Saturday, December 1, 2012


The following is an analysis on the one year old English Translation of the Mass found in the National Catholic Reporter and written by Father Anthony Ruff. I will italicize his comments and then have my comments on these below the article posted.

Bar is set low in acceptance of year-old English missal

Father Anthony Ruff, OSB | Dec. 1, 2012


The first Sunday of Advent, Dec. 2, marks one year since the new translation of the Roman Missal was implemented in parishes in the United States and much of the rest of the English-speaking church. Here's the good news: The transition to the new English missal has gone better than many of us expected. After a month or two of awkward and hesitant liturgical exchanges, the people in the pews seem to have gotten used to the new texts. By now the responses mostly come automatically, as ritual texts should. New musical settings are starting to become familiar. Despite the misgivings many of us had about the missal, we labored mightily to make it work, and we pulled it off.

I suppose a bishop who had wondered how much flak he'd get can heave a sigh of relief a year later and say to himself, "It worked." I suppose a curial official intent on "reforming the reform" can say to himself, "We got away with it." The people are putting up with it, the clergy didn't rise up in revolt. Call it a success.

But do we really want to set the bar that low?

What about building up the church in love and peace? What about a buzz of excitement around a widely welcomed liturgical improvement? What about strengthening the bonds of mutual respect between the hierarchy and liturgical scholars? What about having church leaders we're proud of?

I don't see much evidence of that.

Anecdotal reports suggest that many people in the pews don't embrace the new missal very warmly and still don't see the reason for the change. "Why?" is the question I hear most often. "Why did they do this?" When the dental assistant at my last appointment learned I'm a priest, she told me that some things don't make sense to her now, "like 'consequential,' or whatever it is, in the creed."

The reaction to the new missal mostly seems to be mild bemusement or irritation or confusion, but not protest or outrage. When it comes to liturgy, Catholics are quite patient. Most Catholics have no reason to track the dirty politics behind the scenes of how the Vatican centralized and micromanaged the translation process beginning in 2001, threw away 17 years of transparent and collegial work on a very fine revised English translation, and botched the new missal by making some 10,000 mostly ill-advised changes at the last moment.

And when they're attending liturgy, most Catholics are probably also not tracking the convoluted and inelegant language of the new missal. I haven't heard anyone report they've detected more scriptural allusions in the revised priests' prayers. It's rather easy to tune out what lacks appeal, and people's reduced attention to liturgical texts is a significant piece of why "it worked."

There is some heartfelt and enthusiastic support for the new missal. It is limited to a small band of the church, as anyone who spends much time in the Catholic blogosphere can attest. These are the traditionalist conservatives most upset with the direction of liturgical renewal since the Second Vatican Council and most anxious to "reform the reform." From this quarter, and only from there, comes the claim that the new texts are beautiful and poetic. One wonders whether this small group isn't increasingly the bishops' base of support, whether it's the missal or any other church controversy.

In the discussion of liturgical translation at the November meeting of the U.S. bishops' conference, Bishop Robert H. Brom of San Diego and Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Burlington, Vt., offered contrasting visions of leadership, church unity, collaboration, and the relationship between bishops and priests. This is significant, for the new missal isn't just about texts -- it's also about power.

Brom expressed opposition to retranslation of the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical books because of negative reactions to the new missal on the part of priests. "I have listened to priests," he said. They have difficulty with "complicated and awkward phrasing" and "strange vocabulary" that make the new prayers "aggravating." The priests expressed "in something of a unison" that the new missal "is more of a burden than a blessing." Priests are anxious that they will not be heard by bishops. "We should be asking, how is the new translation being received?" Brom advised not rushing headlong into further translations until work is done on improving the missal.

Matano was of a different mind. He thinks it would be "counterproductive" to critique the new missal, when "so many of us are doing everything possible … to create unity in our dioceses." Critique "only opens the door for further criticism and disunity." We should simply accept the missal, support and encourage it, and use it to "communicate again the awesome and transcendent nature of the liturgy." With proper preparation for the Mass, the new texts "can be prayed in a very beautiful manner."

