Father Thomas Elich, the head of liturgy in the Brisbane Archdiocese, has recently described the Vatican document, Liturgiam Authenticam, which carries papal endorsement, as "a betrayal." He says this is "not entirely a surprise" in light of earlier responses from Rome on other liturgical matters.
Fr Elich is Director of the Liturgical Commission for the Archdiocese of Brisbane, edits Liturgy News, the Quarterly Bulletin of the Brisbane Liturgical Commission, and was a member of ICEL's Advisory Committee from 1990 to 1997.
It is evident, from a reading of editions of Liturgy News covering the past 12 months or so, that Fr Elich is not happy with recent liturgical documents from Rome. His editorials have been consistently critical of the Vatican's attempts to restore an authentic liturgy and rein in liturgical irregularities.
Balance of responsibility
In the March 2000 issue, Fr Elich criticises the Vatican's stance on ICEL as expressed through Cardinal Medina Estévez's letter to the chairman of the governing Episcopal Board of ICEL. This letter indicated a lack of confidence in ICEL's service to the bishops, Holy See and English-speaking faithful and called for a full revision of ICEL's statutes.
Fr Elich commented: "The balance of responsibility between the Holy See and bishops conferences is being pulled back towards Rome." Rome had considered earlier norms for translations from Latin originals to be inadequate and insisted on a more accurate rendition of the literal Latin meanings. Fr Elich asked: "Is literal accuracy the most important factor in shaping our worship in English."
He attributed Rome's hardening stance to "increasing pressure from minority groups." The central issue for him is "how much local content is possible in our liturgy, [and] who is responsible for making these decisions."
In the following issue of Liturgy News for June 2000, Fr Elich was again unhappy, this time because efforts to promote ecumenism through use of common prayers in the liturgy, such as the ecumenical Lord's Prayer produced by English Language Liturgical Consultation, were being "blocked at every turn" by the Vatican. The same complaint applied to Rome's refusal to approve use of the inclusive language New Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures for Mass readings from the Lectionary due to "doctrinal difficulties."
The September 2000 edition of Liturgy News offered the following editorial comment on the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal: "The impression is unavoidable, however, that the Holy See is trying to accommodate liturgical lobby groups. I regret this because I believe that lobby groups are unhelpful, particularly in the Church ..". The General Instruction, he said, seemed "to presume irregularities in practice" contained "cautions and detailed regulations" and "excessive spelling-out" of instructions and had "a defensive tone".
More recently, in the June 2001 issue of Liturgy News, Fr Elich found reasons for complaint about Liturgiam Authenticam, with its guidelines for sound vernacular liturgy translations.
The ultimate authority for Liturgiam Authenticam is Pope John Paul II who, as stated in the document, "in an audience granted to the Cardinal Secretary of State on 20 March 2001, approved this Instruction and confirmed it by his own authority, ordering that it be published, and that it enter into force on the 25th day of April of the same year."
However, Father Elich remarks at the outset: "I believe the document itself is a betrayal on two levels: firstly with respect to the language we will use to worship God in our liturgy, and secondly with respect to the bishops' responsibility for preparing and approving liturgical books in the vernacular."
He is critical of the Instruction's emphasis on words and expressions which "differ from usual and everyday speech" in order to better convey "heavenly realities." He is especially concerned that "inclusive language is dismissed as an inauthentic development", adding: "If we use in liturgy language which reflects an unjust world view or the sinful structures of a culture, then the liturgy will be compromised."
Fr Elich claims that Liturgiam Authenticam "betrays the hard-won devolvement of responsibility for liturgical translation to bishops conferences", with the Holy See reserving "to itself the right to prepare translations into any language and to approve them for liturgical use." He concludes: "Taking these various elements as a whole, one cannot escape the conclusion that the collegiality and local responsibility for liturgical translation have been seriously compromised by this document."
Nowhere in Fr Elich's various Liturgy News editorials does one encounter any acknowledgement that possible shortcomings in ICEL's work over the past 30 years may have finally exhausted Rome's patience, forcing it to adopt a more direct approach.
Similar sentiments regarding the collegiality of bishops were expressed by the late Archbishop Francis Rush of Brisbane, during an interview just prior to his death last July.
In a tribute written by Fr Bill O'Shea for the archdiocesan weekly, Catholic Leader (12 August 2001), Fr O'Shea said Archbishop Rush "expressed his deep disappointment that Vatican behaviour in recent years had largely nullified what was intended to be Vatican II's greatest achievement, its theory of the collegiality of bishops, with greater autonomy for the local Church. Like myself he took comfort in the belief that this is only a temporary hiccup in the Church's ongoing journey."