A Jeremiad against Pedantry

Though well and truly ageing, I am still capable of naïveté. As a feed for the monastery website I have set up and linked an Instagram account. By means of it it was hoped that tasteful shots taken from those amazing modern pocket computers, the smartphone, might afford visitors and enquirers a little insight into our life at Douai. The world-wise among you are probably already shaking your heads.

In quick succession last summer were Breakfastgate and Lunchgate, when your correspondent posted photos of a monastic breakfast and a monastic lunch taken in the refectory garden (in holiday time our meals are informal). A few people found them decadent, shocked that monks might eat homemade bread with homemade jam and washed down by a mug of coffee, or have glass of wine with the Sunday luncheon roast. But these were minor niggles really. Continue reading “A Jeremiad against Pedantry”

Fears confirmed: no ESV lectionary

Face to face contact is usually superior to the written variety. This was proved yet again upon reading that from the archbishop’s mouth my worst fears about the proposed new ESV lectionary were confirmed.

It’s off. There will be no ESV lectionary. It is not yet known what there will be in its place.

In the previous post and others earlier, were listed some reasons why the ESV (English Standard Version) was so promising as a translation for the lectionary. So much work had been put into it that introducing the Sundays volume next year had been mooted. On this point I can sympathize with those who were so disappointed by the shelving of the 1998 draft of the new missal – it had been drafted in its entirety after much work. While the 1998 translation was undoubtedly a vast improvement on the previous translation of the missal, it failed to satisfy the reformed priorities for liturgical translation, not least that of replacing the paraphrasing of dynamic equivalence with the more explicitly faithful principle of formal equivalence. For that reason I could see the point of shelving the 1998 text, and could agree with it, disappointing as it must have been for those who had worked on it.

In the case of this proposed lectionary I can discern no similarly compelling principle. The ESV combines formal equivalence with clear English that never sinks to banality. It reflects the best scholarship, and allows a sound ecumenical involvement while avoiding imposing dubious nuances on the text. In fact the only principle I can discern is a retrogressive one. More likely, it is the victim of the incessant power games in curial corridors. Some might accuse me of mere pique at now being on the losing side (though until the last papacy I was always on the losing side), and I cannot rule out an element of that. Yet my main grievance is that this development marks a significant loss for the anglophone Church. Perhaps something better will take its place – let’s pray so.

This development, not surprisingly, makes it more and more unlikely the publication of the other document/s (I am not now certain if one or two documents had been intended), directed at priests, in particular their celebration and concelebration of Mass. The instructions they were intended to contain are much needed. In many places there is a generation (or two) of priests formed to see their celebration of Mass determined by a need to please people rather than to please God. The rigid rubrics of the old Mass had passed; but the new, gentler rubrics of the new Mass suffered the fate of most other teaching, becoming subject to popular approval. In an age of “liberation” from authority in general the new rubrics were quickly discarded except on the occasion when they happened to suit the new mood. The same happened with concelebration, originally conceived of as being an infrequent practice, except maybe in some religious and monastic communities. Now in most communities it has become the norm, and in a minimalist form.

The prospect the new instructions offered was that of ensuring that such deficiencies in formation could be overcome and that all priests would thus have been enabled to sing the from the same missal, as it were. It would probably have contained a restatement of liturgical theology that would have allowed the principles informing the new English missal to be more comprehensible and coherent to those priests formed under a different mindset. So, in the wake of these instructions, we might have been spared the sight of celebrants making a gesture of offering to the people with the host and chalice as they said the words of consecration, as if they were speaking to the people rather than to the Father (admittedly, facing the people has been the biggest cause of this absurdity). Likewise we might have seen the demise of the equally absurd practice of concelebrants speaking the people’s part before the Prayer over the Gifts, “May the Lord accept the Sacrifice at your hands”, which rather negates their own role as concelebrants offering the Sacrifice together with the celebrant (though some would argue that the whole idea of many priests standing in place of the one Christ at any one Mass was equally problematic).

An authoritative document (or documents) which clarified such areas of confusion would have rescued many priests from liturgical absurdity and enabled them to embrace more fruitfully the revised English missal, so the better to lead their congregations to share more effectively and peacefully in the liturgy.

However, the ESV lectionary having now bitten the dust, even after so much work, there is little hope that these liturgical instructions will now emerge. A pity – we all would have been winners.

Trouble at (Vatican) mill?

**After reading this, do go to the UPDATE here, where there is a little more news**

One cannot help but wonder if the gales of change sweeping through Vatican corridors are causing some unforeseen damage in their progress (unforeseen by me at least). Some things seem to have been blown out of curial in-trays.

Over a year ago I asked Archbishop Coleridge about the progress of the touted new English lectionary, and he was gracious enough to answer in some detail. A few months back I wrote to him again in his new diocese to ask about any progress. So far there has been no answer. To be fair, I have not emailed him again since I am loath to be pestering him. But it coincides with a deafening silence around the traps about the lectionary and its progress. Which raises the question: is there still any progress?

