Survey showing US priests dislike new Missal: not what it seems

There has been some buzz in the Catholic media, both new and old, about the findings of a recent survey of priests in the United State showing that just under 60% are unhappy in some way with the new Missal. An example report can be read at a Canadian Catholic website. But the organisers of the survey, at the Benedictine St John School of Theology at Collegeville, have issued a press release which is worth closer examination; headlines do not tell enough, as we recently saw with the English bishops on royal marriage.

Don’t accept too quickly the spin this press release puts on the survey. It says that “U.S. Catholic priests are sharply divided”, and after presenting a highly selective and inadequate presentation of the alleged findings, the press release indulges in some Missal bashing. Thus, “The new translation theory has been sharply criticized by many liturgists and experts in translation”. It offers no examples, and we are supposed to accept that this assertion is an accurate representation of reality. In this negative atmosphere the statement is generating, it then asserts that “The new English Missal was a key initiative of the papacy of Benedict XVI”. So that awful Benedict XVI was resposnible: typical! – we are meant to cry. Of course, the translation is of the 2002 Roman Missal, an initiative of Bl John Paul II. You would think, from the Collegeville statement, that the mere fact of an English translation was Benedict’s initiative, rather than an inevitable development in the light of the current obsession with vernacular liturgy.

But the press release ends with a blatant plug for the blog run by the monk heavily involved in the survey, Dom Anthony Ruff OSB, a monk of Collegeville. Dom Anthony and his Pray, Tell blog (no link from here) have been fomenting opposition to the Missal for years. Of course this is not because he was not included in the translation committee.

Let’s look more closely at the details of the survey. 32 dioceses participated, though all 178 US dioceses were invited. There is the first alarm bell – the diocesan participation rate is a mere 18%. Is this survey going to be representative? The press release also states “A total of 1,536 priests participated in the survey, with a response rate of 42.5 percent.” Yet if we read the survey’s full report we find that the number of respondents varies from question to question, down to 1527 for one question. Even more importantly, the highly manipulable section for comments on various issues never has more than 372 respondents for a single section, and sometimes as few as 20 (for Chant in the Missal), 22 (for Missal format) or 64 (for theological content of the Missal – this is a bizarre category!).

Most of the survey report draws wind for its sails from this comments’ section. Taking the highest number of respondents, 372 for Aesthetic Expression, we see that at best these comments represent 2.7% of the 14000 priests in the US. Yes, this supposedly damning report is really based on, at best, 2.7% of priests in the US, and of them up to 40% are favourable to the Missal on various issues, leaving less than 2% who are clearly vehement in opposing the new Missal. Given that the vast majority of priests who are content with the Missal would have been unlikely to respond to this survey, especially given its nuanced questions and notoriously dissenting organisers, then probably only those who militantly oppose the Missal would have bothered to reply, so that they can be “heard”, no doubt. Barely 2%. Piddling.

The survey seems to have been a waste of time and money, not only because of the poor rate of response, nor only because the Church does not change anything on the basis of political lobbying by tiny minority groups of dissenters, nor because it actually confirms what Catholics might rightly hope for – that the vast majority of their priests are happily getting on with their job using the Missal. It is not only wasteful but verging on scandalous in its attempts to foment discord and opposition to the new Missal.

The preamble to the main report of survey results has the temerity to end with “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus” (That in all things God may be glorified) This survey singularly fails in that regard. Let it be consigned to where it belongs.


Portsmouth Diocese Roman Missal Survey

A while back I remember a copy of survey questions, emanating from the diocesan bureaucracy, floating around our common room. It struck me, even without reading it through, as an exercise either in futility, at best, or potentially wilful pot-stirring at worst. After that I gave no more thought to it.

Alas, its results have been released under the name of Paul Inwood. The report makes some desultory attempts at being impartial and even-handed but largely fails in that endeavour. It tends to confirm both my initial musings. You can read it here.

Others better than I can dissect it if they choose to do so. One section will suffice here. The section on the “language of the texts” (pp.9-11) has the equivalent of 8 paragraphs describing (in obsessive detail) negative comments, and the equivalent of 2 paragraphs at the end with the positive comments. It is clear that the editorial preference of this report favours the negative. This is confirmed in the conclusion when Mr Inwood opines:

The final outcome, however, as evidenced from the overall reactions summarised above, is clearly weighted towards the negative, with narrative reactions indicating just how bleak the landscape is for many. The majority are disappointed and hurt, even angry, and remarks about the deleterious effect the texts have had on their prayer lives are both moving and disturbing. At a more prosaic level, it also appears from many comments that church attendance is haemorrhaging as a result of the introduction of the new translation.

That something so tendentious and self-serving could come from a paid diocesan employee is food for thought. His conclusions may well be a justifiable assessment of the survey, and that might be telling in some circumstances. But wait… some context is enlightening.

At the outset Mr Inwood admits that “a significant number” of responses came from outside the boundaries of the diocese of Portsmouth, including some from overseas or from temporary visitors. That alone should make us wonder how representative this survey actually is of the true balance of opinion in the diocese. What rather confirms that it is most definitely not a reliable gauge of opinion within the diocese is in the very final paragraph (p.18):

Although the final number of responses received is not enormous (a total of 307), they appear to be broadly typical of what has been heard in parishes all over the country. It is to be hoped that the Bishops will indeed not file them away but take appropriate action.

The total number of responses is 307, out of a diocese with an estimated Catholic population of 192,000: that is 0.16%   It is freely admitted that of this paltry total of 307 responses, a “significant number” are from those not part of the Church in this diocese. Mr Inwood offers no evidence at all for his claim that the survey accords with national opinion. A survey with a greater number of respondents, and executed far more rigorously, while admittedly from the USA, tells a far different story to this one. The American context may involve factors lacking here, catechesis perhaps, but its results tend to demand that Mr Inwood provide evidence for his peremptory assessment of the national Catholic mood.

