8 June 2011

After 1991

This continues my series (see June 1 and June 5) about the background of the imminent new English translation of the Mass.

We have seen that the old 1970s translation of the Missal was regarded by all, at each end of the 'political' spectrum, as Unfit for Purpose. This is worth emphasising because there has recently been a tendency among those most radically opposed to Pope Benedict's liturgical aims to try to hang on to that old translation. An organisation, I believe, sprang up in America called "What if we just said wait?" - which I think means "What if we just said wait until Ratzinger is dead?". There have been similar moves, reported in the Irish Times, among the more radically politicised of the Irish clergy. Frankly, there never was much chance of their achieving what such people seek: for the following rather banal reason. All over the world, wherever there is a hierarchy with an interest in Anglophone liturgy, episcopal conferences have, for years - well, No, decades - been making their way through Green Books, Grey Books, Heaven-only-knows-what-sort-of-colour-books, containing successive drafts and revisions of translated texts. In addition to this, there has been the labour - not an inexpensive labour - of harmonising the preferences of the different hierarchies involved. We know a little about this entire process because, in America, the Episcopal Conference meets openly, and verbal transcripts of the debates, and details of the votes, are regularly published. And there is a distinct sense, as one reads through it all, that the number of bishops prepared to vote for the daunting prospect of going through the whole laborious process yet again, has been limited. In America, a Bishop Trautmann led the resistence to next September's translation, fighting a deft 'sound-bite' campaign which focussed on certain allegedly "incomprehensible" words ("consubstantial"; "ineffable"), and making a final desperate attempt to persuade his confreres actually to defy the Vatican. The support he received gradually diminished. He retires, I think, next year. If, that is, the Holy Father accepts his resignation. One rather suspects ... not that anything is certain, of course ...

This blog, moreover, has shown that the essential problem about both the 1970s translation, and the second (abortive) version which was finished in the early 1990s, was that each embodied a policy of rupture: it was designed to cut off the worshipping community of its own day from the memory and continuities of Tradition - that is to say, from the the old Testament and New Testament echoes in the Latin prayers; from the actual meaning of the Latin; from the great paradosis of worship which has been evolving, generation by generation, for nearly two millennia. It is no exaggeration to say that, since about 1970, English-speaking Catholics have been deprived of the authentic worship of the Roman Catholic Church by having 'translations' used in their churches which express only a minuscule amount of the content of the Latin originals. And I am not talking about the elimination of the 'Tridentine' liturgy. It is the post-conciliar Missal - the Latin Missal of Pope Paul VI - that people have been prevented (by bad translations) from being able to appropriate and to internalise in their Christian consciousness. It is worth emphasising this, because some interests, with a slipshod grasp upon history as well as upon rhetoric, have been suggesting that the new translation which we shall begin to use in September represents some sort of retreat from the agenda of Vatican II. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. September's new translation means Onward To Vatican II.

Quite apart from the different questions surrounding the elimination of the Tridentine Rite, it is the post-conciliar Missal, the Missal authorised by Pope Paul VI "by the mandate of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council", that was kept hidden, by faulty translation, from the ears of the faithful for four decades. It is, substantially, the Missal of Paul VI that the new translation will now begin to make accessible to the People of God. Enthusiasts for Vatican II, and its aftermath, and for Paul VI, should be applauding the new translation. It provides what they claim they want.

Remember: the Council never said that the Mass had to be in English; it simply authorised some degree of vernacular use. This guarded permission was subsequently extended, not by the Council but by a series of unilateral decrees emanating from the Curia. And the Council certainly did not decree that vernacular translations should be such as to obscure a large amount of the meaning of the authorised Latin texts. The Instruction which bears responsibility for the currently expiring translation, Comme le prevoit, had nothing to do with the Council. Again, its origin was in the Curia. People who claim to have a suspicion of the Curia and of its 'dominant role in the Church's life', should, if they have any consistency or logic, be prejudiced against the 1970s translation of the Mass.

The new translation, which our bishops, laudably, are bringing in earlier than most other hierarchies, means: back to Paul VI; back to the Missal which derived from the Conciliar impetus. Those fighting a rear-guard action against it should sort out their own confusions.

Next time, I shall write about the Roman Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, which is the methodological basis of the translation due to come on stream in September.

Universae ecclesiae, C S Lewis, and Bl John XXIII

I referred not long ago to the amusingly delicate way in which UE referred to the scandal that for more than a generation those being formed for the priesthood were - in flagrant disregard of CIC 249 - not made fluent in Latin (I am assured that things are better now).

