“Bonfire” blog on Bp. Trautman’s opposition to the old Mass and new translation: what is really going on?

Over at Bonfire of the Vanities, Fr. Fox relates some comments by WDTPRS’s favorite defender of dumbed-down liturgical language, His Excellency Most Reverend Donald W. Trautman, Bishop of Erie and lame-duck chair of the USSSB’s BCL. 

Here is Fr. Fox’s entry after some editing and with my emphases and comments.

What is Bishop Trautman thinking?

I just read my recent edition of the Newsletter of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. It headlined an address by his Excellency, the Most Reverend Donald W. Trautman, Bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania, and chairman of the committee.

He also touches on the new translation of the Mass, and the holy father’s recent decision to liberate the celebration of the older form of the Roman Mass.

But then, in conclusion, the bishop says the following, and I quote exactly:

"My words to you in that address [i.e., on October 9, 1996] are still true today. I said to you then, and I say again: ‘A pre-Vatican II liturgical theology and practice have no chance of speaking to a post-Vatican II world… The full, conscious and active participation of all the people is the goal in the reform and promotion of the liturgy.’ Do we accept this teaching of Vatican II? If we do, we should not be calling for a retreat from the reform of the liturgy of Vatican II. There should be no backsliding".


Under the circumstances, I assume the bishop has had plenty of time to reflect on these words which, after all, he chooses to cite and emphasize all over again. Can he truly believe that the "full, conscious and active participation of all the people" is something new with Vatican II?  [Yes, Father, he can.  This is because he doesn’t really get what is meant by "active participation".  He has the wrong starting point.]

After all, he then goes on to quote "the words of the great Joseph Jungman: ‘For centuries, the Liturgy actively celebrated had been the most important form of pastoral care.’" But Father Jungman wrote that before the Second Vatican Council; yet according to Bishop Trautman, this was not part of the "pre-Vatican II liturgical theology"!

Now, what I think Bishop Trautman means is that this was largely unrealized in the liturgy prior to the Council, hence the need for some change. But then what he should be referring to is not a "pre-Vatican II theology" but rather, a pre-Vatican II practice. The theology that he identifies with the Council was, of necessity, "pre-Vatican II." These ideas did not–as he himself points out–spring full-grown, Athena-like, from the collective heads of the Council Fathers.  [On the other hand, I think we should take H.E. Bp. Trautman at his word.  As you, Father, said above, he has had time think about this.  It is most likely that his objection to the use of the older form of Mass, is rooted in his objection to what he perceives as a pre-Conciliar theology.  Also, since Bp. Trautman is a pretty sharp guy, it is hard to believe that he really believes that the translation debate revolves around whether people can or can’t enter into the prayers immediately as they are spoken.  It is far more likely that what he objects to in the sort of translation called for by the Holy See’s norms in Liturgiam authenticam (a document he strenuously opposes) is in fact the theology of the Latin prayers.  I stipulate with others that even in the Latin of the Novus Ordo certain "negative" concepts were systematically replaced when ancient prayers were ported over into the 1970 Missal.  Nevertheless, the English we have been using is so mushy and devoid of meaning that it can’t even remotely suggest a "pre-Conciliar" theology, while the Latin Novus Ordo still can.  Thus, after this long digression, I think the problem is that H.E. Bp. Trautman is so firmly rooted in a hermeneutic of discontinuity that he really does see the need to repress what he believes is a different Catholic theology.]

And since he brought it up, who exactly does he accuse of proposing to "retreat" from the Council’s vision? [Pope Benedict and the Holy See’s CDWDS and CDF.] This is a dressed-up version of a polemic one hears in parishes: "oh, you just don’t accept Vatican II"–directed at people who: like bells at Mass; use "old fashioned" vestments; use Latin and chant; sing the prayers; don’t sing the prayers; use incense and so forth. I’m sorry to say you hear it from priests, who should know better; but then, we hear a version of it here from a bishop who ought to know better. The truth is, what’s actually going on is people label as "pre Vatican II" things they don’t like, aren’t used to, or associate with the past.

