Being Right

More wisdom from Rory Cooney – I think he’s very right about this!  — Ed.

Over the years, as I’ve reflected on my life as a human being, husband, father, and Catholic, I’ve come gradually to the conclusion that “being right,” that most prized of Catholic virtues, is overrated. I have learned this from Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” You can’t be more “right” than being God, and yet Christ laid all that aside, and “became sin” for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). What matters most is not being right, but being one. … No matter what translations we use (or even if we should stick with Latin and Greek, for that matter), it will be of some comfort to know that our actions speak louder than words, more beautifully and convincingly than our music. At least, that is, until the parousia, when words and deeds will be reconciled, and all will be one.

From Rory Cooney, “All Together Now,” Pastoral Music 34:3( March 2010) 11-13.


  1. Well, it depends on the issue. We’re not always talking about maniples and altar frontals, after all. Some errors have been so wrong that we’ve had to say so, like the Arian heresy. Some ideas have been so inadequate that we’ve had to say so, like the Nestorian heresy. There are some aspects of truth that are so central to our unity that to choose wrongly is to choose not-to-be-one.

  2. Kathy, that’s a good point and I rather doubt that Rory Cooney (or anyone else) would disagree with you. I maybe should explain, since I took his striking quote out of context, that his article is entirely about the new translation, which he pretty much hates. But he says that on issues like this, which are issues of discipline, being right isn’t everything and unity (ie, doing what the Church prescribes) is more important. I hope I’m not putting words into his mouth on this.

  3. Thank you for posting this, Fr. Anthony. It makes me remember that Jesus did not preach on the comma, semi-colon, participles, or verb tenses. Those matters do seem a tad trite compared with the matters concerning how one lives and acts as a Christian, or as part of the Body of Christ.

  4. The Rory Cooney article is obviously more interesting than first appeared (any chance of a link for those of us outside the US?). The point he is making about liturgical ethics, about how we conduct ourselves in decision-making if we are ecclesially committed, is a powerful and significant one.
    But it CAN’T be made absolute, as Kathy’s first response brought out. The kind of ‘respect for the corporate life of the Church’ regardless advocated by a Rory Cooney perhaps protesting too much has been central in the child abuse disaster.
    There has to be a point at which we say no, in the name of truth. The difficulty is to decide when we have reached this point. In the nature of the case, people will differ on the judgment call. The new translations represent a repudiation of the mainstream English-language interpretation of a Church council. It’s not clear whether that amounts to a grounds for public protest–but the case must at least be arguable.

  5. Kathy, I’m well aware that it’s not a straightforward matter to invoke ‘the Council’, and therefore I qualified my language, to the point of becoming tortuous. One of the big issues here, unresolved in Catholic theology, is the extent to which ‘obedience to the Church’ complels/licences us to do what we would otherwise regard as immoral/uncongenial. The answers to such questions are probably more weighted towards ‘obedience’ when it comes specifically to liturgy than in otherwise in Christian decision-making–but the sense of obedience still cannot be absolute. It would be nice in some ways if we could abandon our sense of responsibility for the good of the Church by making an absolute presumption in favour of authority, but then we have entered never-never-land. The temptation to move into such a world is one about which the pious imagination must be vigilant. And maybe those of us who speak English have a special vocation in this regard.

  6. The new translations represent a repudiation of the mainstream English-language interpretation of a Church council.

    I have to agree that you have gone to tortuous lengths to qualify your language! I would say that the new translation is a correction or perhaps re-directing of that mainstream interpretation of a Church council.

    In one sense though you are right…for a particular group of individuals this new translation actually does “represent” a repudiation of what is commonly called the “Spirit of Vatican II”. That is, it seems to me, they are less concerned about the new translation per se and more concerned about the general direction that it “represents”. For such individuals (I’m not implying that anyone in this discussion would say this…) the new translation is like the current “Health Care” debate in the US… you can take little things out and add other things, but in the end, it is the fact of the overall change that matters most.

  7. Jeffrey: I don’t mind putting my hand up as a believer in “Spirit of Vatican II”, though I understand that the term is just too slippery for those mindset is basically juridical, and therefore avoid it. Pope Benedict’s famous speech about ‘the hermeneutic of discontinuity’ contrasted this latter with ‘the hermeneutic of reform’, not ‘continuity’. The final chapter of John O’Malley’s WHAT HAPPENED AT VATICAN II shows that “spirit of Vatican II” doesn’t necessarily mean just anything in the way Pope Benedict is worried about: there was a recognition on the part of the majority that the Church needed to regard change and diversity more positively, to allow the periphery as well as the centre a proper place in decisions, and to communicate with a different style. One test of whether this spirit is being followed is whether we’re grown up enough to deal with the fact that English and Latin are very different languages, and what’s idiomatic in one appears stilted when carried over literally to another.

