We have waited long enough for the Missal
Non-Catholics sometimes depict the Church as run by a mercilessly efficient central bureaucracy. They obviously have no experience of the way it goes about reforming its English-speaking liturgy, which is in the best traditions of the civil service of a Central American republic during a heatwave.
Catholics have been waiting for a new translation of the Mass for several years. After much politicking, during which traditionalists in the Vatican managed to thin out the ranks of the Left-leaning liturgists who composed the current English Novus Ordo, a draft Mass appeared in 2003. Unfortunately, despite moments of poetry and majesty, this more literal rendering of the Latin had a slightly clunking quality that irritated the bishops of England and Wales. They sent it back to the translators without enthusiasm. The American bishops disliked it even more, not only on account of its supposedly “English” flavour, but also because – horrors of horrors – it “imposed a sacred speech” on the Mass.
It will be interesting to see how sympathetic Pope Benedict is to that objection. Indeed, it will be interesting to watch how the first truly Anglophone pontiff for decades, who speaks our language with elegant precision, reacts to the waffle and hand-wringing of liturgists who, years ago, were charged by Pope John Paul II with producing a new translation of the Mass without unnecessary delay.
Perhaps the solution lies, as the Vox Clara commission has suggested, in sanctioning different translations for different parts of the English-speaking world; that way, our transatlantic brethren can cling on to some of the Americanisms that they foisted on British parishes at the end of the 1960s. There is no reason why the Pope should object to such an arrangement, already in place in the Spanish-speaking world: he is, in fact, a strong believer in legitimate liturgical diversity, which is why he is keen to remove obstacles in the way of Catholics who wish to celebrate the traditional Latin, Byzantine and Oriental Rites of Mass.
The crucial point is that the Benedictine reform of the liturgy, eagerly awaited by so many Catholics (by no means all of them theological conservatives), cannot begin in this country until the right Missal is in place. As the former Cardinal Ratzinger argued in his magnificent book The Spirit of the Liturgy, liturgical renewal must incorporate a complete aesthetic of worship; but there is little point in commissioning urgently needed musical settings of the Mass if bishops and scholars are still squabbling over the words and endlessly pushing back the deadline for publication.
A further twoor three-year delay in producing a new and better translation of the Missal is inexcusable; it will be a brave liturgist who tries to justify it to this particular Pope.