Ironically, given its insurmountable inadequacies, what Mr Inwood hopes to avoid is precisely the fate that this survey deserves: to be filed away. It hardly justifies any action by the bishops against the new Missal, even if there were action able to be taken. Liturgy and doctrine are not products of popular surveys at any time, and that such a deficient survey can be touted as justification for action against the 2011 Missal is the stuff of cloud-cuckoo land.

Neither Bishop Philip, the diocese nor the wider Church are in any way well served by this flawed survey and report, and at a time of financial constraint for the ordinary person one might ask if it was a judicious use of the faithful’s money.

Advent blessings.

Missal Moments VIII – restoring an enriching ambiguity

One change in the Missal that has seems to have escaped notice is the endings to the prayers of the proper of the Mass (ie the collect, the offertory, the post-communion).

Previously, these prayers ended “We make this prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who…” etc, or “We make this prayer through Christ our Lord”. Now the respective endings are “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who…” or “Through Christ our Lord”. The we make this prayer has been cut.

The simple reason is that this phrase is not in the original Latin of the Missal, nor has it ever been in the Latin of any Roman Missal to the best of my knowledge. It appeared in the post-conciliar English translation, no doubt to smooth the transition from the body of the prayer to its concluding formula. Interestingly, in more than one place I have heard priests recite the body from the new Missal, and then re-insert we make this prayer into the conclusion. It seems they cannot bring themselves to make the adjustment to the seemingly stark Latinate conclusion.

Now it is not something to lose sleep over, but I do think that literally translating the Latin concluding formula, Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, filium tuum, qui… etc, and so omitting the supplied transitional phrase, is vastly to be preferred. Why?

Whether it is intended or not, there is in the new, more literal formula a fruitful ambiguity. One half of it is made clear by the now-obsolete expanded conclusion: the prayers we make to God are through the Son. He is the Mediator between God and his people. Yet mediation is a two-way street: the graces God gives in answer to the prayers of his people are likewise mediated through Christ. The now-obsolete formula excluded this rich ambiguity, and to our impoverishment. The new Missal allows the ambiguity to be heard, and to our enrichment.

An example is always helpful – a random choice. Let us take the post-communion prayer for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Grant, we pray, O Lord,
that, having been replenished by such great gifts,
we may gain the prize of salvation
and never cease to praise you.
Through Christ our Lord.

There is a manifold ambiguity here. Our asking is through Christ; but also God’s granting it is through Christ, and the gaining of salvation is through Christ, and our ceaseless praising is through Christ. The old formula would have killed the beautiful ambiguity by restricting Christ’s mediation to the making of the prayer alone.

Of course, ambiguity in this context is not a case of either/or, but of and/and. It reveals the many layers of theological and spiritual meaning in the Missal’s prayers. There must be a more apt word than ambiguity, but it is late and I cannot think of it!

Lest it seem that I am being a little too fanciful about the presence of positive ambiguity or levels of meaning in the Missal’s texts and prayers, we need only look to Eucharistic Prayer III for another example of the new Missal restoring the ambiguity, or many-layered meaning, of a text. In the old Missal we would have found near the beginning of the Prayer:

… so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made…

Now it reads:

… so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice…

The change, faithful to the Latin of course, is not merely a case of adding some poetic élan to the prayer. It is ambiguous: it could refer to geography; it could also refer to chronology – that is, to space or time. In fact, both are envisaged and intended: the pure sacrifice is offered across the world and throughout time. The previous translation, without good reason, restricted it to a geographical reference. We lost something there, and now it is restored. Deo gratias.

“For all” or “for many”?: mission and heresy

The publication of the April letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the bishops of Germany has re-ignited a surprising controversy, namely that concerning the change of “for all” in the consecration narrative for the chalice at Mass back to “for many”. A translation of this letter can be found at the end of Sandro Magister’s report, though it requires careful reading as it is written for theologically-trained bishops. Kate at Australia Incognita has some good commentary on the issue. Here it has not so far been addressed, but exasperation at seeing an online petition seeking to restore “for many” has removed all hesitation. [Rather than provide a direct link to the petition, which requests three changes in total to the Missal, if you feel so moved to sign it or see it you can go to and find it there. To be fair, the petition is couched in a respectful tone, and is not aggressive. But apart from its misguidedness, its ‘let’s be nice and hug-a-tree’ attitude is aggravating, because it implies that doctrines and their expression are matters of feeling and not of truth.]

In fact, the whole controversy is most surprising really. Until the post-conciliar reform to the Mass, the words for consecrating the chalice at Mass had always contained pro multis, “for many”. Never had the words pro omnibus, “for all”, been used. And when the reformed, or Novus Ordo, Mass was promulgated in the wake of the Council its official Latin text still had pro multis. The problem was that the translators, and not just the English ones, decided to change the literal, and only reasonable, meaning of these words when translating into English. Why? Most likely it was done to reflect a theological interpretation of the words, one which made the Church seem more “inclusive” (and inclusiveness is precisely the stated motive behind the online petition just mentioned).

Quite how that original post-conciliar translation was ever approved by Rome is still a question that I cannot answer satisfactorily. It was such an amazing break with a previously unbroken tradition, a tradition that spanned both east and west. Moreover, tinkering with the words of consecration, the crucial part of the Mass, is not something to be done lightly or without good cause.

To a large extent, and Kate at Australia Incognita (see above) touches on this point, the change was based on theories as to what would have been the equivalent Aramaic expression. Granting the argument that since Jesus would have spoken in Aramaic day-to-day, the Aramaic naunce thus should be the over-riding interpretive tool. This is problematic in more ways than one. For a start, it is not certain that Jesus would have said these particular words at the Last Supper in Aramaic. In the Passover meal, the crucial parts were said in Hebrew; it remains equally possible, perhaps probable, that Jesus said the words over the bread and chalice in Hebrew given its importance in his eyes. However, more fundamentally, an argument based on what we do not have [ie, a record of Jesus speaking these words in Aramaic] is the weakest argument of all, barely rising above guesswork and wishful thinking. For the fact is that the only record we have of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, in the gospels, is in Greek (e.g., Matthew 26:28, and Mark 14:24). The Greek of the gospels is clear enough: πολλων, ie “many”. The unbroken tradition in the Latin liturgy has been to translate the Greek exactly, πολλων becoming multis, not omnibus.

