Priests threaten Mass exodus over changes to liturgy
by Leesha McKenny and Barney Zwartz
February 19, 2011
THE Catholic Church is facing open defiance over its new Mass, with at least a dozen Australian priests indicating they will refuse to use it when it comes into force later this year.
Hundreds more are angry about the lack of consultation for the new, more literal translation of the 400-year-old Latin text, which was heavily influenced by a Vatican advisory committee headed by the Sydney Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell.
What supporters say is a suitably elevated and poetic text more faithful to the original Latin is seen by detractors as an outdated, contrived and less inclusive version that ignores modern English and could further alienate Catholics from the church. It has become the latest battleground in the culture wars between progressive Catholics and traditionalists over the direction of reforms stemming from the 1960s Vatican Council, which allowed the faithful to celebrate the liturgy in their own language for the first time.
To be gradually introduced from June, the new Mass will be the compulsory version of the English mass by November.
But Father John Crothers, the parish priest of St Declan's parish in Penshurst, said he could not in good conscience use the text, which he believed to go against the 1960s Vatican Council's spirit of ''aggiornamento'', meaning ''up-to-date''.
''I've no problems with changing things - it's part of my philosophy that you've got to change and grow and develop. It's the fact that this is going backwards instead of going forwards,'' he said. ''I won't be saying the priest part. If the people wanted to do the responses in the new translation, it's up to them.''
In Ireland this month a group representing more than 400 priests publicly denounced the new translation as ''archaic, elitist and obscure'' and urged their bishops to delay the changes for at least five years until the clergy and laity were consulted.
The chairman of the National Council of Priests of Australia, Father Ian McGinnity, said hundreds of its 1600 members were ''pretty steamed up'' at the Vatican's lack of consultation but most had not yet decided how to respond. At least a dozen had indicated they would not use the new English translation, he said.
''We're also very concerned that the language, the idiom, might perhaps estrange more Catholics from participation in the Eucharist,'' he said.
Asked what sanctions a local bishop could apply to defiant priests, Father McGinnity said: "I really don't know. I suppose he could suspend a bloke. But given the [priest] shortage, it's unlikely."
Father Crothers said he had told Cardinal Pell his position at a clergy conference last year.
''I said at the conference, 'I won't be doing it, and where do I stand there?' And he's just said that he expected all the priests will do it.''
Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, the vice-chairman of the international translation committee, said consultation had been extensive but there would have to be ''dialogue and encouragement'' with opponents. ''I think a lot of the criticism is really a fear of what we think the thing is, and when we get to the reality, it's not like that at all.''
The executive director of the National Liturgy Commission, Peter Williams, who has spent the past year travelling the country to explain the new Mass, said it had already been successfully introduced in New Zealand.
''I think that's what's going to happen here. Of course there will be some irritability, but in due course people will have made the change."