South Africa: A Sign of Liturgical Things to Come?

Alone among the English-speaking nations, South Africa has waded out into the wide blue ocean of Roman Missal III, authorizing use of the Order of Mass (the people’s parts plus the Eucharistic Prayers) as of this past Advent. All is not well on the southern end of that great continent. The Southern Cross is all over the issue with numerous articles:

American Paul Turner (of my former diocese) weighs in.

Changes not a big deal, compared to the essentials of the Mass.

The changes are a betrayal.

Lost in translation.”

Liturgical anger such as, “I hate you, hierarchy.”

My understanding is that the English-speaking bishops were waiting for the full Roman Missal to be approved–it’s already translated in full. I didn’t know that one intrepid bishops’ conference was leaping out there with what they have. We’ve already noted that the special Mass setting composed for last summer’s World Youth Day used the new translation. Apparently the pope and Cardinal Pell didn’t mind using a “provisional” text. Fr Turner remarks that what’s out there now is still not a final form, even what’s circulating on the USCCB web page, and is subject to further tinkering from Rome.

Liturgical issues aside, I think bishops should be alarmed at the poor reception from clergy and laity in South Africa. It will tear a bit at parochial unity in large parishes. It will divide neighboring parishes among the GLB’s and GLG’s and the vocal doubters.

It may be that this really isn’t the time for a Latin transliteration. I respect Paul Turner as a liturgist, a priest, and a pastoral man, and he’s pretty gung ho on the advantages of the new translation. I’m not sure to interpret this as the lukewarm enthusiasm of a company man, or a hopeful optimism about a potential firecracker in 20,000 US parishes.

If this rancor repeats itself here in the States–and I don’t think there’s any reason to think we’re more lamb-like than the Africans–I think much trouble is ahead.

The new ICEL may have blundered badly by not authorizing a limited trial of some of the presider parts of this translation first. Something this important needed to be tweaked by a much wider consultation.

I think the dark-cloud climate in the Church has been vastly underestimated. In my country, people are polarized over the past election, and they’re still ticked off that some bishops haven’t gone to jail for shipping sex predators into parishes. Add to the mix conservative folks who just don’t like change teaming up with the more liberal rabble-rousers, and I think we’ll find most parishes consigning the “exalted language” folks to the periphery.

I imagine many Catholic conservatives will be torn between loyalty to Rome and their own populist, anti-elitist sensibilities. In a few unfortunate parishes, the loyalists will be substantial in number and I can see the issue splitting the community right down the center. When pastors start seeing collection plate contents wither in the blast, I can imagine a lot of guys sticking with their duct-taped Sacramentaries.

President Lincoln reportedly was willing to sacrifice slaves or slaveowners or some combination thereof for the sake of national unity. At what point do a few (or many) principled American bishops take some curialists aside and explain, “Look, guys: we’re going to get our butts kicked.”

Here, I think we have a principled group imposing their ideal translation over a dozen or so English-speaking nations. It’s an exercise in uniformity. But the bishops can’t guarantee their clergy will toe the line. And there’s nothing stopping laity in the pews from shouting or mumbling the old responses or simply crossing their arms and saying nothing. For unity’s sake, I don’t see a good ending for this, do any of you?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to South Africa: A Sign of Liturgical Things to Come?

  1. RP Burke says:

    This is a real mess waiting to happen. And why not follow the SSPX example: Refuse to go along, and get rehabilitated later? It should be a lot easier. After all, we’re not refighting the French Revolution and Vatican II.

  2. + Alan says:

    I am certainly not in a mode of comfort about the coming liturgical changes. The whole literal interpretation thing is just unfortunate. That “under my roof” business is going to stick in my teeth. Sooo, what was going on “under my roof,” under the Roman’s roof? Healing, someone was being healed. You mean, if Jesus just says the word, she (I) will be healed? Yes, that would be the point. O God, come to our assistance.

  3. You are quite right: US Catholics are not any more lamb-like than their counterparts in South Africa – rather the reverse.

    The storm is massive. I have been editor-in-chief of The Southern Cross for eight years, and managing editor for three years prior. No issue in that time has solicited such an avalanche of letters, of which, by my guess, 95% are strongly opposed to the Vox Clara translations. What appears on the website is a tiny fraction of what has appeared in the print editions.

    While I personally have no particularly huge problems with the translations, I can understand the anger. The curia and the hierarchies in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand England & Wales, and Ireland – all far more self-confident churches than South Africa’s – should be seriously alarmed by the South African experience.

    What would the great South African liturgist Archbishop Denis Hurley make of all this.

    I like Alan’s point a lot.

  4. Fr Kevin Reynolds, Pretoria says:

    South African catholics’ reaction to the introduction of the revised Mass texts in English is noteworthy for several reasons.

    The most serious aspect of this issue was stated by Kevin Dowling CSsR, bishop of Rustenburg, in his Southern Cross article (Jan 14-20): “I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II during the past years”.

    For confirmation of this courageous bishop’s nailing his colours to the mast one can read John Wilkins’ “Lost in Translation: the Bishops, the Vatican and the English Liturgy” that appeared in Commonweal on December 2, 2005. This article by a former editor of The Tablet (London) from 1982 to 2003 chronicles the disgusting machinations of certain Vatican officials in hijacking the English world’s vernacular liturgy.