Surely (the argument goes) Jesus died for all, and so this is what Jesus really meant at the Last Supper; therefore, this meaning should be reflected in the words of the consecration. The French have employed a compromise, la multitude, “the many” which retains the literal translation of πολλων but introduces the definite article, urging us to infer that this is a euphemism for “all”. When translating from Latin this is justifiable since Latin has no articles; they are assumed according to context. However the Latin is itself a translation of the Greek gospels; there is a definite article in the Greek language but it is not present in the Greek gospel texts.

So often there is more than one level of meaning in what Jesus says and does. It holds true here. For Jesus is not just instituting the memorial of his sacrifice on the Cross at the Last Supper; he is also elaborating his identity. His Jewish disciples would have clearly heard in his use of “many” an echo of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, who was to make “many to be accounted righteous”, and who “bore the sins of many” [Isaiah 53:11-12]. This echo is lost to us when “many” is replaced by “all”.

Both the French and the English use of “for all” seems just a little patronising. It seems we need to be spoon-fed the ‘correct’ meaning, and to that end the text was changed to reflect the ‘correct’ meaning. But this interpretation of the text ends up doing away with the text altogether, and substituting another in its place. This is not honest. Furthermore, far from enriching our understanding, the use of “for all” has impoverished it. Interpretation is best left to catechesis and instruction: if something has a meaning not fully obvious then rather than eliminating it, it should be explained. Babies and bath water come to mind.

A lamentable result of the change to “for all” was to extinguish a fertile ambiguity and creative tension, which contained an implicit challenge to believers. Yes, Christ died for all humanity; salvation is a gift offered to all people. That is the clear teaching of the Church. However, to give a gift to all does not mean that all will receive it fruitfully. A gift is given, but it must also be received and accepted if it is to be of any use. You may give people money, but if one of them does not spend it or invest it then it has no effect for that person. The gift was certainly bestowed, but it bore no fruit: it was given in vain.

In Christ’s words in other places this ambiguity is fostered. While he has come for all people, he recognises that not all will accept him. He will be salvific and fruitful only for those who accept him and follow him. So we find that Jesus, in the high priestly prayer of his final days, prays not for all people, but only for those who have accepted him:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:9

Does this mean that Christ did not die for all people? No. It means that his death will only have effect for those who believe in him, with all that belief entails. Again, in St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus states that, as the Son of Man, he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” [Matthew 20:28]; and in the Letter to the Hebrews talks of Christ being “offered once to bear the sins of many” [Hebrews 9:28], both references again to the Suffering Servant. It seems evident that Jesus’ clear self-identification with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah was strong enough to lodge in the memory of the infant Church.

So let us be clear: the reference in these texts is not to those whom it is intended that Jesus die for, but to those for whom his death will have an effect. The one thing that Jesus cannot do is save those who reject the gift of salvation that comes in and through him. Salvation, and all grace, is precisely a gift, not an obligation. We are not puppets in the hands of God, but free agents who can choose to accept God or reject him. This freedom reflects the radical and sovereign freedom of God, in whose image we are made. There can be no love if there is no freedom. Without freedom, we have can certainly have duty, but not love.

So this deliberate and divine ambiguity is a challenge to believers to express their love in missionary enterprise enjoined on us in our Lord’s great commission, to “go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). In other words, at the very heart of the Church’s memorial of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is a divine impulse to include as many as possible among the “many”. The very tension we feel when we acknowledge the Christ died died for all and hear his indication that not necessarily all will benefit from the pouring out of his blood should move us not to eliminate the source of the tension and discomfort, but to answer its implicit call. If we feel uncomfortable at the thought that not all might benefit from the shedding of Christ’s blood, we need to ask ourselves what we have done to address this awful possibility? This is the truest inclusiveness, not that we merely assert without due warrant that all will benefit from the shedding of Christ’s blood, but that we work to make it a reality rather than a vain assertion.

Actually, we might ask ourselves another question: do we blithely assume that we ourselves are among the many? Do we hear the challenge to ourselves at each Eucharistic Sacrifice? Christ enacted for us the greatest form of love, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In the very next verse Christ identifies these friends for whom he has died: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). So, have we always done what he has commanded us? Have we… really?

Ultimately, I suspect that lying beneath all the outrage at the correction of this crucial text found in the new Missal, is not just a hollow and sentimental desire for inclusiveness. It seems rather to give voice to the unacknowledged heresy that is so prevalent among modern Catholics: universal salvation. So much of the opposition to the correct translation of pro multis seems to reflect unease its opponents feel in the face of the reminder it voices of the inconvenient truth that hell exists and it is a real possibility for all humanity. Shutting our eyes and ears and shouting “all will be saved” repeatedly will not do away with this inconvenient truth. In fact, such an attitude is a subtle form of exclusiveness. Inasmuch as we refuse to acknowledge that salvation comes only to those who accept the gift of it, and so failing to play our part in the Church’s divine mission of including as much of the world as possible among the ‘many’ of the Body of Christ, by accepting Christ’s salvation, to that degree we exclude the world from the communion in the Body of salvation. If so, do we perhaps eat and drink judgement upon ourselves as we partake of the Eucharistic Body and Blood? (1 Corinthinans 11:29)

In the Pope’s letter, he makes the same conclusion. Affirming the identification of the “many” with the Church, Christ’s Body, Pope Benedict then tells the German bishops that,

The many have responsibility for all. The community of the many must be light on the lampstand, city on the hill, leaven for all. This is a vocation that concerns each one in an entirely personal way. The many, who we are, must have the responsibility for the whole, in the awareness of their mission.