This is not an unreasonable question if you keep in mind some other possible casualties of the gales of change.

A Vatican document, planned for a July release, concerning concelebration at Mass has not eventuated. And word is that it is unlikely to appear at all. It would have given some authoritative interpretation for a practice introduced after the Council and for which the Church was ill-prepared, and some guidelines to ensure its effective and consistent use in the Church’s liturgy. I must admit, though I do concelebrate, there are times when I would be grateful for stronger rubrical guidance for concelebration. Too often in various places it seems an occasion for a priest to don an alb and stole, and then doze quietly for the rest of the Mass, though hopefully waking in time for the Eucharistic Prayer. Does this form of concelebration really equate to celebrating with the principal celebrant, or is it little more than a muted reinforcement of clerical identity? Some magisterial guidance would have been very welcome.

Another document being prepared for release this summer was a manual for priests on how to say Mass being prepared also by the Congregation for Divine Worship. It seems to have been intended as a separate document to the concelebration one. Yet regarding this one too there is silence as summer slips away (nothing much happens in the Vatican in the furnace-like conditions of Rome in August). Has it bitten the dust? One Roman contact had no idea, having heard nothing about it for some time.

Perhaps the reform of the reform is over. Or maybe the Vatican has learned to plug leaks during the preparation of documents. Let’s pray it’s the latter.


Liturgy news: liturgical time and concelebration

For a minute the sheep must step aside to allow more serious matters some time. Today two pieces of news emerged, small in themselves but which may be of significance in time.

The Ordinariate

The first is an announcement from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham that Rome has issued a decree approving its liturgical use of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) – Catholic Edition of scripture, as well as approving its own proper liturgical calendar. One of the problems the broader anglophone Church had was getting copyright issues sorted out with the copyright holders of the RSV, which is a major factor in the planned use of the English Standard Version in the revised Lectionary yet to be implemented, and which I mentioned here back in December. One can only assume that either the Ordinariate has managed to overcome these issues, or that it will publish its own lectionary for use in its churches; or perhaps they have managed to get hold of a stash of the original lectionaries for the post-conciliar liturgy which were RSV, and which we still use at Douai Abbey. Whatever the reality, it is heartening to see that they will be able to use a more elegant, accurate yet comprehensible translation of scripture in their worship, and which will complement the revised Missal. Indeed, they will be ahead of the rest of us.

If it turns out that copyright issues have been overcome, the question could then be asked whether the ESV will be dropped and the RSV adopted for the new Lectionary. The ESV is a revision largely based on the RSV so it will still be a massive improvement on the current Jerusalem version that is predominantly in use, and it may well be that planning is too far advanced for a change now. But this is pure speculation.

The approval of the Ordinariate’s liturgical calendar is significant because, while it is overwhelmingly consistent with the calendar used by the rest of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, it does not refer to “Ordinary Time” but to, for example, “Sundays after Trinity” as in the Anglican communion (whereas the Catholic Church used to refer to “Sundays after Pentecost”). Last month, when discussing the -Gesima Sundays before Lent that were a feature of the pre-conciliar liturgy, I lamented the loss in the modern calendar of liturgical time being linked explicitly to salvation history. To save you going back I will quote the relevant section:

… one the least satisfactory aspects of the new liturgical calendar: Ordinary Time. Before the post-conciliar reform of the Calendar the Church had no concept at all of any time being ordinary. Of course, the reformers did not intend the more banal meaning of the word to apply, but for the common Catholic it does, more often than not. All time, including that we call ordinary or “throughout the year”, is salvation time. “Now is the acceptable time” says St Paul (2 Cor 6:2), “this is the day of salvation”. In the old calendar all time was labelled in reference to one of the great moments in salvation history: Advent, the season preparing for Christmas and also for the Second Coming; Christmas; Epiphany and the days counted after Epiphany; the season of the -Gesimas, easing us out of Christmastide and preparing for…; Lent, the season of re-conversion in preparation for…; Easter and the days counted after Easter; Pentecost, the feast of the establishment of the Church as the enduring and saving presence of the Body of Christ in the world, and the days counted after Pentecost.

Every day was thus anchored to salvation history. No day was ordinary, none humdrum. Every day was a call to experience more fully an aspect of our redemption, and the mystery of God’s love for us revealed in that chapter of salvation history. While the reform of the Lectionary is a far richer gift to the Church, expounding in greater detail the biblical aspects of salvation history throughout the liturgical year, nevertheless we consciously mark the time by its liturgical title, not firstly by the readings of a particular day. So, hearing a Sunday called the fifth in “Ordinary Time”, with no explicit anchorage in salvation history, will usually lead the unwary into considering that day to be, indeed, ordinary, humdrum, of no great consequence.

