Clerics who use their position to spread antipathy towards the new English translation of the Roman Missal are abusing their position, in my opinion, and in the process are doing a great disservice to the communion of the Church.

I came across recently an address given by the then Archbishop Rosalio Castillo Lara, SDB, who was the pro-president of the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law.  The address was given at the annual convention of the Canon Law Society of America in Milwaukee in 1984, not long after the promulgation of the new 1983 Code of Canon Law.  The quote is lengthy, but here it is (Castillo Lara quotes Pope Paul VI, whose words I have put in bold print):

“It is obvious that the code cannot satisfy all personal requirements, nor respond to very different, and not rarely contrasting, points of view. But the legislator, in his prudence, has now* considered it opportune and necessary to promulgate the code and he has made his choices, which among other things have been supported by the universally favourable reception which the code has received.

“At this point it is useless, and would be even counterproductive, to continue to offer criticisms which would have been valid during the ‘de jure condendo’ period, but which now would have no other effect than weakening the law’s force.  By this I do not mean to imply in the slightest that the code cannot be criticized.  To do so is lawful and in many cases even opportune and worthwhile.

“Nevertheless, criticism should rather be made in scientific circles, and not addressed to the ordinary faithful.  In the first case, criticism is a source of progress, stimulus and collaboration and will enlighten the legislator in possible future updatings of the law.  In the second case, it will have the predominantly negative effect of undermining the ‘vis obligatoria’ [obligatory force] of the law which, at this moment when the Code is beginning to be known and put into practice, could prove to be rather dangerous for the ecclesial community.

“Speaking in 1968 at the International Congress of Canonists organized in Rome for the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Pio-Benedictine [1917] Code, with farsighted vision Pope Paul VI rightly stressed the need to observe the law and to avoid useless and destructive criticism if it were desired that the law have all its salutary efficiacy: ‘Nevertheless we must add that the most outstanding results of the revision of canon law will be perceived only when and to that extent that these laws of the Church are truly inserted into the convictions and society of the people of God.  This will not happen if ecclesiastical laws, even though most accurately drafted and correctly organized, are ignored in the uses and customs of people, or are called into controversy, or rejected regrettably remain empty, inert and deprived of a healthy effectiveness;  and so the movement for renewal, unless it is rooted in the practice to which laws are to lead, would be weakened or would perhaps become flaccid and worthless, or at least doubtlessly less sincere and certain.’ “

[* the original said “not” which seems, clearly, to be an error, given that the Legislator has promulgated the Code.  Source:  Rosalio Castillo Lara, “Some Reflections of the Proper Way to Approach the Code of Canon Law,” in Canon Law Society of America Proceedings, 46 (1984), pp. 26-27].

Granted, Archbishop Castillo Lara was talking about the law.  But the law is not unrelated to Liturgy, since the ‘praenotanda’ [introductions etc] that accompany the liturgical rites, and the rubrics of the liturgy themselves, are in fact laws, albeit laws outside the Code of Canon Law.  Aside from this, I think his comments have something to say to the current situation.  Indeed, in “scientific circles” those with expertise in the area will certainly be studying the revised missal with a view to subsequent editions, which may indeed contain changes and corrections.

However, generally speaking, the time for public and general discussions of such matters is over now that the new Missal is promulgated by competent ecclesiastical authority.  Parish newsletters and diocesan magazines and newspapers are entirely inappropriate places for clerics and others who speak in some manner in the name of the Church to be spreading controversy and discontent.  They should, on the other hand, be doing everything to assist all members of the Church to enter more deeply and fruitfully into the sacred mysteries, and to receive our liturgical texts with good will.

I hope that clerics and other liturgists might be persuaded to refrain from public controversy and the spreading of discontent regarding the Church’s liturgy, actions which at the least are unseemly and inappropriate, and more seriously, have the potential to injure the ecclesial community.