Quick-fire: St Hildegard, a little missal, and another perspective on abuse

This is something of a quick-fire post, dealing with a few points while they enjoy their brief sojourn in the memory.

The first is that Pope Benedict XVI has, by decree, raised Blessed Hildegard of Bingen to the altars of the universal Church, and so confirming her as “Saint”. This 12th-century German Benedictine nun is most famous in the secular world for her haunting Latin hymns and chants, such as those on the best-selling CD, A Feather on the Breath of God (if you follow this link, click the  to hear an excerpt, and click also “English” to see the text and its translation). Her hymn to the Blessed Virgin, Ave Generosa, for mixed voices, is a particular favourite. Another composition, Ordo Virtutum, is a type of liturgical drama in song drawn from her mystical visions, and is possibly the oldest morality play known to us.

Yet she was not just a composer, but also a very important mystical writer. She was something of a jill of all trades, as she wrote also on herbal medicine and philosophy, while managing to be abbess of a monastery. She was sought out by many abbots and bishops for counsel and advice, and of this there is a rich record in her surviving letters. One of her more remarkable, though not often mentioned, feats was to construct an alphabet of 23 letters for her Lingua Ignota (“unknown language”), which appears to have been a secret language she devised to elaborate her mystical experiences. You can see a glossary for it on this fascinating website.

The alphabet for St Hildegard’s ‘Lingua Ignota’.

She has become something of a cause célebre for feminists, who love to latch on to strong women in Catholic history as if they somehow subverted the system, patriarchal as it was, of course. She was a strong and gifted woman, but as an abbess, mystic, liturgist and aristocrat she is not a convincing model of systemic subversion, but rather an example of its health.

What is particularly interesting is that she has not been canonised in the normal way. Normally, after a lengthy process of investigation, a decree is issued by the Holy See in the name of the Pope declaring the person to be a saint, which is then formally confirmed in a liturgical ceremony. In this case Pope Benedict has enacted an equivalent canonisation. Instead of the normal process the Pope has issued a decree that enjoins the universal Church to celebrate the cultus of Hildegard. In this sense she is truly raised to the altars of the entire Church, and by this act the Pope has implicitly canonised her (for only a saint can be so venerated). Other saints ‘canonised’ in this way include great monastic figures like St Romuald, St Bruno, St Norbert (technically a canon, not a monk, but …), St Wenceslaus, and Pope St Gregory VII.

Looking through what Pope Benedict has said of her in recent years, we might perhaps detect one strong reason he has made this move:

With the spiritual authority with which she was endowed, in the last years of her life Hildegard set out on journeys, despite her advanced age and the uncomfortable conditions of travel, in order to speak to the people of God. They all listened willingly, even when she spoke severely: they considered her a messenger sent by God. She called above all the monastic communities and the clergy to a life in conformity with their vocation. In a special way Hildegard countered the movement of German cátari (Cathars). They cátari means literally “pure” advocated a radical reform of the Church, especially to combat the abuses of the clergy. She harshly reprimanded them for seeking to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is obtained with a sincere spirit of repentance and a demanding process of conversion, rather than with a change of structures. This is a message that we should never forget. (General Audience, 8 September 2010)

This, dear friends, is the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, the source of every charism: the person endowed with supernatural gifts never boasts of them, never flaunts them and, above all, shows complete obedience to the ecclesial authority. Every gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit, is in fact intended for the edification of the Church and the Church, through her Pastors, recognizes its authenticity. (General Audience, 1 September 2010)

St Hildegard is an example of how to go about authentic reform in the Church, and that in even her most personal, mystical moments, her gifts were gifts for the benefit of all God’s people. In other words, in St Hildegard we have a true woman of the Church.


Secondly, a little something on the Missal, too small perhaps for its own post. Often the question has been put (and still is) as to why the Lord’s Prayer is in an older style of English, while the embolism that follows it in the Mass (ie, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours…” etc) is in modern English. This was a complaint made of the previous Missal as well as the revised one. The point being made was usually either that the Our Father should be likewise put into modern English, or that the embolism be put into the old English with which we are familiar from the Protestant version, “For thine is the kingdom, the power..” etc. Normally, there is a plaintive cry to conclude, that it is inconsistent and just doesn’t make sense.

Not so. It is not too difficult to fathom really. The Lord’s Prayer has been retained in its familiar wording precisely because it is that, familiar. It is so familiar that it is part of anglophone culture even among non-believers. Moreover it is a text that is ecumenical in its scope. Given that the Our Father is the one prayer that Our Lord enjoined on us to pray, it is fitting that we keep the version of it that is so familiar to other Christians, especially as it is such an elegant rendering.

So why not change the embolism to match? Because for the Catholic Church it has never been considered part of the Lord’s Prayer. It is an addition. However, itt is a fine little expression of praise, and so the Church is happy to include it in the Mass, but only in such a way as it is manifestly not part of the Lord’s Prayer. Thus it is separated from the prayer itself, and put into English consistent with the rest of the liturgy.


Lastly, something grabbed the attention recently. In the recent crisis in the Church surrounding clerical abuse of children, much blame has been laid on bishops and superiors of decades ago for not dealing with abusers properly, but moving them around and apparently covering up for them. This was indeed a grave fault, but its gravity is only starkly clear in hindsight. At the time, the seriousness of much abusive behaviour was often not recognised, being seen as a moral and/or personal failure, much on a par with alcoholism. Thankfully our understanding of the true state of affairs has advanced and we deal with abuse with much more care and vigour.

What might often be forgotten is that this attitude was not confined to the Church. The English public school system dealt with abuse in much the same way. Indeed, it might not be stretching things too much to say that the real crime was to be caught. In public schools, as in the Church, there was a horror of scandal, not least because of the potential it had to damage confidence in the system.

