There have been some interesting (to myself at least) articles recently dealing with various aspects of Church life. I would like to share several with you for your thoughts and consideration knowing that you may very well his disagree with me in part or in whole or agree with me or the growing and newest complaint – think I am not bold enough. The first was a speech given by Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, the current CEO of ICEL (International Commission for English in the Liturgy) recently to a meeting of Church musicians in Salt Lake City. Until reading this article I thought ICEL’s sole purview was to be translating the texts of the Roman Missal (they just finished that as you know) and translating other liturgical documents like the Rites used for Marriage, Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, etc. Monsignor Wadsworth whose organization has given us the recent translation of the Roman Missal and new vocabulary like “abasement” from last Sunday’s opening prayer pines in his speech for even more of a return to the traditional liturgy of the Church. He makes some valid points and I recommend that you read his whole presentation before reacting to what I am about to say by clicking here. He uses a reading of a letter from Pope Benedict to the closing of the Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in June as his platform and then offers some of his own thoughts as well.
My personal memory of the liturgy prior to Vatican II is an awful one. I remember the daily Requiem Masses screeched by the eighth grade girls of St. Charles Borromeo parish in Peru, Indiana, mandatory prior to the start of every school day, and even with their screeching, the Mass gratefully only lasted about twenty minutes. Communion distributed to the kneeling at the altar rail was more comic than reverent (remember hearing the words “Corpus Domini. . .as the priest started at one end and then eternam” as he reached the thirtieth person kneeling?). Also strong in my memory remain Masses on Holy Days of Obligation when at the beginning of Mass, during the Offertory and at the Pater Noster, the assistant priests would come out and give communion to anyone who needed to “duck out” and get back to work (this was especially true at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York even when the Cardinal was the celebrant). Adult choirs attempting Mozart were only slightly better in most churches than the eighth grade girls at St. Charles. My grandparents and parents taught us to distract ourselves during Mass by following their example and either praying the Rosary continuously throughout Mass or attempting to follow along using a Missal which had Latin on one side of the fold and the English translation on the other. It was mystery, for sure, but not the kind of mystery which is reverentially spoken of now for the past. Monsignor Wadsworth calls in his talk for more attention to be paid by celebrants to the General Instruction to the Roman Missal which guides the liturgical celebration. I agree but he had better be careful for the growing practice of shielding the celebrants from congregants with candles and crosses of such size as to block the vision of many at Mass is explicitly forbidden in the same GIRM. In this diocese, we have a diocesan sponsored Latin Mass in what is called the Tridentine Rite each Sunday at the Cathedral. About 150 people attend. I increased its opportunity from every other week to every week when I came. There is also a Latin Mass offered in Hernando county and a Tridentine Mass offered in Pasco county. Work is being done to see about the possibility of the same for Hillsborough county. But there is far from a deafening roar of the crowd for such opportunities. I am on vacation as I write this and substituting for the pastor of a one priest, large parish who uses the opportunity of my presence to get about the only genuine vacation he can. The people in this parish sing beautifully, participate fully and reverently, receive the Eucharist with great respect and the older congregation would not like to return to what they knew as I knew when we grew up. There is always work which needs to be done to achieve a beautiful and spiritually inviting celebration of the Eucharist. However, I hope ICEL which is predominantly paid for by U.S. Catholics will keep its focus on better rendering of texts and not on “the style of celebration.” I also found very painful the Monsignor’s slam at the closing Mass of the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin last month. Applause came at very appropriate moments during the closing liturgy (e.g., at the conclusion of the Holy Father’s words) and not for performance as he suggests and the bishops of Ireland with all they are dealing with were hoping that up-until-now a largely non-participatory membership would find in the style of celebration something to long for in their home parishes.
A second article which I found spot-on appeared in the WALL STREET JOURNAL by William McGurn last Tuesday. You can access it by clicking here. (Please note that the online version is password protected. You would need an account to view it.) McGurn shows what would happen in CHItown if and when the HHS mandate as currently read becomes the law and clearly makes the case that the Church is not out to change the nation’s contraceptive policies except when and if they contradict the institutional conscience of the Church. That’s the heart of the religious liberty issue of which I have written and spoken so often.
The third article was written by Russell Shaw, a former colleague of mine at the NCCB/USCC and someone whom I still respect though occasionally with whom I respectfully differ. Shaw’s article, which you can read by clicking here, concerns the appointment of a veteran American journalist as a communication specialist for the Holy See (make that the Pope and his curia). Greg Burke knows the inner workings of the Vatican as well as any outsider which makes me amazed that he agreed to accept the position. A number of years ago, the late Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia convinced his friend Pope John Paul II that he needed an American communication specialist and suggested his own diocesan editor, the late Cardinal John Foley. Foley’s bags were yet unpacked when some in the curia went to work to minimize his influence and presence. Burke should well remember that story and sad outcome. Anyway, if he can get them to understand that the manner of the message is just as important as perhaps its content, he will have made a major contribution. It is my understanding that he will not be the spokesman for the Holy See but a behind the scenes consultant. The question is, “how much behind the scenes?” The U.S. bishops also think we need a “new face” in the face of media hostility. Good luck when the new face makes one or two particular bishops mad.
Along the same line is a fourth article made available once again by the “mother of all ecclesial blogs,” which you can access by clicking here. Several years ago the Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano employed a woman columnist named Lucetta Scaraffia to write occasional pieces on women in the Church for the paper. While the world does not need another Maureen Dowd of the New York Times it is breathtaking to me that someone in the Church in Rome felt strongly enough to have a woman attempt to speak to and for women. We are a male dominated Church and that is very true of the central administration. Here in the United States, bishops increasingly bring women into every important position in administration which does not by law require ordination. For most of my time here, I have had the incredible, loyal to the Church and loving of it, even in its faults and failures, presence of women in my highest positions. There is indeed something called feminine intuition and the Church would do well to pay more attention to it. I wish the columnist well at the principle information organ of the Holy See, but we shall see. In the end, a successful administration boils down to consultation, collaboration, and commitment to sharing responsibility. As a Church, I agree that we can be a little short on some if not all three.
The late Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston was fond of saying this about the Church: “we may be difficult but we are never boring.”
Now its back to reading my fourth novel of the last ten days.