From Jerry Galipeau at Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray:

I had a rather interesting call from one of our J. S. Paluch Parish Consultants last Friday. These consultants spend lots of their time visiting parishes, making sure that the parish bulletin service is of the highest quality. As you can imagine, these consultants get to know the pastoral staff quite well over the years.

This particular consultant was calling from California. He told me that he had a question for me, a question that had been asked by the leaders in two of the parishes he visits. I may be paraphrasing here, but this is pretty close to what he said: “Jerry, I have two parishes who are not happy about the new translation. They said that it has not gone over well in Europe and they don’t want to use it when it comes out. They were wondering if WLP was going to continue to publish our worship resources in an edition that uses the current translation for parishes that don’t want to make the switch to the new translation.”

Of course, my answer was “no.” … I was kind of floored by the question. This is moving beyond the “What if we just said wait” posture. This is the “What if we just say no” posture. Added to that, I was named a “conservative” yesterday by a dear old retired priest friend of mine who simply stated that he would never succumb to “and with your spirit” at any of the Masses he celebrates. He implied somehow that I was the super-advocate for the new translation. He said, “Doesn’t the Church have enough to deal with without having to throw something so silly out there right now?”

I am ready to throw my hands up in the air about all of this. I have been saying over and over again that the central issues raised by the implementation of the new translation will not be liturgical issues; they will be ecclesiological issues. What theology of the Church, what ecclesiology is being expressed by the two parishes cited above? The very fact that a parish would believe that it has the choice to wholeheartedly reject the new translation says so much about the understanding of Church espoused by those who lead these parishes. Perhaps I am way off here. Perhaps these people have taken a good long look at the new translation (which I have yet to see) and made the decision that these new texts will cause the faith lives of their parishioners to suffer deep harm. If this is the case, then these leaders have the responsibility to complain to their bishop. And I believe this is a very legitimate course of action.

On the other hand, perhaps the sense of congregationalism that many have talked about in the past has really taken root in some parishes here in the United States. The erosion of the credibility of the Vatican and the bishops in general may have inadvertently led to this growing sense of congregationalism: “The bishops and Rome aren’t going to tell us what to do!”

Folks, as a Catholic publisher, owned by a dedicated Catholic family, today I am inclined to look out at someone and cry, “This is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” Only I don’t know toward whom my frustration should be directed. Frankly, there is that hesitant part of me—the brutally honest part, really—that  believes that this frustration should be directed beyond the grave to the one that many are trying to call “the great.” For all that Pope John Paul II did for the Church, I wonder if his lasting legacy will be a more divided, more polarized Church. Only time will tell.


  1. Very good post Jerry and I feel your pain! But I think it goes back to Pope Pius XII in the 1950’s who allowed for the liturgical renewal that began then with the revision of the Holy Week liturgies and what became known as the dialogue Mass. Of course, in America where we “were” very law and order oriented, we followed for the most part or at least didn’t complain publicly. But I think Vatican II and not just its liturgical renewal opened Pandora’s box to congregationalism and cafeteria style Catholicism. Congregationalism is the corporate component to individualism and the primacy of personal opinion over a hierarchy of authority. Southern Baptists have institutionalized this in their form of congregationalism. So the blame goes to Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. I don’t think we can blame Pope John Paul I, but maybe the next two. Ultimately I think we have to blame the pope in each one of us!
    Finally, my former bishop use to lament that priests were beginning to see themselves not a part of a presbyterate led by a bishop, but in private practice for themselves. Could that be the other part of the equation?

  2. The doctrine of reception or congregationalist thought is closely related to Americanism in my thinking. Anyway, I’ve been hearing phrases like “the bishops and Rome aren’t going to tell us what to do” from priests, religious, and Church professional laity for most of my life in the Church. We can go back to the rebellion of the IHM Sisters in Los Angeles, the reaction of some bishops’ conferences after Humanae Vitae, and the poor liturgical discipline that followed the introduction of the reformed missal in 1970 to realize that the problem predates JP II. Congregationalism is more prevalent in some US dioceses than others and in my judgment the blame for the spread of congregationalist influence must be placed on the local bishop.

    1. Wait just a minute! ‘reception’ and ‘congregationalist thought’ are not the same thing! The first terms has a legitimate place in our tradition. Check out the essay by Newman (soon to be beatified) “On consulting the faithful in matters of doctrine.”

  3. What theology of the Church, what ecclesiology is being expressed by the two parishes cited above?

    Yes, what ecclesiology indeed? What have people been taught about the Church, about her members, about her order and hierarchy? Do people believe the Pope is actually a universal pastor, or a mere P.R. figurehead (and a terrible one, at that)? What do they think episcopal conferences are? What do they think their priests and bishop are? Dare I ask… what do they think they, the laity, are?

    Is “the People of God” (or rather, a misinterpretation of that) their only understanding of the Church? Is “the work of the people” the only understanding of the liturgy they have, forgetting that it is, in fact, the divine liturgy?