I really don’t know what he thinks of as "retreat," either now, or in 1996, when he gave the address he quotes. Is he complaining about Holy See’s efforts to tighten up on how texts are translated? [Also, yes!] We know he doesn’t agree with the Holy See’s approach on that. Is he complaining about wider celebration of the older form of the Mass? If so, is he saying that people cannot participate actively, fully, and consciously in the older form of the Mass? If that be the case, that is simply nonsense. Yes, it’s true that there were people, in the old days, who didn’t participate well. Guess what? We have people who are that way today. I would be willing to bet some of the same people. And I suspect some folks who think they didn’t participate before, may think their current participation is more than it is.

What I think we see here is exactly the sort of "hermeneutic of rupture" [Father, you got to it.  Good for you.] that the holy father has identified and faulted in relation to Vatican II. Of course, Bishop Trautman may be able to explain this better and who knows, maybe he will show up here and give that explanation; but it really looks like he has this idea that Vatican II marks the beginning of "full, conscious and active" participation.  [You now have to take this another step.]

Maybe I’m misunderstanding the bishop. Comments are invited from those who might offer an explanation. Comments that treat the bishop with disrepect (different from criticism or disagreement) will be deleted. If in doubt, err in the direction of civility and respect for a successor to the Apostles.

Fri, Nov 9, 2007 16:10

Be sure to go over to Bonfire of the Vanities

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  1. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Thanks for the plug, father and the commentary. Your last “rubric” (words in red) seem directed at me: what do you propose is “another step”?

  2. Fr. Fox: Thanks for commenting, both here and on your blog. The “other step” I suggest is effectively what I posted above.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. TJM says:

    It’s nice to know that Bishop Trautman is omniscient and can speak for all Catholics everywhere at all times. His excellency’s hubris is beyond
    belief. I welcome a new era at the USCCB. Tom

  4. David Kubiak says:

    To repeat a comment I have made before, we must remember that the ‘hermenuetic of rupture’ was the only understanding of the reforms we were given in the 60’s and 70’s, and as grateful as I am to Pope Benedict’s initiatives, I think they involve a revisionist view of liturgical history made necessary by things said and done by Bugnini & Co. and approved by Pope Paul which would never be countenanced in today’s Vatican.

  5. Richard says:

    What a bunch of bologna. Convenient he doesn’t state too specifically what exact part of pre-Vatican II theology he is concerned about repeating. Instead we ust have this looming sense that we are really messing up with reinstating the older form of the Mass. Fr Richard McBrien when the motu propio first came out said that his biggest objection to it was how it reflected a change in theology about how the faithful cannot participate in the Mass. This was soon and easily shot down.

    If there are any illegitimate mistakes which were done away with when instituting the newer form of the Mass, they had to do with people praying their rosary at Mass, or being totally unawares their own prayer had anything to do with what was going on at the altar. By not specifically identifying what theology he fears repeating, Bp. Trautman conveys the confused image that all these trappings to the old form of the Mass had more to do theology than mere local custom or culture.

  6. Peggy Halpin says:

    From people who weren’t there and don’t know, it drives me crazy to learn that before Vat.II people were not in “full active participation’ in the sacred liturgy of Holy Mass. Weren’t all of the canonnized formed by this liturgy? In my high school years, 1944-1948,many of us traveled a long way (three bus transfers)to our Catholic high school in Seattle, Washington. It was about a mile from the then Seattle College,now University. (Jesuit)St. Josephs Parish Church near by, always had students at daily Mass and during lent, including those of us who came that far by bus, it was filled to capacity with high school and college students,
    many of whom later embraced the priesthood and/or the consecrated life. Please let’s stop talkling about “the bad old days”

  7. David M.O'Rourke says:

    It is good that Fr. Fox wrote this commentary and likewise it is good that Fr. Z gave it a plug here but aside from that, surely none of us are surprised are we? We see a generation of priests and bishops who have wrapped their lives around the notion that with all their creative juices running they are in the vanguard of saving the People of God with their outdated 1970’s liturgies. Where else but in Church does one hear mealy mouthed guitar music (it never was real folk music. I know that here in Toronto there never was a history of Folk Music and I doubt we’re alone). It was 1960’s Pop music.

    Summorum Pontificum Pontificum was a blow to these priests and prelates. They have been complacently in the ascendant for so long and now they feel threatened. Their only real consolation lies in their oft repeated hope that there is no real call for the Extraordinary Use and that it will soon fade away leaving their world intact.

    It will take a while but I think that this time they are whistling in the dark. The Church is changing!

    Let them feel threatened! They have good reason!

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