was a form of the Latin mass in which all were expected to participate fully, consciously, and actively. But based on the resourcement which underpinned SC’s call for reform, we have had in the Novus Ordo missae just such an expectation. There was little that was truly inadequate in the 73 sacramentary. The 1998 translation adopted by the English speaking bishops addressed its shortcomings while retaining prayers that invited the people’s amen. Then came the academically challenged LA and its been all downhill ever since. Except, of course, for the elites who still pine for a liturgy that may be less intelligible but is more beautiful and thus more suitable for the worship of the God who is only transcendent and living ad orientam.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #2:
      It would be anachronistic to suppose there was a form of the Latin mass in which all were expected to participate fully, consciously, and actively.

      The use of Latin dates back to a period from the third to fifth century A.D. So your position is that the liturgy in that period… the people were not expected to participate fully, consciously, and actively?

  3. The new translations are so much worse than what we could have had in 1998, and often considerably worse than what we were given in 1973. At least for the nerdy figures who know the story, the high-handed violence and theological obscurantism marking their imposition undermines any element of improvement from the outset. Their relatively peaceful acceptance says nothing about their quality, but rather demonstrates a collective instinct of conformism: something between an awareness of a sacred reality beyond the words, a collective sense of proportion, a wise avoidance of battles that can’t be won, and a morally alarming herd-mentality.

  4. This particular SJ is at one with Professor Weigel in deploring ad-libbing and the intrusions of the winsome clerical personality. At the same time, we have obligations to our own integrity and to damage limitation. These have led me to the following: I never now use EPs 1-3; I have developed a set of considered compromises with some other changes in the ordinary; I try to look carefully at the prayers beforehand and think through some judicious and unobtrusive editing. If this procedure itself (as opposed to any particular misjudgments) annoys conformists and legalists among the nerds, that’s their problem. The point is to minimise scandal and disruption. Liturgical presidency should be like good service at table: sensitive and natural to the point that people don’t notice it. The sadness of the new translation is that this task has become so much more difficult than it already was.

    1. @Philip Endean Sj – comment #5:

      Fr. Phillip, it seems to me good “service at table” means bringing out from the kitchen the various courses that the customer ordered, unmodified from what was listed in the menu. Surely the chef would not appreciate the server adding a dollop of this or that after she had prepared a meal as specified in the menu.

      1. @John Drake – comment #6:

        What if the chef forgot to use salt? What good are the dishes if they have no flavor? Surely the good server will put a dash or two of salt into the dishes to make them more palatable.

  5. @John Drake – comment #6

    But if the chef is incompetent and the waiter cares both for the diners and for the restaurant’s reputation … ?

  6. The reason implementation went smoothly is because pastors, liturgists, musicians, and parishioners all invested personally in making it happen. We value the liturgy as a source and summit, unlike others who see it as a political playground.

    I’d prefer folks like George Weigel thank us, hold off on the snark, and consider themselves indebted. I’ll collect on MR4, if I may.

  7. Philip Endean Sj : @John Drake – comment #6: But if the chef is incompetent and the waiter cares both for the diners and for the restaurant’s reputation … ?

    Then that waiter quickly finds himself fired, regardless of what becomes of the chef, diners, or restaurant.

  8. I hate to be cynical, but how many rank and file laity have more to worry about than the words used at Mass. The transition in my parish has been flawless and I think in large part due to the fact that my parishioners have weightier things to worry their little ole heads, like making a living, take care of responsibilities and finding meaning and purpose in life through their faith, hope and love and the Church which tries to assist them in the many, many more hours that they are away from the institutional Church than they are there since for most it is only about an hour a week.
    But in terms of the 1973 translation, I have to admit that while I didn’t think it rocked my boat in terms of inspiration and “syntax” I believed that it was what Vatican II wanted and that the Latin was like it. It wasn’t until Fr. Z opened my eyes to how pitiful that translation was and what a silly equivalency it was to the Latin that I became more and more disturbed. But I doubt that most of the laity felt that way even if they knew about it. I personally like the new translation and find it very prayerful to chant and inspirational too–just my 2 cents.
    Finally I like the the symbolism of the priest being the waiter, not the chef and taking from the Kitchen of sacrifice what the Church has given for the laity and not tampering with it on the way to the table–clever!

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #12:
        Charity would go a long way in healing the sin and division of the liturgy, but I was referring to his slavishly accurate translation of collects. As I implied, if we were forced to keep the 1973 or given the 1998 or mandated to use the one we have, so be it, I’d keep chugging along saying the black, reading the red and celebrating with style and zest as the rubrics allow of course.
        I guess a better analogy is that God is the cook, the priest is the waiter and the congregation along with him the guests and that we shouldn’t tamper with what God gives us from the sacrificial kitchen where what is given is dispatched, cooked and served. Now I guess the waiter could sing his part, the people respond wholehearted and choirs, scholas and cantors could all be the salt, pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano with nothing fake allowed in that regard.

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #15:
        His slavish translations were old news to me. I studied English MR1 in grad school, and eagerly awaited MR2.