In this second view, bishops promote unity by stifling criticism, with the expectation that everyone accept their decisions in obedience. The new missal is but one among an increasing number of instances in which church leaders are pushing this second view of authority more strongly.

The problem that keeps coming up and won't go away is the credible exercise of authority. It is a structural issue that has to do with power and accountability. The new missal has shown us how a secretive central authority, absent mechanisms of accountability, can impose its will. Of course, top-down absolute monarchy need not malfunction in this way. In the Catholic model of governance at its best, the ruling class is accountable to the Gospel and exercises authority humbly and lovingly, with a listening ear and a view to consensus, though the institutional structures do not require this.

The proper response to the new missal is not to storm the Bastille and topple the monarchy (though it is interesting that the small group inclined to this view seems to be growing). Most Catholics are merely disappointed and irritated, which is hardly the basis for a revolution. Most of us who see the deeper problems represented by the missal are committed to working collaboratively with our leaders to make a constructive contribution to the renewal and reform of our church. It is not unreasonable to hope that voices like Brom's will grow louder, with a revision of not just the missal but also the misguided translation principles that made it possible. And let it be said, there are certainly some good things in the new translation worth retaining.

To frame the question accurately is one of the most important services we can offer. There are issues of collegiality and the violation of Vatican II's explicit stipulation that approving translations belongs to bishops (not the Holy See); ecumenism and the abandonment of liturgical texts formerly held in common with our Protestant brothers and sisters; inculturation and the imposition of a liturgical aesthetic from above onto widely diverse cultures; and collaborative leadership and the rejection of input from experts in liturgical translation. There is much to face up to.

Short term, we must all work together to make our current church structures work as well as possible. Longer term, we must be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit when the time is right to change structures. Let us hope and pray that our response to the new Roman Missal, and so many troubling issues like it, truly contributes to the renewal of our church.

[Benedictine Fr. Anthony Ruff, a monk of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., teaches theology, liturgical music and Gregorian chant at St. John's University]
This story appeared in the Dec 7-20, 2012 print issue under the headline: Bar is set low in acceptance of year-old English missal .

MY COMMENTS: Where to begin? In the blogoshpere, which includes both traditionalists who are extreme and progressives who are extreme and those of us in the middle, we all constitute a radical minority of Catholics. The nearly 60 million Catholics, a little less than half of whom actually practice the faith, could care less about the politics of theologians who feel as though they are not appreciated by the Pope and the Bishops in union with him. This is really an in-house, hot-house issue that I think even the majority of priests could care less about. And most could care less about what is written on blogs, even my wildly popular and common sense one!

In those parishes, like mine, where I began three years prior to this change explaining the need for it and highlighting how abysmal the older translation was, people got it and were excited about it. In fact, at daily Mass shortly after the revised English came into being, during my brief homily I would read the revised collect for a particular Mass and then read the older version and point out how unfaithful the older was not only to a literal translation but to our Catholic doctrines and spirituality, not to mention piety. People who were informed got it and applaud the new translation.

The not so hidden message of Fr. Anthony is that he was a democratic Church similar to what the Protestants have long had which has failed them miserably. He wants what the Episcopal Church has in terms of democratic, open discussion that then is voted upon and implemented which has led the Anglican Communion not only into complete disarray and further away from Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy but has also made them heretical in many areas of their adjusted beliefs.

Some of the most cruel, crude, disrespectful and contrary comments to be found in the Catholic blogosphere belong to the far left progressive side and in particular to Praytell and the National Catholic Reporter, bar none! That doesn't mean that traditionalists in the extreme aren't cruel and unloving too, but the progressive blogs do far more damage to the principle of faith, hope and charity than do the conservative ones. All you need to do is read the comments on these blogs which at times are scandalous!

