The New Missal

Erecting It's Own TombstoneThe proposed new Missal for English speaking countries is a travesty. It denies the faithful the opportunity to worship in language that means something to them as they live their everyday lives. The New Missal could be the headstone over the grave of the Roman Catholic Church, Inc.

We are not Romans. We do not speak and think in Latin. For us Latin is a dead language. We are Roman Catholics who live in 21st Century America. We pray in words relevant to our cultural experience of God. Romans are wont to call God “Lord.” Americans eschew medieval class distinctions and prefer to call God “God” or “Creator.”

The institutional church has instituted these changes in the liturgy without any input from the faithful who, whether they realize it or not, do have a voice in the church. Once again feudal lords are treating us like ignorant peasants who cannot think and reason for themselves. Some church leaders are trying to convince us that these changes do not roll back Vatican II. They are telling us that we just did not understand what Vatican II was really saying. Poppycock! We seem to be going back to the pre-Vatican II distinction that the priests and bishops are the Church and that we, the laity, belong to the Church. This is replacing the fact that the faithful consists in ordained and non-ordained members–all part of the Body of Christ and members of the People of God. Some church leaders are trying to convince us that these changes do not roll back Vatican II. They are telling us that we just did not understand what Vatican II was really saying. Poppycock!  Restorationism–returning to pre-Vatican II concepts and practices is running rampant under Benedict XVI as it did under John Paul II.

Pope John XXIII convened the Council to bring the church into contact with the world in which people live and work and love and hate and worship their God. I know the new translation appeals to those who want to get back to the pre-Vatican church. Using language which is a translation from a dead language gives some people a sense of separateness and removal from the world in which we actually live. Comfortable in that remote world they can get cozy with God and save their souls while ignoring “the joys and hopes, the grief’s and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted.” (Gaudium et Spes, 1)

I agree with those who say that the top-down, hierarchical, and patriarchal imposition of the new translation without  any input from the laity, who, along with the ordained constitute the faithful, is another pay-pray-obey power ploy by men who wear dresses in the Vatican and episcopal offices elsewhere. “You will pray in the language we give you regardless of the fact that it is a translation of concepts and thoughts from another culture now long dead  or, if not dead, at least foreign to how we think and speak and pray..”

All religion is, in part, a cultural expression. All language is culture bound. Latin-Greek culture and philosophy saw human beings in a different perspective. This is quite obvious with the change in the response, “And with you.” Now we will say, “And with your spirit.” In 21st Century culture and philosophy we see the human being in a holistic manner which is captured by “And with you.” Now we must return to cultural concepts which divide the human being into body-soul-spirit. When we greet people, we are greeting much more than their spirit. We are embracing the person.

One explanation was a real stretch. We say “spirit” because we are acknowledging the spirit the priest received through ordination. Are there really two Spirits gifting us—one gifting the lay faithful in Baptism and another Spirit gifting the ordained faithful in Holy orders? I apologize if I seem confused with this explanation. We all share the same Spirit. I dare say the word “spirit” is a reference to the Greek-Roman tripartite decision of the whole person.

Prior to communion, we will say “not worthy to enter under my roof.” What is my “roof?”  Certainly not the roof of my mouth! We are simply acknowledging that we are not worthy to receive the gift which awaits us.

Language is important. Inclusive language is important. Referring to God as “He” makes it difficult for many people to worship. The use of the word “Lord” presents cultural problems.  I recently saw Robin Hood. Thank God that we do not live in the violent world of “lords” who dominate and exploit others. This is not to say that we do not have violent leaders who oppress others—we just do not call the “Lord.” We call them President and Prime Minister.

The top-down new translation violates the integrity of the authority of national bishops conferences which was rediscovered by Vatican II. Slowly but surely, Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, have rolled back the changes of Vatican II which empowered both national bishops conferences and the faithful. Once again, the faithful sheep will revert to bleating outdated words from another time and culture.  One line in Robin Hood was, “We are not lambs to be turned into mutton by your butchers.” Being that the king and the church authorities were exploiting the people in merry ole England, I think there is some meaning in this statement in the context of our discussion.

In the wake of Vatican II, we came to know and love a God who is merciful and compassionate. This concept of God replaced the fear-riddled image of God as the Divine Santa Claus deciding whether we have been naughty or nice. When I read the new translation of the Confiteor, I cringed. My mind flashed back to memories of an angry unapproachable God who was out to get me. Why, I ask, why do we have to add “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault?” God knows we are sinners. We do not have to grovel before God’s mercy and multiply words to gain forgiveness. Reminding us of how sinful we are and, therefore, how much we are in need of the institutional church to lead us to salvation is another patriarchal control tactic. We are so used to being manipulated by fear in civil and ecclesiastical matters that we do not even notice when we are being manipulated.

Part of the political, theological agenda is to restore the Mass as sacrifice as opposed to meal, as if the two concepts cannot be complementary. Jesus did not die for our sins because an angry Father God sought restitution and ransom for our sins. Jesus died because he challenged the oppression of the Romans and the priestly class. He gave us a meal to commemorate his nonviolent life and death in communities dedicated to service of the “least among us.” Like the Passover meal, it was a meal to celebrate our liberation. Merton clearly understood this, “Christianity is a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system according to St. Paul. Hence the Christian has no law but Christ written on his heart by the finger of God.”

