Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Translation Tuesday: Our Priests

Welcome to this week's edition of "New Translation Tuesday."

As you know, yesterday I facilitated a meeting with a group of about twelve priests from one of the deaneries here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. They asked me to come and facilitate a discussion about the upcoming new translation of the Missale Romanum.

A few impressions.

I felt privileged to be a part of this holy conversation. Each priest, without exception, showed concern for the prayer lives of those entrusted to their care.

There was much discussion about the "universal" dimension to the prayer of the Church. This was a good conversation. I know this might get some of the readers of this blog a bit riled up, but I did offer this to them:

We have to be careful when we play the "universal" card—that these prayers must be prayed exactly, word-for-word, because they are the officially translated prayers of the English-speaking Church—the "universal" Church. This is a value and is absolutely a Roman Catholic principle. But we cannot stop there. If this were the only principle to which were to hold priests and bishops accountable as they celebrate Mass, I believe that the Church's liturgical life would be in a sorry state. I reminded the priests about the group of Catholics for whom the EWTN style of celebration is the norm against which they hold the celebration style of the priests and pastors in their parishes accountable. I also reminded them that papal liturgies often become the same kind of norm. For the vast majority of these celebrations, the celebrant, included our beloved pope, prays the Mass in a less-than-engaging matter. Their ars celebrandi is reflected in getting all the words exactly right, whether they be in Latin or in English. This serves the principle of the universality of the Church's prayer quite well. It is Roman Catholic through and through. But, dare we ask, "Where is the life in the prayer?" The liturgy is the work of God, but God works through the hands, hearts, postures, and voices of his people. A detached celebrant—detached from any semblance of human feeling—makes me a detached worshiper. It makes the celebration of the paschal mystery appear remote. The priests with whom I spoke are fearful that the "detached, say the words exactly as they appear" type of expression of the ars celebrandi is what is being expected of them. I think this is a legitimate fear. And I don't believe that this is what is being asked of them.

One of the priests in attendance stated that for most of his priestly life, he has not said the words from the Sacramentary exactly as they appear in the book. He told us that he feels that he is called to make adaptations to address the needs of his parishioners. Can we fault this dedicated priest for his love and concern for his people? Frankly, I did not know how to respond. I simply said that if we are wondering what the Church is asking of celebrants with the impending new translation; it is surely clear that the Church is not asking for an ad libitum approach to celebrating the Mass.

Another priest said that it seems that the approach he has taken to the presidential prayers at Mass since his ordination will have to change. He told the group that he does not need now even to look at these prayers before Mass because he knows that when the altar server opens the Sacramentary in front of him at Mass, the style of the language of prayer will be familiar enough that it simply flows naturally. He wondered what the new translation might mean for his approach. It was at this point that I had to put my own "view-from-the-pew" two cents in (or, perhaps in this case it was more like a dollar twenty-nine!) In a genuinely pleading tone, I talked about my "right and duty" as a baptized Catholic. I quoted Sacrosanctum Concilium, saying that as a baptized Catholic, I have a right and duty to participate in the liturgy with fully conscious and active participation. This right hinges so much on the active participation that is listening. For this, I rely on the priest to pray the prayers, not just say the prayers. I told them that the days of "rolling out of bed" and into the Sacramentary are coming to an end. I also said that I believed that the advent of the new translation is asking nothing new of celebrants at Mass; the Church's expectation has always been the same. God uses these real flesh-and-blood men to use all of their gifts to pray the prayers with life and conviction.

I know I am going on and on here, but there is one more thing I'd like to share. I told the priests about Paul Turner's upcoming book with us here at WLP, Pastoral Companion to the Roman Missal. I did not have the manuscript with me at the meeting, but I did recall a few places in Paul Turner's commentary about some prayers—either lost over the centuries, or fallen into non-usage—that were recovered for the current Missal. When I told the priests that they would be praying some prayers from the Church's liturgical treasury that had never been even uttered in the English language, their interest piqued. I likened what they would be asked to do with these texts to a real experience I had of a celebrant a few years ago. Father Cyprian Davis, OSB, was the "guest" celebrant at Sunday Mass at our parish. When it came time for him to pray the Opening Prayer, he said "Let us pray." He then bowed his head in silence. When he opened his mouth to pray the text from the Sacramentary, I was stunned. I don't know how else to say it except that it seemed like he was birthing the text right then and there. It was as if he were sharing the most precious thing with us for the first time. He did the same with every other prayer at Mass, including the Eucharistic Prayer. I have seldom been more drawn into the celebration of the Mass than I was that day. I told the priests at the meeting that this was precisely what they are being asked to do; to give birth to a new translation in the midst of God's people; and these words have the potential for salvation, right then and there; right at the moment that they are prayed for God's people.