        The chef metaphors do nothing for me. We liturgical leaders are responsible, and the aim is to help fashion a people more and more open to God’s grace–the image of Christ, if you will. Not fashion a people in our own image and likeness. MR3 steers dangerously close to idolatry, in my opinion.

      3. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #15:
        “God is the cook”?
        It’s more like this: God has provided the excellent material. This has been prepared in many different ways over time and place. The cook in the case of this new English translation insists that we can have whatever colour we like, as long as it’s “alla Romana”. In this case, the instructions for preparation make digestion problematic. Just within Italy there is a great variety of culinary traditions. Imagine if Cucinam Authenticam decreed that henceforth all must conform to Codex Vaticanus, as interpreted only by a select early 21st Century group.

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #12:
        That wasn’t just a translation. The second edition massacred the Roman liturgical rites, and I, for one, precisely because I have seen elements of the text, am extremely glad that the 2nd edition of the Sacramentary never saw the light of day. I think the Holy Spirit saved the Church from a real liturgical disaster.

  9. ““Service at table” means bringing out from the kitchen the various courses that the customer ordered”?
    Perhaps I was asleep the day that the customer was offered a menu and asked to make a choice?

  10. @Claire Mathieu – Comment #10:

    And let us not forget waiters/waitresses who add ground pepper and grated cheese at the table. 🙂

    1. @Mike Novak – comment #14:
      Surely the waiter asks each diner if he should add the pepper or cheese?
      Does Fr Philip ask his congregation if he should vary the texts I wonder? What happens if they do not all agree what to have? It is not as though he can give each member of the congregation their own choice unless they all make the same choice.

    2. @Mike Novak – comment #14:
      The “waiter” in our parish prepares the dish himself once at the table. We have no kitchen, no menu choices, you take it or leave it. Most take it and come back for seconds.

  11. Yes, it has gone better than many expected. But don’t let us presume that is a reflection on the quality of the translation. Many haven’t noticed and others are not really bothered.
    After the earthquake, the seismograph records aftershocks for a while and then returns to flatline. Maybe the expectation is that we will experience a similar outcome and all the fuss will be forgotten. But at what cost, with what great disappointment on the journey ?
    And sometimes a second ‘quake follows the first. What then?

  12. Many are the reasons that people either just come to or participate in Mass. They certainly don’t come as literary critics, but many of them know obscure wordings when they hear them. They weren’t given a choice between one set of responses and another but merely directed to replace the ones they knew to ones they didn’t know. So unless someone is really on the edge and can’t take one more “do this, not that” from authorities in the church, they grin and bear it. Priests also attend or lead worship for more than one reason. First of all, its the most important part of our job and we have to be there. Others come unable to be intellectually dishonest and find that many of the texts are all but unprayable. Some folks may think that it’s absolutely adequate just to say or sing the words in black, but some of us are just not able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Word order is essential to effective communication. The “beautiful” crowd doesn’t have to contend with that since it’s “all for God anyway”. Just say or sing the words and “it” works. My study of history, theology, liturgy, and ecclesiology and forty years of experience tells me that worshiping God in spirit and truth is not simply about saying the black and doing the red. There is nothing automatic about the Church’s sacrifice of praise. It takes devotion, heart, and good sense. It takes a profound respect for God’s priestly people who are present not as objects but as subjects.

  13. Philip Endean Sj : Liturgical presidency should be like good service at table: sensitive and natural to the point that people don’t notice it.

    I appreciate some attention by a presider to miscues in liturgical language. For example, the current translation of the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly the intentions, too often assumes that the community praying them is all male (I am many things, but I’m quite sure I’m not Jesus’ brother, for example). A careful and attentive presider can and should alter the text when necessary to avoid such difficulties.

    1. @Michelle Francl-Donnay – comment #22:
      But the Priest should also choose from the legitimate options available. In this case, the GILH allows for alternatives to the intercessions given in the psalter.

      A waiter who thinks another dish would go better for the diners should still offer a dish from the menu available. I would be very upset if a waiter takes it upon himself to cook a dish, worse still if it’s a dish I didn’t want. He might have good intentions, but he failed miserably as a waiter.

  14. I appreciate some attention by a presider to miscues in liturgical language. For example, the current translation of the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly the intentions, too often assumes that the community praying them is all male (I am many things, but I’m quite sure I’m not Jesus’ brother, for example). A careful and attentive presider can and should alter the text when necessary to avoid such difficulties.

    I really don’t think it assumes the community is all male. At the time the current LOTH was compiled, the shift away from the generic “men” or “brothers” was in progress. I think it assumes the community (male and female) regards those references as generic. What’s changed is that this is no longer a valid assumption.

  15. With regard to the assembly tuning out some texts, I know I do! I can only imagine our second language learners (which are many!) and others who struggle to hear and more importantly, pray. As I sat in church this weekend to celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, I recalled that’s it’s been a year. I agree it went smoother than anticipated. Some churches I have attended have also begun to bring back using the “cup” instead of “chalice”. (Thank God – that was one change I could not settle with).

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