Early next week, Pray Tell will release the results of the study commissioned by the Diekmann Center at St. John’s University, “Attitudes of Clergy and Lay Leaders toward the New Translation of the Roman Missal: Findings from CARA’s National Survey of Catholic Parishes.”
Here’s hoping (and praying) for a constructive and charitable reception of the survey results. It’s time to move beyond the feelings of demoralization some have had, to move beyond any remaining resentments about the product and the process that brought it about. It’s time to look at the 2011 missal with new eyes, to appreciate its strengths and to find the right way to critique its limitations.
I’ve been on quite a journey with this missal, as you all know. At the outset, I was excited to be brought on to ICEL’s music committee charged with writing the English chant for the missal. I was excited to be part of a “reform of the reform” that would make Catholic liturgy more beautiful. I found all of my work with ICEL to be thoroughly rewarding, and I treasure the friendly relationships I have still with my ICEL friends.
Early on in the process, I became concerned about the texts being produced. I would forward a few howlers to fellow monks confidentially (and illegally), “Do you believe what they’re doing with this collect?” I gradually learned that some of those involved in the translation work were also skeptical, including one key player who told me he thought it was sufficiently problematic that the best result would be that the Church would learn from the mistakes when the thing was released and didn’t work. My enthusiasm started deflating.
Fast forward several years: the national bishops’ conferences approved ICEL’s texts (sometimes with a few modifications), and they were sent to Rome for recognitio (approval). And then Vox Clara…. nah, let’s not go there. Does it matter anymore? Is there any reason to rip open those wounds again? Rather, let’s look forward.
When the new missal came out, at first I thought I’d correct its biggest problems when I celebrated Mass. “For you and for the many,” which I thought sounded more like a collective mass of people than a limitation. “This sacrifice which is mine and yours,” since the Latin doesn’t say “my sacrifice and yours” which could imply two sacrifices. And so on.
Then I came around to realizing that there’s no way, given my history, that I could “correct” the missal from the altar without calling attention to myself. And the last thing the Sacrifice of the Mass is about is the celebrant! I also realized that it brought about inner turmoil rather than inner peace when I focused on the translation problems instead of the spiritual content of the texts as given.
Then I admitted to myself what I had known at some level right from that First Sunday of Advent 2011: there are things I rather like in the new missal. “And with your spirit,” for example. And “under my roof” – never had I bought the narrow rationalism of those who don’t get how the liturgy uses texts poetically and allegorically (and even fancifully). And “It is right and just” – my Latin students were unanimous last week that they love the short, punchy rhythm of this, and then the transition to “It is truly right and just…”
Have we turned the corner on this missal thing? Are we ready to build up the church with a constructive discussion of its strengths and weaknesses?
I think so. I see two reasons for hope. First, Pope Francis. I trust nothing needs be said to explain that. Second, the candid remarks of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, former president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, during a Q&A last week. If his remarks are representative at all of episcopal thought, we can take confidence that our leaders really do want what is best for their people.
Oh, before the survey results come out next week, you might want to take another look at the previous study from the Diekmann Center on the attitudes of U.S. priests toward the missal. That study didn’t have a scientifically representative sample, but it is a good rough indicator of the landscape, and it will be interesting to compare it with the more scientific study coming next week.
I recommend especially the comments made by priests in the first study. The comments exude a loving concern for the liturgy and for the people these priests obviously love serving. The attitude of priests such as these is the attitude that will prove helpful in future discussions of the missal.
Editor’s note: Pray Tell is publishing several posts on translation and the new missal in coming days, including the eventual release of the final results of a national study of the attitudes of clergy and lay leaders on the new missal commissioned from the CARA research center.