As long ago as 1933, C S ('Patrimony') Lewis advanced the suggestion that the attacks - even then - upon the position of Latin and Greek as the basis of education, might be part of a plot devised in Hell to subvert the Faith. In The Pilgrim's Regress he reminds the reader that "till recently" members of our society "had been made to learn" these languages "and that meant that at least they started no further from the light than the old Pagans themselves and had therefore the chance to come at last" to saving Faith. "But now they are cutting themselves off even from that roundabout route ... and suppressing every kind of knowledge except mechanical knowledge". He believed that this shift had much to do with the need of the educated classes to cope with the increasing disinclination of the lower orders to work in domestic service, and added "No doubt the great landowners in the background [scilicet devils] have their own reasons for encouraging this movement".

You will not be surprised to be reminded that His Abysmal Sublimity Under Secretary Screwtape strongly advocated the policy of preventing each generation from learning from its predecessors: "Since we [devils] cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another." That is why the demise of sacred languages among the clergy and the clerisy is such a triumph for our Enemy.

Older readers may be reminded here of the teaching given to the Universal Church by Bl John XXIII in Veterum Sapientia. Here I have a problem. I would love to share all the important bits of this encyclical with you, but, after doing the two clicks necessary to bring it up on my screen, I realised that pretty well every word of this document is the purest gold. So ... here are just a very few words in order to stimulate your resolution to do those two clicks yourselves. "No-one is to be admitted to the study of Philosophy or Theology except he be thoroughly grounded in [Latin] and capable of using it ... wherever the study of Latin has suffered partial eclipse ... the traditional method of teaching the language is to be completely restored. Such is Our will ... the major sacred sciences shall be taught in Latin ... if ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for some [seminary professors] to obey these instructions, they shall gradually be replaced by professors who are suited to this task ..." What a good and holy old man he was!

'Liberals', of course, might point out that this document is not ex cathedra. I agree, because I think the word gradually is unnecessary. As for sedevacantists who deny that the author of these wise words, Bl John XXIII, was truly pope, well, what I say is Burn the lot of them. It's the only sort of language these people understand!*


*In case foreigners are distressed by the bloodthirstiness of my language, I should clarify the literary register, the genre, of the last paragraph. It is 'humour'; and is in the spirit of the English satirical magazine Private Eye, which makes much comic use of the formula in my last sentence. (This is deemed, I believe, to be a phrase commonly used by London taxi-drivers in the course of their demotic exchanges of view with their 'fares'.) I am not really in favour of burning anybody. Honest!

4 June 2011

Symmetry of Dissent

Intellectually, academically, the most exciting thing about Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae is that they establish a level playing field in discussion about the relative merits of any conflicting provisions in the OF and the EF. Perhaps this is one of the things the Holy Father had in mind when he spoke about mutual enrichment. Previously, as enactment after enactment emerged from the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de sacra Liturgia and its successor bodies, it was plausible to hold that these represented the Magisterium of the Church. Here was the Holy See making liturgical enactments by mandate of an Ecumenical Council: what more could anyone want in terms of authoritative teaching about the meaning of the Church's rites? If one dissented, was one not dissenting from the direction in which the Holy Spirit was leading the whole (Roman Rite) Church? Surely, one was dissenting from the mind of the Holy Father, from the Bishop of Rome who, surely had to be the normative authority about the rite of his own Church? Dissent from the old rite had now - surely - become privileged; dissent from the new rite had become inherently dubious, a sign of disloyalty.

At a stroke, SP/UE changed all this. We now had two forms of the Roman Rite "one alongside the other" (qui ad invicem iuxta ponuntur). Thereby we were authoritatively given, in areas where the two rites and their accompanying liturgical cultures happen to be at odds, what I would like to call Symmetry of Dissent. It is now no more 'disloyal' or 'contrary to the mind of the Church' to evaluate critically the OF and its culture than it is to criticise the EF and its culture. Such critical evaluation, it goes without saying, ought to be done - in each case - with a humble recognition of one's own fallibility, and with a charitable instinct not to hurt fellow Christians whose faith in the living Lord is fed from different sources than those which nourish one's own. It is right that those who enthusiastically favour the EF, and who feel a certain triumphalist joy about Pope Benedict's liturgical legislation, should if necessary be reminded of this. However, I do not always sense - least of all in the periodical called the Tablet - an awareness that those, too, whose orientation differs from the OF, have a right to be treated with a similarly charitable exercise of the acceptance of diversity.

It was in the spirit of the Principle of Symmetry of Dissent that I ventured recently to evaluate critically the post-conciliar valde optatum that communion be given from Hosts consecrated at the same Mass. I called it 'dated', because it seemed to me to have all the marks of the (to me, as to Pope Benedict, questionable) liturgical culture of the enclosed circle - the celebrant facing the people; the location of the entire liturgical event as situated in the middle of a closed group. This culture is 'dated'; it is of the 1970s. And there are things about the Mass of S Pius V which I would have to admit are dated: for example, the assumption in its rubrics that Mass normatively does not include a Communion of the People - yes! look at the rubrics! It is not even mentioned in passing as an occasional possibility! Yet I have never witnessed a modern Old Rite Mass in which there were not communicants ... usually an awful lot of them. That lacuna in the rubrics ... and the cultural assumptions it implies ... is dated; and I doubt if anyone would deny it. Have another look at that half-hour video of the Econe Consecrations!

