Paul Philibert (and Yves Congar) on the Center, the Periphery, and Missal Translation


Fr. Yves Congar has become well-known to Pray Tell readers. In the March 24 issue of America, Fr. Paul Philibert, OP draws on Congar’s insights on the relationship between the center (Rome) and the periphery in “When Not in Rome: Lessons from the Peripheries of the Church.” The article isn’t primarily about missal translation, but it contains this on the topic:

Father Congar’s reflection on the center and the periphery contains insights still relevant for today’s church, some of which found their way into the documents of Vatican II, although not yet into solid institutional reform. The council’s proposals for the local church, for collegiality and the importance of episcopal conferences, for the “proper, ordinary, and immediate” power of bishops in their local churches and for inculturation are all works in progress, at best.

The contrast between the broad vision of the council and the Vatican’s recent micromanagement of liturgical texts is stark. The council’s “Decree on Mission Activity” (1965) states that local churches should “borrow from the customs and traditions of their people, from their wisdom and their learning, from their arts and disciplines, all those things which can contribute to the glory of their Creator, or enhance the grace of their Savior, or dispose Christian life the way it should be.” The “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (1963) describes this responsibility by saying that “the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority” must “carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and culture of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted into divine worship.”

My focus here, however, is not on the liturgy but on the broader question of an authentic dialogue between the Vatican center and the periphery of the local church. …

Read the whole article here.

Editor’s note: Pray Tell is publishing several posts on translation and the new missal in coming days. This week will see the release of the final results of a national study commissioned from the CARA research center on the attitudes of clergy and lay leaders on the new missal. Recent posts on the topic include Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s remarks on the “flaws and difficulties” in the missal and the need to “correct it,” and Anthony Ruff’s “musings” on the positive aspects of the new missal and his confidence about the future of missal revisions.


  1. One of the problems in this discussion is the identification of “the center” with Rome. Something similar happens when references to the “universal church” sometimes conjure Rome. Rome is not the center of the Catholic Church. The primacy of its bishop does not imply that his diocese constitutes the ecclesial center, much less is it the reference point for the universal church. Nor is this discussion about the theological relationship between the local and the universal church — about which there is a significant theological difference of opinion, as rehearsed by Ratzinger and Kasper in their well-known interchange. It is about a canonical disposition which accords some prerogatives to the pope, some to individual bishops, others to episcopal conferences, and finally some to the agencies of the Roman Curia. Whatever the case, let us avoid confusing juridical centralization with “the center.” If anything, the Catholic church is polycentric.

    1. @Rev. Richard Middleton – comment #1:
      The Catholic Church may be “polycentric” in some ideal or theoretical sense. However, in my experience, I still perceive most of the faithful as automatically referencing “Rome” or the “pope” when they speak of “the church” or when they conceive of the “directional flow” of responsibility for creatively living out the Gospel mandates. And of course, the way many reforms of Vatican 2 (especially liturgy) have been implemented in recent decades, it’s hard to see subsidiarity or collegiality being taken seriously.

  2. Talk of the centre and the periphery brings to mind a saying, attributed variously to Empedocles, Timaeus of Locris (Ah! Yes!) and Blaise Pascal:
    “God (is) a circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere.”
    Now, how could the church model that?

  3. To perceive the church as centred in Rome and all else as peripheral is to confuse geography with grace.

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