Initial Thoughts About the Revised Roman Missal

This fall, the revised English translation of the Roman Missal — the big book of procedures and prayers used at Mass in Catholic churches — will take effect in most dioceses of the United States. The Missal has generated some small degree of controversy, but the translation protocols used in this document mark a substantial improvement in liturgical fidelity compared to today’s Sacramentary.

The fault lines in the Church that broke most cleanly over the revised Missal reflect the divide between inclusiveness and permissiveness, under the guise of “the Spirit of Vatican II,” and the more traditional elements who favored elevated language that reinforced orthodoxy and orthopraxis. 

Some historical context is in order. In the immediate years following Vatican II, the bishops largely abdicated their liturgical leadership to various lay liturgists who, more often than not, adopted the 1960s-era attitudes of “modernization” and “non-judgmentalism.” This led to the introduction of translation protocols from Latin into the vernacular that occasionally raised eyebrows. This left-leaning tendency of the liturgists reached its apogee with the 1970 Sacramentary, which used the “official” version of the Roman Missal as more a source of inspiration than a document to be faithfully and literally translated.

Thus, Catholics in the English-speaking world were subjected to additional Eucharistic prayers than the rest of the Catholic universe experienced. The language of various prayers, too, was changed.

The most significant, and most illustrative, translation deviation occurred with the Creed. The Latin version begins, “Credo in unum Deum,” which in English translates to, “I believe in one God.” The Sacramentary, however, lists the English as, “We believe in one God.” No one with more than two weeks’ Latin study would translate “credo” as “we believe” — and that’s the point. The liturgists who wanted to take the Church in a radically different direction took ample liberties with official Latin texts under the theory of “lex orandi, lex credendi” — “the law of worship is the law of belief.” If you make people pray using certain words and images, then they will eventually believe those words and images.

The tide against the Mighty Liturgists started to turn in the 1980s. Rome slowly and carefully started to require more orthodox modes of translation, which effort culminated in a document that set clear norms for liturgical translation. Given the hue and cry from left-leaning Catholics, you’d think the Church decided to reconstitute the Inquisition, bonfires and all.

But at long last, the Roman Missal was revised in Rome. The various liturgical conferences then shepherded the translation of the Latin version into the vernacular of the conference. The first go-around in the English-speaking world met with a rejection in Rome — even under the new translation rules, the liturgists took too many liberties. But at long last, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a translation that earned Roman approval.

The major points of departure from the Sacramentary to the newly revised Missal include:

  • Greater fidelity to the words and phraseology of the original Latin. For example, the current call-and-response greeting at Mass — “The Lord be with you”/”And also with you” — will more accurately reflect the traditional formula of “The Lord be with you”/”And with your spirit.” 
  • Various phrases in the Creed have changed. “One in being with the Father” is now more accurately, “Consubstantial with the Father.” “Born of the Virgin Mary” is now “Incarnate of the Virgin Mary.” Etc.
  • The rules about music have tightened, although whether this will have a direct effect on most parochial music from the outset is unclear.
  • The rubrics have been updated to reduce the temptation to lay clericalism that often derails parishes with weak priests.

From my perspective, these are welcome changes. They help to correct some of the abuses of a more permissive mindset that gave us the infamous “Wonder Bread Masses” of the 1970s and hokey folk-music repertoires for worship.

The changes may be hard for some, but they are a necessary and salutary corrective to an unbalancing of liturgy and theology that developed in the last half-century. AMDG.

