Liturgical sadness

I feel a strange sense of sadness at the news that the Roman Catholic church is revising its English form of the mass. Why sadness? After all, what’s it to do with me?

Well, one of the curious things that has brought churches together in the last century is liturgical revision. Although getting the jots and tittles of new liturgy right often seems to be hard work in synod, it is a very careful process. As liturgists from the various liturgically minded churches often studied together and went to conferences together (and did what liturgists do at liturgical conferences together) a new form of ecumenism developed. Slyly and without any great project announcement, the Holy Spirit somehow managed to get different churches to approve almost identical texts.

One of the consequences of this was that the music that was written for the liturgy can be shared amongst us. Thus it is that about half of the settings of the mass that we sing at St Mary’s are by Roman Catholic musicians. (Proulx, MacMillan and Greening come obviously to mind).

But now it seems that the texts of the bits that get sung are going to be changed within the Roman Catholic church along with other parts of the service. That will mean that we will not be able to interchange settings quite so easily.

It is a common occurance for Roman Catholics who find themselves in St Mary’s to exclaim in puzzled wonder that the mass they have just witnessed is almost exactly the same as they would get in an RC church. (Readings, music, most of the synaxis, the kyrie, gloria, sanctus, benedictus and angus etc are all the same). It works exactly the same in reverse for our own folk going to mass either in this country or abroad.

I feel a curious sadness at the thought that we might be moving away from one another.


  1. I was also sad when I read this in my Church Times today. Not only this, but some of the revisions seem to be going back the way! The Creed is going back to “I believe” rather than “We believe”. Bringing the word consubstantial into the creed is not exactly mdern, or understandable language, and “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts” is what I sing in the 1929 Liyurgy! Are they trying to entice disaffected Anglicans, I wonder?

  2. Reading the changes, I can’t see that they are an improvement in the least

  3. might be moving away from one another
    … and deliberately so, I fear.

  4. Eamonn says

    It makes me not only sad, but angry! There was no need to fix it when it wasn’t broken. And why Latin, in heaven’s name?

  5. Vicky says

    Alas folks, these changes have nothing to do with separating from us, as least not a direct issue. They are about restating pre-Vatican II approaches to the liturgy which focused on the universal statement of the liturgy where Latin was the lingua franca of Roman catholic liturgy. Benedict knows that this is impossible now because it is unlikely new conversion areas such as China would find Latin accessible. What can be done, however, is to make all translations into the vernacular languages as near to the Latin wording as is possible. Indirectly, any restatement of a direct relationship with the Latin mass is likely to draw the Roman Catholic liturgy away from those used in the Anglican Communion, especially the “High” end of the communion.
    Pope Benedict’s focus is on expressing the uniqueness of Roman Catholicism rather than its synchronicities with other Faiths and denominations – this is a significant return to pre-Vatican II approaches to ecuminism (ie clearer boundaries).
    By the way, the RC Church in America is not happy with the liturgical changes.

  6. It seems rather a futile exercise. If that’s what they wanted, they could have so easily taken our 1970 liturgy. I’d have happily donated a few copies.

  7. Vicky says

    I know what you mean Kimberly. It’s like Benedict feels Vatican II was a bad blip in a long history rather than part of a progressive revelation of God through Roman Catholicism over time. It is an interesting approach to divine revelation – one that ignores notions of progression. Rather post-modern I’d have said. Benedict thinks post modernism is a bad thing…..yet applies a philosophy more akin to a sense of stasis without progression…..

  8. As someone brought up in the Catholic faith the service at St.Mary’s is very comforting and reassuring in its similarities but I come to St Mary’s because of its differences.Vicky is right ,in changing certain aspects Pope Benedict is trying to make the point that Cathlicism is different has been around the longest and is as Catholics believe the one true faith at least that is how I interpret it.However I think it is sad that he feels there is a need for this. is Catholicism feeling insecure? I feel we should concentrate on our similarities and what binds our faith together. There are so many different strands of Christianity I often wonder if it is a deliberate part of the Holy Spirit’s plan to get us talking and discover the true nature of God and finally get rid of our human prejudices and intolerance .I know it seems to be taking a long time but God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry.So perhaps we shouldn’t worry overmuch about the changes who knows what discussions will come out of this

  9. pernickety says

    Do you sing the “angus” dreamily at St Mary’s?

  10. It is usually sung dreamily by Agnes.

  11. Robin says

    Has anyone else been following the series in ‘The Tablet’ taking the Latin Sunday Collects from the Roman Missal (Ordinary Form), printing alongside them the official English translations and then commenting on the Collects?

    The effect the series has on me is not what was intended. I spend much of my time being puzzled and irritated by the looseness of the translations from the Latin – words and phrases left out, new ideas included, and sometimes translations which are at best a paraphrase.

    The point of mentioning this is that what I’ve seen of the new English translation of the Roman Mass is undoubtedly more faithful to the Latin, which is, after all, the definitive form.

    This will be important to some and, I expect, an irrelevance to others. However, an ecumenical gesture we could make (pause for breathtakingly unpopular suggestion!) would be to incorporate the new relevant parts of the new translation in our own Liturgy. That really *would* show ecumenical goodwill.

  12. David |Dah • veed| says

    “…the Latin, which is, after all, the definitive form.”

    That is certainly debatable. I fail to see that the purpose of the liturgical reforms of the 70s and 80s which resulted in many new liturgical books for most major denominations and prayer books for Anglicans, was to get us all back to the Latin Mass.

    Rome has pretty much cut the rest of us “free” so to speak, as irredeemable for all the heresies of women’s ordination and now GLBT ordinations and same sex blessings, and I am fine with that. I would not go anywhere near the Tiber, but I share Kelvin’s sense of loss of something we pew sitters shared around the world.

  13. Robin says

    Just to clarify, when I wrote “…the Latin, which is, after all, the definitive form” I meant that it was the definitive form for Roman Catholics.

  14. Ritualist Robert says

    Vicky wrote: “… it is unlikely new conversion areas such as China would find Latin accessible.”

    A Roman friend of mine who probably would know said to me the other day that the Catholics in China use the Latin mass because they missed out on the reforms of Vatican II. Does anybody know if this is true?

    I went recently to a Latin mass here in Sydney with the same friend and most of the servers and the priest were from Vietnam … and a good deal of the back-to-the-future seminarians one sees at the papist cathedral seem to be Korean … so I am not sure that the formality of the Latin mass, or a more formal English one will put off Asian converts.

    It’s a pity that the ecumenical implications of this translation exercise haven’t been pondered a bit more.

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