20Sep AN OPEN LETTER TO WOMEN RELIGIOUS

AN OPEN LETTER TO WOMEN RELIGIOUS

It is with no small amount of trepidation that I address this article to those who like myself are members of a women’s religious congregation in Ireland. I am puzzled. Perhaps I have missed letters or articles, but it seems to me that in relation to the introduction of the new text of the Missal the voice of women religious to date has remained strangely silent. And I am wondering why. Does this silence mean consent?

Lest my silence be interpreted as consent, I am writing this article, wondering if there are others who share my different thoughts and feelings on this topic.

Probably for many religious, silence does mean consent. The Vatican and our own Conference of Bishops have made it clear that the introduction of the new text is to go ahead. The fact of the text being introduced by the Bishops means that many will accept it. Therefore it is likely that these religious would have little difficulty with words like those of Bp. John McAreavey who in an Irish Independent article in April, wrote: ‘Instead of saying: “And also with you”, the congregation will say: “And with your spirit.” (What a pity he did not say: “the congregation will be invited to say”.) They will be among those who give the desired new responses. So I am wondering if perhaps their silence is because they see no need to voice their acceptance of the new text, being happy to receive copies of it and instructions on its hoped-for advantages and benefits for the People of God.

From speaking with others, I know there are other religious who are disillusioned with the hierarchical part of our Church. Mentally and spiritually, even if not physically, they are walking away from it. For them, the introduction or imposition of the new Missal is merely another symptom of how those in leadership in our Church are out of touch with the reality of life as it is lived by the majority of people. How can our leadership justify putting such time, energy and finance into ‘mending what is not broken’ (to quote Fr. Brendan Hoban)? Is this offered as a distraction from the more serious issue of structural reform of our church? For these religious it seems, there is no point in trying to speak out as there is no evidence of being either consulted or truly listened to.
Certainly there are at least some religious women who experience these thoughts and feelings. But, the question is, are there many? And what are the consequences for our Church in this country, if women religious silently drift away?

For myself, I am not yet at that point of disillusion although it is with diminishing hope that I await the ‘beginnings of a dialogue at every level’ mentioned in Bishop Freeman’s response to the three thousand or so comments sent in 2010 to the hierarchy. Unfortunately in the matter of the imposition of the new Missal, as far as I am aware the dialogue has been one-way. It has been described as ‘playing handball against a haystack’, to use an evocative expression (the original author of which I cannot remember). If our Church is to have any future, far more than a bland acknowledgement of communications is needed from the hierarchy. Issues raised, for example at the meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests in Portlaoise on 2nd June, need to be responded to. A game of handball against a haystack cannot go on indefinitely. It takes too much energy.

Returning to the silence of women religious, is it because – many? – some? – are saying that they will decide themselves what part of the new text, if any, they will adopt? I expect and indeed hope that many will simply refuse to use exclusive language in the parts where it occurs. Given the average age of religious women in this country, it really is rather ridiculous to expect us at this stage in our lives to be willing to say for example in the Creed: ‘for us men and our salvation’! For my part, I do not intend to adopt the new texts at all, as I object to what can well be called their ‘flawed pedigree’ (the interference by Vox Clara in their final edition), their use of exclusive language and the manner in which they are being imposed.

The Conference of Religious of Ireland also to date has remained silent in the public realm. Readers of the CORI newsletter will be aware that they sent a letter to Cardinal Brady and also to the Bishops’ Conference expressing misgivings in relation to the new text and requesting a deferral of its introduction. However, this letter was not made public. Nor has CORI made a public response to the Bishops’ Conference confirmation of their decision to go ahead with the introduction of the text. The AGM this year was only for one day, one half of which was taken up with input from (and hopefully dialogue with) the Apostolic Visitors appointed by the Vatican. So there was little or no opportunity to address the topic of the new Missal and thus to get a sense of the thoughts and feelings of religious in relation to it.

