More of the same
…and then some...

Part I

22 February 2012

        If Novus Ordo Catholics really believe that the new English translation of their liturgy resounding in churches throughout the land is utterly pure and orthodox, they had better think again.  The truth is that the long process of updating by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has been mired in a mess of controversy which, besides being convoluted and paradoxical, tends to cloud the key issue of defining exactly what the “old translation” was.  Most media accounts give the impression that this was a true rendition in the vernacular of the traditional Latin Mass, and the vast majority of nominal Catholics out there seem to accept this as gospel.  Those under the age of 55, of course, grew up with it, and most have known nothing else.  To be sure, the recent controversy over the latest translation has done a lot to expose their incredible depth of ignorance in regards to what truly constitutes a Mass and what merely passes for one in local parishes.

        For a closer look at the current debacle, let us back up to 2007, when an article by Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., chair of the U.S. Bishop’s Council on the Liturgy, was published in America that attacks the new translation of the Novus Ordo then being proposed and developed by the ICEL, and defends the “old” one promulgated in 1969, and revised slightly by 1975.  Since the latter is decades old, it must seem quite established to Catholics out there!  How dare anyone suggest changing it!  Or so Bishop Trautman, who turned 75 last year, seems to say.  He refuses to admit the “old” translation might stand in need of correction.  On the contrary: he blasts such a possibility!  Those who don’t know better might even assume that the “new” one to which he objects is more liberal, or even radical in its choice of words, but, for the most part, such is not the case.  Some of it, in fact, more closely resembles the very old translations of certain prayers found in missals used for Tridentine Masses!  Still, the latter rite differs drastically from both versions of the Novus Ordo.  In all the hoopla, this basic fact is being obscured.

        Like most liberal bishops, Trautman uses his authority to undermine orthodoxy rather than defend it.  The irony is that in opposing the “new” translation of the Novus Ordo, he reveals, inadvertently or otherwise, the revolutionary nature of the rite in general.  In so doing he assumes the topsy-turvy role of a mitered liberal wielding power and might over lowly souls in the name of communal equality.  Thus, defending the “old,” looser translation of certain prayers, he tells us that in order for our Catholic liturgy to be “truly pastoral,” it must be “owned by the people” and express the “contemporary language” of the culture.  All this takes precedence over a too-literal, word-for-word method.  No, the “authentic prayer of the people,” i.e. of “the person in the pew,” he says, “must reflect their “linguistic style.”  But, he asks, does the new translation do this?  Can “John and Mary Catholic” really fathom phrases like “consubstantial to the Father,” and “incarnate of the Virgin Mary?”  Or hard words like “sullied,” “unfeigned,” “ineffable,” “gibbet,” and “thwart?”

        He thinks not — but doesn’t bother to ask what we think, either.

        Such a condescending tone makes us wonder whether Trout — or Trautman, rather, has pondered the meaning of the gospel phrase “fishers of men.”  Since this describes what a bishop should be, we must ask: does our Erie prelate truly fit the pattern for a successor of the apostles?  Or does he act more like a big fish in a slimy pond where it’s sink or swim, and ideas of any depth are twisted so as to elude the grasp of tadpoles like us?

        Puffed up to the gills, he concludes with a challenge to folks out there to “Speak up! Speak up!”  So George Weigel, in the Denver Catholic Register for June of 2007, does just that, though not in a way the bishop probably expected.  Sounding more than a little miffed, Weigel insists that “John and Mary Catholic”, far from being ignorant, are well educated and informed, that for over 40 years they have been “scratching their heads” over how et cum spiritu tuo became “the supremely clunky” response, “and also with you.”  Furthermore, he says, the list of other liturgical clunkers replacing Latin phrases which John and Mary Catholic really do understand “could be multiplied ad infinitum and ad nauseam.”

        To sum up, Weigel says, “We’re not morons.”  Nor in his opinion is Bishop Trautman, who has a doctorate in theology from a pontifical university in Rome.  Indeed, for Weigel it’s supremely puzzling how a prelate of such intelligence and learning can appear to “defend the indefensible,” i.e. the “See-Spot/See-Spot-Run vocabulary and syntax” that characterizes what was then the official English translation of the Latin Mass.  Whereas it’s a general principle that “pastoral” does not mean “dumbed down,” he notes, this is in fact the strategy many “professional liturgists” have taken in what he calls “the post-Vatican II translation wars.”  He thinks the liberals have now lost and is confident that the new ICEL translations will bring “far more fidelity to the Latin originals” and represent a big step in the right direction.  Thus he looks forward to “deeper, more prayerful encounter” with what Trautman calls “the greatest gift of God, the Eucharist.”

        So writes Weigel.