    If sense prevails (which I don’t anticipate), Rome should take seriously the South African reaction to the new Mass texts in English. This has included well reasoned arguments for better translations by the likes of Professors Emeritus in English at KwaZulu-Natal University, Colin Gardner and Jack Kearney, Fr John Converset MCCJ and Graham Wilson. Wilson’s letter gave the web link ( to the critique of the new translations by Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the US bishops’ liturgy commission. It is certainly worth reading.

    To return to my opening point, God help us if Bishop Dowling’s fear regarding a retreat from Vatican II’s vision, spirit and practice is correct. Present developments indicate he is correct.

  5. John Heavrin says:

    “Refuse to go along, and get rehabilitated later?”

    RP, an even better example of this would be the altar girl situation, wouldn’t you agree? That practice was repeatedly forbidden for years, was widely practiced anyway, and then, voila, was suddenly approved. Just one of many examples, actually. The tactic of “persistent disobedience being eventually rewarded” wasn’t invented by the SSPX.

    It’s funny how some disobedience is considered prescient, and some is considered contemptible, isn’t it? All depends on who’s doing the considering, I suppose.

  6. Rosemary Gravenor says:

    There can never be a good ending to this because unity is a vision we work towards not something imposed by those with authority.

    One of the questions I ask of our Bishops is: why are we the guinea pigs when Southern Africa English speakers are miniscule in comparison with the rest of the English speaking world?

    I heard that Cardinal Arinze wrote a letter to the English speaking Conferences saying that no changes must be implemented until the final Order of the Mass is approved.
    These changes in the Mass are a work-in-progress according to spokesperson of the CFL&C* department of the SACB conference. Interesting words used by Sr. Jordana Maher OP: “improved”, “reflect scripture texts more closely”, “inducing deeper reflection”. Also, regarding the implications of the direction of the original post Vatican II GIRM** described as now being “promoted with greater vigour” and its purpose is to “adopt more fully the spirit of Vatican II.

    However, in the light of the “anti change” response from the faithful [in SA], words like “indoctrination” and “imposition” seem more appropriate.

    Language has the power to shape reality. In particular, religious language in rituals, and language about religion, is deeply felt. After all, we are dealing with the very heart of practical but extremely valuable fragile faith and how we express it! Faith is a delicate process more than a conclusion.

    The manner adopted for these changes rather reminds me of Jesus’ warning about religious leaders who “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them”. A clear indictment of hypocrisy and a rallying call pointing to the injustices which cry out to us from all sides.

    Now the latest letter from our Bishops [will soon be on this site, I am sure] minimises once again the power of language. Perhaps the worst example is the statement: they feel it to be not inclusive enough…!! which not only demarcates them and us, minimises the feelings of persons about the use of so-called generic terms, but also shows direct opposition to the aim for unity. To add salt to the wound, they remind us that it is necessary to give some and take some. I would like to understand exactly what the Bishop’s are ‘taking’ or shouldering other than submitting to a higher authority? Bishop Risi states that an ‘appeal’ will be made to the Holy See for [part of the problems we have]! We are then given another lesson on why we should not have a problem in the first instance.
    No clearly, they, our Bishops have the problem.

    In April 2001 Liturgiam Authenticam was approved by JP II. This provided concrete rules and incorporated “Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy”. This emphasized that literal translation must be “exact in wording and free from all ideological influence”. This clearly takes care of English generics such as ‘man’ and ‘men’ – especially because the translations must be from the original Latin text.

    Of course, for me, the confusion and contradiction is glaringly apparent: modern ideological influence is a No-No but it’s OK for an all male hierarchy to choose the language which supports their ideological preferences.

    I am not trying to infer that our SACB conference is not to be trusted but this saga does show that the implementation of any changes were not handled correctly to begin with. Our Bishops have had since 2006 to test if we had concerns. We know The Holy See want uniformity in the English speaking world so would it not be more truthful and sensible to wait until the whole English speaking world speaks with one voice.

    This issue is an example of making it difficult to “fix our eyes upon Jesus”. Is St Paul’s urgent warning to listen to the voice of Jesus when it involves the faithful living out their lives as Christians, heeded? The impression that the Holy Spirit speaks ‘infallibly’ to the Magisterium of the church makes a mockery of the ‘faith-in-process’ of individuals. It puts God only within our reach through being obedient to whatever cafeteria choices are made by ‘higher authority’.

    I would like the spokesperson or secretary of the CFL & C and our Social Communications department to make more realistic statements. Let’s get honest and real: if we are all (including Bishops Conferences) being dictated to then tell us in plain English. It certainly does not appear that our Magisterium gives a jot about collegiality.

    * Christian Formation, Liturgy and Culture
    ** General Instruction of the Roman Missal

  7. DMJ says:

    Well, we’ve leaned that the CDW has instructed the South African bishops to withdraw the new translation, go back to using the old and wait until the entire Missal has been published in English. The two bishops pushing the new translation Bishop Risi and Cardinal Napier have asked the CDW to change its mind, to save face. No answer yet, but whatever happens it’s a real mess.

  8. Pingback: Napier On Translations « Catholic Sensibility

  9. Athelstan says:

    Perhaps the time has come for Pope Benedict to call Vatican III and try to clear the world of the liturgical warfare once and for all. Like Pope John XXIII, it may be his last act, but he must get ready to play the part no matter what.

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