Blah Blah Blah

On a PrayTell thread belittling translation, Scott Pluff related this experience:

In a recent conversation with a parishioner, he admitted that the only parts of Mass that he pays attention to are the Gospel, the homily, the music, and the announcements. He called everything else, “blah, blah, blah.” He even asked if it would be possible to eliminate those other parts so we could focus more on the preaching and music. Could we still distribute Communion even if we skipped over the other stuff? This was coming from a lifelong Catholic who is highly involved in the parish and regularly attends Mass.

Perhaps some of us have an expectation that everything at Mass will have some meaning or impact. Will that happen to everyone? No way. My sense has always been that the experience of the Mass is so rich that everybody paying attention will find something, even some small bit, that moves them.

Mr Pluff’s parishioner reinforces the notion that people come for preaching and music as their top priorities. Plus encountering the Lord in the reception of the Eucharist. The rest? Likely vital for professionals and the liturgical picayune.

My sense is that ninety percent of the Roman Missal texts are part of a “blah blah blah” background hum. What does that mean for me as a liturgist and church musician? Maybe I consider reducing the words I give them. When I arrived in my new parish this summer, the announcement to silence electronic devices was assigned to the songleader. I took the liberty of dropping it last month. Likewise the announcement of the Sunday in ordinary time. Long-time Catholics know to silence their cells, and if they don’t, a reminder isn’t guaranteed to help. And particulars about the Sunday? That’s in the missalette.

My deeper complaint on MR3 isn’t with its contorted grammar or strange vocabulary choices, but that the texts, especially the priest texts, will not appeal to people. Therefore, they will make little or no difference. I suspect most parishes have found the MR3 conversion to be a smooth one. Why? Not obedience. Most likely the change was unimportant for nearly every Catholic. Fewer words and more trimmed-down rituals–that would have been noticed.

In a way, Liturgiam Authenticam and the delay in implementing MR2 has done just what the reform2 movement wouldn’t have wanted: anchored the Church’s official texts more deeply into the irrelevant and emphasized homilies, music, and the personal experience of receiving Communion. What do you think about that?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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19 Responses to Blah Blah Blah

  1. Tony Phillips says:

    I agree that most Catholics don’t listen to the priest’s prayers (the blah-blah-blah). The reason I welcomed the new translation is that it abolished the deliberate mistranslations we said for 40 years–the ‘we believe’, the elimination of the mea culpas, the ‘and also with you’. When the Novus Ordo rolled out, we were provided with English-language ‘missalettes’ with no Latin texts, so in that pre-internet age we were unaware how far off the English ‘translation’ really was. I was pretty angry when I found out. I guess I still am. (Maybe I’ve got too much time on my hands.)

    Of course, I still think the Novus Ordo is inferior, that Paul VI had no authority to impose in on the church, and that the bishops should have refused to accept it. But that’s another conversation.

    • Melody says:

      We’re all entitled to our preferences. But you do realize that the Mass has changed more or less continually over the past two millennia, and probably will continue to do so. The important things have stayed the same.

      • Tony Phillips says:

        Melody, I don’t want to drift too far off the issue of translation into English, but I can’t help reacting to your comment. The Mass has changed subtly and gradually over the past twelve hundred years–prior to that things are pretty much lost in the mists of time. For all the local variety, there was also a remarkable continuity. Just compare the Canon of the 1962 Missal to that of Gelasian sacramentary (for which you can find published critical editions on Internet Archive, or digital images of the manuscript at various internet locations).

        The Novus Ordo was an enormous rupture in this tradition which can only be compared to the creation of new Protestant liturgies in the Reformation. Like those Protestant liturgies, the Novus Ordo is a curious mixture of innovation and imaginative pseudo-antiquarianism (that is, Bugnini et al imagined what early, unattested liturgies ‘must have been’ like, and then tried to re-create them–apparently forgetting the point that you and I agree upon, that liturgies change over time, and probably change for good reason, not–as Vatican II would have it–because of ‘accidents of history’.)

        But there is a link to the topic at hand…bilingual Tridentine Missals for the use of the people existed for hundreds of years before the Novus Ordo and already contained ‘approved’ translations of the prayers. Look in your grandma’s missal and you’ll find the Nicene creed, the Sanctus, and other prayers already translated into perfectly good English. If the issue were simply providing the Mass, in whole or in part, in the vernacular, then ICEL was completely unnecessary–the work was already done. And for the vast majority of Catholics, a bit of vernacular was all that was needed. No one in the pews was desperate to change the 9-fold Kyrie to 6, or to remove specific references to the saints from the Confiteor. For that we must blame the soi-disant liturgists.

