Instead of huffing and puffing about the new English translation of the Mass, priests should instruct their parishioners on why it is a good thing

A vigilant friend has alerted me to an open letter to priests entitled: “Revising the Mass texts: Is this the real issue?” posted on The Tablet website on March 31. Written by an Edinburgh priest, Fr Mike Fallon, and going under the headline, “Let us keep the ‘1973 rite’ of the Mass on”, it is over-long, rambling and querulous in tone. (Mind you, this is The Tablet website so I should not expect such a “Letter” to be short, concise and full of zeal for the magisterium.)

According to Fr Fallon, the real issue has nothing to do with the revised texts of the Mass that will replace the inaccurate translation that we have been lumbered with for 40 years; it is all to do with authority.

He talks about “the process which has brought this new translation to fruition”, going on to state, “It is no secret that many people worldwide are unhappy, to say the least, about the New English Missal and perhaps, more importantly, how it came to be produced.” He grumbles on about the revised texts “never [having] been authorised by the English-speaking bishops of the world, in accordance with their established responsibilities”; worries whether “the Scottish bishops are aware of the authoritative role they have in virtue of their office for introducing a new translation to the people of the country”; believes the whole process of the improved translation (he puts the word improved in quote marks, which speaks for itself) “constitutes a grave disservice to the people of God”; is convinced that “it goes against not only the spirit of the second Vatican Council but indeed it goes against its very letter and runs counter to the clear teaching of that Council”; and ruminates that “It is tempting as a priest in a parish to ignore the new translation and carry on with life.”

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There is much more in the same vein and I cannot quote it all, but I think that I have conveyed the flavour of Fr Fallon’s discontent. I find his letter puzzling, disturbing and dispiriting. I have great reverence for the priesthood; indeed, I pray for all priests every day. At the same time I feel greatly irritated by the person of Fr Fallon.

I am puzzled that he does not rejoice in the greater accuracy of the new translation. As we pray, so we believe; and if the beauty and truth of the wording of the liturgy has been blunted by a poor, 40-year-old translation, so in a subtle way, has our belief. I am disturbed by his rebellious attitude.

Surely his task is to be obedient to his bishop (and his bishop’s task, to implement the New English Missal, along with the other English-speaking bishops around the world)? I am dispirited by his peddling the dreary phrase, “the spirit of the Second Vatican Council”, as if that dubious and elusive spectre has anything to do with the workings of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t; the sooner it is buried with a stake through its heart and garlic round the doorposts, the better.

As a result of reading Fr Fallon’s letter, I have treated myself to a crash course in the new translation of the Mass, courtesy of the estimable Fr Zuhlsdorf and his weekly column in the Catholic Herald. (How come I missed this treat? Good can always come from bad, so thank you Fr Fallon, for leading me indirectly to Fr Zuhlsdorf’s wisdom and sanity.) I won’t quote “Fr Zee”, a celebrated blogger on liturgical themes, as I am sure other Herald readers will know his columns better than I do.

I just wish Fr Fallon would stop huffing and puffing and giving us his own Hibernian version of “Non serviam”. He should read Fr Zee and then, when the times comes, properly instruct his parishioners – for whom he is directly responsible – on the reasons why the new English translation is a good thing.

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