Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Bishop Slattery on the New Translation

January 22nd, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

The following comes from His Excellency Bishop Slattery of Tulsa. It’s pure gold.

In trying to articulate the sense of loss and dislocation that accompanied the abrupt liturgical break that took place in our liturgical celebrations in the ’60s, I am drawn to Josef Cardinal Ratzinger’s analysis of the situation. Cardinal Ratzinger, now His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, described the principle that legitimized this break in our liturgical tradition as a hermeneunic, or explanation, of discontinuity. Those who accept this – and their number is still legion – show an overriding dislike of anything that may have come down to us from past generations. (Indeed. Contrary to the hollow ruminations of some in this diocese and beyond, the Church did not start in 1969 AD.)

Accepted by liturgists and seminary professors – and unfortunately fostered by priests, pastors and bishops – this discontinuity required a complete severing of anything that was not modern or which might be incapable of being recreated in a modern idiom. This was so even should it require the Church to surrender Her ancient liturgical patrimony and much of Her theological vocabulary. (Just ask yourself, aside from a handful of Masses in the DoR, where have you last seen a reverent Mass? Where have you seen a priest celebrate the Mass timelessly, and not fettered by a 1960’s mentality which castrates the liturgy?)

Thus sacred vessels and vestments were discarded with revolutionary fervor (and it truly was a revolution – an apt description, that), replaced with new and often shoddy designs. Ancient gestures like genuflections and ritual prayers like the grace before and after meals became a source of derision and the occasion of mockery. (How many times have we had the displeasure to note how Fr. So-and-so or Sr. Mary Whats-her-face) have instructed the faithful to abandon traditional postures at Mass?) Though these gestures and prayers had offered generations of Catholics a concrete way to express their faith, the hermeneutic of discontinuity demanded their removal and the marginalization of those who held to the ancient way of doing things. In one area of concern after another, the rich patrimony of the past was discarded – not because it was incapable of expressing or articulating the Church’s teaching, but simply because it was “not new.” It had to come tumbling down so that we could remake it, re-create it in a fresh, modern idiom. (Change just for the sake of change is not change at all – at its very least, it’s immature. At its worst, it is an attack on the Church, the Bride of Christ.)

Overnight, or so it seemed, the paradigm shifted. The Mass was no longer important because it offers man the fullness of redemption, but because it offered people a chance to be creative and assertive. Our participation no longer depended upon our worthy reception of the mysteries offered the communicant, but upon our ceaseless activity. (Halle, halle, halle . . . loooooo ooooo yaaaah.)

In the new liturgical paradigm, we are busy producing our salvation, working hard at all our ministries, when, in truth, no work is ever required of us. Christ has done it all, and we need only receive His gift. We know this to be true, but our actions reveal that, like Peter in the Upper Room, we really want to have the final say in how that salvation comes to us.

Today, I would like to suggest one simple change by which we might begin to recover the sense that the liturgy is something we receive, rather than something we create. I do not propose this as the most important or essential change toward this end, but merely as one change, one step, one movement away from the chaos of created liturgies toward the proper vision of the council.

What I would like to propose is that we recover the sung introit (the fragment of a psalm with its antiphon, or response, sung while the celebrant and ministers enter the church and approach the altar at Mass.) For two generations, Catholics have been expected to sing an opening hymn at Mass, and, in many parishes, the faithful are regularly browbeaten to “stand up and greet this morning’s celebrant with hymn ‘so-and-so’,” which, depending upon the parish, might be taken from the red hymn book or the blue hymn book or the nicely disposable paperback missalette. (The only church in the entire diocese which has added a sung introit is Our Lady of Victory – just putting that out there. I think it would be profoundly beautiful if more than one small parish did this. i’ve noticed other churches having a sung introit for “special” Masses, like St. Anne Church at the annual novena, and some funeral Masses in the Ordinary Form. Note that an introit gives a text which was chosen centuries ago for its relevance – hymns that replace the introit are often Protestant in origin, theologically warped, and, quite frankly, not up to the standard expected of something to be sung in the presence of God.)

So deeply has this “opening hymn mentality” shaped our consciousness that most Catholics would be astounded to hear me say that hymns have no real place in Mass.

Hymns belong in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the common devotions of the faithful, but the idea that the parish liturgy committee should sit down sometime early in the month and look through a hymn book, trying to find pretty hymns that haven’t been overdone in the past three or four months and that explore the themes of the Sunday Masses and that bring the people together as a singing community is an idea completely alien to the spirit of the Catholic liturgy.

The singing of hymns as Sunday worship was a Protestant innovation, better suited to their nonsacramental worship than to the Mass. And an opening hymn introduces – at the very inception of the sacred action – that element of creative busy-ness, which is, as we have seen, antithetical to the nature of salvation as a gift we receive from God.

Sung introits have been an integral part of the Latin Rite, and remain so in the Extraordinary Form, where the schola, or choir, chants the more difficult antiphon, and the congregation sings the psalm. This gives the faithful both the chance to listen and respond, practicing, in effect, the basic elements of the Mass: listening and responding.

Yet there are changes afoot and reason to hope (I like that phrase, very, very much). The introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, now definitely set for the First Sunday of Advent of next year, gives me reason to anticipate a new beginning. Faithful to the spirit of the Latin text and with an accurate translation into a consciously sacred style of English, the new Missal points to a rediscovered seriousness in the way America celebrates her liturgy and perhaps a greater appreciation, as well, of the elements of liturgy that have been discarded these past 40 years.

Perhaps with this new seriousness, and given the need to compose new chant melodies to accompany the new translations, this may well be the time when liturgists will begin discussing the meaning of a received liturgy; when composers might make their first attempts to set these antiphons to a simple English plain song and when publishers might begin to produce worthy and dignified liturgical books.

This new beginning is certainly a way of building up the Kingdom of God. I hope that we shall begin it well.

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3 Responses to “Bishop Slattery on the New Translation”

  1. avatar Louis E. says:

    Was this written last year?…the “first Sunday of Advent next year” would indicate that.

  2. avatar Bernie says:

    EXCELLENT! I like everthing this bishop has to say.
    And, Gen, your observations are spot on, as usual.

  3. avatar Abaccio says:

    it was written in october, i think

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