    I was having a conversation with a new friend last night, and he asked what could be done for people who say that this new translation will make them leave the Church. I answered that the truly pastoral thing, in my opinion, is to find out what has brought them to this point, such that a change of language is the last straw; to find out why they would leave the Eucharist for something utterly temporal in comparison.

  4. And, of course, the answer is now what congregationalist-thinking people want–that the Church change to suit their parish. Jeffrey is exactly right in that it is not the translations that would cause a person to leave but some other long term issues and the translation is the last straw, or perhaps a “legitimate/justifiable excuse” in their minds. To find the answer. A possible theory, from some of my experience, is a faulty notion of what Vatican II said. If you were to take a group of people, even parish leadership types, and have them sit down for 15 minutes and write out what “Vatican II said” and then write down what “Vatican II didn’t say” you will get some interesting results–especially regarding liturgy, ecclesiology, and the mission of the laity in the world.

  5. I appreciate all these concerns about ‘congregationalism,’ but I wonder where the high middle ground is. Centralism such as we’ve had since about 1870 also has its problems and needs critique. Our tradition perhaps gives us better models based on the first 500 or 1000 years of our history. The proper response to illicit disobedience is not totalitarianism.

  6. A Catholic will find himself in an unfortunate position when he resides within a rural (“niche”-Commonweal/NCR parish) dominated by congregationalist thought or, even more difficult, is the life of a member of a religious community dominated by this congregationalist-like doctrine of reception. The concept of rite is lost and one finds oneself cut off from the wider Church of today and of history. It really is an issue of justice for the bishops to reassert their control of these parishes and religious communities. What can a vowed religious do when her community only invites chaplains who write their own Eucharistic Prayers or rework the words of consecration? She either buys into the new way or is faced with ostracism. Rural Catholics find themselves facing similar difficulties but they can drive 40-50 miles to another parish if things go too far – many religious cannot do this especially if they are elderly.

  7. Certainly many Catholics are nostalgic about the middle ages but with the advent of the new monarchies or nation-state a centralized Church clearly above and apart from the national hierarchies is more important than ever. It is our guarantee of religious freedom. We don’t have to look too far…the caesaropapism of the East or the Anglican Communion in the West – a gov’t controlled Church or a religion dominated by plebiscite instead of revelation -no thanks. The 1870 model has been reformed already-consider the existing conferences and world synod of bishops.

  8. So the only options are either control by secular monarchies (not many of them around any more..) and modern nation states OR church centralism to guarantee the liberty of the Church? I don’t buy it. Anyone could sketch out at least 5 other alternatives in just a few moments. We could move quite far in a synodal direction with democratic elements, such as we had in the first millennium, and I doubt that, say, the state of Holland or Canada will consequently want to meddle in our episcopal appointments or liturgical rubrics or vernacular translations. We don’t need nostalgia for any past models (we’ve had many in the course of history) – we need creative thinking about what future models would better help us be faithful to the Gospel.

  9. One the doctrine of reception-their are nuances. There is the more legitimate form re[resented by Newman and then there is the spin-off into congregationalism. These latter approaches to reception here: ( and here:: ( are not the same as Newman’s “Consulting the Faithful in matters of Doctrine.” Newman, for example, saw a place for papal definitive judgments (OS 1994) and Vatican II’s call for religious assent. The new approaches bypass both.

    1. Exactly! I agree. That’s why I responded when ‘reception’ seemed to be associated, without nuance, with ‘congregationalism. Thanks for your post.

  10. I never understand why this demonization of Democratic Republicanism or Democratic Socialism, or whatever modern-day forms of governance the People of God live in day by day. Why is it/was it OK to apply the forms of Roman imperialism and Carolingian feudalism to the Body of Christ, but not these forms? No earthly form of governance is beyond critique, and none will be fully adequate to living the mystery into which we were baptized, but I don’t think that any system’s mere threatening of the monarchical/oligarchical structure we currently have is a sufficient critique.

  11. Instead of blaming Vatican II, we need to look deeper into our history. My wife grew up in a town of 5,000 that had separate churches for Germans, Slovaks, and Lithuanians. and we are concerned about congregationalism today, when they are being merged into a single parish?

    Centralized liturgy only became an option when mechanical reproduction of texts came into being. Before that, liturgical texts were largely written by members of the community (copying other texts, for sure, but still written out by or for someone in the community). Mass production alienated religion from the congregation and allowed it to settle on a central authority, the publisher. This fits nicely with centalizing ecclesiologies, but it is not clear that this fit is entirely providential.

  12. Ideas are not responsible for much institutional change; changes in the environment produce institutional change.

    All the institutions (standard patterns of relating) of a particular marriage change greatly when the environment changes: the arrival of a child, a new job for a spouse, a move to a new house, to a new city, etc. All of these changes require many day to day, minute to minute adaptations usually made on an ad hoc basis. These behavioral changes are far more likely to change our ideas about what it means to be a parent, a spouse, or a professional than the other way around.