So it was interesting to read of Evelyn Waugh’s brief period as a master in a prep school in northern Wales after he left Oxford University in the mid-1920s. Joining the staff with him at Arnold House was Dick Young, who was the model for Grimes in Waugh’s first novel, Decline and Fall. Young was probably a true paedophile, and not a homosexual with an attraction to pubescent males (which, though not paedophilia as such, can be just as dangerous). It seems, in those very different days, that Young felt able to speak freely of his sexual activity in the school with other masters. Waugh wrote of Young that, after being expelled from Wellington College, sent down from Oxford, and forced to resign from the army, Young

“has left four schools precipitately, three in the middle of the term through his being taken in sodomy and one through his being drunk six nights in succession. And yet he goes on getting better and better jobs.” The reason was that whenever he left a school in disgrace, he always took with him very good references, since no headmaster dared to confess that he had hired a pederast.  [from Paula Byrne, Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (London, 2010), p.80]

That is gobsmacking for the modern to read. First, it seemed never to occur to Waugh or Young’s other colleagues to report his explicit admission of abusive behaviour. Secondly, could there be a baser, more selfish motive for a headmaster to cover up such behaviour? Nevertheless it is a useful reminder that, however great the failures of certain Church authorities to take proper action against clearly-abusive clergy, such failures were not restricted to the Church. It was a case of the Church being too much of the world, rather than just in it. Happily, statistically and realistically speaking, there is probably no safer place for a child now than at Church or in a Catholic school. Deo gratias.

Fathoming the Cross: the Reason for the Season

Have we greatly sinned?

In the series here of Missal Moments on the new Missal now in place for Roman-Rite (Ordinary Form) Catholics, so far the revised Confiteor has not been dealt with separately. At some of the talks I have given on it, and also at other times, some people have objected to the new version, with its “I have greatly sinned… through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”. Of course, the new translation is merely reflecting the Latin original, which was lost in the previous Missal. These people, of course, then say they object to the Latin original. “My sins are no worse than most others, I am no Hitler. And while I may sometimes be at fault, it is hardly ‘most grievous’. This renewed emphasis on sin will just bring back the old, bad Catholic guilt complex”. This is a pretty accurate summary of what I have heard. So it was refreshing to see someone else notice this trend, see its subtle but dangerous error, and address it. Rather than repeat what John Jalsevac says, do go and read his article here. In sum, he talks about the self-description of the objectors as something akin to ‘I am basically a decent chap, not a grievous sinner. I am nowhere near as bad as the Hitlers of this world’. But Jalsevac spots the error in this thinking quite clearly:

The problem, of course, is that we are usually measuring ourselves against the wrong standard. Mostly we are measuring ourselves against the standard of our neighbour, which, in practice, mostly means that we are carefully analyzing and archiving our neighbour’s every fault and foible, and, with any time left, busily thinking up compelling excuses for all of our own. However, not only is any sense of superiority engendered by such a comparison almost universally wrong and based upon deceptive appearances, it is of practically no value. If the goal is for our souls become white, is there much point in saying, “Well, thank God my soul is marginally less black than that of the next fellow”? It may or may not be true that our soul is less black, but it is still black, and a long way from the white that it is supposed to be. If we want to be white, then, we need to compare ourselves against a standard of absolute white. In the moral life, this means that we must compare ourselves to a standard of perfect love. Most of us find this an extremely disturbing thought. Deep down most of us sincerely believe that the goal of life is just to be a little better than our neighbour, and to slip into heaven on the strength of a sort of divine Bell Curve. But we aren’t called simply to be better than our neighbour, we are called to become Godlike. We are called to be perfect, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The Pharisee and the Publican

Ouch! He hits the nail square on the head. Many of us can easily fall into the mode of the pharisee who said to himself having spied the despised publican “I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). But we are all too much like other people, and too little like God in whose image we are made and whose likeness we are called to manifest. Instead, Jalsevac argues, we need to recover both a proper sense of sin and a proper sense of the holiness to which we are called in our Baptism. We need to compare ourselves to Christ, not our neighbour, for Christ is the measure of true humanity. Jalsevac concludes by recalling the …

“… persistent, life-long, inner murmur of spite, jealousy, prurience, greed and self-complacence” that Lewis speaks of. This is something that, if you’re honest with yourself, you will find weaves its way in and out of your every thought and every action, continually perverting your every effort at living authentic love un-poisoned by the dross of self-serving. More often than not it reveals itself not in the thoughts we have or the things we do, but in the thoughts we don’t have, and the things we don’t do. Particularly in the fact that, despite being offered a million chances, we still haven’t begun to take God and his demands seriously, instead relegating God to the periphery of our lives, giving him a token nod from time to time, repeatedly rejecting His invitation to holiness for a fleeting and adulterous affair with his lesser creations. It seems to me that until we come to this realization – that we are, indeed, “grievous” sinners – we cannot even begin to live the spiritual life and make progress towards holiness.  And thus I am grateful for the new Mass translation for providing the regular reminder that, indeed, I am a wretch, and in enormous need of the gratuitous mercy of God.

And this brings us to the point that needs to be made regarding this sacred time of the Triduum, wherein the Paschal Mystery is commemorated, and wherein the Church becomes a witness to that divine drama which, though concluded in time, abides forever in eternity. [For it is only in the Church’s liturgy that God enables us to look on in Gethsamene’s garden, sit at table in the upper room, walk the Via Dolorosa behind Christ, stand silenced at Golgotha and dumbfounded at the empty tomb.] So as we make this liturgical journey we might ask, as has been asked before, why? Why this way to redeem us? Indeed, why redemption at all?

Why Redemption?