Folks, it was an exhilarating and exhausting afternoon all at the same time. I don't want our priests and bishops to feel as if the advent of the new translation means that they are being asked to turn into sacramental and liturgical automatons. Far from this, the advent of the new translation—I hope—will lead to a discovery, or rediscovery (as the case may be) of the real art of celebrating the Mass for these priests. We look for a new dawn of liturgical engagement, a synergy among the realities of text, celebrant, music, and people. It is within the life that is generated through this synergy that God's work of mercy, love, and reconciliation in Christ takes root, blossoms, and grows day after day, Mass after Mass, year after year, until our voices are joined with countless hosts of angels in that eternal "Hosanna!"

Thanks for listening today. I am thanking God for my Catholic faith today.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Diezba said...

I'm not riled, and I agreed with a lot of what you said, particularly toward the bottom of the post (the stuff about "rolling out of bed and into the Sacramentary" was especially applicable, I believe).

The part that I would like to discuss is the distinction that the priest you quoted and perhaps you seem to make between "praying the words as they are written" and "praying the words with feeling."

It is as though there's dichotomy between "praying with feeling" and "making up stuff as I go along."

Can we not pray the words that are written in the book with feeling? Don't I, as a baptized Catholic in good standing with the Church, have a right to hear the words of the prayers that the Church has given? That doesn't exclude each individual priest's ars celebrandi.

If a predominantly African American parish is used to a rousing, loud, joyful, ad populum Eucharistic Prayer, complete with spontaneous exclamations of "Amen!" from the congregation, that's fine -- but why should the priest change the words of the prayers?

If a traditionalist parish is used to a quiet, reflective, ad orientam Eucharistic Prayer, complete with lots of incense and Gregorian chant, that's fine -- but why should the priest change the words of the prayers?

My biggest problem with priests changing words is that they are presuming, as 40, 50, 60, 70 year old men, to say that they know better than the mind of the Church what the needs of the faithful are for this particular prayer.

Now, I'm not saying that we don't need to inculturate: but that's why the Missal has places in the rubrics SPECIFICALLY designed to allow the priests to make ad libitium comments -- it's actually in the text!

But I am so tired -- fed up, even -- of priests interjecting their own versions of prayers into the texts that they pray.

Pray with all the feeling you want, gesticulate wildly, but for the love of God and his pilgrim people, just say the words that are on the page when that's what you're supposed to do, and stop turning the Mass into the Father So-and-so show.

Please, Reverend Fathers!

Charles Culbreth said...

I reminded the priests about the group of Catholics for whom the EWTN style of celebration is the norm against which they hold the celebration style of the priests and pastors in their parishes accountable.

Dr. Jerry, I must say I'm surprised and somewhat aghast that you let that characterization remain in the post. It's clear that neither "the EWTN style of celebration" nor a "group" of the faithful who appreciate that "style" was meant as a compliment. Whatever the "style" of that network's conventual daily Mass, or those from the national shrine, it is hardly charitable to imply that the variety of celebrants who've presided over the decades at the chapel there have some sort of monolithic, monotonic robotic standard to which they all adhere. I mean, seriously, Mitch Pacwa is among those number. Some of the young Franciscans are magnificent celebrants and homilists, and their humility and humanity is obvious to those with eyes and ears to take in.
Those among us who do appreciate the "say the black, do the red" as a basic touchstone, don't add to that, "oh, and please be detached and disinterested." Many of "us" also don't, de rigeur, condemn all "animated" celebrants as improvisers, comics or "Barney" priests. So, can we backtrack and not castigate a network whose function is not dissimilar to that of your media company?

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Charles, perhaps my characterization was exaggerated; and I did not mean to insult these fine priests. Perhaps I should watch EWTN more often, for more often than not I have found the style to be rather robotic, as you say. I was using these examples because there are folks out there (and some of them read this blog) who seem to care about little else than the exact words being said at Mass. And I know this is in reaction to some pretty strange "adaptations" they have witnessed at Mass. The internet is full of videos rife with the "liturgical abuses." And the pendulum is certainly swinging in the direction of more faithful adherence to the official texts (and you know that I hold to this more faithful adherence). But when it swings so far that people will attack their own priests for even legitimate and allowed "in these or similar words" instances, (without knowing what is and what is not allowed in the GIRM and in the still yet unpublished missal), this is when we need to put the brakes on and look at this thing honestly. If anyone else has been offended by today's remarks, please accept my apology. As a postscript, the priests in the room agreed with my assessment.

Adam Bartlett said...

"there are folks out there (and some of them read this blog) who seem to care about little else than the exact words being said at Mass."

I am amazed by the judgment of disposition and motives in this statement.

