Christine Gilsen reflecting on Angela Hanley’s address in Portlaoise
The text of the address by Angela Hanley on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests, dated 14th June 2011, has prompted me to convey my position regarding the implementation of the new English missal translation. My natural inclination is to keep silent about this matter, except in ‘safe circles’ where I feel free to say what I believe without fear of being condemned. However, after much reflection, I realise that if I am to respond authentically to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I need to be true to my conscience and articulate how things are for me.The new English missal translation sits uneasily with me for a number of reasons. I am not going to list all the arguments here, but I feel uncomfortable in that it is being forced on us; it uses non-inclusive language and some of the sentences are clumsy and contain
words that are not commonly used in the English language.
In his recent book, A New Vision For The Catholic Church: A View from Ireland, Jesuit theologian, Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, quotes Pope Pius XI, “The church, the mystical body of Christ, has become a monstrosity. The head is very large, but the body is shrunken”. Father
O’Hanlon argues that in order to reverse this, we need to embody new structures in the Catholic Church that will allow the full participation of lay people, particularly women. I am concerned that the enforcement of the new missal translation will not feed and water the people of God in the way God intended, and that our shrunken body will shrivel up like a raisin and be unable to produce any fruit.We know that the Holy Spirit chooses to speak and inspire each woman, man and child in a way that is best for that particular person and for the People of God. When the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, she spoke in the native language of each person (Acts 2:6). Some witnesses were amazed, whilst others sneered (Acts 2: 12-13). It is Peter who explains that this was what was spoken through the prophet Joel, “in the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, … Even upon my slaves, both men and women, … I will pour out my spirit: and they shall prophesy. It is this same Holy Spirit who has prompted me to write.
God has also given us freedom to make choices and some people may choose to listen to God through a language that is not in their native tongue, for example, through Latin or through the direct translation of Latin in the new missal. The amount of promotional literature and money spent on the new missal is testimony to the importance of this for some people.
However, the difficulty is that whilst most English speaking people understand the type of English that is spoken, for example, on English speaking television news channels, many of the people of God do not fully understand or cannot relate to the direct translation of Latin that is in the new missal.
How can we move forward, especially when so many people feel alienated and rejected?
Angela Hanley talks about reason. Reason is God given and reason tells me it is necessary to implement the teachings of Vatican II and to communicate with God in the liturgy, in a way that the majority of people can understand.There is no fully satisfactory solution and following a period of discernment, I regret that I have been left with two painful choices.
- If I choose to attend a Eucharist that uses the
new mass translation , I would be contributing to the repression and alienation of many of God’s people, especially women, through endorsing liturgy that stifles the body of Christ, rather than encouraging and building it up. My compliance in certain sections of the mass would only be lip service and false at that. The Gospels are full of instances showing Jesus restoring individuals to their best selves, despite all efforts to prevent this by the religious of the day: The woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:3-11); the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:1-42), and the healing of the man with the withered hand (Mk 3:1-6), are just a few examples that come to mind. It is clear that encouraging and building up the person is what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the Kingdom. In light of this, my conscience will not let me go along with the new missal translation because I could not look Jesus in the eye and tell him, “Lord, I have tried to do what I can to bring about the Kingdom and I have not knowingly contributed to the repression of your people”. On the other hand, my presence at such a mass would contribute to the ‘we’ of that particular community, rather than the individualistic ‘I’, albeit through a model of community that is non-inclusive.
- The celebration of mass within small communities, where priests at present use inclusive language, is already an alternative for people I know. Some priests will refuse to fully implement the new missal translation within these communities. My full participation at such an inclusive Eucharist would enable me to listen and respond to God and to my brothers and sisters, without the distraction of performing mental gymnastics in order to feel included and involved in the liturgy. This would naturally result in enabling each person to have the ‘life in abundance’ that Jesus tells us is the reason he came to us, and through our authentic communion with God, we would be equipped to reach out and reveal the source of that life, throughout the diverse circumstances we encounter in our daily living. This is the model of the early Christians who “broke bread at home” (Acts 2:46).
After much discernment, the only reasonable conclusion I can come to, is to participate in the mass, wherever possible, within a community that uses inclusive language and where I am enabled to communicate in my native language with God and with my brothers and sisters. On occasions, if this is not possible, I may attend a mass in which the new translation is utilised, while refraining from some of the verbal responses.
As I write, my thoughts and prayers are with all the people in the world who are negatively affected by the decisions of some men. I think especially of people, particularly woman, who feel rejected by God, simply because God seems to value men more than women and seems not to speak in a way that most people, especially women, can relate to, both during mass and throughout other aspects of church life.
I am greatly encouraged by all the people of God, including sisters, brothers, bishops and priests, who reject the abusive model of patriarchal power and control that shrivels up the body of the church, and who strive instead to build up the sort of church that is respective and inclusive of all, as envisaged by Jesus.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is
no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are
one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28)