South Africa’s other playing field

I guess there’s some sporting event or the other going on in South Africa, does anyone know anything about that? I somehow missed it. But the mention of South Africa did put me in mind of the liturgical situation there.

You’ve probably heard that, because of a misunderstanding, the South Africans put the new translation of the Order of Mass into effect in Advent 2008, right after Rome released the ‘final’ text. (Reports here and here.) The reception was very stormy, with a deluge of letters to editor. Here’s one: “I hate you, hierarchy.” The English-speaking Catholic Church in South Africa is generally very passive, so the uproar took the bishops completely by surprise.

I hear that the uproar has calmed down somewhat now, but there is fear it will flare up again once the rest of the Order of Mass and the propers come into use – especially when they find out that some of the words in the Order of Mass have been fiddled with since 2008.

You might remember Archbishop Denis Hurly (+ 2004) of South Africa, founding member and later president of ICEL with an esteemed reputation as a pastor and theologian. His successor is Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who is rather unpopular and has earned a reputation as somewhat of a bully. Working with him to promote the new translation is the head of the liturgy department, Bishop Edward Risi OMI (same religious order as Hurley). Bishop Risi justified jumping the gun by stating publicly that it was introduced because of a clamor from priests who had already started using it and “loved it.” Rome asked South Africa to cease and desist and revert immediately to the 1973 translation. The bishops begged Rome to avoid such a back-and-forth, so it was agreed that they would keep the people’s new parts in use, but would not introduce the as-yet-not-used new Eucharistic Prayers. In the appeal to Rome from South Africa, it was written that a sizeable group of Catholics do not like the new texts because they perceive them to be inferior English, and because they find objectionable the use of “man” (in EP 4) and “men” (in the creed) to refer all people.

Bishop Risi has dismissed the objections as “coming from a vociferous minority of academics and intellectuals.” Cardinal Napier dismissed the objections as coming from laity who don’t know what they’re talking about and from clergy who are disobedient. About 90 priests of the Archdiocese of Capetown asked former Archbishop Henry in 2009 to be allowed to continue to use the 1973 translation for pastoral reasons. He sent the request to the president of the conference, and that was the end of that.

Some parishes still use the 1973 translation in full, some out of inertia, some because they consider the new product inferior. One parish priest asked for a vote from his congregation; they voted to keep the old, which they did. Quite a few priests have resorted to “hybridizing,” particularly the introduction to the Our  Father, and avoiding the new version of the Nicene Creed – using the Apostle’s Creed instead.

The only bishop showing sympathy for the critics so far is Bishop Kevin Dowling CSsR of Rustenburg. He wrote that the concerns of people and clergy are “similar to my own… it was a purely arbitrary decision…many of the changes made no sense.” He wrote, “My personal views…are expressed out of deep concern about the hurt and damage decisions like these can cause to the People of God. It cannot be presumed that thinking lay faithful, priests and religious are simply going to accept what is imposed on them from above when it makes no sense to them. … I believe the English-speaking conferences of bishops should have stood their ground and challenged the decisions taken at the Vatican as an expression of collegial discernment. … It seems to me that we need to take much more seriously our collegial role and mission as bishops in accordance with the vision and theology of Vatican II, and after discernment and consultation with all the People of God stand up for what we believe to be in the best interests of our people.”



  1. Regarding the Creed and EPIV, if I am not mistaken (because I am sure someone will argue me on the point here), “man” and “men” are used in the 1973 and the upcoming translation–there is no difference in that regard.

  2. Here in the United States at least, and unfortunately for the translators, the old custom of using “man,” “men,” and “brothers” to mean both men and women is going out of style. On television and radio it is becoming rare to to hear this usage. Thus the church is putting itself into the position of saying something it does not mean, i.e., that it is addressing males rather than females. On the “horizontal” level I see no reason for insisting on such an archaism. The “vertical” level, i.e., addressing God, is a different question theologically.

    1. I still hear it in regular conversation and even from NPR and other mainstream media hosts and guests. It’s not yet archaic (except perhaps in certain academic and social service-type settings where its usage is enforced prescriptively – though even there I notice a certain relaxation of the rigor that obtained 10-20 years ago in that regard). Whether it will become archaic is an open question. Whether the liturgy should as a prescriptive matter get ahead of actual usage is a different question. As things stand, vernacular translations will necessarily reflect *very* settled usage, probably on a lag of at least a couple of generations. I don’t believe we’ve reached the point on inclusive usage where it is settled that it has *replaced* non-inclusive usage (as opposed to co-existing with it in many but not all circles).

      And, lest I be misunderstood, I favor inclusive usage. But I believe those of us who have acted as if it were settled usage have (unintentionally, of course, as human nature is wont) done ourselves a disservice in so doing.

  3. In the interests of full disclosure, you might mention Kevin Dowling is not only an admirer but also a nephew (cousin?) of Denis Hurley, by whom he was ordained bishop.

  4. Bishop Dowling is obviously a pastoral bishop who has stuck his head above the parapet and stated what he believes. He is of course not alone in his beliefs.

    The question is why more pastoral bishops (and there are many of them) have not done the same. Are they ‘afraid’ of Rome? If so, what does that say about the kind of Church we are living in?

  5. No sorry you have this wrong – very, very wrong. Cardinal Napier – a Franciscan friar – is a lovely pastoral man. A ‘bully’ ??!! that is a disgraceful slander. I have never met a Bishop who wasn’t unpopular with some people in his diocese . Why do people have to divide the Church into the binary categories of the ‘good guys’ vs the ‘bad guys”? Life is so much more complex than that. I have organised some of Cardinal Napier’s recent visits to Australia . I also organised the visit of the revered Archbishop Hurley in 1990. Their styles are different – but their pastoral theology very similar. Both extraordinary and holy men. Maybe they have different approaches to the liturgical changes in question but that’s a question of judgement and prudence. Archbishop Hurley had plenty of critics too in his local church for a long time. He was prophetic on apartheid and rejected by many South African Catholics. Cardinal Napier makes his call as pastor in his times…he may be right or he may be wrong. I think it is really more a question of tactics…But a ‘bully’ … please give me a break – research what this great man has done in the last 30 years for the Church in South Africa.

    1. Bully, or non-pastoral bishop, tend to be terms used when bishops try to teach the truth and stick to their convictions, as opposed to so-called pastoral bishops, who are always nice and don’t make anyone angry and generally will not say no to anything, because saying no or saying something loud and clear can offend people.

      1. A pastoral bishop is one who cares about people. A non-pastoral bishop is one who doesn’t. He may care about other things, such as money or the institutional Church.

        If someone earns a reputation as a bully, it’s usually because there’s some truth in it. In years gone by, Napier did have a reputation for being a pastoral bishop, but increasingly in recent years that seems to have changed. It may be a result of his rising up the hierarchical pyramid, of course.

  6. I wonder how many bishop saints would be described as “pastoral” if they were alive today? We have to be careful that “pastoral” is not confused with “permissive” or “lax”.

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