Wading through the press coverage surrounding the introduction of the third edition of the Roman Missal, as this post at GetReligion points out, can get repetitive quickly, particularly because of reporters’ insistence on covering the liturgical changes from the angle of a “controversy.” But regardless of whether the press’ inclination to ensure dissenting voices get their due (or, in many instances, undue) column ink is a calculated decision or simply the side-effect of a misguided belief in ‘fairness’ that every story should have competing voices, the real question remaining to be asked is about the source of this alleged opposition. Is there even a serious challenge to the Missal’s revision in the Church’s own ranks, or does the bulk of the criticism originate elsewhere?
Perhaps the most significant and coherent internal opposition came in the form of “What If We Just Said Wait?”, an online petition urging bishops to delay (not abandon) the introduction of the revised text. And, truth be told, this campaign really wasn’t all that significant: as of today, it has approximately 22,000 signatures, mostly laypeople (despite the New York Times’ number-immune assertion that “many” priests have signed it). And, in a country where an estimated 77 million citizens are baptized Catholics, 22,000 is a rather miniscule number.
For the most part, it looks as if even the Church’s most articulate internal critics have no desire to wage a protracted battle over the changes. Implementation seems to have mostly gone smoothly on the clergy’s side, and lingering resistance seems to be settling into “loyal opposition”—hardly ideal, but hardly a catastrophe or a civil war in the making. To take just one telling article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a prominent member of the local clergy, Fr. Michael Ryan, who is described as a “former critic” of the changes, is now publicly vowing to “make [them] work” as best he can. Though the newspaper seeks out a dissenting voice, it can only find it in “former priest” John Pinette, who lobs laughable hyperbole at the Church (the new translation, he blusters, constitutes “Vatican vandalism” by a sort of ecclesial “Tea Party” uncomfortable with “modernity and pluralism”).
Given the absence of any really significant or coherent opposition within the Church itself (and a laudable open-mindedness towards the changes even by ‘many’ clerics and laypeople who were formerly skeptical) it is becoming increasingly apparent that the only dead-set opponents of the changes are those outside the Church: ex-priests, professional critics, or reporters captivated by the prospect of another internal fight in the Catholic Church.
But surely, some may object, there must be a “silent majority” or significant minority of laypeople who are troubled by the introduction of more formal language, but simply do not have access to a platform to voice their distress. True, it’s hard to quantify precisely how much unease an average layperson feels at the recitation of “and with your spirit” (and whether the source of their angst is a genuine, thought-out resistance to the slate of changes or simply the challenge of un-learning and re-learning something familiar, an understandable practical matter discussed by some in the coverage) but again, the lack of a credible, vocal individual or group within the Church persisting in opposition is revelatory.
So who’s most upset with the new edition of the Roman Missal? In short, individuals who don’t seem to have a stake in the matter, nor any interest in acquiring one.
Matthew Cantirino is a junior fellow at First Things.