Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Roman Missal - Idealism vs Realism

As I mentioned in my last post, I just spent two days in Decatur, Illinois,at the Diocese of Springfield Adult Enrichment Conference, where the theme, "Entering the Mystery, Renewing the People" was designed in part as a launch for the preparation for implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. The two main speakers, Fr. Richard Fragomeni, and Fr. Paul Turner put a good public face, for the most part, on what has become a mystery in itself: the current status of the texts, which have still not been fully returned to the U.S. Bishops, and around which controversy continues to swirl.

Both men were largely positive, but Fr. Fragomeni was markedly so, in large session at least. He continued to use the word "opportunity" when referring to the coming of the new translation of the Mass texts. It will be, he indicated, repeatedly, an opportunity to renew people's understanding of the Mass.  He admitted that some of the English translation, as we know of it, will be clumsy, contain bad English grammar, and may pose comprehension problems for both priests and people, but said that we will get through the implementation period and people will be using the new words in a fairly short time.  He also indicated he thinks that we will no doubt do this again in 40 years, so really there is nothing to stress about. He said he has reached an attitude of willingness to let the process happen, whatever it might be.

Fr. Fragomeni stressed repeatedly, however, that if the period of implementation is merely seen as being about changing words, we will lose a tremendous opportunity to renew people's understanding of the mystery of the Mass.  He urged us to use the texts to engage people in mystagogical reflection, breaking open symbols to reveal their rich potential to engage the imagination. 

In the Monday breakout session, he urged us to read poetry to cultivate our imaginations. This, he said, would help us develop the skills to look at the new texts. Now, being a scholar of Renaissance poetry myself, I have to admit that this makes sense. Many people in our culture have lost the ability to connect symbolically with language in a way that opens up the imagination. Priests who have a poetic sensibility will be better able to proclaim the new texts - and members of the Assembly who have allowed their experience of language to open up reality will be better able to receive this proclamation.

In contrast to the expansive vision of Fr. Fragomeni, Fr. Paul Turner, an acknowledged expert on the new texts, brought the practical piece.  I attended his session on using the new Missal and learned about structural elements retained and rejected... and that we are going to have to have to recruit stronger altar servers, or as Fr. Turner suggested, put our existing ones on weight training. The new Missal is reportedly 1200 pages... and Rome is requiring that it be published as a single book, despite the size. (!!)

It was mildly distressing to hear confirmed what I had read in the blogosphere that if something (helpful) does not appear in the Latin Missal, it will not be in the English one. This includes indicators for "pointing" the chants of the priest's prayers (letting them know on which words the notes change) and other rubrical helps that we have become accustomed to in our current Sacramentary.  There will be some improvements, to be sure (parish liturgists will no longer have to labor to put the Easter Vigil texts together by hand to work around the outdated order that predates the current Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, for instance.)

Fr. Turner, in his calmer, more sanguine manner, occasionally engaged in a bit of dry humor about the reported difficulties with the text, but it was in his closing talk that he indicated the full level of his frustration. He listed 12 objections to the current text, and pretty much debunked most of them, or at least softened them, but at the end he did indicate that the level of hysteria in the blogosphere and the reports of "10,000 changes" to the received text sent to Rome is daunting.  He cited a poor process, during which ICEL members never met or communicated with Vox Clara members, and more. In the end, however, he seemed to indicate that this, too, shall pass.  This was what both speakers brought, and I guess that is the best attitude to take toward the whole thing.


  1. I well remember the shift from Latin English. The change was much greater, much less carrying on.

    I'm content with the changes to the Mass that I've seen at the USCCB site, and don't see what all the fuss is about.

  2. That's just it. What you see on the website is the tip of the tip of the iceberg, which could give the impression that this is a tempest in a teapot, so to speak. Only the people's parts and a few other pieces (the doxology, which was changed by Rome after it went over) have officially been revealed. The entire Missal is 1200 pages, mostly what the priests say. I agree the changes to the people's parts are minor and will be assimilated after an initial period of adjustment.

    The changes to what the priest say are what is in contention. The orations have reportedly changed massively since we sent them to Rome, many apparently into run-on sentences with very complicated structures (Latinate) which means that only the most literate and talented of priests will be able to proclaim them so that people get a clue about what is being said. Then, there are the reports that what was sent over has been changed in apparently arbitrary manner so that in some places it no longer makes any sense in English, nor does it conform to the new principals of translation (literally from the Latin).

    One other issue is that some of the reported changes may be theologically incorrect. The big one is the phrase in "poured out for all" is being changed to "poured out for many" which suggests predetermination (that some people are destined to be saved, others not). The correct English would more likely be "the many" - but that is frankly awkward and not really precise either. What I heard is that the word from the original language in scripture is closer to "for all" - and the theological implication is that Jesus offers himself for all (even though not all will accept that offering).

    Some have said that people just ignore what the priest says anyway... but that is no justification. The prayers we pray through him reflect our belief, so we should be able to understand them and to use them in catechesis. If they are difficult or faulty, as appears possible at this point from the reports, that impacts the entire concept of "lex orandi, lex credendi" (what we believe is what we pray.)