3 June 2011

friday week 2; Eviscerated; can the Ordinariate put new Guts into the Western Church?

Liturgia Horarum, Friday in Week II: Ad Horam mediam. Psalm 58(vg) = 59(MT) is traditionally regarded as referring to David, when Saul had his house watched so that he could kill him.

This psalm is printed with (Neovulgate) verses 6-9 and 12-16 (= RSV 5-8 and 11-15) removed.

That deceived and mis-guided pontiff Paul VI, or whoever wrote the words he signed, explains why: "A few harsher verses are missed out, taking account especially of the difficulties which would be going to arise when the Office was done in the vernacular". The relevant coetus itself is rather shame-faced (and not a little naive) about this. "This omission is done because of a certain psychological difficulty, even though imprecatory psalms themselves occur in the piety of the New Testament, e.g. Revelation 6:10, and do not intend in any way to induce people to cursing." And "In general both the Fathers and the Liturgy fittingly hear, in the psalms, Christ crying to the Father, or the Father speaking with the Son, and even recognise the voice of the Church, the Apostles or Martyrs".

So, as the LH tells us, quoting words of Eusebius of Caesarea referring to this psalm, "these words should teach everybody the devotion of the Saviour towards his Father". Exactly. The Lord was surrounded by the temptations of Satan himself; he was beseiged by the Powers of Evil. The Church, and the Christian, also find that their warfare is against the Powerrs of Evil in High Places. It is in this sense that we beg the Father that we may be delivered from those who come back each evening, howling like dogs, the half-wild dogs which infest most Eastern cities and which especially prowl round the town-ditch in search of carrion (I plagiarise John Mason 'Ordinariate Patrimony' Neale). Ss Augustine, Hilary, and Gregory of Nyssa regard the story of David, for whom his enemies lay in wait by night, as a Type of the story of what befel the Son of David, in that Night in which he was betrayed.

The reason why it is so questionabe to expurgate a psalm in the way that LH does is: expurgation still leaves words like "There is no crime or sin in me, O Lord", and leaves them decontextualised . If such things are said simplistically, they can only foster a very dangerous sense of of complacency and self-righteousness. We are only entitled to say such words in persona Christi, or en Christoi, or as speaking with the voice of the Church which in her essential nature is without spot or wrinkle. How can we say them as if they were true of the imperfect lives of each one of us?

I am not one who believes that every psalm needs to be read in the Divine Office. History gives imperfect support for such an integralist approach to the Book of Psalms and their use in Christian worship. I am concerned with dangerous imbalances which can result from the use of psalms over which someone has been allowed to roam with a care-free pair of scissors. (I also rather dislike the implication that the 'problems' of such psalms are only apparent when they are said in the vernacular. There is every reason to feel disquiet about the cheerful assumption that nobody notices what they are saying when they use Latin. Is Latin, or is it not, supposed to be still the clerical vernacular of Western clergy?)

Lastly, I draw your attention to the root of the problem: the loss in the Western Church of the Typological Method which was the heart of scriptural exegesis in both the Patristic and Medieval periods and in both East and West*. Furthermore, I have yet to see very much about this in the ongoing discussion about the authority and inerrancy of Scripture which resulted from the transactions of the 2008 Synod of Bishops. Often discussion seems to be mired in reductionist considerations about "What is the bare minimum we are required to believe about Biblical inerrancy?" rather than about the hermeneutical, exegetical and eisegetical modalities by which we are all to embrace and be fed by the whole of Scripture ... every sentence, every word of it. Of course vast swathes of Scripture provide enormous difficulties ... are in fact not so much unusable as potentially positively poisonous ... IF we do not trace out the richly complex patterns of intertextuality which formed the basis of their apprehension before the dark shadow of the 'Enlightenment' fell upon the study of Scripture; if, in other words, we do not use them in the Tradition. Reducing Scriptural semiotics to the naked Historicism of the 'Enlightenment' is to hand the Bible over to the Devil. I think I very probably mean that literally.

If members of the Anglican Patrimony enter into Full Communion with the works of Lionel Thornton and Austin Farrer under their arms, perhaps there is something they can do to help the ailing Western Church to understand the Patristic way of appropriating Scripture.


*Byzantine worshippers, lucky people, are largely protected from this problem by the annual Lenten glory of the Akathist Hymn, jam-packed full of the most exhilarating typological tropes. Not that I advocate its use by Westerners so much as the need for them to rediscover these same games in their own tradition. The more we all get to the hearts of our own traditions ... I've said this before ...