  2. Melody says:

    I have lived through, I think, four Mass revisions. None of them have seemed like blah-blah-blah. I won’t pretend that my monkey -mind attention has always been what it should be. But all I have to do is accompany one of my Evangelical relatives to one of their services (even though they are usually well done) to remind myself of why I keep coming back to Mass.

  3. Liam says:

    Given the state of homilies and music in many parishes, the blah blah blah is a very welcome relief. I don’t see how getting rid of the blah blah blah would serve to improve them overall.

  4. charlesincenca says:

    “My sense is that ninety percent of the Roman Missal texts are part of a “blah blah blah” background hum. What does that mean for me as a liturgist and church musician? Maybe I consider reducing the words I give them.”
    You’re joking, right? What it means is: up the ante. Don’t give the people turkey burger, give them rib eye, sirloin, filet. Give them poetry, give them mystery (Hopkins), give them unvarnished scripture. Give them, at the least, the propers, as that’s scripture, hello.
    “My deeper complaint on MR3” is real evident. Less intellectually gifted celebrants will dash their foot against a stone because they persist in their own (stench) of stasis, as in “I’m so smart I don’t have to prepare jack.” Then they blow the collect before the Sursum corda. Every time. It ain’t the language, Jeeves, it’s the confidence and wherewithal to render it with comprehension. PTB’s (Paul’s) obsession with revisiting this is getting near Nero Time.
    “Most likely the change was unimportant for nearly every Catholic. Fewer words and more trimmed-down rituals–that would have been noticed.” You say that as if it was a good thing. Unbelievable. Ineffable, dare I say. OMGosh, shall we revert to “Peace is flowing like a river?” Dumb it down more, with a chaser of synod, and then hang me from the old oak gibbet and let the dewfall on my limp corpus, how much more of this ridiculous “come as you are and stay where you’re at” church must we endure?

    • Todd says:

      Not joking. Less verbiage in the announcements, Charles. People pay attention to good texts, including the Bible. We’ve been doing good texts for over forty years. No need to revert to propers; contemporary composers have been ladling out good Scripture passages from a wider set of sources for two generations.

      • Liam says:

        “We’ve been doing good texts for over forty years.”

        Which ones do you have in mind? (The NAB Lectionary has not been known for being auded for the loveliness of its translation style. But it keeps copyright power in the hands of the US bishops. While it’s not flawless, the RSV (among others) would be a better choice if we were allowed to have it.)

        “No need to revert to propers;”

        But also no need to resist or avoid them. And a good text with meh music only goes so far.

        One pitfall of the blah blah blah critique is that it’s quite easy to pivot from it to undermine bothering with the vernacular in the first place, and it also feeds the pragmatic minimalism that progressive liturgists have been resisting.

        I think the implication that the Roman Missal (not just the vernacular translations thereof) needs a root and branch reengineering begs many questions, the answers to which are not necessarily vouchsafed to be resolved in favor of a progressive perspective on these things. Be careful what you ask for, and less breezy about it.

      • Liam says:

        Lauded. Not “auded”. Overtyped.

  5. Atheist Max says:

    I always loved a good sermon to help make the gospel come to life. I remember a few priests who seemed to have that ability and I would leave church feeling wiser, motivated to do good, or to be patient or something constructive. At some point that stopped happening enough. I remember one particular Easter Mass only a few years ago when a priest spent his entire sermon blabbing about the beauty and meaning of the Paschal Candle.
    I still believed in God at the time, but was astonished a church would waste a RARE FULL HOUSE Easter Vigil crowd (not an empty pew!) and offer the same old mind-numbing banalities about a Candle instead of seizing the crowd with a joyous re-invigoration about some truth about the Jesus they had come to worship!

    The ‘vigil’ mass is not supposed to be a raucus occasion – I understand the Theology – but get real! If you already know Jesus is going to rise on Sunday why put on the long face? It is a transparent performance – and everybody knows it.

    What I like about the Baptists is they focus on the risen Jesus and just study that joy all year. It is all foot stomping, joyous, infectious gospel music. No wasted blah, blahs at all. If Jesus is real and he wants to reach everyone, he is a Southern Baptist.

  6. charlesincenca says:

    It’s remarkable that the gist of a post and substantive commentary is summarily dismissed or devolved by revised context such as “too much verbiage in the announcements,” which has nothing to do whatsoever with LA/MR3 and the source of blah blah blah. No one ever comments upon how the issues of preparation, performance practice and prescription affect the delivery of ritual action and script on the part of priests, deacons, lectors and whomever besides the musician. Todd does, to his credit, recognizes this necessity when evaluating music efficacy. But that countless priest/celebrants over at PTB dig the dead horse corpus up about MR3 every six months is not a testament to their acumen at all. It sure highlights their obsessive compulsive interest in blaming Vaticana for all the ills of the church. That’s rabbit hole stuff. As I said, Paul and AWR, “Uh, Nero, Rome’s on fire!” And by the way, welcome to the “Save the liturgy, save the world” ethos. You got some priorities mixed up, but welcome back.
    And props to Max for a basic, apparent analysis of ritual fail that happens pervasively over urbi et orbi every day of the week.

