By NORMAN ST JOHN-STEVAS
THE EFFECT of the English bishops' intemperate statement on the liturgy, like all extreme utterances, has been to produce effects very different from anything the authors had foreseen. It was intended as a Catholic Act of Uniformity, but what it has revealed is the deep and widespread dissatisfaction with the present liturgy and the manner of its imposition on the laity.
Fr Howell, SJ, in his letter of May 23, has sprung to the defence of the bishops, castigating as "unfair" my use of the term dictatorial to describe their statement. It may interest Fr Howell to know that members of the hierarchy themselves are by no means happy about its tone and content.
I understand that the item concerning the liturgical statement was placed low down on the agenda of the relevant hierarchy meeting and, there being no time for the plenary session to discuss it, the matter was delegated to a subcommittee who came up with the offending draft.
No doubt this was then approved by the bishops as a whole, but from long years of committee work I know only too well that it is the first draft that counts, in the sense that only minor modifications tend to be made later. Furthermore, the omission from the statement of any positive teaching on the liturgy and its resort to anethemas aimed at a tiny minority of cranks has also been the subject of private episcopal reservation.
The distinguished Jesuit appears to take the line that it is illegitimate to reject an episcopal statement: so far as I know the infallibility of the English hierarchy is not a doctrine of the Universal Church, and I for one do not subscribe to it.
Fr Howell goes on to say that it is wrong to break the law or to incite others to do so. That may well be so, but I looked in vain through what I had written for any such act or exhortation. What is true of hierarchical statements also applies to papal utterances which must be judged rationally and not treated as though they were magic.
Church leaders are subject to the limitations of the perspective of their own positions and times. There are numerous examples in history appal errors which have subsequently been put right. In the thirteenth century, for example, Innocent IV is found condemning the use of torture by the Inquisition and it was also employed to maintain the government of the papal states.
Boniface VIII in his Bull Unam Sanctam maintained that temporal authority should be subject to spiritual authority: "We further declare, state and define and pronounce as entirely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subjected to the Roman Pontiff."
Innocent lit forbade Jews to exercise any authority over Christians, and they were excluded from public office. Urban VIII acquiesced in the condemnation of Galileo by the Inquisition in the seventeenth century.
I wonder what Fr Howell's
attitude is to a more recent papal statement, the apostolic constitution, Veterum Stolentia, of John XXIII, issued to preserve the use of Latin in seminaries: "We will and command that in seminaries and universities the major sacred sciences should be taught in Latin and that textbooks used by professors should be Latin and that teachers should speak Latin."
If Fr Howell's interpretation of papal authority is right, why are the English bishops not enforcing this law from Ushaw to 'Wonersh?
Of course if one takes a narrow legalistic view of the liturgy Fr Howell is right and there is nothing more to be said on the subject: but if one looks at the facts of the situation different conclusions emerge. The facts of the present liturgical situation are that the laity (and for that matter the clergy) are deeply divided on the issue.
Many devout and loyal Catholics feet that with the imposition of the Pauline Missal they have been rubbed of a vital part of their heritage. Having followed the Tridentine Rite all 'their lives, they cannot understand how what was legitimate, moral and indeed obligatory at one moment, has become illegitimate, sinful and excluded at another.
Fr Howell, blinkered by Canon Law, seems blind to the psychological dimensions of the problem. It is because I am aware of them and not because I subscribe to the views of some of the Latin Mass extremists that I have taken up the issue and have argued for the creation of a legitimate diversity.
In this as in many matters, the Church of England has followed a more sensible policy 'than the Catholic Church, and for this Parliament must take 'some of the credit. The Church of England Worship Regulation Measure was approved by Parliament last year, authorising new services in that Church, but the measure specifically laid down that the Prayer Book service must always be available if wanted by the parish.
Surely this is the right solution for the Catholic Church in England as well? Let there be legitimate freedom rather than a formal uniformity bought at the price of doing violence to many people's deepest desires and convictions,
conclude by a further reference to the credo controversy. It is true that what the Fathers of Nicaea said was ,pisteuomen the Latin translation of which is credinsus and the English "We believe." (See Denzinger s Schoenmetzer Enchiridion Symbolorum Definit ion um et Declarationum: N. 125, Edition XXXIV).
However, this does not dispose of the question since the Creed used in the Roman Missal is the NicaeoConstantinopolitan (see Denzinger op cit 150). This Creed does begin credo and the translation of that can only be "I Believe."
How odd that the centuriesold tradition of the Woman Rite should be set aside by a group of experts acting in the name of the Bishop of the Roman See: but liturgists unfortunately appear to have no saving sense of irony.