What’s the best way
for an influential liturgist to help with the implementation of the new
translation of the Roman Missal? Why, by criticizing it, of course!
Do you follow that
logic? Neither do I. But then, I’m not a liturgist.
“I hope the transition
to the new missal goes smoothly,” writes Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, on his
PrayTell blog. “That’s rightI hope it goes smoothly.”
In case anyone missed
the message, he’s back at it a couple of paragraphs later: “And so, I will
implement the new missal as best I can. I will work so that the transition goes
‘smoothly,’ as CNS puts it.”
Can you guess the
next word in Father Ruff’s post? The next word is “But.”
Reporting on the
introduction of the new Missal in Britain, Father Ruff alternates between
quotes from Church officials, who say that the translation is being well-received,
and priests and lay people who hate it. It doesn’t take a particularly
discerning reader to see that his sympathies are with the priest who finds the
text “clumsy and off-putting.” Perhaps he does not agree with the woman who
states: “I do not feel I can worship at a church that uses these words.” But he
does not show any indication that he disapproves of her sentiment, either.
Father Ruff himself
adds that some prayers in the new Missal are “especially clumsy, poorly
constructed, anddespite the claimsshockingly inaccurate in places.” He does
not shrink from charging that one collect, for Trinity Sunday, contains
“heresy.” (Imagine the uproar if a conservative commentator announced that a
liturgical text approved by both the Vatican and the US bishops’ conference
contained outright heresy!)
Still, Father Ruff
wants the introduction of the new Missal translation to go smoothly, remember?
He said so himselffour times, in close succession. He promises to work toward
that end. Insofar as he is directly involved in planning and celebrating the
liturgy, he will support the new translation:
Advent, I’ll be laboring mightily for the best possible use of the new missal
at the abbey. The sacred liturgy isn’t the place for protests or divisions.
It’s the place for celebrating our new life in the death and resurrection of
“But I will make my
opinion known,” Father Ruff announces. He promises to criticize the
translation, and to encourage others to do the same. Somehow I believe him;
So if Father Ruff is
successful in his work, informed Catholics will come to Mass every Sunday
acutely aware of the deficiencies in the new translation, yet prepared to set
aside their dissatisfaction in order to join in enthusiastic participation in
the Eucharistic sacrifice. Is that a realistic scenario? If it is, then Father
Ruff’s position is plausible.
It seems to me far
more likely that Father Ruff’s arguments, insofar as they meet with public
acceptance, will encourage efforts to resist implementation of the new Missal,
and perhaps even drive more people to announce that they do not want to
“worship at a church that uses these words.”
As a practical
matter, the complaints cannot stop the mandate for the new translation; that
decision has already been made, after a long process of review, revision, and
official scrutiny. If they are unsatisfied with the result, Father Ruff and his
allies can only hope that there will be yet another translation approved for use in the future. And it
will not be the near future; keep in mind that this new translation has been in
the works for more than a decade.
Now to be honest there are many CatholicsI count
myself among themwho have complained for decades about the awkward
translations that are currently in use. For years we said that change was
needed, and now at last the change has come. Now, thanks to Father Ruff, we are
forewarned: the effort to roll back that change has already begun.