Missal Wars Revived

As you may know, Pope Francis has apparently ordered a review of the 2001 Vatican document that currently undergirds any new liturgical translations, viz. Liturgiam authenticam. No one in the Vatican is answering any questions about the alleged committee performing the review, including its alleged director, Archbishop Arthur Roche. For those who hoped that under Pope Francis a new age of transparency would appear will be sorely disappointed by now.

If this committee of review really exists, then Gerard O’Connell at America Magazine, lists two reasons for it which touch on truth. One reason is that it serves to promote the agenda of Pope Francis to effect a more radical decentralisation of the Church by radically empowering that novel, post-conciliar creature the bishops’ conference. Decentralisation has a nice sound to it. Centralising tendencies must always be resisted, yes? Let’s ignore for now its less helpful bedfellow, fragmentation. That’s for another post. Continue reading “Missal Wars Revived”

Friday Penance: a dose of The Tablet (but sugared)

Friday is traditionally a day of penance for Christians. So in a frenzy of penitential excess I betook myself to the Letters pages of The Tablet. In never fails to give the psycho-emotional equivalent of a goodly number of strokes of the discipline. It did not fail today.

The various “Outrageds of Tunbridge Wells” have a remarkable knack for flogging dead horses, hoping against hope in advocating their own private Idahos as the model of the Church for all of us.

Continue reading “Friday Penance: a dose of The Tablet (but sugared)”

The Odour of Desperation

Most of the anglophone Church has settled into the use of the revised English missal. Priests are getting to grips with sentences more than a few words long and containing some commas and subordinate clauses, and are doing what we always should have been doing (though sadly some didn’t), namely reading ahead and preparing those parts we have to say. This development has allowed many more people to relax with the new missal, as the mis-readings die off in light of clerical comfort and familiarity with the new, more accurate texts. No doubt most can see that, notwithstanding a few areas that could be improved, this missal is vastly superior to the previous paraphrased one, and brings the verbal content and meaning of our liturgical texts into closer and more obvious unity with the rest of the Church.

However, some people will not give up. Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, they will never accept the revised missal. So they change the texts to suit their own understanding of liturgy, manifesting at the very least sheer disobedience, and perhaps even an attempt at a type of social engineering. As they get more desperate that they cause is not prospering, they resort to subterfuge to foster the appearance that it is prospering.

The latest instance is the reporting of yet another survey of priests and their opinion of the revised missal. Leaving aside the whole issue of church governance by opinion poll, a little light delving into the reporting of the survey reveals that the dissenters’ emperor has no clothes. The worst offender is the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), which headlines its article “Study indicates wide rejection of new translations by US clergy”. Oh my goodness! How ominous. Patrick Archbold has done what many readers will not do, and read all the way to the end of the article and taken note of what is passed over in silence.

The NCR reporting is alarmist in the impression it gives, though observant readers will see what is going on. An example:

 … 75 percent of respondents said they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that “some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.” Forty-seven percent answered “strongly agree” to that statement.

Likewise, an even 50 percent of those answering said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that “the new translation urgently needs to be revised.” 33 percent answered “strongly agree” on that statement.

Now someone who is not reading carefully will not take in the full significance of the word respondent. In light of the misleading headline, they might have the immediate impression that pretty much 75% of US clergy are of the opinion that the missal’s language is “awkward and distracting”, to take one example.

But Pat has read through and discovered the most salient fact of all: 6000 parishes were surveyed, only 539 responded. That is a response rate of less than 9%! So the 75% who do not like the linguistic register of the missal represent only 6.7% of the 6000 actually surveyed. “Wide rejection”?

However Pat seems to have missed one further point. Only 444 of the 539 respondents were actually “US clergy”; the other 75 were “lay leaders”. So it is not even 9% of clergy that is the real survey pool; it is actually only 7.4%. Alas, there is no breakdown on how many clergy responded negatively as distinct form the “lay leaders”, who are likely to have been predominately negative. So, allowing the dissenters their best case scenario, the highest possible percentage for clergy dissatisfaction they can claim on the basis of their survey is 7.4%.

Somehow a 7.4% negative response rate equates to “wide rejection”.

The active opponents of the revised missal may be very loud but they are very few in number. They shout loudly and often, to make one think they are many. They are not many, but their sly fudging of their own statistics reveals that they are increasingly desperate.

The Pray Tell blog, which is partly responsible for the survey, did not even bother to include reference to the dismal response rate to the survey, and thus the tiny portion of clergy it represents, and posted an even more misleading headline. Desperate indeed.




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.


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 change.org 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.

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.