The Mass as sacrifice conjures up connotations of cult and reverence and worship. A “non-Vatican II” priest, as he was described by my friend, recently came to our parish. The emphasis on reverence with the prolonged—and I mean painfully prolonged— holding up of the host and cup and the protracted genuflection after that did nothing for me in terms of reverence. It is at best an exaggerated piety which smacks of cargo cult theology. Briefly, the indigent people in the South Seas saw that the colonizers always got good things from afar. They reasoned in their primitive way that ancestors from another part of the world were sending the colonizers good things because they were doing the right things. Thus, natives in one locale began to put flowers everywhere because the colonizers always had flowers everywhere. Having flowers brings cargo. Ritual purity is cargo cult practice. If we do all the right things in the precisely right way, God will send us gifts. God does not need our sacrifice and ritual precision. Amos and other prophets throughout the ages tell us that God does not want our sacrifices. God wants our hearts. God gifts us because God is God. God cares for us because God is compassionate. God wants mercy and justice not ritual sacrifice. Faith is not about certitude and assurance. Faith is allowing ourselves to fall into the arms of a compassionate and loving God with reckless abandon without seeking guarantees of eternal life somewhere down the road. Eternal life is life lived by Gospel values in our culture now.

Back to the new Missal. As we sang a beautiful version of the Gloria on Trinity Sunday, I thought, “Wow, how much of the music we have been using is going to go by the wayside because it does not use the new translation.” What a loss.

We are coming to a realization much too slowly that God is nonviolent and that Jesus was nonviolent. Old Testament concepts of God were not always nonviolent. To translate part of the Sanctus as “Lord God of Hosts” returns us to a concept of the warrior God of the Old Testament. Hosts refers to armies! We are back to “My god is warrior. My god can beat up your god.”  How can we worship a nonviolent God and invoke images of war?

The expense involved in preparing the new translation and the expense of buying new missals both present a justice issue. Two thirds of the people in the world do not have food, water, clothing shelter, education and health care. Yet, we have spent millions to get a “correct” Roman translation of the Eucharistic liturgy for people living in 21st Century America.

The church is majoring in minors. The text of the liturgy is not one of the major problems facing the church today. There will be fewer and fewer priests available to lead congregations in the new liturgy. Reverberations from the abuse scandal will continue as aftershock waves for years to come. In spite of efforts to welcome back fallen away Catholic and convert new members, church membership continues to decline. The church continues to act unjustly toward women and gays and lesbians. The institutional church’s response to these major issues facing the church is to reorganize the deck chairs on the ark of the sinking Vatican—quibble over words, words, words. If we get the words liturgically correct, maybe, just maybe, these other problems will go away or, at least, we will get cargo..

Over forty years ago, Thomas Merton described what the church is doing today:

There can be no question that the great crisis in the Church today is the crisis of authority brought on by the fact that the Church, as institution and organization, has in fact usurped the place of the Church as community of persons united in love and in Christ . . . Love is equated with obedience and conformity [pray, pay, and obey] within the framework of an impersonal corporation. The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity. (Thomas P. McDonald, “An Interview with Thomas Merton,” Motive 28 (1967), p. 41. Cited in Anthony Padovano, The Human Journey, New York: Image Books, 1984, 48)

The fact that the laity, who are the faithful along with ordained members, was not involved in the revisions of the Missal smacks of being turned into a collectivity—a sea of nameless individuals with no standing or rights.

Merton also told us that we are not bleating sheep. Commenting on the new Vatican II liturgy, wrote:

It is true that the Lord in the Gospel speaks of His faithful as “sheep,” but that does not entitle us to assume that the liturgy is merely the organized bleating of irrational animals herded together by constraint and trained by an ingenious discipline until they carry out seemingly human actions which they are not capable of understanding. (Seasons of Celebration, 5)

One final thought. It has been announced that our diocese is taking up a collection. The bishop is appealing to us to pay for television spots which will invite the millions of Catholics who are no longer practicing Catholics back to the church.  [I got very suspicious of a political agenda, which may also be the agenda behind the new Missal, when I read that other dioceses had already aired the ads on FOX News and Mother Angelica’s ETWN.] Most people do not realize that ex-Catholics are the second largest denomination in the U.S. The new language may attract a few who will think they are returning to the good old days that never were and never will be. The few coming back will not replace the many more who will be going out the door. Referring to the hierarchy, Merton wrote: “They insist on digging their own grave and erecting over it a monumental type of tombstone.” Is the New Missal the tombstone?

In closing, I will not use arcane language which does not speak to me and my brothers and sisters in the 21st Century. Inclusive alternative Christian communities are springing up all over the country. People want to worship and praise God  in relevant ways. The implementation of the new Missal will grow these communities. I will cherish the remaining months in which I can worship in a meaningful way in the church of my birth before I am forced to seek God in a community that speaks to me as a mature adult who is a 21st Century American.

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