Taking the latter question first, the short answer is sin. It started with the sin of Adam and Eve, who initiated in humanity its persistent choice of self before God, self-will before God’s will. And so, ever after, “all have sinned and fall(en) short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Humanity was powerless to extricate itself from its predicament, namely a slavery to self and so to sin, which could only end in death. Having forsaken God’s gifts, only God could restore them. As St Paul says:

Therefore, … sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… [yet] if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [Romans 5:12,15]

The grace of God is that supreme gift of God to which we know have access through Christ. Grace is the gift of God’s own life, a gift which does not remove death from human destiny, but transforms it into something far greater than the life humanity enjoyed in its original paradise.

Crucifix, Douai Abbey Church

Why Redemption by the Cross?

Which brings us to God’s choice of this particular way to redeem us – sending his Son to die our death so that we might have His life. God, theoretically, could have waved his hand and made it “all right”. Yet to do so would have destroyed one of his greatest gifts to us, something that is essential to human nature: our free will. God has not made us to be his playthings; he has made us in his image in order to bear his likeness, and share in his life. Love overflows beyond itself to another; love shares itself with another; love gives itself to another. Love is a moving from self to another, for the sake of the other. Love requires freedom.

That does not mean that God needed us, of course. In His Trinity God is the perfect community of love, a love so perfect, pure and unsullied that the three Persons who share it are so intimately united as to be one. The Father loves the Son, and the Son the Father, and their mutual love is so perfect that it becomes a Person, the Holy Spirit. God does not need anyone else in order to love.

Which makes our creation all the more breathtaking. God created us not because he needed to, but because he wanted to. Humanity having chosen itself before him (how could we have done so!?), God did not abandon us to ourselves but seized the opportunity to show us the richness of the love we turned away from. In the Son, God empties Himself to the point of living our life, though he had no need to. That is self-sacrifice. In response the Son, being truly human though ever a divine person, offered his human life in our place to the Father, to pay the dues of death once and for all. That is self-sacrifice; that is love.

What Christ did in his human nature has changed all human nature forever. For he has made it capable of sharing the life of God, by sharing in his life, becoming one with him. This was something Adam and Eve were never offered. We share in Christ’s life and become like him in two ways, both of which are essential to the Paschal Mystery, and explain its purpose.

First, we share in Christ’s death, so that our human death might end in life. How? Through Baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [Romans 6:3-11]

Sharing Christ’s death is the means for our sharing God’s life, and Baptism in faith is the means by which we are enabled to share in both. Baptism unites us to Christ in his Body, the Church, the community of faith.

Secondly, we share Christ’s life and become one with Christ in the Church, by using his gift of grace to do as he did. The disciple is not greater than the Master; as he has done, so must we. Christ in the suffering of his self-sacrifice left us an example, as St Peter says – “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). All of Christ’s life has meaning for us, as it is the expression of the same self-sacrifice that we see at its zenith in the Paschal Mystery, the Passion and the Cross. In his forgiveness of others, and his turning the other cheek, he sacrificed his divine prerogative of justice and instead granted mercy. In his washing of the disciples’ feet, a slave’s work, he sacrificed his status as God’s Son that we might share in it ourselves. He treats humankind as we should treat Him! Finally, He laid down his life for us, that we might be his friends. But there is a catch, a necessary step in becoming his friends – we must do as He did:

Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:13)

You are if you do. We are one with Him if we do as He did. The self-sacrifice of the Cross is both our example, and the means by which we can follow that example. By living that love we become one with Love. That is why God chose the Incarnation, and the Cross which is its crown. The Paschal Mystery enables us to choose love, and so choose God, in freedom.

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal SonSo perhaps we do better not to minimise sin, which is the abuse of our freedom, the choice of self first. Every day we make a myriad of small choices for self and against others, and against God. Each time we do so we drift further away from Christ, who is the true measure of what it is to be human and to be a friend of God. We have greatly sinned, even if we do not feel it; especially Christians, who know better and whose guilt therefore is the greater. Let us empty ourselves of pride and acknowledge our sin, for the measure by which we repent is the measure by which we shall be forgiven. A niggardly repentance will bring the reward it deserves, in fact, the reward it asks for. Let us not minimise the redemption Christ has won for us.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:4-6)

A blessed Triduum to all!

Parsch on Palm Sunday: the sermon preached by the palms

Fr Pius Parsch (1884 – 1954), an Augustinian canon of Klosterneuberg in Austria, was one of the great figures of the authentic Liturgical Movement. Much of his body of writing is devoted to breaking open the treasures of the liturgy for the benefit of the faithful, and not a few clergy! Much of what is found in the conciliar document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, is an affirmation of his work, though I suspect much of the later reform in practice would not have cheered him.

For your spiritual reading today here is an excerpt from “Palm Sunday”, found in his Seasons of Grace: New Meditations for Sundays and Feastdays (London, 1963):

Today we enter Holy Week, the great week of the Christian year, a week so rich in associations for all Christians who take the Church’s year seriously. It is nothing less than the celebration of Easter, the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. At this point perhaps, we will need to revise some of our ideas. The celebration of Easter does not begin with Easter Sunday and does not conists merely of Christ’s resurrection. It begins on Palm Sunday – or rather on Passion Sunday – and consists of the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. We cannot separate the Cross from the resurrection; they belong together. They belong together, too, in the life of the Christian, a life of grace which consists in conforming to “the likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection”.

… The Church our Mother, therefore, puts a symbol into our hands, a sign to show that we are Christ’s fellow-warriors, that we die with Christ and with Him gain the victory. She gives us these branches of palm and olive.

If up to now we have looked upon palms as symbols of martyrdom, that is quite true, as we know from the tradition and liturgy of the Church. When, however, we read carefully the prayer with which the Church blesses the these palms, we find she gives them a much richer symbolism. These branches are signs of our readiness to die and rise again with Christ, to fight at His side and to conquer with Him. By taking them in our hands we show that we want “to live in the likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection”. And that means living in union with Christ, which, as St Paul said, involves dying with Christ and rising again with Christ.

