A reader alerted me to the following from Jesuit magazine America, which I share with my emphases and comments.
The Good Word
A Blog on Scripture and Preaching
South Africa & Liturgical Change
Posted at: 2009-01-27 11:08:00.0
Author: Chris Chatteris, S.J.
In many ways South Africa is a laboratory of social change. Most unexpectedly, our little Catholic community has become an experiment in the minor religious department of that laboratory. I refer of course to the new English texts of the Mass which have generated such surprising friction. [Let’s think about this. Which sort of friction, and who did it come from? People who understood that the lame-duck ICEL translations were terribly deficient, even harmful, were barely noticed for decades. Finally, "friction" brought the changes. On the other side, "friction" is coming from the nay-sayers, though who resist the Holy See’s change of norms for liturgical translation.] It appears that the South African church has jumped the liturgical gun and we find ourselves well ahead of the rest of the anglophone Church in the process of implementation. [?] Our experience seems to be providing some valuable food for thought. [Apparently new translations are in use ad experimentum?]
There are some unintended outcomes worth noting. One is that for those people for whom English is a second language this change is simply not their first priority, [Will we be told what their "first priority" is at some point down the line? Any guesses as to what it will be?] and therefore they are unlikely to assimilate it easily. I was in Zimbabwe recently to give a short retreat to a group of young male religious from all over Africa. When I asked them whether we would be using the new texts, they looked completely blank. Many had never even heard of them. On reflection it was of course obvious that in a country where in some places the sign of peace has been discouraged because of cholera, liturgical language is way down on their present scale of concerns. [Hmmm… why? I wonder if this isn’t an echo of the old dichotomy so cherished among progressivists, the division in their world-view between "pastoral" and "traditional" and even "intellectual". If you make too many distinctions (distinctions which bring you into alignment with Rome, that is) you are somehow not "pastoral". "Pastoral" people toss the rule-book, or shy from careful distinctions. They are "pastoral" while others are… well… "mean".]
So it would seem likely that because this second-language group is less concerned about the issue than native speakers, they will keep the old ICEL text as a kind of ‘default’ version. [So, then the new texts fo into force they will break the rules. See what I mean?] Most probably won’t have enough practice to get the new texts into their heads [Is this suggestion that they aren’t very smart?] even if they think it worthwhile printing the leaflets. [Printing leaflets is a practical concern I can understand in a poor country.] We are actually talking about a lot of people – countries like India, the Philippines and Nigeria where there are substantial populations of second language English-speakers who sometimes do celebrate in English. [Time and again, I have heard from bishops and priests from the countries mentioned that the people appreciate LATIN. Would that be a good approach? Use Latin and let people in the pews have whatever translation they want?]
In similar vein, I recently led a workshop for some religious sisters in Johannesburg, most of whom were second-language English-speakers. We didn’t have any leaflets available so we decided to use the old ICEL version with the exception of including the response ‘And with your spirit’. It was an awkward hybrid, and probably not the first or last! [So… the hybrid was "awkward". Who decided to do it that way?]
Another potential force for liturgical division lies in the recent permission given to celebrate the Tridentine rite. [Okay… this writer seems to interpret developments through a hermeneutic of rupture.] Among native English speakers I have heard several people remark wryly that if the Latin Mass Society has the right to use the Tridentine version, what is there to stop a ‘Vatican II Society’ claiming their right to stick to the old ICEL Mass? [Ehem… the Church’s law? Summorum Pontificum is the law of the Church. Right now using the lame-duck ICEL version is the law of the Church, except apparently in those places where the new texts are used ad experimentum.] If the Church was unable to resist the demands of a small group like the Latin Mass Society, it’s unlikely to be able to say no to the much larger numbers that might to want to celebrate in the old ICEL version. [Slick, huh? Will he suggest, as he did above, that you should be able to get your way by breaking the rules… so you can be "pastoral"?]
