Tuesday, November 27, 2012

First Anniversary of New Translation

It has been a year since  U.S. Catholics began using the new translation of the Roman Missal, third edition.

In 2001 the Vatican bureau known as the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued what it described as an instruction "for the right implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council." It titled its Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam ("Authentic Liturgy").

The Congregation described its Instruction as the start of "a new era of liturgical renewal."

In practice this insistence on integral translation in a most exact manner has produced an English version of the Roman Missal that has been widely criticized for its confusing syntax and awkward expressions. Some have joked about our having a misguided missal. 

Having used the new Roman Missal, third edition, for the past year, I am inclined, with due regard for the sacredness of the text and with attention to the venerable language of  the Holy See, to affirm, in retrospect and under the urgency of compliance to the instruction of the sacred congregation, that the experience of employing the integral translation, inasmuch as presiding at liturgy implies the capacity for leading  a congregation of worshipers in prayer and ritual, and essaying to follow the directive of  Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium with its intent that the rites of the Mass be revised to achieve "a devout and active participation by the faithful," has been an exercise akin to a onerous and unnecessary challenge to prayer, piety, and patience. Non placet. :)

Is "active participation" furthered or a good grasp of the mystery of faith achieved by, "May your Sacraments, O Lord, we pray, perfect in us what lies within them, that what we now celebrate in signs we may one day possess in truth. Through Christ our Lord" (Prayer after communion, 30th Sunday)?

(The odd thing, for me, is that I can understand the meaning of the prayer when I read it in Latin, but this English version clouds the prayer's insight and intention.)

Professor Massimo Faggioli of St. Thomas University, St. Paul MN, has written True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgical Press, 2012), a series of essays on the relationship between liturgy and ecclesiology as suggested in the first constitution released by the bishops at Vatican II.

He is convinced that the liturgical theology of SC had a profound impact on later conciliar discussions, especially in the Council's understanding of the Church. The issues of change in liturgy, of tradition, of ressourcement which surfaced first in SC became principles for promoting change in the Church and for preserving tradition in the early days of Christian practice and belief.

Faggioli points, for example, to SC's emphasis on the liturgical role of the local bishop and the unity of the local Church with its bishop and clergy (cf. SC 41) as principles for Lumen Gentium's acknowledgment that "individual bishops are the visible source and foundation in their own particular churches" (23).

SC's insistence on the active participation of the laity at Mass must spill over into lay involvement in the mission as well as ministry of the Church. "Pastors of souls must...ensure that the faithful take part (in the liturgy) fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it" (SC, 11). Lay participants are to be fully aware and fully engaged.

To support such active participation the bishops added, "Even in the liturgy the church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not affect the faith or well-being of the entire community...Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples...This should be kept in mind when drawing up the rites and rubrics."

The recent changes in the English translation and the way they were imposed appear to me as contrary to that directive. I do not want to think that Mass prayers are being used by the Roman Congregation as a means of regaining control or reversing Vatican II reforms and directives. Reversal of the liturgical norms may well be translated as reversal of ecclesiological norms too.

If the old axiom that "how we pray affects how we believe" (lex orandi, lex credendi) is applicable here, then the translation of prayers has supreme importance.

The laity have been remarkably patient with the new translation and with presiders' stumbling through it. I fear, however, that many in the assembly have given up on trying to follow and understand parts of the canons and many of the priests' prayers. U.S. Catholics are an extraordinarily resilient lot.

It has been a year, but I am not sure I can muster "Happy Anniversary."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Burden of Freedom in the Church

On first hearing, I thought the parable of the grand inquisitor in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov to be preposterous.

The story, as told by one of the brothers, is that Jesus makes an unexpected return to 16th century Spain only to be arrested by a powerful cardinal on the board of the Inquisition.

The cardinal charges Jesus with undermining the work of the Church. Jesus, he explains, had the opportunity to relieve humankind of the burden of freedom, but he chose instead to promote it. Free choice, the cardinal believes, is the heaviest burden human beings must bear. It is antithetical to establishing the Kingdom of God.

The cardinal spells out for Jesus the Church's thinking: "Instead of taking men's freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering."

He explains that human beings are impotent rebels and they can be held only by three powers, namely miracle, mystery and authority. "Thou has rejected all three and has set the example for doing so." In the mind of the cardinal Jesus had the opportunity to do it right by simply yielding to the tempter's requests in the wilderness in that encounter described in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus had refused to work a miracle and refused to accept the authority the devil would have given him.

Jesus' failure has now been addressed by the Church, the cardinal boasts. "We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that had brought them such suffering was, at last, lifted from their hearts."

The cardinal's justification for the  Church's thinking rests on its appraisal that human beings are pitiful children, and the Church's way will lead them to "become timid, and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen."

On first hearing, the parable sounds preposterous. We ask ourselves, "Who could think that way?"

However, something of that same mentality may be reflected in Pope Pius X's condemnation of France's law of separation of Church and State when he writes in 1906, "...the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors" (Vehementer Nos, 8).

In that same vein, many will recall that "simple faithful" was a name frequently applied to the laity before Vatican II resurrected the designation "people of God."

Still today few lay men and women are familiar with these two theological concepts:

1) sensus fidei described by the Catechism as "the supernatural appreciation of the faith on the part of the whole people, when, 'from the bishops to the last of the faithful,' they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals" (92).