Jerry, have these priests whom you cite actually told you that they "care about little else than the exact words being said at the Mass"? I would be shocked to hear any self-respecting priest anywhere say this.

If they haven't told you this, but it just "seems" to you that they have this disposition, is it possible that these priests might simply lack an extroverted and engaging personality or an infectious charisma?

I think that there may be a severely unfair judgment of motives here.

jdonliturgy said...

Jerry - Although I am a fan of the priest's creativity whenever the ritual books (such as the RCIA) indicate "in these or similar words, I do not believe the priest should take that same liberty with the ordinary of the Mass.

I am reminded of a moment I had a number of years ago as a cantor/guitarist at a Mass with an older priest who basically said none of the words in the Sacramentary. After struggling to listen with extreme care to determine when he reached the normal cues for me to start the Eucharistic acclamations, I caught myself in a Freudian slip at the Ecce Agnus Dei saying "...but only say the WORDS and I shall be healed!"
Not only was I flummoxed by his refusal to say anything familiar, but the people seemed to be as well.

Ritual language implies repetition of familiar formulas. I am sure at first we will have those "oops - I think that was my cue!" nad "darn, I just messed up that new resopnse" moments occasionally during the transition to the new translation, as well, but it should not be for the reason that the priest is making it all up.

Kevin Vogt said...

I find myself agreeing with all of the previous commentators in their picking apart of certain phrases in Dr. Galipeau's post. However, I am most appreciative of what seems to be Dr. Galipeau's point in sharing the highlights of the day's conversation: that faithful adherence to the text of the liturgy and expressive performance of spoken and sung prayers are not exclusive of one another, but rather conspire to give coherence to the rites. This certainly touches upon the notion of "ars celebrandi," but the art of celebrating doesn't stop there. Pope John Paul II spoke of the "ars celebrandi" as the "capacity to live and receive" the mysteries enacted in the sacred rites. This ought to amplify the insight of Dr. Galipeau (and all of the above commentators, really) that the appearance of a fresh translation is a moment ripe with opportunity to deepen the liturgical prayer of priest and people, not merely tolerating a change or demonstrating self-righteous obedience, but entering into the sacred mysteries with a radical receptivity. I think Dr. Galipeau's anecdote about the visiting Benedictine celebrant beautifully describes the apparent "artfulness" of the priest celebrant in enacting and embodying the rite, as well as the experience of radical receptivity of one prayer in the pew.

I would add that it may be justified to criticize a priest's messing around with the text of the liturgy, which could be seen as part of a "ritual contract" with other members of the Church, but critique of the non-discursive aspects of a priest's (or bishop's or pope's) performance of the rites may not be equally justified. Similarly, because the "ars celebrandi" is at least in part an interior reality, it may not be just or fruitful (or possible) to pass judgement on the quality of the participation of worshippers.

Chironomo said...

I'm with Diezba on this one... why is there a distinction being made between "saying the words as written" and "praying", as though it's not possible to meaningfully pray the words that are written?

You are right that there is a strong Catholic/ Non-Catholic distinction between carefully worded prayers and spontaneous, improvised prayers. Liturgical prayer is, by definition, carefully proscribed and defined, and it is, as you say, very much a "Catholic thing" to pray the texts precisely as given, at least it WAS a very "Catholic thing" historically. What's wrong with that exactly? I don't find that to be a fault necessarily, and I would go on to say that it is strongly connected to the issue of praying in Latin... if you pray the words (in Latin) exactly as written, then there is very little difference between praying in Latin and praying in English since the texts don't change and have a determined meaning (which it is presumed the person praying would know).

The flip side of this, of course, is that vernacular prayer provides an easy venue for spontaneous prayer... and I at least would claim that much of the insistence on vernacular liturgy arises from this very idea of being able to improvise or adapt prayers. Consider the old adage that the Catholics have a "prayer for everything"...why is that? In the past it was so that Priests never had to "make anything up", regardless of the situation.

This is such an obvious part of the Catholic liturgical tradition that it seems like something that wouldn't need to be argued, and yet it is argued precisely because it is such an obvious part of our tradition. Perhaps the new trasnslation will bring clergy and faithful alike back to an appreciation for why it was such a strong part of our tradition.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Thanks to all for your comments. I want to say, in response to Adam, that it was not any of the priests who made this comment. This was an expression of mine, because I have met lay people who have said these exact words.
I also want to say that I believe that it will be in smaller gatherings of priests that a turn from grumbling to a sense of anticipation can be made. Unfortunately, I believe that many of our priests will be forced to go to a training event where their legitimate concerns are not heard. This, unfortunately, may lead to a deeper sense of anger and resentment over the new translation. I am praying very hard that this is not the case.
Again, thanks for your comments. Let's continue to pray for our bishops and priests.