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The Church's Achilles Heel: administration

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 Contents - Nov 1994AD2000 November 1994 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: The Church's Achilles Heel: administration - B.A. Santamaria
Vatican moves to save high altars: a bit late in the day - Simon Matthews

The editorial in the October issue of AD2000 discussed the proposal forwarded by the Australian Episcopal Conference to the Holy See seeking permission to change the wording of the Lord's Prayer, notably the petition "Lead us not into temptation" to "Save us from the time of trial."

The latest information, believed to be authentic, is that the Holy See has not given its permission and said that the proposal could be considered only if it became the consensus of the churches of all English-speaking countries - or words essentially to that effect. (The fact remains that the words of the Lord's Prayer have already been changed with the permission of the Holy See in the case of New Zealand, before any such consensus had been reached. the unofficial explanation being that New Zealand "got under the Vatican's guard").

It may not be out of place to explain once again why AD2000 respectfully expressed the hope that the Vatican would reject the Australian proposal to change the words of the Lord's Prayer.

The earliest versions we have of the words of Our Lord are recorded in Matthew 6 and, less fully, in Luke 11. Although Our Lord almost certainly spoke in either Aramaic or Hebrew, the first texts we possess are in Greek. The Greek word "peirasmos" can be translated as either "a test or trial" or as "a tempting or enticement to sin." St Jerome who translated the original Greek into the Latin Vulgate, 1600 years closer to the original text, rendered it as "tentatio", or "temptation", which has been the common usage ever since. "Temptation" is the English word used in the most recent English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Since the best contemporary scholarship still accepts "temptation" as being at least as faithful a rendering as "test" or "trial"; since St Jerome preferred it; since it has been used ever since; since it continues to be used in the most recent translation of the Catechism, the view of AD2000 was that there was no valid, compelling argument for change. To change something, merely because allegedly expert commissions believe that it should be done, would simply have the effect of furthering the de-stabilisation of Catholic faith and practice which has proved so disastrous since the Second Vatican Council, and which is intimately - although not exclusively - linked with continuous changes to ritual, liturgy, hymns and prayers.

If there were a compelling need to make the change, authentically to get closer to the meaning of Our Lord's own words, the change should be made. But if there is no such compulsion, and if the pressure is solely to give expression to the latest liturgical fad, it should be left well alone. Pointless novelty has proved disastrous.

One can only express the hope therefore that the present translation will remain, whatever consensus, or alleged consensus, is ultimately reached. There is every reason for anxiety, even suspicion. Past experience, for instance, of the ICEL translation of the Liturgy, the earlier 'inclusive' translation of the new Catechism and the new American Lectionary, furnish conclusive proof of two distinct problems.

  • The first is that many changes to sacred texts made by 'expert' bodies turn out not to be simple mistakes in translation, without any sinister purpose of changing meaning: they have been deliberately aimed at changing the meaning of sacred language under the guise of merely modernising translations.
  • The second is that more than one Vatican Congregation, whose duty it should have been to exercise a watchful eye over the accuracy of the final product, either failed to exercise sufficient care, or had the wool pulled over its eyes.

For Catholics trained from their earliest years to display unswerving respect and/or acceptance of the decisions of Vatican Congregations, on the assumption that their competence derives from the authority of the Pope, and that the resultant decisions are therefore a valid exercise of Papal authority, these aberrations have been a source of dismay.

So have the changes of position of other Congregations in relation, for instance, to the functions of Extraordinary Ministers, altar girls, or practices like Communion-in-the-hand. In one sense, the individual cases have not been important in themselves and might well have been accepted if part of some well thought-out plan or strategy. They have visibly been nothing of the kind.

Letter of the law

In each case what has happened has been that the Holy See has initially either severely limited their functions (as in the case of Extraordinary Ministers) or stated that certain proposed changes were forbidden (as in the case of altar girls).

These decisions were ignored by the liturgical 'innovators', often working in seminaries, or on the liturgical commissions of various Episcopal Conferences who actively undermined the official position.

Nothing was done to enforce the letter of the law, and thus to back up Papal authority, while it was still possible to do so effectively. As a result the disobedience spread until it could no longer be contained. Thereupon the relevant Congregation, apparently holding that the horse had bolted, weakly conceded the various positions.

Those who had stood by the Pope found that the rug was pulled out from underneath their feet. To have this happen once is disquieting; twice, alarming; three times, utterly destructive of any confidence on the part of loyal Catholics that the Church knows its own mind where liturgical discipline is concerned. One can only trust that the translation of the Lord's Prayer will not follow the same process.

At the end of the twentieth century, the Church is fortunate to have one of the most able, courageous and inspiring Pontiffs in its long history. But to what avail if the administrative structure through which his leadership must be expressed, whether in Rome or in the different countries, repeatedly lets him down, and then shelters behind his authority to cover its own inadequacies?

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 7 No 10 (November 1994), p. 2

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