        But . . . is this “gift” being celebrated in parish churches truly the sacrament instituted by Christ?  Or do the problems with the Novus Ordo liturgy go deeper than translation, into its very essence?  Few speak of this, of course.  As stated above, the media glosses over or totally ignores the true extent of the changes forced on John and Mary Catholic over the past 40-odd years.  Most people today do not know how the Novus Ordo liturgy in Latin or vernacular differs from the traditional Mass.  When it comes to such basics not even the average priest in the pew seems to get it.  So we wonder: Has the gradual “dumbing down” of clergy and faithful for over half a century succeeded to such a degree that even smart guys like Weigel fail to see the total extent of the damage?  (We don’t include Trautman in this category because we figure he must know more than he lets on.)  Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of Catholics have defected from the faith, and those who do attend the Novus Ordo week after week, month after month, year after year, have in the process undergone a conditioning that cannot help but dull their religious sensibility.  It’s a form of brainwashing, akin to that experienced by Protestants during the transitional period of the so-called “Reformation”.

        So it only makes sense that, knowing the history, British converts should be numbered among the first to protest the changes in the liturgy for the benefit of the English-speaking public.  During the transitional phase of the 1960’s, British author Evelyn Waugh, for one, complained in letters to Archbishop Heenan about how the Mass was turning into a communal meal.  And he died before the final result was dished out for the faithful!  Traditional Catholics in this country, of course, are familiar with the writings of converts Hugh Ross Williamson and Michael Davies, whose books relate facts about the liturgical changes of the 1960’s and ’70’s and how these parallel those of the Protestant Reformation.  Davies also provides lots of scintillating quotes; Pope Paul’s New Mass, for instance, includes a famous one by Joseph Gelineau, S.J., an “authority on the liturgy.”  In 1976, Fr. Gelineau, writing about liturgical changes, stated that:

        If the formulae change the rite is changed.  If a single element is changed the signification of the whole is modified.  Let those who like myself have known and sung a Latin-Gregorian High Mass remember it if they can.  Let them compare it with the Mass that we now have.  Not only the words, the melodies, and some of the gestures are different.  To tell the truth, it is a different liturgy of the Mass (c’est une autre liturgie de la messe).  This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists (le rite romain tel que nous l’avons connu n’existe plus).  It has been destroyed.  (Il est detruit.)  Some walls of the former edifice have fallen while others have changed their appearance, to the extent that it appears today either as a ruin or the partial substructure of a different building. 

        Less well known to Catholics in this country is another former Anglican, Fr. Hugh S. Thwaites, S.J., who converted while serving in the British army during World War II.  In an article for Homiletic & Pastoral Review published in November 2001, he states flatly that Paul VI had initiated the liturgical changes in order to attract Protestants back into the church.  Accordingly, during the course of revamping the liturgy, this “pope” solicited the help of Protestant “observers” who subsequently claimed they had made “positive contributions” to the new text.  The outcome was that there is nothing in the new “Mass” that “could offend Protestants in any way.”

        Nor is Fr. Thwaites alone in his stance.  Joining him is none other than Annibale Bugnini, chief architect of the new liturgy, who gave away the game-plan in an article that graced the pages of L’Osservatore Romano back in March of 1965: “We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is, for the Protestants.”

        On and on. . .

        In a recent piece for Catholic Family News, John Vennari alludes to Bugnini’s words and to those of journalist Jean Guitton as quoted in a 2004 Christian Order article by Michael McGrade.  A “close friend and confident” of Paul VI, Guitton reportedly said the following in a radio interview during the 1990’s:

        “The intention of Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy — but what is curious is that Paul VI did that to get as close as possible to the Protestant Lord’s supper. . .  There was with Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too catholic, in the traditional sense, and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist Mass.”

        (No wonder those Episcopal and Lutheran ministers I interviewed for my newspaper story on the Novus Ordo back in the ’70’s told me they liked the new “Catholic” rite!)

        And John and Mary Catholic are supposed to believe that the main issue in regards to the liturgy is one of translation?  To be sure, Fr. Thwaites also nixes this notion in his essay, saying that “the compilers of the new missal left nothing to chance.  They gave a decidedly Protestant slant to the original texts.”  Here he is referring to the Latin versions used in the Novus Ordo.  To demonstrate, he cites a prayer for the feast of St. Albert the Great from the Tridentine rite and shows how the updated Novus Ordo texts, both in Latin and English, obscure the doctrine that is voiced clearly in the old version.
        Should we be surprised then at the outcome?

        Fr. Thwaites writes:

        We are living through what in some parts of the Church is a mass apostasy.  And maybe the new Mass, which came from Paul VI’s desire to bring Protestants back to the faith of their ancestors, has, for some Catholics, done just the opposite: it has brought them to think and believe and behave like Protestants.

