Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The "New Translation" of the Mass IV: The Liberal/Conservative Battle

Well if this isn’t an evil plot by Benedict and his cronies to destroy the Second Vatican Council,  how did we get to this new translation? 
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop
of Chicago 1982-1996, leader of the
moderates and liberals among the
American Bishops. 
      We Americans like things simple.  Romans like Byzantine intrigue.  We Americans always think people have black hats or white hats, that between good and evil there is a clear divide and that no one can cross from our side (good) to theirs (evil) or from theirs to ours.  Would that human nature was so simple.  It is our Calvinist heritage.  There are those destined to salvation (good, white hats, we love Vatican II) and those destined to damnation (bad, black hats [or maybe, in this case, red] they hate Vatican II).   Romans—long Catholic (not so sure about Christian, but Catholic for sure)—know the reality of the human heart and that the wheat and tares grow together.  Life doesn’t fall into neat patterns.  
      It was actually the “liberals” who were calling for a new missal and a new translation.  we wanted further changes.  We needed more flexibility in the rite.  Maybe every Sunday didn’t need a penitential rite.  Maybe we should be able to use a variety of canticles and not just that same old “Glory to God in the Highest” every week.  The more variety in Eucharistic Prayers the better.  We wanted change to be an ongoing process, so let’s get a new edition of the missal—and as long as we were at, let’s get a more poetic translation of the prayers.  The Anglican Prayer Book has a nice ring to it; the Lutheran Book of Worship flows more smoothly.  Can’t we do better than this bland and boring makeshift sort of translation we had after Vatican II.   
        It was a reasonable suggestion.  The current sacramentary is pretty pedestrian.  We could do better. What we weren’t watching was that the wind had changed.  While we liberals were busy linking arms for the Lord’s Prayer, the Catholic neo-cons were steadily building their case.  (I say neo-cons as such groups as the “Reform of the Reform” are not genuine conservatives or traditionalists—they Church they want to “restore” is the Church of the early twentieth century, not the classic Catholicism of the Patristic era.)  
        Neo-cons are always better organized than liberals.  Liberals are naïve and think that people will instinctively do the “right thing.”  Neo-cons cling to the doctrine of original sin and know that people will act in self-interest.  Liberals think that everything should  be free and are cheap bastards; neo-cons know that the world belongs to those who are committed and they are ready to invest heavily in advancing their agenda.  Consequently those who were appalled by the changes in the liturgy and even more by the effects of those changes, quickly began organizing and cementing their opposition.  Father Fessio organized Adoremus.  Priests in the Diocese of Arlington organized CREDO.  Organizations such as the Latin Mass Society sprang up.  New colleges were founded such as Christendom and Saint Thomas Aquinas.  They invited Cardinals from Rome to come and give talks and to sit on boards.  Mother Angelica’s television network was organized—to give the devil her due, she was in her day one fine businessman—and it broadcast masses that demonstrated Reform of the Reform principles.  There was lots of Latin and never a Eucharistic minister to be seen.  Only men served in liturgical roles and while they did have concelebration, communion in both kinds was restricted to the clergy.  Despite her lack of Episcopal sponsorship for her EWTN network, Mother Angelica created the impression that hers was an official voice of the Church.  Meanwhile letter writing campaigns flooded Roman desks with countless questions: does the priest have to give me communion if I insist on kneeling for it;  Does our pastor have to provide a Tridentine Rite Mass each Sunday if we have fifty people who ask for it; does the priest have to permit girls to be altar servers at his mass.  Letters of complaint went to Rome about earthenware chalices, communion flagons, home-baked bread for the Eucharist.  Priests were accused of celebrating mass dressed as clowns, of permitting women to “concelebrate” Mass with them; of giving communion to non-Catholics.  Bishops would come to Rome for their ad limina visits and be confronted by curial officials with stacks of letters of complaint alleging abuses in their dioceses.  Letters were believed without proof.  Charges were made without substance.  Allegations were accepted on no more than hearsay.  The American Church appeared to be out of control.  
         At the same time there was a leadership vacuum in the American hierarchy that allowed power to devolve on Cardinal Bernard Law, then Archbishop of Boston.  Law has since become legendary for his moral and spiritual bankruptcy, but from the death of Cardinal Krol in 1988 until his resignation in the midst of the sex abuse scandal in 2002 Law was the most powerful bishop in the United States—a “Kingmaker” whose stamp of approval was on every nomination for bishop sent to Rome.  I want to make it clear that His Eminence has never been accused of sexual abuse but his failure to comprehend the seriousness of the problem and his blatant arrogance in defending the indefensible position of most Catholic Bishops, including himself,  in how they handled allegations of abuse have rendered him the reputation as being the single person most responsible for the biggest scandal in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.  Law, with the assistance of the equally unscrupulous Cardinal Hickey of Washington,  took on the moderately liberal Archbishop of Chicago Joseph Bernardin and broke the liberal camp of American bishops.  Bernardin, dying of pancreatic cancer, had tried to rally the centrist bishops with his “common ground” proposal to build a consensus among American Catholics on important social and theological issues.  In a rare suspension of the protocols that mandate that members of the Sacred College speak only well of each other in public, Cardinal Law savaged Bernadin and his proposals, falling just short of accusing the dying prelate of compromising with heresy.  It was a shameful performance; but not nearly as shamefilled as Law’s fall would be five years later.  Nonetheless, the damage had been done and Law’s years of influence in Rome have assured an intellectual mediocrity in the American episcopate which is distinguished by their lack of perspicacity as they see a vital American Church erode beneath their buskined feet.   It was this lack of backbone that permitted the hierarchy to fall like wheat beneath the wind to the recent wave of liturgical revisions including the new translations. 

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