When criticising the new Missal scores an own goal

Zr Z on his blog has more than once said that if people are unhappy with the English translation of the Roman Missal, they can always go back to the original Latin. No translation is perfect, from any one language into any other. The balance between meaning and style is usually impossible to replicate precisely. The previous English translation of the Missal failed often on both counts. The revised Missal succeeds far more often than the previous; indeed it is overwhelmingly superior as will be apparent when people do a little study of it and, well, just get used to it. That said, it is not, cannot be, a perfect translation. There have been moments when I have thought to myself I could have rendered a particular phrase better or more felicitously. Yet, then I remember that it is not about me; and also that the previous Missal more often than not paraphrased rather than translated the prayers, robbing us of so much meaning and resonance. If, on the rare occasion, a particular phrase or passage can be critiqued with some justification, it is always best to do so quietly and humbly, with a view to making its meaning clearer rather than merely stirring up angst.

So when the bulletin of a particular eastern Australian parish was brought to notice, it was disappointing to see that a priest seems to be looking for things to criticise, and doing so in terms far from humble. That at least one blogger has taken up his criticisms approvingly makes me realise how disastrous such pastoral leadership can be, sowing confusion among the faithful. In this case, both the criticisms made turn out to be own goals. No wonder the priest would not put his name to the critiques, hiding instead behind the soubriquet, Pastor Ignotus, a la The Tablet column. Since he prefers to remain hidden, I will not link to the parish nor name it.

Let us begin with his article MisTranslations, the relevant parts of which read:

In the Prayer after Communion for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time the original Latin text has the pivotal word ‘ut’ present. Indeed the word pivotal is a very appropriate one because the prayer literally pivots on that word ‘ut’, depends on it for its meaning. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the word was not translated in the prayer that was heard!

‘Ut’ means ‘so that’: we pray that God will do one thing so that (‘ut’) another thing may flow from it. In the prayer in question the Latin text beautifully asked that God would send forth the Holy Spirit so that we who share in the Eucharist might become one in mind and heart through our sharing in the Eucharist….

But the translation gave us none of that. It read:

Pour on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
and in your kindness
make those you have nourished by this one heavenly Bread
one in mind and heart.

The ‘ut’ has been turned into ‘and’ with the result that we pray for two separate and seemingly unrelated things: for the Spirit and for unity in mind and heart. The rich theological connection has been lost.

It is basic Latin and to neglect it entirely changes the meaning of the prayer.

A first year Latin student would have received a resounding F. So should the translator.

It is known that many changes were made to the Missal texts by unknown hands after their careful preparation by experienced translators and approval by the English speaking Bishops’ Conferences of the world. It is the many errors (such as the one above) that have crept into the Missal that has led some liturgists to suggest that its further revision may lie not too many years in the future. Don’t buy a copy yet!

I doubt the first-year Latin student would have received an F. Indeed that is just vapid hyperbole. The good Father’s major criticism is fundamentally and fatally flawed. “And” does not always imply “two separate and seemingly unrelated things” as he asserts. Indeed that sweeping assertion should get him a grade of F in grammar class. “And” often joins related things or ideas, and can often express chronological order and consequence. Take this example:

Since I was remorseful, I went to him and confessed what I had done.

This is pretty standard English. It should be clear that “and” functions here much like the ut, or “so that” whose absence in the prayer so upsets Pastor Ignotus. In other words, it could have also been expressed “I went to him so that I could confess what I had done”. This is good English too, just a little longer and more complex. Or take a biblical example, like Matthew 19:21:

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (ESV)

Clearly the “and”s here function as “so that”s; viz. “Go sell what you possess so that you can give it to the poor, so that you will have treasure in heaven, and so that then you can follow me”. And it is not just a quirk of the ESV version: the Douay-Rheims version uses “and” in this text as well, as do others.

So really all of Pastor Ignotus’ conclusions, flowing from his faulty premises, are off the mark. It is clear in the prayer that the Eucharistic unity of mind and heart arises as a consequence of the gift of the Spirit.

Pastor Ignotus, so far unchallenged I suspect, and possibly affirmed by his disciples, does not stop here but offers a later week MisTranslations II. Again the translation of ut obsesses him (though he has a couple of other stylistic quibbles). He shall speak for himself:

On special occasions one of the many forms of the ‘Solemn Blessing’ may be prayed at the end of Mass. These blessings, as we all know, have three petitions, to each of which the congregation responds with an ‘Amen’ and then the blessing itself follows.

A number of these blessings in the new translation have the peculiarity that the third petition makes no sense whatsoever. Very peculiar indeed. An example may be drawn from the Solemn Blessing for feasts of the Apostles:

So that through the intercession of the Apostles,
you may inherit the eternal homeland,
for by their teaching you possess firmness of faith.

