Wednesday, March 04, 2009

And With Your Fiasco -- In First Run, New Mass-Texts Spark "Bruhaha"

They won't be rolling out in the States for another two years or so, but be forewarned: in their world premiere on ground-level, the revised English Mass-texts have garnered heated protest from the pews.

Jumping the gun, the South African bishops moved to implement the first pillar of the re-translated Missale Romanum -- the Order of Mass (OM1) -- at late November's beginning of Advent. Granted the recognitio of the Holy See last July, the reworked set of standard prayers used at each Eucharist were approved not for immediate liturgical use, but solely that the eleven English-speaking episcopal conferences might begin their preparations for the new text's eventual rollout, including the formation of Mass-goers and the composition of musical arrangements to be used on their implementation.

Even long before the initial Vatican sign-off, the widespread understanding across the Anglophone church has been that the texts were not to be employed until the entire Missale package -- thirteen parts in all -- had been approved by the conferences, confirmed as a unit by Rome and bound into a "suitable and dignified" single edition. As of this writing, but two of the "blocks" -- OM1 and the Proper of Seasons -- have received the sign-off of the national groupings of bishops.

Unlike the varying translations currently in force, the upcoming edition will be identical across the English-speaking world.

Undertaken to better "unearth the richness" of the Latin editio typica, the reboot of the English texts in use since the early 1970s dates from 2001, when the Vatican instruction Liturgiam authenticam heralded a shift in the principles used for translation, particularly in English. Over the years since, while many of the most contentious proposals (the words "dew," "deign," "gaze" and "gibbet" especially memorable among them) have been struck from the drafts, moves to retain congregational responses in their existing form or excise key terms (e.g. "consubstantial," "ineffable") were shot down by Rome as efforts by opponents -- especially in the States -- to stall or scrap the process, citing pastoral accessibility and the intent of the Council, likewise met with firm Vatican resistance.

(Two years after its approval by the conferences, the recognitio for OM1 suddenly appeared less than a month after the US bishops rejected the Proper at last June's summer plenary in Orlando; at the body's subsequent meeting last November in Baltimore, with the writing on the wall, the seasonal texts were approved. Four more pieces of the Missale are expected to await the USCCB for debate and vote at its June session in San Antonio.)

On the new volume's first public run, the protest has predominantly been aired in South Africa's national Catholic paper, The Southern Cross, which has been flooded with an "unprecedented" storm of letters -- "almost all of them angry," a Christmas Eve editorial relayed -- primarily opposed not to the new texts' drastically altered form and content, but "what [writers] see as an arbitrary imposition of liturgical values that are foreign to them by faceless bureaucrats in distant Rome."

In its pages, the Cross has carefully balanced reader reaction with official responses from local leadership, including a lengthy explanation of the principles behind the changes, a defense of why the revisions were "necessary," and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban's call for peace amid what he termed a "free-for-all." At the same time, though, voices among the bishops have likewise taken to the weekly to say that the "liturgical anger" is justified, even adding their own critiques along the way as one line from one letter has been presented as the summary of the response: "I hate you, hierarchy," an infuriated Mass-goer wrote.

The sentence was initially excised by the paper's editors.

In the saga's latest development, after the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments moved last week to order the new text's suspension from use pending the rest of the work's completion, CNS -- which broke the story overseas -- reports from Cape Town that, while the South African conference has admitted to prematurely implementing the revisions, the bishops are working to avoid a U-turn:
In a March 4 statement the conference said it awaits a response from the Vatican. It told parishes in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland that already have begun using the translations to continue using them and said those that have not yet made the changes should wait until further notice.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, president of the bishops' conference, received a letter Feb. 25 from the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, asking that use "of the new English text of the Roman Missal be halted until the (translation) process had been finalized internationally and all English-speaking churches could implement the new translation at the same time," the bishops' statement said.

The bishops' statement added: "Normally a 'recognitio' (permission) given by the congregation approves a text for implementation at a time determined by the bishops' conference. In this case, the 'recognitio' approved the text, but only for catechesis of the people and the preparation of music for the rite and not for immediate implementation."

The bishops' conference "has explained the situation to the Vatican and has requested that their decision be allowed to stand," said the bishops' statement, issued by Father Vincent Brennan, general secretary of the bishops' conference and a member of the Society of African Missions.

"The bishops regret the confusion that may have arisen," the statement said. "They ask for patience and they pray that the misunderstanding that has arisen will not take away from the prayerful and joyful celebration of the Mass in English. They wish to point out that the only issue in dispute is the date of implementation, not the text itself."
With the new Missal's Stateside target for implementation most often eyed for Advent 2011, a formation page was quietly launched over the summer -- the first public step to make the overhaul's rollout on these shores as smooth as possible.

As the changeover draws closer, an extensive, nationwide catechetical program introducing the texts is expected to emerge.