I do not wish in any way to lay blame at the door of the CORI Executive for this public silence. The Report of the Secretary General to the AGM in June outlines the tremendous amount of work being done by CORI in many complex fields. The members and the Executive are provincial leaders caught up in the administrative, legal and personnel pressures of their ministry. Many are at or beyond retirement age and yet are carrying their heavy responsibilities with an extraordinary level of dedication and commitment. Obviously these responsibilities leave them with little time or energy to follow-up on other matters. I simply want to draw attention to the fact that this raises the question: what channels are open to religious women who are not in leadership and who wish to discuss or express opinions on any of the current issues in our Church?

Age, disillusion, lack of energy, preoccupation with different and urgent matters – all these are possible reasons for the silence of women religious in Ireland in relation to current issues in our Church. But let us remember Anna the prophetess. She was eighty-four. She was graced with a special understanding of God’s action in the life of the Jewish people and recognised the longed-for Messiah in a small baby. And ‘she spoke….’ (Luke Ch.2 vs. 36 – 38) She did not keep silent.

One can imagine the response of the Jewish Temple authorities, which presumably included hesitation, ridicule, criticism, an exhortation that she return to her prayer and fasting, and perhaps, cautious acceptance!

I suspect that each of our religious congregations at some time or other or in some General Chapter document, will have expounded on our prophetic role in the Church. The most recent UISG Conference was entitled: ‘ Prophets and Mystics’. Sr. Elizabeth Cotter IBVM in an explanation of Apostolic Visitation which is found on the CORI web-site, has this to say: “Religious are a splendid sign in the Church as they foretell Christ’s heavenly glory. Eminent writers have written about this prophetic dimension. It is about recognising the situation in which we find ourselves, speaking out, pointing beyond and being prepared to pay the price.”

Are we now being asked to be other Annas? I think we are.

14 Responses

  1. Simmary

    Dairne, your open letter is addressed to women religious, but might well be addressed to all women, all religious and all layfolk. Sadly, the new version is not fit for the purpose of public worship for today’s English speakers.

    And for those among us who speak English as a second language, it is a nightmare. I live in a parish with a high proportion of Polish and Italian immigrants. The Poles “do their own thing” in their own language and mostly have Mass, Confessions and cultural fellowship apart from the local church. The Italians have “mixed in” and are at a serious disadvantage with the new and unfamiliar version.

    My parish priest introduced a daily Tridentine Latin Mass when he arrived a year ago. 97% of the parish avoid this and the few Sunday attenders come from outside the parish. People want to have a sense of meaning and involvement in their Mass.

    Like you, and for the reasons you give I do not respond. When the new version was introduced 3 Sundays ago here, people loyally laboured to respond as per the leaflets. But last Sunday, shocked by the news of the sudden death of a parish stalwart on Saturday evening, everyone reverted to “And also with you.” This is the translation that has been our nourishment for more than 40 years.

    And for much of that time, we have been permitted to receive Holy Communion under the form of the Precious Blood. It is now credibly rumoured that one US bishop intends to restrict that to the priests and deacons from the First Sunday of Advent. It just so happens that the Bishop has very recently been appointed to VOX CLARA, the committee that dreamed up this Mass “reform.”

    And with thy ghost – why not?

  2. Paddy

    Very interesting points here. On our Give Us This day blog, which is aimed at Catholic Asians, somebody posted a blog that criticized the language of the new Missal and it drew a huge amount of comment, both for and against.

    http://blogs.ucanews.com/give-us-this-day/2011/09/10/more-controversial-missal-musings/

  3. Wendy Murphy

    I’m with you both and thank you for the companionship of your comments. My husband, darling man, although angry about the new Mass, feels it’s best to go along with it for the sake of community. I cannot, for every one of the reasons many have expressed on this blog. So I remain mostly silent but feel sorry I’m not supporting him as he struggles along with the prompt card.The completely unnecessary anguish this event has caused and will continue to cause is worrying to say the least. Like one or two other contributers, I’m more or less prepared to be on the fringes now, so the hurt I feel is nothing in comparison to the torment suffered by others, as you both describe above. It’s good to communicate with real live thinking whole people, not spirits or ghosts!