We have here a subordinate clause (which as any good grammar teacher will tell us cannot exist by itself) existing by itself! There are only two ways that this poor clause can be redeemed (and actually say something meaningful) – by being transformed into a principal clause or by being attached to a principal clause (as any good subordinate clause must do). The second option isn’t available to us because we only have the words we’ve been given. The first option could yield us the following paragraph:

Through the intercession of the Apostles,
may you inherit the eternal homeland,
for by their teaching you possess firmness of faith.

This has the extraordinary virtue of actually meaning something and, as a petition, actually asking for something.

So, how did the problem arise? Well, the translator slavishly & literally translated the little word ut (meaning ‘So that…”) which we’ve already encountered in Part I, even though in the previous example we saw he inexplicably omitted ‘ut’ from the translation of the Collect for the Third Sunday and in so doing completely lost the theological intent of the prayer. And yet here, where idiom demands that it (ut) not be literally translated, he did!

No need to quote further. On the face of it he has a point. But it would have helped his understanding if he had taken note of the two invocations before this last one. Let’s see the blessing in full:

The Apostles

May God, who has granted you to stand firm on apostolic foundations,
graciously bless you through the glorious merits
of the holy Apostles N. and N. (holy Apostle N.).
R. Amen.

And may he who endowed you
with the teaching and example of the Apostles,
make you, under their protection,
witnesses to the truth before all.
R. Amen.

So that through the intercession of the Apostles
you may inherit the eternal homeland,
for by their teaching you possess firmness of faith.
R. Amen.

And may the blessing …

Did you see it? They are not three separate and unrelated invocations. They flow one into another. In effect they are one long sentence, broken up by “Amen”s, which is an ancient style that survives in the various litanies (of the Saints or the Blessed Virgin Mary, for example). Indeed in African-American gospel congregations the preacher’s sermon and prayers often elicit interjections of “Amen” or “Alleluia” or “Praise the Lord” etc. It comes quite naturally really.

So in this blessing we can that the third, supposedly deficiently-translated, invocation is the logical conclusion of the previous two, and ends the extended sentence. Thus the structure is something like “May God do this… Amen, and may God do that… Amen, so that we might… Amen”. If the three invocations were logically separate and distinct, then the Pastor would have a valid criticism. But in the context, which he has failed to note, we find something quite different to that he assumes is to be found. In fact, all the Solemn Blessings follow this structure. Did the Pastor read them too? If so, did he not marvel that the same supposed mistake had been made in all of them?

Most likely Pastor Ignotus is an example of someone itching to find fault at any price. In the process he scores an own goal, for the joke is on him. More serious is the fact that these forays into liturgical criticism were published in the parish bulletin, unsigned, though probably by the Parish Priest (though he does not want explicitly to associate his name with the critique… in case he gets in trouble?), and spreading error and confusion among his flock. His grandstanding has revealed a fundamental failure to nurture his flock and serve the universal Church of which his flock is an integral part and without which the parish becomes a sect.

As a Pastor, Ignotus gets a grade of F.  (Perhaps I am a little harsh, but Ignotus did rather ask for it!)

The body, the soul & the prayer before Communion

In Missal Moments III, in my innocent enthusiasm, I spent some time trying to explain the changes to the prayer at Mass we make before the reception of Holy Communion:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Often, and most recently at a talk I gave at a parish in Essex, people ask in particular why the apparently restrictive introduction of “soul” into the prayer. Before we had prayed, “and I shall be healed”. Some have begun to think that some sort of dualism is being secreted into the Mass, that somehow the Church thinks our bodies not worthy of healing, only our souls. Is this some sort of snub to the fullness of our humanity?, they wonder.

Part of my explanation was to expose the unconscious fallacy in people’s thinking when they suspect a denial of the bodiliness of humanity in this revised prayer. So many people think of the human body as somehow containing a soul, that the soul lies, as it were, in the deepest recesses of the body. Or perhaps they see it as one half of the human equation: body + soul = human person. Now that equation is not wrong in a sense, but put in those terms it is a little misleading.

Regarding the human person this common way of thinking is actually the reverse of what it is true. In reality, the soul contains the body, and the body is an expression and manifestation of the soul in time and space. Thus to heal the soul is to heal the entirety of the human person, including the body that is the soul’s physical expression.

All that wind I expended. If only I had re-read some C S Lewis recently! It took Facebook to remind me of something C S Lewis, in Mere Christianity, had said more pithily and directly and memorably than I did or could.