The only way toward Catholic unity is respect in the Church for the office of Saint Peter and the Bishops in union with him. Power plays and popular uprisings based on 1960's politics and anarchy do nothing to promote either Christian Unity or Catholic Unity let alone love and peace. Only siding with the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him in the areas of faith, morals and canon law will there be true unity in the Church. Everything else that is supposed to bring unity, including collegiality and respecting the work of theologians even when having done so has veered the Church way off course into the hermeneutic of rupture, is purely a smoke screen for the desconstruction of the Catholic Church and in order to make her more Protestant and even further adrift from Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Reform of the Reform and the renewal within continuity are from the Pope, not from conservative bloggers.

In fact, and I realize Fr. Anthony wrote this prior to Archbishop Mueller's shock statement, that the interpretation of the Council as a rupture from Scripture and Tradition is heretical. The Holy Father's interpretation is the one that is being promoted to the clergy and laity alike and in the most authoritative way!

Am I opposed to a refinement of our revised English translation. No. I hope to see more thee and thous in the future which we already have in the Lord's Prayer. Sure, refine the 10,000 flies in the ointment but keep it literal, please!


rcg said...

Fr. I would disagree only with your assertion that Fr. Ruff wants anything democratic. He is just a snark whining that he is not allowed to set the direction of the Church based on his credentials. I will take the cheap shot back at him by wondering why he wants us to indulge in the sin of pride concerning our Church leadership rather than simply rejoicing in their leadership. This guy's article is full of holes that betray weak academic skills. I also have to wonder how he could teach Chant and not be moved by it?

Hammer of Fascists said...

The article's author is happy to point out the "awkward and hesitant liturgical exchanges" the "dirty" politics of translation, and the stifling of dissent by the bishops in regard to the new translation. Yet he conveniently forgets to note that all of these things were present when the NO was foisted upon us.

Makes a difference whose ox is gored, no?

Ron Rolling said...

RCG, I have met Fr. Ruff on two occasions when he was in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. While I am also a critic of some things he says, to say he has weak academic skills is way off base. One only has to look at his academic credentials to see that is not the case. (Personally, I would like to read his dissertation.)

That he is extremely critical of Church hierarchy is old news. His open letter in America magazine in February, 2011 seemingly was a boiling point in that tempestuous relationship.

As a Benedictine monk and outstanding musician, he breaths chant and does encourage its use outside the monastery. He does support the concept of gradualism in its introduction to parish liturgical life.

I choose to agree to disagree with him, mostly because of my woeful lack of knowledge on matters liturgical and (hopefully) a healthy does of true skepticism (meaning not taking things at face value). I am just adding some insight that only comes with meeting him in person.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Ron, thank you for those comments and they are certainly true. All the more reason why Fr. Anthony needs to get with the program of the reform of the reform and renewal in continuity rather than in rupture, which includes the hierarchical nature of the Church and not some democratic process that leans too heavily on an alternative magisterium of theologian. Theologian need to serve the Magisterium and not be inciting riots amongst the faithful.
With that said, he would be a wonderful asset for not only the reform of the reform of the Ordinary Form of the Mass, but also for the Extraordinary Form, especially his expertise on chant.

Henry Edwards said...

" . . . but also for the Extraordinary Form, especially his expertise on chant."

