Finbarr Corkery on the New Missal
“ Meanwhile ,Catholic clergy worry about the new translation of the Roman Missal rather than trying to ensure that there will be people in churches to use it.” Studies 100:398: editorial.
The Irish Catholic church is in a crisis situation. This sentiment is repeated on a regular basis and official statistics from many sources seem to confirm it. It implies a loss of stability and predictability. More importantly it suggests a lost era of belief.
The impression of public acquiescence to the social and political edicts of the church from the foundation of the state up to the 1960’s is reasonably based. I lived through the era of bishops throwing in the ball at (important) GAA matches following a rendition of Faith of our Father’ s. Bishops lived in palaces. The parish priest was a dominant social force. Dancing could be banned during lent. One could go on. It was a poor country. The percentage of people going on to second level education was small with still less availing of third level. We did not have television; supporting “foreign games” and English newspaper reading had a political significance. All but a few were Catholic.
It was dull living through it and grim in retrospect. The level of religious practice was high but I cannot recall any Christian underpinning of national social policy or discussion on it. The role accorded to women was simply humiliating. The attitudes underlying taught sexual mores were dysfunctional and wrong. Hierarchies were the norm. In general we knew our place and accepted it (in public at any rate). The Catholic Church accepted (or engineered) its role as a controlling force in Irish society; a parallel government, a state institution. I am not convinced that this reflected personal religious beliefs on the part of individual citizens. It was the way things were. In so far as this has changed then certainly the era of social stability and predictability is over. Formal church membership and attendance is significantly reduced. But is this an Irish phenomenon or indeed a church phenomenon?. Writing in the Financial Times of Saturday 2nd. of July Anthony King says —–“ the membership of [ political] parties worldwide is declining or in free fall. Only in countries such as China is it still growing——-“. ”For millions of individuals private pursuits increasingly trump social pursuits.” —-“ Voters may broadly sympathize with one or other party but if they differ from it on issues that really matter to them they are unlikely to join it “. It is at least a reasonable hypothesis to suggest that these sentiments could be applied to the Irish Catholic Church.
What then of the other aspect of change viz. a loss of belief ? It is impossible to describe or quantify belief; it is only possible to assert it as personal mental state. It seems likely that most people have an inchoate sense of a supernatural aspect to their lives and the world. The hostility shown by some publicly proclaimed atheists to such an attitude suggests that they have a fear of it; if it so obviously wrong why not just give it a little time to fade away and die?. It does seem though that what people are prepared to believe is governed by the prevailing level of contemporaneous world knowledge. We know that a person suffers a fatal heart attack because of a blockage in a blood vessel and not because a personal God decides to end their lives at that instant. We know that illness is not a representation of demonic possession though the gospels describe a culture that did believe this. It seems that a religious faith is to support “why” rather than tell us “how”. Thus it is likely to exist as a backdrop to most peoples lives most of the time and not as a determinant of each individual act and attitude of ordinary living. This does not mean indifference though of itself it does not constitute commitment to the Christian religion. This requires a further step and it is at this level, rather than head counting, that a problem exists. It requires a shared belief with other people (each in their own individual way) in a triune God, revelation, the ten commandments, the incarnation, the sacraments with a special role for the Eucharist and the teachings of Jesus as contained in the gospels. This, presumably, is one definition of a church but it is the only concept, which actually matters. Everything else is “an add on”. As the church grew an administrative structure evolved which in turn led to a control structure assuming powers for itself. What characterized the Roman Catholic church (within the Christian tradition) was assigning a dual identity to itself. On one hand there is the church as human thus explaining some of the sordid and reprehensible events in its history; on the other a divinely informed and protected entity capable of defining certain beliefs as irrevocable truths the acceptance of which is mandatory if one wishes to remain in God’s favour. Recognising a dividing line between these properties must be a source of difficulty. I feel neither senior church officials nor the laity, in their separate different ways, have dealt with it.
The problems experienced by some clergy in connection with the missal translation may be symptomatic of dissatisfaction with power and control within the church. Some members of the laity would certainly sympathize with this. I feel it might ultimately prove to be a more productive line of discussion than concentrating on a wording of the missal.