Sunday, November 27, 2011

Organic Development?

A friend send me this interesting article about a parish in full communion with the Church that has apparently been doing its own sort of improv vernacular liturgy since before Vatican II, and thus has been using an English translation similar to the new new one for longer than the old new one was even around in the first place:

But for one Mass at Corpus Christi, the parish church of Columbia University, little if anything is expected to change. That is because this small church, with its intellectual history and fierce stubborn streak, never fully adopted the more modern version of the Mass that the church’s hierarchy is now ordering replaced.

For example, starting this weekend, all parishes will be saying, “And with your spirit,” as Corpus Christi’s has been saying for decades. And where there are small differences between the new translation and Corpus Christi’s version, which stems from the 1960s, Corpus Christi is expecting to stay with its own words.

“There are a lot of us who feel that the last 35 years of translation has been very banal and pedestrian, and the way that one wants to address God in a liturgy should not be pedestrian,” said Brenda Fairaday, a parishioner here since the 1970s and an ardent defender of the church’s liturgy. The new translation, she said, “is better,” but at times reads as if it was translated by a nonnative English speaker: “It needs severe editing,” she said.

How Corpus Christi has managed to do its own thing in a church that insists, as a general rule, on uniformity in the Mass is steeped in local lore. But most agree it began with the progressive priest who built the current church in the 1930s, the Rev. George Barry Ford, who is perhaps best known for inspiring Thomas Merton, the renowned 20th-century Catholic mystic and writer, to convert to Catholicism when he was a Columbia student.

Long before the Vatican permitted Mass in the vernacular, Father Ford would station a priest in the pews to translate the mass into English as the main priest performed the sacred rites in Latin, parishioners said. The congregation would respond to parts of the Mass in English, highly unusual for the time.

“Elements of our Mass, when we started doing it here, were very progressive at the time,” said Bill Derby, a eucharistic minister at the church. “Then we kept doing them when the tide changed and became way more modern. And now they are going back to what we have been doing all along.

In the 1960s, the parish priest was Msgr. Myles M. Bourke, a liturgist who directed the first English translation of the New American Bible. Informed by his own work, he solidified the mix of Gregorian chant, classical hymns and English-language liturgy that is still in use. The well-worn 1966 hymnals in the pews contain a translation of the Mass close to the one that Rome is unveiling.

In recent years, Corpus Christi’s current pastor, the Rev. Raymond M. Rafferty, switched most of the Masses to the modern, accepted translation, in part, he said, because “I found there was a cacophony at the Masses: some were saying the old and some the new.” But he maintained the traditions of the parish in the 11:15 a.m. Mass on Sundays.

“With the type of music that we do, it fit with the music,” Father Rafferty said. Many chants come from a 1978 Latin text, Liber Cantualis, and they also add some contemporary commissioned pieces. “It’s quite amazing how well the congregation can do these hymns,” he said.

There have been attempts over the years to steer the liturgy more in line with “downtown,” meaning the seat of the archdiocese, at St. Patrick’s, Mr. Derby said. (“Ain’t going to happen,” said Kathy Darling, a Corpus Christi parishioner since 1971.) But in the end, Mr. Derby said, the parishioners say what is in their hearts.

The Rev. Daniel J. Merz, associate director of the secretariat of Divine Worship at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is in charge of putting the new liturgy in place, was surprised this week to hear of the small parish church that was already saying some of it.

“Sometimes,” he said, “it’s more important to have peace in the church than uniformity.”

I wonder if the fact that the books for this idiosyncratic liturgy of theirs apparently come from before the Novus Ordo means that their liturgy is basically a translation of the Old Rite (or at least the 1965 version) into the vernacular? Given that the New Rite wasn't around yet, it must have been like that at some point, even if they Novus Ordo-ized (while keeping their traditional translation) later.

I'm going to look into that, actually, contact them. It would be a huge deal/precedent (even if they are saying "and with your spirit" instead of "and with
thy spirit" and the guy was a translator of the *shudder* NAB.) Either way, it's a fascinating case of local liturgical development shirking hyper-centralization that sounds like it didn't turn out as a complete disaster. The Western Rite Orthodox would be proud.

I've been meaning to do a post on the possibilities of organic development and how a more "hands-off" approach from the Vatican could be prevented from collapsing into total liturgical decadence, trying to find the happy medium between legitimate innovation and adaptation on the one hand and "abuse" that devolves into kumbayah clown Masses and giant puppets on the other (which reminds me: I actually attended a Reggae Mass last night, lol. Not as bad as you might think but, then, my musical tastes and liturgical wet dreams have already been made clear here, so perhaps I'm not entirely objective.)

Basically, I think "restarting" the idea of local tradition and organic development would have to involve an approach that weeded out the bad, but wasn't the sort of textual-positivist liturgical totalitarianism that the "say the black, do the red" crowd proposes; in other words, the governance on the matter would have become proscriptive, not prescriptive. And the example of this parish has given me a lot to think about in that regard.


A Sinner said...

Well, this is sort of disappointing, but answers my questions. I emailed the church and here is the response I got:

"the vernacular translation resulted from the new sacramentary when was issued in the late l960’s. A former pastor, Msgr. Myles Bourke, was unhappy with the translation and retranslated several items of the sacramentary. The liturgy was celebrated according to the rite of the Missal of Paul VI, with a few variants at the choir Mass."

Robert said...

Either way I find it funny that a bureaucratic mess (ICEL) is needed to produce a translation, when in this case it looks like a single priest was able to furnish a translation for his congregation. As someone who only studied Latin for four years I sometimes laugh at how long ICEL is intending to take to translate about three and a half feet of books (most of the text could easily be cribbed from out of copy right texts). At the pace their going now I don't think the modern liturgical books will be finished before I die (I'm in my 20s). They just updated the Missal (which has been in the works for more than 15 years), but they still have the Roman Ritual, Pontifical, Ceremonial of Bishops, Martyrology, and the Liturgy of the Hours. Not to toot my horn, but I could make a translation of the whole lot in about a year of full time work.

Roman said...

"I actually attended a Reggae Mass last night"

Peace be with ya, mon! LOL

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like a case of part of the the avant-garde all of a sudden finding themselves "traditionalists" when their version of avant-gardeism was surpassed by the official one.

I've seen other examples of this, actually, I have one. Its an old '64 Benzinger totum "Roman Breviary in English". Now, it should have only been used "officially" for maybe 3 or 4 years but this one has an electrical tape cover, the ribbons are gone, the pages are dog eared and taped-basically usable but very well-worn. Not abused, but like it had been used for some solid years and was fixed up to keep it going as it started getting ragged. So, it seems like the priest who had it used it long past the introduction of the interim breviary/LOTH and the LOTH maybe until he died. Maybe he used it because he liked it better than the LOTH, maybe he just didn't want to take the time to learn something new, maybe he was a closet traddy, who knows. Its interesting, nonetheless.