  7. Jim McCrea says:

    “Mr Pluff’s parishioner reinforces the notion that people come for preaching and music as their top priorities.”

    Maybe that is why most Protestant services reflect exactly this format.

    • Tony Phillips says:

      Jim, you make a good point, and I think it helps explain why the pews in Catholic churches get emptier and emptier. If you’re looking for a Protestant service, then doesn’t it make sense to go to a Protestant church? They do it better.

      Which is why we shouldn’t try to copy them. The Novus Ordo is essentially a protestantised rite: the Graham Norton-style chattiness, the suppression of mention of the saints, too many Scripture readings crammed into the ‘liturgy of the word’, the emphasis on meal rather than sacrifice, the kingdom/power/glory doxology…you get the picture. But when all’s said and done, we still can’t match the Protestants, and never will.

      The Catholic church needs to stick to its core brand. We do Latin. We do Tridentine. And nobody does it better.

  8. Atheist Max says:

    What do you do with doubters in the pews? It seems the majority of clergy write them off as a minor contingent. Are there new ways to convince modern doubters about a perfect truth or fact of Jesus? Or is this just a slowly shrinking religion?

    My earliest doubt:
    God is supposed to be unknowable and when i was a kid I remember reading where Jesus said, “Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do” and I thought, ‘if God will forgive us for not knowing why must we pretend we need to understand God’s plans at all? It is supposed to be an impossible thing to do anyway.’
    It took me decades to dare to ask that question again.

    Clergy seems to ignore the wisdom behind such doubts – and I’ve never met a priest who could rise to such a doubt with a response that didn’t scold the doubter. Blah, blah, blah feels like a suppression tactic – almost OCD as my grandmother crossing herself at every church thinking it would save her from purgatory. I don’t think blah,blah works as well as it did in past centuries.

  9. FrMichael says:

    “Clergy seems to ignore the wisdom behind such doubts – and I’ve never met a priest who could rise to such a doubt with a response that didn’t scold the doubter.”

    I will rise to defend my tribe. Priests get questions like this quite a bit in connection with RCIA or at times when there are dying parishioners in hospital or home, I’ve certainly never scolded anyone and I doubt my associates have done so, because I’m sure negative feedback about them would come my way eventually.

    Matter of fact, my first teaching session in RCIA (I usually lead 2-3 session annually) provokes the questions, “Why believe in Jesus? Why think there is an invisible God at all in such a corrupt world?” I don’t know that I’m representative of the rest, but I doubt I’m a minority of one.

    • Todd says:

      I know it’s not the only motivation, but I sure hope that priests don’t scold people because they’re afraid of negative feedback. That seems to be the presumption behind the criticism of many church conservatives for a (relative) lack of hellfire-n-brimstone sermons. I hope the reason for treating people gently is that mercy is a superior virtue. Anger, not so much.

      • Liam says:

        I take the view that doubt is a necessary precursor to faith. In this I distinguish between certainty and faith.

        To me, certainty is an idea that belongs the material world of mechanical operations – the realm of things broadly speaking.

        But faith (which is a particular form of trust) is interpersonal – it’s not mechanical. It’s what bridges a gap. The gap we call doubt. Without it, an interpersonal relationship lacks what is necessary not only for trust/faith, but for hope and, critically, love.

        When human beings become certain about someone, they objectify them and treat them instrumentally. It’s one way marriages can wither, for example.

        * * *

        That said, doubt has different flavors. There is sincere, open-to-fruitfulness doubt. But there is also closed or cynical doubt, and avoidant doubt and proud doubt, et cet – unfruitful flavors of doubt. Sometimes, anger can be appropriate to pierce the defensive shield of unfruitful flavors of doubt. But you need to have a sure sense or instinct for the person, and be ready to be humble – not only about being wrong but about expectations of fruitfulness in the effort. *THAT*’s where Christians often need the most work.


      • Atheist Max says:

        Fr.Micheal, well said.

        Liam, “When human beings become certain about someone, they objectify them and treat them instrumentally.”
        I share your concern about certainty. Just as I am not certain there is no god I get very suspicious when I’m with people who say there certainly is a god and further, that they are certain about what that means and how everyone should proceed accordingly – in other words, dogma.

  10. Pingback: What's in a Translation?

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