I cite these examples point to the possible unintended outcome of a kind of Protestant fragmentation. [Look how slyly he worked that in. Instea, couldn’t we consider Original Sin as a reason for fragmentation, as well as the sloppy ministry of shepherds who should have done a better job?] We could end up with four versions of the Roman rite in the English-speaking world – Tridentine, Vatican II Latin, old ICEL and new (Vox Clara) ICEL. Plus hybrids. [Not if pastors of souls do their jobs properly.]
One also needs to bear in mind here that a widely-spoken language like English tends naturally to break up into dialects. [I wonder if that is true. Languages tend to simplify. But this is a global age, now. Languages are becoming more homogeneous. Perhaps in places where media is less dominant…. I dunno. Interesting.] So when one has a generally accepted text being used over such a broad language group, one has to think quite carefully about how to go about changing it. Chipping away at the statue, even with the admirable aim of improving it, might just cause it to shatter. [Overly dramatic.] The irony of this is that diversification was definitely not the aim – rather the opposite: a universal use was envisaged, which is precisely what we might lose.
It would seem from reaction so far here in South Africa, that there is considerable unhappiness with the texts themselves among first-language speakers. [I think that says a lot about the situation there.] Perhaps this should have been foreseen. It’s hard enough to be told how to speak one’s own language under the best of circumstances. If those circumstances are that the prescribed speech feels like a clumsy, clinging translation (‘faithful, but not beautiful’ as the French would say), [Who really wouldn’t prefer faithful to beautiful?] and that rather better texts have been sidelined, [Not, apparently, in the opinion of those who actually had the authority chose the texts. Hmmm… an odd approach from a Jesuit who must make a certain vow to obedience to the Roman Pontiff.] one must expect a reaction. But presumably the assumption was that the reception would be a smooth matter. [Who assumed that? I don’t think any one thought it would be easy. But it will be a lot harder if priests and bishops set out to undermine the Church’s efforts through this sort of grousing.] A miscalculation perhaps, and something to be noted by other English-speaking regions. ["Take warning!"]
I wonder if the memory of the change from the Tridentine to the vernacular rite may have played a part in the forming of this assumption. Because for all the unhappiness caused for a minority by that change, [Huh? Were people in the pews clamoring for a change? Wasn’t the problem more one of implementation? How have things gone since the changes? See what sorts of things the writer simply passes over?] the move from Tridentine Latin to vernacular English (and all the other languages of the universal Church), went remarkably smoothly and was generally well received. [And things are been splendid in the Church world-wide…because of the ICEL translations, right?] I suspect that the theological ‘tide in the affairs of men’ was just right for such a shift. The texts themselves had a simple beauty and power, [What planet has he been on?] we had been prepared by the Council, the change came with the full authority of that Council. ["full authority of the Counci"…. right. The Council said that Latin was to be preserved and did so with its full authority. The Council said no change was to be made unless it was for the true good the faithful. The Council said Gregorian chant had pride of place. Look how the writer skips over these details in order to emphases the break with our tradition rather than what the Council said had to be preserved.] Do similar conditions hold today I wonder?
Where to from here? It probably all depends on what happens in the English-speaking ‘big five’ – the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia/New Zealand and Ireland. If the new texts are received with open arms in these countries then fragmentation probably won’t happen or will be limited. On the other hand if there is considerable resistance [Which I assume he is trying subtly to rally.] we could end up with a very messy dog’s breakfast indeed. Any hope of a single international version for the English liturgy could be lost forever. [I think he is arguing that we should stick with the lame-duck translations.]
It might be prudent, therefore, for the ‘big five’ to do further research to avoid the possibility of worse versions of what is happening here. The liturgical unity of the English-speaking Catholic church might depend on it. [O the drama!] A simple, practical step would be for English-speaking hierarchies to implement the new texts as an experiment in a few selected dioceses and after a year or so gauge the reception. If the new texts get a full and joyful reception among priests and people in those experimental dioceses, all well and good. If not, then there will still be the chance to think again and commission something more suitable. [Because this is a democracy, and the lowest-common denominator should make these decisions.]
My personal conviction is that the people of God understand that only the best is good enough for the sacred liturgy and that they will recognise that best when they hear it. [This is a good line, actualy. But I think that the writer is sowing discontent about what is good, better and best.]
Chris Chatteris, S.J.