    In the Pauline letters, Christians are adapting to the patronage and slavery systems in Roman cities by using ideas such as brethren, ecclesia, being a servant of God, etc. to suggest how Christians might work within in them. After Constantine they adapted to the imperial patronage system sitting on top of local patronage systems. No one ever said lets build a church like the empire. They adapted on a day to day basis.

    When cities declined in the west and power went to the landed estates, no one said lets become feudal lords. The monasteries, many of which were successful landed estates, developed along with everyone else.

    Churches in the USA are built on voluntary contributions of time and money. The Catholic Church here has no other choice than to be congregational. Every time we make a stewardship appeal for time and money we are being congregational without using the word.

  13. In direct response to Jerry’s thread.. I share his concern, and I certainly share his stance on not encouraging the plans of some to subvert and go “rogue” against the new translations.. I have to say, I am not surprised.

    This sense of congregationalism or parochialism is becoming more and more the case in recent years. In my travels to parishes over the past 3-5 years, I am sensing more and more of this. People are proud to be Catholic (sometimes in their own way, of course), they are devoted to their particular parish and their community – but their anger and sometimes disgust at the institutional church is reaching such high levels.. this is where some of this ends up. Archdiocesan and diocesan financial appeals are tanking everywhere.. people do not want to tithe to the “wider” diocesan or national or global church.. they are deciding to stay committed and dedicated to their own communities, and their own particular causes. While this is a sad development indeed, why are we surprised? As I have said in other threads on this blog, so much of the objection to the new translations (not all of it – a lot of it is a genuine unhappiness with much of what the result is) has to do with the “process” or total “lack of process” or pastoral considerations.

    Again, my personal stance and approach as a workshop presenter, composer, and pastoral musician is to try to catechize well, present these changes in the most positive way possible, and to encourage all ….

  14. (con’t) to embrace what could potentially be a good opportunity for liturgical renewal and education… but the mood in the air, and the morale (or lack of it) among priests, and among so many others is so full of angst… it is going to be, in my opinion, a rough road to navigate. I want to be wrong about this, but I really believe we as pastoral musicians, liturgists, and ministerial leaders are going to, regardless of our best efforts, regardless of some of the best resources (like the wonderful things Paul Turner and others are doing in this regard), there is a storm ahead.

  15. Blame can be attached to lots of places and people.. we all will have our own version and belief about the source of the problem.

    A more important question for me is.. how do we as pastoral leaders help support each other in leadership, and also find strategies to help us through what will certainly be a tough period.

    Personally, I think if we try to “reason” or “talk” or “convince” the detractors out of their anger, we will fail. I believe that for many, we are going to have to allow a certain amount of grieving.. regardless of what we may personally think about the translations. We have recognize how painful this is going to be for a lot of folks (whether we agree with them, or think they are right), and reverence their confusion, their angst, and yes – even an initial desire on their part to “protest” and “resist.” Not ENCOURAGING them to do so, but honoring what they are feeling.. if we hold their feelings in contempt, we will fail miserably. I don’t have many answers.. but in conversations with people (both people in the pews and liturgical musicians and liturgists whom I am working with in workshops), they are in many cases, very worried. I know many parish music directors and liturgists who have already been told by their pastors, that THEY will be the people on the front lines for this. Not all priests, obviously, but enough of them are basically “opting out” of their responsibility in helping guide their communities through this. The…

  16. (Con’t) result is, many of our colleagues are terrified and worried.. some want to leave and retire now if they could.

    This is serious stuff.

  17. Now that we’ve gone back to blaiming Pius XII for all our problems, at least Paul VI can give his shoulders a rest!

    As Jerry hinted at end of the post – maybe any “congregationalism” experienced in the average parish is in equal proportion to the “ultramontanism” exhibited by the Holy See. It is an ecclesiological issue after all. It could be that parishes are hestitant to accept new translations for the same reason the Orthodox are want to accept full union with Rome. When the sacramentally-ordered church is simply expressed in terms of power politics strife can only ensue. For example Trautman’s last stand when he asked of George who in the conference had ceded the translations of the final grey book (antiphons?) to Vox Clara and the CDW thereby bypassing the USCCB. George answered he must of done it as “President” and if it was an issue it was ultimately a matter for the Interpretation of Ecclesial Text – since they ultimately have the power to interpret documents. IE, something intended by one ecclesial act is one generation latter interpreted to mean maybe something completely different (read, recognitio). A bit circuitous, no? I think the Orthodox, and RC parishes, are expecting a form of governance and pastoring that is more ecclesiologicaly respectful.

  18. “Is “the work of the people” the only understanding of the liturgy they have, forgetting that it is, in fact, the divine liturgy?”

    Jeffrey, you really need to stop treating the liturgy as if it had an ontological existence of its own. All liturgy is man-made, developed by humans so that we may worship God and derive the fruits thereof. It does not of itself exist in a vacuum, handed down from on high like the tablets of Moses. God does not need it; we do, and so it needs to speak to us and produce spiritual fruit in us. This can and does happen through a myriad different forms.

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