count-down to the missal launch

The first Sunday of Advent fast approaches, and so does the introduction of the New Roman Missal in English-speaking parishes around the world. Our diocesan public relations machine is in full gear. Workshops are being hastily prepared. Bulletin inserts are being distributed. During a time of limited resources, a lot of those resources are being expended to catechize, convince, and possible prevent a revolt from the pews.

It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. For some, the changes will come as a surprise on November 28. How will these folks react? Those who follow the news from the Vatican know the bumpy history of this latest revised Roman Missal. Many have followed its journey with amazement. How can such sweeping changes be imposed from the top-down with little or no room for dialogue? Where is the spirit of subsidiarity that allows national and regional episcopal conferences to adapt the liturgy to the diversity of local cultures and languages? Why, oh why, is all this energy and effort being wasted on obsessive words and gestures when the people of God have so many pressing needs?

Bishops, priests, and liturgists are patiently (and patronizingly?) telling us to make an effort to understand the reasoning behind the changes. Well, I have read the reasoning and understand the reasoning. And I still do not agree with it. Changing words to reflect a more literal translation from the Latin does not guarantee a `deeper meaning and splendour` in our prayer. Obsessing about when to kneel and when to stand does not guarantee that we will be one. The New Roman Missal is forcing parishes to focus, yet again, on what we are doing within the four walls of our church and not on what we are doing out in the world. Sigh…

missal strategy

A headline on The Tablet home page caught my eye, Time to say `yes` by Michael G. Ryan. Two years ago, he published an article in the Jesuit weekly America called “What if we said ‘Wait’”. He begged the Bishops to allow for more time to dialogue and test the revised Missal before it was released. This prompted a world-wide online petition signed by 22,000 (including me).

So, has Fr. Ryan had a conversion experience? Is he now supporting the revised Missal, and encouraging us all to embrace it with faithful and trusting obedience? Not quite!

In conversations with fellow priests, he has learned that many will be taking liberties with the Missal to avoid any of the language that sounds stilted, is non- inclusive, or awkward. Basically, they will try to avoid disturbing the parishioners’ sensitivities by making their own, personal edits. But Fr. Ryan has a different strategy in mind. He is encouraging all priests to stick to the new translation verbatim. If it sounds strange, so be it. If it comes across as too dated and awkward, so be it. He writes,

No, I will make no changes because I am convinced that, after all the years of wrangling and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring (including the shelving of the elegant and accessible 1998 Icel translation), the only way the new Missal will have its full impact is if the People of God can judge it for themselves without edits of any kind. 

 This is another way of saying that the new Missal should be allowed to stand on its own and be judged for what it is, not for what we priests decide to make of it. I am of the opinion that the Missal will in time – I’m guessing not a long time – be judged deficient, but an informed judgement will never be made if we priests, even for the best of motives, give our people not the new Missal but our version of it. So we should do whatever is necessary to prepare our people for the new Missal but not take on the responsibility for making it work by doctoring or diluting it. 

In other words, let’s avoid the temptation to put clothes on the emperor. While some pastors and liturgists are busy regaling the beauty of the new translation, a wee voice from the pews will honestly and bluntly point out the deficiencies. And other voices are bound to join in. An interesting strategy!

revised english missal

Here is an article the I wrote for the Prairie Messenger. It`s a reflection on the revised English Missal, scheduled for use this Advent.

Church emphasis should be on unity not uniformity.

I`d love to hear your reactions to the changes. What are the feelings in your part of the world? Do folks even know of it, or is it going to come as a surprise? How is your diocese and parish preparing for it?

Related Site

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops – Roman Missal Updates