        Comparing the texts of the traditional Mass with that of the Novus Ordo shows the difference is not merely one of translation.  To achieve the latter meant gutting the former, restructuring the whole, giving it a new shape, a new form.  When this occurred, however, no real explanation was given John and Mary Catholic.  Then, as now, the bigwigs in charge tried to make us think that it was a mere matter of editing and translating.  Nothing essential was supposed to be changed.  Ha!  Those of us old enough to remember can recall how, towards the end of the 1960’s, we tried at first to follow along in our old missals, but ended up putting them aside –– temporarily at least.  Since it was a new text altogether, the old translations did not work at all.

        Do they now?

        Out of curiosity this past December, I paid a visit to a local parish on a Saturday evening to observe the Novus Ordo liturgy, which I had not seen in many years.  More than ever it contrasted with the Traditional Mass, which I still attend when I can.  What struck me immediately about the new rite was the tone; while still basically banal, the overall style of the ceremony seemed livelier.  So was the celebrant (or president?).  Back in the ’70’s the priests had been trained in the old rite and in our parish, at least, tended to retain the old solemnity, muttering the new words quietly as they bent over the new-style altar — or table, rather.  This young guy, however, embodied the new way, swooping his arms upwards towards the audience as he projected outwards for our benefit.  Each word was articulated clearly.  Like a politician, he radiated confidence and enthusiasm, even as, at one point, he announced how we all looked forward to the second coming of the Lord.  That was truly news to me, and, not being one to relish the thought of anti-Christ and all that, which must come first, I could not agree.

        Nevertheless, it was some performance!  And the people joined in, though most appeared to be over the age of 45 — or even 50.  I saw no young children, though I did hear a few back in the enclosed room behind me.  One gray-haired man, along with a 40ish woman, both appropriately garbed, served the priest at the altar — or table, rather.  A few boys also graced the area, along with musicians plucking guitars and singing.  To be sure, the former sanctuary has become a stage.  Sitting in the last row, I tried not to join in, but was taken off guard at the Our Father when a complete stranger grabbed one of my hands.  I managed to keep the other free.  While I’d expected the sign — or hug — of peace, this was new to me, and I was careful to depart the scene before my row went up to communion, lest I be swept up in the surge.

        Oddly enough, when I later suggested to a Protestant friend that this might be more like their ritual, she said no, they never held hands while saying the Our Father; not in her Episcopal church.  She seemed to imply this was rather a fundamentalist sort of practice.  Sensing her disapproval, I did not bother to bring up the matter of the hugs and shakes-of-peace that followed.  Nor did I tell her about the nun who had accosted me in my seat at the rear of the church before the liturgy began.  Taking my hand, she introduced herself, and I felt I had no choice but to give my name.

        “That sounds familiar,” she said in response, and I had to wonder if she had been the nun — there were only a few –– who answered the phone at the grade school about 25 years earlier, when I had called to inquire about sending our five-year-old son there the following fall.  Of major concern to us in this regard, however, was the question of orthodoxy.  So I had to inquire: did they teach the Baltimore Catechism?

        “No,” the nun replied, “and if you want that, you won’t be comfortable here.”

        That was that.  The message was clear.  Though I had not even broached the topic of the Mass, she had heard enough to decide we did not fit in.  We were not wanted, in other words.  Consequently we would have neither a local parish nor a Catholic school for our children to attend.  Whereas many Protestants went there, unlike us, they posed no threat to “the community”.  As for the Baltimore Catechism, let me also note something I would discover a few years after my conversation with the nun at the school: it seems a relative of mine, my grandmother’s uncle, to be exact, had attended the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore as a “theologian” for his bishop in 1884.  When the catechism was published a few years later, the bishop, like most of his colleagues, endorsed it with a glowing comment that graces the front pages of the edition I have today.  Ironically, the diocese in question was that of Erie, PA, where Donald Trautman still presides.  That is definite.  Whether or not he holds fast to the beliefs of his predecessors, however, is debatable.

        Yet another question concerns the extent to which this bishop’s views reflect those of his current superior in Rome.  Since Ratzinger backs the new translation and Trautman does not, it would appear that they differ on the issue.  But how far does this go?  As a young seminarian in 1958, Trautman, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., was sent to Innsbruck, where he studied under theologian Karl Rahner, S. J., mentor of Josef Ratzinger.  Indeed, the latter two worked together on documents as so-called periti during the Second Vatican Council.

        As for Rahner’s influence on Trautman, this surely shows in the latter’s dislike for words like “consubstantial,” which the ICEL put back into the translation of the Nicene Creed for the Novus Ordo “mass”.  Indeed, in article after article posted online Trautman is quoted on the issue of the “new” translation; all have him ranting against that very word.  Considering his education, this is understandable, since the late great Karl Rahner rejected the very idea of “substance” as promoted by scholastic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas.  He even rejected the idea of “transubstantiation,” preferring his own less substantive dogma of “transfinalization.”

          So how does Ratzinger fit into all this?  What exactly does he believe, and what does he deny? That is indeed the next question to be considered.

To be continued…

Copyright 2012 by Judith M. Gordon