In the latest edition of The Swag, the official magazine of the National Council of Priests, it was reported that some priests who attended their 2010 conference in Parramatta declared that they did not intend to use the new translation of the Missal, due to be introduced in Advent 2011. Obedience, apparently, is no longer a consideration for some.
Yet the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy makes it clear that "Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the authority of the church - not even a priest may add, remove or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority" (22).
After almost half a century, it is surely time the Vatican II documents were read to discover what they actually say, rather than, as many have done, rely on the "spirit of Vatican II" in order to rationalise all manner of spurious opinions and practices.
Well known American Franciscan, Fr Benedict Groeschel, on one occasion wryly suggested that the so-called "spirit of Vatican II should be more accurately called a poltergeist" (a noisy and confusing ghost).
However, it is not only disobedience to the authority of the Church over the liturgy that is involved here. There is another consideration, equally important, which has been overlooked, namely that the faithful have the right to have Mass celebrated properly, according to the norms laid down by the Apostolic See. No Mass celebrant has any right to ignore that right of the faithful.
This was spelt out in the Vatican Instruction on the Eucharist (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 25 March 2004). The following are some relevant extracts:
• "It is the right of Christ's faithful that the Liturgy, especially the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes according to what is prescribed in the liturgical books and by the other laws and norms" (12).
• "Christ's faithful have the right that ecclesiastical authority should fully and efficaciously regulate the Sacred Liturgy lest it should ever seem to be 'anyone's private property, whether of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated'" (18).
• "Each sacred minister should always remember that he is a servant of the sacred Liturgy" (186).
• "The Mystery of the Eucharist 'is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim'" (11).
(In this regard Cardinal Arinze, former Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, observed a few years ago: "The do-it-yourself Mass is ended.")
• "It is the right of the Christian people themselves that their diocesan Bishop should take care to prevent the occurrence of abuses in ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the Saints" (24).
• "Let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and everyone, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism" (183).
• No abuse is "to be considered of little account" and is "to be carefully avoided and corrected" (174). (Emphases above added).
As set out in Canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law, the individual bishop's authority over the liturgy is limited.
Par 1: The ordering and guidance of the sacred liturgy depends solely upon the authority of the Church, namely, that of the Apostolic See and, as provided by law, that of the diocesan Bishop.
Par 2: It is the prerogative of the Apostolic See to regulate the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish liturgical books and review their vernacular translations, and to be watchful that liturgical regulations are everywhere faithfully observed.
Par 4: Within the limits of his competence, it belongs to the diocesan Bishop to lay down for the Church entrusted to his care, liturgical regulations which are binding on all.
Likewise, according to the same Canon, Bishops' Conferences are also subject to limitations.
Par 3: It pertains to Episcopal Conferences to prepare vernacular translations of liturgical books, with appropriate adaptations as allowed by the books themselves and, with the prior review of the Holy See, to publish these.
It follows that the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" does not and cannot justify the myriad, unauthorised and seemingly endless changes in the Mass that have been inflicted on the faithful since the Council.
It is important to find out what Vatican II actually said and to study the documents themselves, especially The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (paragraphs 21 ff).
More Catholics - priests, liturgists and lay people - should also obtain a copy of Redemptionis Sacramentum, either in print or on the internet, and study it closely. It lists about one hundred abuses in the Mass ranging from the most serious (incurring automatic excommunication) to minor ones. All of them need to be corrected (see RS, 174 above), wherever they occur.
The introduction of the revised Missal translation will be an ideal time for clergy to read the General Instructions about the Mass and put them into practice, and for those in authority to see to it that this is done.
Let the recently beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman have the last word. He said that there are two basic requirements for the genuine follower of Christ: faith and obedience.
Fr Martin Durham is a priest of the Rockhampton Diocese, Queensland.