Thursday, January 22, 2004

Peace, all. John Allen's piece this week on liturgical language glee fills me with much concern. I'm not worried about the clock getting turned back on Vatican II. Not at all. I just can't see any good coming from a widespread change in liturgical language. If Latin transliterated into 19th century English was really an ideal, it would be the subject of an experiment: redo the Eucharistic Prayers and Prefaces, maybe the rest of the presider's prayers. Fiddling with people's memorized responses at Mass will not be successful. And I say that not with glee, but from my long experience in dealing with Catholics in the pew at Mass. I have a list of reasons. 1. People will not page through missalettes for responses they memorized thirty years ago. 2. Latin to English is one thing, especially when Catholics tended to be more obedient. English to different English is another matter entirely. 3. My medium-conservative graying parish has taken to head-nodding like a cat takes to water. A few swim and frolic in it. I'd say about 60% don't bother, and that percentage has doubled since Advent began. Parishes that have dealt with sex abuse, embezzlement, or even the small stuff will resist this language not because of liberal sensibilities, but because the people who promulgate it have lost so much credibility. 4. Catholics simply aren't obedient to things they see as irrelevant. Big items and small: contraceptives, Sunday Mass attendance, hymns at 7:30 AM Mass, showing up for adult ed -- stuff like that. 5. New language is simply unenforceable. I predict that most Catholics will stumble over any significant number of new responses or they will keep quiet. A few battleground parishes might see dueling phrases. You thought it was bad when people vied to outshout "It is right to give God thanks and praise"? Wait till the whole Mass becomes a tussle. It won't be pretty. I predict the few "faithful" priests who insist on wording will get more crossed arms and silent lips. The point is not language on the page, but praise of God on the tongue. And most priests will be unsympathetic to this. If they don't push the thing, and the people already have the old words memorized, who's going to enforce the changes? This whole affair shows up a curia out of touch with worship sensibilities. But for one reason, I would actually welcome these radical changes. It will give Catholics the opportunity to express the sense of the faithful and reject the entrenchment. And my one reason? A serious one. It will further the marginalization of worship in the lives of more ordinary Catholics. At a time when church leaders should be strategizing on how to get more people in the pews, we will be giving marginal Catholics yet another reason to stay home.

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