… By taking these branches into our hands we announce our firm resolve to take up the struggle against our sinfulness and to receive the gift of grace with joy; for that is what is meant by the work of divine mercy. When therefore we take these branches from the hand of the Church, we say to ourselves: “Thus may I receive grace from the hands of God”. Grace is the greatest possession of our lives, to be carried by us in our procession through life. We take these palms home with us and put them somewhere where we can always see them, to remind us that we are God’s children of grace.

Boughs of palm and olive – see, then, what they mean. We are warriors and victors, and friends and brides of God. We must die daily with Christ, struggle against our sinful nature and love the mercy of God. We must be strong, valiant, steeled against sin; but grace, the olive, steals mildly, softly, mercifully, gently into our souls.

Often, then, during this year let us listen to the sermon which these bough of palm and olive preach us. But now we want to carry them in our hands with pride and joy, as we accompany Christ the Warrior, the Conqueror, our Brother, Friend, and Bridegroom, through death to resurrection.

It can be a little startling to accept that in a sense our Easter celebration has already begun. Yet our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem on a kingly colt is more than a piece of dramatic irony for we who know what is to come but a few days later on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It reminds us that as he processes to his death, Christ processes also to his resurrection and to his coronation as eternal King. How fitting that his crown be of thorns, for his power is found in self-sacrifice for our sake, and not in the pomp that is his right. It gives us heart for the days that are to come, to know that Christ has already won the victory, as he promised. It reminds us what rich reward will crown our own sufferings as we battle the power of sin with the weapons of love, as He did.

Ironically, the liturgy that Parsch expounded is not quite the same as we have today. Many of the prayers are changed, or indeed removed. The prayer of blessing for the palms he refers to is gone, and the reformed liturgy’s prayer has none of the resonance of the previous. Until the post-conciliar reforms the prayer of blessing (translated) was:

Bless, we beseech Thee, O Lord, these branches of palm; and grant that what Thy people today bodily perform for Thy honour, they may perfect spiritually with the utmost devotion, by gaining the victory over the enemy, and ardently loving every work of mercy. Through our Lord…

However, there is something of this meaning lingering in the introduction before the blessing in the new Missal, which also gathers into it the emphasis Parsch placed on Palm Sunday as the beginning of the Easter celebration:

Dear brothers and sisters, since the beginning of Lent until now we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works. Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection. For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem. Therefore, with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.

Hosanna to the Son of David!

Straining at gnats: on liturgy and language

A recent post here on the Missal, focusing on another clerical blogger using a forum with apparent ecclesiastical status, criticised in it the translation, by way of example, of the collect for the second Sunday of Lent, which begins “O God, who have commanded us…”. He and his language-savvy friends were aghast, with one exclaiming that the text had not been proof-read, and that this was a grammatical error. The blogger took me to task in the comments box for opposing him, as he is free to do, but never really dealt with my issue: that the grammar in the Missal is actually correct. Indeed, in the last of his many comments he persists in claiming that the faithful will continue to labour under “the (mis) understanding that we pray to God in the plural.”

The identity of the blogger is not important, but some issues arising from his posts do deserve attention early on lest they develop a life of their own.

First, the collect itself. The prayer is addressing God, talking to God as “you” – this is the vocative case, usually signified in English by use of “O”, thus “O God”; and employing the second person form of the verb. The prayer then goes on to remind God what he has done – “you have”, as it were. So the verb must agree with “God”. And it does – “O God, who have…”. Let’s be clear about this. The verb to have, in the present tense, has only two variants – “have” and “has”. “Has” is used only for the third person in the singular, “she has” for instance. In all 5 other possibilities it uses “have” – “I have”, “you (singular) have”, “we have”, “you (plural) have”, “they have”.

So when you see “have” there could be several possibilities. We can determine which is the correct one by looking, in this case, just before it, “O God, who have commanded…”. The “who” doing the commanding is God, to whom we are talking, so the second person must be used, and in both singular and plural this would be “have”. Now my interlocutor seems to think that most will opt for the plural understanding, even though we are clearly saying “O God”, not “O Gods”. The meaning is quite clear if we will but look.

Now if, as my interlocutor claims, most people do in fact read this as a plural (and I doubt it, but let’s run with it) then we have two remedies possible. Either we dumb down our language to suit the lowest common denominator among our audience vis a vis their level of grammatical knowledge, or we can teach them the grammar involved.

One could argue that another construction could have been used in this translation, and indeed there are several ways of translating the original Latin into English. However, we would then be into the realm of taste and personal preference. As to grammatical correctness, the construction employed by the Missal is correct. End of story. It is the option that has been chosen, and so it is the one we must explain to any who do not understand it. Some priests seem to prefer consoling the people who do not understand by saying that it is poor English, archaic, inelegant, too formal and the like. This seems a betrayal of their duty to serve the Church and not themselves. There is a time and place for cleric’s personal opinions, but not usually in forums carrying the approbation (real or implied) of the Church. There, the servants of the Church should explain the Church’s teachings or decisions and so promote the understanding and peace of mind of the faithful.

Of course, sometimes it is easier to be the rebel, appoint oneself a prophet and claim to know better than the Church. Certain people will love it, as it suits their temper or prejudice. But an opportunity for real growth in the Church will have been lost. Moreover, if the many experts and bishops involved in the process of translation have chosen this construction, quite frankly, who am I to gainsay their decision? They made a choice for a register of language that suited the formal nature of the Church’s liturgy. The mania in many places for cosy, home-made, smorgasbord liturgies is modern and has no warrant in either the history or the rubrics of the liturgy. The liturgy is not ours to change as we will; it is the Church’s liturgy which we enact in our local communities for our own benefit as well as that of all the Church.

My interlocutor dared me to find a similar construction outside the realm of liturgy. In doing so he missed the real point. This choice is precisely for the liturgy, so a non-liturgical or secular example is irrelevant. Again, it is a matter of taste not of grammar. The bishops have opted for a grammatical register that reinforces the formality of the liturgy, an elevated tone used to address the Most High God in formal worship. We can address God in cosier terms in our private prayer, wherein it would be quite fitting at times to adopt a more familiar tone with Him. Liturgy and private or personal prayer are not the same thing. Occasionally they can meet: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name… (which looks suspiciously like the construction complained of in the new Missal!)

