Friday, February 10, 2012

My belated two cents plus interest on Missal 3.0

My church hadn't done much to prepare for the new liturgy, so I expected things to be rocky, but I found myself on the first Sunday of Advent out of town.  I thought to post this sooner but most of my traveling during the year happens around the holidays, so it seemed worthwhile to wait and watch how things were going at five different churches in four dioceses.  Also, I forgot to finish writing this up until now.

It was the middle of January before the changes seemed to feel more or less natural to everyone.  A few people still say "and also with you"--at random times I also forget--and I still have to refer to that tri-fold handbill for parts of the Creed, the Gloria, and the Holy Holy Holy.  I think "consubstantial" stuck out enough that everyone learned that first.

I like the changes, overall.  I'd been looking forward to them for a while, since Jimmy Akin started posting excerpts back whenever it was.  Some I wasn't too fond of for aesthetic reasons; "seen and unseen" seems to roll off the tongue a little more smoothly than "visible and invisible," and to my ears it understates the idea with a little poetic flair that I always thought served well as emphasis.  What's the opposite of hyperbole?  Hypobole?  Parabole?  Anyway, the meaning of "seen and unseen" was never unclear to me, it just sounded like an archaic yet compact way of saying "everything there is to see and everything not permitted to mortal eyes," but on the other hand, it's less precise in modern language.  "Unseen" could mean "visible but out of sight."  "Invisible" means "unseeable."  One might say it's a more technical term, like "consubstantial;" it forces a more accurate depiction of the concept, and I'm all for precision and accuracy, at least short of becoming pedantic.  Plus, I'm a child of Vatican II so I have no memory of the Tridentine mass.

As well as being more precise, it helps to elevate the language; there's poetic language, but there's crappy verse and then there's elegant verse, and I can't really argue that the places in the old translation that sounded nicer than the new translation were really worth the risk of misinterpretation, like "for all" at the consecration of the Precious Blood being taken as conclusive proof of universal salvation.

I think it's just going to take a little getting used to.  The old translation was only fifty years old but it was defended for its antiquity and pedigree like one might have thought more appropriate for the Liturgy of Saint James.  The new translation has its own rhythms and we'll get used to them, the new music written to fit the new words will become familiar, although it seems like a majority of the sung responses I've experienced so far have been in minor keys or obscure modes that don't flow with the rest of the mass.  It's almost like some of the composers trying to bring the hymnody up to speed occasionally forgot the difference between solemn and somber.  Personally I'm going to miss the Gloria from mass setting 3 the most; it was elegant and I think comes from a place where familiarity made it easy to compose something beautiful.  Even though liturgists have been working on the new translation longer than we've been seeing it, it's still chafes in a few places, like a new pair of shoes might, and like new shoes will have to endure a breaking-in period.  Or maybe we're the shoes, really.

I haven't heard a lot of complaints, myself.  One other person commenting on how the changes don't flow as well as the old translation.  A secondhand or thirdhand reference to someone claiming oppression at the sixty-year-old novel translation that was more easily abused and less carefully protected (indeed, I sometimes wonder if part of the motivation to promulgate this new translation is to cut off hangers-on of liturgical abuses cleanly, instead of letting them think this is one more thing they can corrupt according to their own preference) being replaced by this one.  An admitted cynic wondering if the publisher of the missals managed to bend an ear of the secretariat of the Congregation for Divine Worship and hatch a very profitable conspiracy.  Another wondering why Rome is bothering with all this when there's a sex abuse scandal to deal with.  Another from a priest saying "stick with 'and also with you'--I'm more than just a spirit!"  One occurrence of not liking how the centurion's prayer now goes "my soul shall be healed" instead of "I shall be healed."  Another thinking "consubstantial" is pretentious.  Another feeling that the communal feel of saying "We believe" in the Creed is more important than whatever is achieved by saying "I believe."

All these criticisms are interesting, if not altogether valid.  I try not to criticize the liturgy too much, because it's just too easy for me to start seeing all the things done badly (and so many of them would be so easy to do correctly) and too easy to compound the ways I'm not paying attention to what I should, but perhaps this is the least bad time to make an exception, if not actually a good time to do so.  I will say a few things and then comment on the criticism I have heard, and that will be all for, I hope, a good long time.  It's not altogether relevant, but as long as we're changing the mass, I may as well point out a few bothersome things, some of which I have mentioned before, and then I shall hold my tongue until and unless I witness some flagrant abuses that need to be brought to the attention of the local ordinary and the CDW; rest assured, you'll hear about it too.

To liturgical ministers or whomever, whose decision it was to have people in the back of the church come forth for communion first, drop the attempt to shoehorn in some "last shall be first" symbolism.  The best symbolic acts arise naturally, with meaning ascribed to them after they manifest, rather than being deliberately constructed by man; or they have already been put in place hundreds or thousands of years ago.  The people sitting in the front do so not because they're proud, nor those in the back because they're humble.  It's like insisting, contrary to the allowances of canon law, that we all "stand together" during communion in some long standing local tradition that may not go back even as far as my childhood, as if uniformity of posture could somehow contribute to or surpass the communion we all share in those moments through the Eucharist; or worse yet, in some look-at-me-not-God moment, suggesting that we should have married priestesses because when they're pregnant "this is my body given for you" takes on added dimensions.  No; all starting communion from the back of the church does is divert everyone's attention away from the sanctuary and the Sacrament and toward the row behind them so they know when they can exit the pew.  Those ushers who try to do the crowd control thing, tell us when to go and when to wait?  Useless.  They sneak up, effectively if not deliberately, through the cloud of people who missed their cue to get in line in the aisle, maybe make a gesture supposed to indicate it's your turn to go but you can't see it if you're not already watching closely enough to pick them out of the crowd, and blow past you if you're not on top of things.  I doubt it's just me because as I said it's a cloud more than a stream of people and I see it in every church that has this practice.  Maybe if there were some way of identifying them as ushers we could tell they weren't just confused and trying to get to communion themselves--except, no, that hasn't been working.  If they started with people from the front, the congregation could start filing out as soon as the Eucharistic ministers came down from the altar, and we only need to keep a small fraction of our awareness on the people around us so we know when to go, instead of turning around to watch the pews behind us empty out.