    1. One example I’ve tried to use is that, where Latinate syntax in Latin conveys gravitas in Latin, replicating that syntax in English can result in what is perceived as effete language, the very opposite of gravitas.

      This kind of thing reminds me of how the early Byzantines admired Latin in legal discourse, preferring it to Greek for a while because they felt it worked better than Greek for such use.

    2. Pope Benedict’s famous speech about ‘the hermeneutic of discontinuity’ contrasted this latter with ‘the hermeneutic of reform’, not ‘continuity’

      Well, yes, but then he finishes the sentence by defining “reform” as continuity with the past. That’s not really the point though. I am talking about people’s perception of what the translation represents.

  8. Pope Benedict went on to describe the hermeneutic of reform as “continuity and discontinuity at different levels.”

    From his many other writings on the subject, it is obvious that liturgy, in his view, should have a strong element of continuity. Liturgy is one of the continuity levels, as it were.

  9. (cont.) The translation of MR3 seems to me to bespeak a lamentable failure, forty years on, to pass this test, after a hopeful, if in some ways immature, beginning that needed correcting and refining, not repudiating. It cannot be right that foreigners in Rome are determining how we speak our own language liturgically. The Order of Christian Funerals shows that we had gradually learnt how to use English well as a liturgical language. It’s a correction of MR1 along the lines of that experience that we needed. That Pope Benedict was prepared to speak of ‘”the hermeneutic of reform” of renewal within continuity of the one subject-Church’ certainly does not outlaw all ‘dynamic’ approaches to Vatican II. What it does do–like all wise magisterial statements–is to leave us with some grey areas of judgment call.

  10. The people who turned down the 1998 version and imposed the prescriptions of Liturgiam authenticam.

  11. Words from my brother, a pastor of a parish in New Jersey, seem apropos here:

    “As in any catechetical effort, seek to teach with patience and proper authority. Your goal is not simply to convince people that you are right, but to help people worship well. If your approach alienates people, you will not be able to build trust and convince others of the benefits of any change.

    “For example, preparation are underway for the third typical edition of the Roman Missal and its accompanying revisions in the English translation of prayers. It would be best to teach people in a manner that conveys neither ‘defeatism’ nor ‘triumphalism.’ … Both of these attitudes risk poisoning the well of the community’s prayer. To do so would be an abuse of authority.”

    And I’m reminded also of Fr. Z’s account of the words of Augustine Card. Mayer to him, “At a certain point we must stop arguing and try to open their hearts.”

  12. For Fr Endean, and anyone else who might be interested, the article Fr.Ruff has quoted can be found on the NPM’s website:

    Insofar as the scope of my “being right” comment might be taken, I think it goes to the precipice of “kill or die”. The reign of God, I understand, is not like the empires of this world, because God is a God of life and of the living. The seemingly impossible goal is to be life for other people. It goes without saying that, resident aliens that we are, we compromise about who our God is from time to time. The most important thing is that we not imagine that our violence (of any kind) is a virtue, and that we be prepared to live in the echo of “Kyrie eleison.” For Arianism or Aryanism, there must be another solution than violence. The long-term goal of being-in-community has to carry more weight than being right. Or at least, that’s how I see it.

  13. I think Rory is opening up the whole debate about unity v. uniformity. Question: does communion with each other require uniformity? Does being in communion with the Church of Rome require uniformity? The answer to both is evidently No.

    I remember Joseph Gelineau saying in the early 70s that a liturgy that grew up in the Mediterranean basin would not necessarily be relevant to those living in other parts of the world. When I asked him again about this in the early 2000s, he said that you can’t consider liturgy, nor allegiance to a Church, outside a cultural context. It is the culture which makes the difference. That is why I can see a possible danger in Rory’s argument, which seems perilously close to Ultramontanism.

    And then I think about the Zaire Entrance Rite, a primary example of inculturation and adaptation of the Roman Rite, with the permission of Rome, no less. It seems doubtful whether such permission would be given today. Are we/Rome now going backwards?

  14. Is this pontificate opposed to diversity? The recent Apostolic Letter authorized a new Latin Rite form for the worship of Anglicans coming into full communion.

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