I have long grown bored by discussions of the now not-so-new translation of The Roman Missal. In my opinion, the energies of those who criticize the new translation are misguided. We all seem to be content treating the symptoms and not the problem which the new translation makes manifest. All sides have been misguided in their approach and have been talking past one another.
Anger and frustration over the new translation itself is not fundamentally where the frustrations of the faithful lie; rather, the problem is much deeper. The problem is the lack of communication between the bishops and the faithful. Pope Francis with his new questionnaire is aware of this.
In the United States, our bishops are experiencing an unprecedented crisis of credibility. This is manifest in flash points such as the new translation (the credibility crisis is also seen in the reactions of a significant part of the faithful to the bishops’ statements on religious liberty, family values, and sexual ethics, just to name a few, but that is not my concern here).
That the deeper crisis is one of credibility can be seen in the preliminary results of the CARA survey. The most problematic number of all is that only 23% of respondents feel that the view of priests will be taken seriously in future translation decisions, with 60% disagreeing that priests’ views will be heard. I would imagine that the statistics for the faithful on whether they feel they will be listened to – on the missal or on anything else – would be even more abysmal. The preliminary results for the translation itself are worrying enough, but the results for this particular question are shocking and alarming.
Whether they like it or not, our bishops need to acknowledge and work on the clear disconnect between themselves and the priests, deacons, religious, and laity in their dioceses. Who is “right” or “orthodox” and who is “wrong” or “unorthodox” is of secondary concern to whether people feel they are being heard. A shepherd can only shepherd his flock when he walks alongside his flock, not from afar.
It is bad enough that our church is so polarized today. It is important that the actions of the church’s bishops not make this polarization worse. The role of the bishop is to facilitate dialogue and to keep the flock moving together. When the Church fails to move together, it is ultimately the bishops who have failed, not the faithful.
One of the most momentous things about Vatican II – and Pope Francis is following the same spirit – has less to do with teaching than with tone and approach. Our bishops are in desperate need of a change in tone and approach. While real substantive questions must be asked concerning the pressing issues of our own time, the answers do not lie in a single ideological camp isolated from the whole Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is calling us all to the high ground of a new middle which is a new and life-giving synthesis and not a mere compromise between extremes. This at the very least requires honest, open, and charitable dialogue with one another.
Our bishops would best be served if they reached out to all of the faithful, those who agree with them and those who do not, and hear what they have to say. Restoring the credibility and honor of the bishops of the United States, something which ought to be synonymous with their office, begins with a willingness on the part of the bishops to listen to all the faithful. This requires that they enter their parishes and actually meet with people.
When a shepherd is cut off from his flock, his flock goes astray. Jesus makes this point time and time again in when he says things like “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (Jn 10:14). Being a good shepherd requires honest dialogue and conversation. Our bishops should not be afraid to go out and search for the lost sheep who has wandered astray.
I have faith in our bishops that, guided by the Holy Spirit, they will enter into dialogue with the faithful and that their credibility will be restored. But it is important that they move quickly in order to prevent further damage. Ultimately, we the faithful must also be willing to see in them the work of the Holy Spirit even when we disagree with the things they say and do. Just as dialogue between the bishops and the faithful should be a two-way street, we too must bear some of the responsibility for the lack of trust placed in our bishops.
It is time that we all take more seriously the bond between a bishop and his diocese. This bond, like its parallel in the sacrament of marriage, requires loving communication in order to stay strong. And in the end, no one should ever feel that their voice is not being heard.
Nathan Chase, age 23, is a graduate of Boston College now studying Liturgy and Systematics at Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary. He is the student assistant for Pray Tell blog.