Tuesday, March 17, 2009

PopeTrip Notes

In another unfortunate news-cycle confluence for Benedict & Co., the first African PopeTrip in almost a decade has given a wider spotlight to what's been bouncing around church circles these last couple weeks: the "uproar" surrounding the first implementation of the newly-revised English translation of the Mass, which the South African bishops prematurely began rolling out in late November.

After Rome sought a reversal of the move that saw the lone approved English selection of the Roman Missal's third edition make its debut two years earlier than intended, the country's bishops announced last week that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had "accepted the[ir] explanation" on the mixup and permitted the use of the new texts to continue.

Regardless, echoing prior reports on the church-beat, the AP's Johannesburg desk relays word that the storm over the new texts -- coming to a parish near you in 2011 or thereabout -- continues:
Distribution of the prayers has fueled debate over whether the new translation — meant to more closely follow the original Latin text — will help deepen parishioners' prayer life or alienate them from the church.

"I think the church has been very lucky that the South Africans jumped the gun because it's showing the Vatican that there is going to be a worldwide problem when these new translations are put into effect," said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"Once again the Vatican isn't listening to the critics, and we're going to have another major embarrassment to the pope when these translations are put into effect and are forced on the people in the pews," he said.

Vatican II, the 1962-1965 meetings that inspired liberalizing reforms of the Roman Catholic Church, led to changes such as Mass being celebrated in local languages. Reese said prior to that, Mass was said in Latin and parishioners followed along in a missile [sic -- blame the AP] that had an English translation.

The new Mass translation now is being used in some parishes of the Southern African Church, which also includes Botswana and Swaziland and serves some 3.2 million Catholics. The premature use, which began in late November, is being blamed on a misplaced letter advising that the texts weren't to be used immediately.

Bishop Edward Risi, in charge of the local bishops' liturgical department, said the new translation is "a more faithful rendering ... an echo of the scriptures. What the original Latin has done uses the scriptures and English must also reflect that."...

But Clement Armstrong of Bryanston, South Africa, said some of the changes in wording are "simply nonsense." While his home parish has not yet adopted the changes, a church where he attended Mass over the holidays has.

"I am resistant to change and I think the older community in my parish will feel the same," he said. "I can accept change when there is a good reason but I cannot see one."

His daughter-in-law, Anne Armstrong agrees: "We are all familiar with the liturgy we have used since we were children. Why is there the need to say Mass differently?"

The Rev. Efrem Tresoldi warned in The Southern Cross, a regional Catholic weekly: "I've heard it said that younger people are leaving the Church because, among other things, the language used in our liturgy sounds foreign to them. I think this new version of the order of the Mass is even more alienating."

Lay leader Paddy Kearney also points to the theological implications in the "mea culpa." The new translation reverts to repeated pronunciations of guilt emphasized by beatings on the breast reflected in the Latin Mass: "Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."

Under Vatican II, the breast-beating was abandoned and people pronounced only once on grievous sinning.

"I think this is because some feel we need to have more emphasis on our guiltiness and sinfulness, because the feeling is that we have lost our sense of guilt," Kearney said.

There's a feeling, Kearney said, "that Vatican II was a mistake, that a lot has gone wrong as a result of its decrees and that we need to get back in line, get knocked into shape, that we need to inch back to where we were before."

In an article in The Southern Cross, Bishop Kevin Dowling agreed.

"I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II."

The Rev. Russell Pollitt also questioned whether nonnative English speakers in South Africa, where there are 11 official languages, would understand the more abstract concepts.

"The new text seems almost to imply that there is something inherently holy about Latin and inherently unholy about proper English," English Professor Colin Gardner said.
Meanwhile, the next PopeTrip -- Benedict's 8-15 May trek to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories -- is already garnering heat, with the rabbi of the Wailing Wall calling for the pontiff to remove his pectoral cross when he visits the last remnant of the Second Temple during the visit:
The pope wears a cross in all public appearances and is slated to visit the Western Wall on May 12 after a meeting with Muslim religious leaders at the Dome of the Rock.

After the visit, which will include a meeting with Rabinovitch, the pope is slated to meet with Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.

"My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross," said Rabinovitch in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church."...

Rabinovitch is responsible for religious decorum at the site.

"In coming days I intend to discuss the issue with the pope's people," Wadie Abunassar, media coordinator for the pope's visit to the Holy Land, said in response to reports that the pontiff would not remove his cross. "I cannot imagine the Holy Father removing his cross."

On a historic visit to the Holy Land in 2000, Pope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall, stuffing a written prayer between the cracks. Pictures from the visit clearly show him wearing a golden cross while praying.

Despite this precedent, Rabinovitch maintains his position against the display of religious symbols. In recent years there have been at least two incidents in which Rabinovitch has barred access to the Western Wall by Christian clergy wearing crosses.

In November 2007, he refused to allow a group of Austrian bishops led by the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, access to the site after the clergymen refused to remove or hide their crosses.

At the time Rabinovitch told the Post that "crosses are a symbol that hurt Jewish feelings."
PHOTO: Reuters