Wilfred Cardinal Napier of the Archdiocese of Durban, South Africa, seems to be finding it hard to accept the fact that there are some Catholics who are critical of the new translation of the Roman Missal and haven’t just kept their thoughts to themselves.
In a letter to the editor of the Tablet that appeared last week, his Eminence raised objections to the Tablet’s coverage of the Missal. Interestingly, he didn’t dispute the contentions raised in the articles, some of which have been critical of the translation and its background. Instead, he questioned the faith of European Catholics.
Robert Mickens’ articles on the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (Icel), the Holy See and the new English translation of the Mass (18 June-2 July) as well as what one reads in The Tablet week after week, lead me to wonder, whatever happened to religious faith and obedience in Europe? Have Catholics in Europe gone totally cerebral and rational? Is there nothing of the heart or the imagination? Is there no room for humble submission to the highest authority in the Church, the Holy Father and those he chooses to work with him?
Mickens is an American, but never mind. The point seems to be that when the hierarchy produces a translation, it’s a betrayal of religious faith (and puts the evangelization of future generations in jeopardy, he goes on to suggest) to criticize those texts or point out flaws in the process by which they were produced. It’s not that the criticisms are unjust, but that criticism per se is faithless.
As you probably have guessed, the Cardinal’s broadside (he goes on to invoke the Acts of the Apostles and Peter at Caesarea Philippi, too) seems to me to take matters too far. Are religious faith, imagination, the heart, humility and obedience really only on one side of the Missal controversy? I don’t think so. I would say, rather, that there are sincere and thoughtful—and faith-filled—people on all sides of the Missal controversy, from the sharply critical to the moderately concerned, from the generally optimistic to the wildly enthusiastic, from those who have taken a “wait and see” attitude to those who have signed and circulated petitions.
Indeed, perhaps the conclusion one ought to draw from the persistent recurrence of criticism is very different from the one proposed by Cardinal Napier in this letter. Evidently, heart and imagination, faith and loyalty are compelling some faithful Catholics—in Europe and elsewhere—to question the wisdom of the coming translation.
If this is the case, and problems and issues continue to grate, is shutting down criticism (and labeling the people with concerns as lacking in faith) really the best way to proceed under the circumstances? Cardinal Napier points to an example of docility to the apostles’ leadership in the Acts of the Apostles, but there are other episodes in Acts in which disagreements become occasions for prayerful consultation, discernment of the Spirit, and changes of policy.
You’ll recall that the translation of the Order of Mass was released prematurely in South Africa in 2009, and occasioned so much hullaballoo that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship asked them to withdraw it. Cardinal Napier took a hard line at that time, and perhaps it is galling to him that two years later, despite his chastisements, example, and catechesis, people are still not in line. I realize the frustration he must feel.
What I think is problematic, however, is the idea that church leaders can resolve controversies simply by calling for religious submission or by branding those who disagree as lacking in faith.
(H/T Graham Wilson)