  4. Laura

    Be assured that each of these comments is felt around the world. I live in the State of Washington, USA. I will not be saying the new changes during the Mass. After all of the damage done to the Catholic church over the paedophile atrocities, how on earth can the hierarchy impose language that takes the community further backward? It all seems to be caught in an awful downward spiral. As Catholic Christians, we are a people of joy and hope! Where is joy and hope in the new language? I attend Mass regularly to celebrate with my fellow Catholic Christians the Good News and awesome gift of the Eucharist that Jesus gave to all. THAT is the direction we should be driving toward. Instead, my heart is heavy with disappointment. It remains to be seen, but I’m afraid that the new text will drive more people away. Keep talking, and keep praying! God’s peace!

  5. Christine Gilsen

    Thank you Dairne. I am not a woman religious but I do share your thoughts and feelings about the new missal. Thanks also to Simmary, Wendy and Laura. Although the new missal translation does not give us cause for joy, it is indirectly responsible for encouraging women (and men) to claim their rightful place in the church and to respond to the Holy Spirit by speaking out when appropriate and remaining silent when proper.

    The leaflet issued at Sunday mass regarding the changes to the congregation’s prayers in the new missal ‘explains?’ the change in the Confiteor as follows, “The phrase,’through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’ is simply a translation of the original Latin prayer and we should not take it too personally!” The writer of the leaflet admits, “the Confiteor, does seem to make us appear a lot more sinful that we used to be”. I am relieved that I/we do not have to take the prayer too personally and therefore it seems pointless to say it.

    Martin Luther King stated, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” While Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing” I am not stating that the new missal is evil, but these maxims are apt for any situation that needs to change such as church teaching on sexuality, clericalism, abuse of power, church structure, non-inclusiveness, lack of communion under both species, failure to listen, failure to apply Catholic Social Teaching to the church, and so on.

    Now is the time to respond to the Holy Spirit and to embrace the prophetic calling.

  6. Bill Mc

    For Christine Gilsen:
    Martin Luther King stated, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” While Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing”

    Strange, when I read this portion of your comment, I thought it was to be an explanation of why ’through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’ was perhaps understandable.

  7. Eileen

    “The Lord be with you all – body, soul, mind and spirit.” You know the response to that! This will be short because I had spent time on a much longer submission that disappeared! Thanks to Dairne – your article challenges me. Your reference to Anna reminds me of a modern day prophetess, Jennifer Sleeman, who goes out on a limb for reform. (I’m cyberphobic and won’t even go on Facebook but I’m trying to summon up courage to speak out beyond the anonymity of a blog).
    Well, I did email our own parish office in response to an attempted explanation of “And With Your Spirit” in our newsletter. It had ‘explained’ that ” the ‘spiritual’ is the part of us is that is nearest to God.” I am no theologian but to me that sounds like heresy! Why did God, in Jesus, take on a human nature then? (Maybe it was for US MEN and for our salvation). My understanding was that, by becoming one of us, Jesus made everything holy, except that which deliberately turned away from him. Would someone please explain to me why dualism is, seemingly, in again?
    By the way, one of the reasons I’m not leaving the Catholic Church is because I believe it doesn’t belong to the hierarchy. It is for everyone and we need to reclaim ownership of a community of believers that models itself on the Eucharistic gatherings of the early Christian church founded by Christ.

  8. claire

    I used to like to walk over to the English-speaking mass in Geneva because the masses in French were gender-exclusive. Women don’t exist in French church language. (It does get tiring to defect in place after a while). But now that the English-speaking mass is rolling back all that had been done in the past thirty years, I cannot really make myself return to the English-speaking mass.
    So, I feel for you if a gender-exclusive language feels wounding.
    Defecting in place does work, but it is not altogether life-giving…
    My prayers are with you.

