Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bishop Edward Slattery discusses the new translation of the Roman Missal

Click the pic to go to the November 2010 EOC issue to read in full

In the November issue of the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic (EOC), His Excellency, Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa discusses the new translation of the Roman Missal.   I requested permission to re-print the entire article here and received an affirmative response from Monsignor Patrick Brankin.

This is a continuation of a talk he gave at the opening of the school year at St. Thomas Aquinas in Santa Paula, California (see part 1 here, which I highly recommend reading, in the October issue of the EOC)

In trying to articulate the sense of loss and dislocation that accompanied the abrupt liturgical break that took place in our liturgical celebrations in the ’60s, I am drawn to Josef Cardinal Ratzinger’s analysis of the situation. Cardinal Ratzinger, now His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, described the principle that legitimized this break in our liturgical tradition as a hermeneunic, or explanation, of discontinuity. Those who accept this – and their number is still legion – show an overriding dislike of anything that may have come down to us from past generations.

Accepted by liturgists and seminary professors – and unfortunately fostered by priests, pastors and bishops – this discontinuity required a complete severing of anything that was not modern or which might be incapable of being recreated in a modern idiom. This was so even should it require the Church to surrender Her ancient liturgical patrimony and much of Her theological vocabulary.

Thus sacred vessels and vestments were discarded with revolutionary fervor, replaced with new and often shoddy designs. Ancient gestures like genuflections and ritual prayers like the grace before and after meals became a source of derision and the occasion of mockery. Though these gestures and prayers had offered generations of Catholics a concrete way to express their faith, the hermeneutic of discontinuity demanded their removal and the marginalization of those who held to the ancient way of doing things. In one area of concern after another, the rich patrimony of the past was discarded – not because it was incapable of expressing or articulating the Church’s teaching, but simply because it was “not new.” It had to come tumbling down so that we could remake it, re-create it in a fresh, modern idiom.

Overnight, or so it seemed, the paradigm shifted. The Mass was no longer important because it offers man the fullness of redemption, but because it offered people a chance to be creative and assertive. Our participation no longer depended upon our worthy reception of the mysteries offered the communicant, but upon our ceaseless activity.

In the new liturgical paradigm, we are busy producing our salvation, working hard at all our ministries, when, in truth, no work is ever required of us. Christ has done it all, and we need only receive His gift. We know this to be true, but our actions reveal that, like Peter in the Upper Room, we really want to have the final say in how that salvation comes to us.

Today, I would like to suggest one simple change by which we might begin to recover the sense that the liturgy is something we receive, rather than something we create. I do not propose this as the most important or essential change toward this end, but merely as one change, one step, one movement away from the chaos of created liturgies toward the proper vision of the council.

What I would like to propose is that we recover the sung introit (the fragment of a psalm with its antiphon, or response, sung while the celebrant and ministers enter the church and approach the altar at Mass.) For two generations, Catholics have been expected to sing an opening hymn at Mass, and, in many parishes, the faithful are regularly browbeaten to “stand up and greet this morning’s celebrant with hymn ‘so-and-so’,” which, depending upon the parish, might be taken from the red hymn book or the blue hymn book or the nicely disposable paperback missalette.

So deeply has this “opening hymn mentality” shaped our consciousness that most Catholics would be astounded to hear me say that hymns have no real place in Mass.

Hymns belong in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the common devotions of the faithful, but the idea that the parish liturgy committee should sit down sometime early in the month and look through a hymn book, trying to find pretty hymns that haven’t been overdone in the past three or four months and that explore the themes of the Sunday Masses and that bring the people together as a singing community is an idea completely alien to the spirit of the Catholic liturgy.

The singing of hymns as Sunday worship was a Protestant innovation, better suited to their nonsacramental worship than to the Mass. And an opening hymn introduces – at the very inception of the sacred action – that element of creative busy-ness, which is, as we have seen, antithetical to the nature of salvation as a gift we receive from God.

Sung introits have been an integral part of the Latin Rite, and remain so in the Extraordinary Form, where the schola, or choir, chants the more difficult antiphon, and the congregation sings the psalm. This gives the faithful both the chance to listen and respond, practicing, in effect, the basic elements of the Mass: listening and responding.

Yet there are changes afoot and reason to hope. The introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, now definitely set for the First Sunday of Advent of next year, gives me reason to anticipate a new beginning. Faithful to the spirit of the Latin text and with an accurate translation into a consciously sacred style of English, the new Missal points to a rediscovered seriousness in the way America celebrates her liturgy and perhaps a greater appreciation, as well, of the elements of liturgy that have been discarded these past 40 years.

Perhaps with this new seriousness, and given the need to compose new chant melodies to accompany the new translations, this may well be the time when liturgists will begin discussing the meaning of a received liturgy; when composers might make their first attempts to set these antiphons to a simple English plain song and when publishers might begin to produce worthy and dignified liturgical books.

This new beginning is certainly a way of building up the Kingdom of God. I hope that we shall begin it well.

-Bishop Edward J. Slattery

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