Could that, perhaps, be part of the reason why ours has become a Church of Christmas-Easter-wedding-and-funeral churchgoers? At least those times sound special. It is a question worth pondering.

So the question that must be asked here is this: with the revised Lectionary, when it comes, will there be also a revised calendar that restores the traditional way of marking liturgical time, and abolishing the fruitless novelty of “Ordinary” time? It would be wonderful if it were so.

[UPDATE – read a clarification about the Ordinariate’s RSV lectionary here]

Cardinal Cañizares and Concelebration

The second news item from Zenit concerns a paper presented by the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Antonio, Cardinal Cañizares, at the launch in Rome of a new book the title of which, in English, is Eucharistic Concelebration: From Symbol to Reality. What he says does not affect the normal parish, but it does have a resonance for religious communities with a number of priests, like Douai Abbey. He clarifies the issue of concelebration in the modern context but from an historical point of view (with my emphases):

It is in this context that we should understand the question posed by the Holy Father regarding concelebrations with a large number of priests: “For my part,” said the Pope, “I have to say, it remains a problem because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental, and I do not consider that the definitive answer has really been found. I also raised this question during the last Synod but it was not answered. I also had another question asked regarding the concelebration of Mass: why, for example, if a thousand priests concelebrate, do we not yet know whether this structure was desired by the Lord?”

The question is precisely one of keeping “the structure desired by the Lord”, because the liturgy is a gift from God. It is not something fabricated by us men; it is not at our disposition.   ….

The historical panorama that Msgr. Derville offers us, even if it is —as he modestly points out— only a brief summary, is sufficient to let us glimpse areas of obscurity, that show the absence of clear data on Eucharistic celebration in the earliest times of the Church. At the same time, and without falling into a ingenuous “archaeologism”, it does provide us with enough information to be able to state that concelebration, in the genuine tradition of the Church, whether eastern or western, is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the Bishop or his delegate, surrounded by his presbyterium and by the entire community of the faithful. But the daily concelebrations of priests only, which are practised “privately”, so to speak, in the eastern Churches instead of Masses celebrated individually or “more privato”, do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition.

Moreover, the author seems to me to succeed fully when he examines in depth the underlying reasons mentioned by the Council for extending concelebration. This widening of the faculty to concelebrate needs to be moderated, as we can see when we read the Council texts. And it is logical that it should be so: the purpose of concelebration is not to solve problems of logistics or organization, but rather to make the Paschal mystery present, manifesting the unity of the priesthood that is born of the Eucharist.    ….

As Benedict XVI stated: “I join the Synod Fathers in recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’. This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness. If celebrated in a faith-filled and attentive way, Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the word, since it fosters the priest’s configuration to Christ and strengthens him in his vocation.”    ….

the limits of a right to concelebrate or not, which also respects the right of the faithful to take part in a liturgy where the ars celebrandi makes their actuosa participatio possible.


This is a highly significant statement coming, as it does, from the man responsible under the Pope for the regulation of the Church’s liturgy. Just as significant is that he ties his comments closely to those of the Pope, which suggests that he is speaking with the approval, implicit at least, of Pope Benedict. Priestly concelebration has been a muddy issue since its more liberal use was allowed (before the post-conciliar reforms it only occurred at priestly ordinations). All too often it has become a means whereby a priest can say a Mass each day without much effort or organisation. As a symbol of priestly unity under the bishop, concelebration as practised today largely fails. This is because it happens even without the bishop present, and this is most of the time. And also because such unity is undermined when, as often happens here, half the priests present at Mass are not concelebrating. Is the answer to force all the priests to concelebrate? The Cardinal clearly implies it is not. He clearly acknowledges elsewhere in his paper the option for a priest to attend Mass without exercising his ministry.

Yet the Cardinal’s quotation of a recent statement by the Pope, in accord with the Synod of Bishops, “recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’”, sends a clear message: the preferred and traditional practice of the Church is for a priest to offer daily the Mass, be it with or without a congregation, because, as the Pope notes, it builds and strengthens the priest’s vocation. Furthermore every Mass has a value in itself for the whole Church, for every Mass also builds and strengthens the unity of the entire Church (cf Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, #26). If a priest has to make an extra effort to offer Mass daily as the celebrant, then surely that is a light and joyful burden that comes with ordination as a servant of Christ and his Church (and not servant of himself).

The closing reference in the quote to the faithful’s right to have the manner of liturgical celebration facilitate their real and  fruitful participation is worthy of note too. One might wonder if, among the issues he might have in mind, is that concelebrated Masses might often look like a clerical ‘love-in’ at which the people might feel like mere spectators. This is not the case ever, of course, in truth. Nevertheless, if even a few people sincerely experienced it as such it might point to a subtle form of modern clericalism.

Perhaps there will be more to be said from Rome about concelebration and the desirability of every priest offering Mass daily. Watch this space.