  9. Brigitte Patricia Schmid

    Dear Dairne,
    I am a teacher of religion in Austria with irish roots. Thank you
    so much for your article. I think we should make much more connection between all of us. Only this will change the church.
    We have to learn to take every oppurtunity to raise up our voices.
    Like you said about Anna. (I nearly jumped into the air out of joy for your statement about Anna).Why cant we start also a kind of
    association worldwide with religious women?Simular as a kind of little flower from the priestsassociation, as their little twinsister? Please think about this and let me know soon.
    Take care and God bless
    Brigitte Patricia

  10. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

    Excellent article especially where you say,

    “How can our leadership justify putting such time, energy and finance into ‘mending what is not broken’ (to quote Fr. Brendan Hoban)? Is this offered as a distraction from the more serious issue of structural reform of our church? For these religious it seems, there is no point in trying to speak out as there is no evidence of being either consulted or truly listened to.”

    I think this is exactly the case as I think it was with the investigations of communities of women religious here in the United States. I don’t think the majority of bishops around the world realize that people are walking away in droves.

    In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania a second grand jury report in 2011 showed just how little had been really done regarding accountability, transparency and justice since the grand jury report of 2005. Two House Bills in the state have been written to bring PA’s laws on childhood sexual abuse – by anyone – into the 21st century. The new archbishop Charles Chaput is opposing the bills with the help of all the Pennsylvania bishops and the state Catholic Conference just as he did when he headed the Denver, Colorado archdiocese and he was successful with the help of lots of dis-information.

    I wish our priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would speak out on ANYTHING! But this is Phildelphia and that just doesn’t happen.

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    Advocate for Victims & Legislative Reform
    Delaware & Pennsylvania
    maturlishmdsnd@yahoo.com

    http://www.Justice4PaKids.com
    http://www.Catholics4Change.com
    http://www.ChildVictimsVoice.com
    http://www.votfgp.org

  11. Fr Bosco Peters

    New Zealand was the first to begin the new translation. The loss of ecumenical texts and the gender exclusion are tragic. One NZ bishop is advocating as you are here – just don’t use those bits! http://www.liturgy.co.nz/blog/new-our-father/6970

    Blessings

    Bosco

  12. Amy Ho-Ohn

    Basically impossible not to see this as punishment for taking away their access to the little boys.

  13. EssEm

    Basically impossible not to see the above comment as the response of a little girl. And a cheap and nasty one, at that.

  14. Dianne Jedlicka

    Bishop Kevin Dowling who has links posted on The Southern Cross should be listened to by other bishops, priests and the laity simply because he has the benefit of hindsight to aid him when he is discussing the new translation of the missal. I Quote from his letter in the Southern Cross. …..”To me there is no cogent reason why the language which the People of God in any place use to express their faith and spirituality, and to celebrate the Eucharist, the sacraments and so on has to conform to a Latin text. People ask why — and rightly so. I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II during the past years.” end quote.
    Bishop of Dunedin, Colin Campbell in New Zealand; wrote in the Tablet and applying the benefit of hindsight. I quote here Bishop Colin Cambell…”I took the opportunity to consult our faithful in the diocese for their reaction to the changes. Indeed, in the Vatican ll document Presbyterorum Ordinis, clergy are exhorted to “listen to the laity willingly, consider their wishes in a fraternal spirit and recognise their experience and competence in the different areas of human activity, so that together with them they will be able to read the signs of the times”. Here in New Zealand this first stage-much of it the people’s responses in the Mass-was introduced in Advent 2010. Of all the comments, 17 per cent were positive and 83 percent were negative. While the minority gave reasons such as “it deepens the meaning of the Mass” and that it “is a more reverent translation”, opponents declared that it was “unnecessary”, “confusing and meaningless”, that the “rationale was unclear” and that it was a “backward step and pre-Vatican ll in language style”.


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