News Roundup

Several interesting news items —

  • Apparently, the human brain is hardwired to multitask two items, but only two items, simultaneously.  Anything more, and we lose the ability to track the risk/reward matrix for all tasks concurrently — or we reduce choices until a binary pair remains.  Perhaps one day, the business world will internalize the wisdom of this and will create systems that reduce multitasking stress among employees.
  • David Sirota, in a media-criticism piece in Salon published April 16, suggests that the state of journalism as a profession is on the downswing. He suggests that journalists who are struggling for access, either to their sources for lucrative book rights, or to subjects for potential subsequent employment, are causing significant damage to the industry: “Are many of today’s opportunity maximizers destroying journalism? Clearly, yes — and unless the media sachems institute some basic ethics rules, the parasites within their ranks could end up making sure there’s no journalism industry left to save.”
  • On the “power of the purse” front:  President Obama has ordered HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebilius to direct hospitals that receive reimbursement from Medicaid and Medicare to implement policies that allow same-sex partners to visit patients or to make decisions on their behalf. This seems like a gross overreach of federal authority, and one that Congress should consider revisiting. Legislating via executive directive may be convenient but it hardly comports with the principle of representative democracy.
  • Former Michigan governor John Engler, who was term-limited out of office in 2003 after three four-year terms, has purchased property in Michigan; after leaving office, he moved to Virginia to take over the National Manufacturers Association. Although confidants doubt he will seek further elective office, the 61-year-old could be an interesting candidate to take on Debbie Stabenow in 2012.
  • A Kalamazoo-based wrecker service, T&J Towing, is suing a Western Michigan University student for starting a “Kalamazoo Residents Against T&J Towing” group on Facebook. The company is suing for $750,000 and requesting a cease-and-desist order, and the suit apparently includes Facebook. Reaction in the community was swift; there are more than 8,000 members of the Facebook group.  T&J is accused of towing cars inappropriately. Commentators in the social-media space are sharing T&J horror stories. As a former WMU student, this humble blogger is acquainted with T&J and has little grounds to doubt the horror stories.
  • For the first time in 101 years, General Motors has dropped out of the top 10 of the Fortune 500 list. A tragedy, entirely avoidable. A few weeks ago, I was part of an interview process for a project manager who hailed from GM; he recounts how frequent and even normal it was for manager to scream at subordinates, throw things in the office and make vulgar threats. A change of culture at that venerable automaker is an absolute prerequisite to future success.
  • Kent County, citing financial constraints, is refusing to enforce a new state-wide ban on smoking; the county’s health department will not enforce the ban at any establishment that does not serve food or drinks, including Laundromats and hair salons. The state will have to manage enforcement in those facilities. Of course, perhaps instead of limited enforcement, it makes sense to move to no enforcement.
  • Paul Keep, the editor of The Grand Rapids Press, has seen fit to write a column praising his newspaper for making a difference. Claiming that the printed newspaper and (a state-wide aggregation of local newspapers) reach 81 percent of adults in any given week, Keep believes his paper is performing a valuable public service.  And perhaps it is.  Yet I cannot help but notice that as senior, seasoned writers are disappearing from the staff roster, the quality of writing has declined substantially.  Circulating more of a second-tier product may not be the best thing to crow about; it works for Wal-Mart but is less effective, perhaps, for a newspaper.
  • Speaking of local media, behold the power of self-selection. A new opinion column at The Rapidian (by its publisher, no less) amounts to a plea for engagement. Suggested story topics: Road delays, opinions on healthcare, eating organically, top parks for kite-flying.  Yes, really.  As a “new reporter” who receives weekly story  ideas, I can say that the arts and “sustainability” are frequent subjects.  All of which prompts the question: Is The Rapidian attempting to be a hyperlocal source of community news, or a hyperlocal source of progressive-left news?  The first page includes stories on organic farming and a positive review of the anti-corporate manifesto Food Inc.  I don’t see much by way of hard news or center-right commentary. This prompts the question of whether the experiment in local journalism will merely become an echo chamber.
  • I feel her pain, but this is ridiculous: Juanita Westaby, a self-appointed flagellant of the Catholic Church, “apologizes” for the Church’s sins even as she confesses that she is considering abandoning the Church. Her column contains the admonition, “Remember the mission.” If only she would, and if only the The Grand Rapids Press had the good grace to avoid elevating holier-than-thou laity to speak on behalf of the Church Universal.
  • An upbeat note … a prominent Pakistani cleric has declared a jihad on terrorism.  Yes.  It seems that some Islamic religious authorities are beginning to struggle against radical Islamism. This is a good thing, and we can all pray to the God of Abraham that their work meets with success.

All for now.