10Jul 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.

6 Responses

  1. Joseph O'Leary

    “ 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.

    I cannot believe that Studies could make such an ignorant statement. The sheer badness of the new translations is a concrete phenomenon, and soon it will not be only a few clerics who have noticed this. The potential consequences in terms of final loss of trust between laity and clergy are impossible to foresee.

    Structural reform is of course necessary — we all see that. But this has been argued about for 50 years, with no practical consequences at all. Maybe Providence will use the disastrous new translations to do what even other scandals failed to effect: get people to take seriously the need of radical structural reform, despite the apparent copper-fastening of every barrier to it by the very people who are bringing us the new translations.

  2. shane

    “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.”

    This wrongly seems to suggest that Ireland’s Catholic culture was an ‘elite’ imposition on a naturally secular populace, rather than a reflection of what people wanted at the time.

  3. David Walsh

    “The Catholic Church in a crisis situation”
    Many people agree with this notion but I have been thinking lately that how can the Church – the real church of Christ – be in crisis when Jesus promised to be with us. Is it not that his followers are losing faith in his power and feeling helpless in face of a challenge. It seems to me that the church is challenged more now than it has for perhaps centuries. Under the weight of scandal, mismanagement, attack by media, changing culture, etc. Christ needs his followers to wake up to his message and to evangalise. That is the challenge. It is an enormous challenge. Dublin diocese spent a year trying to do so recently and I see no results yet. Perhaps too many of us are leaving it to the clergy. The laity (and aren’t we all a ‘priestly people’) need far more encouragement to become involved. Or do we need a lay movement, a ‘grass roots’ initiative. I am trying to see where this might come from and under what auspices, or must it be a new entity. There are fora to deal with current scandals and abuse fall-out. A separate body with no other agenda other than to renew faith and spread faith, while acknowledging the work of the others, might make some progress. The forthcoming Eucharistic Congress provides some inspiration and sustenance but is not grass roots led.

    Am I on my own in this or can I garner support?

  4. Alan Horton

    Look to the youth movements of the Church. All the dry rot is crumbling down with all the nasty surprises within the woodwork, but the future of the Church actually lies in the young people, small in number, but a force to be reckoned with, to be sure to be sure. These are the people who know and live their faith in an authentic way that their parents, for the large part, did not. Prepared by the Holy Spirit for this mission, they will rebuild the Lord’s Church.

  5. Finbarr Corkery

    I am sorry for the confusion. I did not intend to imply that the Republic of Ireland was “a naturally secular society”.In fact I do not think it was. Had it been it might have resisted the overly pervasive influence of the Catholic church in many spheres not related to religious belief (perhaps diminishing its concern with this) . The fact that the Catholic church was accorded a “special position”in Constitution must be noted.
    Alex says, speaking of the committed younger people says:
    “These are the people who know and live their faith in an authentic way that their parents, for the large part, did not”. This seems to me to support my impression of ” Catholic Ireland” of my generation. If this is real maybe it offers a way forward for David: “A separate body with no other agenda other than to renew faith and spread faith”.

    Joseph has a different approach :”Structural reform is of course necessary — we all see that.— Maybe Providence—-:will get— people to take seriously the need of radical structural reform, despite the apparent copper-fastening of every barrier to it by the very people who are bringing us the new translations.
    ” WE” all see that” but DO THEY.? If they are the “very people” who brought the us new translations then maybe our efforts should be directed towards undoing the copper- fastening

  6. shane

    Finbarr, the ‘special position’ of the Church was ‘recognized’ by virtue of it being “the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens” — which really did no more than state a demographic fact. (The pre-Vatican II teaching on Church-State relations emphasized the State’s obligation to suppress the public worship of heretical sects — as in Franco’s Spain, where Protestantism was effectively outlawed.) Such a weak clause was obviously a sop and considered practically useless by the Vatican at the time (see Diarmaid Ferriter’s ‘Judging Dev’). We can’t judge the past by the standards of today. The Church in those days largely just reflected the values and expectations of its members **at that time**. Most people would have desired extensive religious influence on state policy. The people got the Church they wanted.