ImageAnother issue which emerges here into the light, and which extends beyond the relatively narrow confines of the liturgy, is the state of the English language in general. Our language has been dumbed down. Mobile phone text-speak, media-mutilations of words to suit advertising campaigns and the like, the television 10-second soundbite, and other forces, have stripped away the depth and complexity of our language. The English of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Hopkins, Newman, Monsignor Knox, Chesterton and the many other great writers has been all too often reduced to a series of simple, one-clause sentences. The demands of political correctness have forced on us the absurdity of such horrors as “if a person would like a copy, they should come to the office”, a grammatical atrocity.

It would be interesting to see a study on the correlation between the level of a person’s language skills and his (or her) powers of reasoning, thought and comprehension. It would be no surprise if we were to find that with less ability both to use and to understand complex language, there is a corresponding lack of ability to comprehend complex ideas or arguments. As our language dumbs down, perhaps also our thinking dumbs down. This might explain why so many people get their information from quick-fire sources such as tabloids and internet news sites. They have little attention span for more, and their brains have become used to a diet of easily digestible and insubstantial crumbs of information and argument.

There is no need for our liturgy to reflect this decay in the English language. Indeed it should sit somewhat above the fads, fashions and decayings of the vernacular as far as possible, lest it become their victim. Our worship should be a constant, a rock of security in the midst of a too-quickly (and often too-fruitlessly) changing world.

Whether it suits our taste or not, the bishops have made their choice in the language of the new Missal. We can either get on with drinking deeply from its riches, and helping others to do so, even if this means a grammar lesson or two; or we can white-ant the Church’s enterprise, putting our preferences first. In the latter case we might find ourselves on the wrong side of our Lord’s judgement, “whoever is not for me, is against me” (Luke 11:23).

Criticizing the Missal: another own goal

This gem from Cathnews (not the Australian one, but the New Zealand version), sailed into view (it links to the full story on this page). On first reading it, my eyes reflexively darted to the calendar; but no, it is not 1 April. Then the thought occurred that maybe it was a Kiwi larrikin-priest taking the proverbial”mick”. However, I suspect it is not so.

Keeping charity in mind, still it is hard not to laugh loud and long over this piece written on the (late) arrival of the actual Missals in NZ. This is the amazing part, our priest correspondent’s reactions on first opening the volume:

I unwrapped it and flicked it open enthusiastically, in the presence of some well-educated adults, to the Sunday collect:

“O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son,…”

“It hasn’t been proof read”, was the immediate response of one person. So I turned over the page to the next collect:

“O God, who have taught us to chasten our bodies…”

“Maybe they are referring to God as Trinity,” said another person. I forget how many degrees he has. We are, of course, not tri-theists.

Since then, I have run this past three senior staff in our English Department who all see this construction as incorrect, an awkward construction. The question was asked, “How do Roman Catholic priests understand this, deal with this?”

Are they, the priest and his friends, serious? I mean, really? Just so that we are all clear, there is of course a basic grammar principle at work. The sentence is in the second person, ie the prayer is talking to God. It is not in the third person, ie talking about God. In the third person the sentence would read, “God, who has commanded (taught)…” But since this is in the second person, the verb has to change: “O God, (you) who have commanded …” The use of “have” does not refer to a plural, but to the grammatical second person. Perhaps they were confused by the use of “who”, because let’s face it, subordinate clauses are dying in the face of text-message English.

Nevertheless, I think our correspondent is being over-generous saying that his companions were “well-educated”. And as to those “three senior staff in our English Department who all see this construction as incorrect”, someone might want to check out those references they supplied when applying for their jobs.

Sorry if this seems cruel, but if someone puts this sort of ignorant criticism of the Missal in print, there is one reaction that is certainly justified…


And for the writer and those three senior members of the English Department, a good gift for them this Easter might be…


Lastly, I am still intrigued as to why the tiny New Zealand Church went it alone on the production of the Missals, and did not join with the Australian Church and save money with economies of scale. At least they might have been spared what must be the worst cover for the New Missal seen so far:


Oh dear…. forgive me.

A regret and an apologia

Alas, it seems my efforts to conceal the identity of the parish in yesterday’s blog entry were not successful, and some close to me are now suffering as a result. And unnecessarily. Mea culpa.

What prompted me to write about the criticisms of the new Missal in a parish bulletin was to find them quoted approvingly on a blog (which I did not link to since it identified the parish, so I will still not link to Christian R’s blog here). Indeed the blogger has fallen hook, line and sinker for the error being propagated in the parish bulletin. Even more, being so approved on a blog the error was moving out beyond parish boundaries. So the error spreads, and would continue to if no one points it out.

Priests holding parochial charge and the cure of souls are not called to be prophets, especially misguided ones. They are called to be shepherds serving their flocks by guiding them along the path of unity with the rest of the Church. There are enough self-appointed prophets in the Church already. I wonder if this tendency might have had something to do with the early decline of the ministry of prophet that was apparently active in St Paul’s time.

Even if there is legitimate criticism of the new Missal to be made, and there is (vastly superior to the previous Missal, though, it remains) I am still not sure that a parish bulletin is the place to publish it. Who wins? The people? Hardly. It is hard to see how fabricating a sense of dissatisfaction with the Church can help anybody. Publications like The Tablet are full of it. No wonder its readership is declining. I suspect that such non-constructive (and too often erroneous) criticism of the Church from within has a lot to do with the decline in the number of practising Catholics from the 1970s onwards. Where the numbers are growing again, as too the  numbers of seminarians, are those places where bishops and pastors are seeking to build up the Church in fidelity to its teachings, not white-anting it from within.

Here endeth the rant. Next time, more on the ESV translation.