2) sentire cum ecclesia militante formulated by St. Ignatius (who said in the original Spanish: el sentido verdadero en la Iglesia militante) which, as Yves Congar explains, means to "have a sense of the church bravely acting in the world." This concept, then, "does not easily fit into the formula of sheer material obedience (superficial fidelity)..." but rather "restores to the faithful of the church their part in the life of the body" (Congar, True and False Reform in the Church, p. 237).

Theology and Scripture recognize the role of the laity and the gifts given to them by the Spirit. The Second Vatican Council highlighted the working of the Spirit in the lives of all the faithful. The insights of Vatican II are still to be disseminated, accepted and applied.

Lumen Gentium, the document on the Church, recognized that all the faithful share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and play a part in the Church's mission (#31).

Gaudium et Spes, the document on the Church in the modern world, reminded the laity, "For guidance and spiritual strength let them turn to the clergy; but let them realize that their pastors will not always be so expert as to have ready answers to every problem, even every grave problem, that arises; this is not the role of the clergy" (#43).

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document on the liturgy, directed pastors to "insure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it" (#11). Catholics are no longer told they must attend Mass; they are to celebrate it!

Dostoyevsky's parable was motivated by his sense that the paternalism of the hierarchy was inconsistent with the message of Jesus. It was a call to recognize the gifts (the smarts) of God's people. It was so stark in its presentation that it seemed preposterous, but its application to the Church in various stages of its history leads to recognition and assent.

The hierarchy are essential components of the Church, but so are the laity. Paul's analogy of the one body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12:12) confirms the early Church's recognition of the nature of the communio or fellowship that is ours in Christ. The Spirit is poured out upon all. And all have the burden of being free to respond to that inspiration. The work of Vatican II and of the Spirit goes on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Unrest in the Church as "communio"

There is unrest in the Church today.

One example is the formation of priests' associations in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Australia, the Philippines, and the United States. Members of the clergy are calling attention to what seems to them to be the abuse of power by the Vatican and a decided move away from the reforms and direction set by the Second Vatican Council.

The Austrian priests' group is calling for the development and publication of a kind of "bill of rights" for the people of God plus a structure for participation of the people in the decision-making authority of the Church. Sensus fidelium is still a valid theological dynamic.

Msgr. Helmut Schuller, former vicar general of the Archdiocese of Vienna, speaking on behalf of the 500 members of the Austrian priests' association, believes that the way many bishops and the pope have separated themselves from the views of the majority is a danger to the unity of the Church.

The Austrian association's initial call for "disobedience"  as a measure for reform alienated Vatican authorities, and prompted the pope to insist that the only way to renewal is through obedience and a focus on Jesus.

Schuller has asked the Vatican for a chance to talk about their position and explain what they mean by "disobedience" but the Vatican has not responded to their request.

If  Yves Congar were to address the stalemate between the priests' association and the Curia, he would most assuredly recommend that both sides focus on four things: 1)  the primacy of charity and pastoral concerns; 2) remaining in communion with the whole Church; 3) having patience with delays; and 4) seeking genuine renewal through a return to the principle of tradition.

Congar's advice can easily be gleaned from his 1950 masterpiece, True and False Reform in the Church. Each of his four conditions requires explanation and application if there is to be productive reform and the avoidance of schism.

Theologian and law professor Father Ladislaus Orsy, SJ,  suggests that one of the factors in the move toward the centralization of authority in the Vatican can be traced back to the eleventh century Pope Gregory VII. In an effort to purify the Church from secular influence, Gregory relied less on episcopal synods, and thereby changed the relationships between bishops and the Holy See.

This trend toward centralizing in Rome was exacerbated by the Protestant Reformation. A consequence of this centralizing of power in the papacy was the loss of the tradition of "communio," that is, the Church as a union of persons created by the Spirit of Christ.

"The Eastern churches," Orsy explains, "remained more faithful to the ancient doctrine of synodality, and the two branches of the same tree kept growing in different directions." At one point in the 11th century the tree split, and schism ensued.

{Synodality can be understood as councils, especially of bishops, sharing in the authority given the Church by Christ. The Eastern churches still operate in this fashion. The Roman Catholic Church, however, is less reliant on synods; the role and the authority of synods of bishops in the Roman branch are faint shadows of synods in the East.}

In Orsy's explanation, "The church was increasingly perceived, in places high and low, as a rigidly hierarchical institution where divine gifts (except those conferred by the sacraments) descended on the community through the mediation of the popes, bishops, and clergy."

Pope John XXIII and the ecumenical council of 1962-65  challenged that dynamic. Blessed John's aggiornamento in this case turned out to be a return to the older tradition, namely the understanding that the Spirit is poured out on all the people of God. We see that understanding in Lumen Gentium, where the theology of the people of God comes before the theology of the hierarchy.

Orsy continues, "There is a growing belief among the people that the church is a communio of persons --of all persons. This communio cannot be identified with the pope, or the bishops, or the priests, or with any particular group."

The communio of the Church is the Holy Spirit in the many. "Briefly but substantially," says Orsy, "this is the theological reality of communio" (cf. Receiving the Council by Ladislaus Orsy (Liturgical Press, 2009).

It is this notion of communio that provokes the call for decentralization of power in Rome (the conferences of bishops have been emasculated) and leads priests' associations in various parts of the world to call for dialogue with Rome. Congar's advice remains applicable.