To the music ministers, please abandon attempts to inject music, in whole or in part, to the petitions; it always ends up as "We pray, to the, Lord hear our prayer."  It's weird, it's a run-on sentence.  Make it stop.

To whomever who came up with the idea of turning everyone into a minister of hospitality, can we dispense with the de facto sign of peace before mass?  We have one in the middle of mass already, and that one's in the rubrics.  If I want to socialize, I'll meet you in the narthex after mass; I'm not going to respond effectively to "Rise and greet those around you!" or "Get to know each other a little bit" five seconds before the processional.  Either I already know those around me or I've no hope of instantly befriending them simply by your command.  Want me to feel welcome?  Do something that may actually make me feel welcome.  If you have to tell people to welcome me, it's already failed.

To the fans of mutating a mutable and recent liturgy, I say you brought it on yourselves and should not be shocked that a decades-old rite can be replaced despite any familiarity, habituation, or preference after a centuries-old rite has been replaced.  I'm sorry, but of all the arguments, that isn't a good one.  You'll just have to get used to it, like you did e-mail and DVDs.

To the cynic, I say even if there is a conspiracy to sell more books, those books would have to be replaced someday anyway and all the reasons given to justify the changes, such as weeding out some of the loopier "hymns," are legitimate anyway.

To the jaded person with different priorities, I say there's no reason why Rome can't address the Scandal in the news papers and liturgical scandal at the same time.  It would be like complaining that malfeasance on the part of the public defender in Asheville should be tolerated until the animal control unit in Bismarck can get that coyote problem under control.  Most of the sizzle these days in the Scandal is the media breaking twenty year old cases--not all, God help us, but most--and it's too late to try rechanneling efforts (I'm also no fan of the "your first priority should be your only priority or you welcome judgment upon your apathy" school of thought, either, if it hadn't already become obvious).  There's always going to be a scandal of some sort, anyway; comes with the territory of a Church and a world populated by sinners.

To whoever thinks "consubstantial" is pretentious or a sign of overthinking things, I say you'll get used to it; it's an appropriate formal term, and one that shouldn't continue to bother you if you can tolerate occasional long Greek expressions like Eucharist and Kyrie Eleison; and "overthinking things" is what enables us to ask intelligent questions about complicated matters instead of just picking the tidiest answer and sticking with it despite new information; it's what makes available answers to questions pondered for centuries, so you don't have to rely on your own research skills or the flaky memory of a local pastor (see also G.K. Chesteron's "never mind nutrition and medicine; why can't we just all enjoy Health?" bit).  Don't like it?  Don't worry about it.  We have highly sophisticated and nuanced canon law, too, but that's more something for canon lawyers to worry about than we rank and file.

To the priest who insists he's not just a spirit, I say it's not about him at all, but about the Spirit working within him that effects the sacraments at his hands, and we're not there to glorify a man in the cloth.

To the one preferring to hear about all healing over only spiritual healing, I sympathize, but please remember that we're all going to ail and die from this life and ultimately our spiritual health is all that will matter.

But I have to say, although "born of the Father before all ages" doesn't bring the same connotation to my ears as "eternally begotten of the Father," sounding more like a temporal kind of event that just happened to take place outside of time, I do like the ring of it.  "Eternity" means something closer to "equally present to all points of time at once" and is usually mistaken to mean "time progressing infinitely into the future," but "born before all ages," never mind how someone can be born of a father in the first place, better communicates that the Second Person of the Trinity really is "older" than time; "eternally begotten" is such a peculiar phrase it's easy to forget it has any particular meaning, but "born" is still a common word, so that "born of a father" really conveys a mysterious idea, and "before all ages" may do better to indicate that the Son is not just outside of common time but predates all Creation.

And I have to add, I'm glad the last item in the handbill they published that summarizes the changes is headed "Concluding Rites" and "Dismissal."  So often I hear the recessional announced as "our sending-forth song,"  and I get that it's supposed to emphasize us being sent out into the world rather than saying "Okay, you don't have to be here after this song's done, or sneak out before we get to the refrain if you can't wait;" a reminder of the Great Commission, but it just sounds flat, almost Newspeakwise; like the other changes and abused I griped about, it's like a human attempt to pump emphasis into something that ultimately was given to us by God.  "Sending-forth" would work in German, and corresponds somewhat better than badly with the "Gathering hymn" at the beginning of mass, but in English...well, if "Ite, missa est,"  whence may come "sent" (the root for "mission") as much as "dismissed," is good enough to get the word "mass" from, then "recessional" is as good a way to end the mass and bookend the "processional" as anything.

I still hear "sending-forth" sometimes, but hopefully we're at the dawn of an era of liturgy more careful in meaning as well as in construction. I've already rambled and griped about things I've been seeing at church but I've witnessed similar phenomena in technical writing, where inexperienced or unskilled authors feel the key to writing in a professional style involves not just heavy use of jargon but stilted, dry sentence construction, as if it will sound appropriately high-level because it sounds so unnatural.  Perhaps I am a good example of that phenomenon.  Either way, this may be a good opportunity to correct such misconceptions.

And hopefully clear out some of the other liturgical detritus.

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