Well, no. While Fr. Ruff's chant expertise is substantial by OF parish standards, and he could certainly contribute to the reform of the OF, the role and practice of chant in the EF requires no assistance from him or anyone else, because it has been refined for 1500 years, and nothing requires fixing. As the schola for the Mass earlier this week in Trenton illustrated, the chant norm is clearly defined--it is only necessary to follow the Graduale Romanum.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Henry, I'm not a muscian and to be quite frank with you I do not have the knowledge of the various forms of chant in the Roman Gradual that are permissible for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I have to say that while the singing at the Trenton EF Pontifical Mass was grand, there were some settings, which I presume, but really do not know, that were polyphony and to be quite honest, not too much to my taste and seem rather complicated for most parish scholas and/or choirs. One of the criticism I hear about the EF Mass was that regular parish choirs couldn't sing it well and thus did not offer it, so the low Mass proliferated. I'm not sure that is historically accurate, but I'd like to know what can you get away with in the EF Sung Mass in terms of the simplest chant and where do you draw the line on the most complicated. Fr. Anthony I suspect is an expert in this and thus he could serve EF parishes and communities very well with his chant knowledge.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Henry, I should also add that the principles of Vatican II applied to the EF Mass in terms of "actual participation" in singing or saying certain chants, responses, etc" even in Latin is a cause that should be taken up by every person who participates in the EF Mass and providing for congregations a tradition of the congregations actually singing/chanting their parts for most Sundays of the year. I'm not opposed to the choir on occasion chanting alone more complicated versions of the EF Mass, but that should be for solemnities and special events and not ordinarily.
If we can get EF communities robustly singing and chanting in Latin, that would lay to rest the unfounded and hysterical claims of those who oppose Mass in Latin whether in the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form, that the congregation is passive and doesn't actually participate in the EF Mass and thus the EF Mass is more like a Broadway play to be watched. Fr. Anthony could provide a means to encourage EF communities to learn how to chant the Mass and form a culture and tradition of chanting with chants that congregations could take up.

Henry Edwards said...

Fr. McDonald, what I meant might be better expresses by saying that in neither OF nor EF is expertise for further development of the ethos of chant per se needed.

What the OF needs so desperately is the chant ethos for liturgy that is already well understood and fully accepted in the EF. In promoting and evangelizing this ethos, as Jeffrey Tucker is doing, is where Fr. Ruff could make a real contribution. Both OF and EF choirs (like mine) are attending workshops like the one you are hosting.

It is irrelevant what happened way back then. Now, it is the norm for EF congregations to join robustly in the ordinary chants. Perhaps Vat II is much further in implementation with the EF than is the OF.

rcg said...

Ron, I respect your conclusion, but I am discriminating between Fr Ruff's credentials and his actual academic skills. His argument in the article cited, is bereft. It is extremely weak and self serving of him to claim to see no evidence of support for the translation. If he has truly studied chant and has not become a proponent of it, then he has resisted it. That he, as I, have criticised the hierarchy is not a common ground. It would have to be on what we criticised.

John Nolan said...

Since the vast majority of parishes in the English-speaking world don't even attempt chant it may seem an arcane, if not irrelevant argument. To take Henry's point, most scholas who sing for the EF use the Liber Usualis. The rhythmical markings are what are known as 'Old Solesmes' and reflect chant scholarship as it was in the 1920s.
The revised Graduale Romanum (1974)maintains these markings, but later books from Solesmes omit most of them, and a lot of scholas now adopt a semiological approach. Fr Ruff is an acknowledged authority in a field where scholarship is still ongoing. There is of course no 'correct' way of singing chant and we have no way of knowing exactly how it would have sounded 1000 years ago.

Turning to Fr Allan's point, in a Latin Mass (OF or EF) it is desirable that the GR Propers are sung. This precludes congregational participation in most cases, but the idea that everybody should sing everything is a misunderstanding of 'participatio actuosa'. However, the Propers can be sung in a simple psalm tone, or using the Latin option in the soon-to-be- available Graduale Parvum. However, this should not be done simply to give the congregation something to sing. Participation also involves listening.

Pater Ignotus said...

"He (Bishop Matano) thinks it would be "counterproductive" to critique the new missal, when "so many of us are doing everything possible … to create unity in our dioceses." Critique "only opens the door for further criticism and disunity."

The translation, with the rules laid down by LA, is the cause of "disunity," not an open, frank, and honest discussion of the plusses and minuses of the translation.

An unwillingness to listen to sincere criticism is a sign of weak leadership.