Fr. James Boyle MHM on liturgical changes and Parish Renewal
Thanks for your correspondence on behalf of ACP, requesting feedback from our pastoral council and liturgical group, re the proposed changes to liturgical texts that are due to come into operation in Advent 2011.
Three of us, Mill Hill Missionaries, provide pastoral care at St. Mary’s city centre church in Belfast. Because of inner city development, very few people now live within our designated parish boundaries, reduced from 5500 to about 350. The 350 are mainly older residents with the traditional understanding that the priest provides church, deeply engrained. It is “the priest is paid to be good, the laity are good for nothing” mentality. It’s a very institutional model of church. There is no Pastoral Council, no liturgy group, nothing. Because very few of the hundreds who attend masses here on a daily basis belong to us, I find it impossible to move on to the model of church we ought to be. Being a priest here is a bit like being an attendant at a petrol station on a motorway. I am unable then to give you feedback from the groups you suggest but I would like to take this opportunity to say some things.
When I was moved to Belfast from Southampton, diocese of Portsmouth over three years ago, I found it very difficult to adjust. My coping skill was telling myself, this is not really a parish but a city centre church. In Southampton we were using LUMKO material which informed us what, in the light of the Documents of Vatican Council II, a parish ought to be. Lumko led us into providing a Community Model of church where a high percentage of parishioners used their gifts and talents to make church available to everyone, irrespective of background, class or colour. Our weekend liturgy was truly a celebration of the faith and achievements of the so many who were making God visible in their neighbourhoods, work places or wherever, with their love, care and availability in the service of the needs of others. I was very happy there and when Bishop Crispian Hollis said at a meeting with our Pastoral Council before I left, ‘that you are a community who can run yourselves with a visiting priest to celebrate mass with you at weekends,’ I was delighted. And they did that for five months until their new PP arrived.
We missionaries used the LUMKO vision of parish to great advantage in our evangelization efforts on foreign mission. I firmly believe that the Lumko vision of what a parish ought to be, delivers the vision of church that Jesus Christ intended. Parish needs to be a community, where God is made real and near to everyone through their care and service of one another. Heaven, the Kingdom of God, is not something in the future. It begins with our loving and caring on earth.
It is my honest opinion that the majority of laity throughout Ireland know little about the proposed liturgical changes due to come into effect on the first Sunday of Advent 2011. It’s all from the top down. Some who read the Catholic newspapers in more detail are aware something is happening but in the main, those who are still coming to church are happy to let bishops and priests get on with it. After all that’s their job!! The People of God in the pews won’t be too concerned if it doesn’t make mass longer! That will be about the extent of their concern.
I’m very much in favour of the ACP suggestion to the Bishops that the implementation of the liturgical changes be put on hold. The laity needs to be properly INFORMED. This is a matter that should be brought up by the six ACP leadership members in their on-going meetings with bishops. The laity should be INFORMED in a Pastoral letter from the Bishop of each diocese, about the proposed changes and the rationale behind the changes. Indeed, the Pastoral letter could be issued from the Irish Bishop’s conference. This pastoral letter would not only be for the benefit of the laity but for priests too. If the bishops are not prepared to issue an information document for the laity, on the liturgical changes, then I would suggest that ACP make a document available that priests could distribute to their people. It is no use looking for a response from PCs or liturgy groups, even if you had them, if members are not well informed. If people could be handed a copy of the proposed liturgical changes and the rationale behind them to read, then I feel there might be useful feedback.
I’m of the opinion that while priests may go ahead with the implementation of the changes many are not convinced that this, even if it was a good idea, is a top priority for the church today. It’s a bit like a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic. Churches are emptying and Rome is blaming this on translation! It’s a joke really! And the cost it is all going to incur is enormous! I don’t really know what the opinion of the Irish bishops is. I empathise with many bishops whom we would hold in high regard. Bishops, whatever their personal opinion, are expected to be subservient to Rome, priests are expected to be subservient to Bishops and the laity will be subservient to priests, and so the INSTITUTION, that is mother church, rolls on. Like other priests, in subservience to my Bishop, I will have to implement the change or choose to opt out of public ministry, but I have no conviction about the usefulness to the church of the proposed changes.
I see the Church as God’s gift to us to be used as an instrumental cause of salvation. The Church is to be a prolongation of the Incarnation in the world. I cannot see how the proposed changes serves any purpose in enabling the taskforce, priests and LAITY , in the implementation of Jesus’ vision for the world, which is the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The reign of God on earth will only happen when we move away from the INSTITUTION model of church and the laity becomes a taskforce, empowered by the Spirit to use their gifts and talents in implementing Jesus’ vision. The priority for magisterium concern at this time ought to be that parishes worldwide are using a model of church where truth, integrity, love, compassion, justice, sharing and taking care of one another prevail. Translation can be put on the back burner for a while.
I follow with interest initiatives different bishops are taking to renew the church in their dioceses. I just wish they would spell out an authentic understanding of church and of its centrality in God’s plan of salvation. Then spell out that the primary place where Christ continues to save us through his church is at parish level. Then set in motion a training process at parish level, for priests and Pastoral Councils, to give clear understanding of what parish ought to be, if it is to deliver what Jesus intended it to deliver. Then spell out the type of leadership that priests need to use at parish level, a leadership that empowers but not controls those whom they are called to serve.
I might suggest the Lumko vision of what a parish ought to be to all bishops serving the Church in Ireland. The training process will take time but it will be time well spent. It will revitalize at the point where revitalising should begin, at parish level. The revitalizing at parish level will evangelize and make the church meaningful to those who have drifted away and to the unchurched who are searching for God. Everyone is searching for meaning in life. When the Church is successful in enabling people to experience God as real and near to them, then it will truly be accomplishing its mission.
Change in liturgical translations ought not to be top of the agenda for Irish Bishops at this time, because that is not why our churches are emptying. Let us stop trying to keep something old, that doesn’t deliver, patched up. Let us begin to build something new. And let us begin building our new model of church at parish level. This is where the vision of Jesus for the world will be realized.
I say to Bishops, having the parishes in your dioceses function in a way that would be in accordance with the mind of Vatican Council II, ought to be top of your agenda. Translation from an old image of church to a new image is the only translation the Holy Spirit needs at this time.