An Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal

As mentioned in an earlier post, later this year Catholics in America will begin using a new translation of the Latin Missal.

Fr. Anthony Ruff has posted an open letter in America Magazine, a weekly Jesuit periodical, to U.S. Catholic bishops concerning his role in supporting the new translation. I reproduce the text here, but you can access the original by clicking here.

Also, if you’re interested, here is one response to the letter, written by Br. Daniel Horen, OFM.

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

With a heavy heart, I have recently made a difficult decision concerning the new English missal. I have decided to withdraw from all my upcoming speaking engagements on the Roman Missal in dioceses across the United States. After talking with my confessor and much prayer, I have concluded that I cannot promote the new missal translation with integrity. I’m sure bishops want a speaker who can put the new missal in a positive light, and that would require me to say things I do not believe.

I love the Church, I love the sacred liturgy, I love chant in Latin and English, and I treasure being involved with all these as a monk and priest. It has been an honor to serve until recently as chairman of the music committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) that prepared all the chants for the new missal. But my involvement in that process, as well as my observation of the Holy See’s handling of scandal, has gradually opened my eyes to the deep problems in the structures of authority of our church.

The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church. When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity…I weep.

I see a good deal of disillusionment with the Catholic Church among my friends and acquaintances. Some leave the Catholic Church out of conviction, some gradually drift away, some join other denominations, some remain Catholic with difficulty. My response is to stay in this church for life and do my best to serve her. This I hope to do by stating the truth as I see it, with charity and respect. I would be ready to participate in future liturgical projects under more favorable conditions.

I am sorry for the difficulties I am causing others by withdrawing, but I know this is the right thing to do. I will be praying for you and all leaders in our church.

Pax in Christo,

Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B.

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3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal

  1. It’s a little odd to hear the RCC accused of being undemocratic. Obviously, I’m not Catholic, but I thought central authority vested in the Chair of Peter was a major part of what makes Catholicism unique?

    For someone who hasn’t followed this controversy closely, what are the specifics that people are upset about in the new missal? Is this a continuation of the battle over the meaning of Vatican II?

  2. You’re correct that democracy is not the first thing that comes to mind with regard to Church structure. That said, the relationship between the different ‘levels’ of the hierarchy and laity is more than simply ‘top-down’, to borrow one of Fr. Ruff’s phrases. Namely, there is more to authority than that which rests in the Papal office, although that is certainly an aspect as well. Granted, all of this is coming from another non-Catholic, but I’m sure one of my Catholic colleagues will flame me if I’ve misspoken.

    Regarding what is upsetting people about the new missal — besides the apparent abuses of power, to which I cannot speak, but only due to ignorance — on one level, I think people are upset because the new translation is, in a word, new. Whenever you change a part of a weekly (or daily!) routine, you’re going to have some backlash. On another level, however, there are some (like myself) who take issue with some of the choices made in the new translation. So, I’ve got an issue with the Nicene Creed shifting from “We believe” to “I believe.” It does follow the Latin wording of the missal, but I find the confession of faith in terms of the community – as opposed to simple individuals – to be a powerful statement about what the Church is and should be. I’ve spoken with some who are upset by the change from “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…” to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”, although the reason for being upset over this latter example seems to be little more than concern with aesthetics.

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